Archive for February, 2015

The Faith of Leadership Shares Useful Insights from Hawai‘i’s Leaders

February 27th, 2015

As a well-respected executive at some of Hawai‘i’s top companies, Robbie Alm has had plenty of opportunity to observe and document the best practices of great leaders. From the story of the “Live Aloha” program—which he helped launch—to instructive anecdotes of humility and integrity in business, he now shares what he has learned in a new book, The Faith of Leadership: Insights from Hawai‘i’s Leaders released by Watermark Publishing.


Currently president of the Collaborative Leaders Network, a problem-solving initiative of The Omidyar Group, Alm offers a thoughtful—and useful—study of just what makes an effective leader. Engaging and straightforward, The Faith of Leadership is a distillation of Alm’s eight keys to great leadership: listening, humility, working with resistance to change, remembering whose change we are talking about, walking the talk and integrity, making certain we always hear independent voices, understanding how others see the world and, finally, the faith that underlies leadership.

Alm views himself as both a student and practitioner of leadership. During more than three decades spent with the Hawai‘i State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, First Hawaiian Bank and the Hawaiian Electric Company, he has come to see that leadership boils down to three basic fundamentals: “First, work as hard or harder than anyone else. Second, live right in your relationships with others. And finally, remember that for all our planning and working and living right, some of it seems to come down to pure luck.”

Robbie Alm. Courtesy: Watermark Publishing

Robbie Alm. Courtesy: Watermark Publishing

Real-life lessons and key examples from local companies and individuals provide a simple foundation for Alm’s discussion of the qualities of excellent leadership. “With Robbie, it’s not about understanding systems or complicated layers of this or that,” observes PBS Hawai‘i’s Leslie Wilcox. “It’s just, ‘What’s the right thing to do here, and how do we do it?’”

Alm puts it another way. “This is not a cookbook on leadership,” he says. “There really is no such thing.” Rather, The Faith of Leadership offers a series of guideposts for mapping a life path to becoming a good leader. Excellence in leadership, Alm believes, is less about wealth and power and more about positivity and serving as a good model.

The faith of leadership lies in setting a course that will accomplish what is right—and accepting the challenge of working on a problem that may not be solved in the near future. “I’ve always found it important to believe that while I may not be there to see it, things I do will ultimately make a difference,” he says.

Robbie Alm is a University of Hawai‘i and University of Iowa College of Law graduate with degrees in political science and administrative law. Following a ten-year stint at the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Alm ran the Financial Management Group of First Hawaiian Bank and worked in senior management at the Hawaiian Electric Company from 2001 to 2013, finally as the utility’s Executive Vice President.

A book signing with Alm will be held on Saturday, February 28 at Barnes & Noble, Ala Moana, from 1 PM to 2 PM. A portion of the day’s sales will benefit PBS Hawai‘i.

The Faith of Leadership: Insights from Hawai‘i’s Leaders (ISBN 978-1-935690-62-7), priced at $15.95, is available at bookstores, other retail outlets and online booksellers, and can be ordered direct from the publisher at Contact Watermark Publishing, 1000 Bishop St., Suite 806, Honolulu, HI 96813; (808) 587-7766; toll-free (866) 900-BOOK; fax (808) 521-3461;

More on this

February 25th, 2015

I should really listen before I speak. Recently, I faux-offended my coworker Jai Cunningham because I was only half-listening to his question and commentary to me, and I misheard him.

There was an email thread circulating, and Jai came over to my desk to ask me for clarification. Important part of the set up: I was clearly listening to my phone messages because I pointed to the speaker and said, "Hang on a minute."

He started talking to Ron Mizutani while he was waiting, and I overheard Jai saying something about "...more on this..." I hung up the phone and chimed in, "Yeah, I know."

Jai, offended.

Jai, offended.

He and Ron stopped in their conversation and looked at me in shock. "Did you just agree with Jai that he's a moron?" gasped Ron.

"Dude! She didn't even let me finish the sentence!" huffed Jai.

"What are you talking about?" I said, confused.

Apparently, Jai said, "I know I'm a moron about these things..." but as I said earlier, I heard he needed to know "more on this."

I apologized and corrected myself, to which they say they didn't believe me. "Right, good save," they said in their most patronizing tone. Hey, how did this go from offending one guy to apologizing to two guys?

I want you to know that the other week on the morning show when I was chatting up Jai in his live shot, I did mention how exceedingly brilliant he is; for example, he skipped two grades and graduated from high school at age 16! I weakly protested this in my defense but was strongly overridden by snorts of derision and pseudo-hurt.

So I don't know if Jai's talking to me this week. Stay tuned. I'll have moron this.

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Chalkboard paint

February 23rd, 2015

When you walk into my house, there is absolutely no question a child lives there. Other than the fact that most of the time, Olivia's toys are scattered throughout all the common areas and several rooms and bathrooms, we now have a big chalkboard painted on the wall at the entrance.


It's something I've seen on restaurants, offices, and stores, and have been meaning to do... for three years. I got the can of paint immediately after hatching this brilliant idea. It just took me some 1,000 days to crack it open. Ha!

Meya and Olivia breaking in the new chalkboard.

Meya and Olivia breaking in the new chalkboard.

It happened one weekend when my friend Kalei came to visit and then got bored sitting around. Kalei is Type A, needs constant motion, but hates the outdoors.

"Do you want to do some craft project? We can go down to Ben Franklin and find something to make," I suggested.

"Crafts? No!" she rejected.

"Do you want to walk or hike?" I offered.

"No!" she said.

"Do you want to go to the beach or pool?" I said because I was getting desperate.

"Diane. Do you even know me?" she asked.

Then I remembered about the chalkboard wall. "Do you want to help me paint my entrance way with chalkboard paint?" I asked.

Kalei got excited, and that became our afternoon project. Claus supervised and mixed up the paint while we cleaned, taped, sanded, and painted the wall. We thought perhaps he assigned himself the good job as supervisor. I'm grateful to Kalei because if it wasn't for her, I know that we never would have done this.


I felt kind of guilty because Olivia would want to paint with us, but I've learned as a mom that my energy and time is unpredictable, so I have to strike while the iron is hot.

Olivia was out with the babysitter, so I texted the sitter: "The foyer paint is wet. Don't tell Olivia we did this without her. Tell her the Paint Fairy came."

Two coats later, it was done, and it works like a charm. It was covered with chalk drawings within five minutes of me declaring it dry and peeling the tape off.

I thought our family could use it as a little message board (one that doesn't get covered up with clutter or blown away in the breeze) but I see it's found a primary home as an art surface. And that works, too!

Micronesian Medicaid

February 20th, 2015

Micronesian migrants living in Hawaii under the Compact of Free Association are no longer covered by the state for Medicaid, but they are being enrolled for health insurance through the Hawaii Health Connector. This  will save the state an estimated $27 million dollars.

In this legislative session, Hawaii lawmakers also introduced a pair of bills that would require the state to cover the costs of premiums, copays and deductibles to help low-income migrants.  The Senate health committee advanced SB1327 in mid-February.

Reverend David J. Gierlach, the Rector at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, is sympathetic to the cause because a quarter of his congregation is Micronesian. He tells me this is a good move for several reasons.

Courtesy David Gierlach

Micronesians rally for medical help. Courtesy David Gierlach

"First, the needed care will probably be provided through emergency rooms which is horrifically expensive, thus burdening the entire community with unnecessarily high medical costs. Second, our nation caused many of the problems for which this population seeks relief and we have a moral obligation to address them.

Third, this really is a federal responsibility that should not be the obligation of a small state like ours, thus the need to reform the law that excludes them from Medicaid," says Gierlach.

Courtesy David Gierlach

Courtesy David Gierlach

In the 1940s and 1950s the US government used Micronesia and the Marshall Islands as the primary above ground nuclear testing site. The Federation of American Scientists reports the following regarding those tests:

Summary of 66 Nuclear Tests over Marshall Islands (1946-1958):
43 at Enewetak Atoll
23 at Bikini Atoll

Largest Hydrogen Bomb “Bravo” on March 1, 1954: 15 Megatons
Equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima Bombs
Total of 66 Bombings: Equivalent to 7,200 Hiroshima Bombs in total or
600 Hiroshima Bombs per year or 1.6 Hiroshima Bombs per day over 12-year Nuclear Testing Program

In order to engage in these tests, whole populations were relocated off of ancestral islands, the culture was transformed from a subsistence diet to one based on rice and canned meat, and disease associated with the radiation and poor diet is endemic. Since then, the US military continues to have free reign throughout these islands and the adjoining ocean.

In exchange, people from this area are permitted to enter the US without visas and to work in the US. However, in the 1996 Welfare reform act, this population was barred from receiving Medicaid benefits, meaning that treatments such as dialysis and radiation treatment for cancer is not funded unless the state where the person resides agrees to fund it. Hawaii did fund this gap in coverage until the Lingle administration decided to reduce the permitted health care coverage.

There are an estimated 7,500 migrants affected by the health insurance changes. SB1327 seeks an estimated $8 million to cover the additional health care costs.

The bill has support from large medical entities like Hawaii Medical Services Association, the state's largest insurance company, and The Queen's Health Systems.

Chinese New Year's bottles

February 18th, 2015

For Chinese New Year, Olivia and I made our friends bottles. We bought teensy little bottles, colored sand, twine, and shells at the craft store and made it at home.


It is the perfect project for a seven year old. I don't know about your kids, but mine loses patience and interest very quickly with any kind of detail work, so something that requires just mixing together a few simple ingredients is perfect.


I sometimes bead, so I happened to have little blown-glass sheep charms that I could wire wrap and attach to the outside of the bottle like a charm. This is the part where Olivia abandoned me to do all that tedious work.

Olivia enjoyed putting it together, though I was amused watching her as she started playing with the sand. I gave her a funnel to pour the sand into the bottle, and she experimented all kinds of ways with putting the funnel upside down, or filling the funnel all the way up and stopping and starting the flow of the sand into the bottle. Kid stuff - funny. Table was a little messy after, of course.

My bottle!

My bottle! My charm is a slipper.

The last step involved cutting out little strips of paper. The intention is that you write your new year's wishes on the paper, roll it up, put it in the bottle, and let it serve as a reminder to you all year long to achieve it. Kind of a Western version of a daruma doll.

I got excited about this craft project, so in addition to making mine, I asked Claus if he wanted one. He quickly answered no. Clutter and girly charms are not his thing. Then, Olivia decided she wanted to make one for Daddy, and he was all in. Cute.

So I've got my beautifully decorated new year's bottle, and I'm super excited about the Chinese New Year. 2015 so far has been fantastic, and I have high hopes it will continue through the Asian calendar!

Happy Chinese New Year!

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