As a member of the New Zealand Society of Local Government Managers (SOLGM), a membership organisation for local government professionals, I was nominated and selected as the recipient of the Brookfield’s Emerging Leader of the Year Award. Allowing me the opportunity to attend the 2019 ICMA (International City/County Management Association) Conference.

The 2019 ICMA Conference wowed me with its Tony Robbins style high energy, bright lights and loud music.  Those Americans really know how to turn it on! The conference was held in Nashville, Tennessee, which in itself was an amazing experience. Walking to dinner and conference events through the crowds, past the honky-tonk bars brimming with country music talent, a pair of cowboy boots and a Stetson would not have gone amiss.

Photo: Simon Markham (Waimakariri District Council), me and Karen Thomas (SOLGM), got into the Nashville Country Spirit at the Wildhorse Saloon event – line dancing lessons and free hats included

With over 5,500 people in attendance and a jam packed conference schedule I was thankful SOLGM Chief Executive, Karen Thomas, was there to help me navigate and introduce me to many attendees from around the world. It was a revelation to me that local government has a worldwide community with which we can collaborate, share and debate. And there are so many commonalities in the key issues we are facing.

The key note speakers were truly inspiring people who have achieved amazing things. Perhaps due to my background in health and safety, Bonnie St. John’s address on micro-resilience was of great interest to me. There will always be times working in local government when we have crisis, deadlines, low resource, or conflicting priorities and we pull up our socks, dig deep and work until we can work no more. As much as we know that this is unsustainable, part of the human condition is an innate hope that things will get better and the increased pressure we put on ourselves will be a short term solution. It is almost unavoidable in this industry, where rates must remain affordable, while compliance constantly increases, and community expectations along with them. St. John outlined some small life hacks that we can implement to tackle burn out, including the idea of a wellbeing first aid kit for your attitude. Essentially, this is a box of items that makes you smile, motivates you, allows you a short break and pushes you forward encouraging perseverance. What is contained within this first aid kit is personal to each individual and it made me consider what I would put in my first aid kit - what really motivates and inspires me?

For the most part, the answer to that relates back to a number of moments along my leadership journey, and the lessons that some amazing leaders have taught me.  Recognising the value of carving time out of a busy schedule and collaborating with others has been a key learning for me. Attending the ICMA conference was another step to becoming the kind of leader that I want to be and gave me renewed momentum and enthusiasm for the work we do and the communities that we work for.

“Let your ambition be less about yourself and more about who you are serving.” Raymond Gonzales - County Manager at County of Adams

Being nominated for the Brookfield’s emerging leader award was an honour and a privilege. I have worked with Tararua District Council for almost seven years in various roles and the recognition and support from my work family gave me warm fuzzies. Lastly, a huge thank you to Linda O’Reilly, Karen Thomas, SOLGM and Brookfield’s for this opportunity and your ongoing interest and support.