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?

Self-Leadership in One Sentence

We keep hearing (in several philosophical quotations from the older and wiser) that the answer to that quintessential question on the meaning of life, is simply to live the life you are given, living it as fully as possible.

Which tends to evoke another question: And what, pray tell, does “fully” encompass?

Yet no wise person will answer that question definitively, except to press back with, “What would it mean to you?”

That is where self-leadership comes in.

We make the ‘self-’ distinction intentionally in our Managing with Aloha culture-building, where self-leadership is about you first, before you presume to tackle leadership, which is about others too. The value of Alaka‘i will include both in a person’s life.

In one sentence: Self-leadership is the growing process of arriving at your own choices in life, living it fully.

So go for it: Make it about you. We all win when we get your best.

In Managing with Aloha, we’ll press back on defining “fully” too, however we do have the presumption of Aloha, feeling your Aloha Spirit must be an integral part, and it will be when you honor your sense of self.

In The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard writes,

“Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into the each moment.”

Growing, however, is a beautiful process too, for it is filled with a multitude of those moments.


Self-leadership in one sentence has long been an exploratory exercise for me: My sentence has gone through several evolutions, and it keeps getting shorter, and more focused. The two words I have never been able to edit out, are ‘growing’ and ‘arriving’ for their appeal is so strong. To arrive can be so rewarding, and so meaningful; why not pause and celebrate when it happens?

Try the exercise for yourself: What is self-leadership for you? Can you articulate it in a single sentence?

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Lead, Follow or Get out of the way

You have heard this phrase before, I’m sure. You may even have said it yourself, or at least thought it… I admit that I’ve said it, and thought it several times when a younger, more inexperienced manager (politics tends to push me into that thinking still… sigh).

I do try to catch myself now, and bite my lip if necessary! At work I go for even better: I will rephrase LFOGOOTW to give people a more welcoming “we” choice, to deliberately eliminate the GOOTW sarcasm. When I sense my team has reached a degree of clarity with an issue, I ask, “would you like to lead this one, or work within your followership?” genuinely feeling that both choices have merit, just different energies, and that each person can make each choice relative to the variables at hand.

Replace innuendo with Culture-building

I’m not the only one who feels that way; it’s in our culture. Our team has talked about followership enough to know that Following is NOT a Passive Activity. Following can often go the What/How way of the managing verb (as compared to the Why/When leading verb), a great thing.

As for “…or get out of the way,” that’s not one of our options. We can’t afford bench-warming (and nobody likes it).

The trick to timing the question of lead or follow, is one of sensing people are ready for action, and feeling we’ve talked about it quite enough — at least in that stage of the project. The “lead or follow?” question turns people loose when both choices have been established as good choices in a workplace culture. Neither has that cynical dig in it (“if not, get out of the way.”) which is very un-inclusive (i.e. un-Kākou).

join the QuEuE by Maldita la hora on Flickr
join the QuEuE by Maldita la hora on Flickr

However is that enough?

In Managing with Aloha cultures, we do go for the “and” instead of the “either/or.” LFOGOOTW is a good case in point with advocating the “and” embrace, for as Dan points out in the comments, “lead, follow, or get out of the way oversimplifies things a bit.”

I remember a wonderful comment from Stephanie when we had talked about the LFOGOOTW phrase within the value-mapping we’d been doing at MWA Coaching, with the value set of Alaka‘i, Kākou, and Lōkahi:

The more I read, the more apparent it becomes that for as long as I can remember, I have been looking for others to provide me with clear answers rather than developing them on my own. In fact, I am truly grateful to the gentleman who inspired [this conversation string on “Lead, Follow, or Get out of the way.”] since I often get stuck thinking about mantras as law.

So what does this have to do with leadership? For me, the lead or follow mentality seems limiting. Much like in partnerships, where only two people are involved, it’s about taking turns. In other words, it’s about being a team-player, just like you expressed [with the value of Lōkahi]. The best leaders understand this and know when to stand down.

In an environment where all members are respectful the leader rises to the occasion with ease. Nurturing an environment that enables every member to shine is not always easy, but that is certainly my goal.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with looking to others for help with answers; in fact, learning from their lessons is quite wise. And taking turns can help — don’t think it simplistic and dismiss it. We seldom work alone or in a vacuum, and collaborative and synergistic work is what great teams engage in and thrill to.

And I love what Steph had observed, that “In an environment where all members are respectful the leader rises to the occasion with ease.” The goal she had to nurture such an environment was outstanding — truly Kākou behavior with that Ho‘ohanohano demeanor of respect.

I think about it again today (thus this post) as I wonder what direction the nascent #Occupy movement will start to take.

“Rise to the occasion” with Lōkahi

How do we allow leaders to rise to the occasion with ease as Steph says, while we continue to shape our own more progressive and proactive behavior?

Let’s revisit the Lōkahi connection: Lōkahi is the value of collaboration, harmony and unity. The pairing of Kākou and Lōkahi are the MWA values of teamwork. They are the value-drivers of the followers that leaders dream of inspiring, and having on their team.

From Managing with Aloha, under a section heading called “the role of the individual” (hardcover page 107);

“Most of the Hawaiian values really speak to personal endeavors, and the concept that all starts from within you. We are responsible for our own attitudes, our own choices, our own happiness and our own success. While Lōkahi speaks to the behavior of people within a group, its core assumption is that the group’s effectiveness comes from the choices made by the individuals within it.”

Lōkahi asks these questions: Are you a bystander or are you truly engaged? Does your reach include the entire team, and are you being cooperative? Do you seek to understand everyone’s opinion while sharing your own? Are you looking for mutually beneficial agreement or are you settling for negotiation or compromise? Do you understand the role of every person, and are you respectful of their participation and involvement? Are you fulfilling your own role and responsibility, so that you make the contribution that is expected of you? Are you supportive and positive?”

In other words, are you a team player? Will you be the best you can be on the team that your leader of choice champions? When called upon to do so, will you be able to take your turn leading too, building upon the involvement you have had all along?

Lasting movements (progress) requires clear, directional Change

In that conversation string I pulled Steph’s comment from, we’d reconvened to talk story about self-leadership in our value-mapping process. We spoke of how our leadership vocabulary could be sharpened, and thus strengthened as “Language of Intention” (MWA Key 5).

Then we asked each other, “What is self-leadership?” and tried to focus in on it in regard to effecting change. I recall it now (and looked up our conversation archive), because of all the dissatisfaction in current affairs — something’s got to give, and people say they want change: What will it be, and how will it happen?

Nothing changes until something shifts or moves. Self-leadership is what gets us to move.

Determination - Barrel Racing - Parada del Sol Rodeo
Determination - Barrel Racing - Parada del Sol Rodeo by Alan English on Flickr

For the most part, I like change because it is vibrant and alive; it defies stagnation. I say ‘for the most part’ because there are times for calm and for stillness, but those are times for the reflection which leads to rejuvenation, and for fortifying our energies for the next leaps of movement.

That’s because nothing changes until someONE shifts or moves.

That someone is the self-led, the person who chooses self-leadership first, so they need never depend on the leadership of another to free them from any stagnation or inertia; they do so for themselves. That someone may emerge to be the leader, or one of them, but for the time being they have their own work to do.

The person who chooses self-leadership as their first experience, can then empathize with the needs of others they will eventually ask to join in, or to follow their lead. Often they need not ask; it just happens because leadership is so attractive and compelling. It’s magnetic and contageous.

The self-leadership of the value of Alaka‘i is about strong, self-impelling initiative.

It is the ability to self-energize so you always have reserves to call upon when you need them.

It is the ability to self-motivate, for motivation is an inside-job: If we’re completely honest, we will admit that no one can motivate us; we must do so for ourselves.

Self-leadership is a quest for learning more about what is possible. Therefore, there is an impatience and sense of urgency about self-leadership, for those who quest know that something bigger and better exists to be discovered or created.

The self-led have the burning desire to be the one who will do that discovering or creating.

Is that the person you are, or the person you hope to be?

I do believe that at some point in everyone’s life, they can answer, “Yes.” As Steph helped us see, it becomes our turn.

Alaka‘i may not be the most consistently called-upon value that we choose when it comes to our personal values, but I do believe it may be one that we universally share much more than others. We each have it: It’s more a question of when we choose to invoke this value, and about which of our passions, and about whether that passion is one we champion or choose another leader for.


Postscript: You will notice that the 1st few comments below are from August of 2009: This is a refreshing and reframing of this post when originally published then. I am doing what I encourage you to do in workplace culture-building: Repeat what you stand for to keep your language of intention alive and well. Refresh it and reframe it when necessary, and you keep it Kākou too – not everyone will have heard it the first time (or will have retained it). If it is important, put it back on stage: Alaka‘i ABCs: What do you stand for?

So I invite you to weigh in again: Let’s talk story.

If you are newly joining us, Alaka‘i was subject of the posting before this one too: Alaka‘i Leadership, Chiefs and Indians. Sections include:

  • Leadership delivers an affirmation of our values
  • What do we do, when leadership fails us?
  • Alaka‘i Leadership is a concept of abundance

Alaka‘i Leadership, Chiefs and Indians

I find myself thinking about leadership an awful lot lately.

I’m craving it.

Our upcoming state and federal elections have a lot to do with my craving, though I personally don’t think of any elections as “upcoming” as our current crop of politicians do… wouldn’t it be nice if they actually did the work we thought we were electing them for, instead of turning their job into a 9-5 of thinly disguised campaigning and ideology soap-boxing? And wouldn’t it be great having broadcast media return to true journalism, and investigative reporting on worthy issues instead of publishing political polls, and hedging their bets on polarized races? (Okay, that was more rant than craving.)

My cravings with leadership are heavily influenced by the less-than-healthy economy too (as my recent postings here illustrate), and significantly, that what may be the biggest movement of our time is a leaderless one. There’s still global warming and our La Niña year weather challenges, the harshness of the coming winter on those who are poverty-stricken, and our energy crisis to think about as our public sector continues to get tapped out, or opts for austerity measures.

Often, I think about the quality of education our youth are getting (or not getting) as 21st century teachers struggle to reinvent their curriculum and their methods, while the “elder statesmen” in the ivory towers of academia obsess over their own tenure and broken budget models. I think about the skills training which must get better defined vocationally, given our “Great Reset” and I wonder where more leadership will emerge there.

These are just the biggies that we all hear about and grapple with daily, and we could pick on the private sector too; they are not immune from today’s recessionary and climactic adjustments. However there’s a myriad of smaller reasons I crave leadership as well. They are ‘smaller’ in that they don’t make the headline news as frequently (if at all), but they are not small in their importance.

These “smaller reasons” is the stuff of leadership as a value. They are catalysts and triggers, because they are behaviors, and when we concentrate on them, they have a significant domino affect, where they affect all these things we consider to be such big issues.

Leadership delivers the affirmation of our values

For instance, there is the need for ethical behavior, where leaders set a good example with “the right thing to do” versus the politically correct strategic advantage.

There is the need for bravery with innovation in a plethora of business models, and the need for new advancements in science.

There is the need for societal coping with increased aging, with more support for new family structures as we all live longer and with increasingly varied interests.

There is the need for more individualism and less conformity, more youth-infused change, and more senior-respected knowledge brokering, honoring time-tested experience.

There are the needs which can be addressed by exponential growth in social entrepreneurship and non-profiteering. On the other side of the coin, our behavior as consumers could use some nobility too.

There is the opportunity for healthy, collaborative competition, where those competing to unveil the next big idea are working on the greater good of our populace and our planet.

Values do fulfill these needs, and in particular, the opportunity for caring and courageous leadership is spreading like wildfire. When opportunity beckons, self-leadership can become most critical of all:

“Example has more followers than reason.”
~ Christian Nevell Bovee

What do we do, when leadership fails us?

I think about leadership all the time simply by merit of what I do in my work, and because I KNOW that values drive good behaviors, both in self-managing, and in self-leading.

I find that I am thinking about leadership an awful lot more than usual, because to be perfectly blunt, it’s missing in action where we’re supposed to be assured of finding it. Those positioned for leadership by merit of their title aren’t performing well, and they continue to flounder, or worse, retreat in buck-passing.

It is incredulous to me – appalling really – that no single leader on Wall Street has emerged to say, “We hear you America, we do! This is what we will do about your pain.” in response to the growing Occupy movement. It saddens me terribly to think the President of the United States feels he must “resort to” taking his message to the people because his workplace team, the U.S. Congress, isn’t actually on his team (or he on theirs, as Thomas Friedman had pointed out).

Remarkable leadership would make me wildly jubilant (buzzwords are fascinating, aren’t they?) however I must say I’d do cartwheels and sing out loud for more basically sound leadership too. I crave new heroes for our modern, right-now world, heroes who inspire the rest of us to be better than we now are. I crave for heroes everywhere, and I want lots of them.

When I have cravings like this, cravings which cause me to yearn for better answers to my frustrations, there is a place I know to look deeper into. That place is this sweet spot where my personal values match up to the most touch points with the values of Managing with Aloha.

Alaka‘i in Managing with Aloha

This is a good time to talk story about SELF-LEADERSHIP and make things more personal.

Sure, we need to elect the best leaders we can, and I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the platforms of each leader you select in any forum, and each politician you will vote for: Be part of an enlightened, well-informed electorate wherever you may live. Be articulate and vocal: Voice your opinion so that those you support will clearly understand they are elected to represent you and the constituency you share residency within.

For that matter, don’t be content with sitting back and watching others in any team you are a part of: Get involved in a substantive way. Be active in how you participate.

However if you crave exciting new leadership too, you know that good participation is not enough, don’t you. We need generously large doses of self-leadership, and we need it everywhere and in everyone, for when we work together, we get pretty profound results. We are unstoppable.

I want unstoppable.

Alaka‘i Leadership is a concept of abundance

I want to be a new hero of our time, and I want you to be one too. There is a lot of opportunity to go around, and I’ve never been one who subscribes to the belief that there can be too many Chiefs and not enough Indians, at least not when both Chiefs and Indians are working with great values, and leading with Ho‘ohana and ‘Imi ola-generated intention and passion. Good leadership has very little (if anything) to do with titles, positions, or power; both Chiefs and Indians can have it. The only question is if they call upon their values and use it.

So call yourself Chief, call yourself Indian- BE the leader you want to be. Be Alaka‘i:

“As a person who is Alaka‘i, you build the strength of character found in initiative and independence… Those who are Alaka‘i possess a strong belief in their own capacity and in the power of possibility: They are confident optimists, filled with hope.”
Alaka‘i, the value of leadership, in Managing with Aloha

And in case you missed it: Calling all Managers: We need you.

For the practical and pragmatic: Lead with Compassion, then Manage for Competence, andHow Alaka‘i Managers get work to Make Sense.

War paint in 2011: Greek "indignants" cover their ears, mouths, or eyes in Athens' Syntagma Square in front of the Greek Parliament during the global day of action on October 15, 2011. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images for The Big Picture)


This post, its intention intact but content substantially edited for new publication today, had originally appeared within another blog I loved dearly at the time, called Managing with Aloha Coaching (circa August 2007 through December 2008). The blog was dedicated to a more in-depth, Hawai‘i-connected study of the 18 values presented in my book, Managing with Aloha, and was written during the pre-recession height of my then-consulting business, an almost frenetic time where my coaching laboratory was flush with activity and new learning both for me and my clients, most of whom remain great friends. As I should have expected from that effort, integrally woven with my own Hawai‘i Sense of Place as it was, MWAC became more personal than I had intended it to be, but in my mana‘o, it was also an immensely pleasing Ho‘ohana blend. I plan to eventually retire the site, and so I am slowly bringing its content here for a co-evolution with Talking Story, where its honored spirit can continue to teach, and be added to, for Ka lā hiki ola, it will always be the dawning of a new day in some regard!

Tab it and mark it up!