Māori Women Leadership Styles

I presented earlier in September with a Māori clinical psychologist and colleague of mine, Dr Pikihuia Pomare, at the New Zealand Psychological Society’s Jubilee conference in Auckland (NZPsS). We presented some ideas on navigating race and gender in the workplace particularly considering the experience of Māori women leaders.

I wanted to share one of the frameworks that we presented which was developed by Dr Ella Henry. Dr Henry is a senior lecturer at Te Ara Poutama, the Māori faculty, at Auckland University of Technology. She has an academic background in Māori studies, Sociology, and Management and has done research on Māori leadership and decision making among other things.

Dr Henry’s framework illustrates that leadership for/by Māori women is relational as well as generational; that is, as a female grows older and as her life experiences expand, she adopts different roles at different times. Leadership progression according to this framework is based on age, experience, skill, and status rather than a more linear career path that privileges credentials, networks and outcomes.

As a pakeha/white women I can relate to this framework though my understanding or interpretation of these roles will have different a flavour and nuance than they would for Māori. I will miss the profundity of the concepts.

However, I still find it helpful because:

It offers something concrete…
… roles and constructs that I recognise and can relate to. I can bring whaea/mother or wāhine toa/warrior characteristics vividly to mind. I can more easily recognise those qualities in my behaviour and thus, name them. It helps facilitate self-insight which is a critical quality in good leadership.

It offers an organising framework…
…within which to be fluid and adaptable and more consciously shift my leadership style to match the context. I can utilise different styles when I need them. They don’t all fit, however, because leadership style can also be influenced by:

  • Age and stage; when young you just don’t have the wisdom and experience yet to be kuia/grandmother or rangatira/chief
  • Level of expertise in an area; for example in one context I will be in a teina or student role, in another, a tuakana or mentor.
  • Personality; people with a tendency towards introversion or extroversion may prefer different styles

I can recognise my strengths and primary leadership style
I sit on one or two as my primary leadership style. It adds another dimension to other leadership styles that you might be more familiar with such as authentic leadership or servant leadership.

Stretch and growth
I like the idea of identifying an archetype for each of those roles. It helps to bring them to mind and in connecting with their qualities I can more easily access that potential in myself and bring it to bear.

I encourage you to check out more of Pikihuia Pomare’s and Ella Henry’s work although they are by no means the only Māori women in research or researching Māori womens’ leadership for example Stacey Ruru, Maree Roche, Rebecca Wirihana, Dara Kelly, Margaret Forster, Naomi Simmonds etc.

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