E tipu e rea - School Boards of Trustees building leaders one person at a time

Written by Denise Evans

For several years, Fair Way has supported the New Zealand School Trustees Association (“NZSTA”) annual conference which this year recognised 30 years since the beginning of Tomorrow’s schools. During that time, thousands of New Zealanders have participated on school boards and in doing so have contributed hugely to their school communities. They have also learnt governance and leadership skills in the process.  Many of the Trustees have been students, many are parents who may have no previous education or experience.  One of the great pleasures of the conference is meeting and talking with first time trustees as they begin their journey.

The education sector is one where new leaders discover, develop and demonstrate leadership capability. Leadership comes from passion and a deep desire to make a difference. That is why people put themselves forward to serve on Boards of Trustees.

Trustees are leaders in their schools and communities. The Principal is an automatic member of the Board and his or her leadership of both the school staff and the Board is critical to the success of a school.  Schools are the incubators of our future leaders educating children to take their place as leaders of the future.  The role of the student representative on the Board is the first taste many young people have of being involved in the governance role of an organisation. It is in this context that I we write about the qualities of leadership.

Leadership is the ability to be courageous, an early adopter of ideas, and to recognise change inevitability leads to more change.  Instead a of sitting and waiting, a leader must be prepared to be bold, lead others in a bold way whilst also willing to be a “pilgrim” on the journey of life getting by on what they know and being prepared to learn constantly.

Leadership relies on other people being willing followers and leaders inspire future leaders.

There is no place for ego in a leader. Skills which enable leaders to mediate conflict are essential. The first skill is the ability to be vulnerable which demonstrates humanity and enables the leader to stay in touch with the followers and engage others to be on the journey too.  A leader needs to understand the difference between “power over” which leads to short term gains on the basis that people will follow based on fear of consequences and “power with”, which recognises that working together, everyone achieves more.

As a young person, I went to see the great Andrew Lloyd Webber/ Tim Rice musical Jesus Christ Superstar which has inspired my thinking on leadership ever since. Apart from the fantastic music, the musical demonstrated two types of leadership - that of King Herod aptly portrayed as a pop star with the inevitable short life in the limelight and that of Jesus Christ. I then thought then what were the qualities of leadership that have sustained his leadership through centuries. ? How is it that his story continues to inspire?  For me it is his vulnerability, the acceptance of the need to lay down his life for the good of others, his passion to do something good for people, his capacity to forgive and heal and demonstrate his love for others.

History is filled with great stories about leaders and we do well to learn about them, to analyse how they came to power, how they attracted followers.  Of even more value is to study how their leadership journey panned out and how their leadership came to an end.  Contrast great leaders such as Nelson Mandela, and Te Whiti o Rongomai both of whom suffered in prison, suffered ridicule and prejudice from others; with other leaders such as Adolf Hitler whose leadership was based on hate, racism and fear and which ended in ignominy with him not even brave enough to face up to the horror of his deeds.

Maybe we should consider some of today’s leaders. How will leaders like Jacinda Arden, Barack Obama or indeed Donald Trump be regarded as leaders in future?

New Zealand should be proud of the massive investment in leadership which has enabled so many people in communities all around the country to receive training and support from NZSTA in governance roles on boards of trustees.   Let’s hope this continues for at least another thirty years!

About the author 

Denise Evans is Principal, Dispute Resolution at Fair Way. As part of this role, Denise provides Dispute Resolution leadership within Fair Way and champions the use of Dispute Resolution services in New Zealand and internationally.

Denise has over 35 years’ experience as a lawyer, mediator and arbitrator, and she has vast experience in resolving commercial and family disputes.

If you would like to get in touch with Denise, please contact her by email at denise.evans@fairwayresolution.com