09 November 2023

Homicides, armed offenders squads, international intelligence, and counter terrorism seems worlds apart from the humbly spoken Greg Nicholls.

Greg tells us about his experience as a mentor on Te ara ki Matangireia, a Public Service kaupapa run in partnership with Te Kawa Mataaho, the Leadership Development Centre and Tukaha Global Ltd that supports emerging rangatahi Māori leaders.

Hailing from the Coromandel, a mokopuna of Ngāti Huarere in Whangapoua and Ngāti Maru in Thames.

Anywhere in the Waikato feels like home to Greg Nicholls who has had an organic public service career spanning 36 years supporting our Police on regional, national and global stages. He’s enjoyed having a sphere of influence to shape, enable and empower people to be the best they can be.

Greg attributes his career success to having a strong grounding anchor which centered him over long periods of time travelling and working on some of our nation’s most challenging cases. That anchor, he says, is his beautiful wife Karen.

One of the aspirations of Te ara ki Matangireia, which hooked Greg, is to harness leadership knowledge and wisdom from those who have walked the journey to impart to the next generation of leaders. Connecting rangatahi Māori to the complex landscape Public Service leaders traverse and strengthening our future talent pipeline of leaders.

Greg retired from the Police in 2022 to return home to Raglan. Now working for the regional council is a welcomed change in pace, and has allowed him to take his depth and breadth of skills to be of service to his local community.

Despite this career shift, the call of the Public Service ‘spirit of service’ was ingrained. Greg became involved in this kaupapa as a way to give back. He recalled his first leadership development opportunity with the Leadership Development Centre where he was connected with his own mentor, Rebecca Kitteridge, who at the time was the Director-General for the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service.

I learnt a lot from Rebecca and how she put people at the heart of her leadership. If she was on a marae she would be at the back doing the dishes, she is that kind of leader and I hold her in high regard.

Whilst mentoring, Greg has enjoyed the opportunity to attend some of the wānanga alongside the rangatahi which are steeped in te ao Māori. He recalls walking into the wharenui in Rotorua and one of the hau kainga, a master orator, was speaking about the stars. Linking the wairua, spiritual side of the environment that we live in, to the challenges we have in our day to day life. How at times you as a person, are like the shifting environment in terms of being in a state of Te Pō, flux, and that’s ok. To get out of this time of challenge you have to have tools in your kete to move yourself forward otherwise you can remain stuck and go nowhere. That’s what this development opportunity provides, tools and transformative learning experiences to keep us moving forward from Te Pō into the light of Te Ao Mārama.

There was huge potential in that wharenui full of rangatahi Māori. I looked around the room and each of them you could see as future leaders if not already leaders in their own right. It was humbling that they looked to me to provide advice to them when they have more degrees than a thermometer and I went to Thames High School.

Over his career Greg has cycled through his own phases of Te Pō. When he first joined Police it was in a time when diversity was not readily accepted.

“To be a Māori in Police was at times challenging. The language that was used to describe me and our people in care, the day to day business I was required to do in an organisation where hierarchy of authority reigned, was not always easy.

To be a Māori leader you needed to be better at your trade craft than your peers, because you are the exception rather than the majority. It made me good at what I did and also how I did it. The soft skills of leadership, nurturing relationships and building people’s pride to be the best they can be. Words are powerful, they can lift people up or they can take them out.”

While in leadership roles at Police, Greg was not only focused on the people he led, but the people that were arrested and the victims he supported.

“It was about taking the time to scratch beneath the surface of who people really are. What has shaped them, what are their challenges and drivers and how can I support them? Ultimately how do I empower them so they don’t find themselves in this position again. If you make a mistake, kei te pai, just don’t make it twice. “

Greg has mentored 2 rangatahi leaders this year and his most rewarding moment has been seeing their personal and professional growth.

“I could feel some of their frustrations of wanting to get things done and coming up against walls. Coaching them to craft their influencing skills, expand networks, lobbying key support and engaging levers before meetings. Encouraging them to build their personal brand – what is it that you want to be known for?

Connecting our rangatahi to the broader picture of the Public Service. Many people think they know their business, but it’s bigger than that and stretches far beyond self and agency walls and into the heart of our communities. Like we did whilst looking up at the night sky and stars in Rotorua, taking the time to step back, pause and look up and out you understand your environment and your impact. To have someone to walk alongside you, provide you with sage advice, support and encouragement can be life changing.”

People that will give the most and get the most from this kaupapa are those that get a sense of satisfaction in seeing success and realisation of potential in others. There is no greater satisfaction than seeing people you have mentored standing tall, using their voice to influence and being the best they can be.

Whilst on this kaupapa, Greg has learnt that although things have moved considerably since his early career, there are still barriers that exist, and some of them he fears are impenetrable. For Greg, it’s important that senior Public Service leaders keep working as a collective to push for incremental, sustainable changes.

“We need to change or we will always get what we have always got, we will remain in a state of Te Pō, flux.”

Greg will attend the final wānanga with this cohort at Te Araroa, a beautiful town on our east cape which shaped the likes of Tā Apirana Ngata and is the first place to glimpse the sun. Somewhat fitting, as ‘ara’ means pathway and ‘roa’ means long and we know that the pathway towards change is often the same. But our environment tells us something important, that no matter what, the sun will always rise, Te Ao Mārama, the dawning of a new day.

Interested in mentoring?

If you want to join a collective of senior Public Service leaders and become a mentor like Greg on our next cohort for Te ara ki Matangireia 2024, apply on the LDC website.