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Nurturing Tomorrow’s Leaders

In-house mentoring is gone, so these programs are building Hawaii’s next-generation elite

(page 2 of 3)

Building a Network

Ag-Leadership alumni hold key posts throughout the state,
says Eric Tanouye of Green Point Nurseries.

More important than the fieldtrips is the network of contacts that PCF fellows develop, including prestigious fellow fellows from their own class, and from prior and subsequent years. Access to that black book, which includes powerful leaders in every sector of the state, is the real prize of being a Pacific Century Fellow. (Creating it, more than one fellow notes, was a stroke of genius for a politician like Hannemann.)

Of course, the objective of many of these programs is not simply to create a network of leaders, but to give them the tools to create change. For example, Hawaii’s oldest leadership training program, the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii, has put 12 classes of young leaders through its 18-month course. In addition to visiting agricultural companies across the state, each class spends a week touring agricultural operations in another state, several days at the state Capitol and a week in Washington, D.C.

“The learning objective,” says Kim Coffee-Isaak, executive director of Ag-Leadership, “is to see the bigger picture. They go from understanding their own business or situation, to understanding their own island, to understanding the whole state. And then they go to the national level.”

Eric Tanouye, general manager of Green Point Nurseries, and an Ag-Leadership alumnus and board member, says the alumni are now leaders in almost every corner of the agriculture sector. They own or manage many of Hawaii’s farms, ranches and other ag-businesses on every island. They’re in the Farm Bureau, the USDA, the state Legislature, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and nearly every commodity board.

A Matter of Confidence

Richard Yust of the Food Bank of Maui says he learned different
skills in the Weinberg Fellows and PONO programs.

Although some people are born leaders, most have leadership thrust upon them. That’s particularly true among nonprofit executive directors, says Holly Henderson, who directs two leadership-training programs – the Weinberg Fellows and Castle Colleagues – aimed at the nonprofit sector.

“People don’t generally say, ‘Hey, I want to become the executive director of a not-for-profit,’ ” Henderson points out. “What they say is, ‘I want to help people.’ But if they’re good at that – helping people on the program side – they get kicked upstairs, and kicked upstairs, and kicked upstairs. And suddenly they’re staring at a blue computer screen and they’re responsible for making sure that the organization’s governance and operations functions are working, that the human resources functions are working, that the finance and the fundraising functions are working, and that the community relations and the mission are on track.

“One of the first things that I say to a Weinberg Fellows class is, ‘Relax. It’s not a doable job,’ because you tell me the person who’s equally good at all those jobs. In the corporate world, there are whole departments staffed to pick up the pieces of that.”

Programs like the Weinberg Fellows and the Hawaii Community Foundation’s PONO program exist largely to increase the skills and confidence of executive directors faced with these challenges.

There are many similarities between the Weinberg Fellows and PONO: Both work at increasing the competence of nonprofit executives in strategic planning, human resources and leadership. Interestingly, both stress the value of the Meyers Briggs personality test as a leadership tool. Despite the similarities, a surprising number of nonprofit executive directors have been through both programs. “There’s actually quite a bit of difference,” says dual alumnus Richard Yust, executive director of the Food Bank of Maui. “PONO was much more about management and leadership style. It taught me a better method for a lot of situations: How to handle different situations with my staff and my board.

“Weinberg seems to be more mechanics, more concrete answers about things like how to approach funders, budgets, employee issues, conflict issues – more of a nuts-and-bolts approach, which is all stuff we need.”


Leadership Potential

Clearly, the success of leadership training programs depends as much on carefully selecting the participants as it does on the seminars and field trips. Most have such stringent requirements that it’s sometimes difficult to find enough qualified candidates. All have elaborate application processes, including essays and multiple interviews. Most ask for several references, who are often also interviewed. Some insist on letters of support from employers and spouses, or board resolutions that demonstrate the candidate’s organization understands the commitment required. Some, like Ag-Leadership and PCF, charge a substantial tuition, though the fees are often paid by employers or offset by grants.

For those who run these programs, there’s often another consideration. Because each class works together closely for weeks or months, some programs pay close attention to the mix of fellows. Neil Hannahs, a founder of First Nations Futures Program, which develops Native Hawaiian land managers, points out how delicate that can be. “We’re interested in things like, ‘What’s their demonstrated leadership ability? Why do they want to be in the program?’ And we operate at a pretty high level, so can they understand the material? But just as important is, ‘How will they operate as a team?’ Because I’m not just selecting individuals, I’m selecting a cohort. And that’s more art than science.”

The Role of Culture

Each group of First Nations fellows is given a real issue to
tackle. “They’re like an MBA SWAT team,” says Neil Hannahs
of Kamehameha Schools.

First Nations, a partnership of Kamehameha Schools, Stanford University, the University of Hawaii and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu of New Zealand, is one of the newest and most specialized of Hawaii’s leadership training programs. It grew out of Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate’s changing philosophy in land management.

“It’s well known that, after being in business over 100 years, we had a leadership meltdown in the 1990s,” Hannahs says. Out of that controversy, and the resulting change in leadership, emerged a much greater focus at KSBE on serving the broader Native Hawaiian community. “One of the things that was said by our stakeholders was we should not just maximize economic returns, but find the optimum balance of cultural, educational, environmental and community returns. It’s not just the money anymore.”

For the state’s largest private landowner, that change calls for a different kind of land manager. Before, Hannahs acknowledges, KSBE could simply hire good real estate professionals. The new philosophy requires land managers rooted in what Hannahs calls “leadership in an indigenous context.”

“How do you make that paradigm shift?” he asks. “I can sit here and hope those leaders come to me, or I can try to create a pipeline of leaders.”

Like the other programs, First Nations uses a hybrid of field trips, seminars and networking to achieve its ends. After an orientation here, each cohort – which includes participants from both Hawaii and New Zealand – spends two weeks at Stanford. Afterward, they perform culturally related projects in both New Zealand and Hawaii.

For their Hawaii project, Hannahs has each cohort address a real issue facing KSBE. “They’re like an MBA SWAT team,” he says. Cohorts have looked at cultural heritage tourism, sustainable agriculture and geothermal energy. “I want us to think this through and face up to what the cultural issues are. Let’s create a rubric of analysis. Let’s look at the environmental impacts, look at the economics, look at the community benefits and impacts.”

Hannahs hopes that the leaders who come out of the First Nations program will be better equipped to deal with the challenges of bringing a Native Hawaiian perspective to land management. Several of his own staff have gone through the program. But Hannahs says he has greater ambitions for First Nations. “Hopefully OHA folks, TNC (The Nature Conservancy), maybe DLNR will start coming to us. And we’d love to start seeing young Hawaiians at Fish and Wildlife who are really committed to our belief that, here in Hawaii, we would definitely benefit from a strong cultural foundation.”

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