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

I am reading: How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer

As of this writing, it’s only $2.99 on Kindle, and your experiences are like the blade of a comprehension slicing pair of scissors (more on that in a moment).

I’ve been batching the weave-able reading I’ve had on my To-Read list about the brain, figuring that each book would reinforce my learning retention with the others, and help me learn-through my questions:

  1. The book I started with (not exactly about the brain, but related to it via our ideas): Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Berlin Johnson: Review here, on Talking Story
  2. Second was Brain Rules by John Medina (very short review on GoodReads, for now.)
  3. How We Decide is my third. There is a short-but-telling interview with the author on the Amazon page which includes this bit; a memorable analogy:

“Herbert Simon, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, famously compared our mind to a pair of scissors. One blade, he said, represented the brain. The other blade was the specific environment in which our brain was operating. If you want to understand the function of scissors, Simon said, then you have to look at both blades simultaneously. What I wanted to do in How We Decide was venture out of the lab and into the real world so that I could see the scissors at work.”

I decided to post this earlier than I usually do (as full book review), just in case you want to read along with me: The price is certainly right! (You don’t need the Kindle device itself; you can download it from the Kindle page to your computer.)

I’m just 15% through it, about to start Chapter 3, Fooled by a Feeling, and so far am liking it quite a bit. Lehrer has a very easy-to-read writing style.

Rosa’s Highlights

As a bit of a mini-reader for your own weaving possibilities, here are the highlights I’ve done in the book so far, thanks to the copy-ease of my Kindle account: (Michael Hyatt wrote up a good how-to here: How to get your Kindle Highlights into Evernote.)

If you decide to read along with me, do add your own observations in the comments — we can talk story about them :)

How We Decide: Introduction

From the perspective of the brain, there’s a thin line between a good decision and a bad decision, between trying to descend and trying to gain altitude. This book is about that line. ~ Read more at location 84

Ever since the ancient Greeks, these assumptions have revolved around a single theme: humans are rational. When we make decisions, we are supposed to consciously analyze the alternatives and carefully weigh the pros and cons. In other words, we are deliberate and logical creatures. This simple idea underlies the philosophy of Plato and Descartes; it forms the foundation of modern economics; it drove decades of research in cognitive science. Over time, our rationality came to define us. It was, simply put, what made us human. There’s only one problem with this assumption of human rationality: it’s wrong. It’s not how the brain works. Look, for example, at my decisions in the cockpit. They were made in the heat of the moment, a visceral reaction to difficult events. ~ Read more at location 89

It turns out that we weren’t designed to be rational creatures. Instead, the mind is composed of a messy network of different areas, many of which are involved with the production of emotion. Whenever someone makes a decision, the brain is awash in feeling, driven by its inexplicable passions. Even when a person tries to be reasonable and restrained, these emotional impulses secretly influence judgment. When I was in the cockpit desperately trying to figure out how to save my life—and the lives of thousands of Japanese suburbanites—these emotions drove the patterns of mental activity that made me crash and helped me land. But this doesn’t mean that our brains come preprogrammed for good decision-making. ~ Read more at location 98

There is no universal solution to the problem of decision-making. The real world is just too complex. As a result, natural selection endowed us with a brain that is enthusiastically pluralist. Sometimes we need to reason through our options and carefully analyze the possibilities. And sometimes we need to listen to our emotions. The secret is knowing when to use these different styles of thought. We always need to be thinking about how we think. ~ Read more at location 108

The mind inspires many myths—such as the fiction of pure rationality—but it’s really just a powerful biological machine, complete with limitations and imperfections. Knowing how the machine works is useful knowledge, since it shows us how to get the most out of the machine. But the brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum; all decisions are made in the context of the real world. ~ Read more at location 120

The goal of this book is to answer two questions that are of interest to just about everybody, from corporate CEOs to academic philosophers, from economists to airline pilots: How does the human mind make decisions? And how can we make those decisions better? ~ Read more at location 131

Chapter 1. The Quarterback in the Pocket

The problem with seeing the mind as a computer is that computers don’t have feelings. Because emotions couldn’t be reduced to bits of information or the logical structures of programming language, scientists tended to ignore them. ~ Read more at location 302

For too long, people have disparaged the emotional brain, blaming our feelings for all of our mistakes. The truth is far more interesting. What we discover when we look at the brain is that the horses and the charioteer depend upon each other. If it weren’t for our emotions, reason wouldn’t exist at all. ~ Read more at location 314

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. ~ Read more at location 342

When a person is drawn to a specific receiver, or a certain entrée on the menu, or a particular romantic prospect, the mind is trying to tell him that he should choose that option. It has already assessed the alternatives—this analysis takes place outside of conscious awareness—and converted that assessment into a positive emotion. And when he sees a receiver who’s tightly covered, or smells a food he doesn’t like, or glimpses an ex-girlfriend, it is the OFC that makes him want to get away. (Emotion and motivation share the same Latin root, movere, which means “to move.”) The world is full of things, and it is our feelings that help us choose among them. ~ Read more at location 379

The evolution of the human brain changed everything. For the first time, there was an animal that could think about how it thought. We humans could contemplate our emotions and use words to dissect the world, parsing reality into neat chains of causation. We could accumulate knowledge and logically analyze problems. We could tell elaborate lies and make plans for the future. Sometimes, we could even follow our plans. ~ Read more at location 468

When it comes to the new parts of the brain, evolution just hasn’t had time to work out the kinks. The emotional brain, however, has been exquisitely refined by evolution over the last several hundred million years. Its software code has been subjected to endless tests, so it can make fast decisions based on very little information. ~ Read more at location 475

When evolution was building the brain, it didn’t bother to replace all of those emotional processes with new operations under explicit, conscious control. If something isn’t broken, then natural selection isn’t going to fix it. The mind is made out of used parts, engineered by a blind watchmaker. The result is that the uniquely human areas of the mind depend on the primitive mind underneath. The process of thinking requires feeling, for feelings are what let us understand all the information that we can’t directly comprehend. Reason without emotion is impotent. ~ Read more at location 495

Chapter 2. The Predictions of Dopamine

The brain is designed to amplify the shock of these mistaken predictions. Whenever it experiences something unexpected—like a radar blip that doesn’t fit the usual pattern, or a drop of juice that doesn’t arrive—the cortex immediately takes notice. Within milliseconds, the activity of the brain cells has been inflated into a powerful emotion. Nothing focuses the mind like surprise. ~ Read more at location 659

When the ACC is worried about some anomaly—for instance, an errant blip on a radar screen—that worry is immediately translated into a somatic signal as the muscles prepare for action. Within seconds, heart rate increases, and adrenaline pours into the bloodstream. These fleshly feelings compel us to respond to the situation right away. A racing pulse and sweaty palms are the brain’s way of saying that there’s no time to waste. This prediction error is urgent. ~ Read more at location 671

This is an essential aspect of decision-making. If we can’t incorporate the lessons of the past into our future decisions, then we’re destined to endlessly repeat our mistakes. ~ Read more at location 679

Human emotions are rooted in the predictions of highly flexible brain cells, which are constantly adjusting their connections to reflect reality. Every time you make a mistake or encounter something new, your brain cells are busy changing themselves. Our emotions are deeply empirical. ~ Read more at location 708

When the mind is denied the emotional sting of losing, it never figures out how to win. ~ Read more at location 791

Dopamine neurons need to be continually trained and retrained, or else their predictive accuracy declines. Trusting one’s emotions requires constant vigilance; intelligent intuition is the result of deliberate practice. What Cervantes said about proverbs—”They are short sentences drawn from long experience”—also applies to brain cells, but only if we use them properly. ~ Read more at location 813

Even when Robertie wins—and he almost always wins—he insists on searching for his errors, dissecting those decisions that could have been a little bit better. He knows that self-criticism is the secret to self-improvement; negative feedback is the best kind. ~ Read more at location 846

The problem with praising kids for their innate intelligence—the “smart” compliment—is that it misrepresents the neural reality of education. It encourages kids to avoid the most useful kind of learning activities, which is learning from mistakes. Unless you experience the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong, your brain will never revise its models. Before your neurons can succeed, they must repeatedly fail. There are no shortcuts for this painstaking process. ~ Read more at location 882

A bit of early weaving, for resourcing later

  1. Written back in February of 2009: Decision Making: How do you do it?
  2. More in my Talking Story tag on decision-making, and on decisions
  3. My Talking Story tag on thinking
  4. A personal favorite, written in June of 2007: Believe in Your Biology

Biology (and the history of our evolution as humans) is something I have definitely become more friendly with since I was force-fed it in school: I like learning how my own biology can make my own observations more logical, or at least soften them with a more comforting understanding … that scissors-blade effect in action!

Learning and Weaving: The absorption benefit of your Personal Philosophy

Absorption

You see, hear, and read a lot each day.
You discover goodness, and learn all sorts of things.
And if that’s not enough, you share in what I write about here, or find and clip on Ho‘ohana Aloha.
How do you apply what’s most useful to you and retain it?

I’ll ask the question in another way: What is the Personal Philosophy you weave it into?

Weaving

As a Talking Story reader, you know that my weave is Managing with Aloha, the value-verbing philosophy I’ve based on 19 values and 9 key concepts. Managing with Aloha has been an extraordinary gift in my life, serving me in several ways. I don’t pretend nor profess it to be the ‘be-all and end-all‘ — in fact, it’s somewhat the opposite: What it does for me, is absorb additional learning so I can quickly use it and retain it.

Here is an example of how I did this yesterday, as my commentary on The Five Universal Themes of Business as compiled by Todd Sattersten:

1. Clarity of Purpose:
MWA Key 3 – Value Alignment, and
Key 8 – Sense of Place

2. Wisdom in Decision Making:
MWA ӬKey 3 РValue Alignment, and
Key 9 – Palena ‘ole (Growing within your full capacity)

3. Bias for Action:
MWA Key 2 – Ho‘ohana (worthwhile, intentional work), and
Key 7 – Strengths Management

4. Openness to Change:
MWA Key 4 – Role of the Manager, reconstructed, and
Key 6 – ‘Ohana in Business (strategic form/function)

5. Giving and Getting Feedback:
MWA ӬKey 1 РAloha (as the foundational rootstock it is), and
Key 5 – Language of Intention (our communication key)

Creating a culture is creative, romantic, dreamy. But then you’ve got to give it teeth, and get it to actually happen. Third, you have to Ho‘omau, and persist in stewarding that culture so it will sustain itself and live beyond you or any single manager.

You can use MWA in this way too if you wish, or you could use another philosophy: Before Managing with Aloha came together for me, I used Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for nearly a decade, a philosophy which I would discover he’d based on the timeless principle called the Law of the Harvest:

We tend to reap what we sow.   “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny,” the maxim goes.

Scout Orchid

Usefulness is about Fit

When you learn something new, and you want to keep it close, and make it optimally useful to you, ask yourself, “Where does this fit in my personal philosophy?”

Ask, “How could this grow me?”

Push your thinking toward the value alignment (or concept alignment) that is evolving into what you truly believe, and increasingly will stand for.

Focus on your Deliberate Inputs. Don’t be too quick to move on and gather more. Dwell on what you just learned, and take more time to savor it. Think on it more deeply, and question it. Discard the clutter, and weave in the keepers. Take action in some way to satisfy your sense of urgency. (This is a good suggestion: Recreate whatever inspires you.)

One glorious day you’ll have Ka lā hiki ola, that ‘dawning of a new day’ where you realize you have your very own version of Living, Working, Managing, and Leading with Aloha. It’s your brand and your Personal Philosophy. It’s become your weave, for you’ll never stop learning, and that’s a good thing.

Palena ‘ole

You have way more capacity than you’re aware of at this moment, whether physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. Weave it into tangible being.

Learning (the value of ‘Ike loa) is a fabulous thing; weave in your ‘loose ends’ and see what you can create.

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