Sir Jerry Mateparae: World-class leadership mana

If leadership were a contest, Sir Jerry Mateparae must surely qualify as one of
New Zealand’s pre-eminent leaders. The former Chief of the Army, Chief of the Defence Force, Governor-General and High Commissioner has enjoyed a stellar career, which he tells Management is probably a result of never wanting to have to look back with regret at a missed opportunity. And of being happy to come second.

Wikipedia lays out Sir Jerry Mateparae’s track record of leadership very succinctly: “Lieutenant General The Right Honourable Sir Jeremiah Mateparae, GNZM, QSO, KStJ was the 20th Governor-General of New Zealand between 2011 and 2016; Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force from 2006 to 2011; served as the director of the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau for five months in 2011; following his term as Governor-General, Sir Jerry was the High Commissioner of New Zealand to the United Kingdom between 2017 and 2020.”
But, according to Sir Jerry, being second is not a bad place to be.
He notes he was the second Māori officer to be the Army Chief after Major General Brian Poananga (Ngāti Porou and Rangitāne iwi). New Zealand’s second Māori Governor-General after Sir Paul Reeves, and the second Governor-General who also had the High Commissioner role in London after Sir Denis Blundell. He is also the second Governor-General to hail from Whanganui after Sir Arthur Porritt.
He was, however, New Zealand’s first Māori Chief of Defence. So with an already demanding army defence role behind him why did he continued to take on yet more challenges?  
Sir Jerry says leadership is a people-to-people thing, and one of his motivating factors has been that he never wanted to look back and wonder what might have been.
“Like a lot of people as you grow and move through the world, opportunities come up,” he says.
Sir Jerry says each of the roles had its own specific challenges but Chief of the Army was significant because that organisation was “hurting at the heart of the culture”.
So he embarked on defining the mission, vision and values of the Army. He wanted something every soldier could articulate and relate to and he seems quietly proud that the mission, vision, and values his team collectively came up with in 2002 and 2003 are still, in essence, being used by the Army 20 years later.
The vision: “A World Class Army that has Mana.” While one objection had been that when deployed overseas no one would know what ‘mana’ meant, the team had concluded that every New Zealander would know the meaning and the vision statement needed to succinct, that if a vision was too complicated it wouldn’t be put into action.
He wanted the mission and values to be about “what we do and why we do it.”
The Army ethos and values: Serving New Zealand honourably and loyally with courage, commitment, comradeship and integrity.
He says this too has still held and although the Army has been through its trials over the years, that is what all New Zealanders want – the right sort of thing at the right time.
The values also alluded to the heritage of the Army. He says it meant looking back to WW1, where soldiers fought for their mates while enduring awful conditions. It was the person beside them they were fighting for.
This he says, gives currency for all sorts of challenges.
He says the values speak to soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen asking if something is the right thing to do?
Asked about his leadership style, he says he does not do brutal, “but if I need to I can”.
He agrees that leaders lead, but says that equally giving your people the opportunity to lead is important, so he supposes he has a participative leadership style.
If you analyse leaders on the Marae: “They encourage you to air your views, people should be able to challenge them, people should be comfortable they can do that. If challenged, and there’s a better way of doing something, then learn from it.
“With mistakes, don’t make them twice. Own it, fix it, learn from it and then move on.”
While participative, he likes people to do their job. “If I give them a task, I expect them to get it done, but I will not tell them how to do it. I let them get on and do it.”
As to what would he say to his young self: It would be that opportunities will come along. “Do things you want to do and don’t have a circumstance where you look back and think – I wish I had done that.”
Initially he says he chose to stay in the military as he enjoyed the environment and enjoyed the things that could only be done through the military.
It’s well documented that in the early 2000s there was some tension and friction at senior levels of the Defence Force and Sir Jerry says that he had started to migrate into that arena, but didn’t particularly like what was happening. He says in some ways the reputation of the force was perceived to be besmirched by in-fighting.
Around this time the Head of the Defence Force Personnel, later Chief of Defence Air Marshal Sir Bruce Ferguson, suggested he undertake a leadership course at the Institute for Strategic Leadership, where he is now a newly named patron.
He says at that time he wasn’t keen to undertake the course, because at that stage with what was going on he was thinking he no longer wanted to be in the Defence Force.
But, in undertaking the course, he was amazed what he learnt about himself and he found he wanted to stay “and to make a difference.”
Asked about mentors he says the example Sir Edmund Hillary set, for example the way he shared the limelight with Tenzing Norgay, his humility and humbleness had a big effect.
While Sir Jerry had no desire to climb mountains, he did want to do the things you can only do in an environment like the Army. It was a life of adventure, which he enjoyed.
He also had a couple of more senior officers who “sort of indirectly” kept an eye on him. One was A.L. Birks (Tony) who later became Chief of Defence. Sir Jerry says chances this senior officer gave him meant he was being given the right experiences at the right time.
Another mentor was David Moloney, a former senior officer who had left the army and gone into business.
When Sir Jerry became Chief of the Army Moloney took it on himself to catch up with his former subordinate and act as something of a sounding board.
This led Sir Jerry to think he should be helping some of his senior officers to have someone who understood their situation. So he set up an informal mentoring arrangement with retired officers for the still serving officers. For some it didn’t work, but for most it did.
As to whether Te Ao Maori plays a big role in his life he says this “is one thing I could, and should, do better at.”
While involved in iwi and land meetings “I have not kept that part of my life well programmed.”
He is “comfortable to engage” and he knows his iwi and knows his whakapapa, “but I have had such a busy life I feel it would be disingenuous of me to go back and step into those roles.”  
When he was made Governor-General his appointment was warmly welcomed by then Māori Party co-leader Tariana Turia who (in a news story at the time) said she had known both his dad and his biological father, both of whom were ministers in the Ratana Church.
And Sir Jerry continues to give back to his local community with a wide range of patronages.
As well as recently taking on the role at the Strategic Leadership Institute he is also patron of Christchurch based One Mother to Another, a community housing trust in Christchurch and the National Trout Trust near Turangi. His tribal affiliations include Tūwharetoa in the Central North Island.
He is also co-patron of the Sarjeant Gallery, with his wife Lady Janine in his home town Whanganui and of the Canterbury Charitable Hospital; the Army Museum in Waiouru, the Fallen Soldiers Trust and a trust for the New Zealand Special Air Service and Association.
He is also on the external steering committee for the Defence Force’s Operation Respect, the programme to eliminate inappropriate and harmful sexual behaviours, discrimination, and harassment.
He sees it as important to give back in his local community and at his home on the Kapiti Coast is involved with the local Rotary and a Coastal Adaptation Advisory Panel.
Asked for some final words Sir Jerry  suggests: “Know your business, know your people and know yourself; you have to be good at what you do, but you can’t be the best at everything you do.
“If you are going for a team run, someone else is probably going to win, just don’t give up and don’t come last.”   M

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