Leaders’ words shape their identity

“We lift our gaze to not what stands between us, but what stands before us” – Amanda Gorman, American Laureate.

The capacity to spot and emphasise what is good among disappointments and failures is one of leaders’ great assets. Criticising comes easily when you are on the receiving end of poor service or poor leadership. I fell into this trap when holidaying in Golden Bay. Waiting over an hour for café meals on several occasions had me make five observation of how to improve their service. I then realised I was on holiday in one of the most scenic and historic rural coasts of New Zealand. Serving 700 meals a day in tiny premises where diners eat al fresco is a feat of extreme proportions. My purpose was not to have great insights. More, my purpose was to appreciate and revel in being at a distance from my home city and everyday life – to refresh, reorient and reimagine the year ahead.

During my time here I came to appreciate:

  • Dining with friends, al fresco, beside estuaries with garden fresh produce, before diving into the early evening sea as the tide came in
  • The natural beauty of the white and golden sanded beaches
  • Bird watching in the tidal life of sunlit estuaries
  • Walking well hewn bush tracks with no litter evident
  • Kayaking and swimming in the crystal clear sea with few others in sight
  • Learning on our Farewell Spit tour that godwits fly from Golden Bay to Siberia in three weeks without stopping
  • Wet weather initiated us enjoying Martin Scorsese interviewing author Fran Liebowitz on Netflix
  • Seeing small town relationships unravel in ‘The Dry’, in a former grain store, now the Takaka movie theatre
  • Discovering the eloquent and inspiring American Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman
  • Entering the English 900’s for several days via Ken Follett’s the Evening and the Morning
  • Sharing videos with our grandchildren of our adventures
  • The rapid production of vaccines for Covid and their likely availability this year
  • The social and geographic freedoms we are afforded in New Zealand with prudent Covid management

What have you appreciated over your summer break?

The great value of holidays is to create a distance from everyday life and generate fresh experiences. We experienced people’s resilience, friendliness, traditions, and sense of fun in rural New Zealand with the A&P show and small business entrepreneurship. We met the fishing guide who lost his business without international visitors. We bought fabulous breads and treats from the bakery down a rural road, 15 kms from the township and open 3 days a week.

Insights from last year

Last year the pandemic forced us into narrowing down our social and geographic milieu. This experience was shared by everyone in the world. Restrictions helped us prioritise. Our choice of who we associate with in person was removed. We experienced our freedom to travel internationally cancelled. Throughout the world, we have all experienced lockdowns, isolation, and loss of choices of where and how we gather.

Five insights are:

  1. The lack of choice forced priorities to be narrowed down and re-ordered. This in turn ensured that more people were working collaboratively towards the same goals.
  2. Leaders were forced to look widely for help in responding to new situations. Many people stepped up to their and their leader’s delight. New trusted relationships were rapidly formed and innovative decisions made. Many learnt that they could function well with new colleagues and deliver.
  3. Being in bubbles with defined others starkly clarified whether we were with our real companions in work or life. If we are thriving, we are with the right people. If we are not thriving and adapting we are in a process of personal restructuring of our relationships. These things take time and emotional resilience.
  4. Businesses can fail because they are unable to adapt to external conditions. Asking for help early is the only way forward.
  5. Working online worked well for many. I savored not having to travel to meetings, find car parks and go through endless security systems. Walking to my office and beginning a meeting online was a delightful experience. Structuring online meetings for interpersonal interaction have the same demands as in-person meetings.

Here is my best advice for a successful year ahead:

  • Rediscover your ‘why’ for leading
  • Share your vision, direction and expectations often
  • Use words that inspire and create positive futures for others
  • Build on your capacities for new experiences
  • Expand your capacities for productive relationships
  • Notice and appreciate what is good in those around you
  • Be fearless in having conversations that matter

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