Tauranga hui explores notions of leadership

Leadership Network member Sean Kinsella says he went into the network's Rethinking Leadership Hui in Tauranga not entirely sure what he was getting himself in for but came away with a greater understanding of his own leadership skills, and picked up some new friends along the way.

Sean: "...the shared connectedness of the weekend was what made for the best experience of all."

Taking part in an Asia New Zealand Foundation Rethinking Leadership Hui is kind of like joining the Foundation itself: You have absolutely no idea exactly what to expect, but it sounds highly intriguing, and one way or another you know you’re going to learn something that you didn’t know before.

This feeling was magnified when our group (eleven Leadership Network members in all) showed up in Tauranga, mostly strangers to each other, to be magnificently hosted for dinner on the first night by local dignitaries and Foundation staff and alumni.

The usual round of introductions, icebreakers and chit chat ensued and we quickly all perceived a silently shared sense that seems to be a hallmark of any Leadership Network gathering: “I don’t belong here; I’m an imposter; everyone else here is so much more impressive than me; I sure hope I don’t get found out and booted before dessert arrives.”

The hui gave participants the opportunity to share their stories and explore ideas of leadership

Imposter syndrome was a recurring theme of the weekend: we explored what it is, why we feel it, why certain groups may be more prone to feeling it based on gender or ethnicity or other factors, and most importantly we looked at what to do about it, how to overcome it.

As we got to know each other better it became clear that everyone had their unique stories that illustrated exactly how and why they did, in fact, fully deserve to be there.

When people can share their stories honestly, there is no obvious upper limit to how much we can learn from each other, nor how much insight each individual has to offer, with all the generalities that are common across every leadership story, and with all the specific nuances that are unique to every story.

We were a group of students, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs and engineers; from the private sector and the public; learned Rhode scholars and independent rogue podcasters.

With such diversity to draw upon, there was no shortage of engagement, humour, and classic anecdotes, relating both good and bad examples of leadership. There was no fear of raising controversial topics either.

We heard about everything from the detachment that doctors must maintain with their patients, to the importance of humour as a coping mechanism in the face of trauma, to how useful confessed vulnerability can be as a strategy for inclusion, but how risky it can be to over-share if the group isn’t ready for it.

We discussed the dark side of leadership and debated whether traits such as sociopathy, narcissism and naked self-interest can be effective.

We even boldly played a heavy round of devil’s advocate to ask whether even a historical figure like Hitler could be considered a good leader: reprehensibly immoral yes, but one hell of a mobiliser!

And after flying dangerously close to a rather fascist sun on that one, we were ably led by our facilitator, the wonderful Dr Suze Wilson, to agree that unless leadership is guided by an enduring sense of morality it is ultimately illegitimate and therefore unsustainable.

As these discussions took place, a number of other recurring themes emerged. Themes such as how leadership more closely resembles a series of actions over time rather than simply a position at the top of a hierarchy.

How good followership is every bit as important as good leadership, and it is in fact by following well that you often have the most influence within a group. For a madman dancing alone is just a madman; it is only when others join the dance alongside him that he becomes a trend-setter, and maybe even a leader.

And leadership, whatever form it takes, is actually a skill that can be developed and an action that can be refined. For a true leader is always seeking to improve, not just for themselves but for the greater good of the group they belong to.

In the end, there was so much content to absorb, both taught and shared, that none of us could hope to grasp it all. But the over-arching takeaway that everyone seemed unanimous on, was that the shared connectedness of the weekend was what made for the best experience of all.

By allowing us to come together and learn together we were all in some personal way reassured by our similarities and enriched by our differences. Differences that so naturally emerge from such a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences, but that in the end prove no bar to friendship, and in fact may only enhance it.