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.



Krylov’s THE PEASANT AND THE HORSE*

Posted by jlubans on February 20, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Laughing Horse by Neil Seager

A PEASANT was sowing oats one day. Seeing that, a young Horse began to reason about it, grumbling to itself.
"A pretty piece of work this, for which he brings such a lot of oats here! And yet they say men are wiser than we are.
Can anything possibly be more foolish or ridiculous than to plough up a whole field like this, in order to scatter one's oats over it afterwards to no purpose?
Had he given them to me, or to the bay here, or had he even thought fit to fling them to the fowls, it would have all been more like business.
Or even if he had hoarded them up, I should have recognised avarice in that.
But to fling them uselessly away! No; that is sheer stupidity."
Meanwhile time passed; and in the autumn the oats were garnered, and the Peasant fed this very Horse on them.
Reader, there can be no doubt that you do not approve of the Horse's opinions. But, from the oldest times to our own days, has not man been equally audacious in criticising the designs of Providence, although, in his blind folly, he sees nothing of its means or ends?
_____________
Long before the internet
, Krylov gave us this fable about humankind’s “blind folly” in gainsaying not only Providence, but each other.
The braying ass of a horse’s diatribe reminds me of much of the daily parade of commentary on so-called** social media: ignorant, one-sided, negative, absolutely certain,
ill-humored, repetitive (think “meme” and “sharing”) and unforgiving.
I won’t go on but I (and you) could.
Will the silly donkey offer an apology to the sower? Will he offer thanks to him as he munches on the harvest of winter oats?

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

**A misnomer if there ever was one. The clunky phrase, social media, is just the pathological opposite. More apt: Anti-Social Media which daily rails against the notion of solidarity, the idea that most of us mean well, we have kind hearts, and want to help each other even when we make poor decisions.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Laura Gibbs’ The Fool Carries the Plow*

Posted by jlubans on February 14, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Homer thinks the weekly meeting is the GOAT!

There was a peasant who had been plowing all day. By day's end both the peasant and his donkey were exhausted.
The peasant was a good-hearted fellow, so when he saw how tired his donkey was, he took pity on the poor beast. "I need you to carry me home, dear donkey," said the peasant, "but I don't want you to have to carry the plow too."
So, the good-hearted fool picked up the heavy plow, put it on his shoulders, and then mounted the donkey.
"I'll carry the plow," he said to the donkey, "and you can carry me."
__________
The 1692 version’s Moral: “Some Brute Animals, have more understanding then some Men.”
Surely this bit of jumbled thinking was a joke but it serves as a lesson to all who seek to alleviate what they believe is someone’s suffering by aggravating their misery.
For example, I worked in an organization in which many (not all) employees complained of too many meetings – they, the complainers, hated giving up time – they wanted that time back to do their work – something they enjoyed and believed to be important to the organizational mission.
One of the least productive meetings was a mandatory weekly get together. It was largely information sharing rather than decision making.
Usually from start to finish the meeting, attended by 45 people, lasted for 75 minutes. In other words, the organization spent close to 60 hours in non-work in that one gathering!
The executives who ran the meeting – often giving self-congratulatory reports on organizational achievements in their bailiwicks - came up with the solution: donuts, bagels and coffee!
Instead of hearing how many employees considered meetings as unproductive and leading the way to shutting down the most wasteful, they kept the status quo but did add donuts.
And, instead of letting everyone know that meetings were to be used sparingly and only with a real purpose that resulted in something substantial – an improvement! - the executives added bagels with three types of cream cheese.
Now, besides wasting their most productive employees’ time they were adding to their caloric intake, many of whom were tending - from all that sitting - toward the pleasingly plump.

*Source: A Laura Gibbs’ 100-Word microfable. This is her rendition of “A Man that Carried his Plough to Ease his Oxen”, one of the Fables found in “Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists with Morals and Reflections by Roger L'Estrange”, 1692.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Letting Go to Win

Posted by jlubans on February 12, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption Tom Brady, Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. WSJ e-portrait 2021.

You’ll have to indulge me one more time.
I’m going to use sports again to trigger some deep thinking about leadership.
Last week in America we had the 55th (or pretentiously in Roman numerals, LV!) Super Bowl for the National Football League. It’s a long road to the NFL championship game with multiple hazards. While the games are played weekly over several months in all kinds of weather, this year the virus took its unique toll of games and players.
At the end of the season in January, two teams were standing: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs*.
The game featured Tom Brady, new to Tampa, but who had won several Super Bowls with another team.
On the Chiefs’ side was young Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback (play caller) and the leader of last year’s Super Bowl winner.
Sports writers made much of Tom’s 43 years, either insinuating that he was over-the-hill or that he was some sort of super being.
Regardless of age, both these quarterbacks are exceptional athletes.
But, of most interest to me was how some writers – it must be part of the job description - tried to stir up controversy about why Tom “abandoned” his old team of 20 years for the new one at Tampa. (One writer consulted a panel of marriage counselors for coping tips for the forsaken.)
I’ll ignore most of those stories since they are largely gossip and stick with actual quotes made by coaches and players.
Did Brady’s former team have a more formal organizational culture? Rob Gronkowski (who played with Tom on the former team and came out of retirement to play with him at Tampa) said:
“Around the locker room (Tom’s) been crackin’ a little bit more jokes than usual, which is cool to see.” Gronk, as he is known to fans, went on to say that the biggest difference between his playing under head coach Bruce Arians (new team) and Bill Belichick (old team) is now he has “the freedom of just being himself.”
So, maybe Gronk offers some insights into two different team cultures: one a bit looser, perhaps more trusting of players than the other. Maybe Tampa is more Theory Y than Theory X?
Incidentally, one writer makes a case for Tampa’s commitment to diversity; at least the outcome is diverse. There’s not a quota system - the Tampa assistant coaches are all considered to be among the best in the business – but since pro football is pretty much of a good old boys’ club, Tampa’s hiring the best people regardless of gender, race or ethnicity is somewhat iconoclastic.
Tampa’s coach, Bruce Arians, explains why he sees “diversity” – as defined by him – as helpful to winning: “… to hear voices in a staff meeting that are not the same, don’t look alike, but they all have input, you get better output. For the players, the same thing. Not hearing the same thing over and over, to hear from different people, from different ages, from 27 to 82 and every kind of ethnic group there is, and male and female. I know our players learn from that, I know I do, and so does our staff.”
Arians would be the first to assure you that he did not go looking for race or gender, it just worked out that the best came from several directions and he was not afraid to hire people who might be passed over by a more traditional team.
“Bruce Arians Says He Lets Tom Brady Do Something The Patriots Didn’t” – that was the click-bait headline.
The story seeks to explain why a top player like Brady would leave a team with whom he’s played and won for 20 years for another team, an entirely new challenge. How big a challenge? Tampa had not made the postseason game since 2007–08.
There’s a clue in a quote from the Tampa coach about Brady’s leadership: “(He) has been (the leader) all year. (He’s) got the air of confidence that permeates through our team every day. I allow him to be himself. Like, (the former team) didn’t allow him to coach. I allow him to coach. I just sit back sometimes and watch.”
Here you’ve got a boss unafraid to let someone else lead.
The boss is able to let go for the good of the organization. He knows he does not have a monopoly on the best ideas; it’s a function of good leaders to let others lead when those others have the greater ability specific to a task at hand.
Arians marvels at how Brady handles younger players. “He’s another coach. He really is. I mean, the athletic stuff (he does) is shocking for a guy 43, but the way he handles young guys and old guys, he’s coaching non-stop.”
“It always pisses me off. I’ll say something to a player, and they’ll look at me, and (then Brady) says it, and they go, ‘Okay Tom, I’ll do it.'”
It’s rare for a boss to say this so honestly. Remember, in most organizations there’s always some smart-ass to ask, “Well then why do we need all these coaches? Tom can do it!”
Given Arians’ deliberate hands-off style, I doubt the “It really pisses me off” comment is aimed at Tom. More likely he is referring to his own frustration with the player who ignores him and listens to Tom.
He’d like to know why that happens. Wouldn’t you?
In the meantime, he chalks it up to an age difference; he’s 68. Tom’s 43. The player’s 22.
Or, that Tom and the 22-year-old are both players and that Tom may indeed have a unique insight into what the younger player is experiencing.
Unlike Arians, I know a few bosses who would be more that “pissed off”; they’d undermine the star subordinate.
Early on I gave my star followers (who shared a similar mind-set and work ethic to mine) free reign over their areas of responsibility. I was criticized by some for doing that - even though we were setting productivity records: I was not doing my job or that somehow my “letting go” imperiled the enterprise.
If my departments were not producing, I’d listen to the criticism.
But, since we were doing more and better, I knew that was only jealousy.
Of course, the risk is that others in the organization see “letting go” as a personal threat to their - often feckless - way of leading. Under a change in circumstances – for example, a new traditionalist CEO - those “clingers” to a top-down hierarchy will not forget and do their all to send you out the door.
Better to leave before that happens.
_____________
*In case you a
re interested and were not one of the 100,000,000 to see the game, Final score for Super Bowl LV: 31 Tampa, 9 Kansas City.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Getting to Urgent

Posted by jlubans on February 06, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Impromptu vaccine clinic Highway 199 near Hayes Hill, Oregon, USA elevation 1640 feet or 500 meters.

The news last week had a “feel-good” story featuring 20 Oregon health workers stalled on a highway in a snow storm.
Returning from a vaccine clinic on January 26, they found themselves with 6 doses of vaccine about to expire, what to do?
They make a snap decision, jump out of their vehicles, team up, and start asking stuck drivers if they would like a covid vaccination.
Some drivers laughed and said no thanks, but 6 folks said, “You bet!”.
In my eyes, these health workers displayed an abundance of urgency. How did that happen?
What was there in this team that encouraged this improvisation and creativity?
One of the 20, Josephine County Public Health Director Mike Weber, said:
“Our No. 1 rule right now is nothing gets wasted.”
If that’s part of the organizational culture then that might have promoted the resourcefulness. “Nothing gets wasted” is easy to remember and to apply. It’s neither vague or boiler plate.
Besides this being a feel-good story, I think it presents us with an example of what in sports is called “stepping up”- a substitute player rises to the occasion when replacing an injured starter.
Perhaps there are clues in this snow storm event for those having to administer millions of vaccinations?
How did the idea to use up the 6 doses come about?
Was it a spontaneous decision or did one person bring it up and then everyone joined in? Did anyone have to be convinced that this was a good idea?
Was a vote taken or was it based on a majority nodding in agreement?
Obviously, it would have been easier to stay in the van and write off the 6 shots; nothing we could do, etc.
And, list out all the bureaucratic excuses for wasting the 6 doses.
What the Josephine story shows is a group clear about their mission, ready to adapt, break the guidelines, if you will, maybe even break the rules.
It’s even more relevant as we hear of “faltering state vaccination rollouts and scientists debating new tactics”.
The urgency displayed by this team of twenty links back to one of my recent blogs, The Bottom Line.
Here’s the last paragraph of that blog.
How do organizations achieve (a) level of urgency?
Do they even want urgency anywhere near them? Well, is that not something we should want in every organization? An inculcated desire to be the best every day.
What is the bottom line for you? For your organization? What’s the ball you strive toward?
Not just in football, how do you get each worker (or most workers) to play to the bottom line? In an epidemic, what does that look like in state government? Is it possible to generate such a mind set in a bureaucracy?
Yes, if you have courageous leadership and a team with a majority of willing and capable followers.”
That’s what I think happened on that snowy Oregon highway.

_____________
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Better than bacon (a lie), better than chocolate (also a lie) but the price is right. 35% off until Valentine's Day, Feb 14.

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

The Room at the End of the Hall

Posted by jlubans on January 29, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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I was getting to know, as part of a new job, my organization’s large building. I was learning the lay of the land, so to speak.
As it turned out, one event revealed a great deal about the organization’s culture, and it was not flattering.
During my wanderings about the building, I encountered a locked door at the end of a dark hall.
There was no name on the door, only a number, 319. Nor was it listed on our directory of rooms.
Given the room next door to 319 faced the Yard, the university’s most desirable space, I assumed 319 did as well.
I went outside and confirmed the handsome view. 319 had a tall window, partially obscured by tree branches.
Well then, why was this space not listed in our directory?
I asked my boss and he directed me, inexplicably, to Human Resources.
HR told me that 319 was assigned to Professor Baxter from the Business School. I had never heard of Baxter. Nor, I learned subsequently, was he listed in the faculty directory.
I asked, why was the professor in this building since the Business School was on the other side of campus?
HR - Byzantine as ever - avoided a direct answer, but averred that 319 was promised to Baxter for five years. We were not to use this space.
Was he using the space?
I got a master key and looked inside.
I found no skeletons. Nor, the usual deshabille of a professorial office, not even a waste paper basket, or a rug on the floor.
There was a desk (dusty) with a new red IBM Selectric typewriter (also dusty) and the usual office accoutrements. The book shelves were empty, as was the gray filing cabinet. Apparently, no one was using the room – it smelled abandoned.
I found out, via the grapevine, that the office was part of a termination settlement.
Prof. Baxter was unhappy with his job and his Dean was unhappy with Prof. Baxter. The Dean gave him an ultimatum: resign or be fired.
Prof. Baxter, convinced of discrimination, told him to go to hell and hired a lawyer.
The university (and its lawyers) - ever seeking to avoid embarrassment – “agreed to disagree” without admitting guilt.
The university settled for a private office on campus (as long as it was not in the Business School!) and committed to pay him several years’ salary. Anything to get rid of Baxter and keep him quiet.
I imagined these concessions, like the new typewriter, a private office with a window, were wrung out of the university by Baxter’s lawyer. There never was any intention for daily use; Room 319 symbolized an implicit admission of the university’s connivance in the claimed discrimination.
I never saw Baxter. I suspect he’d moved on – into a self-imposed exile far away while the university direct deposited his monthly salary into his bank.
Some years later we got to reclaim the space.
I never learned who in our organization went along with this secret deal and if there was any quid pro quo for giving up a very nice room for 5 years.
I sure hope there was; somehow I doubt it. This episode was a cover up; anyone in the way would be hammered by those sweeping the matter under the rug.

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Better than bacon (a lie), better than chocolate (also a lie) but the price is right. 35% off until Valentine's Day, Feb 14.

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Yip Yip Coyote and Br’er Fox Talk Bandanas

Posted by jlubans on January 25, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Fifi Russell of the “cow punk” band, Yip Yip Coyote. UK. 1985. Here’s a link to the band banging it out in 1984.

One winter night in Whitehorse, in Canada's Yukon, Br’er Fox and Yip Yip Coyote were - downright amicably - chewing on rib bones found in a restaurant dumpster.
Taking a break , they got to talking.
“I’ve got a question for you, Br’er Fox. Why is it that humans have us coyotes wearing (in pictures) red bandanas? They don’t do that kitsch to foxes.”
“I can tell you why”, confided Br’er Fox.
“At the dog park, I overheard a woman explain why she hung a hankie on her hound dog: Because it’s ‘cute af’. Yeah, that’s what she said, ‘cute af’. Humans!" (This last with more than a hint of foxish opprobrium.)
"Anyway, since we have bushy, adorable tails, we foxy foxes get a pass.”
“Well, I’m not a dog, I’m a coyote!” huffed Yip Yip.
“We coyotes always get a raw deal; the humans even put out food for you foxes. I got to go fight the racoons over dog food in a back yard.”
Momentarily reflecting, Yip Yip queried:
“Do you think if I fluffed up my tail, I’d get a better response?”
“Could be”, said Br’er Fox, waxing candid or shamelessly honest, as they say in corporate America. “There are times when you are downright scraggly, enough to scare anyone into thinking you were rabid.”
On that note, Yip Yip chased Br’er Fox over hill and dale back to his den, barely escaping his flashing fangs.


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Better than bacon (a lie), better than chocolate (also a lie) but the price is right. 35% off until Valentine's Day, Feb 14.

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

“The Bottom Line”

Posted by jlubans on January 20, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: One of several interceptions during the end of the 2020 college football season.

This past year, the University of Oklahoma’s football team went from last in defense in their league to the best defense in their league.
In the past decade they’ve been notable for an aerial offense run by quarterbacks hurling long distance passes caught by sprinting and soaring receivers.
This year, one sports writer marveled apostatically: ”Is OU’s defense better than its offense?”
How did this reversal happen?
Well, a new Defensive Coordinator (Alex Grinch), helped, along with the leadership of his boss, head coach Lincoln Riley.
The Sooners, as the OU team is known, play at an elite level. All of the coaches are fluent in the best and latest techniques and strategies for playing football, not to mention the nutrition and strengthening routines prescribed for each player. Their objective is to prepare each player to be the best he can possibly be.
Techniques and strategies are inculcated daily.
But, what appears to have made the greatest difference for these players was Grinch’s stress on playing every “snap” of the ball in practice just like they would be expected to play during the game.
In other words, the urgency, the intensity of game day (Saturday) is something to be emulated during practice drills (Monday-Friday).
This mindset, pushed daily by the coach, evolved over the season, and steadily the defense was holding opponents to low scores, much lower than in previous years.
Toward season’s end, there was one word to describe OUs defense: dominant.
What does this have to do with the workplace?
Well, in the workplace we are always puzzling about how best to motivate the troops.
Some coaches rely on yelling, butt kicking, and locker room exhortation. Businesses may use a softer, kinder approach, but it’s still pretty much the same external push to make someone do something.
Alas, these are short term solutions and always need renewal: louder yelling, escalating verbal threats and abuse and more extreme exhortation.
Many players resent being yelled at and tune out. The yelling, however subdued, often is only one way: the coach tells you what to do, what you did wrong, and how you have to improve. Eventually, the berated tune out.
So, then how do you motivate players to achieve? Or do you?
At the OU level of the sport, these players are already motivated.
Unlike many traditional organizations, there are no “lifers” on a football team.
These players want guidance; not a kick in the ass.
They have already bought in. They want opportunity.
They want to improve. They want to be shown how to improve.
They want to be challenged; but in do-able ways.
Now, keep in mind, football teams are large organizations, easily over 100 players composed of a defensive eleven, an offensive eleven, and special teams, along with a cadre of “red shirt” players who practice alongside starters but do not play in games, as yet.
And, there are second and third team platoons (22 players each).
Traditionally, the second and third “stringers” – the “bench warmers” - wait for the “starter” to graduate or become injured; then they get to step in and “step up” and show their stuff.
Due to the virus, many starters wound up in quarantine and their understudies got to play. Some coaches had to rotate players from the 2nd and 3rd teams into the game day plan.
OU appeared to have done this as well as anyone, adding exceptional depth – due to all that talent waiting in the wings - for playing an hour-long game (a televised football game takes about 3 hours).
By the 4th quarter – the last 15 minutes - a team rotating out defenders vs a team that does not is far fresher and stronger.
Fatigue results in errors, often very costly ones, such as interceptions.
As illustrated, the fresher player sprints past the tired opponent and snags the ball: a takeaway!
And there’s a key point: the player (not the coach) makes the interception. The empowered player’s being at the right place at the right time has to come from inside the player.
At post-game press conferences, I am always interested in what Mr. Grinch has to say, but I am even more interested in what his players say.
More than once, the coach used a catch phrase to explain how he inculcates urgency and a winning attitude, the term, “playing to the bottom line”.
Here’s how 2 players explain what the “bottom line “means to them:
“Straining to the ball, playing together, being physical.”
“Striving to the ball, play hard, make those plays, and make those plays present themselves.”
They’ve jumbled the coach’s phrase “playing to the bottom line” but does it matter?
There’s implied urgency (strain, strive) in how each defines the term and how they will themselves to play each snap of the ball and “make those plays present themselves”!
How do organizations achieve this level of urgency?
Do they even want urgency anywhere near them? Well, is that not something we should want in every organization? An inculcated desire to be the best every day.
What is the bottom line for you? For your organization? What’s the ball you strive toward?
Not just in football, how do you get each worker (or most workers) to play to the bottom line? In an epidemic, what does that look like in state government? Is it possible to generate such a mind set in a bureaucracy?
Yes, if you have courageous leadership and a team with a majority of willing and capable followers.


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Better than bacon (a lie), better than chocolate (also a lie) but the price is right. 35% off until Valentine's Day, Feb 14.

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Coaching in the Workplace

Posted by jlubans on January 16, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Here’s another leaderly reflection: coaching and being coached.
While management gurus encourage us to coach subordinates, we rarely do so, at least in my experience.
Why is that?
If we desire to be coached, well then it is up to us to find a mentor; don’t expect your boss to be your coach.
They may not want to, they don’t see it as part of their job, or they don’t have the time.
Still, I could have done more with the coaching role that was, for a while, actually scripted into my job description.
Why coach?
Presumably, we all want to get better at what we do. A coach - providing an informed outside perspective - can help us improve, can give us a fresh take on where we want to be.
Sports coaches – from whom we borrow many coaching techniques and in large part justify the notion of organizational coaching - predate executive coaches by decades.
A good sports coach is consistent, truthful, and pragmatic. He or she is clear about roles, and communicates observations to the player.
Are these qualities any different in the workplace? Hardly, but there is a difference.
The best players respect and trust their coach; more importantly, they desire to be coached; they are open; indeed, they expect that the truth, “no matter what it is,” will be shared fully and openly in helpful ways. The “truth” is not to be bottled up or avoided.
For that to happen, there’s got to be mutual trust, the sine qua non for an effective player-coach relationship; without it, don’t bother.
If your organization supports frank feedback, then maybe you can try to create a coaching relationship that goes beyond simple feedback on technical aspects of a job.
Doing so requires a far greater investment than the occasional suggestion for improving personal efficiency.
For one thing, you have to have content, relevance, and the ability to explain what you mean. This can only happen through studying the person, observing, taking notes, mulling over and focusing on the do-able.
Probably the coaching conversation should be outside the workplace – out of the office. You want separation from the day-to-day concerns to gain a sharper focus on individual vs. organizational goals.
Don’t time this event and do not have an explicit agenda.
What you are trying to do is to get past the formalities, the polite chit chat, to something less comfortable, something not scripted but something with meaning for you and the other person.
Here are some coaching questions I could have used:
What do you like most about your job? What do you like the least?
What are your aspirations? Where do you want to be, career wise, in 5 years?
How would you describe your personal satisfaction with your job? Do you want the job to change?
What can I (your boss) do more of for you to achieve what you want?
What should I be doing less of?
Bear in mind, you are not exactly seeking a friendship; you’re after more of a trusting work relationship.
Friendship is not an objective of coaching; friendship is incidental to gaining frankness, and trust.
So, what could I have done differently?
Almost every organization where I worked was afflicted with back biting, undercutting of other workers and persistent turf battles.
A unit’s good work stopped at its door step, only helping those outsiders deemed, like the Hatfields and McCoys, for 'em, not agin 'em.
I could have stopped the back biting; that was coachable and would have been a big step forward.
I could have stopped the intrigue by not taking part. But, how?
Easy. Change the topic.
And model the desirable behavior.
Have frank talks but always with the intention of approaching the criticized person and seeking to find out his or her point of view. Stop the “just between you and me” stuff. Instead, discover why he (the “enemy”) does what he does.
Seek to resolve issues; seek to work together.
If trust is broken, how can it be mended?
Ask the other person, what can I do to make this better?
If you believe a colleague is making decisions harmful to your work, well what, besides complaining to others, can you do about it?
Yes, you!
Obviously, if nothing can be changed, then stop talking about it.
There’s another category for self-coaching; the people you have been avoiding.
Each year you resolve to have a plain, honest talk with those people but the talks never happen. If you were to have that open and frank discussion you might discover several positives about the other person and yourself.
Ask, "I’ve been avoiding you on a couple topics; let me tell you what they are and why they bother me. Afterwards, I’d like your viewpoint. OK?"

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Better than bacon (a lie), better than chocolate (also a lie) but the price is right. 35% off until Valentine's Day, Feb 14.

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

“You Built It”

Posted by jlubans on January 12, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Southwest Airline Engine (and plane) over Rocky Mountains, west of Denver, CO, USA. January 9 2021

Early in January of this new year I was waiting for my return flight from Denver, Colorado to Portland, Oregon.
I sat across from my departure gate – just waiting and looking at the passers-by of which there were surprisingly many streaming past, all masked.
I was on a SWA dedicated concourse – full of arriving and departing SWA travelers and crews - so it was not unusual that there was a SWA flight crew sitting nearby. I was by myself having a take-away glass of wine (thank you virus!) .
One of the flight crew, a man, asked me if I was going to Spokane, the destination at the next gate and the one his crew were working. That got the conversation rolling.
I asked him about the last president of the airline, Colleen Barret, if she was still working several hours a week in spite of her retirement. He said no, she was less and less involved.
Then I mentioned my meeting Herb Kelleher (1931-2019), the co-founder of the airline and how welcomed I felt sitting in his office. From the first second, it was like visiting with an old friend.
This was in Dallas, Texas, which is where SWA is headquartered.
I mentioned my asking Herb – there was nothing of the “Mister” about Herb – about SWA’s culture of excellent customer service. I asked if the underlying values would change on his retirement.
“No”, he said, “it’s in the DNA.”
I related that story to the flight attendant, “He said that, did he?” he queried.
“He sure did.”
Hearing that, he pulled out his phone and said he had a picture to show me.
It was one of him in ramp agent* gear sitting next to Herb – in a suit - chatting away.
In other words, that’s the CEO hobnobbing with one of the workers.
He told Herb - the CEO - how appreciative he, the ramp agent, was of the “empire” Herb had built – the Southwest Airlines empire, the company.
Herb responded, “I didn’t build it, you did.”
So, here we have one of the workers with a picture of the CEO on his phone. How many workers do you know who carry around a picture of their CEO?
Just think about it.
And think about Herb’s perspective about who’s in charge, who’s responsible for SWAs success, about who should get the credit.

*We know what flight attendants do.
The lesser known “Ramp Agents” guide the plane in to and out of the gate, help get passengers off and on the plane, and unload luggage and cargo and make sure the luggage gets to the right person. They also re-provision the plane – water, snacks, drinks, paper goods.
And, on January 9th they de-iced my plane before we took off for Oregon.
Some ramp teamers, like the flight attendant I met in Denver, aspire to become flight attendants.
See my “No Bean Bags Here” essay.

Also there are chapters on Southwest leadership and culture in my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle. Amazon has it.

© Copyright photo and text John Lubans 2021

“The Hand in the Dark” Points the Way

Posted by jlubans on January 04, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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While reading a 1920s mystery* – the virus made me do it - a paragraph took me back to a workplace conversation.
I was being counseled/berated by a colleague over my foolhardy emphasis on management theory and practice.
She insinuated I was betraying the profession.
Her opinion – held by many others – was that our noble profession was above such mundane and pragmatic practices.
After all, we went about doing good, don’t you know, and that was sufficient.
Any attempt to quantify the what and the wherefore was not necessary. Doing so implied that somehow we could do better when we were already doing the best.
Imagine the embarrassment when I compared our production statistics with industry peers and found that while we claimed to be first, we came in last in many categories.
Of course, the methodology was flawed! How else could the best come in last?
My colleague advised I read an article (I’d read it years before) by a well-regarded member of the profession.
The article was deemed by my colleague and others an effective apologia, a strong and stately case for a priestly caste. And, it faulted all management techniques as “deterministic, highly reductive and transient.”*
Now, I did not really know what the first two terms meant, but I did agree with the third one: management does suffer from passing fads.
Since I knew the author, I knew he was not against (how could anyone be?) the thoughtful borrowing of applicable “appropriate and proper” business ideas but I knew that he had good cause to criticize the ineffective and halfhearted embrace of business “fads” by some of our managers.
The “Official Mind”
But before I get too high in my dudgeon, let us return to The Hand in the Dark.
The mystery writer explains that an “imperviable dogmatism” (determinism?) can afflict all traditional professionals, in particular bureaucrats.
Such dogmatism results in an “official mind, strong in the belief in its own infallibility, resentful of advice or suggestion as an attempt to weaken its dignity”.
Such a “ruffled (and resentful) dignity (leads the infallible detective’s) judgment astray”, resulting in a “grave mistake” and the near hanging of an innocent woman.
My critical colleague took umbrage – in ruffled dignity - at my seeking to improve our work. Simplifying, streamlining, and improving turnaround times all seemed unseemly.
Even counting how often we did something somehow cheapened it, simplified it and made it, I suppose, “highly reductive” and open to misinterpretation by small minds (like mine).
Anyway, like the hero in The Hand in the Dark, I ignored my colleague’s free advice, persevered in questioning the why and the what of our work and managed to make lasting improvements.
How lasting? Take a guess.

*Arthur J. Rees. “The Hand in the Dark.” 1920. Mr. Rees also wrote "THE SHRIEKING PIT! Both are Gutenberg E-Books.
**Alan Veaner, Paradigm Lost, Paradise Regained, C&RL v.55, September 1994 pp389-402

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021