This article has been updated, and now appears within my company portfolio.
You can read it here:
Thank you for your visit,
This article has been updated, and now appears within my company portfolio.
You can read it here:
Thank you for your visit,
I hate job descriptions. What we need instead, are strength descriptions.
Here’s what I mean, using my own story as an example.
One way I’ll surprise people, is with my honest self-assessment in regard to customer service; I’m strong as a customer service trainer, particularly in Ho‘okipa (the value of generous hospitality), but I’m not skilled in serving customers myself. I can teach those skills, and even coach people in using them, far, far better than I can do them myself. Yet I was able to forge a very successful career in the ‘Hawai‘i hospitality business’ where the expectation is that “first and foremost: we serve customers.”
That’s not to say I have a different philosophy personally, or that I’m being hypocritical or duplicitous in any other way. I knew the actual delivery of good customer service was a personal weakness for me, so I compensated for that, by working in other areas of service where my strengths were actively in play.
My strengths were in working with employees, peers, and other managers, and not in serving customers. The personal service I excel with as Mea Ho‘okipa, a customer service provider, is given to others in contextual relationships specific to co-working — to internal customers rather than external ones. I will never, ever be a sales person, unless I’m ‘selling’ someone on the fit of a good job for them within my Ho‘ohana coaching.
My story is not an unusual one. In his book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham tells us about Christine, a trainer in southern California:
“Like each of us, Christine has a number of distinct strengths. One of them is that she is invigorated by training trainers to be better. She loves nearly every aspect of the teaching process. She loves seeing the satisfaction a trainer feels when his students excel and the growth in his own confidence as he becomes more comfortable with his material. She has a third eye for fine distinctions, for the subtleties in how a trainer presents information and why those nuances make a big difference in turning students’ confusion into understanding.”
“Interestingly, she’s not particularly adept at doing what she’s training her trainers to do. Sit her down in a room with five senior trainers who want to dive into the details of program design, and she excels. But increase those numbers to twenty-five, turn the trainers into students, and tell Christine to hold their attention for a full day’s training, and she’s mediocre.”
“She’s not invariably a great teacher, yet she’s a great teacher of teachers. It may seem a bit strange, but most of us, when you look closely, have a combination of strengths and weaknesses that is not entirely predictable.”
“Strange or not, the challenge for Christine and her manager, is to figure out how to exploit this great strength for the benefit of the company. They have a lot to talk about.”
Those are the kinds of conversations we don’t have often enough in the workplace. One problem is the on-going challenge of making time for them — it’s the problem we try to solve in part, with the Daily Five Minutes, converting found opportunities into more productive ones.
However there’s a deeper problem in play; and that’s the expectation of managers. It’s an expectation which puts blinders on us. We’ll often expect employees to conform to standardized expectations (i.e. Job Descriptions) instead of personalized ones — the Ho‘ohana work which suits their spirit, innate talents, and strengths.
The expectation of conformity is as foolish as watering a seed and expecting it to bloom into an animal or piece of machinery.
We fail to have conversations about what people are strong at, and about the proficiencies they’ll truly shine at when we figure out how to stage them, because we spend way too much time talking about OUR standards for their performance instead. We work at fitting employees into our molds for them, and into our preconceived views of what the world of work should look like — even when we’ve begun to realize how dysfunctional that picture has become.
I was far happier, and far more productive for my employer, when my manager didn’t force me into the customer service roles I wasn’t suited for, whether to pay my dues, prove to the rest of the team that I could do it, or some other misguided reason. It wasn’t that I didn’t like customers, or felt that the work was below me. I wasn’t intimidated by it, and didn’t need to learn more. It just didn’t motivate me or reward me as much as other work did. I could go through the motions, choosing the all the right motions, but calling upon deeper passions with them was like trying to squeeze water from a sponge that is completely dry.
Customers could tell too. They never had a complaint about my customer service, but I didn’t routinely knock their socks off with it either. Not good enough for them, and not good enough for me.
However here is where I was extremely lucky: My bosses were not stubborn and unreasonable. When I showed them what I could do, doing it better, and in a way that filled another need of the business, they turned me loose and let me go for it.
And this is an important point: They did not have to create a new gig for me. All they had to do was not hold me back, and support me in figuring it out for myself, so I could find my own answers.
So, Mr. and Ms. Manager, what are the expectations you honestly have of your own staff? How can you honor their strengths, and share your savvy with workplace design by compensating for their weaknesses in smarter, and more respectful ways?
Here’s more from the story in Buckingham’s book: As he explains, Christine actually IS director of program development at a training company. Her job is to design the training programs, and then, once they have been sold to a company, to deliver them:
“They have a lot to talk about. Together, Christine and her manager have to figure out how to design a train-the-trainer product based on her strengths, how to market it, price it, and select a specific group of clients on which to focus it. They have to decide what kinds of materials are necessary and whether Christine is the right person to create them. They have to decide the optimal number of trainees Christine is capable of working with and how frequently she should check back in with them to assess their competence.”
“These are the kind of details that will determine just how productive Christine’s strengths are at work. Given how critical her performance is to the entire company, she and her manager should be talking about them all the time.”
You have heard my story, and Christine’s. Now think of someone you are managing. What are the strengths they bring to the job, and what are the specific details your conversations can address? What are their needs, in having you coach and support them?
Do this assessment for each and every one of the direct reports you have, and do it consistently. Don’t you dare give them a performance appraisal on the wrong expectations.
These are not difficult questions. Managers know the answers in the context of their workplace. The bigger question is if they are focused on them, and on the right expectations to begin with.
~ Some Archive Aloha which might help ~
But please; do answer the question before you move on to more reading.
Make this coaching relevant to you!
At least it is for me. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” It’s advice I’ve taken to heart, because I know myself. I know I’m a manager first, and leader second.
To back it up a bit, every so often I get this question: “Rosa, why ‘managing with aloha?’ Why didn’t you call your book Leading with Aloha?”
It mostly comes up in the Q&A which can follow my presentations, because I do talk about both managing and leading. One of the first to ask it of me was my agent, before my book was published. He’d read my manuscript and felt it didn’t answer the question, and I didn’t change that; it still doesn’t. So the question still comes up.
I have several answers.
My answer to my agent back then, was that I really didn’t feel qualified to write a book called ‘Leading with Aloha.’ I’m better at managing, and had achieved meaningful, make a difference success by managing, and so I could say more about it, and share more stories about it: I felt the stories I included in Managing with Aloha made it more possible for you, and less theoretical.
Another answer is that I simply want to manage more and lead less most of the time, and so I do. I’m better at challenging others to lead, and supporting them so they can.
I love managing. Love. I’ve learned to enjoy leading.
There’s quite a difference between those two statements.
Another answer is philosophical: I really get annoyed with the assumption that leading is better than managing, for I don’t believe it is. Both are verbs, both are needed in business and in our world, and both can be accomplished by every manager under the sun — if they choose to do so within their Ho‘ohana. I don’t believe we’re born into either one, managing or leading. I believe we choose them, and while I’ve defined a way they go together well in an ‘Ohana in Business culture, I do feel you can choose to do mostly one or mostly the other, managing and leading as a team effort with others.
For most of my life, at least up to the point where I wrote Managing with Aloha, I chose managing over leading. I felt I was better at it, ‘better’ meaning that I was more effective with it. I was more effective as a manager because I admired managing, wanted to do it, believed in it, enjoyed it even when messy and complicated, and deliberately chose it. I had no problem managing within the energies created by others who chose leading as their preference. I preferred it.
One of my old bosses introduced me to an audience once by saying, “Every time I felt I had a terrific new idea, one that would again be testament to my brilliance as a leader, there was Rosa, ready and waiting, eager to say, ‘So I guess this is where you need me again, huh.’ She was eager to get to work, and always there to help me make something happen.”
My response was that it made us a good team, for it did. He was a great leader. Because of my attitude about ‘proactive followership’ I learned an awful lot about leading without having to do it myself back then — most of the time.
You see there eventually gets to be a point of managing well, where to be great at it, you have to try leading. You have to get braver, and bigger, and more vocal. They seem to be times you’ve got to go out on a limb somehow, and take a chance your managing hasn’t yet proven. There’s a first time for everything, a time when there will be no past experience to look back on.
During those times, leading well is about all you can do, and leading truly seizes those starring roles. If you’re the appointed star, you’ve hopefully got enough managing well behind you in other performances and venues, so that others allow you to inspire them, and create new energy in that void of uncertainty. You’ve earned the right to be listened to, and they take a chance with you.
And let’s kick out that word ‘appointed’ in the last paragraph: Leading needs no title. It doesn’t require any positioning on an org chart: It responds to need.
But again, that’s been my own experience. I can only be an expert, or a teacher, with what I know to be true because I’ve experienced it too. In my case, I mostly qualify experiences as “Aloha pukas” [a puka is a hole] — voids in managing, or voids in leading, so I’ll know what to fill them with, or at least where to start.
Any mastery starts with you, and your Alaka‘i initiative, doesn’t it.
That’s why I’ll sometimes switch gears in my writing, and talk about self-management and self-leadership, both of which I believe to be integral to managing well. We have to begin our mastery by working on ourselves first: How can you possibly presume to manage, or to lead others, if you don’t first manage your own behavior, and then manage your own ideas?
I’ll be honest: When I founded Say Leadership Coaching, ‘leadership’ crept into the name of my business because I allowed the good-intentioned marketing advice I got at the time to usurp that position management should have had. And why not? Leadership is a good thing too, isn’t it?
However what I’ve always taught is to invest most of your learning in managing well, and leading well will naturally follow. You’ll lead when you’re compelled to, versus when anyone else says you’re supposed to. I say ‘managing well is better than leading’ because I do feel it has to come first. The greatest leaders I’ve had the privilege of knowing personally managed well in much bigger doses; their leading was the flourish. It was the icing atop a cake which had already been nourishing us.
Can you start to lead in small shifts at a time, with what you’ve already learned to manage well? Of course you can, and I hope you will.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
There are so many management lessons to be learned from parenting, and I think that helping without hurting is one of them.
Loving your children, and loving the people you manage, will cause you to help them unconditionally. You want to do so much for them, and so you’ll give an awful lot; your generosity knows no bounds.
Yet we do have to step back at times (at many, many times), and stop ourselves.
We need to stop giving when we make it way too easy, and those we give to lose their own natural hunger. They don’t try hard enough, nor reach far enough, because we’ve robbed them of the experience of striving, and wanting more badly than they do.
We intended to help, and to love, but we’ve hurt them because we’ve robbed them of the joy which can come from expended effort. We’ve prolonged their path to achieving their self-reliance (if they ever do).
It is one thing to have your child tell himself
“It’s hard; I’ve tried several times and keep coming up short — why?”
It’s quite another to have your child tell himself
“Why bother? I’ll get it one day if I just wait long enough.”
In the first instance, he will keep questioning, and keep looking for new methods, options or alternatives. “Hard” is a temporary state of affairs. In the second, we’ve chipped away at his once-innate bravado and can-do spirit and only complacency remains. Even wanting something has gotten shallow.
I’ve found that the value of Mālama can help me make better decisions when I weigh my options between giving that help I so want to give, yet holding back my first impulses to do so. Thinking about Mālama gives me pause, at least long enough to listen to that small voice which affirms yet asks, “I know you have good intentions, but are you sure you should do this for them?”
Mālama” the value of caring and compassion.
Mālamalama” the light of knowledge, and clarity of thinking.
I admit to you that I continue to fail miserably at holding back as a parent. I’m weak. I know that I do way too much for my children, and I need to stop, so they do for themselves. I’m better at this as a manager, where there’s a bit less intimacy in our relationships (we have useful boundaries) but I can mess up a lot there too.
However I’m getting better by remembering to call on Mālama as my self-coaching mantra. Mālama is also the value of empathy, and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes as the way we care for them. We weigh in with tough love precisely because we are compassionate, and we do care, but we need to pause for a bit more enlightenment: We’ll then be able to give our care in the best way versus the impulsive way.
I find I’m looking for recognizable markers now. They are very individual though, shifting from person to person. I ask myself, “When is that concept of ‘tough love’ better?” and the most reliable answer is “Usually. Try to see it more. Allow it to show up.”
It gets increasingly better. The joy is that I can accept my strength and deny my weakness. The irony of tough love, is that it is often tougher on us, than on those we give it to, and as such, it’s one of the greatest kinds of love which exist.
When we’ve stopped giving too much, without holding back an iota on the goal we strive for or the gift we want to give, and our children or our people become successful on their own in achieving it, we are also successful in becoming stronger — we’ve both become stronger. Our weakness was another temporary state of affairs.
What about you? How do you achieve this balance? How do you help your children, and your people, become hungry, tenacious, resilient and persistent? Do you go so far as to introduce adversity into the workplace, or at least illuminate it? Then what kind of support do you continue to give, without giving too much, so that they welcome your tough love for them?
Photo Credit: Reach by Cayusa on Flickr