Mayor Richard Bissen Continues to Impress after Maui Wildfires

Aug 22, 2023

Hawaiian Leadership

In a recent Blog post, I was impressed with Mayor Richard Bissen’s recent pressroom actions which exemplified great leadership.

During the conference, the Maui Emergency Services Chief was being grilled about his decision to silence the sirens. Mayor Bissen instinctively came to his aid. The reporter was taken aback and immediately ceased firing questions and his own agenda. The sequence of actions was outstanding shepherding and a free lesson for people who consider themselves leaders. For a breakdown of that interaction, please visit:

Despite that admirable pressroom moment, I have been skeptical of this entire local administration’s lack of transparency surrounding the Maui firestorms of August 8th, 2023.

In the following days, everyone on the island were hearing reports of hundreds of bodies everywhere. If you live on Maui, you know of a neighbor or first responder or volunteer or friend who saw firsthand the number of bodies in the horrific aftermath.

Yet, the daily counts minimized the impact of this destruction.

This cognitive dissonance is fueling public outrage.

Cognitive dissonance is when someone’s behavior doesn’t align with their values or beliefs. In this instance, the “someone” was the Maui Officials in charge of relaying facts and truth to the people. What they were saying wasn’t matching the actions and reports of others. This is a very common scenario in relationships or working environments. You will know cognitive dissonance when your personal “spidey-sense” doesn’t feel right. It’s also a good sign of lack of accountability. People will leave you hanging when they don’t want to commit to an answer.

When you ask your boss or Leadership Team a question, and the response doesn’t really make sense, don’t settle! Know that your feelings are valid and need to be addressed. If you’re a CEO or in a Leadership position, and you have employees coming to you for answers, be honest.

Be accountable.

[As a sidebar, the decision to minimize the death count has had an irreversible severe monetary impact. Maui’s window for bringing in large donations was finite. Already, Maui is no longer front-page National news, or even second page. We’ve been replaced by the Northwest wildfires and Hurricane Hilary. The decision to downplay the body count had massive dollar value impact from which we cannot recover.]

When people feel as if facts are being hidden, they begin to second guess everything. Trust is broken. In a time of such destruction, it doesn’t take much to start the lynch mob chanting. All we wanted were some numbers. If 1,800 were being reported as missing, people wanted to know what that meant.

When asked to about the massive discrepancy between the official death count and the missing, we received vague answers citing “we only get one chance to do this right.”

What does that mean?

The response from the Governor, Mayor, and Police Chief wasn’t good enough.

I understood the subject sensitivity as Maui is different from the rest of the world.

This is something people unfamiliar with Maui will not understand. There is very much an emphasis on ohana on this island. Yes, the administration cared more about protecting the families directly involved than satisfying a curious, angry public.

This takes strength. Even if I don’t agree, the decision to protect the families involved took courage.

This was short term thinking, and it’s debatable.


Ethics is debatable.


Let’s all step back here to really understand the situation.

Our officials are dealing with something that is unprecedented. An entire town being vaporized in a matter of hours is something that may likely never occur in our lifetime. Yes, people were to blame. Politics were to blame. Greed was to blame. So was climate and a lackadaisical attitude of wind and fires that everyone on Maui had until August 8th. I, myself, left my girlfriend and pets to run errands that day thinking that the fire upcountry was no big deal.

The people who had a hand in this are running and hiding in fear for their own lives and their own guilt.

Honestly, anyone involved in this should be put on suicide watch.


As names are revealed, those responsible will be faced with some very real consequences to poor decisions made in a hurricane series of unfortunate coincidences.


But never is anything perfect. I always preach in business that mistakes made should be welcomed, not shamed. That is how we all learn. As a Leader of a team, you need to understand this. Follow Mayor Bissen’s lead.


Recently, while delivering support to survivors, Mayor Bissen came under fire by a resident who called him a disaster. Rightfully so.

“Are there children who have been found? And Is there any hesitancy to announce that due to a new level of heartbreak?”



Caught off guard, Bissen did not respond with the conviction that he did in the pressroom. My take on this is that he knew the administration hasn’t been forthcoming. His body language betrayed him. He wanted to give the people of Maui what they are so desperately seeking, but couldn’t due to things beyond his control. He is, after all, a part of a team.

Let’s cut Leaders some slack.

We don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors, and we don’t know what their own goals are. Even in business, it’s easy for disgruntled employees to complain about management, but very rarely are they ever involved on higher level decision making. Sure, we could assume they are CYA’ing the heck out of things, but we don’t know.

This is why Management and Leadership is an art. Maui Leadership is trying their best.

No interviews are perfect, but that hasn’t stopped the Governor and Mayor for getting better each day. If you watch their daily interviews, they are facing the tough questions and responding with more transparency and confidence. They are balancing Maui’s delicate current state on one side while defending global outrage on the other.

Think you can do better?


Before I posted this blog, I went to the internet to double check the latest facts, and came across this statement made by Mayor Bissen:


Finally, he is transparent.

Finally, he is honest about how there will be daily fluctuations in the death count.

For the first time since August 8th, we have clarity.

850 are still missing, down from over 2,000.

Does anyone want to announce that those missing are probably dead?


Me either.

FBI and MPD 1,285 individuals have been found. Let’s recognize that.

Finally, we can see why they are not reacting, rather maintaining frame and calmly dispensing information as it becomes available.


We are seeing the evolution of two Leaders – Mayor Richard Bissen and Governor Josh Green.

Each has been hit with a living nightmare, and is battling it with everything they’ve got.

As one who avidly studies leadership, their actions and growth are commendable. I hope the people of Maui, and the world, are able to see the same things I am.

As business owners, take notes on the patience and stoicism being displayed. Mayor Bissen continues to impress natural leadership skills that are still growing.

Think back to your own life – when did you make the most growth? Was it when you were cruising through life without adversity? Or was it when you had the run yanked out from under you…and were forced to adapt and grow?