Jo Mickleson Wins Emerging Leader of the Year at Waikato Business Awards

The annual Waikato Chamber of Commerce Business Awards were held last month, and our very own Jo Mickleson received the 2022 Emerging Leader of the Year Award! While we at Aware Group are all too familiar with just how fantastic of a person Jo is, having her be recognised at the gala on November 4 was an honour we know she deserved and we are all so pleased the wider business community recognises what we see every day.

The awards recognise the success, resilience, and leadership of Waikato businesses. As said by Don Good, the Chief Executive of the Chamber of Commerce, “the Waikato is in a good place with strong foundations. The region is booming. You can see wherever you go that the Waikato is establishing itself as New Zealand’s economic powerhouse behind Auckland.”

The emerging leader award recognises individuals who have significantly contributed to an organisation – people who go above and beyond to support others across their business and overall who have had an undeniable impact on their company, as well as those who are a part of it.

We know this to be true for Jo, and it wasn’t hard for the judges to see the shining star we have as our Director of Strategy and Growth. They said that Jo’s focus on “keeping people at the core of all decisions” was only one of the leadership traits that her team “greatly respect”.

“[She] has gone above and beyond in building the capabilities of the senior leadership team with steady improvements being implemented that have developed empathy, business acumen and broader leadership skillset in the team.”

Jo is a magnificent leader – someone whom every employee at Aware Group respects and values for her daily contributions to not just Aware Group’s growth and success, but the company culture as well. She’s one of the kindest people you will ever meet, and she has been an integral part of Aware Group’s success in the almost four years she’s been with us.

“She fosters a culture of self-empowerment where she actively supports the growth of others, ensures that their development is well-rounded, and when required holds them accountable using a people-first approach. Jo advocates having a work environment which provides psychological safety, where it is ok to raise uncomfortable issues and where failure is seen as a learning experience. One of Jo’s strengths as a leader is her ability to share her own vulnerabilities and shortcomings; she is always willing to share an empathetic ear, yet is equally not afraid to congratulate people on great work, then demand more of it.” – Matt Stannett, Product Technical Lead.

Jo was extremely grateful to receive the award, but hearing directly from those whom she had such a positive personal impact on was “the icing on the cake.”

“My colleague Jeffrey Brown wrote the nomination and when he got to the last question, which was ‘what would people say about Jo’s leadership?’ he decided to let others speak for themselves. So he went out and got quotes from about 12 staff about the impact I’ve had and how they see me as a leader.”

The quotes talked about Jo being inspiring and motivating, honest, idealistic in vision yet pragmatic in execution, building trust in the team, and fostering a culture of self-empowerment while always maintaining a view to the bigger picture.  

In response to the feedback Jo shared that “all of these are values I have aspired to embody as a leader and hearing our team acknowledge these as valuable and impactful has been beyond meaningful to me.”

Jo won the award against three other finalists in the category – Architectural Glass Products founder David Bunting, Nau Mai Rā founder Ezra Hirawani, and Chiefs Rugby general manager commercial Kate Rawnsley. Jo reflected at the awards that “the Waikato is lucky to have such inspiring leaders, and the impact these other finalists have to the Waikato business ecosystem cannot be understated.” It was evident that she is proud to be recognised alongside such admirable leaders.

The awards gala was one for the books. Held at the sold-out Claudelands Events Centre, the Chamber of Commerce spared no expense – a beautiful three-course meal designed specially by Montana Food & Events, a red carpet, and even a traditional Māori performance made the glittery night one to remember.

We’re so proud of Jo and feel exceptionally lucky to have her on our team. She’s been described as “positive and bubbly,” that she “makes above and beyond look effortless,” and that she “goes out of her way to make sure everyone feels welcome at Aware.” We’re confident she will continue to drive success at Aware Group and will continue to be the extraordinary leader the Waikato knows her to be.

Photo credit: Mike Walen / Barker Photography


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