The Showdown At Honolulu Hale

Larry Price
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Wednesday - September 29, 2010
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Now that the primary election is over, there appears to be a teachable moment at hand. Both parties went through the victory dance well and staged the usual huggykissy get-togethers. But it’s possible they were talking unity and forgiveness to the wrong people.

Consider, for a moment, not the candidates who lost the primary election but the individuals who work for them. You really don’t have to worry too much about the candidates who lost. Most successful politicians know exactly what they are going to do and where their next paycheck is coming from. Very few enter a political race without a plan for their next appointment or position.

The big question is what about all the people who worked for them over the years with no protection from the incoming “boss”?

A good example of that was interaction between Mayor-elect Peter Carlisle and ousted acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell. The topic at the press conference was touching, as Mr. Caldwell promised a smooth transition. He said, “So I stand before all of you along with all of my cabinet to pledge 100 percent support to the Mayor-elect Peter Carlisle to make sure it’s a smooth transition.”

That’s when the smooth transition got rough. Caldwell offered the historic Mission Memorial as transition offices, saying, “It’s a beautiful building and it’s been fully renovated and is occupied by the people of the City and County of Honolulu.” Carlisle shot back, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not going to go over there, period.”

It all played out on television, and anyone who saw Carlisle’s facial expressions during Caldwell’s offer now understand how almost all emotion in communication is transmitted. As mayor-elect, he should remember how revealing a captured expression can be.

Little attention was paid by media when Carlisle asked for cooperation from city employees during the upcoming probation-ary period, when their positions will be up for review. Also very revealing was when the mayor-elect told the audience: “If you are planning on going out to that vast forest of wealth, the private sector, then please let me know.” For all of the hardworking public employees at Honolulu Hale, that remark probably caused the most anxiety.

Are these unprotected employees smart enough to keep their jobs? Carlisle asked the employees to tell him what they would like to do. Would anyone accept this as a sincere invitation to talk things over with the mayor-elect? I don’t think so. One of the most insidious psychological traps is when a new CEO tells his or her employees, “My door is always open.” Research shows that employees who accept that invitation very seldom reach retirement age with the company.

Consider this. Don’t be too smart for your own good. In this situation, playing dumb may work better. Dumbness is forever amiable if delivered correctly, and may even transmit a mystic wisdom. After all, when the picture of your new boss shows up on the front page of the daily paper showing everyone the bottom of his shoes propped up on his desk, it’s a clear message who’s in charge, isn’t it?

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