One of the first participants in a Waikato leadership programme credits the course with providing a forum for leaders from all sectors to understand and support each other’s work.
Mary Jensen has been the chief executive of charitable trust Smart Waikato since it was formed in 2009.
“It’s been a journey,” she says, since starting out with limited funds. But under Mary’s leadership the trust has grown to successfully launch and implement a number of new and substantial initiatives that empower youth and bring together employers and schools to form education-to-employment pathways.
Initiatives include the recently established Secondary School Employer Partnerships (SSEP), FutureForce® Action Network (FAN), a leadership summit alongside six annual editions of FutureForce® magazine and managing the Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) across the region.
To complement her leadership skills and the trust’s success, Mary took part in the first CELF Elevate Programme in 2015, the year of Community and Enterprise Leadership Foundation’s (CELF) inception. The annual course is a 9-month leadership development programme designed to connect and elevate leaders from businesses and community not-for-profit organisations within the Waikato.
“The richness of discussion emanating from the thought provoking course material and taking the time to think about our own leadership style and how it could be improved, really made the CELF course something that I would recommend to anyone being given the opportunity to participate.”
Mary says a highlight of the programme has been meeting Waikato leaders from all walks of life.
“Knowing that you’ve got much more moral support as a result has been beneficial, because often, we in the community sector are beavering away on our own.”
She says her group still meets up three or four times a year. “We’re all really supportive of each other’s win’s. When I think about the course, it puts a smile on my face. It was just a totally enjoyable experience.”
One of the main outcomes that has been hugely beneficial to the trust, is that two of the people that went through the course with Mary are now on the Smart Waikato board.
She said at the time they were looking for some board members, so on behalf of the Trust she asked Sean Lambly from Prolife Foods and Julian Williams who is a descendent of the Waikato Iwi. She was pleased they both said yes as they brought with them a great mix of skills, networks and backgrounds to the trust.
Mary says she has taken some guiding principles from the CELF programme into the way she leads her team and conducts activities in the external community and business environment.
One particular workshop resonated with her, when a guest speaker spoke about performance appraisals often being a negative and de-motivating experience, particularly as they can be infrequent and sometimes only done as part of company policy. She says that regular formal and informal coaching is a far better way of ensuring your team is supported, motivated, learning and improving.
Mary says that advice, combined with a coaching ethos to staff development and learning more about courageous conversations, has further strengthened her team, their capabilities, and their job satisfaction.
It’s more fun to grow together on a daily basis she says, rather than having irregular, formal, planned appraisal events that effectively could force a wedge between two people, creating a superior/subordinate situation.
“We are really collaborative in our approach, neutral and wanting outcomes for the region for our young people and for the businesses around employment pathways,” Mary says.
After being there from the time the trust first began in 2009, she says it’s been really exciting to see Smart Waikato grow and become more successful. They’ve recently had an increase in funding and she needs more staff to be ready for 2018.
A final highlight from the CELF programme is one that Mary feels more leaders should take heed of. It was a quote that she learnt at the start of the course, by Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” In other words, “pause, think, respond. Embrace leadership in your chosen response.”