Be. Leadership 2019: Session 2 - Society, what's going on?

by Sarv Taherian

What an unfortunate, coincidental title and theme for our second Be. Leadership session for 2019, held two weeks after the horrific terrorist attacks on our Muslim whanaū in Ōtautahi, Christchurch. We were all thinking "Society, WTF is going on?", while simultaneously being in awe of the remarkable leadership displayed by our empathetic Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Although it was difficult to fight through tumultuous emotions, our Be. Leadership family tried to push through, to try and figure out how we could catalyse change to create a better and more just place for us all.

Dispersed through our team work, we were lucky to have two remarkable speakers, Qiane Matata-Sipu and Dr. Angela Maynard. Qiane is a journalist, and a contributor at the The Spinoff, an award-winning photographer, a fighter for social justice, and all-round epic storyteller. Angela is a sociologist, lecturer and community worker specifically interested in food, class and ethnic relations.

Both Qiane and Angela spoke about dominant societal myths and assumptions, particularly around colonisation, white supremacy, neoliberalism and collectivist vs. individualistic cultures. For most of us, challenging the way our society in Aotearoa currently operates is already front of mind, and these speakers allowed us to widen and deepen our understanding, through lived experience (Qiane) and academically (Angela). Their talks spurred us to consider what future thinking, leadership and innovation we require to overturn the problems that these existing frameworks and cultures have created. Their stories were captivating, and there was a real yearning for a more community, collectivist driven society, that aims to heal the traumas of colonisation, through embracing our indigenous Maori roots.

For me, personally, I love this thought, and I believe that we can achieve it, because our people and our land have not experienced as many layers of oppression as other places around the world (which is definitely not to say that the oppression and trauma is any less evil). We are a small nation, but our global impact can be tremendous if we choose to be the model of what humanity can become and achieve. Angela made a really great point in that we are coming to an end of a civilisation that is guided by individualism. It's time for us to start a revolution — something that Qiane is already doing, by learning about her history and past to ground her in the present and guide the future of our nation. In this sense, both speakers showed us the value of relationships for persevering through difficult changes and barriers to what we may be trying to achieve (imperative for a revolution!)

During this session, we also took part in a Myers-Briggs personality type indicator (MBTI) workshop run by Karen Sew-Hoy. The goal of this workshop was to understand our own personal styles and preferences and relate these to how we behave as leaders. There were a few of us who were very skeptical about the test, due to its limited scientific validity. However, it can be pretty useful when you look at it as a general framework which provides you with a way of understanding how you like to interact with people, what environments you prefer, how you manage your emotions etc. You don't necessarily need to use or accept your given type (mine revealed that I’m an extrovert… turns out I didn't answer the questions correctly, doh!), but instead use it to build a model, and understanding of who you are, and your preferences in work and life.

Linking this back to the importance of relationships, when you understand how you operate, it makes it easier to communicate those to others. This enables you to work better as a team, as it decreases the chances of miscommunication and assumptions. In this leadership course, we will be pushing our own boundaries, but also the boundaries of our team mates. To do this respectfully and enable one another to grow (rather than shut down due to fear and discomfort), we need to understand how we operate and think differently.

Before coming into this session, I felt very lost and scared, especially as a person of colour, from a Muslim family. Being with the Be. Leadership family helped me process what's been bouncing around in my brain (although I do think that things are still unravelling in my head and I'm only starting to create new ideas and perceptual shifts, patience is a virtue, right?), and provided some motivation to try and tackle this revolution that Angela touched on.

For me, this session made me think and feel that we can't choose one existing framework, culture or ideology over another. There are flaws within each, and we really need to be critical of these. What we should consider is taking bits of each and reimagine a new way forward. We can't be purely collectivist, nor can we be purely individualistic. I think that the civil rights scholar professor john.a powell (he spells his name all in lowercase letters because he feels we need to portray being part of the universe, not over it, as capitals signify…which is interestingly something that I also prefer!) put it perfectly: "We're constantly making each other … And if we do it right, we’re going to create a bigger 'we', a different 'we'."