What should today’s leader teach tomorrow’s leader?
I was recently invited back to my alma mater, Sacred Heart College in Auckland, to speak to its assembly. SHC (day and boarding school for boys) has a very proud history of Catholic faith-based teaching. Since 1903, it has provided New Zealand great New Zealanders including 18 All Blacks, many other top sportsmen, great musicians (e.g. Split Enz, The Dudes), military leaders during wartime, Rhodes scholars, CEOs, political leaders and a Governor-General. It is particularly special for me as its 1996 Head Boy. When I attended, only 6% of its students were of Pasifika and Māori descent, today 20% of its 1,300 young men are Pasifika and Māori. I was asked to speak to the 1,300 of being a leader – below are some of my off the cuff thoughts I shared with them on the day:
I was introduced by a teacher. He spoke about what had done since I had left in 1996, I rose and explained that they had heard about what I did, now it was important to hear about WHO I AM. It is important for a leader to be true to who he is and to remember where he has come from: My maunga is Maungarei, my awa is Tamaki, my ‘hood is Leybourne Circle, my suburb is GI, my birthplace is Satuimalufilufi, Samoa; my family is Fa’afiu, my clan is Setefano; therefore I am a son of Samoa but a proud and patriotic New Zealander.
I congratulated them all on their achievements. But I also reminded them that there will be MANY CHALLENGES AHEAD. Barriers will be put in front of them; walls will come up; and some people will seek to hurt them (and others). But it is the leader who breaks down those walls and who sees the opportunity behind every difficulty. It is a leader who will seek out other like minds to overcome challenges together. The leader will be one out in front of the pack, not hiding in the back. The leader must make difficult decisions during those challenging times – this is when a leader calls on who they are as a person and make the decision not only based on experience but also staying true to oneself.
Sometimes a leader DOESN’T NEED THE TITLE TO SAY HE IS A LEADER. The greatest examples of leadership are those who perceived themselves as ordinary but yet do extraordinary acts. A leader is a new father who asks for help; a leader shows emotion and knows when it is time to ask for support; a leader is someone who gives just a little bit more to make someone else feel good; a leader is someone who listens intently; a leader does good not because someone is looking but just because it is good; and a leader is one who seeks to grow every day knowing they do not know it all.
A leader will be confronted with difficult choices. A response will differ depending on a situation but it is a brave leader who steps up when no one else wishes to step forward. It is the strong leader who ensures that the most needy in society is helped up. It is a Catholic leader who TREATS ALL WITH RESPECT AND DIGNITY. Some in our society will not have the same opportunities, therefore it is compassionate leader who gives their time and resources to provide others a helping and supportive hand.
A leader will receive many great and good things in life. A good leader should never feel bad about being rewarded for hard work and good deeds. But a great leader should ALWAYS SAY THANK YOU. At this point, I made all 1,300 boys stand up and on the count of three, I asked them to look at the closest teacher and say ‘thank you.’ And, you know what, they did it. Not because I made them do it but because they were given the opportunity to do so…that’s what I’m hoping anyway.
Peter Fa’afiu is an executive with a strong track record of delivering results. He also has governance experience across media, human rights, and education and is a shareholder in Navigator NZ Limited.