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Source: University of Waikato

Award-winning Māori business academic Professor Chellie Spiller, from the University of Waikato Management School, draws on the deep wellspring of Māori wisdom to discuss powerful approaches to leadership that are changing business and the world.

In her upcoming Hamilton Public Lecture, Professor Spiller (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa) will offer her vision for a world of prosperity and wellbeing that can be created by applying insights from Māori leadership.

This approach weaves together three of Professor Spiller’s key research themes – authentic, wayfinding and collective leadership.

Her free public lecture, ‘Wise Up: How insights from Māori leadership can create a better world’, takes place on Tuesday, 1 September at the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato, starting at 5.45pm. Registration for this event is essential.

Conventional leadership doesn’t work

Professor Spiller has spent more than 15 years studying the insights that Māori business offers the world. She was appointed to her role at the University of Waikato Management School in 2019.

A former Fulbright Senior Scholar, Professor Spiller is in high demand as an international speaker on leadership, and has been a guest speaker at Harvard University on ‘What is a great leader?’.

Her research is informed by a 20-year corporate career, with experience of pioneering entrepreneurial businesses and senior leadership positions in New Zealand and abroad.

Her awards include an Early Career Research Excellence Award, Māori Academic Excellence Award and Māori Business Leaders Award.

“Conventional ways of leading are hierarchical, vertical and individualised,” Professor Spiller explains. “The shortcomings of this approach are becoming more critical; as is evident in the social, cultural, environmental and economic crises that have intensified with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Call for businesses to focus on wellbeing

She calls for each of us to consciously create wellbeing by understanding the deeper meanings of rangatira; a word that is synonymous with Māori leadership.

“The word rangatira is made up of the ‘raranga’, meaning to weave or plait, and ‘tira’, which refers to a group, a company of travelers, or rays or beams of light, ” she says. “To be a leader, a rangatira, is to excel at weaving people together, to encourage or inspire others to go on a journey together, to exercise agency, and to light the way toward a world in which all flourish.”

The vision for Professor Spiller’s work was first expressed in her 2010 article, Relational Well-being and Wealth: Māori Business and an Ethic of Care. It explains how care is at the heart of the Māori values system, and she calls for humans to be kaitiaki (caretakers) of the mauri (life-force) in each other and in nature.

Professor Spiller’s Five Wellbeings approach – based on case studies of Māori businesses – demonstrates how business can create spiritual, cultural, social, environmental and economic wellbeing.

How can we develop better leaders?

For those willing to take up this leadership challenge, Professor Spiller’s work on authentic leadership offers invaluable insights.

Her ground-breaking 2013 book Authentic Leadership challenged the standardised approaches in leadership theory from business authors, consultants and trainers. It was named as a top 10 finalist in the International Leadership Book of the Year.

Whilst researching leadership at Harvard, Professor Spiller received an invitation to write a book on Māori leadership. At the time she was furthering her decade-long academic interest in the question, ‘What can be learned from the great wayfinding tradition of the Polynesian navigators to develop more effective leaders?’

In 2015, she partnered with master waka voyager Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and Māori tourism business entrepreneur John Panoho to co-author the book Wayfinding Leadership – Groundbreaking Wisdom for Developing Leaders. It was a finalist in the Māori Book of the Year Awards, and is now in its third reprint.

Based on the art of traditional Polynesian navigation, this innovative approach can transform leaders and organisations for the better.

“Wayfinding leadership recognises that the conventional ‘business as usual’ approach to business and developing leaders is often insufficient for building the kinds of organisations we need today, ” she says. “Leaders need to deal with complex organisational dynamics, respond to unpredictable and chaotic challenges, and create meaning and purpose amid uncertainty.”

“In times of chaos, leaders need to find the space to pause, reflect and read the subtle signs around them,” she says. “It’s not just about using rational logic, but also our creative intelligence, instinct and intuition, so that we can make better decisions. The result is that leaders adapt more naturally to change and experience greater calm in the face of adversity,” says Professor Spiller.

Since the book was first published, more than 4,000 people worldwide have participated in her Wayfinding training workshops, ranging from CEOs and senior executive teams, to judges, social workers and young people.

Professor Spiller’s TedX talk on Wayfinding Leadership: Wisdom for Developing Potential has also been highly popular.

Collective leadership is the way forward

Professor Spiller’s latest academic paper, Paradigm Warriors: Advancing a radical ecosystems view of collective leadership from an Indigenous Māori perspective, is in the prestigious international journal Human Relations. It calls on all of us to be leaders and take up the challenge of shifting from the world as we know it to the world as it can be.

“In response to global challenges and the shortcomings of existing leadership, scholars have proposed ‘collective leadership’ that is more team based, horizontal and relational; and they suggest that this is a ‘new paradigm’,” she says. “But from an indigenous perspective, collective leadership is not new or emerging;  it has a deep history and continues to flourish in indigenous communities.”

She has also drawn from this research to create a popular practitioner guide on Effective Māori Leadership and Decision-Making for Prosperous Economies of Wellbeing.

Register here to attend Professor Spiller’s Hamilton Public Lecture on Tuesday, 1 September.