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.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - Kate Kearins is Pro­fes­sor of Man­age­ment and Pro Vice Chan­cel­lor and Dean of Busi­ness, Eco­nomics and Law at Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

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.

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