Sense of Place Delivers True Wealth

When I meet Alaka‘i Managers, and am able to visit their workplaces, I consistently see the Sense of Place commonality they share as culture-builders. I will feel it in my surroundings, for while sound and solidly built, their places pulse with deeply veined character and vibrant energy.

Alaka‘i Managers know that this is what every single workplace represents: The wonderful opportunity to create a special place. They seize the opportunity to co-create that place with those who share it, and then they’ll shepherd it. This is their joyful work, their HO‘OHANA — how could it not be?

A Sense of Place is rich, and extraordinarily so: Sense of Place represents wealth in personal well-being, and thus, an Alaka‘i Manager is fully cognizant of how it will also represent wealth in cultural well-being. What they actually see, is promise.

The richness of well-being is the wealth of human health.

A place can represent so many things to us, the people who dwell within it. It will model our definitions of concepts like grace, strength, resilience, courage, wonder and more.

Therefore, what Alaka‘i Managers will do, is key in to specific choices that will define the deliverables they’ll concentrate on as good shepherds. What will that place represent most of all? When a wild stallion wanders into their pasture it commands some attention, but only enough to send it merrily on its way again. As striking and noble as that stallion may be, the shepherd only sees true beauty in his sheep; they’re the ones who embody the beauty which inspires him. His deliverables must be about them.

These, for instance, are the deliverables Alaka‘i Managers focus on in their culture-building:

  1. An ALOHA-inspired place of comfort — Wealth in safe-haven sustenance
  2. A sense of personal belonging — Wealth in co-authorship
  3. ‘OHANA community and connectivity — Wealth in partnership
  4. Practical usefulness and relevance — Wealth in worth
  5. Benefits in the promise of learning — Wealth in knowledge

Do they sound familiar to you, as areas you’ll work in too?

Do you deliver on your promise?

In my book I mention Samuel Ainslie, once my boss at the Hualalai Resort and someone I still think of as a mentor. Sam would constantly ask us, “Do we deliver on the promise?” It’s a question that has stuck with me ever since.

“The promise” meant our customer’s dream, and our confidence it would come true for them with our partnership and our Sense of Place stewardship. We truly thought of that promise as The Promised Land: Hualalai wasn’t just our workplace (though it was exceptionally special that way too). To us, Hualalai was the gracious, dreamy Hawai‘i of the customer’s dream in a native population of locals eager to embrace them — what exactly, did they expect to find when they came to us, and were we delivering it to them?

Our work then, was ho‘ohiki; living up to our promise in every way. If we did so, keeping our work genuinely meaningful would be easy. More importantly, it would be fulfilling: It would feel good and right to us as Mea Ho‘okipa — the good hosts who lived in, and shared in this Sense of Place too. All would be PONO.

“The feel of a place, and the feel for a place.”

Here’s the definition of Sense of Place from the pages of Managing with Aloha: It appears in Chapter 17 on NĀNĀ I KE KUMU, the value of personal well-being:

“In many ways nature is where it all begins for most islanders, and the Hawaiian people are no different in this regard. We call ourselves keiki o ka ‘āina, children of the land, understanding that our roots are within the land, and we grow shaped by our environment. In Hawai‘i the ‘āina is not just soil and sand, lava rock and dirt; the ‘āina is a statement of heart and soul for us. The very word brings forth deep emotion: Aloha ‘āina are our words for love of the land, for it is with Aloha we share the breath of life, understanding it is the land that gives us life and gives us sustenance. In a way, humanity and nature are considered father and mother, brother and sister.”

“When we opened The Ritz-Carlton, Mauna Lani, I had the privilege of attending classes taught by the late Dr. George Kanahele, a highly respected scholar and civic leader of the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970’s whose Ho‘ohana at the time of these classes —the early 1990’s —was within the field of organizational consulting. The definition he shared with us for sense of place has always struck me as being concisely intuitive: He said that sense of place involves both the feel of a place, and the feel for a place. In our classes, he taught us that place (wahi in Hawaiian) is personally defined for people by their own “locational experiences.” He taught us to open the hotel with a spirit of hospitality that would create fertile ground for our guests to have their own place-connected experiences while they were with us, and in that way feel for themselves what the Aloha Spirit was all about. In my mind, he gave us the key to being “culturally correct” in the way we shared Hawai‘i with visitors.”

“The words “sense of place” echo much farther back within my consciousness; I cannot tell you when I first heard them, for it seems they’ve always been there. Beyond words, they’ve been more of an assumption for me, something I have —something I need —to help me grow in respect for Hawai‘i, the land that gave me birth and nurtured me as I grew up. And beyond paying respect, to Mālama her, honor and care for her whenever it is in my power to do so. Therefore, when I hear the words Nānā i ke kumu, look to your source, it means I need to consider my emotional sense of place as well as my intellectual sense of reason.”


Think “working in my neighborhood” for no culture exists in a vacuum. Sense of Place is both the feel OF a place, and the feel FOR a place. Sense of Place is about greater community locally and connectivity globally. It is saying a “thank you” with stewardship, and engaging at a higher level with those places which have gotten you this far, and continue to nourish you daily in a multitude of tiny ways that collectively are absolutely HUGE factors in your success. It is giving back, recognizing that place nurtures and sustains us; it shapes our experiences and lends cultural richness to life. Always will.

Read more:The 9 Key Concepts of Managing with Aloha