It takes guts to make inspirational change

Andrew Little-  

It seems hugely fitting that in the same month the birth of one of India’s great leaders, Indira Gandhi is celebrated Indian Newslink is also celebrating.

It has been a leading voice in the community for 16 years. Today it has undergone a major transformation.

Change takes courage. It also takes, I believe, leadership.

We all have our own idea of what a leader is and what makes someone a leader.

Meaningful dreams

I don’t see the Kardashians, for instance, as leaders in the sense I use the word, but there are plenty of other people who do. I am ok with that.

John F Kennedy once said that leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

Another John – the Beatle’s John Lennon – put it this way: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

There are certain people we see as role models; others we regard as equals.

Leaders are different. They stick their heads above the parapet, they’re not afraid to take that one step further. Millenials know them as the ‘influentials’ – people who shape the world in which we live.

Leading women

Indira Gandhi was elected India’s first female Prime Minister in 1966. A year later another woman, Katherine Switzer, was making her own statement.

Switzer, who now lives part time in New Zealand, had entered the 1967 Boston Marathon using just her initials on the entry form. In those days, women weren’t allowed to run in the marathon. Officials tried to expel her, grabbing her bib number. Infuriated, Katherine, in her own words “doubled down”, determined to finish the race.

The rest is history – women have been running marathons ever since.

Influential people

Switzer was 20 in 1967, two years older than another young woman who has spent the last three years changing lives. Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai was just 15 when she was shot by the Taliban on her school bus for campaigning for girls’ education.

She has since gone on to be awarded the Nobel Peace prize – jointly with Indian campaigner Kailash Satyarthi – and named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. Like Indira Gandhi, she also has aspirations to serve her country.

Whether you agree with their stands, or not, there’s no denying each of those three women, from three different generations, changed the lives of millions.  Their stories might be quite dissimilar, but they have all put themselves front and centre of something they felt strongly about. They have backed themselves and they have taken risks. In doing so they have each left a legacy that others want to replicate.

Great motivators

And that’s where inspiration comes in. A good leader will motivate others. They start the conversation and they set the direction, but they also know change isn’t just about a bright idea. It’s about perseverance and determination. Not the-dog-with a bone type of perseverance, where no-one else gets a look in, but more a resolve to own it, live by it and stick with it, while also allowing others to step in and up.

It is worth remembering that Indira Gandhi and Katherine Switzer made their mark without the help of modern technology. There was no cross media platform that instantaneously alerted the world to their achievements. Their strength lay in the fact that their personal values never wavered. They were women who put themselves on an equal footing with their male contemporaries, backed themselves and took a risk.

They also took others along for the ride, encouraging them to do better and ultimately to shine.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen knows all about that. In a recent interview the avowedly gruff Hansen noted the Abs weren’t Steve Hansen’s team, but were “a collective group of men and women who – management, players – are trying to do something to enhance what’s happened beforehand… it’s not about control. It’s about everybody going in the same direction, trying to achieve the same thing.”

Some people say leaders are born. I guess some are, but I also believe it takes hard work to become a successful leader. You have to know when to step out in front of the pack and you have to be prepared to take risks. You also have to listen to others and involve them. And you should never stop learning.

Leadership is not about a position or promoting your own personal achievement. It’s about walking the talk and helping making change for the greater good.

Today I want to congratulate Indian Newslink for the change they have made in their quest to serve the Indian Community of New Zealand. As anyone working in the media will tell you that change took strong leadership, courage and inspiration.

Andrew Little is Leader of Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition in New Zealand Parliament.

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