Beyond Western leadership: lessons from ancient wisdom

In August 2020, I moved into the role of Head of Institutional Banking for ANZ Australia. It’s a large, traditional part of the business and has historically been run in a very established control-command style, a culture that’s heavily embedded in Western corporate companies.

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But as a human being and as a leader, I feel society has evolved away from this culture. I wanted to hear more voices and points of view to be able to decide the best way forward, drawing on the more dispersed wisdom of the whole team.

"It’s better to have a broad pool of potential authority or leadership and allow temporary hierarchies to spark and emerge in the right moments.” - Tyson Yunkaporta

I made an effort to become educated about Indigenous society and the different way their culture sees power and authority - and which really reflected how I wanted to run the Institutional business.

So I was thrilled recently to join Indigenous academic and author of Sand Talk Tyson Yunkaporta at ANZ’s Leadership Conference to discuss what businesses and leaders can learn from the oldest living civilisation on earth.

Tyson explains hierarchical leadership structures can be useful - but only in periods of homeostasis, of stability.

“[Hierarchy is] only productive when you don't have to pivot, you don't have to move, you don't have to change,” he says. “But if you have a culture that's lasting longer, then that's a culture constantly in flux because you've got to move with the land.”

Tyson says although there are examples of hierarchy in Indigenous leadership models, these are often emergent in context and usually only temporary.

“It’s better to have a broad pool of potential authority or leadership and allow temporary hierarchies to spark and emerge in the right moments. It's more like responsive leadership to shifting context.”

I was also interested to ask Tyson about the concept of collective power and everyone having a voice. He explained that in his culture, the wisdom is in the aggregate and we need to truly understand what it means to have a voice and to listen.

“I think a lot of people feel voiceless and unheard unless their narrative is coming out on top. It's a very different thing to move into a group culture where everybody's voice is part of the aggregate and there isn't a dominant narrative,” he says.

“The trick of leadership is to get people into a situation where there they are satisfied with their contribution to the collective understanding of the group and the direction of the flock.”

You can listen to our whole conversation by clicking on the video above.

Tammy Medard is Managing Director of Institutional Banking, Australia at ANZ

This conversation was filmed as part of ANZ’s Leadership Conference

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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