Be a Deskless Manager: Ho‘o!

~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” April 2009 ~
Be a Deskless Manager: Ho‘o!


My business has not quite reached that five-year mark, yet so much has changed since I was last in corporate life, one of many managers in a large organizational culture. I will often think about what I would do differently today if I still had any of my old managerial jobs. In short, a lot. I think ”“ no, I am sure ”“ I would do a lot differently.

Technology offers up a readily apparent reason, but the biggest one is my sequential and consequential learning. We learn, flex, and adapt.

However when I visit today’s workplaces, I am often quite surprised at how little things actually have changed for many managers, especially those who have worked in certain companies or industries for a long time. They’ve been cocooned, often in rather incestuously narrow and shallow ways. They’ve plugged away day in and day out while switched on automatic pilot, doing a whole host of things the way they have always done them. There hasn’t been any seismic shift big enough to shake them loose from their habits.

You Need to Buy Low and Sell High, Stanley!

For me, the switch to self-employment was a significant catalyst, a crucible, and now, I’m finding that the current economic recession is shaping up to be another one. Our habits change dramatically in crucible moments: The shift which occurs all around us will cause us to shake ourselves out of a lot of different assumptions we’d been cocooning ourselves within. We try new things that we might never have tried before, and that’s a good thing. We learn, and we grow.

Yet when I see others who are stagnant, and who haven’t grown, I do wonder if we’ve gotten conditioned over the past few years in our reactivity: We’ve had big things happen in our lifetimes, and we’ve gotten steely in our resistance and resilience. We are less move-able.

I think this recession is big, but is it big enough? Is it as big in our consciousness as it should be, or as it could be? Are we allowing it to usher in the changes we should open our arms wider to? Are we allowing enough movement?

Is this recession seismic enough for you?

If you are an Alaka‘i manager or leader, the answer should be, “Yes, I am making sure that it is. I am moving.”

My favorite Hawaiian coaching word is a very short one: Ho‘o. We hear it more as a prefix to other Hawaiian words, as it turns nouns into verbs. By itself, ho‘o means to make something happen. Ho‘ohana: Work on purpose, and with intention. Ho‘ohanohano: Bring dignity and respect to your actions. Ho‘okipa: Give unconditional hospitality, and serve. Ho‘oponopono: Make things right, bring them to balance.

Well managers, I’m thinking we need to Ho‘o this recession: If you aren’t deliberately welcoming it as a shift which can pave the way to intentional change for you, why not?

Sure, this recessionary economy is painful in a lot of different ways, but are you optimizing it? Are you capitalizing on all the silver linings which are appearing? Are you discarding old habits now, because they are being revealed, and because you finally can do so?

Ho‘o! Move it! Make something happen that otherwise might not change!

Let’s see” what very practical example can I give you” oooh, I know!

I Believe You Have My Red Swingline Stapler

Managers, get rid of your desk

In this day and age of the digitally savvy workplace, do you really need one?

And just imagine: What kind of domino effect would it create with your work, and your working style, if you no longer had a desk? How many conversations would you have with people instead of with paper?

If any of my old bosses read this, they will laugh out loud, for I used to be one of those managers who had quite the command center designed into my office. Space was always at a premium, and I learned how to do without an office (and an office door), but not without a desk or workstation of some kind: It was my landing pad, my perch, my return to ground zero. It was my sacred place for just me. And yet” not good.

It wasn’t good then (yes, I do hear those bosses laughing at me”) and it isn’t good now. The things we managers really need happening in the work we do will not happen at our desks. I know it, you know it. We managers are supposed to be with our teams, not with our desks.

So get rid of it. I haven’t had a desk since I left the Hualalai Resort in 2003, and in that time I’ve written a book, thousands of blog posts and freelance articles, I’ve created three different business entities and more than a dozen websites, and I’ve coached hundreds of managers in the same ways I encourage you to coach those who are on your team.

I will admit to you that I have tried to have a desk and an office, but my best work has gotten done when I didn’t, and so I gave up with my time-wasting tweaking trying to make them work. My ‘desk’ today is my laptop and my cell phone, with the convenience of any table which happens to be nearby and available. I don’t even have an iPhone or blackberry; I don’t care for gadgets and I don’t need them

“The ‘paperless office’? It’ll never happen in my lifetime.
The ‘deskless office’? Give me a year.”
Robin Sharma, CEO of Sharma Leadership International

And I’ll bet you don’t need a desk either. A‘ole: Do without it.

I once had the same objections you might have right now. Going desk-less is one of those things you just have to try.

Brave enough to try it? You will be amazed at what happens. Ho‘ohana: Make better work happen because you are within your relationships instead of with a piece of furniture.

If the very suggestion is traumatic for you, you needn’t purge your desk right away and cart it out to the curb just yet. Try it for a couple of weeks as a pilot program: Just walk away from it and let it be without you too. Don’t walk back other than to retrieve whatever you might find you’ve left there and still need, but don’t sit there ”“ not at all. Not even during your so-called non-working hours.


Be Alaka‘i.
Lead in the effort, and get the other managers where you work to follow your initiative and good example. Do this together as a team.

Oh, this could be so much fun for you! Let me know how it goes, would you?

Let’s talk story.
Any thoughts to share? Comment here, or via the tweet-conversation we have on Twitter @sayalakai.

Photo credits: “You Need to Buy Low and Sell High, Stanley!” and “I Believe You Have My Red Swingline Stapler” both by foundphotoslj on Flickr

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