Have you caught the curve ball?

I threw it to you this past Tuesday: The State of our Learning and the Demand for Curation

In throwing that curve ball, I did it to you just as your boss does. I did it to you just as many who lead will do, to many who manage with them: I threw a new initiative at you, launching into a new theme whether or not you’re ready for it, and now, you just have to deal with it.

Dealing with Decisions

Such is life, isn’t it. Some of us catch well, and some of us don’t. There are some who will just walk off the field, hoping that the coach or a teammate will notice and call them back: They haven’t the resilience, tenacity and fortitude to keep trying on their own.

So am I back-pedaling to give you a breather, and let you catch up in your own way? Not a chance. (Does your boss?) You may recall that I recently wrote of a new tough-love resolve I have (it was called “Helping Without Hurting”).

Let’s just talk about catching curve balls today, on this, our “managing Thursday.” A new initiative has come down from the top: What do you do now?

First, you Catch Well

Catching well (‘well’ meaning that the next play you make is the best possible one) is a hard thing to learn for all managers. You think —you hope —that it will get easier the higher up the ranks you move, but take it from me (been there) it doesn’t. It gets harder, because you have fewer places to hide: The higher up you go, the more visibility you have, and the more people throw their ‘should-ing’ expectations at you. Others assume you have more information at your fingertips and you’re in-the-know of some inner circle.

What you know to be the raw truth of the matter, is that unless you reach that pinnacle of being Numero Uno, you answer to someone — ask any CEO how it goes with his shareholders or Board of Directors. In fact even then, up there in godlike status you’ll answer to someone: You’ve begun to understand that everyone in your organization is a volunteer no matter what you pay them. Org charts are, and always have been, irrelevant.

I don’t write this to depress you, but to save you from an unrealistic expectation. In the same way we speak of Alaka‘i, the value of managing and leading well, “catching well” has nothing to do with title or position of perceived influence. Catching well has everything to do with you, and how you decide you’ll react. And as with much in life, practice helps make perfect — or at least easier, and progressive, in that mistakes don’t get repeated. Your objective is not rank, it’s effectiveness. Or better, mastery.

Within organizational politics, you’re advised to react with ownership, and with the “buck stops with me” attitude, and it’s good advice. The more of something you own, the more you can control or better influence all the variables associated with it. The trick to ownership is not to be a victim about it, and truly catch the ball and run with it.

That last one is a loaded sentence, I know, and some will look for coaching, to get the help they need in navigating the political landscape peculiar to their own organizational variables. Indeed, it is one of the things I get hired for. Here on Talking Story, let’s bring the focus back to our work here as a “for example” we can apply to the balls thrown your way, for the strategies are very similiar to what you need to do in your own workplace as well.

So first you catch well…

Then, you make your Next Play

Your ownership starts the moment that ball is in your hands.

One sec, I take that back: Your reaction starts the moment that ball is in your hands. Every coach will tell you that your best ownership prospects happen before that: You’re one of those players who is watching the earlier plays thinking, “I’m ready: Bat that ball this way.” or “Come on! Throw it to me!” or you’re one of those players feeling you’re not ready, and hoping that the coming play doesn’t happen on your patch of grass in the field.

One is leaping ahead to the future, creating their best destiny in true ‘Imi ola fashion (they are visionary). The other is content right where they are, and a bit too comfortable, maybe even scared (they are complacent).

(Big clue there Alaka‘i Managers-who-coach, about your players: Which are thinking, for they already feel strong, and which are still feeling out the different emotions of their play/no play options?)

So which are you? It’s something you need to understand before you make your next play, because the next play causes the next outcome. In those two scenarios there are different outcomes, aren’t there.

There’s a third and fourth scenario too. They are happening with the players who are currently bench-warming. In the third scenario they are watching the game intently, imagining they are on the field in a certain position, and the ball is definitely coming their way. They’re ready to catch well and they aren’t even on the field yet!

Fourth scenario they’ve been on that bench a while, and they became the ones who bring all those sunflower seeds to the dugout. All that spit… yuck.

At this point, you may be thinking, “I thought we were talking about how I catch well here at Talking Story?”

We are.

An added word about our Value Themes

I touched on this when introducing our “learning curation” theme this past Tuesday, but it’s worth tying into this discussion again, for I packed a lot into that posting.

Let’s use our metaphor. Think of themes this way: Are you playing the game in full sun or in rain? Is it a home game, or are you on the road?

We managers, and managers-who-coach love themes because they help us focus on a certain set of options instead of all of them. You don’t apply most rainy day playbooks to anything but a rainy day. When you’re on the road, you know that your team will require more from you than they do when you play at home, and that they’ll also have to rely on each other more (or differently).

So Managing with Aloha, the game I ask you to play with me, is like a collection of playbooks for our Ho‘ohana Community. I like to think of the current theme we work with as our sunny day. Talking Story is when we play at home. Definitely.

Let’s Ho‘ohana, and play ball.

Postscript: I had this post in mind as a necessary follow-up back when I was drafting The State of our Learning and the Demand for Curation as the theme which would take us into this mid-year period. This “curve ball” metaphor was then inspired by what Sports Columnist Ferd Lewis called a “Sparkling day on diamonds for UH.” In part, he wrote:

For the University of Hawai’i, [May 30, 2010] will be remembered as the day that Cinderella danced twice. Some 1,500 remarkable miles apart.

First, in dramatic fashion before a stunned-to-silence overflow crowd in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the Rainbow Wahine softball team punched its historic ticket to the Women’s College World Series with Jenna Rodriguez’s two-run, seventh-inning, walk-off home run that beat Alabama, 5-4.

And, then, hours later, when the Rainbow baseball team tenaciously held on in Mesa, Ariz., to beat nemesis Fresno State, 9-6, for the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title and an NCAA Regional berth.

In one pinch-me day of hope, persistence and triumph, the Rainbow Wahine earned the school’s inaugural trip to Oklahoma City, site of the World Series, and the Rainbows got their first WAC tourney title in 18 years and first regional spot since 2006.

As an Alaka‘i Manager, you can coach your own team to this kind of feeling: I know you have it in you, and that they have it in them. (Another suggested read from the archives, if you have the reading time: Feeling Good Isn’t the Same as Feeling Strong.)

Hawai‘i’s Jenna Rodriguez, right, is greeted at home plate after her second homer of the game beat Alabama.

Photo Credits, in the order in which they appear: Vintage Baseball by AdWriter and Softball by Dave Elmore, both on Flickr, and Jenna Rodriguez by Marion R. Walding, Special to The Honolulu Advertiser