“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.

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “Fortune and The Boy”*

Posted by jlubans on March 24, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Verse by W.J. Linton. Illustration by Walter Crane. 1887

“A Boy heedless slept by the well
By Dame Fortune awaked, truth to tell,
Said she, ‘Hadst been drowned,
'Twould have surely been found
This by Fortune, not Folly befel.’"

It’s all too easy, is it not, to blame circumstance or others or the Ladies Luck and Fortune and their Sister Fate, than to consider what I may have done to bring about my misfortune.
How DID I get into this pickle?
And, on the other side of retrospection one should seek lessons on how to avoid misfortune in the future. What will I change? What will I do differently?

*Source: The Baby's Own Aesop (verse fables by W.J. Linton), 1887. Illustrations by Walter Crane. Available online at International Children's Digital Library.
Also, at Laura Gibbs index to fables.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book ($15.00) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.00). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.
I hope to have prepublication information up soon on Amazon, Powell’s Books, Barnes & Noble and other purchasing venues.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

The Mouse’s Roar

Posted by jlubans on March 21, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)


I’m planning a class exercise this spring around this photo.
My class is largely about democracy in the workplace and includes topics relevant to how one goes about achieving democratic ideals. The working assumption is that democratic ways achieve more than authoritarian or laissez-faire leadership.
Among the class topics are group development and the conditions required for taking a group from formation to performance.
Also, we look at, read about and discuss group dynamics and roles of followers and leaders in shaping a reluctant group into a highly effective team. We talk about types of power.
I’ll ask the class – in small groups - to tell me what they see in this picture.
Look at the details: the dutiful writing into little notebooks, the size of the table, the comic opera military hats, the leader’s location. What do you think is happening?
Where is the bowl of M&Ms?
How would you describe the atmosphere in this room? Formal, friendly, fearful, frightening?
Have you found yourself in a group like this? No, not in North Korea. What about the boss’ monthly meeting with department heads? What about in a one-on-one with a boss you fear and loath?
What did you do? Did you roar like a lion or did you squeak like a wee mousie?

Did you keep your head down or did you look into the leader’s eyes?
Did you lower your pencil and ask for clarification?
I’ll let you know how this class exercise comes out.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book and a soft cover print-on-demand book. The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.
I hope to have prepublication information up soon on Amazon, Powell’s Books and other purchasing venues.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Tuesday’s Tale. Krylov’s “THE CUCKOO AND THE EAGLE”*

Posted by jlubans on March 14, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)


THE Eagle promoted a Cuckoo to the rank of a Nightingale. The Cuckoo, proud of its пеw position, seated itself proudly on an aspen, and began to exhibit its musical talents. After a time, it looks round. All the birds are flying away, some laughing at it, others abusing it. Our Cuckoo grows angry, and hastens to the Eagle with a complaint against the birds.
‘Have pity on me!’ it says. ‘According to your command, I have been appointed Nightingale to these woods, and yet the birds dare to laugh at my singing.’
‘My friend,’ answers the Eagle, ‘I am a king, but I am not God. It is impossible for me to remedy the cause of your complaint. I can order a Cuckoo to be styled a Nightingale; but to make a Nightingale out of a Cuckoo— that I cannot do.’”
How many of us wannabe Nightingales are fearful of being found a Cuckoo?
A study of 116 CEOs, revealed “their biggest fear is being found to be incompetent, also known as the “imposter syndrome.”
“The five top fears resulted in these dysfunctional behaviors: a lack of honest conversations, too much political game playing, silo thinking, lack of ownership and follow-through, and tolerating bad behaviors.” Sounds all too familiar.
What’s a poor Cuckoo to do?
The study’s author offers us ways to reduce such fears. These suggestions are well worth considering. (BTW, if you are alone in your executive group in wanting to address these fears, as I was once, you probably need to move elsewhere. Abandon ship and all hope. You cannot do worse by skedaddling).
1. Admit to being fearful and commit to building a strong organization.
2. Value and recruit for emotional intelligence.
3. Encourage executives to share personal stories about key moments in their lives.
Maybe you’ll never be a Nightingale, but you’ll be a lot less of a Cuckoo.

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

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, will be out in June 2017 as
both an e-book and a soft cover print-on-demand book. The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.
I hope to have prepublication information up soon on Amazon and other purchasing venues.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Food Fight or Happy Meal?

Posted by jlubans on March 09, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Culinary Committee. Always watch out for the guy with the bâtard!

Food fight or teamwork? That’s the unanswered question in a recent BBC Business story,“Recipe for success: The growth of team-building cookery classes”.
According to the BBC, and confirmed by an e-multitude of global purveyors, culinary team building is the latest rage in out-of-office fun and games.
For sure, team cooking improves on walking on hot coals – Stop press! Let’s combine the two: scorched feet and Sauté of Crawfish Vol-au-Vent on the side!
Well, kidding aside, is this but an expensive ($125 per head) escape from one’s cubicle or does team cooking accomplish something more: improved communication, camaraderie, and group dynamics? The vendors aver it is so.
But, I suspect even the corporate kitchen adventures get their share of negative feedback. Perhaps less than that when office mates are forced “to race your boss around an assault course, or pass a beach ball to a colleague without using your hands” during a company away-day.
When I was offering team building adventures like my “Days in the Woods” series for work teams I learned a few important concepts. Always, make the event voluntary. And, secondarily, count on the most vehement criticism to come from those who do not attend.
By working with only those who want to be there the individual participant has the opportunity to learn about himself and herself and their colleagues. Those insights did extend back to the workplace and did make for improvements.
A third operating rule was that there had to be an open discussion about what happened and what personal effect it had on the individual and how that insight might apply to work. It was less the need for a skilled psychologist than asking the right questions to start exploring and applying. The more voluntary the event, the more honest, less guarded the discussion.
Sure, like recess, team cooking can be fun. But since it’s on the corporate dollar, is there substance to the claim that all this fun does result in a more bonded team?
Or is it really just an advanced version of sanctioned time off that results in yummies like “twice-baked cheese soufflés, roulade of chicken in a Madeira jus, and apple tartlets with a salted caramel sauce”?
The article asks but does not answer: “Would you tell your boss that his or her cooking skills weren't very good?” How about your office mate? How about yourself?
I would think a simple plus/delta, like I do with my Books to Eat teams in my Democratic Workplace class, or a modified AAR (After Action Review):
What was supposed to happen?
What actually happened?
Why were there differences?
would be a quick way to assess what was good and what could have been better in dealing with the heat of the kitchen. And for further exploration, it would be good to confirm if the “C factor” applies in team cooking. You will recall that
“C” is a predictor of group failure or success and includes three elements: participant emotional or social IQ; the number of engaged participants; and, interestingly, the number of women on the team.
Do the chef-leaders ask the teams to think about what they’ve just accomplished? Do they ask for some introspection on how each person contributed or did not contribute? What might the team have done better? If the “soufflé” fell, how to prevent that from happening the next time?
The article does not mention any kind of de-brief. So, once the goods are out of the oven, is the discussion only about pairing wines to the free eats?
Even then, with no attempt to assess team dynamics, the individual participant can do his/her own diagnosis. What would they do differently to be a better participant, a more effective team member? If one held back, why? If one felt left out, what might have changed that?

Caption: Honest feedback.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, will be out in June 2017 as
both an e-book and a soft cover print-on-demand book. The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.
I hope to have prepublication information up soon on Amazon and other purchasing venues.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable: Sir Roger L'Estrange (1692) Aesop’s “A MAN AND TWO WIVES

Posted by jlubans on March 03, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Sculpture: Margaret McAdams

“It was now Cuckow Time, and a certain middle-ag’d Man, that was half grey, half brown, took a fancy to marry two Wives, of an Age one under another, and happy was the Woman who could please him best. They took mighty Care of him to all manner of Purposes, and still as they were combing the good Man’s Head, they’d be picking out here and there a Hair to make it all of a Colour. The matronly Wife, she pluck’d out all the brown Hairs, and the younger the white: So that they left the Man in the Conclusion no better than a bald Buzzard betwixt them.”

“THE MORAL. ‘Tis a much harder Thing to please two Wives, than two Masters; and he’s a bold Man that offers at it.”

Anyone who’s worked for two bosses might dispute Sir Roger’s claim. Indeed, having two masters might lead to the servant going bald from pulling his/hair out in frustration.
Another moralist, Joseph Jacobs, has it: “Yield to all and you will soon have nothing to yield.”

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, will be out in June 2017 as
both an e-book and a soft cover print-on-demand book. The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.
I hope to have prepublication information up soon on Amazon and other purchasing venues.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Honing Leadership

Posted by jlubans on February 28, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Wild as the wind. (photo by Debra Garside)

Kimberley Bugg, of the NYC College of Technology, offers up some ideas for identifying future leaders in the information science profession. (I think her ideas apply to most professions.)
She elaborates in a recent issue of College & Research Libraries News about five leadership development activities:
Develop organization-specific leadership competencies
Identifying potential leaders
Honing leadership
Creating opportunities for leadership
Succession planning

Perhaps the most important activity is that of “identifying potential leaders”. She quotes me:
“John Lubans Jr. describes these individuals as organizational spark plugs. A spark plug is someone with high energy, emotional intelligence, good humor, people skills, and a can-do attitude. They are highly promotable because they help the organization realize important objectives, act on good ideas, initiate, need little encouragement, follow through, and collaborate.”
It is nice, for any author, to be quoted, certainly, but I do marvel at what rings the bell - in this case, the fireplug metaphor - for some people and what I may think is profound, seems to only jangle faintly for many.
In any case, I appreciate the tip of the hat.
I would counter Ms. Bugg’s suggestion that “Honing leadership” through formal leadership skills programs – seminars, classes, symposia – somehow will reveal and prepare the best leaders.
I have seen a long parade of people who attend these seminars who move on up not long after "getting their ticket punched".
All decent people, but most are devotedly hierarchical and extremely traditional in how they view the job, colleagues and staff. Too few have ridden Hannah Kahn’s “Wild Horse”*
Yes, it is good to be aware of leadership theory and such, but I have long found that what someone does is the most important evidence of whether they have it go with or not.

*”Ride a wild horse

with purple wings

Striped yellow and black

except his head

which must be red.
Ride a wild horse

against the sky
hold tight to his wings
before you die

whatever else you leave undone

once ride a wild horse

into the sun.”

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, will be out in June 2017 as
both an e-book and a soft cover print-on-demand book. The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.
I hope to have prepublication information up soon on Amazon and other purchasing venues.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Abstemius's (Sir Roger L'Estrange) “A Fly upon a Wheel”*

Posted by jlubans on February 24, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Artist unknown. From a 1590 Aesop.

“What a Dust do I raise! says the Fly upon the Coach-Wheel? and what a rate do I drive at, says the same Fly again upon the Horse's Buttock?”

“This Fly in the Fable, is every Trifling Arrogant Fop in Nature, by what Name or Title soever Dignify'd, or Distinguish'd”.

One of my favorites.
While L’Estrange would add on exhaustive commentaries for each fable – often with in-depth philosophical analysis - I know of no one who translates these ancient truths with more vim and vigor.
How many workplace “Fops” do you know? I knew a few, they were clever enough to keep their jobs, but their narcissism sure had a negative effect on co-workers. And, they opened their supervisors to criticism since it had to be the supervisor's fault, surely, that enabled for the Fly’s selfishness!
More recently, librarians at the National Library of Latvia developed a similar fable from the Latvian proverb: “We have rowed well,” said the flea as the fishing boat arrived at its mooring.”

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

N.B. Both of these fables are in my book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, June 2017.
It will be both an e-book and a soft cover print-on-demand book. The print book will feature illustrations by the renowned artist, Béatrice Coron.
I am now in the process of selecting the on-line vendor, BookBaby or Ingram.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

“No CEO.”

Posted by jlubans on February 21, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Meeting rules. How you will speak and feel.

When I see a headline like that – No CEO! - I take notice.
The story, by the BBC, is about a Swedish software company “where nobody is in charge.”
The company, Crisp, based in Stockholm, has about 40 staff, mostly independent contractors.
In any case, Crisp has gone through a few organizational models - including the usual boss at the top and also a “taking turns” model.
Notably, Crisp has decided to leave the top job vacant. They’ve systematically spread out the CEO’s responsibilities among the staff and the board.
The notion that no one is in charge is, of course, journalistic hyperbole. In reality, with no boss, everyone is in charge. Bosslessness may well be the best part of this model; it should lead to a great deal of job satisfaction and motivation among the people doing the work.
Like Crisp’s organizational coach claims: “Because they are all in charge, workers are more motivated.” That is the case with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra which performs famously with no conductor – if it were not the case; they would not be performing at one of the world’s toughest venues, Carnegie Hall.
Does the No CEO model work?
That’s hard to say. Crisp thinks so. Their annual staff satisfaction survey comes in at 4.1 out of 5. So a “B” or good grade, if an “Excellent” is a 5.
Certainly beats a 2 or a 3, but what about comparable companies? None are cited.
I know of at least one workplace in my experience that scores right up there as a “best place” to work. From my perspective, it is an unimaginative, stuffy and tradition-bound organization, coasting on past glories. It does pay well, however.
So, for Crisp, I’d like to see some numbers, bottom lines and such. I don’t mean to be negative on Crisp; I just would like to see some quantitative assessment of improvements under the No CEO model to the CEO or any other model they may have tried. Complicating any assessment is that this company sees itself as a non-profit. There is no value – they claim – to the company.
Different, for sure.
Crisp’s organizational coach claims that decision-making is greatly sped up. Again, I would like to see some comparable data – however approximate – with the way it was with a boss and the way it is now with everyone in charge. And, can any peer comparisons be made?
Crisp does have all-hands-on-deck meetings – meetings that run for up to 4 days a few times a year. A lot gets hashed out in those meetings. The detailed etiquette rules for those meetings were prominent at the not-so-long-ago Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
Marathon in length, those OWS meetings - towards the end of the OWS run - became more and more unruly, devolving into violence. Presumably, in pacific Sweden such behavior would not be tolerated.
The BBC write-up quotes a skeptic of the no boss model. His words rang a memory bell for me:
"Often infinite freedom … can be pretty disorientating. It doesn't always feel good, because you no longer know what you're supposed to do, what's important and you're bumping up against other people."
It reminded me when I was leading an effort to turn a hierarchy toward self-managing teams.
Perhaps crazily, I offered that my direct reports, some dozen or more, would no longer report to me directly - I became an unboss.
Some saw this as an opportunity to undermine the self-managing teams effort and to keep the hierarchy. They zealously worked at doing just that.
Some got it right. While I was no longer the immediate boss, I was someone to consult, to talk with, to bounce ideas off of, to seek help from to navigate through unknown waters. I was there to help.
A few were very uncomfortable with the model. They saw my withdrawal as leaving them adrift, not knowing quite what to do.
Had I to do it over, I would be much more explicit about my unboss role – leader, follower, coach. And, for that matter, I'd want to clarify their roles vis-à-vis me.
And I would have tried this approach only with team leaders who were the most promising unbosses; leaders who could step back and empower their teammates.
Just like my self-managing teams experiment, the No CEO model might be too extreme for many organizations. However, it does offer alternative ways of organizing and in its own way gives us insights about what leaders and followers do.
If you have effective leaders and followers, any model will work. If you have a mixed group of staff, some good, some not so good, the hierarchy may still be the best model.
I’d qualify that last statement, because in some cases the hierarchy causes dysfunction. Innovative people are shut down, problem solving becomes convoluted, etc.
So any effort toward less hierarchy, however inept, might benefit the organization and its clients in unexpected positive ways.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Lubans’ The Blackberry’s Thorns

Posted by jlubans on February 17, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)


A long time ago when trees and flowers spoke to man, it was not always wisdom they uttered. Usually, but not always.
Let us, on this spring-like day, follow a Farmer with his pruning shears into the blackberry thicket.
Have you ever heard such malevolent and spiteful muttering? Such tangy language? Well, not exactly tangy, unless you are among those that believe x-rated cursing is a sign of creativity and high intellect.
If you do, join in as the blackberry canes and thorns tear away, verbally and literally, at the Farmer while he prunes the winter’s deadwood.
Bloodied but unbowed, the Farmer seeks to sooth the blackberry; explaining that the dead canes will impede the blackberry’s flowering in the summer, but to no avail.
The blackberry canes see the growing pile and vow they will never give up – even pruned, they will strike and do harm, “You m---- f----- s. o. b.; you w-‘s son, you maggoty pile of s- ….”
Job done, the Farmer calmly balls up the canes (the canes and thorns cling to each other) and prods it out of the thicket into a brush pile for burning.

Don’t misuse your weapons or words, lest they be used against you.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Teamwork vs. Going-It-Alone

Posted by jlubans on February 14, 2017  •  Leave comment (2)

Caption: Tenting for Tickets.

I’ve written before about how many organizations emphasize
teams only to reward individual performance.
We profess working together but reward star performers. I’ve done it myself.
In teaching the Democratic Workplace, all about collaboration and how group effort can be more productive than soloing, I reverted to the traditional model of final exam to test for individual’s achievement.
Then, it dawned on me, Why not a group final? As my several workplace critics would complain - to think it is to do it for me – I asked the students, on the last day of class, if they wanted to take the test in groups and to accept the group score for their exam grade. They readily agreed.
An experiment, I’ve done this now three times and see no reason to stop. Here’s a quote from my blog about the group final:
“The results – the scores - were excellent - and should serve to drive home a central class notion that group work – when everyone is prepared to do their best – can often be superior to individual effort, to going it alone. These scores (on a scale of 10) seem to confirm this: 10.0, 9.5, and 9.3.
The previous three classes used a similar exam, with much greater variation among individual scores, ranging from lows in the 6’s to high 9’s.
And, I saw that the students learned from each other in coming up with answers. There was much animated discussion during the 50 questions final. And, given the course content and class objectives, the students saw for themselves that group work can be more effective than individual – on average - if everyone is prepared to bring their best.”
So, it was interesting to read in the Wall Street Journal of something like a group final occurring in the tent city erected for the big game between two rivals, the Duke Blue Devils and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.
Due to fanatic fans and limited seating for students – much more demand than supply - students have begun a self-monitoring tradition of tenting outside the arena, often for weeks, - in rain, snow and ice - to be sure to get into the big game.
Indeed, the tradition has become so entrenched; tenting has had to be limited to space available.
So, tent space is rationed by basketball trivia testing. Only those with the highest scores are allowed to put up their tents.
And, because not all seats in the student section are equal, they’ve added a second trivia quiz to determine the order in which the students enter the arena to take their seats – actually, the students never sit down - in the reserved student section.
Some groups are happy just to get in the building; others want to be as close to the sidelines as possible, as close to the action as they can get, providing a “6th Man” to the five players on the floor.
The WSJ elaborates about what sounds like a group final:
“One of the tents that did better (testing wise) had a simple plan. ‘All of us studied as much as we could possibly study,’ said Duke sophomore Rachel Sereix. When the exam began, her tent ripped apart pages to pass around and check each other’s work, and they turned in their answers at the last possible second.
Their strategy worked. They scored 86%—and Tent 5. They knew enough about Duke basketball to know in advance where they’ll be standing for the biggest game of the season: in the front row.”
So, all fun, but another example of how group effort – when shared among aspiring and committed team members can produce better results than going it alone.

Happy End Note: The Duke Blue Devils earned bragging rights over their Tobacco Road rivals inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 86-78.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017