How to Lead
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Who are the leaders you most admire?
CEO Central Pacific Bank
Ariyoshi: I think Jack Burns very clearly was a great leader, because Jack Burns felt we should have more people involved in the affairs of the community who were not then involved and didn’t feel they had a right to be involved. For me, Jack Burns was a great person. Right after I was elected as lieutenant governor, he told me, “I’m Caucasian, you’re Japanese. I didn’t go to school here, you went to school here. Your culture is very different from my culture. So, I expect, from time to time, you and I are going to have differences of opinion.” But, he said, “That’s OK. I don’t want you to feel you have to agree with me all the time.” And he told me, “You’ve got to be true to yourself. You’ve got to be your own man, and that’s fine with me as we work together.”
Sometimes, I think, a leader is not only what he or she does. Being a leader is a mindset – caring why things are done a certain way, a willingness to have some somebody else have a difference of opinion and be able to work together. From that point of view, Jack Burns had vision.
Dean: There are CEOs I admire, but my path has been more of observing many. I think a great CEO in the community here is Walter Dods, in terms of what he accomplished as CEO of First Hawaiian. But, people ask me, “Who’s your mentor?” Well, I had a confidante, my wife. And I had lots of bosses that I admired, and I tried to emulate what I think are their best qualities. But I think I’ve learned as much from bad bosses as from good, in terms of what not to do. Whenever I was treated a certain way or thought something was unfair, rather than be angry, I tried to remember and promise myself I would never do that when I was in that situation – from little things to big things.
Matsumoto: Who do I consider to be visionary leaders in our community? I’ll give you three names: I think Nainoa Thompson is truly a visionary leader. Anybody who’s had the privilege of hearing him speak about voyaging and the role of the voyaging canoe within the Hawaiian community and in greater Polynesia, can’t help but be inspired by the vision he has about the role the canoe is supposed to play in transforming society. I consider him to be somebody who has the ability to see the big picture, and who is willing to try to bring about change on a global basis.
Another person I think about is Pono Shim, the CEO of Enterprise Hawaii. What I appreciate about Pono is his nonlinear approach to economic development. His approach is culturally based, and I think the question is: “How do we transform Hawaii in a way that enables our society to prosper, yet maintain the cultural uniqueness about this place?” Pono is able to articulate this in a very unique and positive way.
The third person is Duane Kurisu. Duane has a bigger picture perspective of how he wants to bring about change within Hawaii. Maybe it’s not so much about change, but how he wants to promote some of the special qualities we have in Hawaii. But he won’t let you write that. Duane has a different perspective about how he wants to do business – how he actually does business and the investments he’s made. He’s another one who has audacious ideas that are sometimes a little crazy. (Disclosure: among other ventures, Kurisu is the owner of Pacific Basin Communications, the parent company of Hawaii Business.)
I’ve always appreciated that about really outstanding leaders. More times than not, they’ll really have a perspective that forces you to think, “Is he serious?” You get baffled by their ideas because they’re so different from what traditional thinking might suggest. It takes somebody special to see that vision and to be willing to associate themselves with it, to articulate it and promote it so that other people might embrace it. You run the risk of people saying, “Did you listen to that guy? What a flake! He’s crazy.”
Are there aspects of leadership at this level that most people don’t think about?
Dean: It can be lonely at the top. It’s important to have a confidante. Because it’s hard, when you’re at the tip of the pyramid, to confide in someone. You don’t have peers, so what do you do? For me, it was my spouse. Some people have mentors. In some companies, the CEO gets a coach. Sometimes, it’s a good friend in the business community, but not related to your business. Sometimes, it’s just to vent, just to have someone to listen to you.
Dods: That’s the toughest part when you get into these really high-level jobs. I’ve talked about balancing community and job, but there’s a third factor, and that’s family. When you add up that equation, it really gets tough for those who really want to go all the way. And, to be blunt, one or the other is going to suffer in some form or another. It’s very hard to balance all three of those things. The secret is to understand that and to try to manage that process. But it’s not easy.
Matsumoto: I used to have a close mentor who was fond of saying, “Show me a leader who has no enemies and I’ll show you somebody who hasn’t accomplished much.” I think it’s really hard to demonstrate true leadership and still make everybody happy, because you have to make choices, and not everybody will agree with those choices or gain the same benefit from the choices that are made.
So, it’s inevitable that some people are disgruntled with the decisions a leader makes. That’s especially so now, in our current age, when people are much better educated, much better informed, and everybody has an opinion and they’re not hesitant about expressing it. The fact that people do form strong personal opinions about things makes it more challenging to get larger groups of people to align behind anything. It’s much harder to build consensus than it was, say, 50 years ago.
Maybe because of that, I also think leaders today have to be much more sensitive and skillful with respect to public relations. They need to have better insights into what people are interested in or concerned about, how to motivate people through public messaging. Even if your cause is virtuous, if you don’t have the ability to communicate in a way that will persuade people to align behind you, you won’t be successful.
Dunkerley: A couple of years ago, I had lunch with another leader here in this community, from a very different walk of life, and we were musing about the twists and turns that our lives had taken, and about why we, in our respective fields, had been successful. Why us? Why had we passed by other people, much more talented and able than ourselves, to rise to the top? The big thing we both considered was remarkable was how many people undermined their own abilities by being unable to see beyond themselves. You see that constantly.
I’ll give you an example: In the senior management team, as you would expect, we have to deal with some really hard issues, budget issues – does that marginal dollar go into so-and-so’s department or any of a myriad different things. As a team, we have to make those decisions. One of the most limiting things a person can do in that environment is fight for his or her own corner to the disregard of the company as a whole. It’s an affirmative plus mark when somebody says, “I would like those resources, but, looking at it from the company’s perspective, I think John or whoever could use them more effectively than we could right now.” It’s surprising how difficult it is for people to do that.
This is hard for the CEO to say, because our paychecks are the biggest, but a selflessness of approach is enormously important – a willingness to not see things in one’s own context. The example I would offer you is our new open-office environment. When we renovated the offices, it would have been very easy, perhaps even expected, that the nicest office would go to me, and the group of the nicest corner offices would go to senior officers. But there’s tremendous power in saying that the people we need to look after are the people at the bottom of the organization whose work environment would be diminished by the big bosses taking for themselves.
The classic example here is: We only allow food to be consumed down in the new company cafeteria. So, we all eat together at family-style tables. We want to encourage employees to be part of our ohana. It would be the easiest thing in the world for me to break these rules. I have extremely busy days when it’s deeply inconvenient for me to go down there to swallow a sandwich in three bites. But, if I were, just once, to give myself that latitude, then I’d be setting an example that, on balance, would undermine my leadership.
Another thing about leadership is that, out of 100 decisions, it’s not how you make the 99 easy ones that people look at to find out who you are; it’s how you make the one difficult decision. I’ve been in situations where there were people in leadership positions who fundamentally didn’t understand that. They didn’t understand why, when they were, in everyday interactions, making decisions left, right and center that nobody disagreed with and everyone was basically happy with, and they still ended up being unpopular. The reason was because of the way they behaved when the chips were down. People are smart. They spend their whole lives making assessments of other people, and they’re very shrewd. They will see right through somebody who, when the sun is shining, is easy to work with, easy to get along with, but who turns out to be very different when times are hard.
Matayoshi: One thing, at least for me, is that a lot of people don’t realize how many sides a story can have. When a decision is made – especially if it’s wrong – it’s hard for them to see the other side of it. But, as a leader, you can’t make those decisions without considering all those perspectives, short term and long term. It’s hard to explain that without sounding like you’re making an excuse: “Oh, there’s another perspective that you haven’t seen.” But, every hard decision usually has another side, or multiple sides, and balancing all those perspectives to try to reach the best decision sometimes isn’t easy to explain. I like to ask myself, “Are you doing the right thing?” You might be wrong, but are you trying to do the right thing with the best information you have?
Lau: If you are given positions of leadership, you gain what’s called “positional power.” But it’s really important to treat that power with great respect, and to use it as a last resort. I always remember Admiral (Robert) Kihune when I was at Kamehameha. When the interim trustees were put in to clean up all the mess, the other four trustees were all very distinguished, recognized leaders, and I was sort of the young kid on the block, so I always call it my “lessons in leadership.” Admiral Kihune was a Kamehameha graduate who was the first Native Hawaiian to become a three-star admiral. He was the one who was chosen by the Navy to clean up after the Tailhook scandal. Francis Keala had been chief of the Honolulu Police Department. During his time, the department was accused of graft and corruption, and Chief Keala was the one who cleaned that up.
One night, after a very long community meeting, where I’m sure we resolved nothing, but we certainly heard many, many perspectives, I pulled Admiral Kihune aside and said, “Admiral, I’m not sure I understand this. You were an admiral in the U.S. Navy, and I thought that, in the military, you all have a saying that, ‘When in command, take charge.’ You’re our chairman of the board, and I’m surprised you’re not taking a stronger hand in these community meetings and taking charge.” And he said to me, “Connie, those kinds of ringing phrases work in wartime. But, in times of peace, it’s very important for leadership to listen to the people, because we only hold leadership because of those who will follow us. So, you need to know what the people think.” It’s not about any of us as leaders; it’s really about where do the people want to be led. You never know that unless you open yourself up and listen. That fit into my own vision of leadership, which is servant leadership.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming leaders?
CEO, Hawaiian Airlines
Dods: I would advise people reading this article to seek out the lousy project, the pesky project, the project that nobody in their organization wants to touch, one that people know is going to be hard, and volunteer for it. A critical part of this leadership question that I’ve analyzed over the years is: How do you, as middle management, break out of the box and become someone that senior management becomes interested in? That’s the most critical thing. Let’s say you have seven people of equal educational background and more or less comparable job experience. One or two of them always break out of the pack. You’re not going to need seven CEOs in that company, but you may need a chief operating officer and a CEO.
How do they break out of that pack? Management has the responsibility to observe and judge them, look at their reviews, etc. But they have the responsibility also to get noticed. Now, that sounds to some people almost offensive. But they’ve got to figure out how to break out of the pack. The way you do that is: A, you do your job better than everybody else. But also you try to find and seek out opportunities to do jobs that may not necessarily fall into your job description.
Ariyoshi: Don’t do things because you want credit. Do things because you believe they’re the right things to do, that they will be best for the organization for which you work. Be unafraid to do things that have never been done, or in ways that they’ve never been done before. But think a lot before you do it. It should not be something whimsical – “Oh, I want to do this!” – you’ve got to think it through; then try to make it work. Too often, we’re stuck with traditions, with what was here before, with what someone did before. I think an up-and-coming leader must not be so bound. The courage to do what is right is very important. And, as I mentioned before, don’t do it because you want credit. That’s a big fault. People think, “If I do this, I’ll look good.” They should think, “If I do this, things will be better here.” The project will be better. The company’s security will be better. And it may make somebody else look good.
You also can’t be a know-it-all. You’ve got to be a person who’s willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers, that the vision you have, the things you want to do, might need some modifications because of the impacts they have. That’s the other thing about what people said when I had my state plan. They were saying, “Oh, what’s the plan for? You can’t predict the future. You don’t know what things will change.” My response was, “That’s the dynamism of planning.” You set yourself up for whatever you want to do 25 or 35 years ahead, but, as you get there, you find out certain things along the way and make certain adjustments as you move ahead. But you know where you want to end up. That’s the dynamism of planning, because when you plan, you know where you want to go, but you also know you may have to make some adjustments along the way to get there. Nobody’s smart enough to say, “Hawaii, 30 years from now, is going to look like this, and I’m going to plan it exactly, with all the details, so we get there.” It’s not possible. That’s why a good leader has to be willing to acknowledge imperfection.
Dods: In my mind, a real leader is somebody who has to come up two tracks: within the company and within the community. Anybody who thinks you can be successful just doing your company’s business is wrong, because every company derives its income from the community in one way or another. And the true leaders, in my opinion – the ones I look for to promote, advance, mentor – are those who understand you’ve got to do both things. You’ve got to come up the community leadership ranks, and the company ranks.
And, if you do community for the right reasons – meaning, that things need to be done – you also get the side benefits of learning leadership at a harder level, because it’s much harder to motivate volunteers. You don’t have power over them. You can’t say, if you don’t do your job, you won’t get a raise or I’m not going to keep you employed. When you do community, you’ve got to motivate people based on your leadership, values and salesmanship. And, over time, those are qualities that will serve you tremendously within the company as well.
Another thing I always tell people is, “Be local, Brah.” I feel very strongly about that. I don’t mean you actually have to be local – not at all. You can come from anyplace or culture, but you need to learn to respect the local culture if you want to be a successful leader. Some people come to Hawaii and within a week they’re local. Some people are here forever and they’re never local because they don’t understand and respect our culture. I’ve seen a hundred people – and I’m not exaggerating – come here and say, “We’re going to change things because this isn’t how we did things in Boston or New York.” I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go. I remember magazines like yours running major stories about how we’re going to get buried because someone like Bank of America was coming to run an S&L or whatever, and they were gone three years later. I’ve seen it my whole career.
So, what I mean by local is clearly understanding and respecting local culture. If you put that together with values, community service, communication skills, strategic vision, then you’ve got an easy leader.
Matayoshi: It’s funny, I was telling some of the guys at work, “You should read the papers. You should keep up with the news on things like what’s up with tourism.” And somebody said, “Well …” And I said, “No, tourism is one of the largest drivers of our economy. It impacts the state’s general-excise-tax collections, and DOE gets 25 percent of that. So, when there’s something that disrupts airline flights to Honolulu and you lose seats from Japan or otherwise, it makes a difference to the economy, so it makes a difference to the budget and it’s going to make a difference for us.”
I think part of being the leader is to really have an understanding that you’re not an isolated organization. Part of being a leader is to look externally and be thinking about the challenges and problems that might be coming along. You don’t always have to take action on every single thing, but you’re always aware of the environment in which you operate. Also, you always want to be aware of opportunities to partner with others – especially in the public sector – around a common goal.
Dunkerley: I’m a huge believer in the diversification of the workplace. I say that not out of any particular desire to be politically correct, but, in a business like ours, you have such a broad spectrum of activity, and therefore a broad spectrum of challenges, it seems self-evident to me that, in the leadership team, you need a broad spectrum of people. You need people who are of this community and know absolutely everything there is to know about it. You need people who know the airline industry inside out, because they’ve been at many different airlines. You need men as well as women, because men and women process information differently. They make decisions differently. They can see the same set of facts in slightly different ways, and if you don’t have that represented in your internal councils, you’re blinding yourself to the situation. You need different generations because, as you move through life, the way in which you think about things actually changes, which is important. The situation I want to avoid is when you look at the leadership team and everybody looks like a mini-me of the leader, as opposed to the broad spectrum of all these attributes.
Dods: I like the old saying: “Don’t be a slave to conventional wisdom. It may be conventional, but it isn’t always wisdom.” Real leaders are the ones who are willing to think outside the box. Again, that’s a trite saying, but it’s really true. Taking people to a different level requires not doing what everyone else is doing.
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