‘Spotlight interrogation’ – Interview with NZNO Nurse Managers NZ

“Te Wheke” is the quarterly newsletter of NZNO Nurse Managers NZ, the professional section of NZNO dedicated to sound nursing management and leadership. I was humbled to receive the offer of an interview for the regular “Spotlight Interrogation” feature in the March 2019 issue – now hot off the press, and re-posted here with permission. Thanks to editor Shamim Chagani for this opportunity to get “up close ‘n’ personal” with readers.

Spotlight interrogation

1. What’s your name, what do you do and where do you work?

Kia ora, koutou. Ko Grant Brookes tōku ingoa.

I’m Grant Brookes, President of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa.

I work out of the NZNO National Office in Wellington, but I also travel around to engage with as many members as possible. Being accessible is important to me. I welcome contact by phone (027 536 2851), email (grant.brookes@nzno.org.nz) or via your preferred social media platform.

2. What would you be doing if you were not working at your current job?

If I had not been elected NZNO President in 2015, I would be working as a Staff Nurse at Wellington Hospital.

It’s a job I love. I still miss the patient contact, the collegial relationships in the multi-disciplinary team and the hands-on care. I continue to work the occasional shift on the ward, to keep my feet on the ground and my clinical skills fresh. I may even go back to it when my term as President ends in 2021.

3. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in the last year?

This last year has reaffirmed an old truth, and taught me something new.

For me, 2018 proved once more that solidarity is powerful. By standing together with one another, and with our communities, NZNO members in the DHBs may not have fully restored our health system. But through our rallies, marches, votes and strikes, we did secure an extra $250 million in health funding, on top of what the DHBs initially offered, and an immediate 2% increase in nursing FTE. As the old union song proclaims, “Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong”.

I’ve also learned a new lesson. As a Pākehā male, I’ve been aware all my adult life that even as a working class kid from South Dunedin, I was born with a degree of privilege. I long ago vowed to use that not for my own benefit but to raise up those without, so that unearned privilege might one day cease to exist. It’s probably why I went into mental health.

But 2018 taught me, perhaps belatedly, that when working within power structures we must also advocate for ourselves. I was recently struck by one of those Facebook shareables. It said, “Be careful what you tolerate, you are teaching people how to treat you”.

4. What characteristics do you most admire in others?

The characteristics I admire most in others include emotional intelligence, analytical power, commitment to a win-win outcome and above all, integrity.

I think the world needs more people like that.

5. What qualities in you would you hate to see emulated in your employee?

As NZNO President my role is governance, rather than management. I have never been in a position where I employed someone. But if I did have employees one day, I would certainly hope they were better at striking a work-life balance than me!

6. If you were to start a company from scratch, what values would you build it on?

If I was to build a company from scratch, it would probably be a cooperative. It would be founded on values of shared ownership, teamwork and public good.

7. If you were to tell one person “thank you” for helping me become the person I am today, who would it be and what did they do?

There have been so many people who have helped me to become the person I am, I could never thank just one.

I have spoken before, in Nursing Review, about the formative influence of my mother.

But I would also thank my activist colleagues from the student protest movement of the 1990s (some of whom are now also leading unions, advising government ministers, or in one case – Grant Robertson – being a minister themselves!).

I would thank my mentors from the new graduate programme at ADHB, without whom I would never have stayed in the profession, and my NZNO organisers at Capital & Coast DHB. The best single piece of advice I ever received came from them. Having been rapidly elevated as young NZNO delegate onto a CCDHB clinical governance committee, and having struggled in meetings with “imposter syndrome”, my organiser looked me in the eye and said, “take your seat at the table like you were born to be there”. It worked.

I would thank my partner of 22 years, Linda, who taught this white kid to love reggae, and our children, Tama and Rosa, who made me a dad.

I would thank Joyce and Roimata, two of the many unacknowledged giants now holding up the Māori Women’s Welfare League, who shared with me so generously of their matauranga Māori through our years of work together.

I wish I could thank Helen Kelly, for her quiet, consistent encouragement.

And finally I would thank NZNO CEO Memo Musa and Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku, who have both taught me more about leadership in the last three years than they will probably ever realise.

8. When are you happiest?

That’s easy – and probably easily relatable for any other powder hound. I’m happiest when I am on the slopes.

9. What one memory do you most treasure?

Does it say something about my age and stage that my treasured memories are now of my children? Those memories are all full of “firsts” – first steps, first words, first day at school, and on and on.

I remember them all. The days our two were born, at home, are probably the most treasured memories of all.

10. What would a “perfect day” look like for you?

A perfect day for me is when I get a win for my fellow NZNO members.

11. How do you recharge?

I recharge by getting out into the “great outdoors” with my partner Linda and our kids, Tama (aged 14) and Rosa (11).

The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 really rings true for me – “Let nature in, strengthen your wellbeing – Mā te taiao kia whakapakari tōu oranga!”.

To maintain my sanity, every now and then I have to get away from the city and from screens with them – preferably under canvas, in the bush or up on the mountain.

12. What superpower would you like to have?

In January our sister union in the US, National Nurses United, posted this meme on their Facebook page ahead of the 2019 global #WomensMarch. It features my friend and colleague, NNU Co-President Deborah Burger (front row, second from right). This meme about sums it up for me.

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