Leadership Takeaways from Long Story Short
I wish wisdom were contagious, like colds. If so, my Long Story Short team and I would be wise beyond our dreams. Over the last decade, we’ve been face to face with well over 200 leaders and interesting citizens, listening to their personal stories of success and failure and lessons learned. As we look ahead to a new year and new resolve, I thought I’d share with you a few leadership traits and skills touched upon by guests on the program:
Ability to Distill What’s Most Important
This is the ability to filter ideas and aspirations through the context of one’s purpose, goals and resources.
Example: The outgoing head of Punahou School, Dr. Jim Scott, deals with students, teachers, parents, administrators, donors, alumni, trustees and untold complexities. Every day, he said, every third person who walks into his office has a great idea for him.
How does he set a course? He recalls his baseball days. As a student athlete at Punahou and Stanford University, he was better at pitching than hitting. When he became a teacher who also coached baseball and he wanted to know more about hitting, he picked up a book by one of the greatest hitters of all time, Ted Williams. Williams wrote that the secret is knowing what pitches to let go.
Dr. Scott said: “I got to thinking about the Ted Williams School of Management and wondering what pitches not to swing at, which good ideas do you not go for…From where I sit in my office, I’m looking for synergy, congruence. I’m kind of a broker of ideas, and when I see patterns and recurring themes, they become good. And that’s why an idea sometimes takes time to bake, to form.”
This is the conviction that you can and will make a tough decision, because you’ve done it before.
Example: Mark Dunkerley, the former CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, a brilliant strategist and turn-around master in a fiercely competitive industry, commented: “I’m always struck by how difficult a time people have in making decisions. Making decisions, based in part on analysis, but never with perfect information, and largely based on the accumulation of one’s personal experience, is something that I’ve always felt comfortable with. That’s not something that keeps me awake at night.”
This is a willingness to take bold action, even though it turns the status quo upside down or inside out.
Example: Civil rights icon Minnijean Brown Trickey, visiting Hawai‘i from Arkansas, was one of the Little Rock Nine – nine African American teenagers who in 1957 integrated a white school, Central High, amid riots. They kept going to school despite hatred and harassment.
“Somebody had to do it,” Trickey said. Explaining that the civil rights movement was youthdriven, she said: “The young people were doing things that the grown-ups couldn’t do, because in fact they would lose their jobs. And they didn’t put us there, we put ourselves there and asked them to come with us. There’s a line in a freedom song (that says) ‘if you don’t go, don’t hinder me.’ And another line is, ‘If my mama don’t go, I’ll go anyhow.’ It was about seeing a different vision, and hoping that it didn’t stay the same.”
There are many life takeaways in the Long Story Short files, and I’ll bring you more from time to time. Also, I invite you to view or read transcripts of the interviews on our website at pbshawaii.org/lss
We at PBS Hawai‘i are grateful to you, as a loyal supporter, for helping to provide this rich resource.