First Leaders. Leadership Principles of First Nation Societies for the Modern Leader

Publication Date:

January 2023



Original language and publisher


Territories Handled

World excl. Aus/NZ


Business & Leadership, Personal Development

First Leaders. Leadership Principles of First Nation Societies for the Modern Leader


Praise for the author’s book Hardwired Humans (2011):

“A Compelling Book” – Dr Jane Goodall

Praise for First Leaders:

I felt honoured that Andrew was including Mohawk society in his research. We are proud of what we have to share. — Kimberly Kaniehténhawe Cross Kahnawà:ke, QC, Canada

First Leaders is enlightening, practical and compelling. O’Keeffe has distilled the profound leadership wisdom gained by First Peoples over millennia. They have proven what works and this book shows contemporary leaders how these leadership principles can be applied to the challenges they face. — Franscois McHardy, former Managing Director Simon & Schuster Australia

It was a pleasure contributing Māori knowledge to Andrew’s research for First Leaders. The book is magnificent. It honours Māori wisdom and others’ ancestral wisdom with the respectful curiosity that is required to truly appreciate it. — Keri Opai, Māori cultural leader Taranaki, New Zealand

First Leaders is a potent exploration of how the timeless lessons and enduring rituals of First Nations can teach modern executives. Curious leaders who are looking to bring sustainable change to their organisations will learn that by listening back through millennia, the ancient wisdom of the First Leaders is a blueprint for progress. — Oscar Trimboli, Author of How to Listen – discover the hidden key to better communication

Every Maasai I know loves their leader. It was a joy to contribute to Andrew’s research and in First Leaders he explains beautifully why we Maasai have leaders who people willingly follow. — William Kinanta Sadera. Maasai elder Maasai Mara, Kenya

First Leaders is a riveting exploration of how traditional societies organise themselves and appoint leaders that inspire their followers. O’Keeffe journeys across four continents and becomes close friends with leaders of eleven traditional societies. He brings their wisdom to life like no other author can. — Max Beilby, Organisational psychologist and author of the blog Darwinian Business

If you are someone with a passion for the craft of leadership, or if you are just looking for really great leadership fundamentals, First Leaders is a must read! Andrew O’Keeffe eloquently provides evidence, grounded in research with First Nation leaders, about leadership practices that motivate, engage and pull at the heartstrings of what is needed more than ever by leaders of today. I am especially grateful to Andrew for highlighting the evolving role of female leadership within First Nations and for calling out the work still to do on achieving equality for all humans. — Julie Anding, Former CHRO, Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Milwaukee, WI

As I read First Leaders and turned the last page I had feelings of both of satisfaction and gratitude. Satisfaction in reminding us what it is to be human in fundamental terms and gratitude in sharing how we have so much in common no matter where we may be physically located in this world. Andrew O’Keeffe provides clear evidence that leadership is often a learned and developed skill. The content shows how important it is that individuals who have been given or are preparing for leadership roles understand human behaviour and the proven leadership principles of First Nation societies. The principles shared in First Leaders will enable workplace leaders to be more effective in their roles. The observations and conclusions in this book are worthy of forming a part of many tertiary studies. It will make the journey into organisational life much better understood whether we are leaders or followers. It is a stimulating read. — Harry van Dyk, Former CEO Philips Electronics Australia and New Zealand 

First Leaders is a remarkable work, both exciting to read with the adventures undertaken by the author as well as the leadership insight provided. Whereas, sadly, in the early days of leadership practice the wisdom of First Nations had been ignored, through this work, Andrew O’Keeffe has begun to repair that gap. This is a wonderful contribution to leadership thinking. For me as the head of HR for a private mental health hospital group, I appreciated the clarity of thinking of the First Nations principles and the clarity of actions that Andrew provides at the end of each chapter. Workplace leaders can be confused by various leadership models in the market. But the Principles of First Leadership, such as the critical attribute of respect for people, makes
leadership simpler and more natural. The ‘Regulating Power Program’ is inspired and is timely for me as our organisation prepares to conduct our engagement survey and critical CEO forums. And the role of ‘aunties and uncles’ is something I can see we use but can do much more with. Likewise, investing in building intergroup harmony is something we do but it’s a reminder of the further capability we can grow across our organisation. Finally, I was filled with fear when reading Andrew’s story of travelling by canoe in the dangerous Tagaeri Zone of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Given that he finished his book, I was calmed by the reassurance that the story has a happy and safe ending. — Cathy Wilks, Executive General Manager, Human Resources – Aurora Healthcare Australia

First Nations people of all continents have been refining leadership for millennia. They’ve had from the dawn of human history to figure out what works and what doesn’t. By comparison, the discipline of workplace leadership emerged only about 100 years ago – just a few generations back. First Leaders is the first book devoted to how the wisdom of First Nations leadership can help modern leaders.

Inspired by conversations with several Maasai elders, Andrew O’Keeffe travelled the globe investigating the leadership knowledge of First Nation societies. His search took him through Africa to meet with Kalahari Bushmen, Himba, Maasai and Samburu, to the Amazon to meet Waorani and Kichwa, to the central desert of Australia to meet Arrernte and Pintupi, to New Zealand to meet Māori and North America to meet with Haida and Mohawk. This book is the result of that journey.

From his meetings with First Nations people and his focus on the practical application of the wisdom shared with him, Andrew O’Keeffe has identified 11 Principles of First Leadership. The principles provide profound yet concrete actions to help both individual leaders and organisations solve their major leadership challenges.