Ho‘omau, Kaona, and Confidence

Let’s tackle that fourth bullet point on my list of Ho‘omau words: Confidence. Not from the standpoint of you having it, but of you giving it to others.

Reg Adkins was kind enough to blog about our Ho‘ohana on the value of Ho‘omau this month, and in our subsequent comment conversation on his blog, Elemental Truths, the concept of Kaona came up.

is a Hawaiian word referring to the hidden meaning of a word or phrase, and Ho‘omau is one of my favorite examples of it. For Reg, and for all of you, here is a short excerpt from Managing with Aloha:

From page 59: Fewer words, more meaning.

As a manager, I found that the beauty of speaking the Hawaiian values was their promise of more meaning with far less words. Values are textured with hidden meanings for different people, yet these varied and unique interpretations will always circle back to the good intent at the very heart of the value in mind. When you incorporate the language of values into your own management culture, the unspoken message you give your employees is that you have the faith and belief they will come up with the interpretation meaning the most to them. You imply the confidence you have that they will then choose the best path to take moving forward. In doing so, you’ve taken another step forward yourself toward building trust between you.

Ho‘omau is perhaps the best example of this, for in saying Ho‘omau you encourage others to continue, to persevere, often without even mentioning what it may be you want them to do. What they hear, yet what you need not say, is “You know what to do” and “You are doing well so far—continue.” The implication is that you trust them with figuring out the what and the how, and you have faith that their decisions will be sound ones. You are encouraging them to simply continue on course, to never give up. For that employee to feel that you—their manager—have confidence, trust and faith in them is powerful stuff.

It would be eight years later and at Hualalai that I would take my personal lessons about Ho‘omau and begin to incorporate them into my every day language on the job. I still had much to learn, and Ho‘omau would prove to be a good teacher. Postscript: This was written in 2003.

Reg mentioned his grandmother in our exchange on Elemental Truths, and how “She had the power to speak into the future, in that she would speak a few words to me the meaning and impact I did not understand until many years later.”

That tells me that his grandmother had much faith and confidence in Reg, and all he would grow to be. She knew what he was capable of, and thus while it seemed she could speak into the future, she spoke with her own confidence in how it would turn out in his hands.

This is exactly what happens with Ho‘omau, but you don’t have to wait until years later, when your overall demeanor as a manager is trust and faith in your staff. They’ll rise to the occasion, and create a future better than you can imagine.

Related posts:

Kaona in the Archives:

I had written this on Joyful Jubilant Learning:

Kaona (pronounced “cow na,” short “ah” sound on the a) is a concept of ‘hidden meaning’ in Hawai‘i, and our cultural assumption that words do not have literal meaning, but storied meaning. This is why it will often take many English words to explain just one Hawaiian one— there is an entire story behind it needing to be spoken. This is also why the same word can be explained in different ways, for our second very important cultural assumption is that the kaona of a word will quite rightfully depend on whomever is speaking. In other words, the storyteller can add and embellish as the word’s story has come to be meaningful to them.

The marvelous thing about subscribing to these assumptions, is that it takes a learned patience in Hawaiian society to listen carefully, and respectfully for the entire story to be told.


  1. says

    A different take on confident writing

    I’ve just stumbled across a piece on the meaning of confidence at ‘Talking Story with Say Leadership’. It’s part of the exploration of the Hawaiian concept of Ho‘omau which they are focusing on for the month of May (I’ve just