President's message: The pathway to leadership is service

I was intending to write about demography. About how, just like a slow slip earthquake, the shifts in our population structure were transforming the shape of Aotearoa New Zealand. About how by the end of the decade – in only six years’ time – a quarter of the population will be over 65, and most will be Pākehā. About how, again by the end of this decade, around 50 per cent of school leavers will be Māori, Pasifika, or from one of the many Asian communities. Communities with vastly different lived experiences than those they will replace in the workforce, in business, in the public service, and in government. I was pondering the kind of leadership needed to help us transform to meet the needs and aspirations of this super-diverse demographic tsunami.

Then, like a seismic shock, came the news of the sudden passing of one such leader – Fa’anānā Efeso Collins, and I had my answer. A man who only a few days earlier had made his maiden speech in the House, a speech that would also serve to be his valedictory. A man who declared, “I’ve come to this House to help. Helping is a deliberate act. I’m here to help this government govern for all of New Zealand, and I’m here to open the door, enabling our communities to connect better with this House.” A man who said of his legacy, “If I was to inspire anyone by getting to this House … I hope that it’s the square pegs, the misfits, the forgotten, the unloved, the invisible – it’s the dreamers who want more, expect more, are impatient for change, and have this uncanny ability to stretch us further.”

Today as I write, New Zealand flags will be at half-mast out of respect for the passing of a beloved leader who was able to cross boundaries – politics, ethnicity, community, business, government. A man who led with empathy and with courage. Who was able to bring people together, use humour to disperse tension, and create space to focus on the things that matter. Who never, no matter how high his profile got, lost touch with his community. Whose pathway to leadership was one of service. A man whose life will bring courage and inspiration to an up-and-coming generation of dreamers and servant leaders. The leaders our new New Zealand needs.

Ia manuia lau malaga, Fa’anānā

E te rangatira, moe mai rā, moe mai rā, moe mai rā.

This article was published in the Public Sector Journal - Autumn 2024, Issue 47.1.