Effective Māori leadership tied to identity

15 April 2014

Māori are expressing their identity in increasingly varied ways, and this has implications for leadership, says Mānuka Hēnare.

Māori are expressing their identity and engaging with their culture in increasingly varied ways, and researchers say this has implications for leadership and for the economy.

"Knowing who you are informs the leadership you will have," says Associate Professor Mānuka Hēnare, Director of the Business School's Mira Szászy Research Centre.

"It is now understood that being clear about your identity, knowing your values and experiencing leadership leads to a more productive life – individually and for a culture."

Such thinking is anchored in identity economics, a field pioneered by Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof. Identity economics holds that people make economic decisions based in part on their identity and that they will tend to avoid actions that conflict with their concept of self.

Dr Carla Houkamau (Ngāti Kahungunu/Ngāti Porou), a Senior Lecturer in the Business School's Department of Management and International Business, is researching  how various aspects of Māori identity relate to socio-economic outcomes, attitudes towards savings, and aspects of financial literacy.

"Identity provides a framework and a set of rules and guidelines for living. It is a very powerful driver of behaviour," says Dr Houkamau.

"Identity isn't just a psychological construct in the mind. It strongly influences the choices you make.  It has a huge role to play in the way people think, the way they act, their views and what is important to them."

Associate Professor Hēnare suggests that the present Māori economic dynamism could be connected to the Māori renaissance of the 1970s and 1980s, when a sustained effort was made to re-establish Māori cultural identity.

However, he cautions against defining culture and identity too narrowly.

"People are living a far wider Māori lifestyle today. There is more to it than going to a marae or being fluent in Te Reo."

He says prominent Māori such as the former chief executive of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Sir Ralph Norris, who was named the Outstanding Māori Business Leader for 2010, often do not work in areas where Māori usually express themselves.

"Nevertheless there is an expectation that he, and other Māori leaders will be engaged with the Māori world. And they are."

Hēnare says the University of Auckland Business School's Sir Hugh Kawharu Fellowship, which supports emerging Māori early- to mid-career business leaders, offers recipients another way to engage with that world.

"A likely outcome of the Fellowship is an improvement in the recipient's productivity, and therefore a greater contribution to their culture."

The Fellowship, offered in partnership with the Kawharu Foundation, comprises a $10,000 grant, fees waivers for study at the Business School and other in-kind support.

Applications for the 2014 Sir Hugh Kawharu Fellowship close on 30 April 2014.

For Fellowship application details visit the Foundation website

To learn more about Dr Houkamau’s research relating to identity, an online version of the Multidimensional Model of Māori Identity and Cultural Engagement (MMM-ICE) can be found here: http://www.Mā

Mānuka Hēnare

Mānuka Hēnare is Associate Professor of Māori Business Development in the University of Auckland Business School's Department of Management and International Business.

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