In this series, we ask the same set of questions to a number of leaders who are making an impact through their leadership and vision. Fourth in the series is Dr Marilyn Waring, winner of the Visionary Leader award 2018 at the Deloitte Top 200.
1. What has shaped your leadership the most?
My childhood in Taupiri and my education in Ngaruawahia and Hamilton played a significant part in shaping me. However, from 23 years of age in the New Zealand parliament I was faced with serious decisions and was often the only woman in the room, and the only person advocating for women or minorities. I was often alone, and there was no one standing behind me to hand on the responsibility.
I was working for others and had to learn from them; at that age I had limited knowledge of all that my constituents, and others, both nationally and internationally, had experienced. They had to teach me, and I believed their stories. I worked in a suffocating monoculture where power was abused, and that certainly shaped what I thought about good leadership.
2. What are the 4 or 5 key principles that define your leadership and why are they important to you?
Everyone I meet has the experience to teach me something I didn’t know.
Ask genuinely curious questions: not smart-alec or competitive ones. Learning is not about ‘winning.’
Organise to eliminate distractions – programme in thinking time where that is all I do – no devices, no books, maybe a notebook and paper to jot on, be still and wait for ideas.
I am always uncomfortable with hierarchical processes: I see my leadership as with and for people. Sometimes my status has opened doors: then I set my shoulder and feet firmly on the spot to stop the door closing and to let others in. They can speak for themselves if they can get in the door.
3. Do you think these remain relevant for the future, given the rapid changes and disruptions that we continue to face?
Yes, they are critical. For example, if a young woman asks me what she should be doing academically, or in her professional work, I am very quick to tell her I have little business at my age suggesting what she should do. I live in a different world and face different challenges.
What we do share is the necessity to be locally and globally active unearthing and advocating for our planet: whether on climate change, plastic pollution, the catastrophic expenditure on armaments and those outcomes, a consciousness that what each of us does is important – no step is too small to take. It is vital not to be cowered by the size of what lies ahead, and to defy those who think change is impossible.
4. Which of the many global trends interest and concern you the most and why?
The pathological economic measurement system of the GDP has been a focus of my work for thirty years. It leaves out the single largest economic sector of every nation’s economy – the unpaid sector – and values illegal market activities whether trafficking in people, illegal drugs or armaments, for example. It values the environment only when it is being exploited.
We will not make progress on intergenerational well-being until this is demoted as a feature of strategic policy-making.
5. How do you keep focused on what is critical for success as things change/are disrupted around you?
I am privileged to work with international and national scholars working on their PhDs, and all on quite different subjects. I am happy that the parameters of their work keep me up-to-date with as much data and evidence as I can manage. My job is to ask them critical questions so that their theses introduce truly original material into the debate.
I am not a user of media, so I have a great deal of time to read peer-reviewed articles, and as many prize-winning novels as I can. Critical thinkers need to know how to write, and I have always looked to creative work to guide this.
6. If there was one piece of advice you would give yourself at the beginning of your leadership career, what would it be?
Take better care of yourself. Ask for help and support. Stop. Rest. Don’t apologise for taking some time out. You won’t be useful in trying to take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself.