Breakthrough Leaders 2024: Parliament, Power, and Breakthrough Strategies

“Are you waiting for others to open the door for you – or are you going to open the door yourself?”

This was one of the key messages I took away from our recent Breakthrough Leaders Experience in Wellington, where we spent two full days continuing to learn and challenge ourselves on who we are and what we bring as future leaders of New Zealand.

In the ministerial wing of parliament, we provided manaakitanga to some of New Zealand’s most influential political leaders. As I listened to the different leadership experiences, I asked myself questions such as “Who am I as a leader?”, “What values, purpose, and intent do I bring to my role?” and “What else should I be doing to help others grow, develop, and create change?”

Our Wellington Experience built upon the learning we started in Te Tai Tokerau in understanding how we operate within the context of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Our time in Wellington introduced us to how our parliamentary system, local and central government, and political processes work, as well as views on how to navigate as leaders within it.

The perspectives I heard openly identified our political system as not always being welcoming to enter or thrive within, sharing that it can be hard to navigate due to deep-rooted formalities and sometimes adversarial behaviours. Many leaders talked about the need to collaborate, build networks, and master the art of compromise. Others spoke strongly on the need to build enduring resilience, to “protect each other,” and to develop “thick skins” from internal systems and behaviours, as well as the scrutiny of the public and media.

“Leadership is not a solo act… To survive and thrive, leaders are dependent on their whānau, community, or team to help them stay true to their purpose, vision, and priorities.”

The shared experiences and views encouraged me to critically consider how easy the Westminster system, deeply rooted in formalities and traditions, is to enter and navigate for New Zealanders representing different cultural backgrounds and principles, young people, women, and our diverse ethnic society, and importantly, how this could be more objectively measured. We witnessed the parliamentary Q&A session, and I wondered if what felt like an entertaining theatrical performance was the most effective way of demonstrating effective leadership and outcomes. Noting that this is just one small, but visible, part of the parliamentary system, is it effective in representing values of transparency, honesty, integrity, and collaboration?

Another strong theme that came through is that leadership is not a solo act. Every speaker shared personal stories where, to survive and thrive, they were dependent on their whānau, partner, community, or team to help them stay true to their purpose, vision, and priorities. These messages resonated strongly: “Trust yourself and the values you believe in,” and every day “bring your whole self to what you do and how you do it.”

“I’m committed to ensuring the door is opened for others to enter confidently, and to ensuring our processes empower diversity.”

My experience at the retreat challenged me deeply to reflect on my own assumptions, biases, and blind spots, and to continue to seek feedback and input from a wide and diverse range of perspectives that are not always the loudest voices or most visible faces. I heard that “leaders rely on action, not process,” and, although I am not equipped to immediately challenge the construct of our parliamentary system, I will act within my own organisation. I commit to ensuring the door is open wide in my workplace for others to enter confidently, and to ensuring our own systems, processes, and behaviours empower collaboration, diversity of thought and experience to help deliver what matters and achieve shared outcomes.

Breakthrough Leaders 2024 participant Amanda Kells is Head of Centre of Excellence for Business Governance & Controls at ANZ. You can find more information about our Breakthrough Leaders Programme here.