Hawaii Leadership Boards
A Slow Walk over Stubborn Problems
(And Some Modest Possibilities)
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any
national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”
- Abraham Lincoln
Peter S. Adler
(revised August, 2010)
I. Tough Times
The aim of this paper is to confront some of our current leadership dilemmas and
explore a pathway that could strategically make headway on important substantive
agendas and simultaneously help nurture a successor generation of leaders accustomed
to a more encouraging style of leadership.1 If the paper was wildly successful, it would
Hawaii has many stubborn problems. One of them exacerbates the others: our leaders,
and those of us who should be insisting on good leadership, are losing the once innate
ability to work together. In the rush to arrive at where we are, in the wake of the
ambitious and dynamic changes achieved by Hawaii’s post WW-II generation, and in
the escalating national context of hyperbolic and hyper-polarized politics, the older
habits used by Island communities everywhere to discuss, debate, deliberate, and solve
challenging problems are severely eroded. Hawaii is one of those island deserts.
Just as the Polynesian Voyaging Society did in 1975 with its careful step-by-step run-up
to the Hok’le’a journeys, it would be helpful to retrieve those instincts and skills before
they are fully eclipsed. It’s not just a loss of talent and proficiency. Somehow, the very
will to sit together in council, to work on issues in a patient and disciplined way, and to
come to productive and broadly acceptable conclusions has slipped from our grasp. In
its place we have growing adversarialism, cynicism, gridlock and that odd self-doubt
and inferiority of spirit that John Burns spoke of.
I am not naïve about the limits of cooperative behavior nor am I myopic about
consensus-seeking and collaborative decision-making. At the end of the day, I am a
hard-nosed pragmatist. In my current work as President and CEO of a 50-person
organization, there are times when strong, individual leadership is exactly what is
required. However, we also need debate, even when it gets raucous and loud. We need
question raisers, issue-mobilizers, and outspoken problem confronters. At the right time
and in the right way we also need its opposite: people who can sit down together, put
the past behind them, and find tractable political solutions that advance common
ground. Problem “raising” is far sexier than problem “solving” but the two together are
Mark Twain once said: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” My apologies for
the length, especially to those who are more used to twitters, tweets and blogs. The ideas here have taken some
time to come together and evolve from four strands of conversation. The first are discussions with a
working group of colleagues sponsored by Omidyar Family Enterprises. This group has met three days
each month for the past year to create a robust model of collaborative leadership that will eventually be
applied to sustainability problems focused on energy, food and waste. The second comes from private
meetings with friends and acquaintances who are close to Hawaii’s political currents and undertows, a
few of whom are legislators or political candidates, or both. The third emerges from formal interviews
with 35 local business leaders conducted in the course of a strategic planning project last year. The fourth
is an article from the October issue of Hawaii Business called “State of Repair: Six Leaders Discuss Power
and How to Fix Hawaii.” As explained later, I found this roundtable discussion thought-provoking,
insightful and depressing.
the “yin” and “yang” of politics, opposite sides of the same perennially flipping coin.
We need them both.
At this particular moment, neither seems to be happening effectively. We especially lack
strong integrative leadership. As so many people told me privately, and as observers
have commented on publically, our problems are intensifying.2 While older leaders
posture and haggle, our central infrastructure -- roads, sewers, airports, and other
public buildings –- deteriorate further. We continue to allow public schools to perform
badly despite more than a quarter century of discussion. Dependence on off-shore
energy and food remains near the 90% level. Even the aloha spirit and our traditional
sense of self-restraint are in jeopardy. Off shore reefs that used to teem with sea life are
slammed, fished so incessantly, not by outsiders but by local people, that they are
devoid of larger fish. Traffic is bumper to bumper. More horns are honking and there
are more upraised middle finger protestations.
In short, the bloom is off the proverbial rose and the roots and stem seem endangered. I
believe we are in a state of collective bewilderment, stuck in a vicious cycle that
muddles between fear of “change” and fear of “stability” (Attachment 1). Fear is the
wrong place to be. Analytically, the potential positive characteristics of stability are
predictability, steadiness, and continuity. The potential negatives are stagnation, loss of
energy, and missed opportunities. The positives of change can be energy, creativity and
fresh directions. The negatives can be loss of continuity, foolish risks, and the
extinguishing of core values.
The leadership challenge now is to turn “vicious” cycles into “virtuous” cycles. It is
possible to do this. John Gardner described leaders as individuals who can conceive and
articulate goals that lift people out of petty preoccupations and unite them in pursuit of
worthy objectives. Robert Greenleaf, author of Servant Leadership, believes good leaders
must be catalytic enablers. And Winston Churchill once remarked that leadership is
nothing more than moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm and then stumbling
over a success. He did both.
II. State of Disrepair
In this context, the politics described in the “State of Repair” forum moderated skillfully
by Jerry Burris for the October, 2009 issue of Hawaii Business inadvertently captured
much of what is broken and outdated. 3 Each of the leaders who participated –-
Haunani Apoliona, Ben Cayetano, Kitty Lagareta, Colbert Matsumoto, Peter Ho, and
Randy Perreira –- is distinguished, accomplished and, in his or her own way, engaging.
Each of their sectors is an important part of our local mix and each of these people
represents something strong, good and beautiful about Hawaii. Collectively, they fail.
Here is some of what we learn in this article.
Our new interlocking directorates (what C. Wright Mills called “power elites”) are
stymied and ineffective.4 Players who should be coming together to provide leadership
and direction for the state simply aren’t.
• The business community is “missing in action,” full of squabbles that make it
a far less effective voice than it once was or could be.
• The Native Hawaiian community which many non-Hawaiians (me included)
had expected to assume a more inspired mantle of leadership is consumed
with complaints and internal fights.
• Hawaii’s unions, which should be offering up strong community leadership,
have a lot of accrued muscle and money but seem to squander these assets on
defending narrow interests regardless of wider external costs.
• The University, traditional media outlets, and religious, ethnic and cultural
associations are also less influential than they once were.
Ironically, we learn that the most effective leaders these days are Hawaii’s military
commanders. This is a well deserved credit to them, but a backhanded indictment of the
other local sectors that can’t or won’t work together or are simply too locked in mortal
combat over old battles.5 The graphic in that same Hawaii Business issue (Attachment 2)
illustrates this new reality. It shows specifically which sectors are influential relative to
others and which are gaining or losing power. It is an amazing graphic.
In my view, echoed by some of Jerry’s discussants, the most critical current casualty is
government, especially state government. The social compact forged in the 1950s and
60s –- a strong efficient bureaucracy, led by powerful, fair-minded post-WW-II leaders,
and delivering services and support to all of Hawaii’s people, and not just the sons and
daughters of plantation owners -- no longer produces reasonable results. More likely it
can’t and has simply run its course. Incessant scrabbling for political money, incipient
feuds between a Democratic legislature and a Republican executive, and a lack of
internal leadership within the fractured Democratic Party makes petty politics a
perpetual motion machine.
I don’t assume that interlocking directorates are inherently bad. In other contexts we call these
“networks,” “associations,” “unions,” “companies,” or “fraternal organizations, or “friendship circles.”
We need to be interested in what they do and do don’t do, for whom, and to what effect.
Military commanders actually receive serious training in leadership whereas most public and private
sector officials do not.
But something more tectonic and fundamental underlies all of this. Unless they are
extraordinarily brave, perhaps even foolhardy, elected officials can no longer make
hard decisions. They are buffeted by the forces of dissent from the different sectors in
the larger community and lobbied hard by special interests to defeat agendas that they
don’t like or are suspicious of. In effect, they are buffeted by you and me. There is no
unifying mandate from the disparate groups that lobby them. No agreements. No
consensus. No consensual plans. No compacts to work together and no real shared
vision. The result is in front of us - a running stalemate and a default pattern of
complaint in which business points at unions, community groups point at business,
civil service workers blame citizens, and everyone blames government.
The excuse of the moment is the economy which is indeed creating a world of hurt. But
even before the current meltdown which began in September 2008, very little was
forthcoming.6 Hawaii’s politicians simply cannot do bold things. They must take action
in a narrow segment of political bandwidth and then must compromise to even
narrower spots or get pushed out of office. Hence the proclivity to tweak and twiggle
rather than reform. Decisions that could potentially be “catalytic converters” are either
stymied entirely or downgraded into actions so molecular, ad hoc and disconnected
that they lose their power to ripple out and have longer leveraging impacts. While we
may generally overestimate what government at any level can do, legislative and
regulatory bodies are afraid to act without a clearer consent-based agenda.
Finally, and perhaps at some deeper and more fundamental level, there is no glimpse
yet of a compelling, super ordinate, perhaps even transcendent image of what we might
want to become as an island state. There is no new and emerging social “compact” to
replace the old one which is increasingly shop worn and tired. Maybe, as evidenced by
Mr. Obama’s struggles, transformational agendas are impossible in a time of instant
polling, speed-of-light demonization, a 365-24-7 blogosphere, and incessant bloviating
from the talk radio and cable commentariat.
Based on what I heard in my interviews, private conversations and group discussions,
however, there is a deep hunger for a transformational agenda. New leadership, one of
the Hawaii Business commentators said, won’t really emerge or matter very much until
someone can articulate a new, compelling narrative that stitches together some part of
what all of our major voices are saying. When it comes to real buy-in for a vision,
people must see themselves in it.
In the near term, and even with the advent of a coming election, no impending event,
person or group seems likely to change this self-defeating process. The exception is
some kind of Gulf or Haiti-like calamity, a collective punch in the teeth that gives us all
a lot of hurt and forces us to work together and reshape our collective self. That is the
conventional thinking anyway. Things must get worse if they are to change and get
I recently asked a prominent journalist to name the three most important things done in last year’s legislative
season. He couldn’t think of any.
better. And while we wait, we must continue to endure our traditional vicious cycles of
bad mouthing, nose pulling, ear grabbing and towel snapping.
The overall message in “State of Repair” was the same thing I repeatedly heard
privately. Hawaii is in gridlock and the impasse leaves us with a status quo which is
unacceptable and radical change scenarios which are too scary. In the article, however,
there were also hints at something different and more possible.
Colbert Matsumoto said: “There’s no one person that will lead us to the Promised Land.
I think it takes collective action and people have to come together. The leaders have to
come together.” Peter Ho affirmed this with a twist: “It’s about cooperation, respect,
and understanding the other person’s viewpoint. I can tell you, from my standpoint and
the standpoint of the bank, we’re trying very hard just to try to understand where
everyone’s coming from.” Understanding each other’s views, ideas and stories is the
universal starting point for any kind of more collaborative leadership but it is not
enough. In a time of trouble, understanding and insight must lead to actions that take
us forward, even if they are small steps.
The leaders Jerry Burris interviewed are all people of vast intellect and great good-will.
I like and admire them and especially appreciated their unhindered candor. Sadly, they
took us to the edge of where their discussions should have led and then fell back into
old sector agendas. Kitty spoke for business; Randy for unions; Ben for the Democratic
party; Peter for banks; Colbert for locals; Haunani for Hawaiians. As they probed and
circled the topic of power, it was striking that they couldn’t find a specific actionable
and transcending purpose that could move them to do something courageous together.
No concrete cooperation strategy. No actual action pieces to work on. 7
For me, the pathos of this discussion is that these six very fine leaders didn’t offer us
anything that sounded like an agenda for change. Nothing about food, fuel, waste, jobs,
business development, education, environment, crime, infrastructure, or strengthening
tourism in ways that might have a little bit more money stay at home. Nothing about
building new businesses, taking care of the elderly, ensuring better health care, or
reducing some of the poverty that is more and more palpable across the State.
Perhaps all that is to be left for another day and another article. What was, and
continues to be, needed are new platforms for moving from sector-based leadership to a
new kind of cross-sector leadership. Not another brainstorming session or a new “think
tank.” We have plenty of those. What we need is a “think and do” tank for Hawaii’s
emerging younger leaders and influencers who might find new ways to take the state
forward through old dilemmas.
To be fair about it, Jerry says his discussion wasn’t really aimed at explicating Hawaii’s current
problems or the prospects for a more cooperative kind of leadership and an agenda for change. The
discussants were asked to talk about how power works these days. Even with that, the article is a candid
window into the issues framed in this paper.
III. Bright Spots
I don’t mean to suggest it is all gloom and doom. That would be a mistake. One thing
we all know is that the people of Hawaii have fundamentally positive dispositions and
that they hold fast to their traditions, histories and dreams. One of these collective traits
is optimism. Starting with the first canoe, Hawaii seems to have attracted people to its
shores who yearned for something better. Another tradition is getting down into taro
patches and Saturday community clean-ups and doing real work. Poet Marge Piercy
captured it beautifully in “To Be of Use.”8
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
"To be of use" by Marge Piercy, from CIRCLES ON THE WATER by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and
Middlemarsh, Inc. , 1982. First published in Lunch magazine.
The lights in Hawaii are still on and there are lots of small, nascent opportunities for
new leadership and quite a few pragmatic optimists planting little seedlings that might
grow into stunning trees.
Take our media industry. Inspired teachers on the Waianae Coast have fostered an
entirely new communication-service-training paradigm called Searider Productions
(www.seariderproductions.com). This program engages students in highly effective
media work while in high school. Leslie Wilcox at Hawaii PBS is scaling something up
similar to this with the launch of Hiki No, a statewide student news and reporting
network that will breathe some fresh faces into local journalism. Another optimistic
experimenter, Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay and a Hawaii resident and
philanthropist, has launched Hawaii Civil Beat, a Honolulu-based media service that is
trying to produce original, in-depth reporting on local issues. It’s journalism and
business models are different but as the older print and TV media throw slow moving
punches at each other, new forms of journalism are sneaking onto the scene.
Kanu Hawaii is another example, an organization started by a smart and energetic
group of 20-30-year olds two years ago. It is a 10,000-person strong (and growing)
network that solicits individual commitments to rekindle and apply traditional island
social and environmental values. Or look at The Hawaii High School Athletic
Association which, while led by Keith Amemiya, revitalized local athletics with new
ideas, new funds, and new forms of collaboration. On the Island of Hawaii, The Kohala
Center is pulling together programs of educational and environmental research relevant
to the lives of local people. And on Oahu, a revitalizing Enterprise Honolulu has
created an ambitious agenda that includes helping UH to be a more focused educational
driver in the community, diversifying the visitor industry beyond leisure travel, and
encouraging a prosperous technology industry.
These developments are similar to some of the work my colleagues and I at Keystone
are doing, even in some especially challenging third world settings. We see strong
partnerships coming together to address water allocation issues in Nepal and to reduce
pirate logging in Cameroon. In the U.S. Midwest, production corn, cotton, and soy
growers are working side by side with their traditional NGO antagonists to reduce
nitrogen and phosphorous runoff in the Mississippi. In Kalamazoo, Michigan business
professionals and philanthropists have created an amazing small city revitalization
strategy that gives full college tuitions to young people provided (a) they go to a
Michigan college or university and (b) commit to returning to Kalamazoo for an equal
number of years.
The challenge and the great hope in all of these initiatives -– local, national and
international –- is not just that good outcomes for the tasks at hand are created, but that
the stage is set for bigger and more emergent leadership. For me, that means (a)
connecting disparate dots to achieve a greater critical mass of effort; (b) building a
wider buzz to achieve the larger goals that each individual group’s tasks are a part of;
and (b) continuing to build strong networks of leaders who will work together.
IV. A Possible Model to Consider – “The Energy Board”
The general model I want to float grows out of some anchor work we do at Keystone.
The generic model is displayed at Attachment 3 but the deliberative and pragmatic
nature of it lies in the details of its application. I should note that this particular model
has been tested in the “school of hard knocks.” It wasn’t born perfect and has had
various ups, downs and improvements along the way. Nonetheless it is one that is
producing modestly good results and might have some utility in Hawaii. Here is the
The Keystone Center (www.keystone.org) is a 35-year old NGO that convenes
government, business, and community leaders to work on pressing policy and
regulatory issues. Most of our work focuses on issues in the environment, energy, and
public health domains. While at any one moment, there are some 30 to 40 actionable
consensus-building projects in the pipeline, the Center also has two “standing” forums
that bring interested stakeholders together for structured, highly informative, and
robust closed-door discussions. One of these is called “The Keystone Energy Board.”
The other is the “Food and Nutrition Roundtable.” The Energy Board has been going
for 18 years. The Food and Nutrition Roundtable is three years old. New and similar
forums are in development in the areas of sustainable agriculture and green marketing
and the extant problem of having 500 competing eco-labels.
The Energy Board is not a board of “trustees” or “directors” in any formal sense. It has
no operational program of services or products, no full time staff, or any of the other
formal fiduciary or governance duties that organizational boards usually have. It
functions as a forum or roundtable but it is called a “board” because it has a
membership, a dues structure, some important protocols, and it meets regularly. It is
also called a “board” because it conveys a dedication to something more than endless
The Energy Board was created in 1992 to (a) provide a different sort of opportunity for
leaders from different sectors to come together and exchange ideas and information in a
safe setting and (b) to build consensus around actions that might address complex or
controversial issues in the energy sector. As an adjunct, it has developed a tradition of
identifying and helping launch specific collaborative projects that will make a difference
on the issues being discussed. Since its inception, the Board has met regularly three
times a year. It has incubated specific and far-reaching projects on natural gas
development, the costs of nuclear energy, regional transmission cooperatives, climate
change, hydrogen fuel cell commercialization, and the expansion of solar, wind and
The Board is composed of roughly 50 individuals who represent different industrial,
NGO and regulatory perspectives on energy and environmental policy. 9 It includes
leaders who are experts in different sectors of energy production, technology,
transportation, consumer advocacy, and regulation and governance. Convened and
facilitated by senior staff from The Keystone Center, the Board tends to foster dialogues
that examine the interface between technological, environmental, and economic
policies. Financial support is achieved through a dues structure. Other than invited
guests, everybody pays something but the bulk of the Board’s dues come from
corporations which can afford more. The annual budget for The Energy Board is
A few other important details. The Board is co-chaired by two distinguished senior
thought leaders. One of them generally represents a business and industrial
perspective, the other generally represents an NGO perspective. At the moment, the co-
chairs are Keith Trent, a senior executive at Duke Energy, and Kateri Callahan,
president of a highly respected national NGO called The Alliance to Save Energy. 10 The
Energy Board is further guided by a Steering Committee (a subset of key Energy Board
members) that works with the co-chairs and Keystone’s facilitators to shape the
direction of discussions and the meeting agendas.
A typical meeting will bring together industry and NGO members as well as different
federal and state officials who come as invited guests, usually sitting members of
Congress and/or members of one or more regulatory bodies like FERC or DOE. Each
meeting focuses on specific topics. These may be the state of current research and
development of carbon sequestration, the prospective costs per kilowatt hour for new
coal plants that burn more efficiently, or an analysis of U.S. Cap’s cap-and-trade
proposals. Each meeting carefully circles through the political, legal, and social conflicts
that attach to that issue and then identifies potential policy pathways to resolution.
Keystone staff then follow up to see if those ideas can be turned into viable “dialogues”
In order to ensure and maintain the integrity of the process, Energy Board members
operate under a series of non-negotiable ground rules. These rules are intended to
support the frank but respectful deliberations that are so critical to productive
discussion. The rules mirror those of England’s Royal Institute of International Affairs
(RIIA), founded in 1920, and known better as the “Chatham House Rules.”
1. Comments made during the meeting are strictly off the record and not for
For a list of current members see http://www.keystone.org/spp/energy/energy-board.
The Energy Board’s former co-chairs were former Congressman Phil Sharpe, now head of Resources for the
Future, and Clint Vince, senior partner and head of the energy practice group for the Sonnenshein law firm.
2. Rigorous but civil discourse is expected. The rule is: “tough on the problems…
easy on each other.”
3. Participants speak only for themselves. Although most Energy Board members
are affiliated with important organizations, individuals do not participate in
meetings as official representatives of their organizations. Therefore, formal
“hats” are off and comments can not and will not be presumed to represent any
official organizational position, unless otherwise stated. This creates a safe zone
4. Meeting summaries are drafted by Keystone staff and are vetted and then
distributed to all participants, including presenters and additional invitees.
Summaries do not attribute statements to individuals, except where comments
are made as part of a specific presentation, and are not for distribution beyond
Over the past 18 years, members of the Energy Board have found three-fold value in
membership. First, it provides an unusual “outside-the-beltway” opportunity to build
relationships through informal discussions with other members in other sectors. It
creates a collage of thinking that doesn’t occur elsewhere.
Second, it offers an independent and non-aligned forum for learning about the issues of
greatest importance on the policy horizon.
Third, it affords an opportunity to help shape specific partnerships on specific action
oriented consensus-seeking projects that will then be tested and, if viable, undertaken
by Keystone Center staff. This last point cannot be underestimated. The Energy Board is
not simply another conference, think tank or gabfest. By design it intentionally looks for
tipping points and political acupressure spots where common agendas can be
discovered and advanced in practical ways.
V. “Hawaii Leadership Boards”
The Hawaii Leadership Boards idea isn’t singular. It is plural: different boards for
different purposes each of which can sustainably stand on its own and each of which
might develop its own unique trajectory. Each board is an action-oriented “idea
factory.” The meta-goals for all of them are:
(a) To accelerate focused thinking on one of Hawaii’s more stubborn public problems;
(b) To create a place for younger leaders to learn, grow and work together; and
(c) To get specific projects started and accomplished.
If a number of boards launch and some of them find interconnections, so much the
better but interconnection isn’t essential. The key and shared features of all boards are:
• A focus on a large pressing topic and with a major “BIHAG”). 11
• One or more initial sponsors and funders.
• Defined membership with diverse representation from different sectors and
no one sector dominating.
• Members selected on their individual strengths as a current or emerging
• A signed but amendable “charter” that captures everyone’s willingness to
participate with serious intent and that will serve as a touchstone document.
• A commitment to stay together as a Board for at least two years or whatever
length of time is associated with the Board.
• Meetings at least three times a year with thematic discussions aimed at
illuminating the problems associated with the larger issue and strategies that
might advance the BHAG.
• A time set aside at each meeting to engage in (a) mutual learning and
information sharing; (b) idea exchange and (c) project incubation.
• Designated Co-Chairs of stature who will lend ongoing intellectual and
organizational energy to the Board.
• A professional facilitator if that is deemed useful.
• A budget with a workable dues structure and a timeline of meetings.
Inevitably, each board must go through its own problem-defining and goal-finding
process. The pathways Boards take are inevitably different and some may not last
depending on their robustness. Much depends on the way potential issues, problems
and BHAGs are framed, the quality and character of the conveners and funders, and the
amount of careful analysis and preparation done at the start.
BHAG stands for “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” The term was coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras and
is described in several of their books, including Good to Great. They write: “A true BHAG is clear and
compelling, serves as a unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a
clear finish line, so the organization knows when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish
lines.” Ultimately, the BHAGs that are at the center of any given Leadership Board will be a function of
both the interests of potential sponsors and conveners and of the willingness of leaders in different
sectors to come together and commit time and resources. I personally believe that Hawaii’s long term
self-sufficiency needs in the area of food, fuel, jobs, waste management and education are each logical
candidates. In the broadest sense of triple bottom line accounting, economic, environmental and socio-
cultural sustainability is the great thing Hawaii must do.
I have one further suggested organizing principle. It would be my hope that the target
population for any attempted boards like this be younger leaders who are (a) rising and
influential thinkers in their own circles; 12 (b) are in their late 30s, 40s or 50s; (c) who
seem to understand and like the idea of “collaborative” leadership; (d) who have a
hunger to make a difference in the public life of all of the people of the state; and (e)
who are not elected or appointed public officials. Involve a few “ole futs” surely, but
concentrate on “young futs” who are already somewhat influential in their own private
or civic sector circles and who perhaps have the ear of senior leaders. 13
VI. Some Anticipated FAQs
Q: What is the potential ROI for an investment in one or more Hawaii Leadership
These Boards have short and long term payoffs. Short term, they focus collaborative
brain power and heartfelt passion on important challenges and produce valuable small
projects. Long term they influence a new generation of leaders who will be better
equipped and more informed to manage the public problems they will inherit.
Q: Can small projects incubated by a cross-sector group of younger and influential
leaders make a difference?
Atul Gawande, a surgeon and writer, has described how a series of small pilot projects
at the turn of the twentieth century helped transform the entire landscape of American
food production. New and successful agriculture actually turbo-charged the economic
growth and development of the U.S. He believes something similar could transform our
health care delivery system. 14 Similarly, in The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
reminds us that band aid solutions are actually desirable if there are enough of them.
Band aids, he says, are clever little devices that heal wounds, limit infections, and
prevent the dispersal of bacteria and germs. The subtitle of Gladwell’s book is How
Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
Q: Do we really need “collaborative” leaders? Isn’t it enough to just have new
No. The days are gone when anyone can lead just by ordering people around or telling
them what to do. The most demanding and vexing public problems we have cut across
No matter what definition of leadership you subscribe to, the acid test is whether anyone is following.
In some instances, respected senior leaders might be recruited to co-chair a particular board.
Atul Gawande, “Testing, Testing: The Health Care Bill Haw No Master Plan for Curbing Costs. Is that
a Bad Thing?” in The New Yorker, December 14, 2009, pp. 34-41.
the major jurisdictions of government, through the business and civic sectors, and
across geographic communities and communities of interest. No one intellectual
perspective, discipline or mental model can fully explain these problems. No one sector
in Hawaii –- government, business, or civil society -– owns them. In fact, government is
hamstrung if there is no real “consent” agenda from different interest groups. No single
agency of government has full jurisdiction to solve these problems, no special interest
group has the power to force solutions, and no one locale can wall itself off and deal
with them exclusively.
Q: Won’t leaders in Hawaii just do all this on their own? Why do we need a
The evidence doesn’t support “go-it-alone” leadership. To the contrary, there is much
evidence to show that ronin leadership doesn’t work In Hawaii. Solving big problems
has to be a team sport. It requires agreements which will only come about as a result of
the wisdom of different voices. Agreement that leads to action requires bridge-building,
critical thinking, good information, political safety from group think, a bounded forum
for give and take, and the willpower and courage to move beyond our acquired
cynicism that it’s all “same-same.” 15
Q: Is the timing right? Shouldn’t we wait until after the next election?
We are at an “intertidal” moment. The problems we have are deeper and more chronic
than any of the gubernatorial, mayoral, legislative or council elections can resolve.
Given the inertial forces which neutralize government, I don’t look to the coming
elections, or any election for that matter, as a solution. If we are lucky, we will have
some new leaders who are more able and willing to use their platforms to bring people
together. We will, however, remain in our muddles beyond the next election and it will
take time, energy and patience to work out the natural dilemmas presented in the
various stability and change scenarios we face. It isn’t government that is broken. It is
Fishermen call the moment before us an intertidal “slack tide.” The old tide isn’t fully
out; the new one hasn’t yet come in. It’s a perfect time to try something different and
that “something different” involves looking well beyond government.
VI. Last Thoughts
Hawaii’s incredible outpouring of support for Barack Obama is an interesting
phenomenon. Those who have read his biographies know that his time growing up
here wasn’t always a happy one and his comments about Hawaii aren’t always
Suroiwiecki, James. The Wisdom of Crowds.
laudatory. Now that he is POTUS, we give him “native son” status and claim credit for
the shaping of his outlook. 16
Reality doesn’t support this. It is an interesting disconnect. I suspect we revere him, not
because of who he is, but because he symbolizes what we have lost and so desperately
want to have back. Leadership and management are all about handling dilemmas. The
handling is never perfect but it is what we must do. In the mechanics of running an
enterprise, a state, a nation, or an organization leaders must balance different tugs and
pulls to make progress. No one gets it all. What we like about Obama, what we seem to
take pride in even if we disagree with some of his policies and directions, is his
commitment to bringing people together, his uncanny ability to hold multiple thoughts
in his head at the same time, and his analytic and rhetorical gifts which inspire us as we
all search for answers.
Those are traits we must rekindle in ourselves and our body politic. Perhaps the
Leadership Boards can help with this. Thanks for reading this and I welcome ideas,
comments and expressions of interest from anyone who may want to explore the
creation of an actual board focused on an actual BHAG.
Peter S. Adler, PhD
President & CEO
The Keystone Center
Chicago also claims credit for him.
Virtuous Cycle – Focus on Highest Hopes
Positives of Stability Positives of Change
•Predictability •New energy
•Steadiness •New directions
•Continuity •Unleashes creativity
•Core Values •Taps into new wisdom
Negatives of Stability Negatives of Change
•Stagnation •Loss of continuity
•Boredom •Take foolish risks
•Missed opportunities •Feel ungrounded
•Loss of energy •Loss of core values
Vicious Cycle – Focus on Deepest Fears
General Model for Cooperation
Process on Complex Issues
FOCUS THE ISSUES
Develop strong substantive focus
DESIGN THE PROCESS INVITE THE PLAYERS
Willingness to Engage, Diversity of Stakeholders
Charter and Protocols And Key Influencers
Project leadership, Management, and Facilitation
Financial Resources to Undertake the Project
Support, Sponsorship, Convening Power, Timeframe