Kuleana, the value of personal responsibility

Originally published for the print edition of Ke Ola Magazine: September/October 2014 Hawai‘i island issue.
Previously in this series: Kākou, the value of inclusiveness and the ‘Language of We’


One of my goals for our Hawai‘i, fully woven into the mission and healthy work culture of Managing with Aloha, is that the negative phrase “hey, it’s not my kuleana” be something we never hear again. It’s high time we recognize how empowering and transformative the value of Kuleana really is. We must talk about what responsibility and accountability are to us rather than what they’re not. When we do, assertively saying, “this is my Kuleana” instead, Kuleana becomes overwhelmingly positive. We see how powerful it can be as the driver of behavioral motivations, and we welcome it.

Kuleana is one’s personal sense of responsibility. It is responsibility we accept because we value it and we treasure the person we become when we fulfill it. Kuleana helps explain mana‘o (personal belief) by articulating the responsibility a person wants to take, and is completely willing to be held accountable for. Through Kuleana expressed, we understand how taking responsibility shapes who we are, and who we are capable of being.

Therefore, Kuleana is an exceptionally strong driver of our actions. At work, Kuleana uplifts our performance standards by aligning them with personal expression. This is the value which drives self-motivation, for our desire to act comes directly from accepting our responsibilities with full intention, with deliberate thought, and with diligence. When we have this activity-aligned focus, Kuleana drives self-reliance, for we want to be involved, learning to do whatever it takes and participating in the performance of work in a hands on manner: We want to do for ourselves what we strongly believe we are capable of doing, and furthermore, are best at owning.

Our value of responsibility will always seek opportunity — we look for the possibility to act, and we investigate all our options in fulfilling the responsibility we are determined to perform and shine in. We network, partner, and team up in newly initiated ways. We ignore ‘can’t’ and ask, “Why not?” more often. Kuleana is thoroughly desirable, something we want at work — we all want the opportunity to take ownership of the performance we feel we are truly meant to deliver.

So how do we have this conversation, where we talk about what Kuleana IS to us rather than what it’s not? We dive in to our sense of wanting, allowing our workplace conversations to be about the opportunities we see, and the initiatives we’d like to take and grab personal ownership of. We tap into self-motivation and give it a realistic, immediate outlet. In business, we usually refer to this as being more ambitious, or as forging ahead with new ideas. In practice, it means we fully engage with authoring our own job descriptions, turning their conventions upside down and inside out, working with a ‘no limits’ attitude, enthusiasm and eagerness. We make room in our workday for what we want to do, want to be responsible for, and prefer to be compensated for. We eliminate the boring and the less meaningful.

Second, we dare to make more promises directly connected to our job performance. When you agree to be held accountable for something, you are making a promise to deliver, and there’s real self-empowerment simply in making that promise, whether it is to yourself or to someone else. You bravely get your intentions out in the open, and you give them more clarity and workplace relevance.

To speak your promise is magic: A spoken promise is this wonderful obligation you hang within reach, begging to be made good on. When you make a promise you are putting your own good word at stake, and with the actions you then take to deliver on your word, you have created your self-worth and your value to others. You have built upon your trustworthy reputation, fortifying the credibility of your word when you next speak. You have accepted responsibility, you have performed, you have been held accountable, and you are newly transformed, the engineer of your own growth and self-development.

Initiative is the key to true Kuleana. We defensively answer back with, “hey, it’s not my kuleana” when unwanted responsibility of some kind is assigned to us, or we’re blamed for not owning up to it, allowing accountability to slip through the cracks. Conversely, we’ll eagerly say, “this is my Kuleana” when we speak up and volunteer for the responsibility we want to take ownership of, designing the work of our Ho‘ohana. So speak up.

If you are an owner, boss or manager, get these workplace conversations to happen, and take a fresh Kuleana approach, following up with meaningful partnering, reassignment and delegation. When managers smartly connect Kuleana to the work to be performed, doors of opportunity swing wide open, and responsible people eagerly step through to do their best work.

Until next time ~ Rosa Say


For more on Kuleana, I invite you to visit my Kuleana index archived on www.ManagingWithAloha.com

Next in this series: Ike loa the value of learning.