Making the Invisible Visible

Over the last four decades, I’ve attempted to make visible and more understandable, critical concepts of leadership through the use of metaphors, such as the “starfish and it’s nerve ring,” the “bowl and the banana,” and brewing “tea” when “hot water” comes your way.   I’ve given names to ideas to make them more explicit, like calling time management ticklers, “flags on path” or referring to priorities as “big rocks.”  In many of my client organizations, a language has evolved with words like “D-R-A-M-A,” and phrases like, “I think he’s an expressive,” being hard-wired in the organizational vernacular.

I recently came up with another  “handle” for a critical concept of leadership.  I call it the “same-same equilibrium.”  It’s based on the concept that no one is better or more important than anyone else.  Everybody is “same-same.”

In Hawaii it roots back to the ancient Hawaiian ahupu`aa, which functioned as an egalitarian society.  Everyone had a role and contributed to help sustain the well-being of the entire village - master fishermen supplied fish, gifted gardner provided vegetable, healers tended to the sick, etc.  Everyone equal, everyone same-same.

Centuries later, this concept still thrives in Hawaii. In our culture it’s critical to stay humble and avoid acting as if you’re more significant or superior than anyone else.  Manifestations of this approach show up common behaviors such as hesitating to speak up in public, the difficulties accepting praise and avoidance of being tagged “high maka-maka” (acting superior).

Whenever one breaks this equilibrium and attempts to rise above the pack, the common response from others is “who the hell does he think he is?” - often stated in a disdainful manner.  If one continues to behave in such a manner, endorsement, respect and support from subordinates markedly diminishes.  You’re pretty much done as a leader.  Commonly, “linear” leaders in Hawaii, who have no consciousness of this nuance, start “pushing their weight around,” act overly directive and come across as too “me-centered,” fail miserably.

Staying in the “same-same” equilibrium requires humility, which empirical research has proven is a critical attribute of effective leadership. Be careful here, this could make-or-break your leadership, especially here in Hawaii.