I was humbled and privileged to be among the invited panelists speaking at Hawaii Business magazine’s inaugural Leadership Conference 2014 this summer. The event drew nearly 500 of Hawaii’s leaders and emerging leaders as paid attendees, evidence of widespread recognition in our community that we all need to pay attention to leadership development.

Topics discussed ranged from leading authentically, to risk-taking, to contrasts between the baby boomer leaders of today and the Gen X and Gen Y leaders in-waiting.  My panel was titled “Mentors and Sponsors: Who Needs Them … Everybody!” A personal highlight for me was hearing - then later spending the pau hana reception with – major league baseball legend Dusty Baker who delivered the keynote address.

Dusty’s remarks were heavily focused on the role played by key mentors in the shaping of his professional life and his character.  His decision to forego college baseball and turn professional in 1967 was particularly difficult because African-Americans were far from accepted at the time, but guidance from Hank Aaron and others helped steel his resolve.  Dusty related that later as a manager – with a clubhouse full of players from different countries, speaking different languages, and with big egos – he’d find ways like sharing ethnic food delicacies to connect with his diverse players.  His empathetic style of leadership led to two division titles and a place as one of three African-Americans to manage a team in the World Series.

In the afternoon, our panel on mentorship and sponsorship heavily emphasized the value of engaging mentors to teach young leaders experienced lessons they can’t teach themselves, and sponsors to help pave an upward career path. An important takeaway from the discussion was that while everyone can benefit from having a mentor, being a mentor to someone else can help you understand how to be a better mentee/protégé while paying forward into the chain of learning.  I also offered insights specific to around executive/leadership coaching as a way to improve leadership effectiveness by increasing self-awareness and practice of new skills and behaviors. 

By early-August, we saw the future of Hawaii’s leadership taking shape in the 2014 Primary.  Observing what was reportedly the worst ever defeat of an incumbent governor in U.S. history, along with losses suffered by a number of decades-long fixtures in local politics, many of the office-holders who were unsuccessful this year have been criticized for their past lack of mindfulness, empathy, and EQ (or emotional intelligence).  Whereas leaders of the past “told,” shifts in societal norms and communication technology demand that the leaders of the future truly “listen.”  This lesson shared at the 2014 Leadership Conference turned out to be prophetic in the voters’ choices less than a month later.