Sponsors of NZ Women in Leadership, Distinguished guests one and all.
May I begin by reflecting on what has happened in our region. We in Christchurch know what the people in the Hurunui and Kaikoura Districts are going through.
It is going to be a very challenging time ahead, but the advantage is that these are tight-knit communities. People know each other and the bonds are strong.
I have been asked to speak to your symposium theme ‘resilient leadership’. Some of you will expect that this is something that would be no issue for me. I’ve been a Member of Parliament for 23 years, including a period as a Cabinet Minister under the leadership of the Rt Hon Helen Clark.
I volunteered to leave that behind and stand for the Mayoralty here in Christchurch – where I was born and raised and have lived all my life.
My first act as Mayor was to sign our city up for the 100 Resilient Cities network pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation.
I must know it all.
Well I don’t.
I was given a necklace by my former staff when I left Parliament – it has a large bead and three smaller beads.
The large one reads: "The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud". It is a quote from the well-known philosopher, Coco Chanel.
That quote is really about how important I believe it is to speak out for what you believe in. Often that requires courage.
The three smaller beads speak to community, resilience and leadership. These are words I thought I understood, but didn't truly appreciate until after the earthquake.
Community is not the co-location of houses – that's a suburb. It's the relationship between the people in those houses and their relationship as a group with decision-makers – that's community. And of course community is not limited to location or place – it also refers to communities of identity and interest. A community’s social capital is not measured by socio-economic status; it is measured by the strength of those relationships.
Resilience is not strength in the face of adversity – that's stoicism; something we Cantabrians have in spades. Resilience isn't just about maintaining critical functions and bouncing back into shape after something occurs. It’s about the capacity to recover in the long-term better than ever before and if necessary to adapt to a new environment or new conditions.
But more importantly, it is about the capacity to co-create a new future. That requires we in decision-making positions to let go of a significant part of our authority – that is something I now recognise as the true hallmark of resilience.
And finally leadership is not a position you hold – it is a mark of character.
People often look to the heroic form of leadership after a disaster - it can be comforting to have someone else taking charge, knowing what to do.
But the leadership necessary for the long haul is based on qualities like these – engaging, respectful, inclusive, empathetic and intuitive.
I often make the point that we automatically think of women when we use these words but we don't always think of women when we think of leaders – the question I pose is whether we have had the heroic form of leadership drummed into us for so long that we don't see the qualities that are essential to bring out the leadership in others.
The message I take from my necklace is 'courageous leadership that speaks truth to power and empowers communities to co-create the environment in which they live will build resilience in the true sense of the word'.
What a powerful message to carry in a necklace.
Christchurch has just hosted the first Singularity University Summit to be held in Australasia.
Their website gives a clue as to what this is all about, opening with these words:
We empower a global community with the mindset, skillset, and network to create an abundant future. Join us on a transformative journey from inspiration to impact, and discover what being exponential means to you.
Attendees at the NZ summit were offered the possibility of understanding, adapting to, and thriving in an exponentially changing world.
In welcoming Singularity University to the city I said that we in Christchurch wanted to be at the forefront of the innovation and creativity required to take advantage of the exponential leap in technologies the Summit challenged us to contemplate.
Not from a position of defensiveness or fear, but rather with a real sense of optimism for a future that we can co-create for ourselves.
I used that word co-create deliberately.
Co-creation brings with it the sense that we are in this together; a recognition that neither governments nor councils can take on these challenges for our communities. Representative democracy simply won’t cut the mustard when we don’t know what lies ahead.
We need a participatory democracy with active citizenship – something that has the added advantage of providing an antidote to the blame game that seems to drive reporting in an increasingly populist media and the unmoderated environment of social media. If we are making the decisions ourselves, it’s hard to blame the government.
Perhaps resilient leadership is distributed leadership.
People have asked me what is singularity – my simplistic definition is that it sits at the cusp of technology and artificial intelligence.
When computers can analyse problems and assess responses faster and more accurately than the human brain, that is singularity.
Exponential increases in capacity combined with an exponential reduction in cost will change the world we live in. Gordon Moore predicted this in terms of computing capacity – but Moore’s Law applies far more broadly than that.
We could ignore it, but then again it’s coming ready or not. I’d rather be ready.
That means we need to look to the next generation of leaders.
And that’s why resilience is so important.
At the end of the Singularity University Summit we were challenged to think about courage. And that is what leadership is all about at the end of the day.
Robert Kennedy said
Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery-in-battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.
And Meg Cabot
Courage is not the absence of fear but the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.
I attended the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai in March last year – exactly 20 years after I attended the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing.
If there is one thing that was reinforced both times, it was the need for women to be at the table when decisions are made.
The challenges we face are greater today than they have ever been – disasters – caused by natural events or man-made - climate change and extreme weather events from storms to droughts, extreme violence, terrorism, income inequality. If women don't sit at the table when the decisions are made about how to combat all of these, they are condemned to continue to be their greatest victims. That was the message in 1995 and it was exactly the same message in 2015.
And it is true in every sphere of life. I don't think the NZX top 100 listed companies are part of a conspiracy to keep women from their boardrooms – I just think that their dominant male composition – a high percentage have no women on them at all – is self-perpetuating.
When we look for someone to serve on a committee or a board or a fundraising team, we go to the people we have worked with before and ask them.
I believe the real challenge is to ensure that the decision-makers and the shoulder-tappers appreciate the value in diversity and the strength it can bring to an organisation.
This is not about tokenism or even entitlement; it is about what is in the best interests of the company or our city or our nation going forward.
If we don't have diversity at the Council table, the boardroom tables, the management tables and the Cabinet table, then we don't get the benefit of the range of perspectives and insights that we all bring to the table. That's how to tackle complex issues – no single perspective can resolve complexity.
And understanding that, and being willing to embrace all the perspectives required to make good decisions when confronted with situations we hadn’t planned for, that’s what resilience is all about and it’s what leadership demands.