Lessons from the Aspiring Leaders’ Forum

Lessons from the Aspiring Leaders’ Forum

Law and arts student Sarah Auld attended this year’s Aspiring Leaders’ Forum, joining other young leaders from across the country for four days of discussion, collaboration, and discovery with some of New Zealand’s leading voices.

More than 100 young leaders spent time with a number of New Zealand’s leading voices during speaking events and small group time with Members of Parliament. Photo credit: AFL

This year’s Aspiring Leaders’ Forum (ALF) brought together over 100 young leaders in the capital city, arriving from all over New Zealand, from Northland to Balclutha. Each young leader was nominated by someone in their community, with my nomination received from Victoria University of Wellington, my second home. I was nominated because I participate in the Victoria Plus Programme. Leadership lesson #1: Put yourself out there and get involved!

There were so many notable speakers across the four-day forum, including New Zealand Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick, former Prime Minister of New Zealand Dame Jenny Shipley, and Puna Wano-Bryant, chair of the Parihaka Papakāinga Trust, to name just a few. Alongside speaker events, we enjoyed dinner at the Beehive, small group time with a Member of Parliament, regular meet-ups with our ALF group, and community service in Porirua.

Young leaders attending AFL 2019 enjoyed dinner at the Beehive. Photo credit: AFL

I knew from past experiences at conferences and forums, it’s best to go in with no pre-set expectations, beyond what clothes you’ll need to bring. ALF was not a one-stop shop for tools to effortlessly transform yourself into an effective leader, nor was it a crash course on entrepreneurship. The theme of ALF 2019 was ‘faith and values’, which encouraged us to focus our attention inwards. Let me share my main takeaways from the forum:

For me, the biggest takeaway was the word ‘who-ness’. For Dame Jenny Shipley, developing your ‘who-ness’ is the ultimate investment—you can own your space better if you know who you are. This is leadership lesson #2: Strive to be a person of substance, a person of purpose, and take people with you where you can. Intellectual rigour and capability, curiosity, and emotional and cultural intelligence are traits we ought to cultivate in ourselves because we need these if we want to enable (rather than control) others, and thereby encourage autonomous leadership. Find your voice! Speak up, out, and amplify. Take responsibility. This leads to leadership lesson #3: more, better, more quickly, with purpose and intent.

Part of the four-day leadership forum included community service in Porirua. Photo credit: AFL

An important leadership question to ask ourselves is, are we using our brains? Imagination isn’t something we lose when we grow up. It’s essential to collaboration and is a unique human faculty that invites risk but also genuine ground-breaking engagement. So leadership lesson #4 is: ‘Risk it for the biscuit’.

Another thing to evaluate is our own mind set and the meaning we assign to things. Joshua Peauafi, Wellington Regional Coordinator for Young Enterprise, asked us, “Why are the terms ‘plastic Māori and ‘plastic Pasifika’ pejoratives?” Being half brown and half white is viewed as a deficiency in brown-ness and white-ness, while a person’s ability to ‘walk the edge’ of these cultural identities, to be comfortable in both, remains uncelebrated. You can see how the meaning we pin to words can disrupt a solid understanding of our own ‘who-ness’, preventing genuine collaborations which help us see different vantage points and make Aotearoa a better place for everyone.

Here’s leadership lesson #5—the final one: Listen with the purpose of understanding at a deeper level. This might feel challenging and completely new, but hey, that’s the spirit of ALF!

Sarah Auld is a fourth-year law and arts student majoring in Political Science and Philosophy, and is a participant in the Victoria Plus Programme—one of the University’s free, award-winning leadership programmes.

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