How to Lead
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Let’s start by talking about what you think are the key characteristics of great leaders?
CEO Island Insurance
Dods: There are lots of different kinds of good leaders – and I’ve made leadership a study of mine for a long time. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some people lead by fear and intimidation, and some of those leaders can be effective, but usually not for the longer term.
The kind of leaders I admire the most are the great communicators, collaborative leaders who are still willing to make hard decisions themselves when they have to, but are willing to get input, and are able to motivate others and get the job done, and, in the end, everybody thinks they accomplished it together. These are all trite sayings, but really true in the end.
You have quiet leaders who lead by example. A great example would be Stan Kuriyama at A&B, who’s very soft-spoken and quiet, but very effective. Then, you have people who are strategic visionary type leaders, who really have a vision and get people to buy into that vision, and through that, get the job done.
Lau: I would say strategic vision is the key quality of leadership. For me, strategic vision is the ability to see what others don’t see, to be able to look at very complex, difficult problems and figure out very simple, elegant solutions. Then, the second part of leadership is that you can inspire other people to believe in and follow you in the execution of that vision. And that’s not an easy thing to do. There are lots of smart people around, but those who have a clear vision and translate it so others want to follow – that’s where you get leadership.
Matayoshi: I agree, it’s important that a leader have the ability to express a vision that inspires. Earlier in my career, I saw that with Cliff Jamile, who was the manager and chief engineer of the Board of Water Supply when I was there. He said the mission of the BWS had changed from one of being an organization that delivered water – pumped it up, pumped it out – to one in which we were all stewards of the water for future generations. Shifting to that focus was inspiring; then, it raised all kinds of questions about sustainability. This was long ago. To me, that’s one characteristic of leadership – to see something and express it in a way that inspires and sets a direction. That’s important for a leader.
Another thing, I think, is that good leaders are constant learners. You learn from every experience you have. You learn from your successes, you learn from the obstacles and you learn from your failures. And you’re open to that learning. In the old model of leadership, you thought you knew what to do and you told everybody and that was it. But, to me, the new model of leadership – or at least the model that works in this constantly changing world – is that you’re always learning something new and looking at how you can apply that new knowledge to adjust and adapt.
The third element of leadership is really about understanding people, trying to find the right place for every person on your team, a place that meets their skills and talents. This is true in any organization, but it’s certainly true when you’re going through significant transformations, as we’re going through at DOE. People who were good at their old jobs are not necessarily good in the new world. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not valuable; you just have to find the right place to make use of their talents. Part of being a leader is not throwing everything out and wishing you had something better, but trying to unite a group of diverse people around a common mission, and have them realize that, whatever their talents, they can contribute toward that mission.
Dunkerley: Among effective leaders, there are various types, but some things are pretty common. You want a leader to have a sense of vision, a sense of direction; to have the ability to manage for the short term while, at the same time, looking at the long term and recognizing the innate tensions that exist between them, and having the strength of personality to work through those things. That’s a common area where people fail as leaders.
It’s both being able to marry a strategic outlook with the practical day to day. In all organizations, you have some people who are really gifted strategically, but who are uncomfortable in managing the unexpected day-to-day problems. Then, you have people who, by nature, are great at addressing the issues in front of them, and get absorbed by them, but don’t spend time thinking about the broader direction. To be a leader, you need both skills.
Dods: But you can’t have five CEOs, or even two CEOs. Citicorp is the greatest example, when Sandy Weill and John Reed put the companies together and tried to be co-CEOs. That lasted for about 90 seconds. I could give other examples, but, in the end, you do need a leader, somebody to call the shots. But a leader needs to live with the good and the bad and take the hard knocks.
We seem to agree that leaders must have good communication and collaborative skills, and strategic vision, but what do those characteristics look like in practice?
Lau: I’ve been in many situations where we had to conceive of something differently. A very simple one was when I was at Kamehameha and people were very worried because the IRS was after the tax-exempt status of the estate. The IRS felt the trustees were not following the trust’s charitable mission, and you only get the benefit of tax exemption if you spend money on charitable purposes. People were worried the so-called “Bishop Estate” was overwhelming the work of Kamehameha Schools, which should have been the real mission of the trust.
So we renamed the financial side of the trust as “the endowment.” Of course, it’s not technically an endowment; it’s a trust estate. Those are very different legal entities. Changing the terminology, though, and calling the estate an endowment, even though it wasn’t, changed the whole juxtaposition of the financial side of Bishop Estate and Kamehameha Schools. All of a sudden, people could better understand that the mission really was about the schools and the education of Native Hawaiians and the improvement of the well being of Native Hawaiians through education. That was the real purpose of the trust – not the management of the assets.
Another example was when I went to American Savings Bank. Remember, at the time, it was a pretty simple savings and loan that took in savings accounts and made single-family-home mortgages. When I looked at it, it seemed like a tremendously underutilized asset for the community, an asset that could bring a whole lot more value to everyone around if it broadened the products and services it offered. So, we began building a commercial banking operation that could help businesses. We also brought in products for consumers. So, instead of only having savings accounts, we started offering checking accounts and credit cards. Instead of just mortgages, the bank has been the No. 1 producer of home equity loans, which is a new product we rolled out. We were the first in the market with remote capture for the deposit of checks using mobile devices. It’s about having the strategic vision to look at something with a new pair of eyes and see much greater potential, and much greater value and make much larger contributions to the community. That’s one of the key aspects of leadership.
Of course, you’ve got to be able to sell people on it. Hopefully, that’s a lot easier. Because, if you’ve done the visioning correctly, and that visioning is all about bringing greater value to the organization, and making greater contributions, that’s really something most people
want to do in their lives. They want to do something of value; they want to contribute to doing something bigger than themselves. So, usually, when you describe your vision, the vision itself is very inspirational. But inspiration is different from motivation. I could motivate someone by offering to fire them. That’s not what leadership is about; it’s about inspiration.
Ariyoshi: Vision is very important. But more important is that the leader’s vision be not only his, but becomes the vision of many others, so they believe in it and it becomes a community effort. My effort on the state plan was a good example. I felt the state plan was important. It came about because, when I became governor in 1974, 15 years after statehood, I wanted to know what had happened in Hawaii in those 15 years. I found out we had tremendous growth. Our population had grown 2.5 percent per year, compared to the national rate of 0.8 percent. So, we were growing three times faster than the rest of the United States.
I looked at automobiles. We had 200,000 of them at the time of statehood; 15 years later, we had 500,000 automobiles – two-and-a-half times more. I became very concerned about this rate of increase. I thought to myself, “How are we going to provide educations to our children, provide job opportunities and social services – everything that we needed to do in our community?” That’s when I began to feel that, if we didn’t do something about this, it was just going to happen. Things were not going to come by chance. I thought that we ought to be able to identify the type of place we want Hawaii to be in 20, 25 years. The problem is that most of the time leaders look at today, this year, what are the problems, and try to solve those problems. They never think about solving them in the context of what’s going to happen 35 years into the future. That’s when I began to feel very strongly that we needed to look at the future, and ask, “What kind of future do we want for Hawaii?” That was the genesis of the state plan.
But the state plan should not be a future that I set forth. I could participate in it and say what I wanted to do, but I also wanted to encourage people to come sit with us and also think about it, so it became the vision and preference of many people thinking about the future. That’s what the state plan was all about. We had hundreds of people come together and talk about each of the 12 functional plans. That’s why it became not my plan, but your plan.
A friend of mine recently reminded me of a quote by Lao Tzu: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: ‘We did it ourselves.’ ”My friend said, “You remind me of that quote because you never try to be remembered as the leader. You involve people and make them feel like they want to participate.”
How does a leader motivate people to take that kind of ownership?
Ariyoshi: No. 1, you have to be willing to do it. There are some people who say, “Come work with me; but it’s going my way, not your way.” When you do that, you limit yourself to one person’s ideas – yours.
For example, we have a lot of boards and commissions in Hawaii. When I appointed board and commission members, I wanted to make sure we created a diverse board – people from different parts of Hawaii, people with different cultural and occupational backgrounds – so we would have a vast diversity of people and ideas. I participated in boards and commissions and I always told every person, “You are different from the people you’re sitting with on the board, and that’s by design. I want you to be able to speak up and put your thoughts on the table.” That diversity of thought must come out. I don’t want the board or commission to be lead by one strong person who feels that he or she has a monopoly on good ideas. I want all the thoughts on the table. That gives us the best package of ideas to select from.
But many leaders don’t feel that that way. They feel they know everything, they have to have things their way, and anybody who works with them has to do it their way or don’t come work with them.
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