Interview by Nick Everitt MIML
In March 2020, Jacob Waitere MIML was promoted from Area Manager to Head of Operations – Accommodation at the University of Auckland. A role that looks after the 4,500 beds on campus and responsibility for staff leadership, strategic direction, reputation and risk, facilities, residential experience and services, financial management.
Shortly after his appointment, New Zealand went into lockdown and he was faced with the challenge of supporting the residents and his staff through COVID-19. On that day, Jacob reflected on three themes that his role as a leader required. “I thought about one of calming stability, one of information and one of patience and care.
“I have been promoting this whakatauki to my students since pre-arrival: ‘He waka eke noa – we are all in this together’,” Waitere explained.
“Today, I am reminded of: ‘He aroha whakatō, he aroha ka puta mai – if kindness is sown, then kindness is what you shall receive’, he adds.
Three months on, we caught up with Jacob for a chat. Here are his thoughts on leadership, responding to change and how best to relax.
If you had to sum up your leadership style in one sentence, what would it be?
My leadership style is passion-fuelled with a focus on team capability and outcomes.
Is there a manager or leader who left a big impression on you and influenced your leadership style?
One of my first managers left a big impression on me, she taught me that change can be hard and uncomfortable. She showed me that we need to acknowledge it, move through the change and bring people with us on the journey. As a 20-year-old entering the workforce for the first time, this was a really honest and transparent piece of advice that has stuck with me throughout my career.
What qualities matter most to you as a leader and how do you ensure you stay true to these?
I value honesty and communication, diligence and hard work as well as courage, humility and fun. I stay true to these by doing an internal and external values check. I will reflect regularly on my actions and attitudes and if they reflect, but also have open conversations with my team.
What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve received?
Change is constant. It is uncomfortable for everyone, it is ok to acknowledge that it is, move through it head-on, and just try your best to bring people with you on the journey.
Have you implemented any innovations in your role recently?
I don’t think it is innovative, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, some staff roles had increased capacity. So, we utilised their time to review their role over the last 12 months and develop heat impact maps for their role, identify the processes that were draining staff the most and utilise their downtime to improve them.
How do you feel about managing flexible or hybrid teams in the future?
I think hybrid teams will be the norm moving forward. However, I think one thing coronavirus has taught us is the power of interpersonal connections. Having staff who work from different locations won’t be the challenge, but how do we continue to build and maintain those good genuine interpersonal connections.
What have you been doing to stay calm and relax your mind over the last few months?
Nothing beats going for a good walk, fresh air, sunlight, and active movement. Particularly after those long Zoom days.
What’s a good book you recently read?
Very cliché but “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek.
What do you value most about being a member of IML ANZ?
IML ANZ provides great communities of practice, learning opportunities and resources for managers and leaders of all levels.