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Taking Risk Key to Good Leadership

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By Lowell L. Kalapa
(Released on 9/13/09)

Each year various organizations and groups single out people in the community citing them for some reason or another as having made a contribution to the community.

The recognition or awards are usually for a variety of reasons, like an outstanding volunteer or the winner of the spelling bee. And many times when awards or recognition are handed out it is because the person is being honored so the organization can hold a fund-raising dinner or luncheon. Rarely is there an award for outstanding leadership where the entire community nods its head in validation.

And perhaps that is what is wrong in our community today. The community has apparently grown apathetic to who we choose to lead our community into the future. As a result, choosing our leaders becomes more of a popularity contest rather than selecting those who have a vision for our community’s future or the willingness to take risks and step out of the ordinary in exploring solutions to the challenges we face today.

This lack of willingness to take risks is perhaps the most crippling aspect of the community today. Being satisfied with the status quo insures that we will never grow or prosper beyond what we have today. Even the private sector struggles to find leaders of industry because the consequences of taking a risk that may result in failure are so high that no industry leader seems to be willing to take that road.

In the latter case, the fact that Hawaii is such a difficult place to do business may be one reason why the business community is unwilling to take the risk in holding public officials accountable. They are unwilling to take the risk of sticking their head out in fear that they will be punished for speaking out on issues that affect the community. When proposals arise that would make the situation even worse for conducting business in the state, they either cower or try to negotiate a deal that won’t be as bad as the original proposal. Instead of sticking to their principles in fighting for proposals that would not only improve the business climate, but also the investment climate, they remain silent.

For years it has been acknowledged that Hawaii is a capital short state. Because Hawaii is viewed as a poor place to realize a decent return on investment, those investors with capital tend to shy away from Hawaii, because the return is so poor for the high risk necessary to make that investment. This is at the root of the high technology industry’s drive to preserve the generous income tax credits for their industry. It is a condemnation that Hawaii is unfriendly to business.

So where are the leaders willing to take risks? Certainly not in government as it is the same old-same old way we have done business for decades. And when there is someone who is willing to be bold and daring, hurdles are thrown up and the naysayers shout down those who want to step outside the box.

While businesses whine and whimper about how hard it is to do business in Hawaii, many are less than willing to call for change. Everyone acknowledges that taxes are too high in Hawaii, falling even on those who are technically in poverty, but we allow lawmakers to increase taxes to cover the budget shortfall. Better yet, the public employee unions want to raise our taxes so public employees don’t have to take pay cuts or experience being laid-off. Then again, no one wants to take on the public employee unions for fear of retribution.

If, in fact, Hawaii is to grow and prosper, systemic change must occur, as it is quite apparent that doing things the same way that we have for the past 50 years is getting our state nowhere. The problems of lack of affordable housing, traffic congestion, and the lack of a good educational system continue to grow. If we are to make headway in solving these problems, those who claim to be our leaders must take risks.

For the elected official that means putting aside partisan politics and truly working for the good of the community. For those in private sector, it means putting aside personal or industry agendas and working toward a business climate that is supportive of economic growth that will improve the quality of life for our families. For those in organized labor, it is a recognition that unless there is vibrant economy, the jobs that workers need will not materialize.

Probably the most challenging risk for all players is the willingness to work together with a common agenda to improve our community and to solve the problems we face as one voice. Taking that risk is evidence of true leadership.

Lowell L. Kalapa is the president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii. Mr. Kalapa’s commentary is printed each week in the Maui News, West Hawaii Today, Garden Isle News, and the HawaiiReporter.com.

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