Backup: All You Need Is…

That New Zealand should identify and nurture its leaders goes with-out saying. Up for debate are the questions of who and how.

Take last month for example. Two very different leadership initiatives hit the market.

One was high volume, with all the surround sound publicity decibels and dollars of Auckland University and its Knowledge Wave Trust. The other is still virtually imperceptible, hatching as it is in the heads and hearts of small but growing band of supporters.

The Knowledge Wave conference we were invited to “Catch” in 2001 reappeared this year re-branded as the Leadership Forum. The object of the exercise this time round, according to Trust chairman John Hood, was to focus on the three emerging themes of economic growth, knowledge and community “and on an additional enveloping theme – leadership”.

Actually, I’m Knowledge Wave Conference sceptic, but that’s hardly the point. What is relevant is the legacy the Trust and the University of Auckland Business School bestowed on the city through proposed New Zealand Leadership Institute. The Business School wants to provide an ongoing forum for leadership development activities, to conduct research on New Zealand leadership and to “facilitate the maintenance of networks among emerging leaders here and abroad”.

Nothing wrong with that. The more avenues for leadership debate and development the better. No question this country could do with more individuals willing and able to stick their hands up, take responsibility and show the way, in every field of endeavour. Leadership centres already exist in other learning institutions, like Wellington’s Victoria University for instance, and to varying degrees they input to the leadership process.

I talked little about the other initiative in this column last month. Things have moved on since then and decision has been made to establish Leadership New Zealand, or Pumanawa Kaiarahi o Aotearoa. This group still has long way to go, it doesn’t yet have access to the sort of funding available to Auckland’s Business School and it is pitched at very different level. This is not intended to be ivory tower or academic.

Leadership New Zealand plans to establish trust and raise awareness of leadership and leadership capacity through initiatives such as setting up an inclusive leadership forum to raise debate; establishing an annual leadership programme for mid-career leaders from all sectors; promoting leadership programmes in all schools, and setting up leadership mentoring programmes. The model is Leadership Victoria, an Australian community leadership programme that is “independent, non-partisan, non-aligned” and depends on financial support from corporates and the public and community sectors.

Leadership discussions are fraught. Try it. Five minutes debate and the temperature rises. What constitutes leadership and who are worthy exemplars clouds the issue. Was Hitler great leader, irrespective of his crimes against humanity? And how do we measure Churchill? Are any of those models even relevant to the debate?

As an aside, back in 1983 American leadership guru Warren Bennis proclaimed four universal traits of leadership. They are, he said, management attention (the leader draws you to him or her and makes you want to join the cause); management of trust (leaders can be trusted because they are consistent – even if you disagree with their views); management of self (leaders know their own skills and deploy them effectively) and management of meaning (leaders are great communicators). This is, however, prescriptive and largely value free and regards leadership as skill or technique.

But however you define it, leadership has risen to the top of our personal agendas. One considered look at the state of the nation, and every other nation for that matter, and what’s missing in the world? Leadership! And I don’t mean that combative, transactional, I-know-best-how-to-get-things-done type leadership. Handing over responsibility to leaders of this mould can’t work in shrinking, mutually dependent world.

It’s not possible to discuss leadership as skill or an intuitive gift divorced of morality and ethics. I shouldn’t have to make apologies for using the word, so why do I hesitate, but as colleague suggested recently, the world at present seems to be tad short on love. Yahoo senior executive Tim Sanders writing in FastCompany magazine suggests love is the next “killer application”. If you want to fix your future, start fixing yourself, he said. Teflon talk or not, he has point.

I guess now it’s lie back and see just what kind of leaders and qualities our two new leadership enterprises hold up and promote. I suspect they will be very different. Their difference, if packaged properly, could enhance their respected contributions to our society.

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