Are you a Linchpin, a Genius, or an Alaka‘i Manager?

First off, this posting isn’t going to qualify as a book review for Linchpin, Are you Indispensable? because I haven’t finished reading it. I barely got 12 or so Kindle-short pages into it when the business of day-to-day living interfered in a couple of different ways, and these thoughts started to tumble out.

This is one of those talking out loud kind of writing to think postings for me. Ideas are colliding, and coming from different places, and I’m trying to string them together better, ho‘olōkahi.

This is also a post exclusively written for Talking Story, and not cross-posted for our usual Leadership Tuesday on Say “Alaka‘i.” —Published there today:
Dear Workplace: Let’s Get Healthy

As we can easily do on a blog, I have included several TS-the-mothership link connections too, many more than usual, and you can hover your curser over them to see their titles.

Feel free to interrupt at any time, and tell me what you think too: The comment boxes await you and our conversation. Sincerely, I would LOVE to hear from you and learn from you on all of this, my Ho‘ohana Community.

Ho‘ohana kākou, let’s talk story.

From “greatest asset” to “disposable worker”

Here’s my nomination for the most politically correct, yet sadly empty statement made in many companies today:

“Our people are our greatest asset.”

It’s a statement we are still hearing as our 20+ calendar years have reached their first decade mark, yet the phrases we now use to describe those in the workforce include cheaper labor, outsourcing, permanent temps, and worse, “disposable worker.”

The people called our greatest asset snicker, or tragically, they weep. For their work is not viewed that way. What they feel they experience, and are powerless to change, is this unspoken reality: “Our most profitable processes are our biggest assets, and we just keep people around to keep them running.”

Even within most companies calling themselves a “family business” people assume family means “the owners are related” and qualified to lead by blood versus talent or experience. (We have seen this on a few episodes of Undercover Boss; the CBS reality show producers went for family leaders early into their dirt-digging). We don’t first think of family as the value of ‘Ohana, or as the MWA operational model of an ‘Ohana in Business.

From the “American Dream” to a “Global Possibility”

In 2010, struggle remains our common bond. We’re still reeling, feeling we’re  victims of financial illiteracy who are looking for new answers, trying to recover best we can from a “great recession” of global proportions. The “American Dream” is being questioned and redefined.  One encouraging sign, I think a very encouraging one, is that we’re  now wondering exactly how we can describe a more universal “Global Dream.” It’s a dream we can all enroll in, regardless of our sense of place: We can come together kākou (inclusively) as a strengthened force of diverse humanity intent on living better, and prospering well in concert.

Now THAT would be a tremendously remarkable tsunami of human energy!

I’ve thought about this dream quite a bit in recent months as the economic fiasco of our great recession has reached pandemic proportions and crept so close to home, becoming as personal as personal can get. It’s gotten me to think about Aloha once again too, as our rootstock and fertile soil. It’s gotten me to do a better job in defining wealth as the value it truly is, and as connected to Aloha.

This today, is about how managers fit into this entire picture.

How are managers ‘linchpins’ —a leader-labeling Godin seeks to weave into our vocabulary to stay (the man is a genius with language of intention), or are they another player and puzzle piece we best define differently?

Names are important, for they carry kaona (storied meaning) and our mana‘o (where our beliefs and convictions connect to our values) and I prefer all we have invested in being Alaka‘i Managers. (Surprise, surprise… I admit my bias.)

From “sensibility for work” to “Aloha given service”

Since writing Managing with Aloha, and having its “sensibility for worthwhile work” spin into a six year-old business for me, now a larger umbrella for two other entrepreneurial pursuits, I have kept Aloha close —root stock foundational, as the “universal value of unconditional love and acceptance” I had written it to be about. The most oft-repeated quote from MWA is this one, and I still believe it to be true:

“Every single day, somewhere in the world, Aloha comes to life. As it lives and breathes within us, it defines the epitome of sincere, gracious, and intuitively perfect customer service given from one person to another.”

However, I had also written, “This genuine connection is the Aloha Spirit Hawai‘i is known for thriving within.” and that part? Not true. We don’t feel like we’re thriving. Not in Hawai‘i, and not elsewhere.

So how can we get that healthy feeling of thriving prosperity back?

From “gloom and doom” to “your dream of doing work better”

It is easy to list the gloom and doom. In his signature pithy way, Seth Godin wrote in Linchpin:

“The system we grew up with is a mess. It’s falling apart at the seams and a lot of the people I care about are in pain because the things we thought would work don’t. Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. They have become victims, pawns in a senseless system that uses them up and undervalues them.”

He goes on to say, “It’s time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map.” —and I agree. As one very recent example, I really liked the way that John Temple, Editor of Peer News in Honolulu, recently described what this drawing of a new map can be for journalism.

“Don’t abandon your belief in the importance of the work or your dream of doing work better than anything you’ve done until now” Don’t waste the time you have. Do the stories you’ve always wanted to do.”

From “systems and processes” to “genius and artistry”

We’ve talked about this, here and in Managing with Aloha, within the value of ‘Imi ola, and creating your own destiny versus being a victim of happenstance. Godin’s book is an effort asking us all to choose better individually, choosing to be those who create art, and he defines art as “what we’re doing when we do our best work.”

I applaud his effort, I truly do. “What we’re doing when we do our best work” is what Ho‘ohana is all about! However much as I don’t want to believe this, and am hoping people will surprise me, I can’t help feeling Linchpin won’t help enough people, for they’ll think it’s pie in the sky or simply too hard.

Creating art intimidates us, and people will still hold themselves back, thinking, “but it’s not me, I just can’t. I’m not a genius, and I’m not an artist.”

Again, I haven’t finished his book, but I daresay Godin’s blog reaches a much bigger audience, and he added this there, which I think makes it even more daunting:

“My definition of art contains three elements:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble.

Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.”

Godin has another description in Linchpin I like even better. He says, “You Are a Genius” and then he goes on to explain that “A genius looks at something that others are stuck on and gets the world unstuck.”

Well, before we get the world unstuck, we all need to get ourselves unstuck. We get the creativity part, I think, with writers and creativity coaches like Mark McGuinness of Lateral Action helping greatly. What is harder for us is the work part.

“It’s not rocket science!
But it is hard work.”
David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals in a Start-up School keynote he called,
A Secret to Making Money Online

The “brilliance and ease” of Genius

In 2005,  Dick Richards published Is Your Genius at Work? 4 Key Questions to Ask Before Your Next Career Move. I have subscribed to his definition since then, finding it so useful for those of us who think of ourselves as ordinary people.

I believe, as Dick does, that we ‘ordinary people’ all have some kind of genius we need to define in a self-awareness of our gifts.

Dick had made a very appealing promise on the very first page of his book’s  Preface, saying that his book was about “what I believe to be the main differences between people who do their work with brilliance and ease and those who do not.” He went on to explain:

“People who do their work with brilliance and ease bring their natural power and energy to their work. I call that natural power and energy genius. They also bring to their work a sense that it contributes somehow to something larger than themselves. I call that sense purpose.

If you want your work and career to resonate with your natural power and your purpose, you need to find a match between what is out there in the world of possibility, and what is with you.

Your genius is at the core of what is with you.”

Dick and I had several conversations about how our Aloha spirit connects to this self-awareness of our genius. Exhilarating stuff.

Dick’s book seeks to provide a service to others, one we all need and most will welcome: understanding who we are, and what we are meant to do with the gift of life we have been given. The question, Is Your Genius at Work? taps into our energy. And hmmm” how have we talked about energy here? As the precious resource leading (and self-leadership) creates, and managing (and self-management) optimizes.

Practically speaking, books —Godin’s, Richards’, mine included, don’t give genius-defining help to most people where and when they need that help every day —in the workplace. Managers do.

From “Linchpin” to “Alaka‘i Manager”

All of these discussions lead to one polarizing thought for me: We need Great Managers more than we have ever needed them before, and we need the Alaka‘i Managers who have a foundational, value-centered belief in our common bonds of Aloha inspiration.

To believe in Aloha, is to truly believe that “people can be our greatest asset” and as a statement which must be lived in a real, and practical way, and not as politically correct words very carelessly said.

To be an Alaka‘i Manager, is to lead and manage as verbs connected to energy, recognizing human-propelled energy as our greatest resource. The Alaka‘i Manager knows full well, that “People are not our greatest asset: People who Hō‘imi with the energy of their Ho‘ohana are.”

To believe in Aloha, is to believe that we cannot have a “lost generation,” we cannot accept the idea of a “disposable worker” —and we won’t: We’ll Ho‘ohana Kākou, in working together for a better way, and a healthier humanity painting a global dream, and bringing it to life.

People can believe these things, but fact is, most people need help making it their personal reality. That is where the Alaka‘i Manager steps in, and begins to matter, being of Aloha service to their fellow human beings.

For instance:
We looked at what this “help” looks like in last week’s postings in connection to strengths management:

  1. Feeling Good Isn’t the Same as Feeling Strong
  2. Failure isn’t cool. Neither is weakness

We’ve always known “Genius” is remarkable

I don’t know what the answers are for everyone in the world, and I truly applaud Seth Godin for taking on such an ambitious book, urging us all to be artists and geniuses as he does —I’m going to finish reading Linchpin.

However I do know this: Alaka‘i Managers need to be the new geniuses of our workplaces, those who look at something that others are stuck on and who then get the world unstuck. They need to consider the “brilliance and ease” of work to be their deliverable, and their service given to the world, their purpose as Dick Richards defines it. And their own bosses need to support them in doing so.

Not only do they  need to be, Alaka‘i Managers  can be workplace geniuses, and relatively quickly —much more quickly than we’ll see a new upswing in artists, and even though Seth Godin’s weeks old Linchpin is on bestseller lists and enjoying phenomenal, hopeful reviews. Why? It’s not what people read; it’s what they believe they can do.

Alaka‘i Managers help people in the workplace believe. Alaka‘i Managers make genius possibility more exponential: Their art is in strengthening and growing other people.

Alaka‘i Managers are the ones who will mentor, coach and support the Linchpins who have genius calibre art inside them, for that genius calibre art they have? It’s what we know as the inspiration that flowers when you are in-spirit ke Aloha.

Seth Godin and I do agree on this:
You have to make the choice to be a Linchpin, reveal and use your genius, or be an Alaka‘i Manager. Wildly exciting, is the possibility that all three can happen, and I believe they do. To “ordinary people.” Now to make that possibility a better probability.

Managers, kÄ“ia lā: Move. Into your Sweet Spot. You can  Heal Thyself.

Photo Credits: Book Jackets from
The Final Touch by Dani Sardà i Lizaran on Flickr
Genius Bar by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

*Footnote: About my affiliate links
Any income made from our aStore on is used to fund our literacy campaign within Ho‘ohana Publishing, a Teaching with Aloha initiative. We purchase books which supplement Managing with Aloha as needed, and donate them to schools and workplace training programs committed to teaching within Aloha value-alignment.