By Lt. Col. Mike Honma
48th Airlift Squadron commander
Here on the mainland, most people know the word “aloha” as a simple Hawaiian greeting to mean both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ However, the purest definition of aloha, itself, is unconditional love, free of prejudice or discrimination.
It involves an honest and proactive expression of faith, trust and acceptance given with nothing but good intent. Within the framework of the work environment, it can be interpreted as sincere mutual respect.
Like any organization, our ability to effectively function as a unit hinges on a unified belief that every member brings all their talents, efforts and good will to ensure mission success. Effective teamwork, synergy and morale are directly correlated to each member’s positive perceived value by others in the organization. This mutual respect, or lack thereof, can mean the difference between long-term success or cascading failure.
Helen Keller once wrote, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.” The “aloha spirit” cannot be achieved with laws or regulations. Someone cannot be forced to respect another to achieve the desired effect. It cannot be feigned. Sincerity is not derived from words or gestures, but from feelings. Over time, an individual’s honest agenda reveals itself in the heart of those around them.
Leaders at every level must foster a culture where mutual respect is understood and practiced freely by the entire organization. It must be internalized, demonstrated and promoted by leaders, both on and off duty. It must be patiently nurtured like a diverse vegetable garden, each different species truly accepted, valued for its distinctive characteristics and personally cultivated daily. Each unit member must take personal responsibility to aggressively eliminate caustic and self-centered beliefs and behaviors that quickly spread like weeds and undermine an organization’s teamwork and cohesiveness.
Most importantly, every member must want to achieve aloha in their unit. Good intent cannot be a part-time belief. Kindness, caring, and respect does not necessarily exist in the absence of apathy. Mutual respect can only come with true honesty. It’s felt by the giver, conveyed through concerned eyes or an infectious smile, and embraced by the receiver.
Such feelings and actions are what define how others see us and the organization which accepts each individual as a valued team member. This is the catalyst that promotes mutual support between team players, fostering an atmosphere of total commitment to mission objectives. According to Maya Angelou, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Take time every day to embody the true meaning of aloha and inspire others to do the same. That is how we truly take care of the mission and our people. Don’t wait for others to demonstrate mutual respect – show them how.