'Shadow' students shown the light

By Steve Hart

Opportunity to witness the challenges and responsibilities that management face.

Andrew McKenzie, chief financial officer at Auckland Council, was shadowed by international student Nupur Chawla.
Andrew McKenzie, chief financial officer at Auckland Council, was shadowed by international student Nupur Chawla.

International student Nupur Chawla was one of the lucky ones to take part in this year's AUT Business School's Shadow a Leader day, an event that ran alongside the annual Sir Peter Blake Trust Leadership Week.

Nupur, 33, gave up a middle-management job at insurance firm Axa in Bangalore, India, to study for an MBA at AUT.

She arrived in October 2012 and plans to complete her course in 2014.

"I had to resign my job to take up my studies," says Nupur, who hopes to find a job in New Zealand after completing her degree.

"I always wanted to have an international qualification, and New Zealand is a safe place with good education facilities."

Nupur was recommended by one of her tutors to take part in the Shadow a Leader event, and was teamed - with a student from Carmel College - to spend a day (July 10) with Andrew McKenzie, chief financial officer at Auckland Council.

"The day was like a journey for me," says Nupur. "It was really incredible, it gave me an opportunity to witness the challenges and responsibilities people in these types of positions face, and how they manage them effectively.

"It was basically a normal day for Andrew. I joined him on his meetings with the council's leaderships teams, communications, treasury, and watched as they went through the agenda.

"It was busy and a good way to see the practical aspects of the MBA I am studying for - I can see now how everything is aligned to company departments."

Nupur says one of the key things to come out of the day was that people from the top down need to work together to achieve results.

"Working with people is paramount, people are customers, that includes a company's employees," she says.

"I saw that when managing a team you have to be with them, to see what they are doing, and see that each person is responsible and accountable.

"Feedback is also important, and that has to be a two-way street. I saw how Andrew gave feedback to employees and suggested ideas on how things could be done better.

"And I saw how important it is for staff to be able to give feedback to their managers.

"Andrew explained how feedback is important for the continual improvement of the council.

"This is quite different to the way I have seen managers act in other companies. New Zealand is a totally different culture, and the council is different to the company I worked for in India."

Nupur says the experience of seeing first-hand how a large and complex organisation works has been an eye-opener.

"It was a really good experience to see how such a large organisation works," she says.

"At the end of the day, I came away with a clear understanding that how you work with people has a direct effect on outcomes. It is a good idea for leaders to put themselves in their customers' shoes so you can provide value to them. I also saw how to look at the big picture across large organisations, to understand how to get from where we are now to where you want to be in the future."

This is the second year the council has got involved in leadership week. Andrew McKenzie says it provides students with an insight into how the council operates, how council departments work together, and why certain decisions are made.

"It isn't that intrusive when people share the day with you, and there is nothing we didn't do because we had visitors with us," he says.

"It's good to have switched-on, bright people coming in to experience the council environment and develop an understanding of what we do - to give them some background and context. For us, the more people understand how and why we do things the better.

"There is also the opportunity for someone with a high potential to see career options for themselves. Events such as this could convince some people that the council is a good place to work."

He says that during the day both students wanted to do more than watch staff work.

"They had lots of interesting questions about the council's operations.

"Leadership is really important for all organisations, it is important for us, and it is important for New Zealand.

"If we can do something to help the quality of the leadership then it's good for everyone.

"Encouraging young leaders is a great opportunity for us. The city needs confident, high-quality, articulate leaders right across the board."

The future may well be bright for this year's "shadow" students.

After taking part in Shadow a Leader 2012, AUT law student Justin Maloney got a job with Bell Gully and Takapuna Grammar student Tara Collins was awarded a scholarship to study business and communications at AUT.

*Steve Hart is a freelance reporter at SteveHart.co.nz

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