Leadership Institute: In Hawaii, Who You are Matters to Us

I got a couple of responses of how interesting the Leadership Institute subject matter was last post, so I decided to impart some other interesting ideas and advice I have learned from my fellowship. So here goes.

I was born and raised on Oahu and it was only until college that I lived away for any significant portion of time away from “the Rock” as it is affectionately known.  However, growing up I quickly learned the odd ritual of asking the following three questions to people I would in Hawaii.  They are as follows, in order:

  1. What highschool did you go to?
  2. What year did you graduate?
  3. Do you know [insert name of person you know that might the person you are questioning]?

I never knew the subtleties of why I did it, but I knew it gave me some comfort and was always a good icebreaker for meeting new local people.  This even followed me as I updated my resume for after law school, as I intended to return home.  I remember the Career Services Office staff looked at me funny, and asked why would I put my highschool on my resume.  My only response is that it mattered when applying for jobs in Hawaii, and I kind of got the look of course it matters only in Hawaii because it is a odd state.  I left it that, and left my highschool on my resume.

Well, during one of the Leadership Institute seminars former Judge Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. explained to me why it is the case.  The basic gist of what I learned from Judge Kaulukukui is that you need to get to know people before you serve them as a leader.  How can you effect change if you have no idea about the people you are dealing with?  So it is in Hawaii, a pre-dominatly Pacific Islander/Asian culture, where we want to know who you are because it matters to us.

Now, this isn’t the “who you know” game where you spend time one-upping the other person.  No, it is the “who you know” as in what is your background (who are you and where do you come from).  Let me explain further using the ritualistic three highschool questions.

  • “What highschool did you go to?” represents the locality question, idenityfing where is the place that you come from and what was your environment.
  • “What year did you graduate?” represents the time component of what generation and what time did you come of age, as this shapes our identity and formation as an adult.
  • “Do you know [insert person that you know, that you think the other person may know]?” attempts to get to know your people, who is your group, who are your friends (your clan, so to speak).

Now, if this seems foreign to people of the continental United States it should be apparent to those who have European ancestry that in medieval times you identified your lineage.  Where do you think fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones came up with “I am so-and-so, son of XYZ.”?  Before, you think I bring out my dorky readings for no reason, be aware that our legal system evolved from medieval England.  They used have trial by combat, all that has happened is we replaced the suits of armor with suits and ties, and the swords with word-filled motions.

So where does this leave us?  Remember I said that some of the judges from the Meet the Bench write-up felt be true to yourself, well that applies here.  Your personal background gives context and history and makes you an individual, so when you do business in Hawaii we care who you are.  It may seem to make doing deals longer, but it does mean we are focused on relationship building, which means longer lasting partnerships.

Also if you read through all this and are still wondering where I went to highschool and what year did I graduate, well here is the answers:

  • I went to Punahou, and I graduated with the class of 1999.
  • I will leave the last question to you if you ever meet me to ask do I know “so-and-so.”