“Leading from the Middle", by John Lubans*, is about freedom and democracy at work, teamwork, and leadership. Philosophy: the best work places empower staff to achieve their full potential; the less command and control, the better the product and service.

Thoughts on a Man's Life: Perry W. Harrison (1931-2015)

Posted by jlubans on November 23, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “The Storm Aftermath” by my friend, Perry Harrison, 2006. Perry sketched this North Carolina couple shortly after a crop-destroying storm, the farmer looking forlornly out the farmhouse window.

Last Sunday afternoon I went to a little church out in the rolling hills and farmlands near Pittsboro, NC. It was to pay last respects to a new friend, someone I’d gotten to know over the last four years. Perry Harrison was his name. He was the superintendent of schools for Chatham County in North Carolina for 26 years. I knew him best as an artist from lunches at Virlie’s Grill with LaVerne Thornton when we went over LaVerne’s stories and Perry’s illustrations for LaVerne’s latest book, “You Ain’t Moses”, his collection of essay on practicing servant leadership.
Now, I know it is usual not to speak ill of the dead, or to list out any negative quirks of character, especially at a memorial service. But, the three grown-up memorialists and a young granddaughter remembering his life suggested to me just how extraordinary Perry was.
He was a man of faith; his favorite hymn, which he chose for this service was “Trust and Obey”.
I believe its words applied more to him and his faith than it did to anyone else. Those words guided his life; they were not meant to direct others. Certainly I, a lapsed churchgoer, never felt like he expected me to be more than whatever it is I am. He accepted me, for some reason, freely sharing of his rural background and views and was always interested in what I had to say. The speakers confirmed that’s the way he was on the job, taking time to hear from other people, taking time to listen, taking time to visit.
What did I hear about Perry and his leadership that Sunday?
A persuasive listener. One of the speakers related how Perry would listen to him and, then, inexplicably, the speaker would leave Perry’s office having changed his mind on whatever topic it was.
I already knew he had a sly sense of humor. His granddaughter confirmed this with a tale of how “Poppy” would take the time to play school with her. She’d be the teacher and he’d be the “bad boy”!
He was in touch with his community, “riding the roads” to all the county schools regardless of weather.
Just doing the job was hardly enough for Perry. He used his gift for drawing to benefit others, always free – a deal he’d made with God along the lines of “If You help me get better and better at drawing, I’ll never charge a penny for my art.” (See below for more examples of his unique, self-taught style.)
His art facilitated his community involvement: each year he’d draw the Kiwanis calendars to raise funds for scholarships and he’d draw for the church bulletin. At our lunches, Perry always had a stash of drawings (copies) to give me – he must have thought I needed some of these; he knew of my childhood immigration to the USA as a refugee. My favorite drawings are from his rural up-bringing. Those scenes feature him and his brothers in country settings, amidst farmers swapping stories in the general store, his family in the farm-house kitchen, the young Perry playing by the wood stove alongside the sleeping hound dog, his mom cooking. His outdoor scenes describe a hardscrabble type of farming – yet in a setting of Elysian hills - his dad behind a mule powered plow.
He made a difference. At our lunches at Virlies’s there was no end of people coming up to say hello and see how we was doing. In the USA, nowadays, a superintendent of schools rarely lasts beyond 4 or 5 years before having to move on. Perry superintended for 26 years, including during the complex years of integrating white and black students.
An active innovator, many of the current programs in Chatham County first appeared under Perry’s guidance.
He was involved directly in building new schools for the county’s growing population; each received his attention. He’d make and draw suggestions to the architects.
A balanced life. Perry always made time for family. He never rushed family connections, even when going out to frequent night meetings. Notably, each of the presenters and the pastor spoke directly to the family – seated in the front row of the church - and told them how much Perry loved them. One of the speakers mentioned how Perry would always speak of his family and he wanted to hear of his friends’ families.
Life slips away. During Perry’s last year LaVerne visited often and kept me up to date while I was away in Latvia. After I got back, I recall one of our last lunches, organized by LaVerne. By then, Perry was using a walker. While feeble, I’d still see that sparkle in his eyes when one of us, usually LaVerne, cracked a joke, usually a raunchy one. And, even in his sickness, he never forgot to bring me more of his drawings!
At service end, the late afternoon sun was out, lighting up the remaining fall leaves on the trees along the property lines of the farm fields, just like one of Perry’s drawings.

Three drawings from Perry’s prolific portfolio:
Caption: A detail from a barnyard drawing. That’s probably Perry drawing in the dirt. The sleeping dog re-appears in many of his drawings.

Caption: Detail of young man harvesting tobacco.

Caption: Panorama, from memory, of Perry’s family farm, Forsyth County, central NC.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Aesop's Fables: Sir Roger L'Estrange’s “A DOG IN A MANGER”*

Posted by jlubans on November 20, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: "Chromolithograph" from a McLoughlin Brothers children's book, New York, 1880.

“A churlish envious Cur was gotten into a manger, and there lay growling and snarling to keep the Provender (food). The Dog eat none himself, and yet rather ventur’d the starving his own Carcase than he would suffer any Thing to be the better for’t. “

“THE MORAL. Envy pretends to no other Happiness than what it derives from the Misery of other People, and will rather eat nothing itself than not to starve those that would.”

You’ve arrived 20 minutes early at the building permit agency. All the required forms are complete and ready to hand in. The clerk looks over your file and asks, “Where’s Form 530?” You have no clue. “When I called, no one told me I needed Form 530.” “Sorry, you’ll have to make another appointment once you have it.” Arf, arf!

“Hmmmm,” goes the examiner, “You’ve filled out the application in blue ink. It has to be black ink. Sorry.” Grrrr, Grrrr!

The clerk is fastidiously studying your application. The last time you applied, the agency said you needed a bank authorized financial statement. It’s on the top of the file. She’s frowning and shaking her head, “No, this won’t do. The bank official has initialed her name by the bank’s stamp. It has to be a full signature. Sorry.” Woof, woof!

And so you can see how someone - with very little real power - can frustrate, like Aesop's classic barking dog, the most humbly compliant and well intended among us.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Olympic College,
Haselwood Library
, Bremerton, WA, USA.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

"Unchanging Hands"; Of Friends, Old and New

Posted by jlubans on November 16, 2015  •  Leave comment (1)

Caption: Dog friends, wary but not letting go.

Visiting friends in the Pacific Northwest brought friendships to mind. On the plane back, I reflected on friends, old and new, in my life and work. Relationships are central to the concept of “Leading from the Middle”, with its implied de-emphasis on a strong leader telling others what to do. In my realm, things got done by people who trusted each other and felt good about each other.
The notion of friendship parallels the idea of leadership. Leadership is never a person; it is at least about two people, the leader and the follower. Similarly, a friendship is never about one person. Rather, like leadership, it is about two people with a shared experience and interests.
As I thought about this and wrote in my journal, names began to appear in the margins; names from the past, some no longer in touch, others more recent. All exemplify the variety of friendships we may have in our lives.
Ever since I stopped “nine-to-fiving” some of my friendships changed; indeed, some slipped away sooner than career’s end. For some, “It’s only a job” and by extension, work relationships have neither depth nor substance.
Why, I mused, do some friends stay and why do some leave?
For me there have been three sources of friends: school, work and travel. And from each of these we may have friendships that continue past our school years or into retirement. Many are not of the gospel song’s “unchanging hand” variety - some drop you or drop off - but the best are of the unchanging variety. In these, the friendship continues undeterred by one’s status or ability to do something for the other person.
Friendships may be different among men than they are among women. It’s not necessarily a “guy thing”, but women have better social skills than do most men; as I think about it, women have much larger networks than do many men. How much do minimal social skills contribute to having fewer friends? Guy friendships may be deemed shallow and, yes, guy confidants are rare; regardless, there’s something ineffable about any kind of friendships, allegedly shallow or deep. Relationships grow, even tacitly.
Relationships take effort.
I re-upped with a close - for a guy - friend at my 50th high school class reunion. We were on the same sports teams and were good friends long ago, but now, so much has passed. We’ve seemingly grown apart, grown in different directions, just not like old times, but then maybe the old times were not so great after all? Maybe that’s the dawning realization. While we enjoy each other’s company, it takes a concerted effort to get together. At times it feels like blowing on cold ashes to make a fire. Some relationships won’t re-kindle.
So, remain open. Instead of fretting, over it, reach out and make a new friend. Social skills need honing? Pay attention, nothing will happen unless you try.
Time and distance are factors. Both take effort. A good friend from my work and beyond gave me some insights into his business relationships and how he came to be quite successful. He never sold a “product”; when he visited with customers, it was about relationship building. He went about it systematically and naturally for him, making notes in his diary about what was talked about, what was new in the person’s life and career. These were referred to in follow up correspondence and, of course, at the next visit. Yes, business got done, but more important was the relationship of one human being with another.
What would I change about my relationships at work? A lot. For one thing, I’d acknowledge daily the importance of other people in what we were trying to do. I’d not leave it to chance or a tacit understanding.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. La Fontaine’s “THE TWO BULLS AND THE FROG.”*

Posted by jlubans on November 13, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustration by the French caricaturist, J. J. Grandville, pseudonym of Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard (1803 – 1847).

“Two bulls engaged in shocking battle,
Both for a certain heifer's sake,
And lordship over certain cattle,
A frog began to groan and quake.
'But what is this to you?'
Inquired another of the croaking crew.
'Why, sister, don't you see,
The end of this will be,
That one of these big brutes will yield,
And then be exiled from the field?
No more permitted on the grass to feed,
He'll forage through our marsh, on rush and reed;
And while he eats or chews the cud,
Will trample on us in the mud.
Alas! to think how frogs must suffer
By means of this proud lady heifer!'
This fear was not without good sense.
One bull was beat, and much to their expense;
For, quick retreating to their reedy bower,
He trod on twenty of them in an hour.”

“Of little folks it oft has been the fate
To suffer for the follies of the great.”

Yea, verily. In my business I’d see "perfumed dagger" stuff, like my first boss used to say, in the administrative suite akin to the bulls battling over a pasture. The loser would get “kicked upstairs”, ousted from a position of some importance and “promoted” to another of an apparently higher status but far less influential. Sometimes the “promotion” was masked as a “re-organization”, a shuffling around of responsibilities. In reality, this sleight of hand was nothing but an avoidance of decision-making and effective leading. Instead of frankly counseling a no longer satisfactory manager to improve or move on, the CEO copped-out. Was it all about “saving face”? Depends on whose face is being saved.
Regardless, the employees (the frogs) who get the “demoted” boss have to deal with his stomping around and other behaviors stemming from the so-called “severity error”; when someone is treated shabbily by superiors, he treats his subordinates poorly, a form of “down stream retribution”.
And, worse for the organization, the demoted boss's new group knows full well it too has been down-graded.

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882. Available at Gutenberg.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Pierce College Library, Puyallup, WA, USA
(I drove past the town of Puyallup last week.)

© John Lubans 2015

“Let’s get serious! Not!”

Posted by jlubans on November 09, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Will Rogers (atop the bull): “Do the best you can, and don't take life too serious.”

How serious are you?* Answer this question:
“If a police officer arrests a mime, should she say he has the right to remain silent?”
a. A stupid question deserves a stupid answer.
b. Stale
c. Kind of funny
d. Hilarious

If you answered a or d, I’d be worried about your seriousness index.
So, what’s brought on my Seriousness fixation? An art house movie, The Driving Lesson. An alleged romantic comedy about New Yorkers and their personal issues, there was the usual marriage break-up; the straying husband and the successful literary wife now left to struggle for independence. The film had some comedic moments but for the most part it was a self-parody – unintended – of affluent New Yorkers all behaving super seriously - with one notable exception – like the denizens of an Upper West Side TV sitcom.
I came away bemused and wondering if less seriousness and more levity might not have made it a better movie.
What about being too serious at work?
My low seriousness index probably did not always serve me well. Even when outcomes went quite well, there was always the insinuation by some that I did not really know what I was doing; that I was more of a fool than I appeared.
When asked about his irreverent way of leading, Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher called it “management by fooling around”. He explained, “by that I mean taking our jobs seriously, but not ourselves.”
That philosophy is incorporated in SWAs statement of values for cultivating a fun loving
Have fun
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Maintain perspective (balance)
It may be that this permission to enjoy work and to maintain equilibrium between the office and the job is why SWA is the only American airline never to have a losing year. Most other airlines – no doubt very serious at every level - have difficulty competing with SWA. Those that do complete tend to eschew, like SWA, excessive seriousness.
Besides a lack of humor about your importance to the organization, there’s a tendency among the serious to engage in non-work.
What’s non-work? It’s a busyness, which superficially looks like something is happening, but actually you are adding zero to the bottom line or to the output of your team or department. Being so busy leaves you no time or energy to think about what you are doing or to reflect on improving.
Real work adds value, it improves something, and it validates a process. You set aside time routinely to think about what you do and why you are doing it and what you can do to improve.
Want examples of non-work?
Not so long ago, I served, in my professional association, on a program committee. There were a dozen of us. We’d closet ourselves in a windowless meeting room and review, at each annual conference, the proposed programs for the next year.
For 10 hours, strung out over three days, we’d review the stack of applications, page by page, largely making sure that all the blanks were filled in – I never saw a single program proposal rejected by the committee. Nor did this group ever come up with a program idea. That’s 120 hours of very busy non-work. I only lasted through the first year of my two-year appointment.
Similarly, non-work is afoot when you are the third signature on a four signature form (when one signature would suffice).
Or, worse, non-work thrives when an organization insists on supervisors reviewing everyone’s work, even when a person consistently achieves a 99% accuracy rate and the 1% error has a negligible effect on the quality of the product. Those supervisors proudly pin on their “Master Jobsworth” badges and assure you, if you have the temerity to ask, that the review is essential and any steps taken to stop it would jeopardize the quality of the unit’s output. They give no thought to the time that could be gained for real work.
And, let's not forget that annual orgy of seriousness and non-work: performance appraisal!
So, if you find yourself overly serious at work, reflect on why. Is it more non-work than real work? If the former, then take Will Rogers' advice and figure out what can you do to trade out the non-work for real work?

*One of the questions found in Charles C Manz’s essay, “Let’s Get Serious! . . . Really?” Journal of Management Inquiry July 2014 23: 339-342.

© John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Sir Roger L’Estrange’s, “A Hedge-Hog and a Snake”*

Posted by jlubans on November 06, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. These edible hedgehogs would never behave like their brother in this fable.

A Snake was prevail'd upon in a Cold Winter, to take a Hedge-Hog into his Cell; but when he was once in, the Place was so narrow, that the Prickles of the Hedge-Hog were very troublesome to his Companion: so that the Snake told him, he must needs provide for himself somewhere else, for the Hole was not big enough to hold them both. Why then, says the Hedge-Hog, He that cannot Stay, shall do well to Go: But for my own part, I'm e'en Content where I am; and if You be not so too, y'are free to Remove.”
“Possession is Eleven Points of the Law.”

The unwanted houseguest or the guest who overstays his welcome! We’ve all had them. P.G. Wodehouse tells, in a note on the oddities of American life, of an overnight guest who stayed for 15 years. Probably in Chillicothe, Ohio. For some reason Mr. Wodehouse, was taken with the name of this buckeye town. But, I digress.
More relevantly, Grant Burningham’s “Your Worst House Guest” documents dozens of outrageous tales of woe about hedgehog guests. There’s a prevalent theme among the comments on these jeremiads: spineless hosts. If the hapless host showed some gumption and set limits the hedgehog guest would know the score and either get out or behave.
And, I suppose, that’s the way it is in the workplace. Sometimes, when a worker behaves badly, the boss is to blame for making a poor hire and subsequently for not calling the behavior or for not adequately training the miscreant.
“It came seventeen years ago—and to this day
It has shown no intention of going away.”

— Edward Gorey, "The Doubtful Guest"

*Source: Abstemius' Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

Leading from the Middle Library of week: Campbell County Public Library, Gillette, Wyoming, USA

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Dog Poop and Problem Solving

Posted by jlubans on November 02, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Volunteer with trailhead sign for Tails on Trails.

While trekking in the forest near Corvallis, OR, I came across a series of bright orange signs, on sticks. (They reminded me of the 1950s-era Burma Shave roadside campaigns*, less the rhymes.) Among several repeating messages, one proclaimed “We Love Dogs”. Others inquired: “Do you know where your dog is?” and explained an owner’s responsibility, in respect for other trail users – some of whom fear dogs - to control her dog when off-leash. But the primary message was to raise awareness about the spreading problem of dog poop on the walking trails and how that kind of waste can be harmful to the forest’s ecology and enjoyment. Corvallis trails are normally free of litter – love of Nature is a core value for many in Corvallis – but dog waste is another matter. On popular walking trails near developed areas you can spot an abundance of poop on each sides of the trail. The “Tails on Trails” campaign drew a “line in the sand”, so to speak. Volunteers spray-painted the dog poop neon orange. So, for the first mile or so of the trail, from the parking lot and trailhead, ran two intermittent rows of brightly painted dog poop; visually unavoidable even for someone convinced that dog poop is a “natural” fertilizer that benefits the forest.
Trailhead signs explained the campaign and asked for volunteers for the clean up effort on Oct 10.
Caption: Cleaning up.

On that day, twenty-five volunteers "harvested" 231 lbs of dog waste.
OK, by now you may be wondering what does dog poop, especially the neon orange variety, have to do with the workplace, with problem solving? Well, I’ve been involved in change efforts like this – no, not picking up poop, but similar ones in trying to get clients, customers, users to change behaviors deemed undesirable by the organization. More than a few of those change initiatives failed. Why then did the Tails on Trails program appear to turn out so well – lots of positive feedback and a rise in public awareness?
In search of answers, I interviewed Ryan N.K. Brown, Recreation and Engagement Program Manager of the Research Forests, College of Forestry at Oregon State University (OSU).
She organized the campaign with several others, including staff, paid student help and a host of volunteers. From her I gained some insights into how a campaign like this can succeed or - when certain elements are absent - can fail, like some of my past efforts.
The dog poop issue goes back several years, all the way to a survey conducted in 2009 and published in 2011.**
The report found that of 11,000 regular visitors, 51% were accompanied by dogs, sometimes by more than one dog. These visitors are highly educated and environmentally minded, which is in keeping with the mind set in Corvallis and the OSU region.
This survey was followed with focus groups*** in 2013 and 2014 of Runners, Bikers, Hunters, Equestrians, and Hikers. Among a long list of findings and recommendations, dog waste was among the “Very Prevalent Topics”, euphemistically termed as “refuse leaving behavior motivations.”
In short, while people loved dogs, dog droppings offended many. Unsightly and polluting, the dog poop issue was further aggravated on hot summer days by an offending stench.
A task force of 9 women – the Group of Nine - all “dog people”, handpicked by Ms. Brown, went to work on the problem. They wanted a “least offensive strategy”, to figure out a way to influence and change minds and practices without alienating the forest’s multiple user groups. The Nine came up with a public information campaign (the term “education” was considered but then dismissed as potentially off-putting) and decided to post signs (“snippets”) along four of the most heavily used trails. One of the Nine suggested the phrase “Tails on Trails”, a visually explicit double entendre.
Shortly after posting the signs and spray-painting the poop, most comments were positive but some complaints did come in: the snippets on signs were anti dog, the campaign was negative, it was unfriendly to people who respected the trails and forests. Indeed, someone absconded with all the signs at one of the locations.
That’s when Ms. Brown came up with the “We Love Dogs” message and posted those, serially, along each of the four trails.
I saw that sign several times and it registered with me that those words would help dog lovers overcome the notion that the campaign was targeting bad dogs and bad owners. Instead, the walkers were more likely to read and consider the other messages re pollution. The complaints diminished and many commented, “It’s about time!” that something was done.

So, what are my problem solving takeaways? What are my transfers to the workplace?
A real problem. This was a real problem for the community, not just for the forest administration. The data gathering in the survey and the focus groups confirmed there was a common, shared problem to be fixed.
Not a solo effort. The Group of Nine, drawn from the user community, including two veterinarians, helped shape and develop the message of “Tails on Trails”. It was not just what the forest managers – the “experts” thought was needed. Indeed one of the most successful aspects of this campaign was posting knowledgeable volunteers at trail junctures to answer questions about the campaign and to dissuade – with facts – the myth that dog poop is a “natural” fertilizer rather than a contaminant.
Flexibility. Ms. Brown’s posting of the “We Love Dogs” signs, after the first complaints came in, helped get over any initial hiccups for what turned out to be a highly positive campaign. The ability to adjust to meet current needs is critical for any pilot change effort.
Participation, Social Skills and Gender. Research, as I have previously discussed, shows that problem-solving groups excel when all participants engage, all have good social skills and that there is a majority of women on the team. Ms. Brown told me that, along with her leadership, there were two or more independent thinking and proactive “leaders” in the Group of Nine, and that most everyone took part in idea generation and discussion. The one or two quiet members would give her feedback after meetings and, importantly, took on a large part of the active work this campaign demanded.
When I think back about those failed change efforts referred to above, I can see that one or more of these “take aways” was missing from our process. How about you and your approach in trying to problem solve and bring about change?
Happy trails!

*Caption: Burma Shave road sign from pre-Interstate days.

** “Public Support, Demand, and Potential Revenue for Recreation at the McDonald-Dunn Forest”, Final Report by Mark D. Needham, Ph.D. and
Randall S. Rosenberger, Ph.D.
Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University

*** “Collaborative Community Recommendations for Oregon State University College Forests Recreation Planning.”
By Elspeth Gustavson, College Forests Graduate Research Assistant
Ryan Brown, College Forests Recreation Manager
Christine Olsen, College of Forestry Research Associate and Instructor
August 27, 2014.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Lubans’ The Two Roosters

Posted by jlubans on October 30, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)


Once upon a time, a farmer and his wife were given a rooster, Rex by name. They added him to their brood of egg-laying hens.
Rex ruled the roost with an iron claw and a steel beak, brutalized the hens into submission; he’d strut and swagger around the barnyard, proclaiming with a strident cock-a-doodle-doo, that he was lord of all he surveyed, and ready to take on all comers. Spitefully, he’d take vicious pecks at bare feet and hands – even those that fed him.
Well, as we all know, those who rule by fear are often replaced by someone more ruthless, more ambitious, (petty tyrants take note) than the immediate tyrant.
One day, another rooster, likely fleeing a neighbor’s stew pot, landed, literally, in Rex’s yard. Bolder, younger and feistier, he soon vanquished Rex in combat and banished him to cower in a bush on the barnyard’s periphery.
Left only with dreams of glories past, the lonely Rex looked around for a friendly face. He turned to the farmer and followed him about docilely. Alas, the farmer, while sympathetic with Rex’s plight, knows Rex will soon have to meet his destiny – in the freezer.
What does this have to do with the workplace? Eventually, the office bully, the bad boss will be replaced by a badder boss or a more vicious bully, or, better, if the governing board displays some courage, will be removed for a true leader.
Rule by fear gets only temporary results and, overtime, merely mediocre. While hens may shiver at the tyrant and humans become wary, it’s always at a cost to the organization. Low morale begets low production, low innovation and eventually a failed business, a failed organization, unless and until a supportive and compassionate leader - despising bully tactics - comes to the rescue.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Handshakes as Team Ritual

Posted by jlubans on October 26, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Homer Handshake.

Just prior to winning the 2015 national basketball champion, Duke University published an article, “For Duke, Handshakes an Expression of Togetherness.” It spoke to one of the team rituals that seemingly contributed to the team’s success.
That article links to an explanatory video* about how these handshakes – as frequently as five times during a game - came about and how they helped the team remain cohesive in their run-up to the championship game. Everyone credits Quinn Cook, a senior starter and co-captain, with creating and maintaining the tradition of these unique handshakes, numbering some 200.
Since I evangelize about self-management for individuals as well as teams, it’s worth noting that this ritual originated from the players, the team; none of the coaches were involved. Interestingly, the head coach does not participate in the handshakes. I wonder what it would be like if he did? I imagine Coach K would do better than Homer Simpson does in the illustration.
Are you wondering what this has to do with leadership in the workplace? As readers of this blog know, I look for examples in many domains of team building techniques that could transfer to the workplace or help illustrate the underlying concepts of effective team building.

Caption. Two Board Members Practicing the Bro Hug!

Now, I doubt anyone is going to begin a ritual of hugs and handshakes among the members of a board or at your next (shudder) committee meeting, but there is something to the notion of touching that can make for a lasting connection.
Touching, like that found in a traditional handshake or a touch of the arm, the shoulder, or a pat on the back can strengthen relationships. Touching someone introduces a different, more intimate dynamic in a relationship. It grounds a group's camaraderie, that “we’re in this together” feeling.
What do Mr. Cook’s teammates say? The handshake can be “confusable” as one player said, – talk about a Yogi Berra-ism - but it “reminds me to relax and to have fun”; it’s a “connecting between you and your brother.”
It’s “used to tell the team: “We have each other’s back … we love each other.”
“It’s a lighthearted thing that calms everyone down.”
Caption. Handshake “culprit” - one player's term - Quinn Cook, #2.

As the team’s co-captain, Mr. Cook put the handshake tactic to good use when (in 2014/2015) he had to “take on the task of mentoring 4 freshmen on an eight-man team. He was the rock and stability that Coach K needed during this year.” Often, a sports captaincy – the head of the players - is in name only; under Coach K, the captain is an extension of the coaching staff, a leader who holds teammates accountable on the hardwood.
Mr. Cook elaborates: I “always do the handshake, (even when) yelling at the guy or praising the guy… (it) symbolizes our relationship”
As a leader, “sometimes I can get on a guy, tell them to pick it up and give them a handshake.
How effective was Mr. Cook? Suggestive of Mr. Cook’s standing with the team, he was voted by them as their co-Most Valuable Player along with the freshman (super star) Jahlil Okafor.

*Another brief video can be found here. Set to music, it quickly explains the handshake ritual and provides a dozen examples from Mr. Cook’s repertoire.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE TORTOISE AND THE EAGLE”*

Posted by jlubans on October 23, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “OK, OK, piece o’cake. Let me go. Let me go-oooo-oo.”

“A Tortoise, discontented with his lowly life, and envious of the birds he saw disporting themselves in the air, begged an Eagle to teach him to fly. The Eagle protested that it was idle for him to try, as nature had not provided him with wings; but the Tortoise pressed him with entreaties and promises of treasure, insisting that it could only be a question of learning the craft of the air. So at length the Eagle consented to do the best he could for him, and picked him up in his talons. Soaring with him to a great height in the sky he then let him go, and the wretched Tortoise fell headlong and was dashed to pieces on a rock.”

Sometimes, when you think you are ready to “disport” yourself in a top-level job, it’s best you don’t. You may not be ready to fly at that level and it is a kindness, not a cruelty, when someone stops you.
Early in my career, I’d wax impatient with rules about tenure or years of experience. It all felt like thwart and stifle, an excuse to deny my ambition simply because of my age. Looking back, I am glad I did not always get my way and in some instances I regret that I did.
So, you may be willing and able but you may not be ready.
One version of this fable gives the eagle an ulterior motive. He drops the turtle from on high onto a pile of rocks and then dines leisurely and sumptuously on the remains. Someone who facilitates your premature ambition may not be doing so in your best interests.

*Source: AESOP’S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

© John Lubans 2015