Recently, a ‘modern Māori academy’ made up of academic staff from AUT University, The University of Auckland and Massey University attended the 75th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management in Vancouver, Canada. I was privileged to be part of a cohort that delivered a professional development workshop. My contribution explored how Māori spirituality can inspire modern management practices through the medium of haka – Māori performance art. Some of the participants in the PDW were from different parts of the world. Unsurprisingly then doing the haka was a new experience for them. However the chasm of unfamiliarity was bridged by their innate desire to make a meaningful connection; with the art form but more importantly with other human beings. Being ‘present’ enabled them to explore another’s spirituality through their own. To understand that wana, synergy is about the collective performance of the group, which will always dwarf the sum of individuality. The proposition that the underlying principles of haka can energize and ultimately synergize an organisation has yet, to my knowledge, to be accepted and adopted by the Western world. Is this important? Well in short it isn’t. However haka, and the explanatory power of mātauranga Māori in general must default the way in which we think, and ultimately how we choose to engage the ever-changing world. Whilst modern management practices has a well established foothold in many parts of Western society, it has always fallen short of speaking intimately and powerfully to the Māori experience in Aotearoa New Zealand. The received Western practice is not couched in terms of kaupapa – purpose, mana – empowerment, tapu – mutuality, mauri – life ethos, whanaungatanga – collectivism, that speak to the indigenous population as to who they are in this land, in this contemporary society, and in terms of their relationships. For many people, the ‘McDonalisation of Society’ has failed or is failing to touch them, challenge them, and elevate them above the attraction of the materialism and individualism of the dominant discourse. If the Academy of Management taught me anything, it predictably confirmed the fact that we certainly see the world differently, which is natural. However we fail ourselves and those around us if we leave it there, pens down arms folded, and do not explore possibilities to create relationships where we may then be able to meaningfully engage and make a connection. Māori spirituality has since time immemorial underpinned, shaped and informed the foundations of an indigenous Māori cultural framework.
Why is an indigenous Māori cultural framework necessary? The first reason is that a Western notion of modern management is far removed from those that define a Māori understanding of governance. While many Māori experience the Western framework as irrelevant to their lives (yay!), many others champion that it is the only way (boo!!). This outlook cannot see that it offers them little effective spiritual direction to address their situation as a Māori engaging with the Western world. We would observe from our experience that Māori people are crying out for a form of governance which is ‘theirs’ and which is relevant to their situations and imbued with spirituality that is familiar. Matua Manuka Henare’s ‘Koru of Māori Ethics’ is a wonderful example of this. We can profit from the insight that Māori spirituality is nonetheless, spirituality, and in its divinity can transcend and talk meaningfully to all cultures and peoples who choose to engage.
The second reason is synergy. Integrating spirituality into management practices brings profound meaning to the fostering of relationships within an organization. If we are to subscribe to the notion that as individuals, holistically we are more than our professional lives, then we must also embrace the contention that our personal lives deeply inform and shape the ‘why we do’ in the professional context, and more importantly, ‘how we do’ it. Whether you are the manager or the cleaner, spirituality brings ones deepest values to bear on their work. It is a conductor of mutual energies deepening understanding, appreciation and so offers a promise of equally deep fulfillment. One must consider the merits of this holistic approach.
The third reason precedes the second, which is ones individual energy. The individual has a personal energy because it emanates from his or her being. It may be active, operative and effective, or it may not. If it is not, there can be a number of reasons why it is not. For example, a persons spiritual values ideally should align with the premise of the organization he or she works for. If this is not the case, working for such an organization may suffocate the development of personal qualities that the person considers essential to spiritual development. Ones personal energy must be activated if it is to coalesce with another’s. It requires inspiration. It demands a kaupapa – a sense of purpose to necessitate itself. We will consider energy as the active, operative and effective spiritual power of the individual. It is essential for true and meaningful synergy. The individual has the right and obligation to exercise their individual energy in one form or another to conduct, direct, manage, govern and have control over whatever is necessary to attend to his/her own well-being, survival and dignity. We attended many of the Spirituality and Religion workshops at the Academy of Management Meeting delivered by academics from varying parts of the world. Propositions about governance and management emanating from a place that embraces empowerment, mutuality, individual life principle and the collectivism of synergy was a common thread of discussion. I was delighted to see that we are not alone.