The Grit

Last night I caught up with an episode of Three Rivers I’d saved on my DVR from two weeks back. You may have seen it: Two firefighters give up a portion of their own lungs to save the life of their captain, a man denied transplant candidacy, and without other ‘Ohana to turn to. A brave and generous act to be sure, with both making the choice to do so for reasons of their own, yet still requiring decisions of much courage. The captain was a very lucky man to have it play out as it did, for he was catalyst, but not reason. He provided the opportunity for their decisions, but he was incidental to their choices.

I’m guessing that every manager watching the episode would have silently had the same thought which crossed my mind: Would my staff have done something like that for me?

There is a lot of grit in management: Stuff that is dirty or ugly, and can really grate on you, on others, and on the work to be done. It is stuff you do have to deal with, for ignoring it is far worse. Grit is often abrasive. It leaves marks behind which scratch, mar and will remain, often defying any covering up. Grit becomes a constant reminder of when things didn’t go as well as you had hoped they would.

There is some degree of grit and its remainders in every single relationship existing between a manager and the person they manage. Sometimes we merely sense it underfoot. Sometimes there seems to be so much of it we feel the tornado effects of a swirling dust cloud of the stuff all around us. Grit is unavoidable, for it comes with the beast, and because we humans are as complex as we are, it’s often unpredictable, and can appear in even the best of relationships. All we can do is manage it best we can, hoping to eventually move on enough so that we don’t look back at those traces of grittiness left behind us.

Locked Why?

Oddly, grit can produce a badge of credibility for managers.

We all accept the inevitability that grit will appear in even the best of circumstances, and so we equate managerial success with the ability to deal with it somewhat gracefully and ethically. When there is a lot at stake, those making those management hiring calls look over their candidates trying to see the scratches so they can ask the question, “How did that happen?”

When you’re asked the question, you know they accept the inevitability, and what they really want to know is how everything turned out” would someone give you half a lung like those firefighters did? And if so, would they do it for their own reasons, or for you, and because you helped bring Aloha into their life?

To be Alaka‘i, be First

If I ask you what you’ve initiated lately, what would come to mind, and how quickly?

We speak of Alaka‘i in a wealth of context, for there is so much included within both managing and leading. There is much too much, and we need to focus.

For the coming week, I want you to try something: Think of only one thing, and have it be INITIATIVE.

Niu browns on black sand

Alaka‘i at its value-best is about initiative: We seize it for ourselves, and we are attracted to it in others.

We know inherently that initiative is about being first in something, and because we’re first we’re naturally pioneering — we’re exploring options and testing them, never resting on our laurels, for that would be duplication at worst, and improvement at best. However initiative is about complete freshness, newness, experimentation and bravery. It is about BEING FIRST.

Having a learner’s mind will equip you magnificently, so do not hesitate. Shed off any protective husk you may be keeping around you. Be first this week. Take initiative. Be Alaka‘i.

Update: Here is another take on this, just added to my Flickr pages:

I can be fire

“I want to be fire.”

“But you can’t. You’re a lily, and we live in the water.”

“Are those facts, or are they happenstance? I can change.”

“I don’t think so” you can’t change that much. There are some things you just have to accept.”

“Well, I don’t. You might accept them, but I don’t. I’m still going to try to be fire.”

“Gotta admit, there is something happening here in your trying” how does it feel?”

“Scary, but also thrilling, and the thrilling is winning.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Footnote: Mondays are devoted to Managing with Aloha here on Talking Story.

There is more backstory to MWA Mondays here if you are interested, including an index of relevant resource pages: Monday is for Managing with Aloha. My Book Page is here.

On Previous Mondays, Pō‘akahi kākou:

Rapid Fire Learning | June 2010

Aloha Ho‘ohana Community,

If you are newly joining us, Rapid Fire Learning is another way we “take 5” here at Talking Story: It happens on the last weekend of the month. Jump right in! If you’re one who likes learning of the backstory, you can catch up with a fuller explanation of what it’s all about here: Rapid Fire Learning Returns to Talking Story. Click on the tags near the post footer to skim through previous month editions.

I’ll go first, and I invite you to join in. Use the comments here, or send me a trackback from your own site. Tumble something, or tweet yours one-by-one in the Twitter 140 if you like!

My RFLs for Iune ~ June, 2010:

One of the mantras I had adopted for 2010 was “Less will be more.” (Here is the backstory.)

Within the spirit of that mantra, I gave June of 2010 up to an experiment, one of using, and doing, as little as possible in diverse ways. More simplicity. Less complexity. More calm. Less busy-ness. These became guidelines I applied to everything, including my work. One of my reasons was family, for I knew there were graduations, weddings, and some vacation time to be had this month, and I wanted to focus on people and on conversation, and see if I could further wean myself from my digital habits, habits I know to be too hungry in their greediness with my time and attentions. Thus RFL is a bit more focused for me this month, for here are the 5 key learnings I have taken from my Spring-into-Summer, June 2010 Less is More-ness of a month:

From beneath

1. While my intention was to “see and better hear others” more than usual, I learned to see myself more, and began to watch my own habits as they happened. I have noticed that I dabble a lot as new inputs come my way. It is possible to remain an incessant dabbler without choosing, and without deciding for long stretches of time. On the one hand, I like that I jump into dabbling as I do, and that I do not hesitate, nor stifle my curiosity. On the other hand, this dabbling gives me a wanton restlessness that I do not like very much, and I need to end it at some point, with a choice or a decision of some kind being that ‘ending’ or a finish-with-flourish.

Crown flower buds

2. When you are family, you take each other for granted way, way, WAY too much. We all know this, but what do we do about it, and how often? We think we know all there is to know about each other, forgetting that family grows and changes just as our friends, co-workers, and other peopled relationships do. This month I taught myself to catch up with family more intensely, asking them better questions, and listening to their whole answers in that I welcomed their going “off topic” whereas that meandering can honestly annoy at other times. Family can be endlessly interesting; I’m the one that gets boring if I’m not careful with curbing my impatience for an answer. Impatience can kill a much more fascinating story.

Inner Beauty

3. I learned how little I really need my laptop (when traveling) now that I have my iPhone and my Kindle. When home, and in-office, and I force myself to ignore my laptop, I start to initiate phone calls, and connect with people more by voice and conversation, and less by email and text message. Voice is better. Conversing is richer. Both give you a timely, emotional connection that simply cannot be duplicated because there is interplay.

And you are?

4. Part of June included a totally unintentional radio silence both online and off (I had to cancel a speaking engagement for the first time ever) because of a worrysome family accident that brought everything else to a halt for me. I learned who missed me, and who did not as connected to a business initiative I’d taken on: Decisions previously fraught with emotion became very easily made, teaching me how useful emotional detachment can be if only I can manage to stage it in a less dramatic way!

Of the earth

5. I hate that I have become a skimmer in our world of informational overload, for I crave that old ability I once had, and have lost, to read slowly and deeply. In these June weeks I’ve learned that I can get that ability back if I enforce longer stretches of digital/interweb abstinence on a daily basis. Yes, daily. Turning off once a week or weekend is not enough, not for the habit shift which must be re-cultivated.

Magnolia story 3

This Less is More RFL-ing dished up more time I could give to my hobby-ing on Flickr… the photos I have included as dividers here are a few of my personal favorites, among those which caused me to focus on the natural beauty around me. Click on any photo to get the larger view appearing on my Flickr stream.

So how about you? What did you learn this month?

What (else) does your workplace finance?

How would you answer the question? Think of ‘workplace’ very literally, as in a physical place of communal work, where other things can, and do happen besides the work itself.

On one morning of my recent vacation I sat in Tamarind Park (Bishop Square, downtown Honolulu) having coffee and doing people-watching with daughter and boyfriend while hubby fit in a doctor’s appointment in one of these tall buildings:

Tamarind Park, Bishop Square

Boyfriend asked me if I ever missed the very, very nice office I’d had while a resort ops vp, and my answer was that I once missed some things about having that office, but I have since discovered my nostalgia to be a temporary state of affairs. The work, the conveniences, and the social relationships have all been replaced in some way to maintain or better the good (the pros), and discard the rest (the cons). Nothing is exactly the same, but the change has been good for me, forcing the shifts of new, and timely learning.

We three then began to talk story about how much work has changed since then (2003 was the year of my ‘corporate retirement’) because of our technological mobility today.

We also spoke of how you notice it more when you don’t have it — and thus you adjust faster in making those pro/con adjustments.

Others still have the office, still have the work, still have the conveniences and social relationships, and because they are “still in” them, they haven’t bothered to adjust at all, when fact is, they could have done so too.

Both daughter and boyfriend (both 26, and who both have a workPLACE) then stated quite correctly (in my opinion), “These people working here: Bet at least half of them could be sitting at home doing the exact same work they are supposed to be doing here.” “Heck, I bet it’s more like 80% of them. And why are they down here buying coffee and bagels at 9 in the morning instead of working anyway?”

Good questions. Great observations. So little is truly a brick and mortar business these days. That said, there are quite a few Downtown Everywhere office building property managers who are nervously relieved their tenants have yet to come to that aha! moment.

Another passing thought… Intriguing to imagine how many homeless we would help get off Honolulu streets and beaches if converting a single one of the skyscrapers in my photo…

What might you be “still into” with your automatic pilot? Are you financing place-of-work necessity, or someone’s too-long walk-about coffee and bagel break?

Want more? Try these:
Model Me This: There’s little use having a model you’d get an “A” for in some business course — including one of mine, because those are get-your-training-wheels places that at best, will steady you in your seat.
~ ~ ~
Manager’s Skill: Separate Signal from Noise: One of the best skills you can cultivate as a manager is separating signal from noise, understanding what you pay attention to, and what you ignore as irrelevant.
~ ~ ~
Embrace your Systems Thinker: I truly value and appreciate systems thinking; it’s the drool-over-it detail stuff of the stellar projects that dynamic workplace teams prosper within.

Read the story behind the book: Imagine having a Thought Kit
Get your copy from the Kindle Store, or on