For this day, and a refreshed perspective for the waning weeks of 2016, a gift:
What follows is Chapter 16 of Managing with Aloha’s Second Edition just released this past July, on Mahalo, the Hawaiian value of gratitude, appreciation, and thankfulness. It includes the Appreciation Story of the Alaka‘i Nalu, the Take Stock Exercise, and how to find your hidden gifts with Jake’s Mahalo Log.
Enjoy your reading, and many blessings to you and your ‘Ohana on this Thanksgiving Day.
With much Aloha,
Thank you, as a way of living
Live in thankfulness for the richness
that makes life so precious
Mahalo. Thank you, as a way of living.
With Mahalo, we give thanks for every element which enriches our lives by living in thankfulness for them. We relish them. We celebrate them joyously. Mahalo is the value that gives us an attitude of gratitude, and the pleasure of awe and wonder.
Say “thank you” often. Speak of your appreciation and it will soften the tone of your voice, giving it richness, humility and fullness. People need to hear it from you: Mahalo nui loa.
What makes you rich?
Ironically, when you live on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, more than two thousand miles from the nearest continent, water is rare. You treasure all sources of fresh water and learn to conserve it. So it’s no surprise that the Hawaiian word for richness or wealth literally translates to “double water.” The word is waiwai, for wai is the word for fresh, drinkable water (kai is sea water).
Ho‘owaiwai is to enrich, to bring about prosperity and abundance. I share this context with you, for it says much about the basic simplicity and purity of life’s richness the value of Mahalo teaches us to treasure.
Like Aloha, Mahalo is a word of common use in the Hawai‘i of today where relatively few Hawaiian words are actually spoken. I lived more than 40 years of my own life in the islands before I came to realize that Mahalo was actually a value, one that meant much more than just the polite statement of “Thank you.”
When lived to its fuller potential, Mahalo is a value that creates habits of thankful living in us. Appreciation and gratefulness stroke deeper color and richer texture into our character. We give thanks by the acts of living thankfully, not simply by saying the words “thank you.” When we look around us, we are filled with wonder, and we sense the immense richness which already surrounds us.
We do not lament that which we may not have, for we are preoccupied with taking notice of what we do have. As we count our many blessings, we Mālama them and cherish them, we relish the bounty they bring to life, to our life. We celebrate them joyously.
Creating the habit of appreciation
As managers we make a frequent lament about our employees, “Why can’t they be more appreciative?” Or perhaps we’ve said, “Can’t they understand just how good they have it?” Sound vaguely familiar?
Well consider this: As a manager, appreciation is one of the most generous lessons we can teach and coach. It’s also a fairly easy one to incorporate.
I’ve shared several stories of the Alaka‘i Nalu with you, the “leaders of the waves” at the Hualālai Resort. If I had to pick a favorite one, it would be the story of their “Mahalos” for I am certain that Mahalo gave them a gift of healing.
There was some pilikia, trouble, among the ranks at the time this group of athletes became my gift, and it was clear we had to ho‘oponopono, clear the air and make several things right. A Mālama Time would have been too much too soon, so to begin in a small yet consistently occurring way, we started a practice of “sharing our Mahalos” at the end of each operational weekly meeting. For several months, the only real homework they had for the week was to catch someone else on the team doing a favor for them. They were to say thank you then and there, and they were also to share their Mahalo story at the next weekly meeting in front of the entire group, adding a few words on why the favor given meant something to them.
One of the first things I discovered was that they didn’t know how to graciously accept it when someone said thank you. It was hard for them to just say “you’re welcome” and leave it at that—far easier to crack a joke or even look at someone else and say, “Yeah brah, you should do some of that too sometimes.”
They used sarcasm and humor to build up this defensive wall around them. In those early weeks, I had to ask them to just listen quietly and not respond at all other than nodding in acknowledgement that they’d heard all the words spoken.
More ground rules were spontaneously added as we went, such as picking a different person each week to break down the buddy-to-buddy game playing. With each wisecrack I’d have to say, “Either you start being sincere, or I add another rule you gotta remember.”
I also learned to model the behavior that I wanted, ending the meeting with my own Mahalo for each of them. “Mahea, thank you for taking the initiative to start early today without being asked to. Hui Wa‘a (the program name given to our Friday community paddle) was easier for all of us because you took the time to reassign last night’s late sign-ups. Daniel, thank you for taking care of those kids who got so badly sunburned at King’s Pond on Tuesday. I got a call from their parents about how thoughtful and patient you were, and your actions add to the reputation of the entire team.” It continued for each one in turn.
If their names were not spoken by one of their peers, the silent message hung uncomfortably in the room that they had not earned the recognition that week. To make something up was the gravest sin: This was a rule that was never spoken yet completely understood by all.
They caught on, and I’d have to say less and less about the ground rules as time went by. In fact, this became the best part of the meeting by far.
One week we went overtime on other business, and I nearly got a revolt when I tried to adjourn without giving them the time to speak they expected: Sharing their Mahalos became genuine, generous, candid, and thought-provoking for us all. Thereafter, I was sure I did not commit the cardinal sin of encroaching on their time to acknowledge each other.
They loved it when someone new joined the group or I’d invited a guest—they wanted to show off! They didn’t want to show off that they said, “thank you,” they sincerely wanted more people to hear how terrific their peers were, and how proud they were to be associated with them. It amazed me how articulate and giving they were when a newcomer was in the room.
They also started to show me how perceptive they were—they caught everything. In talking about what they noticed, they taught me to be a better manager and notice more too. They learned about each other because they began to understand what someone else appreciated—it differed greatly for each of them individually. They unknowingly shared intuitive revelations with me that made my own job of managing them far easier—they uncovered all the cause-and-effect relationships of the team for me in a short amount of time.
Over their time, the depth of the actions taken by this team was incredible—it became embarrassing to have someone say thank you for something minor or trivial, and hence the assumptions of basic good productivity in the team grew. They tried so much harder, and they were more aware of how their spoken words of thankfulness affected their peers. I was really proud of them.
There is a word for “thank you” in every culture around the globe. Adopting a practice similar to this one that worked so well for the Alaka‘i Nalu can serve any business well, for there are rewards inherent in it for both the person giving thanks and the one being acknowledged for their good deeds.
Give thanks by living thankfully
As a value in the Hawaiian culture, Mahalo digs deeper. It is living within an attitude of gratitude, living each day with a sense of thankfulness for all the elements which make life so precious. It is the fundamental realization of how much you have, simply because you are alive. You begin to relish your present. Both nostalgia for the past and anxiousness for the future lose their grip on your longing. Mahalo is living in a way that demonstrates you are humbled by this gift of the present, and are thankful for it, living your life in a way that celebrates it.
When you live Mahalo you don’t take anything for granted, and you Mālama what you have, taking better care of it.
Mahalo is the life perspective of giving thanks for what you have by using your gifts—and using all your gifts—in the best possible way. You draw from Ho‘ohana, and your inner passions, and live with intention. You begin to realize that it would be wasteful to not use whatever talent you were fortunate enough to be born with; it would be ungrateful and unappreciative. You begin to question what good is destined to emerge from the talent you have, and you explore all possibilities.
Mahalo goes beyond thinking or saying “thank you” for something you’ve been given; it is when you give thanks with more giving. You live in a manner that makes you deserving.
Nurses live in thankfulness for their empathy, when they treat patients in ways that are in tune with the nuances of pain, and with heightened perception for the type of care that is needed.
Professional athletes live in thankfulness for their physical strength, good health, endurance, and stamina when they compete in sports that entertain and inspire millions of spectators.
Environmentalists and scientists live in thankfulness for the wonder of creation and beauty of the planet we are so fortunate to call our home, and for their own sensitivity and awareness of the secrets she can reveal to them.
Managers? We live in thankfulness for the privilege and ability we have to affect the optimally rewarding productivity of other human beings.
Like every other living and breathing person on the planet, there is so much that I want:
I want to be more creative and artistic.
I want to know more about the stock market and electronic communications.
I want to remodel my kitchen and add a walk-in closet to my bedroom.
I want my children to find soulmates, and be happy forever.
I want an enlightened government, world peace, and harmony.
My list goes on and on. I admit that reflecting instead on what I already have and should be more thankful for, serves to make me a more reasonable person at times.
Does it quell my desire for more? No, for I’m far too human to stop wishing.
However, it helps me take stock of the building blocks already in place for me to buttress my dream-building on, and I celebrate those things and enjoy them. It helps me shift my focus from the unachievable to the possible, and I get to work at making it happen for me instead of just wishing it were so. I more readily see exactly where to start.
The good fortune of all managers
Every manager needs better tools of the trade. Every manager yearns for easier and simpler processes, for more generous financial budgets, for more employees, more hours in the day, more customers, more sales opportunities … another endless list.
Instead, take stock of what you already have, reflect on what these present assets have already done for you, and what they potentially can still do for you: You will then be living the value of Mahalo. Most probably you will also be learning to keep things simple and uncomplicated along the way.
One of the most obvious assets all managers have is this: They have employees—think ‘Ohana. If you are a manager who lives within the value of Mahalo, being thankful for what you already have, you are one who constantly takes inventory of the strengths of your ‘Ohana and you apply them to the job at hand—Lōkahi.
The most effective managers are the ones who do not foolishly go it alone: They get everyone involved in ways that are stimulating, challenging, and inclusive—Kākou. They trust their people because they know them well—‘Ike loa, and they dole out generous portions of meaningful assignments—Ho‘ohana, and the authority to effectively get them done—Kuleana.
They give advice vs. approval, forgiveness vs. permission. They have faith in the goodness of people—Aloha, and they find that results are achieved faster, in more nimble ways throughout their operations.
Take stock of what you have
So let’s do it. Right now. Stop reading, and put this book aside to do a simple exercise. Grab a clean sheet of paper and make a list of those things you have in your job right now—not the things you still want, just those things, situations, or people you already have at hand and on your mind.
Thinking back to my last assignment managing the Alaka‘i Nalu, I’ll give you some of my own examples just to get your wheels turning:
- A full crew for the next 42 days. No one is scheduled for vacation for another six weeks.
- In addition, I have a new hire in training. He still has another 60 days in his introductory period.
- One of my employees is in training for the Moloka‘i to O‘ahu canoe race, working out with her paddling club on a very focused competitive practice schedule each day after work.
- The summer season: Weather-wise it’s the best time of the year to take our canoes on the water, and all are in repair and ready to go.
- Advance reservations are light, and yet prospects are high that we’ll have potential customers on the resort to sell to.
- Higher residential occupancy in these summer months means many of our residents will want their canoes delivered from our storage facility to their own homes for better daily accessibility.
You can be more basic if you want: Do you have your own office? Write that down. Do you have some budget money to spend before the quarter or fiscal year is over? Write that down. Is there an employee who seems to be in transition and needs more responsibility? Write that down. Is there another one on a high right now because you just gave a glowing annual review? Write that down. Is your own boss too busy and preoccupied right now to micromanage you? Write that down in a way that is positive, optimistic, and not cynical. You get the idea.
When your list is done, the next step will be this: Go back to your list and write a sentence behind each item that describes how you will use what you have in a way that celebrates your thankfulness for having it. Let’s go back to my example list for a moment to demonstrate:
- A full crew for the next 42 days: No one is scheduled for vacation for another six weeks. Time for those back-burner projects, for example Sam can catch up on the wave-runner preventive maintenance that should be done.
- In addition I have a new hire in training: He still has another 60 days in his introductory period. He’s an extra body and already doing very well. This gives me the ability to have Sam train someone else to back him up on equipment maintenance when I need him for the Red Cross certification program.
- One of my employees is in training for the Moloka‘i to O‘ahu race, working out with her paddling club on a very focused competitive practice schedule each day after work. My own weekly meetings with the group could use a change-up. I’ll ask Mahea to do presentations in the next two meetings on what she is learning from their paddling coach (week 1) and on the strategy of the Molokai race in particular (week 2). This third-person teaching will help her own focus, be less physically demanding in light of her schedule, involve and excite her peers and free up some planning time for me.
- The summer season: Weather-wise it’s the best time of the year to take our canoes on the water, and all are in repair and ready to go. I have a pretty aggressive forecast to meet this month—the weather is with me, and the crew is healthy and eager to capitalize on it. Ask them to help me figure out how to add some program times to the schedule. We can go for volume vs. variety since these canoe rides are the most highly requested programs we have now. They’re the experts and know better than I do how to make this happen. Assign coordinating this to Ikaika and Janelle, it’s what they do best.
- Advance reservations are light, and yet prospects are high that we’ll have potential customers on the resort to sell to. Since business levels are not as high as I’d like them to be, I’ll start a promotional rotation where we double the crew at the afternoon ray feeding and can verbally sell our programs. Our prospects will be the lookie-loos who are there at the time. We can also concentrate on involving more parents in our daily keiki (children’s) program. Assign coordinating this one to Ed and Daniel, they’re really great at these types of things.
- Higher residential occupancy in these summer months means many of our residents will want their canoes delivered from our storage facility to their own homes for better daily accessibility. The vacancies in the facility mean less expensive equipment is there to be moved. This is the easiest and best time to give it a spring cleaning top to bottom. However, the crew is best assigned to focus on the business at hand—contract the cleaning job out, and let higher business levels serve to cover the expense. Assign this to Puaita—he’ll know who to choose for the job, and when to engage with them as needed, so the job’s explained and done right.
Celebrate what you have by adding similar action-stimulating sentences to your own list. This is Mahalo at work for you. Grab a bookmark and finish this chapter when you are done with the list and you have made a few of your own assignments as an effective manager thankful for what you have, and for the employees you manage.
Take another look at my examples and see how much I delegated and how much will be accomplished when everything has been done. The gains in this approach for you as a manager are very clear.
What are you waiting for?
The Mālama connection to Mahalo
Mālama and Mahalo connect in a very meaningful way. Sometimes you need Mahalo to open your eyes to your good fortune before you can live thankfully for it, and then take care of it as you should.
One afternoon, a manager came to see me about one of his employees.Intending to just give me a heads up, he said he was about to embark down the road of progressive discipline with a stage one verbal warning. He felt the employee’s work performance was average to marginal, and in the two weeks prior, there had been the warning signs of attendance problems. He concluded by raising a huge red flag for me, saying, “If I just let things go and document it all, he’ll hang himself.”
Listening to his tone, I suspected the problem was the manager, not the employee.
In this particular case, the manager was relatively new to the department, and I knew the person he spoke of to be a longer-term employee who had done very well for us up to that point. This situation didn’t make much sense to me. Since he was so willing to invest in documenting something, I asked the manager to conduct a small experiment for me instead, and asked him, “Have you ever kept a Mahalo Log?”
I had the manager—let’s call him Jake—keep a log for me for a week, where each day he wrote down just one thing he noticed about this employee—let’s call him Bruce—that was good. It could be something small, it just needed to be good. I told him I expected at least one of those entries to be about a Daily Five Minutes he’d given to Bruce.
Bruce surprised Jake on the very next day. This was his log:
Day 1. Not only did Bruce come to work on time today, he was early. And he didn’t just stand around, he started early and on his own time.
Day 2. Bruce got a compliment from one of our guests today. They got lost, and he dropped what he was doing to escort them back to their room.
Day 3. In my Daily Five Minutes, I thanked Bruce for what he did yesterday, and he said he was surprised I actually had noticed it. Ouch.
Day 4. A new employee started today, and Bruce was the one who volunteered to work with him.
Day 5. Bruce skipped his lunch break today. He was getting behind training the new kid, and he didn’t want to leave his work for the next shift. The new kid is learning a lot from him.
We had set a follow-up appointment for the end of the week, and Jake showed me his Mahalo Log.
Without commenting on it, I asked what else they’d talked about in their Daily Five Minutes. He said Bruce told him he quit his other job—a second job Jake hadn’t even known he had—because it made him too tired for the job he had with us; that’s why he’d overslept so much and come to work late a few times. He said the money helped though, so would Jake call on him when someone had to work overtime?
Jake found out that Bruce was in his department’s circle of richness, for Bruce brought character and commitment to their department. The Mahalo Log became a new habit for Jake each time he suspected he judged someone too quickly. Right after that Daily Five Minutes with Bruce, he started saying thank you to people a little more often.
Give thanks. Live Mahalo
Continue to count your own blessings, and enjoy your own discoveries. Thankfulness is truly a mighty force, and sometimes, like Jake, we may find that it changes us, and it helps us become better.
When you teach the value of Mahalo to your employees, you help them enjoy the life they have. What a wonderful gift that is!
- Learn more about the Daily 5 Minutes.
- Bookmark the Mahalo Index page of related articles.
- Read the preview detailing how Managing with Aloha was updated in the Second Edition.
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