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On the other side of the entrepreneurial fence

Katheren Leitner has gone from startup founder to business coach and board member, and is the first female chair of the YMCA in its 150-plus year history. Her journey’s revealed what it takes to step into a different kind of leadership.

How did you get your start as an entrepreneur?

I co-founded a learning and development company (Training Plus) about 11 years ago and I was involved in starting a cafe, The Lodge, in Auckland.

And when did you begin in governance?

I’m now into my second term as board chair at the YMCA and I’m on the advisory board of a startup in the education space. My focus is on not for profits and startups.

What’s it like being on the other side of the entrepreneurial fence?

I love working with other business owners in terms of that dialogue. When you’re in your own business, you can’t see the wood for the trees. I can step back and see and ask questions. When you ask the right questions, it’s so powerful because [startup owners] provide you with information to make great decisions and get results.

What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who want to become directors or advisors?

Get clear on what value you will deliver, what your expertise is and what your unique combination of skills is that you can contribute. Also, be really clear on what industry of cluster you’re most passionate about. Is it tech, human interest, or product? You’ve got to do self development as well. I’m taking my governance journey really slowly to develop myself and be effective. It’s very easy to sit on the sidelines and give advice. If you’re throwing around advice that can be dangerous.

What were some of the big lessons for you when you took a seat at the YMCA?

It was a privilege to be invited onto that board. When I was approached I had no idea what governance meant. I was in my mid 30s and just thought it sounded pretty cool. The [fellow board members] have been absolute gentlemen. One of the biggest lessons was to have a point of view and be open to others’ points of view. Don’t let your point of view override the greater good and realise ego has nothing to do with making sound decisions. The biggest lesson for me was that just because my view wasn’t taken up it wasn’t because it was a stupid idea – in the scheme of things there were better options.

Amanda Sachtleben is an Auckland writer and social media type, who's also Idealog's former tech editor and business journalist.

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