Leading for the greater good

16 May 2017

Are traditional Māori values guiding decision-making in the thriving Māori economy, ask Chellie Spiller and Rachel Wolfgramm. 

The Māori economy is now worth almost $40 billion and is growing faster than the national economy, according to recent Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) data. Iwi-controlled post-settlement assets alone are now worth an estimated $6 billion, with that figure expected to double over the next decade. And decisions made on the marae, and in iwi corporations and Māori-run businesses greatly affect who enjoys the fruits of this burgeoning economy.

A new three-year Business School research project funded by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand's Māori Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE), aims to study how Māori leaders generate and enact leadership – and especially how they embody traditional values – to generate wealth and advance wellbeing.

Among those values are: kaitiakitanga (guardianship of the environment), whanaugatanga (nurturing of communities), iwitanga (expression of cultural qualities), wairuatanga (spiritual dimensions), manaakitanga (caring for others), and humarietanga (humility).

In a business context, they play out as the pursuit of group wellbeing over that of the individual, an emphasis on relationships and trust-building as a foundation for doing business, and a long-term, multi-generational outlook.

"We are asking: are those values guiding decisions, or are they baubles on the wall? If there are tensions between being a kaitiaki (guardian) and being commercial, for example, how are organisations and people managing those tensions to achieve that vision of contributing to wellbeing and not just to economic growth," says Dr Rachel Wolfgramm, a Senior Lecturer in the School's Department of Management and International Business.

"We want to highlight what is working well, and act as conduits for the collective wisdom out there so that people are affirmed and can see a way forward."

She says many people in iwi roles have told her how keen they are to make the right decisions in terms of the settlements.

"There is a real sense of responsibility; an awareness that they are actors in this historic moment."

Co-researcher Chellie Spiller, who is Associate Professor in the same Department, says Iwi with recent or imminent settlements can benefit from the precedent set by Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Kahungunu, and others by asking whether there were broad principles about good decision-making that could be applied across different settings.

"It is also important to recognise that there is never just one leader – there is the whaia, the kaumatua, the older and younger siblings. It is a long list," says Spiller.

The research team is especially interested in what is known as "generative leadership".

"Generative leadership challenges the status quo and is co-creative – it generates outcomes through relationships. 'Growth' is often equated with economic growth, but we are talking about growth in terms of people fulfilling their potential," says Wolfgramm.

The researchers will draw on historical texts and archival recordings of Māori leaders, interview current leaders, and conduct an online survey and in-depth case studies of a range of Māori organisations.

The research team comprises co-lead investigators Associate Professor Chellie Spiller, Professor Paul Tapsell, and Dr Rachel Wolfgramm, and associate investigators Dr Ella Henry, Robert Pouwhare, and Ngāroimata Reid.

Chellie Spiller

Chellie Spiller is an Associate Professor in the University of Auckland Business School's Department of Management and International Business, and is the School's Associate Dean (Māori and Pacific).

Rachel Wolfgramm

Dr Rachel Wolfgramm is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Auckland Business School's Department of Management and International Business.



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