Five go forth: Leading Change for Good

When a Creative Director, a lawyer, a digital curator, a Consultant and a Head of Corporate Affairs met each other on the first day of the August 2021 intake at The Mind Lab’s Leading Change for Good course, little did they know they’d be fast friends nine months later.

Collaboration is key

Joanna, Bryce, Nolwenn, Jenn and Anna came from vastly different backgrounds and walks of life but were brought together by a desire to learn new skills in leadership and change. They first formed a group around an assignment topic on their Leading Change for Good course. Needing to collaborate around one topic, there was a definite risk that their different life experiences and ways of working might cause some friction, but that wasn’t the case at all.

“From the start of Leading Change for Good we’d been challenged to think differently and really open our minds to new perspectives and different ways of thinking,” says Joanna. “So, when the time came to put it into practice, we just clicked and collaborated really well.”

Nolwenn agrees, saying the first part of the course felt “like therapy”, with its focus on authenticity, building trust and identifying values to help shape meaningful change. “I learned a lot about myself and it helped me to feel more confident to stand out for what I think is important.” says Nolwenn.

The group, along with their wider cohort, met in person for three all day sessions at The Mind Lab in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, once every six weeks. To progress their first group assignment, they met up at cafes and libraries on weekends across Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Jenn, who lives in Tauranga, was always included via speakerphone. It was this face to face time that made a real difference to building those bonds.

“We spend so much of our lives on Zoom these days. I’ve found face to face time with people always creates better collaboration”, says Bryce. “I’m not sure our connections would have been as strong if we’d only met through a screen. For me, the face to face component was a big selling point of Leading Change for Good, and our group’s mini-meetups really cemented that benefit.” 

They got to present their first assignment in person but once lockdown hit, all interactions were via Zoom. They decided to remain as a group for the second assignment and beyond, collaborating for their individual change project.

Manaakitanga

That decision to work on the second group assignment together meant their progress was turbo-charged, with established relationships allowing them to focus on the work rather than tip-toeing around each other. It also reinforced a concept they had learnt about in the course, that of manaakitanga, where relationships are ongoing rather than transactional.

Student Jenn Ross, a commercial lawyer, wondered that she might miss opportunities to learn by working with a different team in the cohort. But ultimately felt the consistency was just as valuable.

“We had that common experience of strengths, so it was a great opportunity to build so much further than if we were starting from scratch,” says Jenn. 

Working on the assignments together strengthened the group bond and led to collaboration on their individual assignments with regular Zoom catch ups. During these catch ups, conversation extended beyond the course to life events and group members have supported each other through some challenging times.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

So what has this connection meant for the five and how has it helped them go forth with their work ‘Leading Change’?

Despite having worked as a creative director in advertising agencies, Bryce felt he had often just been ‘winging it’ as a leader, and was lacking confidence in applying for new roles.

“I signed up to gain credibility – credibility to the world, and to myself. Credibility has meant I can apply for leadership roles and to not feel like an imposter or that I’d be out of my depth.”

While working on her change strategy, Nolwenn’s employer asked her to develop a specific strategy she never thought they would ask her to do. That ended up aligning well with her change strategy, meaning she could apply her study practically to a work environment.

This was a common trend in the group, with Joanna using her learnings to help create more collaborative partnerships at work, and Anna drawing on hers to help develop and articulate a strategy for a pressing issue at work.

While upskilling in leadership and change are key learnings, other benefits of the course included friendship and community both within their group and with the wider cohort and facilitators. And what drew the team to each other, and what was ultimately one of the greatest benefits of the course, was the diversity of thinking that allowed different team members to draw on their strengths and collaborate successfully.

Lifelong learning, lifelong friendships

“One of the biggest benefits has been meeting these amazing people and getting to spend time with them,” says Joanna. “It’s been such a privilege to meet people who really stretch my thinking.”

Nolwenn puts it succinctly: “After the last 35 weeks, it would be impossible to look at the world through the same lens. And when you have people who’ve been through that same experience on the course, we understand that applying that diversity of thinking means doing things differently, and our group of five gives us that support.”

Anna agrees. “We hear a lot about diversity, equity and inclusion, but it can be challenging to get out of your bubble and experience it. Our cohort was an absolute treasure trove of incredible ideas and wisdom that I never would have met had it not been for this course. That, and the friends I’ve made in my group of five, has been an incredible gift.”

To anyone considering whether the course is right for them, Jenn has some advice. “Go for it. Be brave.”

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