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Leaders are made not born

Written by
NZ Young Farmers

Thanks to the support of NZYF Alumni Graham and Marion Tate, we were able to run multiple leadership workshops around New Zealand for our NZYF Members. In partnership with the Agri-Women's Development Trust, we ran four workshops in Palmerston North, Hamilton, Canterbury and Dunedin.

These workshops gave members invaluable insights into how to build confidence as a leader and how personal values can influence your leadership style.

75 members attended the workshops and everyone had great feedback about the sessions:

“Really enjoyed the opportunity to work on my leadership skills.”
“Unreal value and heaps of lessons learned for the day”
“A great day with some new mates from across the region

A big thank you to Graham Tate for his support, these workshops wouldn't have been possible without him!

To find out more about Graham and his journey, read on below:

Growing up in a then very small community of Taupaki,  NW of Auckland, I was very aware that residents knew a lot about local happenings. My parent's farm consisted of 14 milking cows. This gave them time to be heavily involved in their community often in a leadership role.

My father was taken from his English school at age 13 to work in his father's cartage business. He constantly reminded me of the disadvantage he felt through lack of formal education.

He insisted I spend four years attending Mt Albert Grammar School even though it involved a long daily bus and tram trip. In retrospect, I am grateful for his insistence. My class included such notables as Les Mills, a great athlete, leader and founder of the Les Mills gymnastic empire.

From over 100 applicants in 1952, 15 of us were chosen to become Rural Field Cadets (RFC’s). A group chosen largely on sporting prowess. This was seen by the selector as a measure of future leadership. Our role was to be in servicing farmers' needs from within the public service.

Over the next five years we were placed with selected farmers in five different provinces. Membership of YFC provided a chance to interact with locals, to hone speaking skills through debating, and to learn how different communities functioned. In 1953 I used to ride my horse 8 km each way from my isolated Tolaga Bay farm to where some local could pick me up to take me to any sort of community function.

Probably my most memorable year was in 1954 when I worked for a great farmer boss and friend, Jim McCaw in the Hakataramea Valley. Jim, a wartime flying ace, a local Councillor and a leader in every sense of the word, was the grandfather of our legendary leadership specialist Richie McCaw. 

During studies at Massey and Lincoln Colleges the 15 of us RFC’s became a very tight- knit multi-talented group. We had the advantage of having a future national leader Wilson Whineray as a firm friend and part of our group. Wilson became a famous All Blacks Captain and later a great leader in the NZ business community. He inspired us in so many ways. A true demonstrator of leadership at its best.

Graduating with a Diploma in Valuation and Farm Management (Dip VFM) it was time to repay my bonded scholarship with five years as a public servant in the then State Advances Corporation. My job was to assist the settlement of World War 2 returned soldiers onto farms.
Later this was extended to include the settlement of civilian ballotees onto crown blocks. As my experience and understanding grew I was moved around different provinces. Many new farm owners had little experience and even less money. Helping them gain the confidence to grow was a rewarding vocation and good leadership training.

In 1958 Marion, a farmer’s daughter from Oxford, and I began a marriage partnership which is still together 65 years later. Marion was a member of the then Country Girls Association and a trained teacher. She has provided balance and wisdom that greatly helps a person in a leadership role. 

1961 saw us starting a new enterprise with 50 private farmers under the title Southland Farm Improvement Club. This highly successful group was set up to supplement the then-free farm advisory service provided by the Ministry of Agriculture. Each farmer paid an annual fee to have me visit their property on a 6 to 8-week rotation as well as to be available on request and to develop a progressive mojo within the group. This was one of the most rewarding five-year periods of our lives. In addition to attending to the needs of our three young daughters, Marion played an integral role in providing a warm welcome to clients visiting our home office and in assisting families in distress. Leadership requires both a firm hand and an empathetic touch,-sometimes better shared than attempted by one person.

1968 brought us back to Christchurch as Lecturer in Farm Management to the VFM class. The 10 years work experience helped me understand management as a much more people-oriented process than I had felt a student. My father’s urging about education was heeded as I completed, part-time, a Bachelors degree in Sociology and a Masters degree in Resource Management,- taking people as my Resource.

When my Lincoln Professor asked if we would spend a year in South Korea helping establish a grassland demonstration/research farm funded by NZ Aid I hardly waited for Marion’s agreement. In 1976 our family spent a learning year adapting to living in a very different environment. 

Finding ways to understand getting new concepts accepted in a totally different culture was the challenge. Identifying the leadership process, both formal and informal, was the answer. Later after being appointed Honorary Consul for South Korea in Christchurch I had the opportunity to travel back to Korea a number of times. Seeing the outstanding progress our project achieved, helped by being supported by Lincoln staff over a 10 year period, was most satisfying.

The experience of working in South Korea and the move of the former Diploma in Valuation and Farm Management to Lincoln University’s new Bachelor of Commerce degree stimulated me to move to Senior Lecturer then Director of  the Rural Development and Extension Centre. This grouping focussed on teaching change management through leadership and communication skills . It also ran Lincoln’s outreach programme. Included in this was assisting with the YFC South Island field days,- in those days located at Lincoln. The leadership development shown by the then YFC participants was admirable.

Lincoln University granted me leave to undertake overseas consulting projects in development aid in many countries within Asia and the Pacific Islands. 

A stimulating experience was being involved with John Pryde in setting up at Lincoln and teaching within the Kellogg Leadership programme. This brought together a small group of rural men and women over a year long programme. It focussed on individual development to give greater strength to rural based activities. Jenny Shipley, an early graduate subsequently became the first NZ female prime minister. 

In 1991 I resigned from Lincoln to become the NZ Southern African Field representative for Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA). Based in Harare this involved working within Zimbabwe and adjacent African countries. It required two types of leadership. Negotiating with government officialdom to set up projects and obtain the necessary visa and employment documentation. Because of corruption and incompetence this could be a demanding experience. On arrival the NZ volunteers were often in very isolated locations with minimum amenities. Nurturing them whilst becoming established and providing opportunity to enjoy a break in our Harare home helped ensure the programme operated successfully. Sir Garfield Todd, a former Zimbabwean Prime Minister who arrived in Rhodesia from Southland in the 1930’s became  a much appreciated mentor. A hug from Desmond Tutu, Anglican Archbishop in Capetown and Nobel Peace prize winner, during a discussion on possible placement of NZ volunteers in South Africa was a particularly memorable moment.

On returning to NZ I set up a small consulting business based on change and project management. By the time of my retirement from paid work in 2006 I had worked in over 20 different countries including living in several for a year or more. 

Nearly all projects I have been involved in have involved leadership. Leadership for me, means giving people the confidence that they can share and be involved in decision-making.  Change, especially in a traditional community can be very threatening. To cement change in a community one needs to be part of that community. It is the leaders from within that are the key. The role of an outsider bringing about change is to identify and work with leaders or potential leaders to give them the confidence and tools to work within their own groups.

Marion and I have been fortunate to be able to work in many differing situations - mostly rural. We have been gratified to be in a position to help finance some of the present YFC leadership training programmes. We hope that you have enjoyed them and in turn get great satisfaction when giving back to the communities with which you work.

Graham Tate

Graham Tate
July 2023

Written by
NZ Young Farmers

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