Honoring Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (Part 3 of 4)

May 2024 | By ALULA

We enjoyed exploring the story of Shuji Nakamura here, and we’re grateful to you for reading our series on what today’s leaders and workers can learn from AA and NHPI people whose work demonstrates a profound commitment to behaviors with a lasting positive impact.  

Nainoa Thompson, the Native Hawaiian navigator who revived traditional Polynesian wayfinding, is not one to give up. His maritime journey is a testament to the power of helping people through coaching. 


In Hawai’i during the late 1970s, two wayfinding enthusiasts got help from Mau Piailug, then known as the last great wayfinder, to build a proper vessel for a voyage to Tahiti without the usual instruments and maps. Thompson was an apprentice taking it all in. 

Due to crew disagreements, this vessel named Hokule’a (Star of Gladness) was returned home via modern navigation rather than ancient wayfinding. It was not “game over” for Thompson though.  

Thompson’s commitment to helping people through coaching emerged as he applied his learnings from that experience to become a true leader. He sought out Piailug as an advisor, studied his techniques, and was the chief navigator responsible for guiding the Hokule’a on a successful wayfinding voyage to Tahiti and back.  

Thompson’s willingness to learn from experience is a sign of his deep respect for being prepared. In fact, he counts preparation as part of his most famous wayfaring voyage, the Malama Honua, which he refers to as a 10-year endeavor, though only 37 months (about 3 years) of it took place on water. Approximately 40,000 miles, 150 ports, and 18 countries were traversed by University of Hawai’i students, faculty, staff, and alumni who served as volunteers, navigators, captains, and researchers. 

That 10-year Malama Honua voyage was a significant example of what’s possible when we help others through coaching by applying the learnings from our own experiences. With lessons often emerging from disruptions in the modern workplace, it’s not always easy or heroic to share from our past, but it can be worth it. 

We have an opportunity to ask each other what experiences we’ve had or observed that inspire us to keep embracing a leadership role and all the coaching responsibilities that come with it. 

Know someone devoted to helping people through coaching? Consider sharing this article, and let’s wrap up the series with this story of incredible resilience. 


Topics: Behavior, Leadership


Written by ALULA