The Challenge of Political Leadership

The recent announcement by Congressman Neil Abercrombie immediately piqued my interest because of the reason he gave for his decision:

“U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said yesterday that a collapse of leadership in Hawai”›i has motivated him to resign from Congress and return in a matter of weeks to campaign full time for governor.”
Derrick DePledge reporting for The Honolulu Advertiser

Say those Alaka”›i words of ‘leadership’ or ‘management’ and I get very, very interested.

I wonder how Congressman Abercrombie fully defines the leadership he is hoping to bring to us if he were elected governor? How will he begin to demonstrate it in these coming months before the election is even held?

More importantly, would his definition of leadership match up with yours?

Hawai”›i, it is high time we stood up for our right to have a collaborative partnership with our leaders. Do you really want our old m.o. to continue where we are wooed and patronized during times of electioneering, but then ignored every other day of the year, with elected officials claiming to work in our “best interest” as they pursue agendas of very personal individual legacy?

I say, don’t work in my best interest as you presumptuously portray it to be: If you want me to elect you as my leader, start to work both for me and with me.

What should Political Leadership be?

Traditionally, we have thought of our political leaders as those with future-forward ideas. They have stood on an idea platform of some kind which detailed the changes they wanted to pursue, or they staunchly defended the status quo with the view that change would be dangerous or too risky.

Clearly, that either/or view of change + new ideas has not been enough. In fact, our long history of ineffective leadership has proved it to be pretty irrelevant.

“Hawai”›i is tired of publicity stunts and political shenanigans. Voters want real leadership, real change, and it is clear that many of the politicians in the Democratic Party cannot offer anything but the same things we’ve seen for the last 50 years.”
—Jonah Ka”›auwai, state GOP chairman as quoted by Derrick DePledge

Let’s keep the partisan views out of this, for they only serve to detract us from the root cause of our problem. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of the expensive, bureaucratic Hawai”›i government we have, ineffective in all quarters even when a single party dominates our legislature, and cannot work in the best interests of the citizenry as a whole versus a first allegiance to towing the party line.

I don’t want to be just a ‘voter’ to you any longer, disregarded when the campaigning is over: I want to be a valued constituent, honored by collaborative, appreciative inquiry.

Dear Reader, I ask you again: When any party or politician (or businessperson) bandies about the word ‘leadership’ what does that mean, and how will it actually affect you, if at all? Will it include you when you want to participate?

Here’s the real issue we are faced with Hawai”›i:

Even a truly great idea is worthless if the leader we select cannot manage his/her team well enough to get it executed. Further, when we are in a highly partisan and unionized situation, as we are, internal teamwork isn’t enough either, even if it is brilliant, for it ignores all the stakeholders of a constituency and our wider multi-island community. That leader (together with his/her team) must get the rest of the people in the State feeling they are a significant part of the process, and that their voice matters too. (And for the record, the name of our State is not Honolulu).

In this regard, politics is really no different than business. Savvy business leaders realize they have some good ideas but not all of them. They need to reach out to every level of their organizational culture – particularly where others are much, much closer to the customer and other stakeholders – so they can become aware of other fertile ideas taking root, and then corral support behind those which have the most promise.

In contrast, most of the Hawai”›i ideas and political platforms we have been hearing about over the years has to do with an individual’s personal agenda, which is as far from our community values of kākou (inclusiveness), lōkahi (collaborative unity), mālama (stewardship) and kuleana (responsibility) as we can get.

When several of our government leaders have claimed they were effective, their triumphs have sounded an awful lot like the hollow and narrow victories of a domineering bully to me.

Whatever happened to ‘public servants?’

2010 MUST be a year in which we ask two things of those we select as our leaders, whether they are in business or in politics:

  1. In addition to the vision you speak of, how do you plan on getting it done? Speak of your commitment to both management (which we need more of) AND leadership.
  2. How does that getting it done include me, those both in and out of your party, and everyone else within our citizenry so we finally can have an all-inclusive, well-functioning government?

In my view, the leaders we now need in Hawai”›i’s political arena are those who will be able to lead an exceptionally large and complex team of many moving parts. I use ‘leaders’ as plural intentionally, for our government cannot be about just one person. It also cannot continue to be about a partisan legislature which ignores a nonpartisan citizenry and is so incumbent laden that fresh generational perspectives are discounted if they are heard at all.

Our leaders in 2010 and beyond must be willing to share their leadership as they manage exceptionally well. Their management efforts must be directed to forging a government team like we have never seen before, one which embraces our entire citizenry, giving us voice and stage for ideas which are not now seeing the light of day. There is no lack of good ideas: The problem is that we have no point of entry for them within the existing collection of sacred cows we now refer to as ‘our’ Hawai”›i government if they are not perfectly aligned with an elected official’s personal agenda.

“We need to have leadership. There’s been a total collapse of leadership in the state.”
—Congressman Neil Abercrombie

Has there been a ‘collapse’ or is it more probable that a leadership for all our people has rarely existed in recent history?

To Congressman Abercrombie and every other elected official in Hawai”›i today and in our future, my response is this:

Tell me how you will be a leader of all our people, and not just an advocate of your own personal vision, for that is not half near good enough. Your vision is no longer as important to me, no matter how cool and sexy it may sound (honestly, it never was.)

I do not expect you to have all the answers: I expect you to find the best answers within us, and then ho”›ohana: make them happen.

There is a lot of talent in our state that is being ignored because our existing governmental system does not let them in. Is that what you will change in the ‘fresh leadership’ you may be speaking of? Be the leader and great manager of a dynamic team of effective public servants and I’ll get on board.

sayalakai_rosasay My mana‘o [The Backstory of this posting]
Each Tuesday I write a leadership posting for Say “Alaka‘i” at Hawai‘i’s newspaper The Honolulu Advertiser. Here is the link to the original article there: The Challenge of Political Leadership.