Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa
In 2010, when Minnie asked Lesley and me to work with her to develop a year-long leadership programme for people with access needs, I didn’t know how. But I said yes anyway. Lesley had had the experience of developing and running Leadership New Zealand, and Minnie had done that programme, so I thought I'd just go along for the ride.
Then I realised, that wasn’t completely true – the “me not knowing how” bit, that is. As we began designing the programme, it dawned on me that I'd been designing workshops for over two decades in my own business. What we were doing was designing 21 days of workshops, using our relationships to invite guest speakers to talk about their own leadership journeys, and facilitating reflection sessions.
This’ll be a doddle, I thought. Wrong again.
The challenge, we learnt, wasn’t the content – that was relatively easy. What we discovered, as we began delivering the first year’s programme, the challenge was presenting the content in a way that accommodated the needs of our participants. We had people who had different learning needs, hearing needs, vision needs, emotional needs, cultural needs and physical needs (one year we had 9 people who used wheelchairs, which created gridlock like London at rush hour – well how it used to be before COVID – not to mention mad rushes for the one accessible bathroom).
This needed more than leadership knowledge. We had to draw on creativity, negotiation, testing, willingness to get it wrong, requests for goodwill and grace, patience and, most importantly, humour. Yes, a lot of humour.
Of course, these requirements aren’t unfamiliar. They are part of a larger set of skills required in leadership. Believe us that, if you want to really grapple with diversity in leadership, invite people with access needs to the table.
Before I address this – actually last – year’s group, let me reflect briefly on ten years. I have NEVER done anything for ten years. EVER. Well, apart from living. I have a self-confessed low threshold for boredom – I might last four or five years in a project or contract, then I'm running, screaming. There are three key things that have kept me engaged and enthused for this long: first, each programme year has been so different, they’ve been like a new job. Second, I have had the privilege to work with some of the most amazing people I've ever met – Lesley, Hannah and Michelle, and Wai, Sam and Erin who have supported me to do my job as well as supporting the programme (and Minnie, trustees and wider Be. Team). Last, but not at all least, the 150 incredibly diverse, courageous and whole-hearted people who have done the programme, some of whom we have tragically lost.
Thank you, I'll always be grateful.
To the 2020 group … well let’s be honest ... you got the stink year, didn’t you? Who would have predicted that days after our first session, we’d be in lock down caused by an almost unprecedented pandemic that would change the world? You adapted with grace and agility to the online world, built relationships virtually and took on the mantle of leadership in the most difficult of circumstances. You rolled with the punches, sucked it up and did every other metaphor I can think of. And just when we thought we’d made it through, that bastard virus just had to stick it to you one more time and wreck the last session in November. And yet, here you are, back the following year, committed to finishing what you agreed to do. Bloody good on you. I hope you boast about this experience for the rest of your lives.
So, here’s to ten years of Be. Leadership, in this form. Many of you will know Be. will be redesigning the programme to ensure it responds to the possibilities of the future, dare we imagine.
As for me, I'm stepping away quietly from Be. (not running and screaming). I'm at a time in my life where I want to reflect on my own possibilities going forward in my fifth decade. It’s been a blast Be. Thank you. But it’s not goodbye, just see you in the possibility.
Nō reira, tēnā tatou katoa.