There’s a large Totara in the forest that we visit during the Authentic Leadership Course. It’s been there for longer than any human being and will probably be there for much longer than any of us. It feeds the smaller trees, provides shelter, oxygen for all of us and not to forget, a great leadership conversation. The AUT Vice Chancellor Derek McCormack has described the death of our Chancellor Sir Paul Reeves as a mighty Totara fallen (if you’re not a Kiwi and aren’t sure check this out for what a Totara is).

A friend and former colleague visited me yesterday to talk about his new business venture that we might be able to connect together on. We caught up on events of the last year or so including a story he had of a client, who imagining that my friend was talking bad of him, demanded that the business conducted with the firm be handled by others, or else! Knowing all those involved as we both do, we laughed at the absurdity and paranoia displayed.

There couldn’t be a more stark contrast in events from a fallen Totara, to, well how do you similarly describe a small-minded petty person without offending any plant life?! Sometimes these comparisons are helpful to recognise that not everyone is suited to leadership and the big-mindedness that goes with it. I met Paul Reeves last at the opening of the AUT Manukau Campus and I know him by reputation within AUT to have been a mentor, friend and true leader for the institution.

This Friday I’m going to talk to 300 school prefects. That feels good, not only  because I never was a prefect (!), but because as young leaders, the opportunities are endless and I find the hope and energy of youth refreshing and energy-giving. I find inspiration in the success of younger people  – my son Tim was never a prefect either, in fact school wasn’t always the best time for him but now, studying a topic he’s passionate about his success is inspirational to me and makes me very proud too. I hope that the prefects are inspired by the mighty Totara Sir Paul, and that they carve their way in the world as leaders, not copying Sir Paul, but through their own authenticity and innovation making a difference in their own way.  They’ll take from Sir Paul a life of service which is a word often forgotten in leadership.  I’m not sure what I’ll say but it’ll be something alone those lines and I hope that in my 30 minutes we hear from some of them too. Afterall, if you’re a leader, you need to be seen with head held high.


Do you get it?

Sometimes when I’m talking to people about leadership courses they ask whether they’ll learn about leadership styles like charismatic, authoritative etc. I know about those things, in fact, I’ve even got texts that discuss those things in quite a lot of detail.

Today we ran a workshop on authentic leadership for a group of managers who knew each other well. This group works with young people. We started off quite late but, hey, it’s Monday and who’s in a hurry. We started off talking about what leadership is about. This was a group of self-aware, switched on managers who knew about trust, disclosure and being vulnerable. After that we hardly mentioned the word leadership.

At the end of the day, I asked if they’d noticed that we hadn’t mentioned leadership much. They agreed but they then talked about all the important facets of authenticity and leadership that we had canvassed. One of the managers talked about diversity – not just accepting diversity – but embracing it as part of an individual’s whole being. Others talked about enjoying their own preferences, having followers because you’re real and personal leadership. It felt humble, yet strong at the end of the day.

So, is there a place for labels of leadership? You be the judge, but I reckon we are what we are and that’s the place to start. I’ve said that many times I know, but when you get a group like we had today it really brings it home. Straight-up, real, embracing and lovin’ diversity and all that it brings to their group. And wanting more.

People starting out on their leadership journey often start with the labels. That’s natural. As leaders we can do so much for those starting out on their leadership journey by modelling our authenticity rather then worrying about labels and styles. I reckon the young people this group looks after are very fortunate. And so was I today. Without hardly even mentioning that word leadership.

Do you?


Fire my spirit

So goes the last line of the simple song 75 men and young men at the Essentially Men Pathways to Manhood gathering sang together as we waited to be met by mothers and family yesterday. Sitting here right now there is so much to reflect on that has truly fired the spirit of my son Tim and me too.

This was a gritty, hard, challenging week with men. Great men who shared, endorsed, inspired and challenged us all. Never have I felt so proud and so sad all at once. It took a few days but when Tim found his voice, man, did we hear it. A school life of bullying and being picked on because he wears glasses, because he doesn’t see as well as others, because of this, that and it didn’t matter what. Any bloody excuse will do. Bullying turned to a stone-like resistance built out of fear of failure. Adults then embark ed on their own special form of bullying – bludgeoning into submission,  challenging in his face: What is it Tim? Is it about you only? What is your problem?.

In your 17 years Tim you have faced challenges that few can understand, but I tell you Tim, and you know this, 75 men who love and admire you know.  And they were there for you and are there now for you. When they said sorry on behalf of all the boys and men who have bullied you, they meant it. You stand tall now.  You have greater strength than all of those bullies put together. The boy is gone. You are a young man.  You want more one-on-one with me.  You will have it. You fire my spirit more than you can imagine. I love you.

And let’s reflect on what the men said about you: Strong, a great conservationist who extends the topic, funny, you want to please, courageous, cool to hang out with, a sensational smile, resilient, independent and they said you should cherish your ability to think outside the norm. I could go on and on how they affirmed you.

They want you back next year to help out. And let’s not forget the Golden Pisspot award you won for the the Young Pathways Man (you better explain to the women where pisspot comes from!).

This journey gave me a deep reflective space to get my own life in balance. Thanks to all the men at the gathering. You are special and formed to deliver one of life’s crucibles for me.

All the elements are with you Tim. Stand tall and proud. The men all stand with you. Thank you for taking me.

Earth my body, water my blood, air my breath, fire my spirit.