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Lessions in Leadership – Tania Burrows

One of the benefits of becoming the first inaugural Regional Leader of the Year was a pass to the Women in Leadership Symposium. I was excited for the opportunity to attend and to experience the diversity of speakers and women from different industries and walks of life, who hold leadership roles. I felt like there would be huge learnings from the variety of experiences in the room and I wasn’t disappointed.

It wasn’t so much a room as it was an online event because the Symposium was split into two separate events after Covid changed their plans. And I’ll be honest, the online part was challenging for me. I really value the fact that in this day and age we can connect with each other and learn in a variety of different ways, particularly online, but as a mum and as a farmer my home life is incredibly busy. Not having that time away where you’re 100% focused on the speakers and invested in the learning that you’re doing, while you’re still juggling the other roles in your life – it probably wasn’t my ideal way of learning this time. I also think that the connections we make with people when we meet them in person are just naturally stronger.

But what I will say is that online gives us such an incredibly opportunity to connect with people far and wide, particularly rural people who don’t have the option to travel, and the two online days in September gave me the opportunity to learn from some amazing speakers. The passion from the different women in different roles was inspiring, and there were some key messages that stood out, like

#1 Women lead in a different way
There was a lot of conversation about the need for a nurturing, caring leadership role and how we shouldn’t underestimate the power it can actually have. As women we don’t need to lead in the same way, or a similar way, to what’s natural for men. We have quite a lot of power in our own right.

#2 Successful female leaders prioritise their own wellbeing
Another key theme that emerged was that women who are successful leaders really put particular emphasis on their own wellbeing. Things like prioritising exercise, time out for themselves, time out for family and making sure they eat well were all key to the successes of the women who spoke. Investing in yourself, whether that’s time, learning or wellbeing, is a key part of our own growth and we should make sure that we’re consciously entering situations where we can invest in ourselves.

#3 Limiting beliefs aren’t overcome, we learn how to manage them
We talked a lot about limiting beliefs, in particular imposter syndrome. It seems to be a thing that impacts women in leadership roles and there was a lot of conversation about how they have overcome it. What’s interesting is that most of them actually haven’t – they’ve just learnt that the fear response is always going to be there so they have learnt to manage that response in themselves.

#4 We borrow people from their lives
This lesson came from Ariana Huffington, and I think it’s such a valuable way to look at any person at any point in their life. We need to remember that working isn’t living, it’s a way to earn a living, andalthough we might be really passionate about what we do we need to make sure they have the time and energy available to have lives outside of work.

#5 Mistakes are our biggest teacher
Another lesson I took away was that there’s learning in every experience. From listening to the speakers it seems this is more of a female trait – and it’s definitely true for me – we have a real fear of failure. We need to remember that failure is part of the journey to success and that sometimes we need to embrace our mistakes. We need to allow ourselves to acknowledge that ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect’, and not beat ourselves up about mistakes or hold on to them. That one was very relevant to me!

A couple of my standout speakers had a few lessons of their own to impart…

Karen Walker
Good or bad, I had built up a perception of what I imagined she would be like as a person and she absolutely blew those away. That was a big lesson that I took away – that we build up expectations of people but it’s not until you actually have an encounter with that person and are open to who they are that you learn who they are, and to not take any expectations with you into an encounter with someone. But the thing that stood out the most about her was her approach to business. She talked about leading through times of uncertainty and being flexible, being able to pivot in your business as and when needed, and really focusing in on people in the sense of what they need most during those uncertain times. For her business, they didn’t focus on sales during Covid but ensured the wellbeing of their people, making sure the communication was really strong and making sure they were supported. It was really interesting to hear that they never took any massive dips in terms of sales and made no layoffs, so it was just an incredible philosophy and a compelling story for a business that I thought would have been in trouble.

Melody Robinson
Melody is a rugby and sports presenter. Again, she had a really compelling journey in terms of being involved in the women’s rugby team and doing really well in national-level sport, but not being recognised in an equal way as what you would see in men’s sport. She then moved into a maledominated role where she was commentating rugby, and she spoke a lot about the challenges of that role and how she managed bullying in her work. I was really inspired by the strategies that she used, like having mentors and supports around you to talk things through when work isn’t going well – people who she knew would support her when needed but who wouldn’t take over and solve the problem for her. Another strategy she adopted was having a couple of phrases to use when she was being challenged or if someone was making derogatory comments that didn’t sit well with her. The two she uses are, ‘what do you mean by that?’ and ‘why would you say that?’, shifting the power in the conversation a little bit.

I’m looking forward to having the day in Auckland in November to connect with several people that I met online. I’m hoping that most of the speakers will be available to connect with in person as well!

The Regional Leader of the Year 2020 Award was sponsored by:

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