Authentic Leadership: The “Mokita” in the Room?

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Oct 30, 2012 | Blog

**Fourth in a series relating to a recent “experiment” in succession planning

Mokita = that which everyone knows and no one speaks of. Sure, the white elephant in the room. Right? In my experience we have joking side conversations about the “white elephant” and typically do nothing to face it down. 

Though a familiar concept, this was one of the many “gems” I took away from Leaders Forum with Halley Bock of Fierce, Inc. two weeks ago.

Halley pointed out that a “mokita” is not something to joke about. It is something to tackle head on. She introduced the notion that the Papuans of New Guinea, who originated the term, recognize the presence of “mokita” in a community (or an organization!) as a sign of significant ill health. If not addressed, “mokitas” will spread.

So, what does this have to do with authentic leadership?  Well, when I stepped in to in to lead Vantage Point’s talent team, on an interim basis in February 2011, I soon sensed a white elephant in the room. I came out of the gates a little hesitantly, and gradually found my feet and began to make significant decisions and lead in my own, authentic way. It felt pretty good until the tension of a “mokita” became apparent: there was an unspoken expectation for me to lead in a way that wouldn’t alter the organization too much, whether that fit my leadership style or not. After all, I would soon hand the organization back to Colleen Kelly, our Executive Director, who expected it would look similar to when she had left.

When it comes to nurturing the next generation of leaders through what we call, “opportunities to sit in the passenger seat” (and what an opportunity I had!), how can we support them to do so authentically while not disrupting the existing organizational culture and direction too significantly?

In our case, Colleen and I called attention to our “mokita.” We realized I would do some things differently and make decisions that didn’t always fit with Colleen’s approach. We agreed it was best for both the organization and me if I brought my authenticity to the table. It was uncomfortable knowing it might shake up the culture, and we were living and breathing our mission to “inspire and build leadership in the voluntary sector.” We were learning, and we certainly know that is doing something very right!

Does a “mokita” exist in your organization? Can you name it? And face it?


Maria Turnbull

Maria Turnbull brings over 20 years of leadership experience in staff and director roles within the not-for-profit sector, both here in Canada and in the UK. With a BA in International Relations and MBA, Maria is a skilled facilitator and consultant in board governance, organizational development,…

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