Akanuku’anga Rutu Pa’u: Cook Islands Ways of Knowing in Senior Manager Narratives of Service and Leadership
Serving others is an expectation of many Pacific Nations and the Cook Islands is no different. In the New Zealand Tertiary sector there are not enough Cook Islands Māori at the decision- making table. Understanding how one’s identity influences the way in which managers of indigenous cultures practice service and leadership, particularly in an organisational setting, may be beneficial.
The aim of this study was to analyse the narratives of participants for evidence of how Cook Islands ways of knowing and service and leadership influence their roles as managers in their respective organisations. Three of the four participants were born and raised in New Zealand while the fourth was born and raised in the Cook Islands. Participants were of mixed Cook Islands, other Pacific and European ethnicity, and not all of them understood what Cook Islands ways of knowing was, however they embraced the concept of reciprocity from a wider Pacific perspective. Narratives were gathered for discussion and the patterns that emerged were then analysed and synthesised through the concept of Te Tangi Ka’ara (Cook Islands drumbeats) which captured the ways and knowing service and leadership of the participants their individual worldviews.
All participants acknowledged the inherent responsibility or moral obligation of service to others which was a foundational ru’tu (beat) evidenced in the work several of them undertook within the community both nationally and internationally. The value of education was also a common theme that started from childhood with chores and/or responsibilities which they attributed to preparing them for the discipline of tertiary study and then work. They each progressed through tertiary to Postgraduate studies and credited education, as well as professional and community relationships and networks as the platform for putting them in a position to develop as experts in their respective fields.
The importance of papa’anga (genealogy) familial bonds, respect for others, and sharing were core values common to participants. While not all of them spoke te reo Kuki Airani (Cook Islands language), they recognised the importance of following protocols and where needed would call on metua (elders) for guidance. When engaging with groups or individuals they recognised the importance of listening and being responsive, as well as honouring commitments. Managing boundaries of self-care to ensure security and prevent burn-out was necessary and something participants were conscious of. One concern was that current strategies to train and develop Cook Islanders and others in the region needed to be reviewed and sustainable solutions sought.
Further research is needed to explore some of the recommendations that emerged around various leadership development initiatives. The value of education, developing personal and professional credibility through study and work is important in setting oneself up for leadership roles. The need for a leadership programme for Cook Islands women to encourage and support more women into management positions emerged from this study. Another recommendation was that a Cook Islands leadership framework based on Te Tangi Ka’ara (Cook Islands drumbeats) be explored. Other thoughts were implementing a quota on the number of indigenous managers; however, this must be based on expertise and not just on meeting a quota. Lastly while this study was focused on the tertiary sector participants stressed the importance of a robust education system for students beginning in Primary School and permeating all the way through to Tertiary.
This study found that all participants possessed an inherent moral obligation to help others and this was reflected in the context of their service and leadership specific to their individual ways of knowing.