“If you’re trying that hard, you’re trying too hard.”
When I was a younger manager, I would bring my workplace stories home and talk to my dad about them. He was a great help to me in that phase where I simply felt I was finding my way, and establishing some reliable markers. One of the things he would occasionally say to me was, “Stop complicating this. If you’re trying that hard, you’re trying too hard.”
Okay, not occasionally. Often.
I had a conversation with a manager over the weekend about Life’s 3 Stops in Motivation. He’d asked one of his team members, “You know I think you do a really good job for us here; what is it that motivates you every day?”
Her answer was, “I try to do whatever it is that makes everyone happy. We all got a lot of stuff going on at home or with our kids, and work can be a calmer place with less stress, y’ know? You earn your keep in a way you can feel good about, you make a decent living doing it, and everyone’s happy.”
Lucky manager, to have this person on his team. She simply, but beautifully, wants happiness.
I would think about those early conversations with my dad a lot, when it came to be my turn to mentor the supervisors and managers who reported to me. We often do try too hard, zooming past the simpler solutions most people want, particularly with underestimating happiness. Life’s 3 Motivators are also what a manager delivers: What we give to our workplaces are paths to happiness, meaning, and service which are smoother to travel. That more enjoyable stuff in “earning your keep” and “making a decent living doing it.” Scenic roadways instead of bumpy paths.
Bumpy paths are the subject of chapter 4 on HO‘OMAU:
“Obstacles can test you. They can also build and strengthen you. They build your conviction, your poise, your leadership, your tolerance, your persistence, your self-discipline. Obstacles will shrink when stacked up against the powerhouse of energy in Ho‘omau, and they magically become catalysts. They make you better.”
— Ho‘omau | Chapter 4 | Managing with Aloha
Strengths are our Happy Places.
“And you know what Rosa, this employee is really good at that. She makes people happy. Customers, co-workers, our suppliers, everybody. She’s the best problem solver we have.”
“Tell me more about her.”
I keep reminding myself to try better, not harder, and usually listening is a big part of it. When I first started hauling out my soapbox to preach to my managers about the “perfectly good sense” of strengths management (our MWA Key 7 category here), i.e. doing what “great managers” were supposed to do — select people well, and match their job roles up with their innate strengths — I looked back at mostly confused faces. Personally I don’t have too much trouble picking out the strengths of other people; I’m naturally drawn to strengths, and I had to cultivate more empathy for those managers who had a hard time with it.
However, that does not mean they aren’t meant to be managers. There are many great managers for whom initially diagnosing the strengths of others can be daunting, yet once an employee’s strengths reveal themselves, those same managers are indeed great coaches and mentors to have supporting you. They pave smooth scenic roads: They’ve learned to create safe, trust-filled work environments where they need not excel in picking out strengths themselves because their employees will freely tell them, or demonstrate them. While it is also true that many employees don’t quite know their own strengths and can’t verbalize them, these same managers have learned to employ other methods to help with their eventual diagnosis.
We WANT to use our Strengths!
For some managers, it was easier to spot what was wrong than what was right. This does not mean they are being negative. To them, culture-building in “Right strengths, right role” simply meant they needed to focus on getting problems to go away. I had one manager who’d explain to me that he could always tell when he had a “fish out of water; the more they flap around, the longer their pond’s been dry.”
It became part of our Language of We. He would ask me to let him “get my fish back in the water” whenever he felt his team could come up with a better approach for some new company initiative. He usually did, gaining our expected results in his own way, because I learned to honor his instincts, and let him employ the methods he instinctively wanted to use instead. The beauty of his approach was that his wants came directly from those of his staff; he wanted them to be happy. They were aligned in their expectations of, and definitions of, stress-free work which was still the productive work of our company mission and vision.
People feel thwarted or drained when they are called upon to do things that they simply have no desire to do, or can’t imagine deriving any joy from: At these times, visionary cause doesn’t really matter, no matter how noble the mission. There seems to be this instinctive natural selection process we are born with, which looks out for our best health and sense of well-being — it’s called wanting. Call it wise, source-fed, self-preserving intuition we can trust in (NĀNĀ I KE KUMU).
— on Happiness, in Life’s 3 Stops in Motivation: Happiness, Meaning, Service
Strengths are best defined as predictable patterns of behavior you gravitate toward because doing so feels natural for you.
It’s kind of nice to know that one of the best things you can do for yourself is listen to that inner voice telling you what you want to do, for no other intellectual, logical, pragmatic, or perfectly sensible reason other than that you WANT to be doing it. Emotional, gut level instincts are rich sources of water, and you can trust in them. It is highly likely that you are being driven by your values.
Problem is, we’re continually trained by others — our parents, our teachers, our bosses — to stifle those feelings, buck up, and be an adult — to try harder. Try harder at something you just don’t want to do, and you can bet you’ll feel drained.
If others are confusing you about what you should want for yourself, don’t listen to them. (Is your team stuck in the ‘shoulds’? Banish those Possibility Robbers.) Trust yourself. Let your instincts guide you: succumb to those emotional feelings about what you want to do. Believe that your wants are your natural selection process aligned with your innate strengths.
Wanting is a good thing.
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die.”
Wanting has had a place of honor in my MWA vocabulary ever since I first read this quote from George Bernard Shaw: I find that I keep getting drawn back to it, and I read it over and over again. It’s connected to ‘IMI OLA, and seeking one’s best possible life by living to leave a legacy, and living for a purpose higher than self. There is also the undercurrent of KULEANA, and accepting responsibility for creating your own destiny, while aware of ‘OHANA, community.
“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing on to future generations.”
If only we all thought this way all the time. It blends those 3 motivators of happiness, meaning, and service in a very pleasing whole of well-being.
Learn more about George Bernard Shaw in Wikipedia. For instance, did you know he remains the only person to have won both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Academy Award (1938)?
Archive Aloha with related reading:
- What should you do with your life? Find out!
- People Who Do Good Work
- Trusting Your Intuition
- Day 1 for Job 1: A Good Selfishness
- Managing: Be a Big Fan of the Small Win
For more reading paths, go to New Here? or click on the tags found in the footer.