MANAGING FOR A BETTER WORLD
Today’s organisational leaders – and their organisations – need to display greater authenticity. And, writes Kate Kearins, that’s where the leader’s personal story comes in.
The era of the personal story. By Kate Kearins.
MANY OF us will recognise today's business organisations are well and truly through the era of hype. My communications expert sister once said, it's like organisationwide everyone was in PR. Public relations overdrive more like.
Today's organisational leaders – and their organisations – need to display greater authenticity. And here's where the leader's personal story comes in.
Spark chief executive Simon Moutter has gained press attention recently for again telling a story that resonated as true. It was about moving from a ‘ mind-led' approach to diversity and inclusion to a more ‘heart-led' one. This time, apparently, the tears came at the end of his story rather than at the beginning. The point is that he drew from the depths of his experience, the pain points and the signs of having overcome challenges.
Storytelling is an age-old phenomenon with a few common trajectories often involving a hero (in New Zealand perhaps more fittingly, a somewhat selfdeprecating hero, or at least a modest one prepared to admit mistakes and learn from them and take on challenges).
Storytelling provides an emotional connection, and a sense of realism – albeit that we often have tendencies to embellish our stories for better effect. Life itself can be just a little mundane if all its details are given equal emphasis in a story.
A story of my own in the diversity space starts with a choice I made as a 12-year-old leaving primary school to choose to take Maori over French at high school. The parent-child interview with the high school principal overturned this choice with the statement: “If she was my daughter in the third form she would be taking French.” And so it was … and at that point of my life being good at languages, I went on, and on, and on and completed a Masters in French, lived and worked in France a couple of times, and even used French social theory in much of my academic research on organisational power and politics. A good and happy life of privilege, no doubt – but of understanding in the local context?
I could have made a different choice but course advice at uni was to continue in the subjects in which you excelled. My one introductory Te Reo course at Waikato uni all those years ago is a distant memory.
And now, I am – I admit – deficient in a leadership role in my institution in this country. My modest attempts at learning Te Reo through an app, and buying a phrase book have not born much fruit. Rehearsing a mihi and using the odd Maori word in a conversation don't make the grade. Some of my colleagues, I am pleased to say, have overtaken me in the language stakes.
I am pleased to see the growing interest in Aotearoa New Zealand in learning Te Reo. As a former language scholar – albeit of a foreign and offshore language – I know that with language comes greater cultural understanding.
There are concepts I ‘know' in French that I struggle to translate into my native English. There are bound to be concepts I don't know in Maori that, if I could begin to understand, would help me work better with my Maori colleagues and help our organisation better serve its Maori students.
Although it's possible to make a similar argument for every one of the students we have at AUT from diverse language backgrounds, we are here in Aotearoa New Zealand, a bicultural nation with cultural experiences of our own to offer. Giving all of our students a strong sense of this place is part of my mission.