Rethinking Leadership Hui: "lightening captured in a bottle"

"There is something so electric about being in a room full of people who share your drive, values, passion, and dedication to better our communities." That's how Leadership Network member Jess Chong describes the network's recent Rethinking Leadership Hui, which brought together members from around the country to go deep on what it is, and what it takes, to be an ethical and effective leader. In this article, Jess describes her experience of the hui and some of her key takeaways.

Kauri (right) facilitating a Q&A between Dr Claire Achmad (pictured) and the audience

There’s this urban legend that says you can’t beat Welly on a good day, and I have to admit that after seeing Wellington over the Rethinking Leadership Hui weekend, you really can’t!

I flew in from Tāmaki Makaurau, jittery with anticipation, to the soothing balm of Te Whanganui-a-Tara’s sun: a great omen for the weekend ahead.

I was a little bit apprehensive about the workshop for a couple of reasons that mostly boiled down to being insecure about trying something earnest with new people. But I love putting myself out there and challenging myself, so I landed in Wellington with enthusiasm and an open mind (as was recommended in our pre-hui readings!). 

We stayed at what can only be described as the most Wellington-esque hotel I have ever laid eyes upon, and it perfectly set the scene for our thoughtful but fun workshop. 

The hui opened with a fabulous dinner emceed by Leadership Network Advisory Board member Kauri and the Leadership Network's project coordinator, Ruby.

I found myself seated next to and having a very animated kōrero with our guest speaker for the evening: Dr Claire Achmad, our current Chief Children’s Commissioner of Aotearoa.

 She was precisely the kind of person we should all want in charge of maintaining tamariki rights, and it was a real privilege to chat with her so candidly.

She talked about how her personal values drive her leadership, and her notes on the strength in being vulnerable, and in being kind (both to others and ourselves), resonated deeply with me. 

A group of about 12 Leadership Network members standing under a pink art installation of a flower

Jess: "The potential for good in the room feels like lightning captured in a bottle, and this Rethinking Leadership Hui was no different!"

I think I say this every single time I attend a Leadership Network event, but it’s because it’s always true: there is something so electric about being in a room full of people who share your drive, values, passion, and dedication to better our communities.

The potential for good in the room feels like lightning captured in a bottle, and this Rethinking Leadership Hui was no different!

 We started the next morning bright and (perhaps a tad too) early.

There were a few important themes that we explored throughout the hui – vulnerability, authenticity, and collaboration to uplift others.

It was fabulous to see these shining through in everyone’s presentations, and it made me feel more confident in incorporating those themes into my own presentation.

There were so many thoughtful and considered stories shared by the other members. Some of my favourite takeaways were: 

  • Vinod: ‘nothing about us without us’

It’s our imperative as leaders to realise this statement for what it is: we are greatly dependent on our followers, and our obligations to our followers are to include them in our consideration when making decisions. 

  • Juana: ‘talking and dialogue without aggression’

The importance of being able to disagree and kōrero about why we disagree without it becoming personal or aggressive. I’ve found we’re increasingly losing the ability to see shades of grey between the black and white of our reactive societal discourse, so it’s vital for leaders to be able to navigate this space. 

  • Alton: ‘Helping others along on the journey’

Kōrero that I tautoko immensely. I said it in my presentation, but the importance of sharing our tools and resources with others to help them succeed as well, instead of pulling the ladder up behind us, is something I personally believe is our main purpose as leaders. 

Three Leadership Network members chatting at a table

Jess Chong, Sam Yap-Choong, and Justine Roberts engaged in some small-group work on the final day of the hui

I haven’t ever put into words my story and journey to leadership before, and I appreciated having the time and space to craft, present and get feedback from the team about it.

I shared my feelings on how being half Chinese and half Pākehā I often feel a sense of unease and loneliness about not quite belonging in either space.

The difficulty I have in not having a cultural space where I feel like I truly belong has really driven me to become a high achiever in a multitude of ways, as I’ve always felt that I need to prove myself to be noticed and to be successful.

I also shared how I had used a negative work experience to shape my leadership style for the better.

I felt comfortable in sharing these vulnerable thoughts, thanks to the respectful and supportive atmosphere that we had created, together. 

The clouds gave way to a beautiful sun on the final day of our hui.

Sitting around the table, I felt like I was sitting among supportive friends who would challenge and encourage each other to do and be better, which was both comforting and motivating.

One of the final activities of the hui was my favourite: in pairs (or threes when we got out of sync) we shared a strength of the other that we admired, and something we thought they could develop.

The best kind of validation comes from within, but there is something uniquely lovely about someone else highlighting strengths that you may not have seen within yourself.

I also greatly appreciated the feedback on development areas to help my awareness of my blind spots.

It was a real privilege getting to know the other participants, a.k.a. my new friends, over the course of the hui, as well as Dr Achmad, Adele [The Foundation's deputy CEO] and Ruby.

Not only was I able to learn so much from them, but I was able to begin building connections that I’m sure will last a lifetime.

The next time a Rethinking Leadership Hui comes up, don’t hesitate to apply – it’s an experience I know I will treasure for years to come! 

The Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network equips New Zealand’s next generation of Kiwi leaders to thrive in Asia. We provide members with the connections, knowledge and confidence to lead New Zealand’s future relationship with the region.