'He Apiti Hono, He Tātai Hono': Ancestral Leadership, Cyclical Learning and the Eternal Continuity of Leadership

Chapter (PDF Available) · October 2014with 229 Reads
DOI: 10.13140/2.1.4556.1600
In book: Core-periphery relations and Organisation Studies, Chapter: 8, Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, Editors: R. Westwood, G. Jack, F.R. Khan, M. Frenkel, pp.164-184
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Abstract
This chapter introduces the notion of ancestral leadership from Indigenous knowledge, a peripheral source from the dominant Western discourse of leadership studies. Ancestral leadership rests entirely on values and principles about leadership that are enduring and draws upon knowledge that is built on earlier experience. It reflects leadership dynamics from the bonds of ancestry by virtue of continuous exchange between three realities: the human, the cosmos, and the divine. Drawing on qualitative interviews conducted with nine Māori business leaders, we show how these leaders carry their genealogies of leadership into the work they do and how they conduct themselves professionally. We also reveal how they consciously engage in creating, continuing and shaping their leadership genealogies and how ancestral leadership informs their ethical and value-driven conduct.
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Core-Periphery Relations and Organisation Studies
‘He Apiti Hono, He Tātai Hono’: Ancestral Leadership,
Cyclical Learning and the Eternal Continuity of
Leadership
Dara Kelly, Brad Jackson and Manuka Henare
The University of Auckland Business School
Abstract
This chapter introduces the notion of ancestral leadership from Indigenous knowledge, a
peripheral source from the dominant Western discourse of leadership studies. Ancestral
leadership rests entirely on values and principles about leadership that are enduring and draws
upon knowledge that is built on earlier experience. It reflects leadership dynamics from the
bonds of ancestry by virtue of continuous exchange between three realities: the human, the
cosmos, and the divine.
Drawing on qualitative interviews conducted with nine Māori business leaders, we show how
these leaders carry their genealogies of leadership into the work they do and how they
conduct themselves professionally. We also reveal how they consciously engage in creating,
continuing and shaping their leadership genealogies and how ancestral leadership informs
their ethical and value-driven conduct.
2
Core-Periphery Relations and Organisation Studies
‘He Apiti Hono, He Tātai Hono’: Ancestral Leadership,
Cyclical Learning and the Eternal Continuity of
Leadership
Dara Kelly, Brad Jackson and Manuka Henare
The University of Auckland Business School
Prologue: The journey to leadership from Dara’s perspective
This research developed out of a fascination with leadership as a personally intuitive
experience growing up in Vancouver, Canada and observing my father. I saw in him a
translation of our Indigenous Stó:lō values and knowledge that he learned growing up with
his grandmother (my great grandmother) on our Indian reserve lands and applied to the
complexities of contemporary life that were presented to him in the city. Dad’s
responsibilities have always required him to attend to our Indigenous community social and
political relations, to negotiate personal and professional boundaries in work, and to maintain
balance between individual fulfilment and family obligations. What I saw beneath his
contemplations around these often competing responsibilities was a point of reference that
guided his decisions and actions. He draws upon our Stó:lō cultural values that he learned in
his early life to guide moral and ethical behaviour and decision-making. Those values transfer
through his own life, but also through ours as his children.
Through my father, there exists a cultural and spiritual connection for me to those
values. It helps explain the intuitive affiliation I have to my great grandmother as someone
whom I have never physically met, but feel a deep affection for by way of the leadership
landscape that she and my father traversed throughout their lives. The pool of knowledge that
I have just described contains leadership wisdom bound together by the richness of our
genealogical ties; it connects me to my great grandmother and our ancestors before her. It is
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what sparked my curiosity to study leadership, a journey that has taken me to Aotearoa New
Zealand where I have had the opportunity to explore Māori Indigenous values and philosophy
in my Master’s thesis, and from which the notion of ancestral leadership emerged (Kelly,
2012).
Introduction
This chapter introduces the notion of ancestral leadership as an important, yet largely under-
acknowledged influence upon leaders. We argue this is important because it can create the
conditions for the ‘eternal continuity of leadership, which simultaneously encompasses the
past, present and future. Ancestral leadership processes ultimately create a ‘genealogy of
leadership’ which is a vital resource for contemporary Indigenous leaders. The title of this
chapter, ‘He Apiti Hono, He Tātai Hono’ is a Māori proverb and translates as, that which is
joined remains an unbroken bond of ancestry. Thus, within Indigenous societies, ancestral
leadership draws upon knowledge that is built on earlier experience and continues to reflect
leadership dynamics from the bonds of ancestry by virtue of a continuous exchange between
three realities: the human, the cosmos, and the divine.
We begin the chapter by making the case that, while the ‘core’ of leadership studies
research has acknowledged the past as a contextual factor which should be taken into account
in understanding leadership, most particularly when we acknowledge the influence of culture
upon leadership, there has been a marked reluctance on the part of leadership scholars to
actively problematise it, let alone make it a primary concern. We suggest that part of this
reluctance has been a normative preoccupation with leadership as a future-looking force for
change, seeking to unshackle groups and organisations from a constraining or unsatisfactory
past. In light of this oversight, we look to Indigenous knowledge, positioned in what might
conventionally be viewed as a ‘periphery’ source for leadership studies, to examine how
Indigenous philosophies of learning might help to deepen and expand our understanding of
the past and tradition and its influence upon leadership thinking and practice within the ‘core’
of leadership studies. From the perspective of Indigenous leadership scholars, of course, the
core and the periphery are reversed. To engage with leadership from the core of Indigenous
perspectives, we will draw upon the work of Gregory Cajete and his idea of the metaphoric
mind (2000) from the perspective of Native American traditional knowledge to heighten our
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awareness of the critical interaction between intellectual and spiritual sense-making in
leadership.
Drawing on qualitative interviews conducted with nine Māori business leaders, we
show how these leaders carry their genealogies of leadership into the work they do and how
they conduct themselves professionally. We also reveal how these leaders consciously engage
in creating, continuing and shaping their leadership genealogies and how ancestral leadership
informs their ethical and value-driven conduct as a person. We found that these leaders were
guided by the principles surrounding Ngā Kete e Toru o te Wānanga The Three Baskets of
Knowledge which represent an understanding of the multi-dimensional flow of knowledge; it
is a process of learning that increases in complexity and depth with maturity into higher
levels of spiritual, emotional and intellectual capability (Cajete, 1994). The Three Baskets of
Knowledge include: Te Kete Aronui - the basket containing knowledge of what we see, that
is, what is given through sensory experience; Te Kete Tuāuri - the basket containing
knowledge of the ’real world’ that tells us about the cycles of life and understanding the
energies that keep us moving and interacting day-to-day; and Te Kete Tūātea - the basket
containing knowledge that is beyond space and beyond time, that is, knowledge of the spirit
world typically gained through ritual. We provide specific examples of how these baskets of
knowledge inform and guide the leadership practices of the Māori business leaders we
interviewed.
We close the chapter with a consideration of how we might extend this concept
beyond the ‘periphery’ of leadership studies to the ‘core’ to explore ways that ancestral
leadership might begin to guide leadership thinking (either consciously or sub-consciously)
and the practice of business and other organisational leaders within non-Indigenous societies.
Remembrance of things past within the core of leadership studies
Within the core of leadership studies, that is, the dominant Western discourse of leadership,
history has not played a major role in shaping the field (Goethals & Sorenson, 2006; Grint,
2011). Most leadership research has been conducted in the post-war period and has largely
confined itself to analysing contemporary phenomenona (Collinson et al., 2011). The link
between the academic literatures on leadership and history is surprisingly underexplored. The
key academic reference works in leadership studies pay only scant attention to history
(Antonakis et al., 2004; Northouse, 2011). Historical perspectives on leadership have tended
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to be the preserve of a few popular leadership writers (Kets De Vries, 2004). Catering to
practitioners’ general interest in history, these books adopt a chronological approach. They
compare historical events (based normally on second-hand material) with case studies chosen
from contemporary business and entertain simplistic connections and conclusions (i.e. ‘Do
not do X as person Y did’). There have been some recent scholarly moves to promote the
historical study of leadership (Chhokar et al., 2007; Humphries & Einstein, 2003; Muniapan,
2009). Several broad historical surveys of leadership thinking have also been assembled
(Cronin & Genovese, 2012; Grint, 1997; Kellerman, 2010; Wren, 2011; Wren et al., 2004).
Each of these collections endeavour to make the well-worn, but largely ignored case that it is
important for leadership scholars to learn from the past and to recognise that many
supposedly new leadership concepts are not that new at all. However, the historical
perspectives they are privileging are those propounded by pre-eminent Western philosophers,
political scientists and historians (such as Plato, Machiavelli and Marx).
These notable exceptions aside, the influence of the past has been poorly recognised by
those leaders that have gone before us largely because the field of leadership studies has
tended to be animated by a desire to re-invent the future and move on from the past.
Leadership has been widely identified a force for change at the organisational (Bolden et al.,
2011; Riggio, 2011), community and societal levels (Avolio et al., 2009). Moreover,
leadership is viewed as the central means of accelerating the pace of change in these contexts
to the point that change and innovation must become deeply institutionalised into the
organisation. As organisations strive to constantly transform themselves, leadership
researchers have attempted to keep up with an ever-expanding terrain of new insights and
possibilities for the meaning, construction, and even destruction of leadership (Bolden et al.,
2011). With this constant process of destroying and rebuilding in order to conceive of
leadership that is new and better suited to today’s challenges, the past has become a constant
reminder of mistakes made, inferior leadership and a spur to create new forms of leadership
that are different (Avolio et al., 2009).
Instead of discarding what does not work in leadership, ancestral leadership as
understood by Indigenous leaders in this research rests entirely on values and principles about
leadership that are enduring
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. It is what comprises a genealogy of leadership that drives this
research to mean a continuity of ancestral thought, values and behaviour. It refers to the
why, rather than the how of leadership by the referent nature of the ancestral context
(Henare, 2001; Henare, 2003; Marsden, 2003; Tapsell, 2008). Ancestral leadership draws
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