LEADERSHIP : Maori Leadership – From good to great

Questions about diversity and leadership have been echoing loudly through international leadership research commentary for some years – and for good reason. Globalisation and changing population distributions mean that leaders are increasingly confronted with the need to influence people from other cultures as they work with an ever more diverse range of stakeholders both domestically and internationally. But to what extent is successful leadership influenced by culture?
Peter Dorfman, an internationally renowned leadership scholar, contends that leadership processes are inexorably intertwined within one’s culture.
Culture – our values, traditions, and the norms we hold about how people should relate to each other – can strongly influence the attitudes and behaviour of leaders in many ways. It dictates what is acceptable leadership behaviour. Deviating from this may result in diminished respect and may actively undermine leader’s effectiveness.
Successful leaders understand how people from different cultures view them and interpret their actions and adapt their behaviour accordingly. They do this by having good understanding of their followers’ culture and leadership expectations.
Or, put it another way: Leadership is dance. This is the view of the University of Canterbury’s Dr Peter Cammock, senior lecturer in organisational leadership and development. He suggests that “leaders and followers jointly respond to the rhythm and call of particular context, within which leaders draw from deep wells of collective experience and energy, to engage followers around transforming visions of change and lead them in the collective creation of compelling futures”.
In other words, leaders who want to move to the right beat should understand the cultural nuances of their followers and adapt their leadership style accordingly.
International research on cross-cultural leadership has found both similarities and differences in the way successful leaders behave throughout the world.
The GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organisational Behaviour and Effectiveness) Project, is the most ambitious study of its kind to date. multi-phase, multi-method research project, it compares the inter-relationship between culture and leadership in 62 countries around the world (see box story “Around the globe”).
Yet, when local sample was collected for the GLOBE project, it revealed remarkable similarities between New Zealand and “other Anglo” countries. The reason, remarked New Zealand GLOBE coordinator Jeff Kennedy, was that it “reflects primarily male (and New Zealand European) perspective”.
To begin to explore leadership within New Zealand’s shores, in 2004 Victoria University researchers collected Maori sample (from 160 participants representing over 40 iwi/hapu) and compared it with the original GLOBE data (184 participants).
The findings reveal some interesting differences and similarities in effective Maori and Pakeha leadership behaviour.
Modesty was seen as being more important for outstanding Maori leaders. This may be due to the consultative and communal nature of Maori leadership with success often being attributed to the collective rather than to the individual. In fact, some Maori leaders may view themselves as being led by their followers. Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, former Te Kohanga Reo National Trust chief executive comments, “People say, ‘oh, you’re leader’. I think ‘no’. It has never occurred to me that I’m leading but I can understand how it’s seen. I would rather stick it the other way – I’ve been led by the feedback that I’ve got.”
Patience was more important for outstanding Maori leaders. This might reflect the decision-making process that is seen as vitally important in many sectors of both traditional and contemporary Maori society. “It is accepted that important decisions are made by communal agreement,” explains Victoria University director of Maori Business Programmes Matene Love. “Judgement is left largely to the community as whole, and points of view are debated until consensus is reached. Some decisions may take many days, even weeks to be made, especially if the issue is contentious or affects the wellbeing of the group as whole.” Patience is likely to be important to facilitate this consensual, sometimes prolonged decision-making process and collectively unite the group behind common goal.
Integrating team members was more important for outstanding Maori leaders. The literal meaning of the Maori word for leader, rangatira, is ‘to weave people together’. This definition of leadership neatly encapsulates the consultative and communal nature of Maori leadership.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect was the high degree of similarity of thinking among Maori and Pakeha followers when asked what was important for outstanding leadership. This was especially so when compared with perceptions from respondents from other countries.
Four out of five of the highest rated sub-dimensions were the same for both cultures. These were: being inspirational (inspiring and motivating others on the basis of firmly held core values), being participative (involving others in making and implementing decisions), being visionary (imaginativeness in the ability to anticipate and be ready for future events, goal planning, and ability to motivate others to work hard) and being performance orientated.
However, it is important to emphasise that the way people actually function and manifest these different cultural dimensions may be different. For example, although being inspirational was seen as desirable attribute for leadership by both Maori and Pakeha, it may not necessarily mean the same thing to Maori followers as it does to their Pakeha counterparts.
How can New Zealand managers provide leadership to better meet the needs of not just Maori or Pakeha, but the diverse range of cultures within New Zealand?
• Firstly, managers will need to approach each situation with integrity, empathy and careful consideration of all the factors that might come into play. It is important that leaders are well prepared by taking the time to learn about other cultures.
• Learning about followers’ culturally bound values, rituals, behavioural norms, worldviews and how they fit in to the wider context of society will help managers to develop deeper understanding and enable effective leadership to emerge.
• Engaging with followers to gain fuller appreciation of their expectations of leaders and how their behaviour as followers will result in climate of mutual trust and respect that is conducive for effective leadership.
Robert Joss, dean of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University in California, says cross-cultural understanding and good communication skills are important requirements for successful managers everywhere. “A key element in today’s preparation for management careers,” he notes, “is to acquire deep appreciation for other cultures and practices, and commitment to lifelong learning about how to achieve world standards within multicultural workforce that operates on merit.”


AROUND THE GLOBE
The GLOBE (Global Leadership and Organisational Behaviour and Effectiveness) Project www.thunderbird.edu/wwwfiles/ms/globe/ involved 127 investigators from 62 cultures and spanned 11 years. Data were collected from 17,300 managers based in 951 organisations. Twenty-seven hypotheses were tested in the study each linking culture to performance outcomes. Followers were ask to describe how they perceived their culture and their culturally similar ‘outstanding’ leaders.
The GLOBE model identifies six major global leadership dimensions with 21 sub-dimensions. In all cultures team orientation and the communication of vision, values, and confidence in followers are reported to be highly effective leader behaviours. While some variation was found concerning participative leadership, the

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