Ōku Whakaaro - My Thoughts
If you were to attend a tangihanga (funeral) on the final day at our marae, and indeed many other marae throughout Aotearoa, you would observe leadership in action in several ways.
When the whānau pani (bereaving family) return from the urupa (cemetery), they are welcomed back into our whare tipuna (ancestral house).
Their whare tipuna, which hosted them for the previous few days and heard and felt their sorrow, now plays a role in their healing.
As do the kaumatua (elders) who welcomed and hosted the manuhiri (visitors) through karanga (welcome calls) and whaikorero (formal speeches) with aroha throughout the tangihanga.
Those same kaumatua are also here.
A mihi whakatau (informal welcome) is followed by a comforting karakia (prayer) for the whānau.
This is supported by a himene (hymn) and at some stage, someone will recite their worst Papa joke to assist the whānau in returning to some sense of normality after their three or four days of mourning.
The next step is that the whānau will go to the wharekai (dining hall) for their hakari (formal dinner), which has been prepared by the ringawerawera (home people).
The whānau pani will be joined for kai by many others.
So, the last process in the whare tipuna is someone will say a closing karakia and the whānau will stand and leave for their hakari in the wharekai.
However, if you watch closely, you will observe an iwi leadership trait that has existed for many generations.
The kaumatua who were with the whānau pani for the past several days, those who are usually our eldest and most fragile people in our iwi (tribe), will stay seated.
Despite the whānau pani and others encouraging our kaumatua to join them for the hakari in the wharekai, they will not move.
Sometimes, despite their hunger, they may remain in the whare tipuna for more than an hour until all our manuhiri have eaten.
In the old days when we had our smaller wharekai, this could be two or three dining hall table settings.
Empathy is leadership in action.
Earlier in life, I wanted to become an officer in the New Zealand Army.
After all, my grandfather, who adopted my mum, was in the army and left his young wife and my mother to go to Tunisia.
My koro Pakau Tanirau was killed in action and never returned. My father was also a soldier.
He served in Malaysia and fortunately for my mum and us kids, he did return. So, it made sense that it was my turn.
I was invited to attend a Regular Officers Selection Board (ROSB) near Christchurch and was put through various tests and exercises.
On about day three of the four-day process, I realised that becoming an officer was not for me or them.
I, therefore, did not receive an invitation to become an officer.
However, I learned many things during that leadership recruitment process.
During the ROSB we were invited to a formal evening dinner with senior army officers. We were all dressed up very posh, especially them.
We met our heroes at pre-dinner drinks before everyone was seated for dinner.
One of the officers then welcomed us and invited us to start dining. It was a buffet type meal for convenience.
However, I noticed that none of them moved until we had served ourselves. I reckon I noticed it because I had seen that same leadership trait exhibited by my own leaders at our marae.
Army leaders also made sure their guests ate first.
So, what does good leadership look like? Watching my elders over the years, it's putting the needs of others ahead of my own and being hungry while your manuhiri eats.
It is being very tired while you host manuhiri throughout the day and sometimes into the night.
It is sacrificing time with your own mokopuna and tamariki while fulfilling your tribal leadership obligations.
Leadership is about people being the most important part of any balance sheet, profit statement, marae or health and safety report.
I had a Pākehā friend who a Māori family hosted for a few nights.
She later told me the father did not eat until everyone else had eaten and one night he had not even joined them at the table.
She saw him eating alone later. When I explained they were quite a poor whānau and the father was eating leftovers last to ensure she and the whānau had eaten, she cried.
Behaviour that she had taken to be rude, turned out to be exactly the opposite.
Sometimes we don't even notice good leadership in action.
Good leaders put the needs of others ahead of their own. Whatever the cost to themselves. What is your leadership costing you?