3 Leadership Lessons from Maori Whakataukī (Proverbs)

There is something about the Maori culture that speaks to me each time I visit New Zealand and when I get the chance to chat to Maori folk. One such interaction was with my taxi driver in Auckland yesterday. Joe & Iwere chatting about leadership during my short trip to the airport and he shared with me the three Maori Whakataukī (or proverbs) that have shaped his view of what great leadership looks like.

He scribbled them on the back of my credit card receipt for me and with a bit of googling I was able to make sense of them and track down the translations:

He waka eke noa - "A canoe which we are all in with no exception"

This whakatauki reminds us that our goals cannot be achieved unless we all work together. It reminds me of the African philosophy, "Ubuntu" that is credited for the absence of violent retaliation from the black community at the end of apartheid in South Africa. It says that “my humanity exists in your humanity” or “my excellence is found in your excellence”. It recognises thatwe are all in this together. It is a reminder for me that leadership is not something that you do by yourself; you do it in conjunction with others. We cannot exist in isolation, nor work alone as leaders - we must lead collaboratively.

Waiho ma te tangata e mihi - "Leave your praises for someone else."

Great leaders shine the spotlight on their people, not themselves. They take complete responsibility for everything that goes wrong and give their team the credit for everything that goes right.

Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi - "Without foresight or vision the people will be lost."

Have you ever tried to put together a puzzle without first seeing the picture on the box? If people don't know where they are going and what they are working towards, how will they ever get there? A vision is like a lighthouse on the horizon for your people, whilst it might be distant, it serves as a marker point and a guide, something to orient themselves towards as they sail through often uncharted waters.


Ben Lancken