Be. Leadership May 2020

A blog from one of our 2020 participants, Claudia Boyles

Be Leadership 2020 Session 3: Civil Society – What is it and how does leadership enhance or diminish its value?

Be. Leadership 2020 convened for the third time on Friday and Saturday the 1st and 2nd of May. As with the programme session in March, we were brought together virtually through the miracle of Zoom. Philip and Hannah took turns administering the ins and outs of virtual breakouts and togetherness, and I’m going out on a limb to say … we’re all really getting the hang of this. It isn’t perfect, and face to face is preferred, but if it weren’t for the technology, we would be far less able to get on with this programme and learn from each other.

Our overarching topic for the May session was Civil Society – What is it and how does leadership enhance or diminish its value? Madeleine opened the session with a whakataukī/Māori proverb:

Hūtia te rito o te harakeke, kei hea te kōmako e kō? Kī mai ki a au, 'He aha te mea nui i te ao?' Māku e kī atu, 'He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata'.

If the heart of the flax is pulled out, where will the kōmako sing? If you ask me what is most important in this world, I will reply, 'It is people, it is people, it is people'.

- Meri Ngaroto

This proverb is directly relevant to civil society – what are we doing it for? Why engage in social change? In politics? In economic debates? Why do we care about making New Zealand a more inclusive society? It is people, it is people, it is people. The proverb and the discussion it sparked really helped to set the scene for two days of sharing, challenging and learning.

I chaired the first session with Ruby Powell and it was nerve racking but fun to step into that role. I felt well supported by all ya’ll and I’m pleased I had the opportunity to introduce someone who hadn’t spoken to a Be. Leadership programme before.  

Ruby is an economic fairness campaigner for Action Station. She is an experienced campaigner and generously shared lessons from having her boots firmly on the ground on a range of topics. She brought us some great new and repurposed phrases including talking about her own ‘front line’, ‘moving at the rate of trust’, and identifying ‘unlikely allies’. Ruby cautioned us to enable others close to the front line to speak out. She talked about the power of first hand accounts and listening to the people most affected by an issue.  

Ruby talked about equipping others to campaign so that, when you have to move on to something different, you can be sure that the work will continue, carried out by people who are passionate, confident and capable. This is a concept that comes up again and again in the readings whether it is termed distributed leadership or leading through others. Margaret Wheatley encourages us to know the limits of our own knowledge, and the HBR article “Everything Starts with Trust” says,  

“Your job as a leader is to create the conditions for your people to fully realise their own capacity and power. And that’s true not only when you’re in the trenches with them but also when you’re not around and even – this is the cleanest test – when you’ve permanently moved on from the team. We call it empowerment leadership. The more trust you build, the more possible it is to practice this kind of leadership.”

I love it when we hear a real story about a leadership lesson, and it comes ready made with a way of knowing whether you’ve succeeded. A built-in performance measure!

In the evening, we had a little bit of Zoom social time and everyone brought drinks and nibbles. Each person brought a personal item that revealed something about themselves.  It was so lovely hearing each story. When we can’t be together in person, these ways of sharing are important to nurture our burgeoning community.  

Day two brought us David Wilson, Managing Director of Cities and Regions NZ and member of the Be. Lab Board. David’s presentation focussed on leadership fundamentals, but the Q&A session turned to a lively discussion about economics, value and the meaning of leadership.  

The questions that emerged for me from our two days together included “what issue or idea is calling to you – an issue that you want to learn more about or an issue that is shaping up as your front line?” I also wonder, given the necessity of the ‘command and control’ leadership shown during the Covid-19 crisis, how leaders will let that go and allow or invite others to step forward into post-Covid opportunities. I’ll be thinking about these and about the homework question/challenge: “Thinking about your front line and your values, what is one thing close to you that you can do to make a change to enhance civil society?”  

Ngā mihi,



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