Danny De Gracia: 'Leaders' Should Put Themselves In Our Shoes - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Opinion article badgeA few weeks ago, a friend of mine got tripped up and drew a blank in a job interview answering the question, “What does S.M.A.R.T. stand for?” (The corporate acronym refers to goals that are “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.”)

I told my friend, “You should have tap danced around that question and told the panel, ‘I don’t know about S.M.A.R.T., but I will tell you that spending all day doing nothing but Excel spreadsheets and bullet points is D.U.M.B. – Demoralizing, Unproductive, and Morale-Breaking.’”

In our modern era, we have become reliant on buzzwords that sound great in theory but don’t always translate into actual results in policy or practice. That’s a polite way of saying we talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. “S.M.A.R.T.” may be one of the wonkier and rarer terms, but Hawaii voters will definitely be familiar this election season with the more common buzzwords like “change” or my personal favorite, “leadership.”

Nearly every general election we hear both Democrats and Republicans saying that Hawaii needs leadership. When I hear the word “leadership,” as a GenXer, I personally think of kinetic leadership, which as the name suggests has to do with making an impact. It is rooted in a late 20th century industrial view of the world where values like precision, attention-to-detail, skill, subject matter mastery, and most importantly, effort, are essential to getting work done.

The bottom line is that you know someone is truly leading because good, tangible things are getting done. But in Hawaii, when politicians say “we need leadership,” what they really mean is “Hawaii needs me to wear this shiny title, because it’s my turn to be the boss.”

“Leadership” in 2022 is no longer about doing something, but about being something. It has become rank with all of the privilege and none of the responsibility.

Hawaii indeed needs leadership, but not the kind of “leadership” that merely wins elections but ultimately loses the future of this great state. I hope the candidates advancing to the general election will work on their leadership acumen, so that when or if they actually get elected, we don’t just see more of the same ruin and decay that has become so prevalent in our state.

Senate Hawaii Capitol Closing Day Sine Die
It’s a good idea to start small and do an excellent job solving minor problems. Blaze Lovell/CivilBeat/2022

Find Out What’s Broken And Fix It Without Excuses

Being in charge means we don’t make excuses so long as we are in charge. We get the job assigned to us done and we don’t ever quit until the job is done.

Our elected officials need to care about the details around them. “Oh, I know, I’ll assemble a task force of really smart people and they’ll advise me on what needs to be done,” is what some of them are thinking right now. No, you need to personally go and find out what’s broken and take responsibility to fix it yourself, without excuses.

Until you’ve seen it with your own eyes and made it your own project, you won’t be able to fix it. At the U.S. Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, high-ranking officers have occasionally taken the stars off their shoulders for a few days and put on the uniform of a recruit. These elderly officers then subject themselves to being yelled at by enlisted drill instructors, sleeping with their legs and feet hanging off bunk beds too small for their bodies and running obstacle courses that are designed to break 18-year-olds.

This self-debasing activity serves two purposes. The first and most obvious is to show the younger enlisted and junior officers that the generals care about them. The second and more important purpose is to make one experience a taste of one’s own policies. When a general puts his skin in the game like this and discovers the enlisted shower is broken, the bunks are creaky or the food tastes terrible, he will “go back to work” and immediately make it a point to fix those things.

Hawaii elected officials need to feel what we feel and see what we see if they are to be effective at representing us. I for one would like to see the next governor spend a week living in Waipahu, going to work in downtown Honolulu in a rickety car, and performing the roles of a middle-class worker, so they can see how bad life really is for most of us.

Practice Mastering Many Small Tasks Then Graduate To Big Ones

Our “leaders” want to get elected and single-handedly stop the planet from climate annihilation, but when they leave office it turns out they couldn’t even save the park bathrooms from being graffitied. A better approach would be to start at the very bottom and optimize the smallest things the state does and work your way up from there. Trust me, people will notice 100 small excellent things more than one big thing that’s mediocre and poorly produced.

This builds not only a repertoire of excellence, but also develops leadership skills that can be applied to bigger things like managing the economy, controlling Covid-19 and so on. It also gives us, progressively, a state that as a whole moves forward with each passing year rather than falling apart all at once when even the slightest crisis appears.

When all is said and done, showing true leadership in Hawaii is going to be less about what you say, and more about what you actually do. And what needs to be done is real work, so Hawaii can start working again. That’s leadership, and this is what all of us need to be looking for in our elected officials.

Read this next:

Denby Fawcett: Trump’s Shadow is Hard to Shake for Hawaii’s Moderate Republicans

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

I'm always in awe of how lawmakers don't see, or just ignore the homeless at Moiliilii field, or the newly refurbished Thomas Square, where there are tents erected all day? How can they not notice how rough our roads are, or how you can't even make it down one-way streets (Punchbowl or Bishop) simply because the traffic lights don't allow you to. How traffic backs up at the same places every day and yet there seems to be no solutions from government. Our parks and infrastructure is crumbling around us, yet "they" want more taxes with the reasoning that there is too much to do. We've had the same parks and roads for decades, nothing has changed, except maintaining them properly. Speaking of which city property taxes have been going through the roof, not only with valuations, but because of new buildings. Kaka'ako is a windfall in the hundreds of millions a year, yet none of its streets have been paved in decades. I would gladly host a bus of politicians and show them what I see daily, anytime. the problem is, I doubt there would be any changes that come from it.

wailani1961 · 5 months ago

· 5 months ago

John McCain spent time in prison in Viet Nam. Sparky Matsunaga and Dan Inouye experienced the suffering of the battle field in WWII. Lincoln suffered the nation at war. John Kennedy captained a PT boat. Maybe the one qualification that creates mature leaders is intimacy with suffering that alone teaches compassion. The Harvard to Goldman Sachs path leads to mangers who know a lot about the "how." but almost nothing about "the why" and the what...the human face of change.

JM · 5 months ago

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