The ‘Face of New Zealand’ – Ngahihi o te ra Bidois – outlines some keys to great leadership through his Ta Moko.

Kia ora. My indigenous Maori name is Ngahihi o te ra which means ‘The rays of the sun’ and I am pleased to be a new columnist in this excellent magazine. I am a Maori leader from New Zealand and on my face I wear a taonga (treasured gift) from my Maori ancestors which is the traditional Maori tattoo known as ta moko. In this, my first article, I would like to outline leadership keys from my ta moko that will assist you in your MICE leadership journey.

Here is a funny story to start with…

It happened on one of my business trips to England and I was in a market in Cambridge, England looking at t-shirts with my wife, Carolyn and our two children. A couple of young men slowed as they walked towards me. My whole family heard their conversation as they took glances at my ta moko.

This was not the first time my ta moko had attracted attention from strangers and as usual I pretended not to hear their conversation as I continued browsing through the t-shirts rather than look at them. Their conversation went as follows:

“Wow, look at that guy’s face man, that tattoo is really cool.”

His companion replied: “Yeah but it’s not real.”

“Yeah I think it is man, have a closer look.”

They took the courage to walk closer to me.

“No way man, that’s not real.”

“I think you’re wrong man that looks pretty real to me.”

“Nah, that’s definitely not real.”

My wife’s patience and grace ended and she turned around to the guy and said assertively: “Yes… it is real.”

At this stage I looked at them and smiled and they took a good stare before both walking away sheepishly. As they disappeared into the crowd and the myriad of stalls one of them punched his mate and said, “See, I told you it was real man.”

My ta moko is a real tattoo. It is not a drawing and I do not wash it off every night. I received my ta moko on the first of March, 2004. It took eight hours to tattoo into my face – from 8pm to 4am the next morning.

I have had the pleasure of working with many leaders worldwide from various sectors including the MICE sector, and the four principles I am going to share with you from the meaning of my ta moko are applicable for your professional and personal lives.

My ta moko is based on an ancient Maori proverb that says, “Na te whakarongo, me te titiro, me te whakaaro, ka puta mai te korero.” This proverb may be translated as “It is through listening, looking (observing) and thinking that we gain our wisdom to speak. Hence the four leadership keys which are a part of the meaning of the taonga from my Maori ancestors.

1 Leaders listen and listeners lead.

My worldwide experiences with leaders from the offices of Google in New York to the school principals in Cairns, tells me that leaders are excellent listeners. They are active listeners and will always encourage others, especially those they lead to speak. They listen in such a way that the person feels like they are the only focus of their leader’s attention. They do not answer mobile calls when they are listening face to face to those they lead. MICE leaders listen for details that will help them serve their people beyond their expectations in matters such as theme, location and experience.

2 Leaders observe and observers lead.

Leaders have highly tuned observation skills and can read body language as easily as most read a book. MICE leaders’ observations of others are especially important in these times of heightened health and safety regulations.

3 Leaders think and thinkers lead.

Every leader is paid to think. They spend time thinking and create opportunities to do so. Thinking certainly matters in a MICE world where creativity, expression and innovation are as important as shelter, food and transport.

4 Leaders speak and speakers lead.

All of the great leaders are great speakers. In our Maori culture leaders have Mana, a leadership presence they carry. This presence is often demonstrated when they speak. When leaders speak, people listen.

In summary, as MICE leaders we need to listen, look and observe and think before we speak. I am reminded about these principles of leadership every day when I look in the mirror and see the beautiful gift my ancestors gave me. I know that you too have received leadership gifts as we all have. I encourage you to use them in your MICE world.