Māori leadership

Investigating Māori leadership

From 2006 to 2008, the Language in the Workplace team received a Marsden grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand to investigate the language of effective leadership in Māori and Pākehā organizations. The research investigated what effective Māori leaders do that might be overlooked when their communication styles are viewed through a mainstream lens, especially those linguistic and discourse features valued in Māori work contexts by Māori employees. An analysis of two pairs of workplaces matched for industry and size—where one of each pair is identified as a Māori business—was used to investigate the relationships between ethnicity, (im)politeness, gender, humour and leadership.

The research team has devoted considerable effort to developing an ethically appropriate methodology, taking account of tikanga Māori (a Māori platform for correctness). A wider interdisciplinary team including Māori advisors and researchers encouraged the development of data collection techniques and processes which were appropriate for conducting New Zealand indigenous research. To give just one example, the team found that when collecting information in the Pākehā workplaces they were expected to be as unobtrusive as possible, ideally, they should be ‘seen and not heard.’ By contrast in a Māori setting it transpired that absolute inclusion is not only invited, but expected and the researchers were expected to be seen, to be heard and to be involved.

Leadership and co-leadership

For many people, effective leaders are typically Pākehā. Our research challenges this stereotype, maintaining that when examined through a mainstream management lens, effective (and highly valued) Māori leadership skills may be overlooked. The LWP team have examined the similarities and differences between leadership styles of Māori and Pākehā and how leaders achieve effective communication amongst their colleagues. An analysis of meeting openings and the ways in which humour patterns, suggest that what is perceived as appropriate behaviour in one organizational context might not be considered acceptable behaviour in another.


Research into ethnicity and the workplace has identified similarities and differences in effective communication between the two workplace settings under investigation (i.e. Māori and Pākehā), identifying how and in which contexts each leader performs both transactional (business-oriented) and relational (people-oriented) tasks. Aspects such as humour, gender roles and (im)politeness provide a basis for which comparisons can be made.

Interactions in the two Māori organisations indicated an awareness of the importance of humility and a tendency to emphasise the group over the individual. Māori leaders tended to tell stories about how they learned from their mistakes, rather than the kind of “hero” stories often heard in Pākehā workplaces. And when something needed to be improved, or someone had made an error, the Māori leaders were more likely to talk about the issue as a general one, even discussing it with humour where possible, rather than pointing the finger at an individual.


We would like to express our extreme gratitude to the many workplaces and participants who have worked with us in this project for allowing us access to their interactions. We also thank the many research assistants who have painstakingly collected and transcribed many hours of data for us. This cross-cultural research was funded by a Marsden Grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand.


Please see our list of publications on Māori Leadership in the Bibliographies section.