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Sunday, May 18, 2003

» Finding Garcia
» Isle tourism fails aloha test

When president William McKinley, top left, needed a message delivered to rebel leader Garcia, who was hiding somewhere in Cuba, he dispatched Andrew Rowan, top right, with one sentence: "Deliver this to Garcia personally as quickly as possible."

Finding  Garcia - Lessons for the rest of us

Note: More than 100 years ago, a newspaper reporter named Elbert Hubbard wrote an article he intended to be filler for some empty space. The essence of that article and its current relevance to all of us follows below.

When the war broke out between Spain and the United States, President McKinley knew he had to communicate quickly with Garcia, the leader of the insurgents. The problem was that Garcia was holed up - out of reach by any mail or telegraph - somewhere in the mountains of Cuba. Without Garcia's cooperation, many lives would be needlessly lost. A nondescript and unremarkably average man by the name of Andrew Rowan was given the task of delivering the letter. Upon being handed the letter sealed in an oilskin pouch by McKinley, Rowan was simply told; "Deliver this to Garcia personally as quickly as possible." Rowan said absolutely nothing, saluted, did an about face, and left the president's office.

The highlights of Rowan's journey are as follows: Four days later he jumped out of an open boat in the middle of the night off the coast of Cuba and disappeared, alone, into the thick jungle. Three weeks later, having successfully traversed a hostile country on foot he re-emerged on he other side having fulfilled his mission.

Compare that scenario with what might happen if you asked one of your rank-and-file employees, chosen completely at random, to do 'something important as quickly as possible.' Would that person have acted like Rowan? Or would the person have asked you for a more detailed explanation as to why, about know how this task fit into other priorities, what quickly as possible really meant? Would the person have sought information as to 'Garcia's last known location'? Might you have gotten a 'stink eye' look that said; 'It ain't in my job description.' How likely is it that the person to whom you delegated the responsibility would seek to 'pass the buck' along to someone else?

There are Rowan's out there. We see one every now and again. But we more often see their opposites - people who procrastinate, blame, make excuses, shrink away from accountability. Who will do anything to avoid following the Nike challenge and 'Just do it.' So the challenge is to identify a few simple principles we can we learn from President McKinley's behavior as the "CEO" in this story to increase the number of Rowan's in our own organizations?

McKinley began with a very specific measurable stretch goal, one clearly linked to the military mission of the organization: "Deliver this to Garcia personally as quickly as possible." There could be no question in Rowan's mind of the urgency and importance of a message "sealed in an oilskin pouch."

Along with a specific mission-related goal, McKinley communicated the clearest expectations possible under the circumstances; deliver it "personally" and "as quickly as possible." Some would argue that the latter point is too ambiguous. However, given the fact that no one knew where in Cuba Garcia was holed up, any more specificity would have eroded McKinley's credibility as a leader giving an assignment. Expectations have to be clear and reasonable to be motivating of excellence.

McKinley never once communicated the slightest doubt that Rowan would succeed. He allowed the self-fulfilling power of the Pygmalion Effect - people will strive their very best to do what you, in your heart, believe is the very best they can do - to do its work.

Finally, and this is perhaps the hardest lesson to take from this story, having done all that he could himself do, President McKinley had to trust Rowan to do his best. No micro managing. No requirements for frequent up-dates or lengthy written reports, which could have distracted Rowan from his singular task.

In the midst of all the rational techniques upon which managers must rely - budgets, five-year plans, etc. - there may be an even more important message in Rowan's story. Trust may be the hidden factor in determining an employee's willingness to go the extra yard that is always associated with the pursuit of excellence.

Irwin Rubin is a Honolulu-based author and president of Temenos Inc., which specializes in executive leadership. His column appears twice a month in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Send questions and column suggestions to or visit


Isle tourism business
fails aloha test

My concern involves Hawaii's tourist business.

My husband and I are senior citizens. He's 71 and I'm nearing 70. We recently returned from a week's stay in Waikiki, accompanied by two of our friends. Over the past 20 years, we've made about 30 trips to Hawaii with family members and friends. We have stayed on Oahu, Molokai, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii.

I'm having a knee replacement next month and won't be allowed to fly for three months, so I chose Hawaii for my last little hurrah before being grounded. Now, I'd like to tell you why it will probably be our last visit.

I'm getting around with a great deal of difficulty and must use a cane to navigate as I'm walking "bone on bone." We love to snorkel and have snorkeled around the world - Caribbean, Mexico, Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji. Hawaii has always been a favorite with the warm water and abundance of fish. We saved Monday for Hanauma Bay and called one of the companies that advertises in one of the kiosk publications. (We've done this many times in the past.) As we approached Hanauma Bay, he pulled into a turn-off and said we would need to walk in from there or take a taxi. First surprise, but we were willing to do so. He called two or three taxis who said there wasn't enough business on Mondays to be bothered.

He then called his supervisor and received permission to let us off inside the park. As we were alighting from his van, a park official approached and told our driver he was in violation of the law and didn't have the right licenses, etc. and told him he'd pull the license and under no condition could we get off there; no exceptions. So, he turned around and let us off near the entrance out by the highway and we walked back to a long flight of stairs to enter the park. Three men came running to intercept us at the foot of the stairs and were yelling at us to get out. Somehow, they managed also to recall the driver and bring him back to pick us up. I can't remember all the things they said to us, but they weren't calling us nice people, for sure. I was willing to try once more to walk in from the city bus stop, but a lady ranger told the driver that we were "86'd" from the park for the day as punishment for our crime. Of course, the park is closed on Tuesdays and we flew home the next day.

I believe we are as ecologically-minded as anyone and can appreciate the fact that Hanauma Bay has been over-used, but we certainly didn't set out to commit a crime. One of the men insisted that there were plenty of taxis available but that the driver just wouldn't call one he didn't have a "deal" with.

None of us have never been so verbally attacked and made to feel like criminals. It sure spoiled our day and made a pretty sorry ending to our vacation.

We took in a couple of shows and spent time (and money) daily in the International Marketplace. Most days, sales persons outnumbered customers. We bought passes on the Waikiki Trolley under the impression that they were flexible for getting on and off. Turns out one can only get on and off at the designated locations that apparently pay them to stop. We had bought them because of my limited walking ability, thinking we'd be able to hop on and off at will. Had we known the regular four-day bus pass was available, we'd have bought that, but had already ordered the trolley pass over the Internet. Buyer beware.

For a place that seems to be hurting for tourism, it seems like Hawaii has forgotten how to treat its paying guests. I, for one, will be sure to let all my traveling friends know about my experience and will post it on the travel Web sites.

I don't need to pay to be treated so shabbily.

Willa Mathison is a resident of Renton, Wash.

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