In the crowded field of leadership research, Indigenous leadership remains under-researched. This article explores the Leadership Model of an Aboriginal Community Controlled Primary Health Care Organisation providing services to the Yolngu people of remote northern Australia: the Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation (Miwatj).
The limited research which does exist on Indigenous leadership points to unique challenges for Indigenous leaders. These challenges relate to fostering self-determination in their communities, managing significant community expectations, and navigating a path between culturally divergent approaches to management and leadership.
Guided by Indigenous methodology and using a mixed methods approach, semi-structured interviews, self-reported health service data, organisational and publicly available documents, and literature were analysed using a framework method of thematic analysis to identify key themes of the Miwatj Leadership Model.
The Miwatj Leadership Model is underpinned by three distinctive elements: it offers Yolngu people employment opportunities; it supports staff who want to move into leadership positions and provides capacity building through certificates and diplomas; and it provides for the physical, emotional, and cultural wellbeing of all Yolngu staff. Furthermore, the model respects traditional Yolngu forms of authority and empowers the community to develop, manage and sustain their own health. The Miwatj Leadership Model has been successful in providing formal pathways to support Indigenous staff to take on leadership roles, and has improved the accessibility and acceptability of health care services as a result of Yolngu employment and improved cultural safety.
Translating the Miwatj Leadership Model into other health services will require considerable thought and commitment. The Miwatj Leadership Model can be adapted to meet the needs of other health care services in consideration of the unique context within which they operate. This study has demonstrated the importance of having a formal leadership model that promotes recruitment, retention, and career progression for Indigenous staff.