Navigating the Oceans of the not for profit sector

Aly McNicoll

The 2018 National Not-for-profit Sector Conference in Auckland (Feb 19 & 20) proved to be another great meeting of leaders and others in the sector. The theme was Everyone Leads - Building our Capability; which reflects the title of Paul Schmitz’s book Everyone Leads - building leadership from the community up. 

Paul was this year’s international keynote speaker and for many years led a not for profit organisation in the USA called Public Allies which provides diverse young people with a leadership development experience involving an internship in a not for profit organisation. He told his own story of transformation – from living on the streets and struggling with addictions to 25 years later being appointed by President Obama to The White House Council on Community Solutions. ‘Everyone Leads’ doesn’t mean that everyone should lead at the same time. His key message was that leadership is a muscle, everyone has it and the more we use it, the stronger it gets. His keynote addressed how to build the collective leadership muscle by getting everyone to step up to own a result (his definition of leadership).

LEAD was a conference partner again this year. Sandy Thompson (Strengthening the Board and Manager Relationship) and myself (Dealing with Difficult Personalities on Teams and Boards) were workshop presenters on the first day. Participants came with real issues they needed solutions for, and by applying the workshop ideas plus hearing other’s experiences, many walked away with a lighter step. This is always an encouraging moment.

Dr. Chellie Spiller, Associate Professor at the University of Auckland Business School gave an inspiring presentation on her life’s work around Wayfinding Leadership – a powerful approach based on studying the ancient methods of wayfinders navigating the vast oceans of the Pacific in their sailing waka.

The paradigm shift for me was hearing how they viewed the island (destination) not as a distant goal that needed achieving, but as a vision that they held in their minds eye as they firmly anchored themselves in the moment, reading the signs or markers that were all around them and using this information to steer their way. By being still, tuning in to what is really important and minimising the static or noise, leaders can calibrate the signs and move from stillness in to action.  Eventually the island comes to them by shaping their growth and their journey every day.

John Tamahere from Te Whanau o Waipareira spoke about leadership strategy for the long haul; Suzanne Henwood about putting the heart in to leadership; and Jared Mullens (Deputy Chief Censor) about the impact of young New Zealanders viewing sexual violence in the media.

The highlights for the LEAD team were the myriad of significant conversations we had with leaders in the sector over coffee during the breaks. Some of those were catch ups, some were heart to hearts, and some were about the tremendous challenges faced on a day to day basis. 

For all of us, the conference was a ‘courageous pause’. A time to stop for a moment, to look how far we have come, to catch our breath and think about what’s ahead so we can face it with ‘true grit’.  We look forward to next year's conference.

We also hope to see many of you at our workshops and leader events this year to keep the connections strong - so vital in surviving and thriving the journeys involved with navigating these vast oceans we call the not for profit sector.