Monday, October 20, 2014

leadership personified

I have just returned from four days of Chamber conference. As well as large quantities of amazing locally produced food (and erm...craft beer), a couple of side trips to McCashins Brewery (did I mention beer?), and the World of Wearable Arts Museum, I was also privileged to hear a number of world class speakers as part of our conference learning and line up.

These included along with other great NZ business people and politicians, Dame Suzie Moncrieff (founder of WoW), John Palmer (former Chair of Air NZ), Campbell Mitchell (Marketing director for Fairfax media), Tom Sturgess (Chair NZ King Salmon and former director of Sachs Goldman), and Craig Donaldson (Global CEO of KEA network) and NZCCI Chair John Lindsay .  I was also lucky enough to talk with some of these people on a more informal basis over the aforementioned Nelson showcase of food and wine.  

Normally during key note addresses I would be busily taking notes, trying to remember ''gems'' to bring back and share with colleagues (or on here...)   As I jotted down my thoughts at the end of each day, I considered the commonalities of each of the speakers..and by day four the list looked like this:

Common Values:                                      Common attributes
Integrity                                                     Intelligence
Authenticity                                               Strategic thinkers
Commitment to collaboration                   Confidence
Humility                                                    Drive and determination

Without exception these people had me glued to them, taking in every word.  and on the above lists there weren't really many surprises - they were gifted story tellers, clearly successful and clever people who have all really made their mark on NZ - and the world.  But the one thing that struck me above all else, was the shared quality of humility.  In fact it was the last thing I had expected from such successful and well connected luminaries.


How could people who have had to work SO hard, to get so be so well connected, so ambitious, so driven, so thick skinned at could they be humble and still be so successful? But they were!  Not a single one referred to any of those things above - no one talked about themselves at all really, unless it was in the context of their team, or their family, or the company they worked for.  They saw themselves as cogs in a bigger wheel, each acknowledged the part their spouses (always heartfelt), and the mentors and employees had played in their 'success' (and in fact few called it success, preferring to talk about the successes of their organisations and the people within them.

No, not a single person alluded to their own intelligence, integrity or skill as being key, even though it was patently obvious to all of us that it was this list of things that has got them to where they are today.

Now of course one could argue that it's easy to be humble when you're that successful. Easy to ''brush off'' the trappings of success for the purpose of engaging an audience.  And had just one or two of the presenters done that I might have been as sceptical.  but it was without exception. And each one that I spoke to afterwards was genuinely warm, encouraging and interested in what I had to say.

It was inspiring. It was a good reminder of what leadership really is. It's about people. It's about the doing not the saying. and it's about always acknowledging those who go before you, beside you and after you.   It was ...humbling...