Matariki 2020: How Wayfinding Leadership can guide us into a new year

Jessica Satherley
Matariki 2020: How Wayfinding Leadership can guide us into a new year
In celebration of Matariki, REDnews spoke to Dr Chellie Spiller on Wayfinding Leadership

In celebration of Matariki 2020, REDnews sat down with The University Of Waikato’s Professor of Management and Leadership Dr Chellie Spiller to learn about Wayfinding Leadership. 

Dr Spiller is the co-author of Wayfinding Leadership: Groundbreaking Wisdom for Developing Leaders. 

"Wayfinding is the human odyssey,” Dr Spiller says, explaining how it was an ancient wisdom that guided Polynesian navigators to explore and discover islands in the Pacific. 

She wrote the book with co-authors Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, who is the captain of the oceangoing waka Haunui, and John Panoho, who has spearheaded Māori-values-based leadership programmes. 

Photo of Dr Spiller

Pictured left to right: John Panoho, Dr Chellie Spiller, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr

“The inception for the book started years ago at a dinner party when Professor Charles Royal was describing ancient navigators' Etak method of navigation.   

“They imagine themselves as moving from stillness. They see the island destination very clearly in their mind’s eye with the world moving past them. 

“By staying still and adjusting to the signs they call the island to them,” Dr Spiller says. 

By building on this with her own research, Dr Spiller started teaching people how to tap into their inner navigator in times of uncertainty and change in their personal lives, as well as becoming more intuitive and adaptive leaders professionally. 

“This way of living and leading counters the constant striving for goal conquering that many of us are in,” she says. 

“We can get caught in these narrow corridors of rational logic where we think that knocking off KPIs and indicators to reach a destination is the only way to frame a strategy or a plan. 

“But we also have to cultivate dynamic responsiveness in people.   

“We do need our plans, but we also need to build this ability to respond to a changing environment and get comfortable with being a bit lost. 

“This is especially relevant in a post-Covid world, where some of our ways are no longer serving us as we enter a new unknown,” she says. 

So, how does one find their inner Wayfinder? 

Although Dr Spiller doesn’t like breaking it into prescriptive steps, there are three major components to Wayfinding Leadership. 


1. Step into your Rangatira Space 

 “A Rangatira leader is someone who helps weave people together as a group without a command and control hierarchical system.  

"This sets the scene of standing with others, not over them. Success is succession; it’s about strengthening the whole organisation through relational leadership and helping others step into their own leadership,” she says. 

When her co-author Hoturoa has to make a decision in his waka in the middle of the storm, this is when he creates a space around him so he can focus. 

“It’s about finding space to pause, observe and make effective decisions within times of chaos,” Dr Spiller says. 


2. Call the island to you 

Calling an island while on a seafaring journey can be used as a metaphor for other parts of our lives. 

‘The island’ can refer to a personal or professional goal that a person wants to create or letting go of something that’s not serving them.  

“Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had my goals that I was striving for like getting my PhD,” Dr Spiller says. 

“But then I was diagnosed, and all those goals were stripped away. 

“I was cast into the unknown, all my familiar markers had disappeared, life as I knew it was gone and I was left battling my own version of a skyscraper wave – being lost in uncertainty. 

“A lot of people I meet in organisations are deeply exhausted and all these KPIs and performance goals have become straitjackets. When they reach these goals, they often feel hollow. 

"We need to pause and reflect. I think the lockdown helped a lot of people do that - to stop and pause and get grounded. 

“Leaders can get so caught up in managing and fixing things that they don’t pause and read the other signs around them and use their intuition. 

“We need to use all our intelligence, not just rational logic, but also our creative intelligence, instinct and intuition.  In the book we call this ‘Sphere Intelligence’ which we contrast to ‘Square Intelligence’. 

“This means letting go of the ego and our default habits, assumptions and judgements. When we start living like a wayfinder, life becomes quite rich,” she says. 


3. Embrace the unknown  

“If you were stuck at sea or in the midst of a change in your personal life or work, a big shift can be unsettling. 

“But on that journey of discovery, being really uncomfortable is part of the journey and gives us an opportunity to see things differently.  

“We need courage to rise and meet reality as it is.  As the great Satawalese navigator Papa Mau Piailug said: “Don’t pray for fair weather, pray for courage”. 

“We want smooth sailing but very rarely is life smooth.   

“When conditions get tough for Wayfinders, they become relaxed and trust in each other.  

“But in so many organisations these days if people are unhappy, they hide behind cynical despair or just leave their job,” she says. 


More than 4000 people have been through Dr Spiller’s Wayfinding Leadership workshops, or attended keynote addresses, including employees from blue chip companies and government agencies both in New Zealand and overseas. 


Related articles:

Waikato-Tainui sign shared equity agreement to build 50 homes for whānau

, ,