Vol 47-H.E. Pam Dunn

/ / The Other Side

 H.E. PAM DUNN

H.E. Pam Dunn is New Zealand’s Ambassador to ASEAN, and she was New Zealand’s first person of Asian descent to head a diplomatic post. After working her way through a range of diplomatic roles – both at home in New Zealand and significant time in China – Ambassador Dunn took on her current role in early 2018. This broad experience as a leader across varying contexts and with diverse teams has provided her a unique insight and opinion on just what leadership means, and how to be a strong and effective leader in a modern, changing world. During late 2018, Ambassador Dunn delivered a leader’s talk to the AHA Centre’s Executive (ACE) Programme participants, allowing participants a unique and engaging insight into her experience and knowledge for their futures in leading the ASEAN region on disaster management.

Mrs. Dunn’s leadership career is full of challenges and ground-breaking firsts. Her role in the early 2000’s as New Zealand Consul General in Shanghai saw her become the first Asian-New Zealand to take up such a high diplomatic post. In the array of roles that followed – both at home and abroad – Mrs. Dunn was to learn about not only the people she led, but more about herself and her own point of view on being a successful and impactful leader for the teams she headed. She highlights the fact that she made mistakes, as we all do, but that the key was to learn from those mistakes and how to improve. Such learning and self-awareness is an important self-growth element to becoming a better leader. Mrs. Dunn also spoke of taking on the harder aspects of leadership, whether working with under-performing staff or having to discharging staff who worked hard due to organisational change. She highlights that this – while perhaps the hardest part of leadership – is also the part that defines a great leader from the pack. Being prepared for change, and acting on organisational decisions that you may not personally agree with are just a couple of challenging contexts that one signs-up for when they take on leadership roles.

Mrs. Dunn also spoke of the importance of understanding what your values are, and implementing them not only within your own work, but within your team’s efforts as well. For her, respect is key, and she highlights the importance of showing such respect to all people in the workplace and outside, regardless of their position, their characteristics, or any other features that are different from our own. She also reminds us that in this modern, changing world, the idea of leadership has changed. No longer must we ‘look’ or seem like a leader from appearance only, but that new leaders must be engaged, responsive, and aim to train and build those around them to also carry the leadership burden.

Moving to the ASEAN region and adapting to a new context, culture and team has been Mrs. Dunn’s most recent challenge, within which she has again revisited the importance of strategic leadership that she learnt during her time in the New Zealand Embassy in China. Having the ability to manage up, down and sideways, as well as determining your roles, priorities and where to put your time and effort are all integral aspects of leading in a busy, evolving work environment. Such leadership is therefore integral in the disaster management context.

Mrs. Dunn gave her insight on the key elements of what she believes forms effective and successful leadership. “Strategic leadership is key to ensuring that we are empowering and creating ownership within our team to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it”, she said. Mrs. Dunn also highlights the important of diversity, as it opens the door for creativity and new ideas. While it is much more challenging than a team that mirrors your own characteristics, it can also be much more successful, provided we ensure the diverse range of staff feel comfortable that they have a place within the team. Alongside this, providing time to your staff – and importantly yourself – is also a must for great leaders. Time, she says is one of the most valuable things we can give. Mrs. Dunn also highlights the importance of having a mentor to guide you through the challenges, obstacles and hard times that litter the path of leadership. Finally, Mrs. Dunn implored the audience to ‘just say yes’. When she herself built the confidence to just say yes to opportunities, more and more opportunities presented themselves. 

The Ambassador reminds us to think not about whether you are good enough, but whether you can help others reach their potential – whether you can make the world a better place. “Say yes and see what happens, you may be surprised”, she finishes with a smile.

Written by : Valerie Bayhon, William Shea | Photo : AHA Centre, ASEAN Secretariat, Personal archive