Be. Leadership May 2017: A Civil Society– What is it and how does leadership enhance or diminish its value?

by Latifa Daud

Be. Leadership sessions always come around quickly and this month's session was held in our little capital Wellington. From Thursday night, we all started to arrive in the city and check into our rooms at the CQ Hotel. By Friday morning, we were set to start our third session of the year. It’s always great reconnecting with the leadership whanau after being busy in our own lives.

Friday's session was held in the CQ Hotel's restaurant, starting with a karakia by my syndicate to bless our weekend together and an introduction into our topic for the weekend – "Civil Society: What is it and how does leadership enhance or diminish its value?". We were asked to think about the concept of a 'civil society' and challenge our ideas about what that is.

Our first speaker was journalist Colin James, who spoke about the role politics, politicians and the media play in maintaining a civil society. He gave interesting perspectives about citizen participation, social media and the impact of personality politics.

We then had Green MP Mojo Mathers talk about her experiences in politics as a Deaf Member of Parliament and how to stay resilient in our efforts to effect long-term social change.

Our third and last speaker of the weekend was Marianne Elliott, director of story and strategy at ActionStation. She spoke about her organisation's campaign to encourage young citizens to engage in the political process. She ended by sharing her stories from working in Gaza, Timor-Leste and Afghanistan and how that has shaped her leadership journey.

I was moved by the honesty of all speakers and their willingness to speak openly about their lives, opinions and personal leadership journeys. Hearing from speakers from diverse backgrounds showed me that creating a civil society requires leadership of different styles in order to progress and effect social change. There is no one way to be a leader and at the core of leadership is the ability to think deeply about the world and to believe in your abilities and talents as well as those of others.

After an exhausting yet moving day of hearing from such insightful speakers, we ended with a memorial, joined by some Wellington alumni, for 2012 alumnus Alex Smith, who sadly passed away three weeks ago.

Day Two was held at the beautiful Te Papa Museum, starting with a reflection on the previous day's speakers. We were then taken on an audio tour of the various exhibitions by 2016 alumnus Bruce. This was a wonderful experience, giving us deep insights into various artifacts and the background of the museum. Bruce’s knowledge and passion made for an engaging tour. I certainly learnt more in this tour than I have in my previous individual wonderings through the museum.

After some delicious lunch, we gave book reviews on the books the three syndicates have been reading and discussing over the past three months. It’s interesting to learn how different people interpreted the same book, reminding me of the beautiful diversity of thought in our group.

To finish off the weekend, we were asked to revisit the idea of a 'civil society', and exploring our individual resilience. This tied together our topics of discussion over the weekend and got us thinking about practical steps we can take to build our leadership qualities, acknowledge our barriers to resilience and look after ourselves as we embark on our leadership journeys.

As usual, the leadership session was two days of thought-provoking conversation and an opportunity to challenge our own ideas. But most importantly, it was another lovely chance to connect with my cohort in a deep and meaningful way. I'm especially excited to make life-long friends and learn from such wonderful people.