Indigenous Leadership

This week we started to explore indigenous leadership. I have had reasonable exposure to and understanding of Te Ao Maori but have not heard very much about it’s application to leadership contexts. This certainly has resonance with what we’ve been discussing with regard to authentic value as in Te Ao Maori there is an obligation to use one’s mana for the good of the people and the environment: kaitiakitanga.

I’ve studied and adopted critiques of Western neo-liberal individualism and have for a long time rejected the primacy of the individual. Long before that, I was raised in a large family so my experience as one of 10 children was always that “I” did not exist outside of or separate to my family. My mother was raised in the Southern USA and the word  “kin” was used to describe our wider relations and our connection to them: “all y’all are kin”. This extended beyond blood relationships. To ‘kin’ someone was to invite them into the fold and impart a sense of belonging and connection. We saw this as something that was both good for them and for us.

My approach to leadership embodies this approach and resonates with indigenous models of leadership.

I liked the way that Chellie Spiller et al (2011)* compared characteristics of wise organsations by contrasting some traditional western model compared to an ethic of kaitiakitanga. I decided that I would do a similar ‘weave’ using examples from my organisation. This has been interesting. I hope it can help me to advocate within the organisation the adoption of more effective concepts and practices from Te Ao Maori to describe our purpose and some of our practices.

Example Description Kaitiakitanga values not followed Why is this unwise?
Our diversity committee


HR has created yet another committee  to show that the organisation is thinking well about diversity. There was no clear road map or well-defined outcomes for the committee meets several times a year but there are little actions resulting.  Sexist, racist, and homophobic attitudes continue uninterrupted. mōhio (recognition of the problem)

tika (just and appropriate behaviour). 

hāpai (uplifting others)

Although the intention is good the organisation not really able to implement this as we are not thinking enough the actual problem. It often amounts to lip service as it doesn’t lead to any strategies to support actual change.


Potentially reinforces attitudes and behaviours that the organisation wants to change if this becomes yet another tokenistic move that ticks the HR box.


The mana of this group compromised as some members confused over purpose and not sure if they are actually able to achieve anything.

The manager has to approach other managers to fund projects for this group.

Pou Tangata group (Maori staff roopu) Unwise behaviour: giving the Manager leading this group no budget to do anything.


Mana (spiritual power, authority, sovereignty)

Āta (respectful relationships)

Rollout of the LMS   Hau  (promote and maintain vitality)

Aroha (care and compassion)

Our people were not prepared.

Putting organisational self-interest to ‘showcasing’ for the future rather than appropriately pacing the rollout so that staff could have time to meaningfully engage.

Willing to trade staff wellbeing for the sake of launching a product/




*Chellie Spiller, Edwina Pio, Lijijana Erakovic, Manuka Henare: Wise up: creating organisation wisdom through an ethic of Kaitiakitanga. Journal of Business Ethics, May 2011.