Ho‘ohana: Love Your Work

If you have read Talking Story for any amount of time at all, clicking in (versus aggregator reading) and scrolling up and down my blog’s columns, you’ve “heard” me use the word Ho‘ohana before. I use it a lot.

Here’s a primer of sorts, for some ‘sorting out’ is probably in order to help us get to the heart and soul of what this word truly is all about.

  • Ho‘ohana is a Hawaiian value, and the subject of Chapter Two in Managing with Aloha
  • Ho‘ohana is also my personal mantra. Therefore,
  • Ho‘ohana became the name of the monthly e-letter I began to publish monthly and distribute back in 2003. It has since grown to a distribution of several thousand subscribers, and it is still sent via email on the first weekday of each month. [Subscribe here if you wish.]
  • When I started blogging in 2004, Ho‘ohana became the name by which I’d refer to our community of readers and Managing with Aloha practitioners, because my first readers were my Ho‘ohana e-letter subscribers and those who began the MWA movement with me. [More on the Ho‘ohana Community here.]
  • My Ho‘ohana e-letter had been born as my monthly “Ho‘ohana essay.” It was sort of a self-coaching essay for me to live my own values and remain centered and focused, as I left the corporate work world and began to build my own business, Say Leadership Coaching. So, I openly shared it with my subscribers. Frankly, putting it “out there” forced me to walk my talk. Still does.

To sum it up as short and sweet as I can, I believe in Ho‘ohana as the joy of work, and so it’s the value which drives me in pretty much all I do. Why work for any other reason?

Work very well may be one of my favorite concepts, for I believe in the rewarding celebration of self that work allows us to express. To “work hard” is to be who you are meant to be, reaching in deep and grabbing hold of all the possibility within you. To work for something you want, is to love being who you are capable of being.


Thing is, you have to choose the right work to begin with, and that is where the value of Ho‘ohana comes into play so beautifully. To ho‘ohana is to work intentionally, purposefully, and passionately and in work that is all about you. To ho‘ohana is to have resolve and determination, and to seek mastery with personal efforts of your own deliberate, thoughtful choice.

Hana is ‘work’ in Hawaiian as a noun. Ho‘o is a prefix of causation, meaning to make something happen. Therefore, ho‘ohana becomes work as the verb. Here on Talking Story, our Ho‘ohana each month is work we intentionally cause to happen, with thoughtful purpose and each other’s support and encouragement.

Beyond these literal translations, Ho‘ohana is very much about our work ethic, and the self-awareness and integrity we bring to what we do. I’ve been reading, marking up and re-reading Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table, and I like what he says about this;

“I’ve learned that we need to hire employees with these skills if we’re to be champions at the team sport of hospitality. They are:

1. Optimistic warmth (genuine kindness, thoughtfulness, and a sense that the glass is always at least half full)

2. Intelligence (not just “smarts” but rather an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning)

3. Work ethic (a natural tendency to do something as well as it possibly can be done)

4. Empathy (an awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel)

5. Self-awareness and integrity (an understanding of what makes you tick and a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgement)”

He calls these their “five core emotional skills” and that is very much the way in which I think about Ho‘ohana, as a value which creates an emotional, intuitive connection between self-awareness, personal values and work, in which both the individual and their work emerge in the best possible way to make personal integrity incredibly strong and sure. Ho‘ohana includes all five of these traits; they are an inseparable part of the whole. Meyer explains,

“A strong work ethic is an indispensable emotional skill for any employee who is going to contribute to the excellence of our business. We want people on our team who are highly motivated, confident, and wired to do the job well” When an employee does not work out, the problem more often stems from an attitude of “I won’t” rather than “I can’t.”

I have to agree
. Motivation is an inside job, and the great attitude we prize in others we work with comes with the person who loves their work, and feels it is very much a part of their Ho‘ohana, their passionate intention for worthwhile, important, lights-my-fire work.

When I begin to work with management groups, the concept of Ho‘ohana is introduced to them early on, for to just go through the motions of your job is diametrically opposed to the MWA assumption that management is a calling, not a title or promotion. To me, being a great manager is impossible without the intention to be one, and not just intention as in good planning, but intention as in passion.

I’ll caution leaders that all our talk about Ho‘ohana will cause people to be self-reflective, and they may find that people discover the work they do for them day in and day out is actually not their Ho‘ohana at all. They may lose them.

At first this seems like a risk, but in my view, it plays out the way it should; we all need to be in the right roles for the right reasons. And when you are a manager, affecting the work of so many others, a great work ethic stemming from intellectual honesty with yourself first and foremost is essential. If you don’t have that kind of integrity, everything else will prove to be far too difficult, and managing people is not a responsibility to take lightly.

This is not to say that you must understand the meaning of your life to have work which is your Ho‘ohana; that’s a journey we all travel somewhat slowly and tentatively, and changing course is part of navigating the territory. To Ho‘ohana is to bring all of who you are right now to what you choose to do right now, fully aware, fully present, fully in the moment. No matter who you may work for at any given time, and no matter the job, as you do it, do it for yourself, and for the learning, satisfaction, and reward of the effort. That is something we all can do.

It’s a matter of deliberate choice. It’s a matter of attitude. It’s a matter of understanding the aloha within us.

Last month
, I asked you to do some self exploration, and celebrate who you are. This month, we celebrate what it is you do. Do it in a way that no one else but you can do. Make it uniquely yours, and love it. Put your personal signature on your work, and ho‘ohana. You’ll find that everyone else will love it too.

Related Articles:

The Chapter Two, Ho‘ohana pdf download will be available in the right column of www.managingwithaloha.com until March 30, 2007


  1. says

    Ho‘ohana: Joy in the Work of Teaching

    To discover what your Ho‘ohana might be, try to answer this question: What would you love to do, often and intensely, trusting that you’ll somehow get paid for accomplishing it? This is the question I answer in Managing with Aloha

  2. says

    Setting the Table, The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business

    Danny Meyer has been called “America’s Most Innovative Restaurateur” and that’s the tagline his publisher has grabbed for his book cover. Whether he likes it or not, today he is more CEO than restaurateur, yet Meyer lives up to this

  3. says

    Ho‘ohana! Everything you need, you have.

    Today, as I reached into my mailbox with great happiness over the March delivery of O The Oprah Magazine, it occurred to me how my life’s timeline has looked like a changing evolution of magazine covers ” for instance, there

  4. says

    Aloha to All,
    Everything I need, I have…reminds me of the old Steve Martin movie entitled ‘The Jerk’…and toward the end, his life is turned upside down…so, he tries, to maintain dignity and just walk away…and as he is leaving – he is very loudly claiming that he doesn’t need anything in his life…but then he sees a chair, stops, grabs it and keeps loudly mumbling: “oh. but I’ll need this chair..and that’s all I’ll need!”, few more steps “Oh, this lamp…I’ll need this lamp, and not one thing more!” few more steps “Oh, look, this thermos…I’ll need this thermos, this chair, this lamp…but, that’s all I’ll need!”…and on, and on. Funny stuff/scene!
    And I could imagine that some of us are just like that – and maybe that is one of Rosa’s hidden thoughts of the day? How many times has that little ego guy inside lured us into thinking that we ‘have it all’ when, in fact, we might of looked and acted like a Jerk, when our dose of reality set back in?
    Personally…there are times when I believe that us men should not be up on two legs yet! Not our fault…the brain grew faster (or we like to think so…) than the rest of us! I’ve had moments where I only open my mouth, to change feet! But seriously…both positions were many full moons ago! But…not forgotten! Sometimes called ‘growing up’?
    I believe that all of the things we can imagine…are already out there. ‘IT’ already exists…the non-connect is US! At birth, we are in a few short months…such lively spirits! Full of joy, aloha, energy. Then first day of First Grade – that big god-like person standing up in front, talking loud, tells us that we are all stupid – that’s why we are in school, and we have to do what they tell us to do, because they know better! And THAT IS WHEN OUR BEAUTIFUL BRAIN SHUTS DOWN, DISCOVERY HALTS. We buy into what the Big He or She is telling us…we begin to believe that we didn’t know it all, after all. And we regress, and go backwards!
    We should be inspiring keikis, motivating them, nurturing them, using all of our Managing with Aloha techniques that Rosa has taught us! They are not too young…no age minimum on truth! But society has gotten real good at: following the herd! Just get in line, shut up, and do as you’re told!
    See…I was just a little different. One of my media associates asked me one time “I’ll bet when you were a little boy, you were incorrigible, weren’t you? Your poor mother!”
    Poor MOTHER? I vaguely recall her assigning me a nickname…something like: po’opakiki? I think…And I remember my father always snickering a little whenever a car dealership tv commercial would come on, touting “Lo,lo prices!”
    We can be our own worst enemies. We get in our own way. And do not recognize it! And now I understand…that through Ho’ohana process, we get to go back to discovery! Back to those all powerful spirits having the human experience! Makes perfect sense, yeah?
    Love what I do? You bet! And what is that? For me = breath!
    Mahalo Rosa, Monteman

  5. says

    An expression of Ho‘ohana: The Plastic Spork by Shawn Chambers

    People will ask me, “How will I know something is my ho‘ohana?” They are asking me how they will know that the job they are in is “the one” for them. The truest answer I can give them is that