Back to the Basics of Managing with Aloha

I recently sat with a college counselor who wanted “the 411″ on Managing with Aloha from my perspective as the book’s author. She’s new in her role with a local college which has used my book in their MBA program for several years now, and she called me for an interview when she began to read it. Our conversation was wonderful in taking me back to the basics, so much so that I re-wrote a FAQ page for www.ManagingWithAloha.com recalling her questions, and the highlights of our conversation.

We’ve been at this — our Talking Story conversation surrounding MWA — for nearly eight years now, a long time as the world of online conversation goes, and I thought you might like to review this with me: Is there any way that you’d like to return to the basics of your MWA foundation?

What if I’m not a manager?

You are welcome to join us in the Managing with Aloha movement regardless of your role in the workplace, and I hope you will. Think about managing as a verb rather than as that noun of position or title: you manage more than you may be aware of.

At the heart of it all, Managing with Aloha is about learning to honor your personal values. The best way to learn about the MWA philosophy is as a person of Aloha first (which you are), and a person who’ll get called upon to manage and lead second. Managing others is a calling you may or may not have, and if you aren’t sure, MWA will help you discover the answer.

As for my book, I did write Managing with Aloha with the manager in mind, for my goal was to create a practical and useful workplace resource for those who have made that career choice. Managing others is a profound responsibility, and I feel managers must approach it with that understanding. However a manager is a person too, one who must reckon with their personal values first and foremost, just as we all must do. That reckoning is what you will learn about in Managing with Aloha, whether you answer the calling for managing others as well, or decide on a different career direction.

Can I use Managing with Aloha on my own, or must my entire workplace organization buy-in?

On your own is the best way to start. We’ve found that those who get the very most out of Managing with Aloha have done just that: They learn and practice the philosophy within their immediate work teams first, so they can concentrate on strengthening those vitally important partnerships and get quick results in their everyday work. Workplace teams greatly underestimate what they are capable of when they collaborate in value-alignment. Employing one’s values, and doing so in the company of those you work with most, is the reason Managing with Aloha has often been called a “sensibility for worthwhile work.”

The MWA practice strengthens you. Once your values are working for you, your newly examined work gives you greater confidence, better focus, and a positive expectancy going forward. Managing with Aloha becomes contagious; it will eventually attract and welcome in the people who surround you in your extended networks. Co-working is often a better way to share all ideas and initiatives compared to top-down mandated adoption. People like proof: they have to see you “walk the talk” before they jump in and join you. That’s becomes the best buy-in of all. Not only has your own practice of Aloha has grounded you in valuable experience, it has given you credibility and a good reputation with self-management.

You’ve said that MWA is a Hawaiian story in regard to Sense of Place, but it’s about universal values at work: How much Hawaiian must I learn to understand your book and this philosophy?

You will learn some, but as word associations for universal values you start to see in a brand new light — for that work reexamination we just spoke of. Managing with Aloha is written in English, and it uses Hawaiian labels to teach value concepts. You will not learn to speak Hawaiian (which ironically, is a western word), and you will not need to have a Hawaiian dictionary handy.

One of the key concepts woven into the MWA philosophy is something we call “language of intention.” Language is critical in our communication with each other as human beings, and we do more than speak it: we author it as we employ it. We choose our words carefully, or try to, knowing that doing so helps us be more effective in sharing our beliefs with others, and our intentions connected to those beliefs. We need to understand each other, and we want to. The vocabulary we choose, and use regularly, begins to label that shared, and desired understanding. This is how we use Hawaiian in MWA: to label our shared learning, and keep talking about it with an insiders’ language of intention. It becomes our “Language of We.”

By the way, I didn’t invent the values in Managing with Aloha and neither did the ancient Hawaiians: The 19 values my book covers all stem from timeless laws and principles which have become our universal values across the globe. What I did, was group them as a philosophy for self-reliant and worthwhile work.

So what’s the connection with Sense of Place?

Every workplace has Sense of Place as a kind of cultural rooting, and place gives the parent business of that workplace its sense of community. Sense of Place becomes a sense of belonging, something which is a very basic need we share as human beings. Culture can be complex, but every culture is driven by a value system, and place will often sort our values out in a relatable, highly relevant way. When we talk about the good health of a workplace culture, Sense of Place figures into that health in a critically important manner, and people feel it tangibly.

My book shares my own story as a manager as a way of illustrating the Managing with Aloha philosophy, and Hawai‘i gave me my primary Sense of Place. It would have been impossible for me to separate the two, and I wouldn’t have tried to do so, any more than I’d ask you to put aside your work history: like it or not, your Sense of Place defined you in your past experience too. To like it, and to better appreciate it as the influence it has been, and continues to be, is a wise approach. This was another goal of my book — to help the reader map out their own Sense of Place sources, using their own values.

You write prolifically, and publish coaching essays online very generously: Do I still have to read the book too?

I must say I love the honesty of this question! I’m sincerely happy about whatever way people arrive at Managing with Aloha so we can start the conversation — I noodle around author’s websites first too! But like any actively useful philosophy, to know MWA, is to more fully explore and adopt it. I do think that everything is much clearer when you read the book, for I’m a coach: my book was written with a specific learning progression in mind, and as a comprehensive work, whereas people find my writing on the web in a much more random and serendipitous way. In the world of public domain and today’s digital ease with cut-and-paste, backstory and context isn’t always clear. I believe the book format will always survive as a form conducive to independent, self-directed learning, no matter what our reading preferences will be, electronic and otherwise. This is certainly the case with Managing with Aloha: Readers come to clarity about their values-driven work faster when they’ve read the book — that’s what it was designed to do.

Each chapter in Managing with Aloha was constructed as a self-contained primer per value, 19 in all, so that the book can continue to serve you well once you make the choice to manage with Aloha for yourself. While reading you’ll discover that the values build upon each other: what you have read in previous chapters will frame the concepts you are learning in each new one. The book presents as a story-illustrated source of inspiration, but my intention was to have it be more long-lasting, serving as the reader’s ongoing reference, resource and learning record. If you’re a manager, my hope is that the book becomes your filing cabinet.

Then what? How does Managing with Aloha stick with me, and not end up with the rest of the books I have read, then left behind to collect dust on my bookshelf?

No book is a magic pill. We humans have decisions to make about the life we want, and then we have to do the work required in making things happen the way we want them to. No book, no philosophy, can live our lives for us. Coaches like me will keep publishing books and websites to encourage you, to share current highlights, and to introduce you to a community of like-minded practitioners, but taking personally effective action is all on you.

This is why I stress active verbs in my values coaching: live, work, manage and lead with Aloha. You’re extraordinary: Human-propelled energy is our most valuable resource, for it creates all our other resources, such as physical, intellectual, and financial assets. Human energy is the result of self-motivation — that’s the only kind of motivation that truly counts.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and lose sight of your personal values, and what they do for you: Your values are what you believe in, and what you trust. They give you your character and your personality. As they play out, your values will define you for the rest of the world. Your values will give you your confidence, your courage and your tenacity, and as such, they’re the best place to begin.

Even if Managing with Aloha doesn’t gel for you as a comprehensive workplace philosophy, my hope is that it positively affects your lifestyle, by giving you the conviction, comfort and strength of your values.

Tab it and mark it up!

Aloha! Just joining us?

Talking Story is the blog home of those who are learning to be Alaka‘i Managers — those committed to managing and leading with Aloha. Read a preview of the book which inspired this movement, and visit our About Page. Purchase Managing with Aloha at Amazon.com in hardcover, or in the Kindle Store.

Talking Story with Rosa Say

How to Fill up by Spilling

I’ve finished reading How We Decide, and the book I’m reading now is An Everlasting Meal, Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. It’s one of those books that aren’t to be denied (nor should you). Rave reviews kept turning up across the world of my web browsing, seeming to ask me, “How about now? Are you ready for me yet?”

Go get a copy of your own. This book is a gem, and I recommend it highly. I’ll be buying it by the case so I can gift it to everyone I know.

The book feeds your soul as much as your tummy, probably more so. It’s a well-seasoned weaving of “philosophy and instruction into approachable lessons on instinctive cooking.” — that comes from the book jacket, and it’s a good description. The book appeals to those who aren’t chefs, but want to come to a good partnership with cooking because they like good food and want to eat it without too much fuss and bother. Respectfully and knowledgeably, yes. Professionally and elaborately, no.

That’s me, through and through. I know my kitchen intimately mostly because of keeping it clean; from a culinary perspective it feels like a foreign land even though I somehow raised a healthy family with its help.

But before I go too far down that rabbit hole, this post isn’t about cooking, or even learning to.

How to Build A Ship

Author Tamar Adler writes;

“There are times when I can’t bear to think about cooking. Food is what I love, and how I communicate love, and how I calm myself. But sometimes, without my knowing why, it is drained of all that. Then cooking becomes just another one of hunger’s jagged edges. So I have ways to take hold of this thing and wrest it from the jaws of resentment, and settle it back among the things that are mine.”

The chapter that begins with this paragraph is called “How to Build a Ship” and it’s about how Adler gets her inspiration back when it has momentarily slipped away.

As a quick but helpful aside, Adler says she has two loves: food and words. Her chapters are evocative in their announcements: “How to Light a Room” is about how herbs perk up food. “How to Live Well” is about understanding how wonderful the lowly bean can be. “How to Make Peace” is about how rice and ground corn (grits in the South, and polenta in Europe) are pacifists, because they “fill bellies and cracks in our meals, and they fill the cultural divisions in our appetites, which really, in the end, are the same.” This chapter got its name from a quote attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who is best remembered for his novella The Little Prince:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

So Adler takes his advice, and does just that for us, as her readers and hopeful voyagers. She explains how she gets her love of cooking back when she needs to, and guess what? It’s the shortest chapter in the book (at least as far as I’ve read). It’s because love has a way of sticking around, staying close to you.

How to Weave Cloth Without Thread

For me, weaving is about making learning relevant and useful; a beautiful cloth can be anything you want it to be, and mine is Managing with Aloha.
[We talked story about it here: Learning and Weaving: The absorption benefit of your Personal Philosophy]

When I read Adler’s “How to Build a Ship” I couldn’t help but think about those of us who are managers, and how often — much, much too often — we’ll “drum up people to collect wood” or “assign them tasks and work” when we should be teaching them “to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

I think Adler is right about her hunch that we have to fall in love again:

“My answer is to anchor food to somewhere deep inside you, or deep in your past, or deep in the wonders of what you love… I say: Let yourself love what you love, and see if it doesn’t lead you back to what you ate when you loved it.”

For her, it’s about the eating experience as much as the cooking experience. It’s about being where food has made everything surrounding her more vibrant and alive.

The question I have for you then, is this: Exactly what is the managemeant experience that will continually refresh your own inspiration, always helping you get your mojo back?

To put it more simply: When are you completely, and beautifully, in love with being a manager?

If you rewrote Adler’s chapter for the work you do as an Alaka‘i Manager — for your Ho‘ohana — what would you call it?

How to Fill Up By Spilling

My choice would be “How to fill yourself up by spilling” because of the spirit-spilling of Aloha. Spirit-spilling is what the beliefs I hold within my Alaka‘i calling are all about: Alaka‘i Managers are those who help people work from their inside out.

When I have been able to do that for someone, I feel full. I’m tremendously full, feeling nourished and satisfied. I feel healthy, and as alive as I have ever felt.

If my day falters in some way, I’ll usually get my inspiration by learning from people, willing to accept whatever they choose to share with me. It’s my quickest way, and it’s virtually guaranteed.
I get my continued energy in creating partnerships with them, or some other weaving (making the learning personal, relevant, and useful).

I count my successes as the people I’ve left behind better than I found them. To see them grow, or irrevocably identify their own strengths, knowing that I helped in some way, is extremely rewarding to me.

Recalling my ‘how to’ (to relight the fires of inspiration) gets easy for me to do, because all I have to remember are names. Faces, and the little details of people’s stories will come flooding back into my consciousness, and I begin to smile, I just can’t help it.

Then The Craving ever-beneath The Calling begins all over again. I want to be part of more stories, and so I get on with my ‘ship building.’

Loving this book!

I’ll leave you to think more about your own ‘how to’ with a final quote from Adler;

“So I listen hard. I listen with the purpose of remembering. And this digging into sounds and into days I have heard and felt roots future meals in the unchangeable truths of past ones.”

“Let smells in. Let the smell of hot tarmac in the summer remind you of a meal you ate the first time you landed in a hot place, when the ground smelled like it was melting. Let the smell of salt remind you of a paper basket of fried clams you ate once, squeezing them with lemon as you walked on a boardwalk. Let it reach your deeper interest. When you smell the sea, and remember the basket of hot fried clams, and the sound of skee-balls knocking against each other, let it help you love what food can do, which is to tie this moment to that one.”

When has being a manager been its very best and most beautiful for you?
What do you remember about it?

How will you do it again?

We see what we want to see

“We do not see with our eyes. We see with our brains” What we see is only what our brain tells us we see, and it’s not 100 percent accurate.”
— John Medina, Brain Rules
— and my Dad, a coupla decades earlier: Can you see with your ears?

And we feel what we’re meant to feel

“For too long, people have disparaged the emotional brain, blaming our feelings for all of our mistakes. The truth is far more interesting. If it weren’t for our emotions, reason wouldn’t exist at all” When we are cut off from our feelings, the most banal decisions became impossible. A brain that can’t feel can’t make up its mind.”
— Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide

Initially, vision can trump all other senses

Most people flying into our Keahole Kona airport here, on the west side of the Big Island, are surprised in a rather unsettling way. They hope they haven’t made a mistake.

The approach to the coast is fairly barren, and the airport runway is surrounded by the stark nothingness of black lava fields and ugly invasive fountain grass. The lava plain is fairly new in geographical measurement (1801); greenery hasn’t seeded and rooted in any triumphant way yet.

If you’re a returning resident, it’s secretly fun to watch the faces of first time visitors peering out the windows. You can see them thinking, “But this is Hawai‘i! Where are the coconut trees? Where are the flowers? Isn’t this the tropics?”

It’s secretly fun because you know what will happen: We who live here are happy for them, and for the experiences we know they’ll soon have.

I always want to tell them, “You’ll see, just be patient.”

And I want to coach them: “Once we land, be a courageous explorer. Go off the beaten track, and get lost in the feelings here. Converse with the locals, and ask them to share their aloha with you. Talk story. Share yours too.”

Swirling turbulence

To us, this landscape is beautiful. It’s not barren at all. As the maxim goes, “Looks are deceiving.”

The Big Island is the kind of place you have to explore further, so you can learn about it more fully. Once you do, feelings tug pretty quickly, and quite deeply. You fall in love, and you fall in love hard. To do otherwise doesn’t seem possible.

But that’s okay, for you no longer want it to be otherwise. Feeling deeply is wonderful.

It’s the same thing as when you feel the Calling of Alaka‘i Managemeant.

You’ve got to explore that calling, digging deeper, and allowing it to get personal.
You’ve got to make connections with the people who surround you — especially with those you work with, and doubly, triply so with those you are supposed to ‘manage.’

If you can open up, and allow yourself to get a little vulnerable, you discover all kinds of things in the partnerships you create.

Thank you for reading Talking Story. If this sounds good to you, you’re in the right place. Start digging for the calling of Alaka‘i here, and for managemeant here. You need not go too far back.

You might like this one too: The instinctive, natural selection of wanting

Purchase Managing with Aloha at Amazon.com in hardcover, or in the Kindle Store.

Culture-Building: First, understand what Management can be

When are you expected to work with your manager?

Where does individual ownership give way to partnership, and to the team dynamic?

Over and above the day-to-day focus within the work which is done, what are the visionary, mission-driven possibilities elevated in the near future?

How do mavericks grow in your company? How do your best ideas gain support, and then attain traction and velocity there?

These are the kinds of questions which every healthy workplace culture should have definitive answers for, answers which are aligned with the values that company stands for.

Management can then be managemeant.

Culture building needs a solid foundation that serves as fertile ground. We know values are critical. So are their champions.

Those champions should be your managers.

When organizations choose to adopt Managing with Aloha as part of their culture, they’ve done their homework; they usually know about the Core 21, the 19 Values listed on the blog sidebar, the 10 Beliefs, and the 9 Key Concepts. It’s a lot to take in at first, and it’s highly weaveable, but usually 1 Question trumps them all in the eager minds of those anxious to begin:

Where do we start?

My answer is always the same: Reconstruct the role of your managers.
(article, and coaching category) Understand the true cultural work your managers can perform for you when they are liberated and motivated to do so.

Work With Your GiftsThe evidence is clear: Managers create culture. Ignore them (i.e. devalue them), and they can destroy it. My core purpose in writing MWA was to help prevent that sad, damaging downslide from happening, because I know what a positive force great managemeant can be.

In most of the organizations I visit, there is quite a distance to bridge between managers and their staff; they’re operating in totally separate orbits and worse, they’re content to “leave well enough alone.”

Problem is, “well enough” for them isn’t delivering much well being to the workplace culture.

To Do: Today

Help your people understand what a partnership with an Alaka‘i Manager can be about. Help them see why that partnership is so useful, and how enjoyable it can be.

If you do nothing else, get your own perspective in check, and create a healthier relationship with your own manager; set a good example as you flourish in that new partnership.

Go back to the questions at the beginning of my posting: Answering them, and engineering the change which is necessary (with value-alignment) will get you much closer to the well being which will vastly improve the health of your culture.

Comfort Station, Hughes Company 1915, via Baltimore City Life Museum Collection, Maryland Historical Society

Postscript/Weaving: Role versus Practice

If you are a long-time Talking Story reader, you know that I am very insistent on having Alaka‘i Managers adopt and practice D5M, the Daily 5 Minutes, writing things like this:

“I need to be crystal clear about something:
If you’re not giving your staff the gift of the Daily Five Minutes ®
you’re not Managing with Aloha „¢”

~ So you want a MWA jumpstart. Do the Daily Five Minutes.

Adopting D5M gives Alaka‘i Managers a great tool for making everything else happen (‘everything’ being the full spirit-spilling, work-sensible philosophy of Managing with Aloha).

What the D5M does, is collect timely inputs (the talk story) from an ongoing partnership, so the two people involved will always agree on what they should be working on next, working on it Kākou, together.

Before that actually happens, D5M concentrates on the foundational stuff of getting a good partnership in place, so it can be a functioning partnership. There must be comfort between people first: Then, and only then, can they work together to achieve greater things.

This is why there must be Managing with Aloha champions within a culture; they are the braver, more vocal ones who foster better health, and push through any obstacles, just like Ricky does in her workplace culture as a teacher.

Bottom line here, is that I write Talking Story to help you make your way toward being one of those champions. Write me when you have questions; you’re not alone.

D5MBetterMgr