Q&A: Leading up, and Changing Culture

Received these questions from a friend of mine, a professor teaching a college course on the “Emotional Health in Organizations” and thought I’d share my answer with all of you who read Talking Story as well:

How does one effectively  “lead up” in their organization, if it is still managed like the Industrial  Revolution? How does one BEST change the culture from within? Is it REALLY  possible”since  the key leader always defines the culture of the organization????

Yes, it’s possible, if you are willing to do what it takes.

Life is short, and we all have more options in the best possible living of our lives, options we may not readily see at first glance. This is why great managers are needed, and why the coaching industry thrives: Everyone can use help with seeing all their options.

Room for everyone.
I don’t care how ‘flat’ a company is, management isn’t going away, and we don’t want it to!

One question at a time. Order is important, for Cause and Values are the keys.

First of all, keep your eye on your ultimate reward, and not just on the temporary obstacles. Be sure you see that reward clearly, by getting people out of your cross hairs.

When managers ask me variations of these questions, I’ll always ask them to step back far enough to see the big picture view with more clarity first — i.e. See the organization and not the people within it. Step back so you can reassess the values of the organization as Managing with Aloha teaches, and still know you commit to that organization’s cause (mission and vision): Can you fully make the decision to press on because you are sure that’s where you want to be?

Said another way, are you sure you work for the best organization for you, best deserving of your Ho‘ohana service? If so, let’s talk about “what it takes” to effectively “lead up” (more on that in a moment.)

Green Light: When your personal values are a match for the values of the organization, everything is easier (and more fun). Everything becomes more realistic — more probable.

Red Light: Conversely, the greater the mis-match in values, the harder work will become because win-win agreements are increasingly difficult to achieve, and

Yellow Light: Productivity and Progress require working agreements.

The people we work with — the “key leader” and many others — will always loom larger than the organization itself in our day-to-day work. However the truth of the matter, is that worthy organizations, deserving of our own worthwhile efforts to support them, are longer lasting and have more endurance, outliving the people who populate them, no matter their individual stamina or tenacity as a team. For example, Steve Job’s personal influence essentially ended with his death last year, while Apple’s lives on.

If you say, “yes, this is where I have a values match with our organizational cause, and I am determined to stay and work my way through this” let’s move forward and talk story about “leading up.” For then, and only then, we have what’s ‘best’ and what’s ‘really possible.’ We can have positive expectancy, for that’s what value alignment delivers (see Key 3).

Can you keep a secret?

The Golden Rule comes to work with us. Always has, always will.

No matter where you sit in an organizational hierarchy, both leading up (inspiring the creation of new energies), and managing up (channeling existing energies and all available resources toward mission and vision) really amount to one thing, and that’s doing your part to make work flow productively for everyone involved, so you can continue to do the best possible version of your own work.

In other words, after you turn the keys above (Value alignment, the Cause of organizational mission and vision), the next key you need brings other people back into the picture with Relationship-building (for teamwork, network partnerships, customer sales etc.) You work to be a great partner, so you have best-functioning partnerships, for life is not a solo proposition.

In our Managing with Aloha vocabulary:

By ‘Managing up’ you make crucial work easy for your boss, for you need to partner with each other. (Managing-as-verb channels existing energies, existing resources in the adjacent possible)

By ‘Leading up’ you inspire your boss and others with your work-relevant and/or cause-relevant ideas, and you ramp things up. (Leading-as-verb creates new energies, and new resources)

When you make work easy for others, they will reciprocate and make it easier for you as they’re able to. Often you’ll have to be the one to help them see how they can help you, for they aren’t living in your shoes, and so a good relationship between you is required, and always will be (thus The Daily 5 Minutes to help). There are centuries of past workplace experience which is testament to the Golden Rule and its ethic of reciprocity, including my own experience in a number of different companies. I’m confident that your work experience illustrates this too.

The Golden Rule works outside the organization as well, in all its connective networks.

“The Law of Reciprocity must be respected to build a sustainable business of any kind. This law postulates that in almost every case people reciprocate, especially when it comes to energy or generosity.”
Tim Sanders, author of Love is the Killer App and The Likeability Factor

So to be practical, and address your first step in “leading up,” return to your own workplace relationships and improve them in mutually beneficial ways. You don’t have to break rules and make new deals — in fact, you shouldn’t have to if you’re right about that organization being best for you. You just have to work within your present scope of influence in a way that serves others well.

It requires a win-win attitude. Start with what you can do well, and your scope of influence will grow by leaps and bounds. Best of all, it will grow in a way that’s Pono, and in alignment with your integrity, ethics, and personal values. That’s all integrity is, really, taking the actions which ‘tell the truth’ of your values.

Random is good

Can anyone change a culture from within?

I say yes, IF you act as the Leader with Integrity as just described, for I believe that leadership isn’t a position or title. Leadership is a degree of effectiveness in spreading your ideas, and anyone in an organization can lead; the word is a verb.

Culture isn’t static either: I write Talking Story today in support of the tenets of Managing with Aloha, because I so fervently believe that managers create culture, and that Alaka‘i Managers have the best shot with creating healthy workplace cultures in our society today, because Aloha is always part of the agreements reached within their partnerships.

I would agree that to actually “change a culture,” at least in the shorter term, the leaders of an organization must embody the integrity of the values they claim the company holds dear. And by the way, values can, and do change over time” ask anyone at Apple what’s starting to happen now with Tim Cook.

Curvy petals

If leaders don’t embody the values which match up with company mission and vision they won’t last that long. There will be no blooming until another leader takes their place, or they are otherwise overruled by the greater influences within the culture, and one of those things will eventually happen. The next leader to take their place can come from anywhere within an organization. When we look outside the organization instead, there is usually widespread awareness that we have a void internally.

And again, that’s where I think Managing with Aloha comes into play: To help Alaka‘i Managers mentor those leaders of tomorrow, or grow to become those Leaders of Value Integrity themselves.

Stick with me kid.

A Current Case Study:
On January 1st, Jim Sinegal, co-founder and long-time CEO of Costco, turned over the reins to new CEO Craig Jelinek (an internal promotion). Jim Sinegal has been called one of the world’s top retailers, but when asked what is proudest achievement is, this is what he said:

“I think the thing we’re most proud of is the fact that [co-founder] Jeff Brotman and I built a team that’s capable of running a business this size. There’s a management team in place that is very, very good and that has enabled us to sustain the business for a long time.”

Read more: The Empire Built on Values.
As of this writing, Costco has grown to be the 3rd-largest retailer in the U.S. and the 7th-largest retailer in the world, with more than 161,000 employees, 595 warehouses in 8 countries, and more than 64 million cardholders.

“Jim Sinegal has done an amazing job of keeping the company focused on their core values to create one of the strongest consumer franchises in the world.” — Ed Weller, senior research analyst at ThinkEquity in San Francisco, quoted in The Seattle Times

“Jim built Costco based upon the highest standards of ethics and integrity. He has always believed that if you hire good people and pay good wages and benefits, good things will happen. He also frequently reminds us that we must spend 90 percent of our jobs teaching our employees. Those principles define our corporate culture and make Costco a great place to work and shop.” — Ginnie Roeglin, Senior VP, E-Commerce and Publishing, and Publisher of The Costo Connection.

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

You probably knew a book review was coming when I went all “you MUST read” on you, didn’t you.

I’m giving myself a Goodreads challenge again, and this was book 5 for me this month. I tend to read more early in the year, and my challenge is to read books more consistently. The Kindle Daily Deal helps immensely, for it constantly adds to the queue in an easily affordable way. So many books, so little time…

Where Good Ideas Come From

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of InnovationWhere Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson (Goodreads Links)
Link to Amazon.com: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

My Goodreads rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a word, exceptional.

I greatly appreciate authors like Johnson who are ‘slow hunch’ cultivators, thorough researchers, and articulate explainers.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is a focused celebration of the phrase “hindsight is 20/20.” The scientific history of innovation is curated to support Johnson’s thesis, which is his answer to this question: What kind of environment creates good ideas?

There is another, more subtle question which lurks throughout the book as well: Are you open to sharing your ideas before they’ve fully formed? (…for here are the reasons why.) From his Introduction:

“The poet and the engineer (and the coral reef) may seem a million miles apart in their particular forms of expertise, but when they bring good ideas into the world, similar patterns of development and collaboration shape that process. If there is a single maxim that runs through this book’s arguments, it is that we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them. Like the free market itself, the case for restricting the flow of innovation has long been buttressed by appeals to the “natural” order of things. But the truth is, when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.”

He then proceeds to cover 7 different qualities he’s discerned about the nature of ideas, with very meaty chapters on each, all illustrated by the scientific stories of innovation:

Ch 1 — The Adjacent Possible (I have shared Johnson’s definition before, within this blog post: An Aloha Business for 2012)
Ch 2 — Liquid Networks
Ch 3 — The Slow Hunch
Ch 4 — Serendipity
Ch 5 — Error
Ch 6 — Exaptation
Ch 7 — Platforms

After reading each one, you can’t help but put the book aside for a moment, and ask yourself, “where do I sit with this, given my own habits?” and, “how must I further shape the environment my ideas will percolate in?”

Johnson’s book is the perfect candidate for the workplace book club. Two reasons immediately came to mind:

1. It is hugely conducive to company adaptation, and would be a marvelous trigger for in depth, “what about us?” discussion on a number of different questions which are kin to his central one [What kind of environment creates good ideas?]”¨

— Who is our Darwin in this company? (or a number of others he profiles)
— What are the important stories of our own scientific, or innovative history? How were they sequential stories and not singular events?
— Where are the different rooms of our ‘adjacent possible,’ and who, among our own people, are already working in them?
— We say mistakes are cool, and that we have to ‘fail forward’ in our experimentation, but how well do we actually understand error? Have we built on any errors?
”¨” and so forth.

2. It will add to your Language of Intention in culture-building. I love books like these, which teach you new words or phrases, and then treat you like the like-minded insider you become as those words and phrases get built upon in each successive chapter and proposition. Your own vocabulary becomes enriched.

For someone like me, strong proponent of aligning our values, Johnson’s exceptionally well written book is a good reminder about the wealth of possibility that diversity contributes to the healthy and inventive mindset. He hasn’t changed my mind about value alignment, and how necessary it is to culture-building; he zooms me forward. Okay, you have a healthy, MWA-infused culture. Now what will it take to innovate and grow?

Johnson takes his time with his book’s concluding remarks (more stories!) introducing a final filtering concept he calls “the fourth quadrant” to help us better sit with our own conclusions about what we’ve learned. I’m not one of those cynics he need worry about, but I appreciated his patience and attempt to be so open-minded and thorough. I think Johnson was very smart in including his environmental exploration with a “what if” treatise on governmental systems; it’s an arena where cultural innovation is chronically necessary, and any reformation efforts will be complex, and will take time, keeping Johnson’s book relevant for years to come.

I admit to feeling personally challenged by this book still, wondering if I understood everything, and if I took it all in completely — there is so much covered! This will therefore be a book I gladly read again (and now, not later) moving it from a 1st read appetizer and overview to a more complete meal I can savor. A certain degree of reading restraint is called for; I want to read this again before picking up any other non-fiction book.

I’d decided that my reading of Where Good Ideas Come From was long overdue because I’ve been a fan of Johnson’s blog, and reading it is a good way to get a preview of what you’ll read in his book. You can be assured the book will be better, for his blog posts are his own “slow hunches,” made public to simmer and cook with some early feedback.

View all my book reviews on Goodreads

Why Goodreads? They have become an App Smart choice for me, for I want to return to more book reading, and have set a goal to read at least 24 books this year. Read more about the Goodreads mission here, and let’s connect there if you decide to try it too! You can also follow them on Twitter.

Previous review done for Talking Story: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Use this link if you prefer to read my book reviews here on Talking Story.

Managers, you need to READ

The more I read, the more I’m convinced that reading is a habit Alaka‘i Managers must cultivate.

You must. You need to read for your own good.

Reading is your window to the rest of our fascinating world, and the world is a wonderfully big, and varied place.

Management consumes us (managemeant even more so). As we dig in to all the details of our daily work, we tell ourselves to “focus, focus, focus” and we get isolated despite all the people who surround us in the workplace.

They’re in the same boat: Our company and its existing network insulates us in a cocoon of directed attention, and we don’t fight it. We may even be grateful: We feel it’s all we can handle right now anyway, and we aim to get better with whatever’s currently at hand.

But we can’t lose sight of this caution: If we aren’t careful, insulation will stealthily morph from comfort to incestuousness and isolation. We hear about certain things in passing, and we say, “When in the world did that happen?”

I can sense your heads nodding out there. It has happened to me too. Repeatedly. Still will if I’m not careful to prevent it, and reading has become my salvation, and my guarantee. It pulls me out of the fray so I can gain better perspective, and see fresh new inspirations.

The trick is to do it on your time, but be sure you do it!

A confession: I have a double standard about subscriptions. I ask Alaka‘i Managers to please consider email subscriptions to Talking Story so we can remain connected to our Managing with Aloha like-mindedness, but I myself have been steadily unsubscribing from nearly all the email subscriptions I’ve had in the past, or I filter them to a “newsletters” folder so they don’t clutter up my inbox.

This is NOT to say that I don’t read subscriptions anymore, for I do; I’ve cultivated a reading habit where I batch read them when I’m in the best frame of mind for consuming them with deep reading, curation and annotation instead of scanning or skimming. And I seize my opportunities for that very pleasing reading rhythm on a daily basis.

In that regard, I’m a better subscriber for authors, bloggers, journalists and other writers than I’ve ever been before. I’m an appreciative reader, and I’m a better user of what they’ve so generously shared with me. In turn, I share better too, with you, with my companies, with my family and assorted networks (like Tumblr).

Reading represents the choices you make, and the habits you have.

If you’re one of those people who’ll say, when completely honest, “Sorry Rosa, I just don’t read books, haven’t since I got out of school.” I’m sorry that mandated experience soured books for you, but reading covers a lot more ground than that these days.

Reading isn’t just about books, magazines and newspapers. And books? They’re a classic example of change in that category of “When in the world did that happen?” Reading this right now, and feeling like I’ve gone back to school on my own time, but in the best possible way: The Fall of the Roman Empire : A New History of Rome and the Barbarians [Kindle Edition, see footnote] — way back when, my teachers never had the option of choosing it for me. Publishing has exploded in variety and diversity thanks to the web, and printing has changed: What we read ‘on paper’ today looks (and is) remarkably different from what we read a mere decade ago.

Reading gets connected to your lifestyle, tools and tech habits too, and because of the curator you choose to be. For example, I’ve noticed that my RSS-reading on the iPad is very different from when done on my MacBook: I consume more on the iPad, but I annotate and curate more on my MacBook. I still prowl bookstores with a voracious appetite, but my in-store habits have shifted, as I prowl with my iPhone in hand, retrieving the book recommendations I’ve indexed in Evernote, or free-sampled on my Kindle.

Read lightly. Read deeply. Mix and match the two, and become more interesting.

The value of ‘Ike loa [lifelong learning, Chapter 11 in Managing with Aloha] is not just learning how; it’s also learning about.

You don’t have to consume all knowledge deeply; you can just wallow in a good portion of it, and let your proactive choices seep into you lightly” sort of like basting your character with a golden glow which helps you appear healthier — because you are.

CrazyThere’s absolutely no doubt about it: Reading increases your awareness in a multitude of ways.

It gives you the balance we call understanding and ‘reasonableness,’ for it helps you be humble (the nourishing food of Ha‘aha‘a), yet more confident, all at the same time.

Reading boosts your repertoire for conversation, and so it makes you a much more interesting person. And who doesn’t want that?

[See #8 on this list: Twelve Rules for Self-Management.]

I love history: It was my favorite subject in school. However I didn’t go looking for Peter Heather’s book, it was a radar blip I keyed in on, due to my habit of checking in for Amazon.com’s Kindle Daily Deal. It cost me just $1.99 — if you have a Kindle, bookmark this page and try reading genres which are new to you.

From the Archives: Deliberate Inputs

As electioneering ramps up here in America, I get very concerned about what Bill Davidow has called “Life in the Age of Extremes.” There is much ‘other possibility’ within the extreme polarity of being Republican or Democrat in ideology. We must all be working on our own Deliberate Inputs to interject more hope into life.

Being hopeful, can be a direct result of Ha‘aha‘a, the value of humility, and the way we’ve spoken of ‘finding decisions’ here at Talking Story: Can you see with your ears? How open-minded are you, and how willing are you to weigh the opinions of others? Much of it is about proactive listening, so you can choose to live with a greater confidence — it’s a confidence that you’ve uncovered and discovered the best answer, because you’ve gone looking for it. It’s cultivating an optimistic attitude which will align with your values, keeping positive expectancy in your life.

Ho‘omau, as nature teaches us to do

The value which gets highlighted the most in Managing with Aloha (by Kindle readers, enabling me to notice it) isn’t Aloha or Ho‘ohana: It’s Ho‘omau, the value of persistence, perseverance, tenacity and resilience.

“Renew. Anything worth having is worth working for. Persistence is often the defining quality between those who fail and those who succeed” There is never much satisfaction in giving up, and Ho‘omau is the value that will cause you to continue, to persevere in your efforts, and to perpetuate those that have worked.”
Managing with Aloha, Chapter 4

Ultimately, the quality of life is what’s “worth having” and “worth working for” and these days I’m seeing fabulous examples of that thanks to Mother Nature.

Budding promises

Our story…

We took a 10-day holiday this past Christmas, and we shut off the irrigation system we have for our garden when we left. We expected rain while we were gone, and to leave it on during Hawai‘i’s December would be far too wasteful and irresponsible.

Well, it didn’t rain. Not at all.

We came back home to find that much of our garden was dead.

Trying my best

Or was it?

Sometimes, it’s good to strip away the pain quickly, and start over.
[Like when there’s fire: Your Edge comes from your Inconvenience]

At other times, you pray a lot, and you figure out what else you can do, especially when precious trees are involved, trees which have fruited for you abundantly, and faithfully marked your seasons in a number of life-inspiring ways.

Surinam Cherry

You figure out how to Ho‘omau.

The happy part of my story, is that all most of my garden needed was my hand watering just before sunrise each morning to moisten without rotting, coupled with as much patience as I could muster.

Happy to see your blues

To be outside each morning now (still hand watering) is such an exquisite pleasure, for there are more flowers now than usual for January: My garden’s survivors are making their own season. Even the mango tree is going for a second blooming, as if to tell me, “Okay, I’ll try again too. I don’t want to be left out of this party!”

Kula reliability

Did anything die? Yes, most notably one of my puakenikeni trees, but there’s another one, the one which had always been the healthier of the two, even when sharing its root space with the plumeria.

Now that the trees are back, it’s time to learn by their example. It’s my turn to Ho‘omau in the human way.

How about you? How will you Ho‘omau in your season, and not let go?

Stevia Tenacity