The letter below was written on 28 February 2020 at the start of the programme to be opened again in the future on 14 November 2020.
Thank you for being my programme trainer for the Flourish leadership development programme in 2020. This programme enabled me to become a more confident ethnic woman. It also helped me gain skills to participate as a member of the Waikato community. I was able to contribute more as a valuable team member at work. My relationship with friends and family has changed for the better.
I am particularly grateful for my willing and experienced mentor, who advised me. At the start, she shared the story of her career path with me in how she became an expert in her field. She was able to understand where I was starting out on my journey. She taught me how to navigate the workplace and network more effectively. She gave honest, helpful guidance, regular motivational chats, and supported me to believe in myself. She set an example for me to become a genuine leader in the community. She is a well-rounded compassionate person, and she manages to always remain objective and fair in her dealings. She has been an exemplary role model in being prepared and approachable. We worked together to explore careers paths, set goals, and found resources.
The monthly workshops allowed me to learn about topics relevant to ethnic women leaders.
The initial subject, identity and belonging, explored who I am, where I fit and what I consider home. I have roles in the world – I am a daughter, sister, employee, aunt and friend to those around me. I originally thought this is about what others thought of me, but it is more importantly, what I thought of myself. In society, we are often expected to fit into a mould. It was approximately when I turned thirty years of age, I no longer wanted to live for others, but instead, make choices to simply become. In other words, I changed from being awkward to being comfortable in my own skin.
I know that in settling in New Zealand as a migrant, there are challenges in fitting in, the support available for families can seem limited at first or in the past, and the state of ‘being at home’ while lacking a network can feel isolating. I can now confidently say that I am comfortable in actively contributing to the increasingly diverse community in the Waikato.
Then the leading for change workshop introduced principles to add leadership skills to the mix. The combination of developing skills by having abilities, training, becoming adept, all comes to nothing if one does not believe in oneself. I have innate talent and have been educated so I am able to learn how to do tasks and follow instructions, but that is not enough. Here is where assurance matters and that was what I was lacking before joining Flourish. It is a declared confidence that I am certain I can be an accomplished leader.
Next came the civic engagement workshop. To be honest, I assumed that civic engagement was to do with something like voting during elections. However, it is much more than exercising rights. Participation in activities to address public concerns and resolve issue can make a positive impact on the community.
The workshop I looked forward to most was on self-management, and it turned out to be my favourite! We scaffolded on our personal strengths and learned how to not just do self-care for wellness, but to practice it sustainably. We found out what we are good at already, then we built on these qualities to bridge ourselves between where we are and our goal. The plan was conscious, mindful, deliberate, realistic, and viable for the long term.
The cultural intelligence workshop enabled me to add to my capability to relate and work effectively across cultures. During the workshop I had the opportunity to interact and communicate with fellow ethnic women from different backgrounds. I developed an awareness of myself in relation to others and sensed my bias towards other culture and traditions. I honed my ability to recognise cultural differences and that led to accept and practise promoting cultural diversity. Part of the activities were to appropriate questions in order to understand others and be prepared to answer questions concerning my culture.
I can now comfortably get along with people of different ethnicity, age, religion, economic background, sexual orientation, or industry. I am more curious in learning about other cultures, and when I do, I keep my mind in a clean slate in being objective, prevent assumptions, not be judgemental i.e. people who act differently are not wrong. In future I will actively seek out situations with people from different cultures.
In the Communication workshop, I formed connections by engaging my audience to build better relationships, form trust, so my work became highly productive. I explored discovering my purpose in communication. I can now distinguish why I need to convey vital messages in order, for example, to inform an audience, to express my feelings to loved ones, and to influence stakeholders. I found that I practised effective communication with more clarity, where my audience gets my intention for talking or writing to them. Most importantly, I was able to build confidence around verbal communication and body language. Even though I have capable written communication skills, I have always struggled with public speaking.
For the advocacy workshop, I learned how to support causes I am passionate about, recommend both organisational policies, while working within my own framework of mission and vision. I have decided to stand up for myself and those I care about. I can speak up generally to persuade on social issues and, in a grassroots way, on behalf of someone who could not speak for themselves such as disadvantaged clients and customers to empower them.
I then developed a strategy to engage with relevant strong, powerful influencers in the sectors I work in for the next workshop. They have been able to promote my causes and recommend me as a potential collaborator to access opportunities. The networks I have started building has shared information and resources with me. The alliances I began to form has been mutually beneficial as I have provided useful knowledge and cultivated working relationships. The unions allowed me to meet more people to associate with likeminded individuals. They have been able to bring a fresh perspective to me. This has helped me develop direction in my career.
After the governance workshop I can now participate in responsible and responsive governance of the organisations I work for. For me, being responsible in governance is to be equipped with understanding of the ethnic communities, to have foresight in how decisions affect our common future so that complex challenges can be met. Another element to the workshop is to be responsive in governing. This was to respond effectively and efficiently to people’s real needs. I resolved to always promote policies, devise strategies, develop programmes, carry out activities and allocate resources only after considering the Waikato ethnic community’s expectations. I do not need to be the manager or leading at the top level to benefit from these skills.
The 6-months collaborative group project was a worthwhile exercise to improve my abilities as a team player. We were advised to come up with a clear and simple objective at the start, followed ground rules throughout, kept records of our regular progress meetings, and applied what we learnt in workshops, such as communication. We attempted to break the complex tasks into parts and steps for individual roles to optimise efficiency. We planned and managed time and resources despite various challenges and we were able to overcome setbacks. The project was highly effective in contributing creatively and meaningfully to Waikato ethnic communities. I became good friends with my team members and truly believe that “together we are more”.
Thank you so much to Jenny, my mentor, Ellie, Kate and the seventeen Flourish programme participants for helping me make the most of 2020. I will always cherish the memories we made and the achievements we accomplished!