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Cosgrove: Climbing your own Everest

Hon Clayton Cosgrove
Minister for Sport and Recreation

8 April 2008 Speech

Climbing your own Everest – speech to the participants in the Government’s Leadership programme

Venue: Wallaceville House, Upper Hutt, Wellington
Time: 6pm (speech delivered approx 8pm) 8 April 2008

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this evening. It is a pleasure to be here and I congratulate you on your selection for this leadership development programme.

I would like to acknowledge the leaders here tonight who represent a broad spectrum of sports in our country - New Zealand Tennis, Netball New Zealand, Outdoors NZ, Equestrian Sports New Zealand, Sport Waitakere, Sport Gisborne, Athletics New Zealand, He Oranga Pounamu, the New Zealand Rugby Union, Sport Wellington, Sport Bay of Plenty, the North Shore City Council, Christchurch City Council, and Gymsports New Zealand. Working with all the chief executives from these organisations is the Programme Facilitator John Stuart.

I want to acknowledge the great work that you are all doing in a very challenging sector. Individually you have a wealth of sector knowledge and many of you bring experiences and expertise from other areas, such as business, health, and local government – gained here and overseas. You are all leaders in this dynamic area of sport and recreation, in a country that is synonymous with sport, outdoor recreation and adventure.

Many of our most iconic Kiwis have been people engaged in sport and recreation - as participants, athletes and adventurers. One of the greatest adventurers and leaders among them, without doubt, is Sir Edmund Hillary. “Knocking the bastard off” was undoubtedly a great achievement for Sir Edmund, his climbing partner Tenzing Norgay and their team. It was an achievement that helped define New Zealand as a nation and inspired many people, in many arenas, to set and achieve their own goals.

But it was Sir Edmund’s ability to leverage off that achievement, to articulate a vision and to inspire people to come on board with him to achieve that vision, that made him truly great. It was his ability to lead, and the achievements that his leadership brought about, that we should reflect on tonight as you embark on this programme.

As the Prime Minister Helen Clark said at last week’s Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Sir Edmund Hillary in the United Kingdom; “New Zealanders saw Sir Edmund as one of us – from his craggy looks, to his love of the outdoors, his sense of adventure, and his concern for others.”

Sir Edmund left a legacy for you as leaders to aspire to. Consider you are at Base Camp now – you have come some considerable way to get here, you cannot see the summit of the mountain that you are about to climb, and you are mentally preparing for the task ahead.

This programme will challenge you to strengthen and develop the skills needed for that journey.

Sir Edmund said ‘it’s not the mountain we conquer – but ourselves’. Self-mastery. That is the first theme of the first workshop in this programme. So expect to be challenged on this programme to grow your understanding of yourself as a leader; challenged to learn how others experience you as a leader; challenged to sharpen your ability to think smarter, more creatively and more strategically; and challenged to hone your skills of communication so that you will get the best out of working in a team, and so that the team will get the best out of working with you.

Your team is the people you work with in your organisation. They are also the people who run the local tramping or netball club, and the people who organise local and national sport and recreation events. And most importantly, your team are the people in this room.

So I hope that you use this opportunity to learn from each other, inspire each other, and support each other. Share what you know with your colleagues, and identify where your particular talents can be best used to lead and develop the sector.

Because as leaders in sport and recreation, many people are depending on you to generate and sustain the sector that will provide them with opportunities and experiences that will enhance their lives and wellbeing – business people, tourism operators, high performance athletes, teachers, health professionals, and most importantly the children and parents who pack up soccer boots or backpacks to achieve their goals.

Leadership is not just about the technical skills of managers, although management skills are important and it is likely you all spend some time attending to management needs. However, as leaders you must develop a vision for your organisation – a vision that will influence, inspire and transform your organisation, ensuring it is relevant in today’s society.

This task is not as easy as it sounds. One of the most significant and pressing challenges for organisations today is to meet the changing sport and recreation needs of their communities. And it can be argued that the pace of change has never been as rapid as it is today.

Change is occurring on many fronts – in terms of the relationship between sport and business, in terms of our society and how we spend our leisure time, at both elite and grassroots levels, and even with how we see sport at an environmental level.

To ensure your organisations are sustainable they must be equipped to meet the challenges of a constantly changing landscape. The pace of change has never been as rapid as it is today. An explosion in electronic media and communication over the last decade has enabled us to connect to each other and the world almost instantly, from wherever we are. This has impacted on the way we do business; how we communicate with friends and family; and on how we use our leisure time. Technology means our relaxation is now often sought in front of a television or a computer screen rather than on a football field, and our commuter lifestyles see us driving our children to school or taking a train, rather than walking or biking.

All of this feeds into some of our biggest societal problems, such as the prevalence of obesity. The impact of our activities on climate change and an emphasis on creating sustainable communities and practices have also been highlighted as global issues that we must all take account of at a local, national and international level.

And on a more day-to-day approach, there are the issues of how to ensure we are attracting new members and volunteers, training our players to maximise their talent and balancing the books.

Sport and recreation organisations operate in an environment where there are many complex and challenging pressures that may be economic, political, societal or environmental. But regardless of the nature of the challenge, organisations can negotiate their way through these pressures with good leadership, both at management and governance levels. Your leadership, individually and collectively, will enable the sector to continue to flourish and contribute to the wellbeing of our communities.

As leaders you will need to be willing to embrace change. Be creative and innovative, be leaders with vision and determination, and be leaders who inspire others to share your vision, because, when climbing Everest it is the team spirit that will greatly enhance your chance of success.

You have made a commitment to participate in this programme - that shows you already have a vision for yourself, your organisation and the sector, because you are here to sharpen the most critical tool you have brought to base-camp - yourself.

When you graduate from this programme remember to actively work to maintain the relationships you develop over the coming year with the people in this room. Continue to build a sector that is relevant to today’s challenges - a sector that puts huge effort into supporting its grassroots facilities, because while our glory may be in today’s high-performance athletes, our future lies with our young up-and-coming players.

The government knows about the huge amount of work that you do in the sector, and is acutely aware of the Everest you face. You have a very big job, but one which has the reward of knowing that you are personally making a very worthwhile contribution to New Zealand and its communities.

Like developing elite athletes and coaches, developing leaders takes time and investment. This government leadership programme seeks to support and strengthen a leadership pool of talented people who have the energy, vision, and commitment to develop this sector.

Looking to the future, I believe this sector must remain relevant and accessible to all New Zealanders, especially to our young people. As leaders in government we need to continue to work with you, our leaders in sport and recreation, to foster a community attitude where lifelong involvement in sport and recreation is critical for the quality of life of every person - and indeed the quality of life in the nation as a whole.

I wish you all personal and professional success as you embark on the programme.


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