The Haka That Went Viral (and what leaders can learn from it)

Over the past few days, the video below went viral. In it, an entire boys’ secondary school in New Zealand honour their former teacher at his funeral, through a performance of the traditional Māori Haka.

Watch it.

It only takes a couple of minutes.

Seriously, don’t read any further without watching this short clip…

I told you it would be worth it, didn’t I?

When I came across this video, I was completely mesmerised. The Haka always evokes emotion in me, but this one moved me to my core.

It made me think about the power of rituals and ceremonies in leadership – and what we can learn from this gripping haka by the students of Palmerston North Boys High School.

We live in a world that often values action over reflection. Where sometimes corporates lose sight of the real reason they exist (and I’m not talkin’ about merely profits).

It’s time for rituals and ceremonies to emerge from the realm of indigenous cultures.
It’s time for corporates to assimilate these powerful leadership tools within the business world.

Here are 4 reasons why leaders should integrate ritual and ceremony:

1. They help to slow things down. What did you notice about yourself when you were watching that haka? Was your mind racing – or were you immersed in the moment? I know I was. Rituals and ceremonies enable us to take a metaphorical deep breath. They’re an opportunity for us to pause and reflect.

2. They validate our purpose. We all know the research. Showing up is simply NOT ENOUGH. Connecting us to why we are showing up and who we are showing up with is not only important, it’s absolutely critical. This is where ritual and ceremony come in.

3. They are an intravenous line to our hearts and spirits. Rituals talk to our souls and answer (often in a nanosecond) the all important questions.

4. They galvanize teams. Far more than some slick PowerPoint presentation, or directive from head office, or those bland corporate speak soliloquies that are, unfortunately, the norm. Rituals epitomise collaborative leadership.

At the beginning of the clip, was it obvious to you who the ‘leader’ of the Haka was? Or, was the power of love and honour for their teacher demonstrated by the collective energy and emotion?

It’s time for rituals to emerge from behind the curtains and take centre stage in the toolbox of the modern leader. To assume their rightful place in propelling organisations forward in their journey towards potential.


Attributes which ooze from the Haka performed by this group of inspirational young men.

And that, my friends, is the sort of leadership the world needs more of.


  1. Don on July 31, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Great article Suzi. Good examples of the rituals you write about are found in maori organisations like Kono NZ. We use traditional greetings, mihi and karakia as a matter of routine. Our people value them as part of our company culture. This brings our brand alive while keeping us all connected to why the company exists.

    • Suzi McAlpine on July 31, 2015 at 10:04 pm

      These are wonderful examples of rituals that can be integrated into the workplace. Thanks Don.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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