Leadership, discourse and ethnicity

Leadership, discourse and ethnicity. By Janet Holmes, Meredith Marra, and Bernadette Vine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. 194. ISBN 9780199730742. $99 (Hb).

Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, University of Nizwa

This monograph of eight chapters is the result of collaborative research by the Wellington Language of the Workplace project, led by the coauthors. The book investigates the discourse of leadership in four New Zealand private sector workplaces, which reflect, either Maori or Pākehā (New Zealanders of European ethnic descent) cultural values and norms. Using the social constructionist framework, this discourse analysis study investigates the negotiation of meaning and the maintenance of social relationships through talk, using data compiled from observations of workplace meetings, interviews, and discussions. The main findings are discussed in Chs. 3–7. Each chapter contains numerous excerpts of workplace conversations or narratives from both Maori and Pākehā organizations, which illustrate but also contrast the discursive and social norms of these two ethnic communities.

Ch. 3 analyzes how leadership is constructed and enacted during various workplace communicative events and begins to introduce the discursive and relational aspects of leadership enactment that distinguish Pākehā from Maori norms. One such difference is the Maori tendency toward self-deprecation and the avoidance of self-promotional behavior. This is contrasted with a tendency displayed by New Zealander workplace leaders of European descent to assert their leadership role through self-oriented, self-promotional talk.

Ch. 4 examines the structure and interactional norms of workplace meetings. In Pākehā-dominant organizations, the opening and closing of meetings tends to be brief and informal. In Maori cultural environments, however, the opening of work meetings may follow traditional protocol, depending on the size and formality of the meeting. Interaction between the attendees may also contrast in the two cultural environments. Unlike the New Zealand European meeting norms in which overlapping speaker turns are avoided, according to Maori cultural practice, a degree of background meeting-related talk is appropriate during a speaker’s turn; this is interpreted as interest in (rather than disinterest in) issues raised by the speaker.

Ch. 5 looks at how leaders use relational talk to maintain and direct workplace relationships. The authors note that, while senior staff at both Pākehā- and Maori-run organizations make ample use of relational talk, in Maori cultural environments, such talk is more likely to encompass family-related topics. Maori leaders may more likely use relational talk as an indirect channel to convey particular messages to staff, and use humor to navigate potential conflict. Ch. 6 examines how leadership is shared in organizations through co-leadership roles. Ch. 7, devoted to an analysis of different styles of Maori leadership, discusses how Maori values increasingly influence social norms in Pākehā-dominated workplaces.

Suitable for graduate-level work, this very readable study contributes to the limited research available on the enactment of leadership by indigenous peoples.