Once a JJLer, always a JJLer!

The alternative, is to stop learning. And that, is INCONCEIVABLE.

Today we bid a fond Aloha to Joyful Jubilant Learning:

Learning Healthy and Joyful Endings

I never imagined this would be one of the changes on our horizon as 2010 began. Yet as I sit here writing to you, I am sure this change was meant to be, as sure as I can be: It is the “healthy” part I refer to in my post title. There are those times you know, “it’s time.” You may not completely understand why, or be able to explain it well, but you know.

It is with a tinge of sadness, but also the greater joy of certainty and clarity, that I am declaring “game over” for Joyful Jubilant Learning

Well, we did say we’d be game-changers in 2010!

JJL has been a very commanding presence in my life since 2006, and so I have a rush of different emotions about this decision, however I mostly feel like this:

Sid the Kid Kissed the Cup by wstera2 on Flickr

You can read more there”””.. Learning Healthy and Joyful Endings.

The best part of this decision is the open space it gives Talking Story entry into, and believe me, we’ll step into it joyfully!

They like you. But do they perform for you?

I asked the young man taking me on a workplace tour about his company’s management team, admitting that I had not met all of them yet; “What are they like?”

We’d been walking and talking for a good amount of time, and so my question was not entirely out of context or noticeably surprising to him.

His response was one I hear relatively often, careful and safe, but not usually offered unless it is mostly true. He said, “They are very well liked.”

Water Lily Pot

It’s an answer which doesn’t tell me much at all, for as I see it, a well-liked manager isn’t necessarily an effective one.

Better to be liked than unliked; no question there. It’s great if people feel you are approachable, and your likeability does factor into your relationship building, and into the coaching that a team will readily accept from you. However the acid test is this: Do people consistently perform for you?

Alaka‘i managers channel available energies into best-possible workplace productivity which is values-centered, customer-focused, and mission-driven. Their popularity can make the effort easier, but you and I both know “nice” managers who simply don’t get much done, and don’t inspire others to get meaningful work done either.

Ramping up that acid test, I also want to know if workplace performance is reliably consistent, whether or not a likeable manager is even around.

The most effective managers I know, are those who are pushing their teams into extraordinary levels of self-direction, frequent collaboration, and productive messiness in the workplace cultures they are fostering.  Do sparks of creativity occasionally fly, sizzling their way into leaps of passion? Are new ideas regularly germinating in a fertile environment, often rooting and bursting into bloom?

Lavender Water Lily

If you feel your people like you, ask yourself why that is.

By all means, congratulate yourself for the human face you put on management, and the good revealed within your likeability factor, for I have no doubt you’ve worked hard to achieve it.

Then to be a great manager, and be Alaka‘i, dig deeper, and ask yourself just how much your team is performing for you, and how much progress they are steadily making toward that vision you have both deemed important, and have committed to.

Ask yourself if your people are enthusiastic, and if they have a positive expectancy of each and every day they clock in. Assess how much people have grown while you have been on watch and in charge. Chalk up a score which details their new learning, and how they have applied it.

Be honest with yourself about how much of their growth was because of you, and because you know this to be true:

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be,
and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832),
German writer, scientist and philosopher

Values are the Bedrock of Hard Reality

“Soft and fuzzy” has taken a severe hit with our recent economic tumbles. You know what I mean; those workplace humanity concepts which fall beyond the bottom line. We were doing fairly well working on them for a while, and our very rational, genuine selves will speak up and say, “Oh, don’t worry, we haven’t given up on that stuff. But you do understand we have to get the basics back first””

Just great. A “yeah, but” from our emotional intelligence.

As a Talking Story reader, you are aware of my answer. In the financial literacy which is as real as it gets, hard, soft, and everything inbetween, wealth is a value. No matter what goes on in our world, and no matter what factors are at play at any given time, our values are “hard concepts” in my mind: They will always be foundational to why we care, why we bother when we keep trying, and how we go about surviving.

I gave a 20-minute talk about this to an audience of association executives in New York City last week, and I was asked if I would share the transcript of my speech for their future reference. Here it is, for I thought you might enjoy it too, as a good summary of many of the conversations we have had here. My hope, is that you will have it be a mirror image of the business model you give your attentions to today, for you and I both know this to be true: We humans, at our rock-hard, real-as-it-gets core, are “soft and fuzzy” in the true intelligence which matters to us. Task at hand, is getting that to match up to the way we work — from now on.

~ ~ ~

Aloha mai kakou— a hau‘oli makahiki hou— e mahalo keia lā
My Aloha to all of you, and a very happy New Year. Thank you for allowing me to share this time with you.

As you might guess, a luncheon speaker who wrote a book called Managing with Aloha has a mission in mind for these next 20 minutes we spend together, and I’m not going to lie to you, I do! My mission however, may not be exactly what you think it is, and so I’ll start by stating it, for Aloha has no hidden agenda, and neither do I:

By the time you get out of your chair and walk toward the rest of your life, I want you to feel that Aloha is much more relevant to you than you previously may have thought. Once something is relevant, you answer that question we all get in our heads about everything we decide we’ll award our attentions to, “What’s in it for me?” And despite the negative connotation that question can have at first-take, I think it is a very useful question from a perspective of self-leadership, just as useful as Aloha.

Relevance, and usefulness are two of my favorite management concepts. Because, well, they are relevant and useful, and probably never as much as now, in this aftermath of a “great recession” we find ourselves in. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, and we all need to know “What’s in it for me?” and also, “Why should I bother?”

So let’s get to it:

Condensed into its shortest, and most relevant version, my story as a manager who loves being one, is simply this: Managing, with Aloha as a value, worked wonderfully for my business success and my own well-being at work, it worked brilliantly for the employees I had the good fortune of learning from. So now I offer Aloha as something which I am certain can work for you, even if you never set foot in our Hawai‘i nei, though we hope you will one day.

My mission of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawai‘i’s Universal Values to the Art of Business, has gotten to be an everyday and every thing kind of presence for me, precisely because it is so relevant and useful. Managing and leading are verbs, actions all managers take regardless of their titles or positions on an org chart. To not talk about the managing we can do, with Aloha, has gotten close to trying not to think, or not to breathe for me. It is a mission which had come to be, because it helped me make sense of my life, and my working history, as someone born and raised in the Hawaiian islands deeply affected by sense of place. Very cool to have a mission you feel is all you, fitting you as snugly as a second skin. We call it “having Ho‘ohana,” an on-purpose intention within worthwhile work which is all-in us, whatever we define the mechanics of our work to be.

My mission started as a way to help me make my roots healthier, and to help me understand my sense of place in a more tangible way, a way more ethical, pragmatic and sensible in the work I was doing while in the hotel business. My approach, was gaining a better understanding of Hawai‘i’s ancestral values, and it led to my discovering many of the answers I needed for my questions about a better future. I was involved in hard work, but I wasn’t that sure why I even bothered. I didn’t want my work to be a job and nothing more.

I am a local girl, 4th-generation native by birth in Hawai‘i, but without a single drop of Hawaiian blood in me. As you might imagine, that gave me some explaining to do with other native Hawaiians who felt I had too short a native-born only ancestry to write authoritatively about Hawaiian values, or emotionally enough, and they were quite bold in their indignation at first, looking me directly in the eye, and saying, “How dare you!” You see, the big deal about values, is that they explain our behavior, and that’s what I was daring to do. And yes, I dared, for the payoff was too big to ignore.

When we, as managers, equip ourselves with a values vocabulary in the context of a work environment, using them as the building blocks of a workplace culture, we make that culture relevant to a community, healthier for our employees, and much more useful to us as the ambassadors of a company’s mission. It takes diligent focus at first, but in the process, we do make our job as managers easier.

I was careful to study with the kÅ«puna, our indigenous elders, before publishing anything, but quite honestly, that was happenstance initially, a stroke of good luck as I just jumped in and did it, and the result of my getting very fascinated with our Hawaiian values simply as someone who is a lifelong learner through and through: I’m kind of a learning nerd, and study of a subject I am highly curious about is an energetic high for me. Applying what I learn, and having it work its magic at work is the icing on the cake.

I was within year 17 of a 30 year hotel career when Managing with Aloha became my sensibility for healthy workplace culture: 17 years of learning to approach my work the hard way with all the bruises to show for it. I had plenty of passion for my work up to then, but as odd as it might sound to you, I never completely understood why I did, and I just did it. It was work at a passionate level high above going through the motions, but it wasn’t high enough, in that it wasn’t intentional for me —so believe me, I completely get it when people say “passion isn’t enough.” My work was what I was supposed to be doing according to my parents, my teachers, my bosses and employers, and even my fairly well-educated brain” By most standards I was an exceptional employee and a highly successful manager, fulfilling smart standards —all but my own.

So in this study of values, I eventually got to the point where the history of it all was fascinating —it continues to be fascinating the more I delve into Hawaiian history —but my goal was not to explain the past: I was more interested in its relevance to the work I was doing every single day —no matter what that day threw at us, and for our industry’s business prospects in the future. And simply said, the work I was doing every day, was about managing people, and specifically, people in a hotel business which sells Aloha like some charm bracelet draped around every conceivable business model you can imagine connected to the travel and hospitality industry, models intent on making healthier profits.

That’s what we business people are supposed to do, right?

Does that sound like self-justifying, commiserating marketing yuck to you? Greedy green monsters hidden in Aloha service clothing? Sounded that way to all my employees too, no matter how prettily I tried to dress it up in any business-speak. They did not want Aloha to mean revenue, and if that was what I wanted as their manager, you can bet I’d have undercover sabotage or a full-blown mutiny on my hands. They would serve my customers, and serve them well, but they would not sell if any resulting wealth defined Aloha as revenue.

Fact is, we managers cannot define wealth simply in financial terms because our employees don’t, and that is a reality you will never, ever change or escape. Money is part of everyone’s reality, and our unemployment in this global recession is the evidence plain as the nose on your face, but wealth is a valuenot a result. Wealth may be better financial health at a base level, but once you are earning it, wealth is also defined by family, connection to our ancestry, and our best vision of our future. All of these find their inner spirit, their constancy, and their strength in the values which shape our thinking, and our actions. And when the needs of our spirit are met, we find that any additional wealth we gain is most satisfying when shared in service to the community which had been there for us, and lifted us toward our greater good.

Wealth, as a value, is the reason ‘social entrepreneurship’ flourishes despite all odds, and even when non-profit business models flounder.

Wealth as a universal value, is the reason countries all around the world have flocked to help Haiti even though they have costly problems to address in their own back yards at home.

So if Aloha is a value too, one which does not mean revenue, what is it?

When you are born and raised with a Hawai‘i sense of place, this is what Aloha is, as briefly as I can possibly describe it to you with the etymology of the word:

Aloha is the combination of two smaller Hawaiian words, ‘alo’ and ‘ha.’

Ha is the breath of your life, a concept which is like DNA to the Hawaiian people. When you breathe in, and collect your breath, you are collecting a type of intelligence from three centers of being, which is DNA-like in that it is unique to you. It comes from your gut, where your ancestral wisdom resides, your genitals, as your intention for continuing all life in future generations, and your head as mindfulness which is as close as you can come to being graced with divine intervention. Those three things (ancestral wisdom, forward-looking intention, and divinity), combine in each and every breath you take, the breath which will propel you toward living the rest of the following moments. This is what we mean by someone’s Aloha spirit. That is ha, the breath of your life, and the engine of your body.

Whereas ha is inside you, ‘alo’ is on the outside. Your ‘alo’ is the face you present to the rest of the world, and much different from DNA, your alo is of your choosing. Your demeanor, your presence, your blending into the world and opening up to what each and every day offers up to you —and to what each and every person you encounter offers up to you —you choose to make those encounters happen well, or you don’t. Alo is sort of like personality and mood, whereas ha is more like the character you have when no one is looking, character you will always have, and only borne of ancestral good.

One of the most beautifully compelling beliefs about the Hawaiian culture, is that there is no such thing as a bad person from the standpoint of ha: People are born good. There is only bad behavior, chosen in the manipulation of your alo for some mis-directed reason, but a reason which can always be redirected toward good when you manage to purposely connect to your ha.

So put them together, and Aloha is living your life from the inside out, where both inside and outside are a harmonious and healthy match, perfectly aligned, and willingly shared with the rest of the world. Thus Aloha is referred to by most in Hawai‘i as the value of unconditional love. Love for self and others. Loving yourself enough to share who you are in complete authenticity and vulnerability. “What you see is what you get, and it’s me, and it’s good!” It is a greeting hello, as in “I offer myself to you completely.” It is the Aloha of goodbye, as in “when we part our Aloha remains ever shared between us, helping us remain healthy and connected” for life is not meant to be a solo proposition.

We have mostly spoken of managing employees with Aloha, but imagine your customers getting that feeling from you!

At first Aloha sounds really woo-woo, soft stuff intangible and unmeasurable doesn’t it. However make no mistake about it; to the people of Hawai‘i it is REAL, and it is sacred. Imagine how my employees felt trying to script it, and then sell it.

To be clear, I have never, ever been down on business: On the contrary, business is my playground, and as a deliverable beyond the book, Managing with Aloha is an operating system in a healthy organizational culture where we focus on Aloha-woven management practices, including having a healthier attitude and reality check on economics. You are looking at a manager’s advocate who is quite a champion of financial literacy.

Money is not evil; it is a means to an end, and when you have it, business life is pretty sweet. Simply because you can do way more good than you can without having it. I believe that businesses have a responsibility to offer thorough, and completely transparent financial literacy training to all their employees; it’s one of the smartest financial strategies which I know of, because it answers that “what’s in this for me?” question I mentioned earlier, but on several levels: Your employees learn financial lessons in a harsh new great-recession world as they co-author better business models with you. They are close to so much, and chances are, they have a clue to the answer of some financial riddle which presently evades you.

Everyone needs and wants money today. A co-authored, value-aligned business model is one employees support, never dreaming of sabotage or mutiny, and never succumbing to far bigger evils: the mediocrity of going through the motions and not caring, or the hopeless feeling of there being no other option in sight.

On the contrary, when people work in an environment managed with Aloha, they arrive at their own Aloha authenticity. It is a profound gift, one your work culture has given them. Then, they pursue the Ho‘ohana intention of deliberate work, where they understand why they bother, and they want what’s in it for them. They work incredibly hard for it. When your values are aligned, they want what’s in it for you, what’s in it for your vision and mission, and what’s in that cool and sexy future which better financial health will bring you.

So where do you start? You start with you.

Whatever you learn here today, make it relevant, and make it useful. Answer your “Why bother?” and “What’s in it for you” questions from that fertile place of your own Aloha. Live from your inside out. Say what your values are, stand up for them, and live by them. Then having done that for you, do it for your team, and welcome Aloha authenticity from everyone connected to the work you do.

I commend you for being here today, and for learning. If you are here, you are open to being better tomorrow than you were yesterday. Learn well enough to go back to your workplace and teach financial strategy as financial literacy. Be open to finding your relevance, and the usefulness lifting you to your greater good. Some call it ‘legacy.’ You will find the definition of wealth you can pursue with honor, with dignity, and with respect for the person you are meant to be. Wealth will have become your Aloha value too.

Commitment, Character, and Culture

The word ‘commitment’ has come up in several coaching conversations I have had with managers lately, so often that I’ve been forced to sit up and take notice, and listen more deeply to why it is being said.

“His/her commitment level is eroding.”

“There is a lack of commitment in his/her approach which I do not understand.”

“Isn’t commitment to the team and to the company something we can rightly expect?”

I am not hearing these things about staff and the employees that these managers work with. I am hearing it in regard to their peers and partnerships, and about other managers. There is unrest, and a nervousness that commitment to career is disappearing, and that a “me, myself and I” attitude is trumping company commitment and team commitment much too often.

We managers will accept that it is part of our job to “rally the troops,” but it isn’t something that we expect we need to do for each other too. Other managers are supposed to understand, drink the Kool-aid, and be enthusiastic. Other managers are supposed to buck up and get the job done, and be the fall-back contingency go-to people when all else fails.

I agree and I don’t agree.
I agree when there is a healthy workplace culture in place in a relatively healthy business model. That’s when I have high expectations for managers too.
I don’t agree, in that those toe-the-line expectations are a pretty tall order in a time like this, when most business cultures have taken hard hits of uncertainty and inconsistency, and business models are experimental at best.

I’m not that surprised this upheaval in management ranks is happening. We’re in a time where change is running rampant, loyalty has been sorely tested in the face of lay-offs and furloughs we were once sure would never happen, and the predictability of value-alignment has flown out the window. People aren’t apt to commit to a business where uncertainty rules each day: They aren’t sure what will happen next, and which values are revered —and financed by a sustainable business model.

And newsflash: managers are people too.

There is usually just one exception. People do commit to healthy business culture. They will commit to a team which they’ll describe by saying, “Well, if we must go through this, at least we’re going through it together, and with a team I respect and trust.”

In a healthy business culture, the “how” you approach change remains relatively consistent whatever that change happens to be. People don’t feel they need to fortify their own positions in a healthy culture as much as they do in an unhealthy culture where the “how” is as big a question as the “what, why and when.”

Tough decisions get made in healthy cultures too, but they are more predictable when those tough times come, because according to the tenets of the business culture, the decisions “make sense.” Values are known and they are respected.

Bottom line? Character matters.
And what is character? Alignment with values known to be chosen by a company’s culture.

And when workplace culture must be rebuilt in a new business model, it is individual character within a team which seems to matter most.

Character is like Aloha: For you to get it from others, you have to be obsessed with giving it, and demonstrating it first.

And finally, this very wise coaching from W.H. Murray:

Until one is committed,
There is hesitancy – the chance to draw back.
Always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation)
There is one elementary truth,
The ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:

That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would have otherwise never occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
Raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance,
Which no person could have dreamt would have come their way.

I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

“Whatever you can do, or dream
You can begin it…
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

—W. H. Murray, Scottish Himalayan Expedition 1951