If you want to know, ask!

~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” May 2009 ~
If you want to know, ask!

We managers know that the best information available to us resides in other people. What we must do, is tap into it.

Being perceptive is hard work ”“ or is it?

Last time, I suggested you consider your vacation, or any extended time away, a golden opportunity for identifying emerging leadership (from this past Tuesday: While the Big Cat is Away). You do want to know what happened while you were gone, and why. You want to know who championed the best ideas which emerged, and who took the baton and ran with it.

We’ve previously spoken in these blog pages of leadership as the workplace discipline of creating energy. Well, you don’t always have to single-handedly create new energy; in fact, you shouldn’t. Alaka‘i leaders will also identify where workplace energy is, and when they qualify it as positive and conducive to mission and vision, they throw their support behind those who generate that energy. They will recognize that those people are essentially saying, “I am ready and willing to lead with you!”

Today, let’s talk about the practical how-to of the suggestion. How do you figure out what happened while you were gone, especially when everyone may have already put it behind them and moved on —or worse, they misunderstand your motives, and deliberately hide things from you, hoping that you won’t notice them? There is probably a lot of middle ground between those two things as well: People are not actively hiding things from you, but they simply don’t feel what’s past is as important, and they’ve reduced it to trivial detail unaware that you consider it still-important input.

What’s the best approach of the Alaka‘i manager in finding out what’s occurred? Going back to our vocabulary once more, and in the context of an organizational culture:

  • Leadership is the workplace discipline of creating energy connected to a meaningful vision.
  • Management is the workplace discipline of channeling that mission-critical energy into optimal production and usefulness.

Great managers cannot channel good energies they are unaware of.

The Way I See It #7

An underrated investigative technique

There is much wisdom in a phrase we largely say with tongue in cheek: Ask, and ye shall receive.

We managers can easily slip into whining that “We’re not mind-readers,” but then at other times we can demonstrate that we haven’t given up on trying to be! We’ll use investigative techniques that can appear sneaky and manipulative. The result of these two conflicting behaviors is quite a mixed message. At best we confuse everyone; at worse we cause them to distrust us.

The most effective way for you to get the lay of the land in your workplace topography, is to tap into the collective perspectives of your employees and business partnerships. Their perspective truly IS your reality.

The easiest way for you to do that is to set up a conversation, whether one-on-one or within a larger team huddle or group meeting, and ask them what you want to know. Preface your inquiry with telling them why you’re asking so there is no second-guessing your motivations.

For example”

I’ve just done that with my own team working within a Ho‘ohana Publishing project that continued during my vacation without me. Here are a few points about this simple strategy of asking:

  • I got them together virtually via a message within our web-based project management space, which requested that they each respond with a 5-item list of briefly-written single sentences which describe to me what happened within the project while I was gone.
  • This is something we’ve done on an on-going basis: I am confident they fully understand my motivations. So my preface was quite short, yet it still stated why I asked, and what my intentions were, for I welcomed the opportunity to repeat and reinforce the m.o. of our working culture.
  • With this particular project there are certain things I am hoping to hear about, and I explicitly listed them as “possible thought triggers.” I am not testing them, and I don’t want them to feel they are being tested or graded: I am sincerely looking for specific inputs.
  • My preface included a message of thanks, letting them know I greatly appreciated the way they all contributed to my vacation being as worry-free as it was. Rather than having that mahalo sound perfunctory, I talked about specific things I already knew about and did sincerely value. This also challenges them to dig below the surface, and not repeat what I already know about in their lists.
  • I’ve found a list of 5 to be a good number, not too short, not too long —relatively easy for them to compose, and manageable enough for me to read and respond to (there are 5 to 7 people on most of the teams I work with.) With 5 items, their lists will usually reveal items of lesser importance that can be good documentation historically, serving as a point of reference when future shifts happen. When ranked, these lists can also illustrate how different people within a team rank their priorities.
  • There was a part two within my request for their responses. I asked that secondly, they identify the single item out of their list of 5 occurrences which they feel is most exciting to them: What on their lists do they most wish to continue working on? Excitement is a symptom of positive energy, and it hints to self-motivations.
  • For now I simply want them to identify that single occurrence or idea, but I let them know that we will continue with a discussion in person or on the telephone, and therefore they needn’t explain in too much detail yet: I want to save them the time-consuming written work, for I know more conversation will ensue, and we can cover much more ground in the two-way when it happens.
  • I set a deadline for their responses, and I ended with a proposed date and time for our follow-up conversations. As part of that agenda-to-come, I noted that I am eager to learn if they would like to assume a leadership role with the item they propose we continue, or if they will decide to be a champion for the change suggested by another leader among their peers.

The message is very clear to them, that within our mission-critical project team, being anyone but a leader or champion is not an option I am that interested in, however as you can tell, what I’ve written of above is very much about management technique and style too. That is the Alaka‘i work culture we have now have, a balance which is primarily between self-management and leadership initiatives, and it is one which continues to create personal energy for me daily as their manager.

It is energy I can invest into a great variety of things now that I’m back at work too. When I ask the right questions my attention is focused on the right things and I waste very little time with catch-up. My direction from this point on is easy to take, and my team can feel good about helping me get there so quickly.

It feels really good to be back.

Let’s talk story.
Any thoughts to share?

Photo credit: The Way I See It #7 by Rosa Say.

For those who prefer them, here are the Talking Story copies of the links embedded in this posting:

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While the Big Cat was Away

~ Originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” May 2009 ~
While the Big Cat was Away


We quietly slipped passed a mini-milestone during the past few weeks of my vacation: May 18th marked 6 months that we have shared this space within the generous Ho‘okipa [hospitality] of The Honolulu Advertiser. I’d say it’s been a good start!

Organizational person that I am (my career was significantly shaped by total quality management and systems thinking, and today I am a workplace culture coach) six months is a long time. I like experiments, projects and pilots, and by long-standing habit I will look at monthly packages of time and measure them by the results of those projects or themes I’d created and assigned to them: What happened? What results were true keepers, and what should I begin to say “No more” to, redirecting my attentions in a better, more useful way?

Life imitates Art for me, and in going forward from today’s starting point I have two mission-critical projects in the works right now. You will hear more about them as time goes by, but for now, as is relevant to my writing here, I am making a subtle change, one which I think will help us both.

My publishing schedule here will remain the same (twice a week, with Sundays an optional and occasional third day), but my posts will be themed to help us solidify our chosen vocabulary, and better internalize the distinctions that our Alaka‘i learning has made between management and leadership as the disciplines great managers must weave into their daily practice. Each Tuesday I will write on leadership, and each Thursday I will write on management.

We start today, a new pilot of sorts to proactively design our next six months together. Thank you so much for being here, and I sincerely hope you’ll decide to stay.

Comfortable Enough

While the Big Cat was Away

The adage goes, “While the cat’s away, the mice will play.” By merit of its size —and instinctive hunger for those bite-sized feline morsels called mice— we could think of the cat as the Big Cat, the one in power, and thus in charge of the territorial romps these two creatures might occupy.

Though the variables are somewhat different, we fall into that same assumption in the workplace, don’t we. By merit of ownership or organizational position, the Big Cat is the one in power, and thus in charge, and usually he or she is called ‘boss’ or ‘leader’ because of their title, though it could also be because of how their actions influence us. Hopefully, their leadership expressions are good ones.

So let’s say you’re the boss. When you are in the workplace stuff happens because of your very pervasive presence; that’s just the way things are, and it almost seems to happen naturally, the nature of the proverbial beast.

But what happens when you are away? You’ve been on vacation, or away on a long business trip. Maybe it was just a three or four-day weekend, such as the one we’ve just had to commemorate Memorial Day, but the office was still opened, and maintaining hitch-free operations was important; someone had to man the fort.

My question for you is this: What do you notice when you get back?

What should the Boss look for?

I’m in that very fortuitous place right now. I put certain things on hold during my vacation, shutting them down completely, where those working with me took their vacation time too. However there were other things that I left in the good hands of others. I considered my time away a golden opportunity for us both, and I can’t wait to see what happened!

When we get back it is so, so tempting to immediately setting our sights on “catching up” and what we really mean is that we are reengaging, and hoping to get back in stride where it can seem like we were never gone. We look for where we can intercept the action and dive in again, seizing back our reins, and getting back in charge.

One word: Don’t.

Leadership is an attitude which never goes on vacation.

Don’t take right up where you left off. Reengage, yes, but demonstrate your leadership by doing so in a different way. I have two suggestions for you.

1. Begin again. Start new.
Show your team that you changed while on that long weekend, business trip or vacation, and you’re embracing it. You got better. You learned something and grew from the experience. Leadership is an attitude which seeks opportunity constantly, and readiness for leadership never goes on vacation. Now that you’re back, you are going to make your new experiences apply in new workplace usefulness. Use your old leadership pulpit to present ideas that are different somehow, and newly creative. Be a visionary.

2. Reengage in workplace action by letting go.
Look for your newly emerging leaders; identify them and allow them to continue whatever leadership initiative they championed while you were away. Give them your recognition, thank them sincerely, and ask them what you can do now in continuing to support their efforts. Leadership is not just for you and about you: Alaka‘i leadership is a team sport which values leadership in every single expression it makes. If you happen to be the one with the conventional title of ‘leader,’ you must be its biggest advocate and champion.

Adopt a new Alaka‘i adage with me

It goes like this: “While the cat’s away, leader-mice emerge!”

While the Big Cat is away, the mice will be more playful, but that’s okay with the Big Cat! New leadership will emerge in that freedom, and the Big Cat cannot wait to welcome it to the party. When it comes to Alaka‘i leadership, the more the merrier and you thrill to the team sport.

Then there are the possibilities ”“ wow! You’re the Big Cat, and you’ve got bigger and better plans and ideas too. Letting go of the old, and allowing it to energize someone new can be pretty sweet.

Let’s talk story.
Any thoughts to share?

Photo credit: Comfortable Enough by Rosa Say.

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Life Imitates Art

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

— Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Three Palms

Aloha everyone, how are you?

Tomorrow morning I will be back with a posting at my Say “Alaka‘i” blog for The Honolulu Advertiser. However I had promised that my first update when back online would be here at Talking Story, and so here we go”

As is the wisdom of divine providence (love how this can occur!) today also happens to be the 25th of the month, and the day is quite a strong trigger for me by now ”“ I willingly and joyfully succumb to the habit of Rapid Fire Learning, that stream-of-consciousness exercise in which we reflect on the last month and consider a list of five things we have learned. So how about if to start, I update you in that way? My vacation had officially begun with my last posting on April 30th. Here is my Rapid Fire Learning from May 1st through today:

  1. My biggest learning in May was that more offline time is essential if I am to make progress on my mission-critical projects. I love my online communities, but they can too easily consume all my attentions (versus directed attention at the right time).
  2. Second, letting go while away is so much easier when you have a great team to support you, such as the team I have within the JJL Advisory Board ”“ and remember, they are unpaid, all volunteers driven by their commitment to the value of learning. Self-leadership shines magnificently.
  3. My vacation was nearly a month long, and for the first time I included my email in my “I’m completely away” messages to disconnect as much as possible. It was extremely revealing to learn the full extent to which email had begun to rule my days (and it wasn’t good), and I am committed to re-learning to use email with new self-imposed rules.
  4. “Less is more” is absolutely, positively true, and a Stop Doing list trumps a To Do list for me ”“ big time. In addition, dwelling in that place enables me to give to others so much more.
  5. Making room for projects and pilots is not more work for me; it is deliberate intention on the RIGHT work. Experimentation is crucial within my own Ho‘ohana and project work is very useful to me in that it fuels my creative process. Stay tuned!

I want to prove Oscar Wilde right

Hc_badge100x50By all means, it is time to have my life imitate my art (An ‘Imi ola concept to be sure ”“ create your best possible life!) Here are the practical, tangible updates for our Ho‘ohana Community.

My pleasure travel is over (and the family time and festivities surrounding commencement were truly wonderful!) and Job One for me now is bringing Say Leadership Coaching, Ho‘ohana Publishing, and Writing with Aloha out of hiatus and back to good working order. I freely admit to you I have allowed my businesses to languish a bit so that I could take this time completely off AND reinvent them, and so there is quite a lot involved in that statement to bring them “back to good working order.”

In addition, there are two projects that I have committed myself to completing as soon as possible, and I will share more about them as progress develops. I chose the Oscar Wilde quote as a good mantra for me to keep in affirmative focus, for I deeply wish to have my life imitate the art I set about creating, and my projects are my way to do that.

You will see me reenter the world of our online communities, but slowly and with very deliberate choices, and in a manner that is much more tempered and reserved. At times I may appear selfish: As hard as it will likely be for me, I am resolving to say “No” to the online candy store much more than I say yes. These are my current plans:

  • Talking Story remains blog-central for me, and I look forward to conversing here with you here again. This is my home base and will remain that way, and posting will be done when I have something to say and share with you as it happens, versus of a creative new blog-specific theme or direction.
  • You will see me reengage with our Joyful Jubilant Learning (JJL) community as soon as Rapid Fire Learning posts there as well. I am looking forward to Rick Hamrick’s first time as our Mea Ho‘okipa (RFL host this month).
  • Learning is a personal value I find impossible to turn off (‘Ike loa is the Hawaiian value of learning). However other than our current theme at JJL I am going to say “No” to all new inputs so I can channel my learner’s energies into my own two projects instead.
  • I will resume my twice-weekly writing for Say “Alaka‘i” because I feel doing so is highly conducive to the flow of one of my projects, the writing of my second book. During my May vacation I completely revamped my outline and am quite excited about the writing I have invested into my current manuscript ”“ I am confident you will be too once I get it published, and I want to work on making that happen as soon as possible.
  • One of the things I consciously am saying “No” to (and those who know me well will gasp at this) is all my reading, for it is too distracting when I am writing a manuscript of my own. I will not be reading or reviewing books until my manuscript is complete, and I will also be staying away from my blog reader, trusting that the bloggers of our Ho‘ohana Community will understand.
  • I will greatly curtail my conversations on Twitter. I know this will not be easy, for I do enjoy the banter of our friendships there and normally feel reciprocation is important, but I realize this restriction is very necessary: My habits-by-design will change to more update broadcasting when I have value to share, but less ‘listening’ to where a trend or link from others will send me down some rabbit trail. If I am unsuccessful at achieving this shift and Twitter proves to be too great a distraction I will stay away completely until my chosen projects are done and my businesses are thriving again.
  • For now, I am keeping my MWA Group on LinkedIn on hiatus. We were just getting started there, and I think it will be much wiser to restart at a better time. As I said above with my May RFLs, “Less is more.” However this group is connected to one of my current projects, and while shelved for now, it will not be forgotten or dissolved.

In my current resolve I write this post more for me than for you. You are important to me, and it is fabulous that I can update you on my intentions as well, but this is more about putting my Ho‘ohana in writing so that I MUST honor my own word and make good on it. I feel the best I can do for you is to lead by merit of my own best example. We know that as Alaka‘i, and as self-managing with our Aloha.

Thank you so very much for all the support you continue to give me. Though in a newly calm and quieter way, or more accurately, because of that ma‘alahi persuasion for calm, it’s good to be back.

We Ho‘ohana together, and I am so grateful that we do,


By the way” If you would like to see them, my vacation pictures are posted on Flickr. Here is a shot of the Monument Creek Vista at the Grand Canyon:

Monument Creek Vista