Nurturing Hawaii’s Future Leaders



Photo: David Croxford
This year’s cohort of Pacific Century Fellows includes, from left,
Jon Nouchi, James Duca, Alan Schlissel, Ian Fitz-Patrick and
Kawika Kane.

Deep beneath the Koolau Mountains, 30 of Hawaii’s future leaders shuffle in the gloom of the Unfinished Tunnel, a test bore from the construction of H-3’s Harano Tunnels. The tunnel is crude and seldom visited, and the procession of young government officials, business executives, nonprofit directors and military officers has the air of an expedition. Gravel crunches underfoot. Slender stalactites poke through the rough ceiling.

It’s Transportation Day for the Pacific Century Fellows. Founded in 1995 by Mufi Hannemann, PCF is the largest and best known of an increasingly important collection of local leadership training programs. These programs represent a remarkable shift in the way Hawaii produces its leaders. Much as the MBA has largely replaced in-house training in today’s corporations, these leadership-training programs seem to be gradually supplanting the old models of mentoring and personal example. Their alumni include hundreds of Hawaii’s leaders, ranging from CEOs of major corporations, to senior politicians and government officials, to the executive directors of critical nonprofits. But each program has its own approach to creating leaders.

For this year’s fellows, Transportation Day offers a unique perspective on the challenges that face Hawaii’s transportation systems. And the Unfinished Tunnel is just one part of a tour of the engineering marvels of H-3, including the control room from which state technicians monitor Oahu’s entire freeway system. But Transportation Day is much more. Fellows also enjoy a breakfast roundtable with a General Motors executive, the executive director of the Hawaii Auto Dealers Association, and a representative from an electric car company. Over lunch, the CEO of Hawaiian Airlines describes the future of air transportation in the Islands. And in the afternoon, they have a long discussion about Honolulu’s rail system with Hannemann and key transportation aides. All these conversations are remarkable for their candor.

The PCF program is composed of days like this – Education Day, Public Safety Day and Military Day – leaving the fellows with a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing Hawaii.

Building a Network

Ag-Leadership alumni hold key posts throughout the state,
says Eric Tanouye of Green Point Nurseries.

More important than the fieldtrips is the network of contacts that PCF fellows develop, including prestigious fellow fellows from their own class, and from prior and subsequent years. Access to that black book, which includes powerful leaders in every sector of the state, is the real prize of being a Pacific Century Fellow. (Creating it, more than one fellow notes, was a stroke of genius for a politician like Hannemann.)

Of course, the objective of many of these programs is not simply to create a network of leaders, but to give them the tools to create change. For example, Hawaii’s oldest leadership training program, the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii, has put 12 classes of young leaders through its 18-month course. In addition to visiting agricultural companies across the state, each class spends a week touring agricultural operations in another state, several days at the state Capitol and a week in Washington, D.C.

“The learning objective,” says Kim Coffee-Isaak, executive director of Ag-Leadership, “is to see the bigger picture. They go from understanding their own business or situation, to understanding their own island, to understanding the whole state. And then they go to the national level.”

Eric Tanouye, general manager of Green Point Nurseries, and an Ag-Leadership alumnus and board member, says the alumni are now leaders in almost every corner of the agriculture sector. They own or manage many of Hawaii’s farms, ranches and other ag-businesses on every island. They’re in the Farm Bureau, the USDA, the state Legislature, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and nearly every commodity board.

A Matter of Confidence

Richard Yust of the Food Bank of Maui says he learned different
skills in the Weinberg Fellows and PONO programs.

Although some people are born leaders, most have leadership thrust upon them. That’s particularly true among nonprofit executive directors, says Holly Henderson, who directs two leadership-training programs – the Weinberg Fellows and Castle Colleagues – aimed at the nonprofit sector.

“People don’t generally say, ‘Hey, I want to become the executive director of a not-for-profit,’ ” Henderson points out. “What they say is, ‘I want to help people.’ But if they’re good at that – helping people on the program side – they get kicked upstairs, and kicked upstairs, and kicked upstairs. And suddenly they’re staring at a blue computer screen and they’re responsible for making sure that the organization’s governance and operations functions are working, that the human resources functions are working, that the finance and the fundraising functions are working, and that the community relations and the mission are on track.

“One of the first things that I say to a Weinberg Fellows class is, ‘Relax. It’s not a doable job,’ because you tell me the person who’s equally good at all those jobs. In the corporate world, there are whole departments staffed to pick up the pieces of that.”

Programs like the Weinberg Fellows and the Hawaii Community Foundation’s PONO program exist largely to increase the skills and confidence of executive directors faced with these challenges.

There are many similarities between the Weinberg Fellows and PONO: Both work at increasing the competence of nonprofit executives in strategic planning, human resources and leadership. Interestingly, both also stress the value of the Meyers-Briggs personality test as a leadership tool. Despite the similarities, a surprising number of nonprofit executive directors have been through both programs. “There’s actually quite a bit of difference,” says dual alumnus Richard Yust, executive director of the Food Bank of Maui. “PONO was much more about management and leadership style. It taught me a better method for a lot of situations: How to handle different situations with my staff and my board.

“Weinberg seems to be more mechanics, more concrete answers about things like how to approach funders, budgets, employee issues, conflict issues – more of a nuts-and-bolts approach, which is all stuff we need.”

Leadership Potential

Clearly, the success of leadership training programs depends as much on carefully selecting the participants as it does on the seminars and field trips. Most have such stringent requirements that it’s sometimes difficult to find enough qualified candidates. All have elaborate application processes, including essays and multiple interviews. Most ask for several references, who are often also interviewed. Some insist on letters of support from employers and spouses, or board resolutions that demonstrate the candidate’s organization understands the commitment required. Some, like Ag-Leadership and PCF, charge a substantial tuition, though the fees are often paid by employers or offset by grants.

For those who run these programs, there’s often another consideration. Because each class works together closely for weeks or months, some programs pay close attention to the mix of fellows. Neil Hannahs, a founder of First Nations Futures Program, which develops Native Hawaiian land managers, points out how delicate that can be. “We’re interested in things like, ‘What’s their demonstrated leadership ability? Why do they want to be in the program?’ And we operate at a pretty high level, so can they understand the material? But just as important is, ‘How will they operate as a team?’ Because I’m not just selecting individuals, I’m selecting a cohort. And that’s more art than science.”

The Role of Culture

Each group of First Nations fellows is given a real issue to
tackle. “They’re like an MBA SWAT team,” says Neil Hannahs
of Kamehameha Schools.

First Nations, a partnership of Kamehameha Schools, Stanford University, the University of Hawaii and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu of New Zealand, is one of the newest and most specialized of Hawaii’s leadership training programs. It grew out of Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate’s changing philosophy in land management.

“It’s well known that, after being in business over 100 years, we had a leadership meltdown in the 1990s,” Hannahs says. Out of that controversy, and the resulting change in leadership, emerged a much greater focus at KSBE on serving the broader Native Hawaiian community. “One of the things that was said by our stakeholders was we should not just maximize economic returns, but find the optimum balance of cultural, educational, environmental and community returns. It’s not just the money anymore.”

For the state’s largest private landowner, that change calls for a different kind of land manager. Before, Hannahs acknowledges, KSBE could simply hire good real estate professionals. The new philosophy requires land managers rooted in what Hannahs calls “leadership in an indigenous context.”

“How do you make that paradigm shift?” he asks. “I can sit here and hope those leaders come to me, or I can try to create a pipeline of leaders.”

Like the other programs, First Nations uses a hybrid of field trips, seminars and networking to achieve its ends. After an orientation here, each cohort – which includes participants from both Hawaii and New Zealand – spends two weeks at Stanford. Afterward, they perform culturally related projects in both New Zealand and Hawaii.

For their Hawaii project, Hannahs has each cohort address a real issue facing KSBE. “They’re like an MBA SWAT team,” he says. Cohorts have looked at cultural heritage tourism, sustainable agriculture and geothermal energy. “I want us to think this through and face up to what the cultural issues are. Let’s create a rubric of analysis. Let’s look at the environmental impacts, look at the economics, look at the community benefits and impacts.”

Hannahs hopes that the leaders who come out of the First Nations program will be better equipped to deal with the challenges of bringing a Native Hawaiian perspective to land management. Several of his own staff have gone through the program. But Hannahs says he has greater ambitions for First Nations. “Hopefully OHA folks, TNC (The Nature Conservancy), maybe DLNR will start coming to us. And we’d love to start seeing young Hawaiians at Fish and Wildlife who are really committed to our belief that, here in Hawaii, we would definitely benefit from a strong cultural foundation.”

Does It Work?

It’s not entirely clear whether these leadership training programs actually create leaders, or simply recognize them. Programs like PCF and Ag-Leadership have been around for years and have hundreds of alumni, yet people still complain that the Islands still suffer from a crippling shortage of leadership.

Can you create leaders? “That’s a question that still persists,” says Mahinapoepoe Paishon Duarte, an alumna from First Nations’ second cohort. “I definitely wrestle with the whole idea of selecting leaders.” Like almost all the fellows from these programs, Duarte quickly acknowledges that the First Nations experience has benefited her personally. She notes the value of the network of people she met and the exposure to different models of leadership. But has the program brought about the change it sought?

“Broadly speaking, I would say the program is on its way to success,” Duarte says. “But the proof is in the pudding. When I can visibly see the impact that we have had on the health and well-being of our community, when I can say that we have, indeed, contributed in some significant way to the betterment of the Hawaiian people, then maybe we can call it a success.

“Until then, I’ll just say that it holds a lot of promise.”

Some Leadership Training Alumni

Pacific Century Fellows
Contact: Charlyn Dote,
Some Alumni:

Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii
Contact: Kim Coffee-Isaak,
Some Alumni: Diane Ley, executive director, Farm Service Agency; Clyde Tamaru, UH Sea Grant; Melvin Matsuda, Matsuda-Fukuyama Farms

Weinberg Fellows
Contact: Holly Henderson,
Some Alumni: Michael Gleason, executive director, ARC of Hilo; L. Jani Sheppard, executive director Maui Family Services; Richard Yust, executive director,
Maui Food Bank

Contact: Christine van Bergeijk,
Some Alumni: Leslie Wilcox, executive director, Hawaii Public Television; Matthew Hamabata, executive director, The Kohala Center; Judith Lenthall, executive director Kauai Food Bank

First Nations Futures Program
Contact: Neil Hannahs,
Some Alumni: Noa Lincoln, education coordinator, Amy Greenwell Gardens; Esther Puakela Kiaaina, land assets manager, Kamehameha Schools; Leslie Kaiu Kimura, associate director, Imiloa Astronomy Center


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