What attracted me was the theme of Mindful Leadership, a topic I’ve written on and working in actively with a globally-connected group that has built a culture assessment and deployment tool.
Mindfulness is a term that covers many meanings and also to some extent misused, where it may suit someone’s marketing or performance agenda.
I was on the lookout for the idea being spun into the be-mindful-to-perform-better story that I’ve seen some veer into.
So a first reflection is how good it was to have such a vibrantly authentic representation of mindfulness as a personal enterprise, which can & very much does contribute to organisation or team purpose. The evening MC, Wade Jackson (of Mind Warriors) showed his improv skills & his good-humoured banter was a warming start. And the warmth quickly spread to meeting new people, as friends. All the speakers talked about their own mindfulness story, how it started, and not in ways that you'd think. They developed a true sense of being mindful as an invitation to explore, to be open, and in that way lead to greater personal resilience and adaptability to change.
One question I had, and still have as a development goal, is can we use mindfulness to deploy a better culture? That’s a big focus for at least one of the Dinner with a Difference guest speakers, Hillary Palmer from Kiwibank. She is Head of Culture and Leadership - now there’s an oxymoronic challenge, enough to develop loads of resilience! The culture topic came up a lot, and we had good opportunity to hear how the mindfulness theme has been useful to help influence the culture of a growing, but still clearly with a pioneering spirit, organisation. Culture is of course an invisible force, but a powerful one that shapes a lot of behaviours & attitudes around people work, how they share & collaborate, how they manage the mutual expectations of the employer-employee relationship. It was inspiring to hear Hillary recount her down-to-earth stories of getting mindfulness adopted as a culture theme in Kiwibank.
Another theme that came up, and all speakers referred to it either openly, or implicitly in their story-telling, was the importance of stretching, of pushing your comfort zone. This is an insight that seems easy to connect to, but in my experience is not given enough weight, especially in the avalanche of leadership content I see & read about. This HBR article tells more about that need to stretch, which to me is simply about backing yourself, or as my favourite volunteer expedition NGO says it
“Get yourself out there!”
The general rule I work to is the real stretch, the real ways to grow yourself (and your teams) into a bigger more resilient comfort zone, can’t be done in a classroom. Things are too comfortable, and even if we’re pushed to a boundary in that classroom setting, we know there’s a coffee or lunch break not far away, we know the behaviour standards that apply. We heard the speakers talk about how in their life journey they were taken well out of their comfort zone and forced to deal with their own motivations, their inadequacies, in ways that at the time were difficult but were the right growing experiences. That very much echoes my own experience mentoring youth leaders. The more genuinely people are challenged, by being away from the safe environment, the more ready they are to learn, to grow themselves and to SHARE.
Sharing in some ways has become a value that people question, particularly in regard to achieving and career-building. But what smart companies know, is that real sharing & collaborating is a fundamental behaviour for innovation, resilience & a lean operational mindset at a collective level. That was sometimes at odds with behaviours people develop to better meet goals, which might be personal, or organisational. If your organisation is wanting to influence for a culture of collaboration & shared outcomes, the mindfulness theme can be one way to get the right discussions going.
A powerful evening’s speaker for me was Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey - such a grounded soul, who spoke eloquently & very consciously of the bigger picture, of developing ourselves through finding mentors. Her examples were not the usual suited types - she talked about guides who could read where fish were plentiful, who lived in the cradle of nature, who could read a room instantly and be fully at ease with anyone. For a mindfulness topic, Elizabeth embodied a peak of awareness, and also discipline. She gave us clues to her age, which Wade couldn’t resist unraveling, another bit of inspiration.
The other strong theme that came across was the absolutely essential level of senior commitment for a mindful leadership initiative to be useful. Being mindful is at some point about being in a bigger space and, perhaps but not mandatory, finding a bigger version of ourselves to inhabit that space. So the people leading need to be willing to grow themselves, authentically and without being restrained by fear of being outclassed or perhaps simply found out. Being a good leader means promoting change as a positive, an opportunity, and all the speakers showed that quality.
So the whole evening was an inspirational look at some really important themes for our disruptive times - how to deploy a more visible culture that supports the business values our organisations need; how to work with people on extending themselves; how to be authentic across all levels and especially at senior level. My table group were definitely feeling the vibe and that was the mood from the whole room - seeing how to bring your heart to work, not just your mind.
I’ll end with a mention of a guest speaker, Stephen Archer, now a culture & organisation consultant. With some years as a Buddhist monk he opened a window, a very down-to-earth one, into the spiritual aspect, which Elizabeth then was able to explore, as much from her being, her presence, as from any specific reference. I found Stephen witty and very sharp in responding in a human way to questions.
Well done Leadership NZ, for having the courage to champion the theme and for doing it in a way that showed us how to be real, be authentic, and for not veering into a perform-better spin.
This for-good quality is especially valued by the incoming generation of potential leaders, so it’s heart-warming to see that focus.
David Gandar, owner & founder of Delta Software Ltd
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Leadership New Zealand is a not-for-profit trust set up to focus on developing and enhancing the quality of our future leaders. Leadership New Zealand will identify, nurture and develop our leaders, from whatever corner of society they emerge. Driving this event forward, LNZ is bringing together speakers, crafting the program, and helping to host the evening.
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AUT Business School
As the major sponsor of Dinner with a Difference, AUT Business School is supporting the event with an inspiring venue - their new Sir Paul Reeves Building. We are very grateful for the support of Dr Geoff Perry, Dean of the AUT Business School, and the Business School team