Leading for the greatest good

30 May 2017
Dr Rachel Wolfgramm (left) and Dr Chellie Spiller are part of a team seeking to highlight leadership that generates wealth and wellbeing for all Māori

The Māori economy is now worth close to $40 billion and is growing faster than the national economy, according to recent MBIE figures. How do we harness this growth to lift wellbeing for all Māori?

A new research project aims to zero in on the kinds of leadership and decision-making that embody traditional values to generate wealth and wellbeing for the greatest number, today and tomorrow.

Iwi-controlled post-settlement assets alone are now worth an estimated $6 billion, with that figure predicted to double in a decade or so. Many iwi have social development and cultural arms alongside their economic development entities. Meanwhile, Māori entrepreneurs and small businesses are also driving economic growth.

“It is great to see Māori benefiting from this development, but some are missing out, so we need to better understand how to advance so that the benefits are widely shared,” says Dr Rachel Wolfgramm, a senior lecturer in Management and International Business at the University of Auckland Business School.

Dr Wolfgramm is co-leading a project that will turn the microscope on Māori leadership and decision-making as it plays out in modern Aotearoa.

Decisions made on the marae, within iwi corporations and Māori-run businesses affect who gets to enjoy the fruits of this burgeoning economy.

“We want to highlight what’s working well, act as conduits for the collective wisdom out there so people are confident and affirmed and see a pathway forward,” says co-researcher Dr Chellie Spiller, an associate professor in the same department.

The research is funded by a grant of $499,877 over three years from Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, New Zealand's Māori Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) funded by the Tertiary Education Commission and hosted by The University of Auckland.

Māori leadership traditionally embodies core values: kaitiakitanga (guardianship of the environment), whanaungatanga (kinship bonds, nurturing of communities), iwitanga (expression and celebration of cultural qualities), wairuatanga (spiritual dimensions), manaakitanga (caring for others) and humarietanga (humility).

You see this playing out in business as the pursuit of group wellbeing over individual, an emphasis on relationships and trust-building as a foundation for doing business, and a long-term, multi-generational outlook.

“Traditionally, Māori make decisions based on how it will affect their children and their children’s children,” says Dr Spiller, who is also Business School Associate Dean, Māori and Pacific.

“In a recent ANZ Business Barometer study of Māori business owners, the number one concern was succession issues.”

The “tanga” values relate to the “five wellbeings” – spiritual, social, cultural, environmental and economic – that form the holistic Māori worldview.

“We see these talked up in many contexts yet the way in which they are enacted is still not well understood,” says Dr Wolfgramm. “Because of the focus on holistic wellbeing, we are also seeing interest in this research from international communities attentive to the scale and impact of sustainable business leadership.”

Dr Spiller: “We’re asking are our values guiding decisions, or are they baubles on the wall? If there are tensions between being a kaitiaki and being commercial, for example, how are organisations and people managing those tensions in order to achieve that vision of contributing to wellbeing, not just economic growth?”

Dr Spiller says many people in iwi trustee roles have told her how much they want to get it right with settlements.

“There’s a real sense of burden and responsibility about making sure they make good decisions, an awareness they are actors in this historic moment. Iwi with recent or imminent settlements can benefit from the precedent set by Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Kahungunu and others. Are there broad principles that could be applied across different settings that could help people make good choices?”

The research team also includes Professor Paul Tapsell, Dr Ella Henry, Robert Powhare and Ngaroimata Reid. The researchers will draw on historic texts and archival recordings of Māori leaders, interview current Māori leaders, conduct an online survey and in-depth case studies of a range of Māori organisations.

Their brief is broad. They are looking at “followership” as well as “leadership”, and the many kinds of leaders.  

Dr Spiller: “There is also never just one leader – there’s the whaia, the kaumatua, the older sibling, the younger sibling.”

Says Dr Wolfgramm: “We are approaching this research with open minds and open hearts. Our method requires reciprocity, which is at the heart of mahi rangahau.”

The researchers are especially interested in what’s known as “generative leadership”.

Dr Spiller: “Generative leadership challenges the status-quo, it’s co-creative – it generates outcomes through relationships. ‘Growth’ is often equated with economic growth; but we’re talking about growth in terms of people fulfilling their potential.”



Nicola Shepheard Media Relations Advisor
Tel: 09 923 1515 Mob: 027 537 1319 Email: n.shepheard@auckland.ac.nz


Key Points:

  • The title of the research is: “Promoting effective Māori leadership and decision making for prosperous economies of wellbeing: Te whakatairanga i te ārahitanga whai hua me te Māori te whakatau kaupapa.”
  • It will look at how Māori leaders generate, embody and enact leadership in order to advance wellbeing.
  • The research team is: Senior Lecturer Rachel Wolfgramm, Associate Professor Chellie Spiller, Professor Paul Tapsell, Dr Ella Henry, Robert Pouwhare, Ngaroimata Reid
  • The project has received $499,877 over three years from Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga
  • Ngā Pae has 21 formal partners and has produced over 3200 academic research outputs. Whai Rawa, the Māori economy theme, hosts a number of projects and is led by Associate Professor Manuka Henare (University of Auckland) and Dr Shaun Awatere (Landcare Research)