a leader should be approachableI woke up on the Saturday morning after the Convention at 6.00am.  I felt refreshed after a good sleep and was reflecting back on the week that had just been.  As I lay there, I was thinking about all that I had learnt over the past few days, the people I had listened to, and the experiences and feelings that had been generated within me.  I felt the need to write it all down, so got up in my dressing gown and headed for the computer…

What really came to my mind was that I am not a ‘friend’ of the Peter Cullen Trust.   Rather, I am a friend with every Fellow I have had the privilege of sharing, laughing and working with, the volunteers, the Board members who I have a relationship with and, of course, the memory and connection with the ideals and leadership of Peter Cullen.  This for me, is why I enjoy being a ‘friend’ – friendship does not work without relationship.

At the Graduate Reunion on Wednesday we explored the idea of what makes an ‘Intelligent Leader’.  I had been asked to facilitate a workshop on the topic by Phil, Kaye, Sarina and Suzie, and we had a few discussions over the phone and via email about what we might cover.  I have to admit that working with the Fellows always stretches me out of my comfort zone.  You see, the Fellows are a group of amazing people, smart, clever and forward-looking.  My initial reaction is generally one of YIKES!  This is quickly replaced with enthusiasm about being able to share ideas with the Fellows about leadership.  Having worked in the NRM sector for many years, I have seen many people with authority but not very many true leaders.  What an opportunity for me to be given, to discuss this with the Fellows, people with a desire to ‘make a difference’, and who genuinely care about what happens on this incredible planet we call home.

So what does make an ‘intelligent leader’?   Certainly not what is expressed in the illustration!  The Fellows did not respond well to the idea that the Peter Cullen Trust was a ‘Leaders Only’ club, focusing on status, power and competition – no one else need apply!  (Phew what a relief….)

Over the years I have been working with the Fellows we have explored the work of Simon Sinek, Susan Scott, Brene Brown and Peter Rennie, all of whom talk about what makes a true leader.  Being in touch with ‘WHY’ you do what you do, is a central premise.  Sinek talks about the pressures we face in our day to day working lives to justify ourselves by focusing on how we do things and what we do.  The how and the what are largely irrelevant, however, if we cannot articulate WHY we do what we do.  He advocates that we need to ‘Start with Why’ – the Why is our motivation, our belief, our passion.  When we speak and act from the heart we can be trusted, we are being true to ourselves and, most importantly, we enable those around us to do the same.

Having explored our ‘Why’ we moved on to consider the role intelligent leaders can play in enabling the people they work with to ‘flourish’.   Here we once again turned to Sinek, who talks about how great leaders create ‘safe’ environments for people to work within.  Now when he talks about ‘safe’, he does not mean an environment in which the walls are padded and covered in messages about trip hazards!  Rather, he means environments in which people are encouraged to follow their hearts, explore ideas, share thoughts, and take risks without fear, or retribution.   This is an environment in which the ‘leader’ recognises they do not have all the answers, who takes on a role of fostering ideas, and provides guidance when needed.

We ended our day by having what Scott calls ‘Fierce Conversations’.  The Fellows were already familiar with Scott’s work as it is preparatory reading for their course.  Scott states that what gets talked about, how it gets talked about, and who is invited, are the fundamentals of a fierce conversation.  She is strong on the need for authenticity, transparency and not shying away from having difficult discussions.  The Fellows had fierce conversations about ‘their network’.  Why is the network important?  How is it operating?  What is its purpose? and, Who gets invited?  The conversations were passionate, wide-ranging and insightful.  We shared these conversations, hilariously, through story.  Using story highlighted the fact that meaningful conversations do not have to be steeped in agendas, formality and order, rather, they can be through song, having fun and engendering connection.

So what makes an intelligent leader?  I think as a group we established that an intelligent leader is someone who is passionate, emotional, self-aware and authentic.  An intelligent leader creates environments in which they, and the people they care about can thrive, have fierce conversations and stay connected.  Intelligent leaders ‘dare greatly’ and inspire others to do the same.   I think at the end of the day we realised that being an intelligent leader is something we can all do as, after all, it is about staying in touch with what it is to be human.

Thankyou to Chris Arnott for editorial comments and improvement!

Siwan Lovett
15th November 2014