Five Key Values of Strong Maori Leadership

By Maree Roche, University of Waikato
January 13, 2019 Updated: January 13, 2019

The indigenous people of New Zealand/Aotearoa, Maori, are facing a renaissance of culture, despite a long history of colonization and cultural deprivation.

Traditional Maori worldviews are central to this, and they underlie a growth in Maori business and leadership.

Maori leaders often head up complex organizations, navigating traditional and contemporary influences. They are charged with leading (often) marginalized communities, and weaving Maori kaupapa (purpose, policy) with contemporary influences on leadership styles and practices.

Yet, little is understood about how these leaders bring these elements to their roles. In our kaupapa Maori-based research, we spoke to 22 Māori leaders, both male and female, about the values that guide their leadership.

Key Values of Leadership

Finding Maori leaders is no easy feat. They are reluctant to stand up and self-nominate themselves as exemplars. Those we interviewed were identified as leaders by other leaders. They come from a range of areas including politics, business, marae (gathering places and focal points of Maori communities) and community leadership.

We have distilled five key values that underpin Māori leadership.

1. Whakaiti—Humility

Whakaiti is a key term in Maori leadership. The leader does not self-nominate as a leader, does not take credit for work, but enables others. There is no self-promotion. Humility means that great leadership is done behind the scenes.

2. Ko tau rourou and manaakitanga—Altruism

This theme is one of generosity, giving for long-term or future benefit and taking care of others. Manaakitanga is a related concept that reflects the importance of caring for another person, doing the right thing for them, and ensuring their well-being.

Ko tau rourou can be described as a generosity of spirit, but it also has a number of other dimensions. It can refer to offering assistance in a way that creates a sense of wealth (non-material, usually). Essentially, this is a form of cooperation that enables development through giving.

3. Whanaungatanga—Others

This concept is central and is mentioned in almost all literature on the importance of others in Maori leadership. Broadly, it has touch points with the concept of collectivism but also refers to the span of relationships with current, future and past generations. It also refers to the closeness (whanau means family) and depth of relationships.

4. Taria te wa and kaitiakitanga—Long-Term Thinking, Guardianship

The notion of the long journey, with a clear direction but the need for patience when waiting for results, is new to the literature for Maori leadership. However, long-term orientation is also reflected in the concept of kaitiakitanga, which refers to the need for sustainable guardianship and protection. Māori holds a great connection to past generations, environmental preservation, and care for the collective future generations.

One leader who was interviewed for this project said:

This was, and still is the longest journey … look how Maori have grown, are growing … at the number of Maori speaking te reo [Maori language], the revival of Maori tikanga [custom]… but we need to push on. It’s not a matter of achieving a goal … it’s about a life time.

5. Tikanga Maori—Cultural Authenticity

While not commonly discussed as a leadership value, this concept also underpins almost all literature on Māori leadership. Tikanga Maori is viewed as a fundamental guideline for how Maori leaders behave. We found that “the Māori way of doing things” was a guiding value.

Leadership success for Maori can be viewed as drawing on traditional principles while managing the interconnected world.

We also extended our findings and surveyed employees about their beliefs in these values and their importance to them. We found that these values also relate to employee well-being and their thoughts on ethical leadership.

Dr. Maree Roche is a senior lecturer and co-director of the leadership unit at the Waikato Management School of the University of Waikato in New Zealand. This article was first published on The Conversation.