Defensive or Integrative Leadership
Defensive leadership, with a focus on defending the patch, will be less relevant than integrative leadership with a focus on creating synergies.
"Defensive or Integrative Leadership" - Abstract
Effective leadership will require attributes and skills that will match the reality of future New Zealand. Defensive leadership, with a focus on defending the patch, will be less relevant than integrative leadership with a focus on creating synergies. Five points are suggested to distinguish the two types of leadership - the interface, time, innovation, information, the Janus principle.
"Defensive or Integrative Leadership"
Ideas about leadership don’t appear from nowhere though nor can they always be attributed to a specific knowledge set, or encounters of one sort or another. Daring to profess any expertise in defining leadership comes from being around leaders and experiencing their impacts. Observation of leadership styles – and their effects – has been gained in hospitals, and universities, on the marae, in the boardroom, at hui, and in the runanga. As well, a scrutiny of thoughts, feelings, and motivation of individuals during psychotherapy and psychoanalysis has contributed to some understanding of the human condition and the equally human quest for power over others. Add to that the personal experience of being led, and then being cast as a leader. Out of these multiple associations it is possible to define leadership as either defensive or integrative. One style did better in the past, the other might belong to the future.
It has been said that the number of knives carried in the back is a measure of the effectiveness of a leader. That view depends to some extent on a perception of leadership as essentially confrontational earning as many enemies as friends. Powerful leadership is often equated with drawing lines in the ground and defending the pa, or the party position, or the institution’s reputation, or a personal conviction. Being strong is the philosophy and creating foes is an unfortunate but inevitable (if not desirable) side effect. Defensive leadership, if that term can be used to describe the ‘knives in the back’ model, is about protecting a small slice of the world as it is, despite opposition and regardless of the dynamics beyond the narrow field of interest. Defensive leadership comes into its own in warfare, gang comings and goings, maintaining the highest moral standards, keeping distance, distinguishing one group from another, jealously guarding resources, shielding a fundamental truth, and resisting the future.
Aotearoa/New Zealand’s history has left lots of room for defensive leadership. Tribal survival often depended on it; colonial arrogance demanded it; and religious fervour thrived on it. When horizons were limited by a distant ridge or river, or a unique set of values and beliefs ‘known’ to be ‘right’, or sin, or starvation, then defensive leadership flourished. Leaders were expected to guard the interests of their own people and to spin a tale of absolute right, and its flip side, absolute wrong. The knives came, of course, from those on the wrong side.
Unlike its past, Aotearoa/New Zealand’s future will not be played out in an isolated set of islands remote from the rest of the world and subdivided into distinct valleys, coast lines, sects, peoples, hapü, or persuasions. There is a discernable confluence, made obvious by a shrinking globe, intermarriage (or at least cohabitation – Jew and Gentile, Mäori and Päkehä, Catholic and Protestant), an intolerance of gaps, the cellphone, the inevitable website, air travel. Urban conglomerates will grow; people will live nearer and nearer to each other and ethno-cultural dominance by any goup will earn sharp rebuke from neighbours in the Pacific and beyond. Aotearoa, the furtherest outpost of the old British Empire will discover how close it is to Asia, and even closer to Polynesia, and the differences between the ‘two founding cultures’ will be less obvious - demographically, linguistically and on the playing field. The knowledge economy, by then defined, may be the binding force that shapes aspirations, goals and values.
At the same time, and unlike the American experience, Aotearoa/New Zealand will reject the melting pot. Tradition will be respected if not revered; living closer to each other will not be the same as living together; MMP will lead, possibly, to greater consensus but certainly to a proliferation of political parties; hapü will assert their autonomy within an iwi confederation, more committees will be formed; and deregulation will confirm that there is more than one way of doing things. The signs are that Mäori will want to live as Mäori, and also be part of the global village; Pacific peoples living in Aotearoa will not abandon their islands; Päkehä will ‘find’ themselves and construct an identity that draws as much on past heritage as it does on the shape and feel of this country. All up, New Zealanders will have more to do with each other and with the world, but will resist any notion of sameness.
If, as suggested, Aotearoa/New Zealand is to become a curious mix of world energy and parochial dynamism, tomorrow’s leaders will have to be able to satisfy their followers that they can understand the small picture while helping to the paint the big one. They will need to demonstrate effective advocacy on behalf of their constituents, not so much by drawing attention to the differences (from the rest of the world) as highlighting the commonalities (with their neighbours and potential friends). That is the first point. Tomorrow’s leaders must be able to dance at the interface. The ‘them against us’ type of format, much loved by the print and broadcasting media, revered by television interviewers, and bread and butter to parliamentary debate, will have doubtful usefulness in the mature New Zealand. Should power or mana or unqualified certainty continue to be the basis for leadership there will be a serious dysjunction with the modern reality where difference will be respected only up to a point and greater value will come to rest on the recognition of variation within a framework of connections. Had the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission been committed to starting from the principle of connectedness rather than the dogma of separateness, then an outcome other than endless litigation might have emerged.
Identifying the interface will be the new leadership task. It may take several forms: the hapü/iwi interface; Mäori/Päkehä; urban/rural; rich/poor; traditional/modern; conservative/avant-garde; health/housing; justice/education; youth/elderly, land/the foreshaore, access/ownership.
Aotearoa/New Zealand could be in for a hard time if leadership in the future is premised on the same values and realities that made defensive leadership appealing. The second point is that effective leadership is bounded by its own time. Tribal leaders yesterday needed to contend with pressures that have long since been replaced by more threatening events. Yet there is sometimes a temptation to assert the same type of leadership as if time had not altered marae encounters. Nor does time stand still for the nation itself, any more than it had done for the tribe. Politicians in the past were caught between upholding the best practices of Westminster while addressing the actuality of New Zealand. Is Westminster still to guide the governance of the country? Or has ‘Her Majesty’s loyal opposition’ proved to be an extravagance that can no longer be afforded? And in any case, does Westminster in the South Pacific, need to fit into the same mould as Westminster in Great Britain?
It is hard, as we have seen, to turn back the clock. Dealing with the complex problems of today and the even more complicated problems of tomorrow by drawing on strategies from the past are doomed to fail. This argument is sometimes used to support youthful leaders rather than endorsing the old guard. But the issue is less about age and more about innovation, thinking in more than one dimension, and getting real. A previous Government’s Code of Social Responsibility was doomed to fail. Not only did the code threaten to accentuate divisions, publicise incompetence, and penalise hardship, it was bent on applying a disused whip to bring the disorderly into line. Therein is the third point. Tomorrow’s leaders cannot assume that the familiar guidelines from their earlier years will be accepted as guides for future living. Some values are timeless. But values ought not to be confused with edicts about the acceptance of values, no matter how right they seemed in the good old days. Any codes for living will be useful only if they can be judged worthy within the mores of the time.
The question is what type of leadership does the next time period require. Effective leadership will be less about defending the group than positioning the group to take advantage of a range of synergies and collaborations. It might be called integrative leadership. The goal is not to put up the palisades but to open doorways. The tools of the trade will not be simply a high level of community support, or political acceptability, or photogenicity, or wealth – even though those attributes might be helpful. More important will be the capacity to base leadership decisions on the best available evidence. That leads to the fourth point. Information and its wise use will separate the defensive leader from the integrative leader. Noise will need to be distinguished from meaningful comment. The media’s quest for division and conflict will need to be countered by a more serious quest for starting points that are inclusive, not exclusive. Input from several sources will build a stronger platform than dogged reliance on those whose agreement is a forgone conclusion. Ignoring the impact of the bigger picture on the smaller, and vice-versa, will be hazardous. Blinkers will not help, though a telescope might and sometimes a microscope will come in handy.
There is a fifth point. Simply, leadership for the new millennium must be able to rise above the contradiction of Aotearoa/New Zealand as part of the globe, and AotearoaNew Zealand as a complex set of systems defined by time, geography, ethnicity, mind-sets (or set minds), access, wealth (or its absence), and a distinctive environment. The Janus principle (based on the Roman God of gates and beginnings who could look in two directions at the same tmie) will have greater applicability. It will be important to look inwards and outwards, forwards and backwards, and to read the detail without ignoring the context. Welcoming change will be easier on the soul than defending against it.
None of this is new.
Tuia ki runga, tuia ki raro
Tuia ki roto, tuia ki waho
Tuia te here tangata …
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