Kevin Fong (KNFP 14), Founder and Principal, Kevin Fong Organizational Design, Seattle
This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
Kevin Fong is passionate about using the gifts he has been given to serve others. These gifts, in Hawaiian, his kuleana, are revealed, he says, from his names.
”My Chinese name is Xi Tang, which means ’scholar of soup.’ When my grandmother named me, she understood my gift: I ’make soup’ in communities by taking the best of what people have to offer, and mixing it together so that all can be nourished by their collective wisdom, and there are leftovers to share with others.”
He continues, ”My Hawaiian name is Kahakula’akea, which translates to ’guardian of the sacred light.’ It was given to me just after my best friend had died of AIDS as a calling to live out the destinies of those whose lives were cut short. I have an extra responsibility to do more with my life.”
Kevin believes his Kellogg Fellowship was instrumental in changing the course of his life. He says, ”Throughout my 20s, I was living in San Francisco during the height of the AIDS epidemic there. At a time when I should have been celebrating life, I was caring for my sick and dying friends. The Fellowship helped me to switch from a death-affirming to a life-affirming phase. It allowed me to articulate what my kuleana was, and it provided me the gift of peer mentors and advisors to help shape this gift into something that could make a difference in the world.”
Kevin created a consulting firm to advise groups in the public and private sector how to improve their organizational systems.
”I believe organizations are living entities, like trees. The fruit are the services and products provided, while the trunk is the infrastructure. But I work mostly in the roots to deal with organizational culture and philosophy, founding principles, and leadership practices. While these aspects are often invisible, they are fundamental to the health of an organization. With an ever-changing environment, it is important to always care for our roots.”
To put this philosophy in place for himself and his clients, Kevin developed a model called Working in the Hyphen, which combines the East Asian theory of the Five Elements with contemporary modes of organizational development and leadership theory. ”All of us are hyphenated in some way. The challenge for many of us is how to integrate the hyphenated parts of ourselves in our lives. We may come from roots that are based in cooperation, but we work in a culture of competition and it’s hard to reconcile the two. Working in the Hyphen provides us with tools where we can balance and integrate the many facets of ourselves so that our world makes sense.”
Describing how he measures success, Kevin says, ”In my community work, if people walk away feeling nourished, as if they had a nice bowl of soup, that is success.”
His advice to aspiring leaders: ”Find out what your kuleana is, that which you were born to become. Then find yourself some mentors to help you nurture, behold, and audaciously put your kuleana out there. The wisdom of elders helps keep you balanced with your gift.”