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Using the Kotter Model in Aotearoa

Updated: Jun 1

Kotter’s 8 steps and how they fit with a Māori worldview.

Kotter Model of Leadership in the Context of Aotearao

The Kotter model of change leadership has been well-circulated and studied. It is a valuable tool for ICT leaders and anyone else leading a movement of change in their school, but there are cultural and contextual considerations that should be taken into account for educators in Aotearoa.

One of the best things about the wealth of ideas and information out there is that people can pick and choose what works for them. Here’s more about Kotter’s 8 steps, how they compare to te ao Māori approaches to leadership, and why it’s important to look outside of solely a western worldview.


Kotter’s 8 steps: strengths and limitations

Here is the breakdown of Kotter’s 8-step model:

  1. Create a sense of urgency. You want to inspire people to act and show them the need for change.

  2. Build a guiding coalition. We’ve expanded on that in this blog post.

  3. Form a strategic vision. Clarify what the change will be and the effect it will have. 

  4. Communicate the vision. Get people to commit to the cause. Read more about that here!

  5. Enable action by removing barriers. Clear the way for your people to make moves.

  6. Generate short-term wins. Identify short-term goals and collect small victories.

  7. Sustain acceleration. Keep the momentum going.

  8. Institute change. Articulate, reinforce, and evaluate new habits and practices until they become strong enough to replace old ones.

This model was created in a business context, but the steps are broad enough to apply to many organisations. It is a very helpful tool for leaders encountering resistance to change, with wisdom in each step. 

It is, however, a western-centric model and a formulaic one. There are limitations, particularly when approaching change in Kaupapa Māori context. Embracing te ao Māori approaches to leadership provides a more nuanced, more effective, and more equitable path.


Kotter in conjunction with Māori leadership styles

One significant leadership model in te ao Māori is Wayfinding leadership. This was developed as a collaboration between Chellie Spiller, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr, and John Panoho, all of whom whakapapa Māori. Their very broad experience and expertise cover everything from tourism management to academia to captaining an oceangoing waka. 

This theory draws on the traditional skills of Māori and Pasifika navigators, including the ability to respond to unpredictable challenges and “call the island to you” by aiming to remain still and respond and align to the movements of the world as it moves around you. Rather than imagining you are on a boat moving towards the island, think about reeling the island in. Calling it to you, not navigating towards it.

This leadership style is more responsive and person-focused, less formulaic. It is a fantastic model for those leading in an environment that’s fast-changing with many different dynamics and cultures to take into account. 

In his book The Spirit of Māori Leadership, Selwyn Katene discusses the various styles of Māori leadership, including how the relational aspect of leadership is emphasised. It reviews the times when Māori leadership has been transformational and looks at what will be required in future leaders. He paints a picture of leadership that is very different from Kotter’s strict 8-step process.

For leaders in New Zealand, where te ao Māori and western worldviews sit alongside each other, the Kotter model can be helpful but should not be adhered to strictly nor be the only influence. Leaders in schools and the education system must recognise their duty to honour te Tiriti and embrace Kaupapa Māori in their systems and practices. Beyond this, there is huge value to be had in more nuanced, people-centric, holistic approaches to leadership and change. 

Nurturing ICT leaders in our schools is what we love to do here at Think e-Learning. Get in touch if you are looking for guidance, PD, or mentorship!


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