Fables for Leaders includes 100+ short stories of talking animals and trees…. and my ruminations on each. I emphasize the philosophical and ethical aspects in these stories – from across the centuries - to my own on-the-job experiences, - successes and failures - and relate them to our contemporary behavior and decision-making. We relate to stories, we remember stories, and these fable stories may help in thinking through and solving, in untraditional ways, problems on the job.” Whimsical illustrations by international artist and paper cutter, Béatrice Coron, capture the charm of this ancient literature and add to its comprehension and enjoyment. Each entry -in 7 chapters- sets forth the original fable followed by Lubans’ commentary. And, many fable feature a “My Thoughts” space to explore how this fable relates to the reader. The seven chapter heads: “Us and them” “Office politics” “The Organization” “Problems” “Budgeting and strategic planning” “The effective follower” “The effective leader”. Topical sub-heads include: “Perspective makes a difference” “Where is the cooperation?” “Hiring decisions” “Performance appraisal” “Pretenders” “Kindness, loyalty and respect for the boss…or not” “Have you heard of the Tall Poppy?” “Gossip and envy” “Are you leading or am I following?” Etc.



Breaking It

Posted by jlubans on June 19, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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As I advanced in my administrative career, I soon learned that the expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was the rallying call (in my business) among those who abhorred change.
For these traditionalists, if a process took 6 week to complete, then that was good enough. Why try to cut it to 2 weeks or best of all, to one-day?
Besides, without more money for staff and equipment it was not possible. (With that attitude, why would anyone increase their budget?)
What was unstated was their willingness to settle for the mediocre and their unwillingness to exert effort to change for the better.
So, when I was tasked with major reforms in one organization, I rephrased it – earning the eternal enmity of many of my colleagues – to “If it ain’t broke, break it.”
What I was saying was that many of our routines were weighed down through incremental decisions; dragging us down. Starting over would help us eliminate the bottlenecks and backlogs.
I knew that the systems were interrelated so that poor performance in one area harmed performance in another.
Few saw it my way, but those who did, made sweeping changes that turned the organization around.
I probably should have used a different phrase. Like the one I saw in a recent obituary: “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.”
The obituary was for Ella Brennan, the culinary doyenne of Commander’s Palace Restaurant in New Orleans. She was never a chef, (although she knew very well what tasted good) but she hired up-and-coming chefs like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, who made her restaurant a destination for locals and visitors.
Her phrase may have been a better way to communicate to staff than my abrupt and scary (for traditionalists) proposal to break things.
In either case, the phrases gave permission and encouragement to make things better, to improve, to push an idea and process further toward doing it the best way we could.
How can it work better? That’s what I was saying with my “break it” comment.
It is not sufficient to just leave something alone and regard it as “good enough”.
In Russia they have a phrase for this attitude: “Так Cойдёт!” In American English, it’s the equivalent of, “OK, that’s close enough for government work” and implies that shoddy is not all that bad. If a newly installed floor tilts, but all the boards fit together, then OK.
In other words, “It is more or less OK” so let’s go with it. It's passable, middling, not bad, or adequate! Not exactly what you want to hear if you are trying to promote a culture of daily improvement.
You can improve anything but perfection and we don’t, any of us, have to worry about that.
My point is there’s always room for improvement. And Ms. Brennan’s highlighting through weekly brainstorming sessions with staff and expecting improvement from everyone surely helped her business stay among the top five in NOLA.
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Like these ideas? Read more in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
Or, if you are a frugal rate payer, get your public library to buy a copy.
© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Phaedrus’ THE OLD WOMAN AND EMPTY CASK*

Posted by jlubans on June 15, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Happy Days
!

An ancient dame a firkin sees,
In which the rich Falernian lees
Send from the nobly tinctured shell
A rare and most delicious smell!
There when a season she had clung
With greedy nostrils to the bung,
“O spirit exquisitely sweet!”
She cried, “how perfectly complete
Were you of old, and at the best,
When ev’n your dregs have such a zest!”

They’ll see the drift of this my rhyme,
Who knew the author in his prime.
____________________
To appreciate – even savor -
this fable, maybe you have to be of an age. One moralist has it as “The memory of a good deed lives”, but I would say this is more about memories of good times not long gone.
For whatever reason, health or money, the good old days are gone. No more partying for our “ancient dame.”
And our rhyme setter makes a personal allusion, as to being quite the party animal when “in his prime.”
So, for me this is about aging but not yet “quite over the hill”.

*Source:
The Comedies of Terence. And the Fables of Phædrus. Literally translated into English prose with notes, by Henry Thomas Riley. To which is added a metrical translation of Phædrus, by Christopher Smart. London: George Bell & Sons. 1887.
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Like these weekly fables? Read more in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
Or, if you are a frugal rate payer, get your public library to buy a copy.
© Copyright John Lubans 2018



Power washing and the Book business

Posted by jlubans on June 06, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Worth a million views?

Power washing gone viral? Aye, hard to believe but the news has it that watching someone power wash is all the rage on social media.
A million people have watched a man cleaning mildewed lawn chairs!
Why?
Viewers say, “There aren’t many things in life that you can start and finish and get that feeling of accomplishment.”
Catharsis!
Strangely, the viral video reminded me of a conversation with an acquisitions editor about compiling a book of essays from this blog.
The book would explore freedom at work, the democratic workplace, teams and team building and more.
The book editor - who was kind enough to speak with me - said the blog displayed good writing but it was highly unlikely her firm would publish my book.
You see, she told me, only practical books are selling.
From that disappointing conversation I took away that my proposed book was not a practical one.
Alas, it would be as abstract as freedom and as nebulous as an invisible leader.
So, abstract writing is unlike power washing where the results are manifest – deep dirt vs. dirt gone. And, with someone else doing the hard part – the work.
The viewer does not have to think; and after all a really practical book is like a road map; the offered advice rarely ends with more questions than answers.
There’s little need to think through a problem – the author’s done it for you.
For example, in my business, a seminar on how to fill out a performance appraisal form was far more popular than a seminar on “Why performance appraisal?”
The latter is corporate sabotage and impractical! Many assume – with no evidence - that performance evaluation is universally good. Just show me how to do it.
Why don’t we YouTube performance appraisals. Like power washing videos, that might be almost as good as being there.
The case for the impractical book.
Maybe, with social media taking so much of our time, there’s too much emphasis on the entertaining or the “practical” and too little on engaging in ideas and asking questions, like those moments of insight when one puts the book down to consider for herself the relevant meaning of another’s writing or is inspired by an author to try something different?
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Buy a peck of Aesopic impracticality“Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, be thrifty and get your library to order a copy!

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Phaedrus’ THE MAN AND THE ASS*

Posted by jlubans on June 01, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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A Man having sacrificed a young boar to the god Hercules, to whom he owed performance of a vow made for the preservation of his health, ordered the remains of the barley to be set for the Ass.
But he refused to touch it, and said: “I would most willingly accept your food, if he who had been fed upon it had not had his throat cut.”
Warned by the significance of this Fable, I have always been careful to avoid the gain that exposed to hazard.
“But,” say you, “those who have got riches by rapine, are still in possession of them.”
Come, then, let us enumerate those, who, being detected, have come to a bad end; you will find that those so punished constitute a great majority.
Rashness brings luck to a few, misfortune to most.”
___________
I suppose when Mr. Putin allegedly “takes out” an exiled Russian oligarch, we might say this is one of those in the fable who “got richness by rapine” coming “to a bad end”.
But then say you, what of Mr. Putin? Good question. Phaedrus last line suggests just deserts may lurking around the corner.
And, so it is in the work world. Those who have harmed others, stepping on the fingers and heads of those scrambling up the ladder of success may yet get their comeuppance.

*Source:
The Comedies of Terence. And the Fables of Phædrus. Literally translated into English prose with notes, by Henry Thomas Riley. To which is added a metrical translation of Phædrus, by Christopher Smart. London: George Bell & Sons. 1887.

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Like these weekly fables? Buy and read more in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
Or, if you are frugal, get your library to ante up.
© Copyright John Lubans 2018


Rain on the River

Posted by jlubans on May 29, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration by A. Frederics from the 1889 edition of Three Men in a Boat


If you've ever been in an open boat in pouring rain you will appreciate Jerome K. Jerome's comedic writing in his 1889 book, “Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog)”.
I’ve come to realize - from many attempts to make up funny stories - just what separates the best comedy writers from the rest of us: the ability to sustain the story, to keep it moving, to keep it freshly amusing beyond the first few pages.
We might have a ripsnorter of a punch line or an absurd situation (like what if Prince Harry married Angela Merkel instead of Ms. Markle?)
But if we can’t take it beyond that, it matters little. You can get the attention of the reader, but then you have to keep it.
Here is Jerome moving us from the pure pleasure of a sunlit river to the dismality of rain on the river:
“The river—with the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech-trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows o’er the shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, … —is a golden fairy stream.
But the river—chill and weary, with the ceaseless rain-drops falling on its brown and sluggish waters, … while the woods, all dark and silent, shrouded in their mists of vapour, stand … like the ghosts of evil actions, like the ghosts of friends neglected—is a spirit-haunted water through the land of vain regrets…”
And here is how three men respond:
“We said we could not expect to have it all sunshine, nor should we wish it. We told each other that Nature was beautiful, even in her tears.
Indeed, Harris (one of the three) and I were quite enthusiastic about the business, for the first few hours. And we sang a song about a gipsy’s life, …—and how he enjoyed the rain, and what a lot of good it did him; and how he laughed at people who didn’t like it.”
"… I cannot honestly say that we had a merry evening. The rain poured down with quiet persistency. Everything in the boat was damp and clammy. Supper was not a success.
Cold veal pie, when you don’t feel hungry, is apt to cloy. I felt I wanted whitebait and a cutlet; Harris babbled of soles and white-sauce, and passed the remains of his pie to Montmorency (the dog), who declined it, and, apparently insulted by the offer, went and sat over at the other end of the boat by himself.”
Jerome’s wry writing transported me to those many days spent in the rain and cold of adventure learning.
I too would try to make the most of the adversity, saying to one and all the best learning comes from misery.
We learn nothing from a sunny day, but in a wet and driving rain, with uprooted tents flying hither and yon, with fires unlit and matches wet, with soaked sleeping bags, aye, that’s where the learning is.
So I said.
The three men decide to leave the river and abandon the boat, having the good sense to avoid hypothermia get into a hotel and a hot meal with good wine and dry clothes.
Still, I could go on about the “sweet uses of adversity” as we all stand around shivering in damp clothing under a leaky canopy. Perhaps the good comes later, knowing to have endured the bad and enjoyed the good.
Perhaps.

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To show your support for the millions of writers (comedic or not) under the long and bushy tail of the Internet, buy Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
Or, for the frugal, get your library to ante up for a copy.
© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Krylov’s THE INQUISITIVE MAN*

Posted by jlubans on May 24, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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AN Inquisitive Man was one day met by a friend who cordially hailed him:
"Good morning, my good fellow! And where do you come from?"
"From the Museum of Natural History, where I have just spent three hours.
I saw everything there was to see and examined it carefully.
It was all so astonishing that honestly I am not clever enough to describe the half of it.
Nature is certainly wonderful in her rich variety!
There are more birds and beasts than I ever dreamed of—not to mention the butterflies dragonflies and beetles—some green as emeralds and others as red as coral!
And there were tiny little gnats too—why, really, some of them are smaller than the head of a pin!"
"And of course you saw the elephant? What did you think of him? I'll wager you felt as though you were looking at a mountain!"
"Elephant? Are you quite sure that they have an elephant?"
"Quite sure."
"Well, old man, don't tell anybody—but the fact is that I didn't notice the elephant!"
______________
Now you know
from whence comes the business cliché about the “elephant in the room.”
I doubt that was Krylov’s intent. Instead I would say he is simply showing how even the best of us can miss the obvious.
It is said that a Russian royal (yes like the Brit royals on display this last week!) claimed that each of the “three great fabulists, La Fontaine, Khemnitser, and Dmitrief, bore the name of Ivan”.
For a royal to miss mentioning Russia’s greatest fabulist, Ivan Krylov, is hardly earthshaking and probably, if true, made Krylov laugh.
What else could one expect from an inbred, wooly headed aristocrat?
In any case, the critics say Krylov made up this fable to ridicule a Royal slight.
This is hardly in keeping with Krylov’s unconcern in being a celebrity or someone singled out for honors. More likely, this take is a myopic attempt to explain the real meaning behind the “inquisitive man” seeing gnats but not an elephant.
I suspect that all too often in the workplace we address tiny problems while avoiding what’s eating our lunch, like allowing coffee in the library, vs. the loss of a third or more of our market share to Google!
My example stems from libraries, but it applies to dozens of other businesses. Myopically, we swat at mosquitoes while the dragon plunders the kingdom.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
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In solidarity with the millions of writers under the long, long tail of the Internet, buy Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, for the frugal, get your library to ante up for a copy. If you ask, they will buy it.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Mr. Clippy: The Irrepressible Do-Gooder

Posted by jlubans on May 22, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Mr. Clippy ever-ready to advise.

Do you, if you are of an age, remember the talking paper clip –a Bill Gates look-alike- that would appear, uninvited, on your laptop as you typed in the word, dear?
"It looks like you're writing a letter. Would you like help?"
No question - we are assured even by geeky denizens of Silicone Valley – maddened more people back in the heady days of Microsoft 97.
Unbidden, he would default on your screen when least expected. And, to top it off, there were no workarounds to get rid of the ever helpful Clippy.
In other words, what Mr. Clippy really was saying:
“It looks like you're writing a letter, and I'm going to help you with that. Whether you like it, or not.”
In 2001 Mr. Clippy ceased being a default.
But, while Mr. Clippy may be gone, the underlying reason for Mr. Clippy is not.
It is identical to the inner belief possessed by a certain kind of micromanager: I know better.
Therefore, follow my lead, if you know what is good for you.
The micromanager masks this control behavior by claiming he or she is simply being helpful – aiding the less intelligent or the less able – and certainly finds it difficult to understand why people find this kind of “free” help egregiously arrogant, insulting, belittling, disdainful, an indignity, and deprecatory.
(All of these terms appeared frequently in posts about Mr. Clippy).
I have always aligned Clippy with Mr. Bill and other unexpected micromanagers, like Ms. Docker, the protagonist in Patrick White’s play “A Cheery Soul”
I recall her on a Sydney stage as a do-gooder who itched – it was her Christian duty, she’d say - to correct those in error, albeit with a gleeful vengeance and catastrophic result.
And, then there a department head peer who was tingling to tell me just how ineffective I was; all she needed was my permission.
Why do we dislike micromanagers?
It’s a fairly simple answer. The micromanager gets more out of giving advice than we do. He has us under his thumb, so to speak, and we have to listen.
We cannot turn Mr. Clippy off and he knows it, aggravating even further our disdain for being told what to do instead of being left alone to figure it out.
The latter is how people learn and the effective teacher knows when to offer advice and when to stay silent, letting “trial and error” lead the way to a better understanding.
I have found myself more and more content with bouncing around a problem, even when I know I could probably arrange an orderly agenda. I am not really multi-tasking even while jumping from task to task.
I am sure my approach would inspire all micro-managers and do-gooders to tell me how wrong I have got it.
But, you know what?
Maybe it’s the Wrong that I am content with; maybe knowing that I can get to what needs doing IN MY OWN WAY is just fine.
Or, is this an onset of early dementia or creeping curmedgery?
__________
In solidarity with the millions stuck under the long, long tail of the Internet, buy Lubans’ new book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, for the frugal, get your library to ante up for a copy.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Krylov’s THE PIKE AND THE CAT

Posted by jlubans on May 18, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: The expiring pike as Admiral, by E. M. Rayev, 1961
.

A CONCEITED Pike took it into its head to exercise the functions of a cat. I do not know whether the Evil One had plagued it with envy, or whether, perhaps, it had grown tired of fishy fare ; but, at all events, it thought fit to ask the Cat to take it out to the chase, with the intention of catching a few mice in the warehouse.
But, my dear friend," Vaska (the cat) says to the Pike, " do you understand that kind of work? Take care, gossip, that you don't incur disgrace. It isn't without reason that they say, 'The work ought to be in the master's power.' "
"Why really, gossip, what a tremendous affair it is!
Mice, indeed ! Why, I have been in the habit of catching perches! "
" Oh, very well. Come along!"
They went; they lay each in ambush.
The Cat thoroughly enjoyed itself; made a hearty meal; then went to look after its comrade.
Alas! the Pike, almost destitute of life, lay there gasping, its tail nibbled away by the mice.
So the Cat, seeing that its comrade had undertaken a task quite beyond its strength, dragged it back, half dead, to its pond.
_______
The Pike, we are told, represents Admiral Tchichakof, who was inexplicably put in charge of army troops to prevent Napoleon’s escape from Russia. Tchichakof, a fish out of water so to speak, was surprised by the French soldiers and Napoleon eluded capture.
Sometimes, not always, the people who know what they are doing should be left alone to do their job.
But, then there are those times when the experts are stuck like so many sticks in the mud and an outsider can make things happen.
That happy outcome depends fully on the outsider’s getting the full support of the troops, of the staff doing the work. In Krylov’s fable, Tchichakof being a prickly sort with British mannerisms was not one to rally the troops.
So he goes down in history as a failure.
But, I have to return to one of my most frequent questions when faced with a failed employee.
Who hired him? Does not that person or committee share the blame?

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Second chances

Posted by jlubans on May 15, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Image from Dave’s Killer Bread

I’ve been thinking about second chances.
If a plumber does a bad job on fixing a leaky toilet, do you give him a second chance on repairing a drippy showerhead?
If a newbie employee declares his job “boring”, do you keep him on and tacitly hope he will come around?
If a senior administrator is out-of-sync with a new leader, does the new leader give that person a second chance or does she tell him he no longer has a role in the organization?
Most of us support giving people a second chance. It’s an American value. It’s also Christian to do so, to forgive and to move on.
When someone fails to forgive – nurses a grievance - there may be more harm to the unforgiving than to the one in need of a second chance.
Whatever the source or influence, second chances are an accepted part of organizational life.
But, those second chances can go wrong when, for example, we do not explain to the employee why this is a second chance and what needs changing, spelling out the perceived shortcomings and necessary improvements.
Ignoring an employee’s mistakes is not giving someone a second chance.
Keeping silent about performance issues is not giving a person the opportunity to change for the better.
I sometimes use case studies in my workshops. One approach I take is for small groups to read and discuss the basis of a disciplinary hearing between an employee and employer.
The boss has over time lost confidence in the employee through her constant whining and complaining.
However the explanation for his loss of confidence is not made clear until the hearing. The employee professes shock at the boss’ perception. Invariably, my workshop participants take the side of the employee; the boss has clearly failed to guide and counsel the employee.
Indeed, every workshop participant professes he or she would have taken the employee aside for a heart-to-heart talk.
Well, I hope so.
That said, does the negative employee get a second chance? The workshoppers say resoundingly Aye!
But, there’s less sympathy for the boss! He’s obviously at fault, etc.
Interesting.
I say that because one feature of American organizational life is our avoidance of uncomfortable conversations.
Many of us - not all - will accommodate, avoid and, at most, silently compromise rather than to address problematic behavior clearly and directly.
That complicates the giving of second chances.

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To support the blog, buy Lubans’ new book“Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, be frugal and get a copy at your library.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Phaedrus’ THE MULES AND ROBBERS*

Posted by jlubans on May 11, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Two laden Mules were on the road—

A charge of money was bestowed
Upon the one, the other bore
Some sacks of barley. He before.
Proud of his freight, begun to swell,
Stretch’d out his neck, and shook his bell.
The poor one, with an easy pace,
Came on behind a little space,
When on a sudden, from the wood
A gang of thieves before them stood;
And, while the muleteers engage,
Wound the poor creature in their rage
Eager they seize the golden prize,
But the vile barley-bags despise.
The plunder’d mule was all forlorn,
The other thank’d them for their scorn:
“’Tis now my turn the head to toss,
Sustaining neither wound nor loss.”
The low estate’s from peril clear,
But wealthy men have much to fear.

_________
And so it can be in the workplace where one, when plucked from mediocrity and thrown onto a throne might celebrate, but then there are those envious and fearful few who will their damndest to frustrate and depose you.
Are you tough enough?
Do you have a network of supporters?
Does your boss like you?
More importantly, does your boss’ boss like you!?
Would you rather be fishing?
Be “mindful”, as they say, of what you want and how you plan to achieve and keep it.

*Source: The Fables of Phaedrus Translated into English Verse. Phaedrus. Christopher Smart, A. M. London. G. Bell and Sons, Ltd. 1913

© Copyright John Lubans 2018