“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.

A "Deferred Maintenance" Metaphor

Posted by jlubans on July 25, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: BEFORE – Note the screening overgrown shrubbery.

Caption: AFTER – Spruced up, landscaped and a restored. Photo by author, July 2017.

Across the street from where we live in Riga, Latvia is the campus of the First Riga Hospital (est. 1803).
In 2011, when I had my Fulbright to teach at the University of Latvia, the main building looked pretty much like in the BEFORE picture. I walked past that visually impenetrable fence daily to catch my bus for where I teach.
This June, I was amazed to see that under the unkempt jungle was a beautifully rendered fence matching the Art Nouveau architectural style of the main building.
The fence was once again a thing of beauty anchored in rose colored granite, the first level was again revealed with a small apron of lawn setting off the curving drive, and the building soared from ground to tiled and turreted roof.
I was taken with the contrast. This sudden Cinderella transformation of what had been a grim, unwelcoming building suggested to me what can happen in some organizations. We become depressed by decades of inaction, decades of postponed decisions, decades of waiting for additional funding to get us to where we want to be - a deferred maintenance of the organization’s spirit, not just the physical facility.
While lack of money can inhibit service provision, often, if we have the will, we can make low cost improvements. Those remarkable improvements at the Riga First Hospital came about by clearing away some of the undergrowth, cleaning and restoring the high quality stone, brick and metal, and painting the fence – opening up the view from outside and, importantly, from within.
That sort of dramatic improvement can often be done within existing resources – it’s a matter of implementing a plan to get the most benefit for the organization’s workers, its clients, and how its community perception.
I recall doing something like this when we took a step-by-step reduction and elimination of backlogged materials in a large research library. As we chipped away steadily, there was a perceptible freeing up of the organizational spirit, a realization that we could do it, that we were not bound to a perverse pride of achievement in having a large backlog.
Instead we tackled it, brought it under control and within a few years eliminated it.
Our leader at the time termed those backlogs an albatross, choking the organization, impeding its progress, and stifling innovation because we had to cope with this growing jungle of unfinished work. He was right.
Most rewarding of all was that we did it with existing staff and resources. That achievement encouraged many in the organization to take on additional challenges and not settle for second or third best.
As we streamlined and freed up staff from routines, we were then able to move that extra staff to other parts of the organization, specifically service points for students and faculty.
For the next several years what had been a stodgy organization gained a sense of urgency, became vibrant, full of innovation, and gained additional support from the parent organization.

Caption. Close up of the restored fence on the pinkish granite stone. Photo by author.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($3.99) and a soft cover book, ($24.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.
Update. The book has been printed as a Riga edition of 30, numbered copies. Ten have been given to friends and libraries in Latvia. The balance will be sent to review media in the USA.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable: DIY.

Posted by jlubans on July 20, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

What fable can you develop from the above photo taken a few days ago in Vermanes Garden Park in Riga, Latvia?
If you look closely, on the stone lion’s haunch sits a swallow. Is it like Latvian proverb: “We have rowed well,’ said the flea as the fishing boat arrived at its mooring.” Or does something else come to mind?

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover book, ($23.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

“A Captain Since Kindergarten”, Part 2*

Posted by jlubans on July 16, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Latvia’s Castle of Light A-building, July 2013. Photo by author.

For one sports writer, it is not the super stars but the captains – often not the best players - who create and sustain the greatest teams. Sam Walker, the author of “The Seven Leadership Secrets of Great Team Captains”, elaborates:
“(The teams) all had just one shared characteristic: Their long streaks of dominance either began or ended—and in many cases overlapped precisely—with the tenure of one player. And in every case, this player was … the captain.”
Boiled down, Walker’s captains exhibit these qualities:
Work hard,
Break rules when necessary,
Are pragmatic in speech,
Lead by doing,
Think for themselves,
Are relentless in pursuit of goals, and
Exercise emotional self-control.
How does this relate to Director Andris Vilks of the National Library of Latvia (LBN)?
Of course, the captaincy metaphor is inspired by Andris himself – that’s his quote in the title.
He told me: “I was not the best player, some were smarter, more knowledgeable. I liked to play; so (it was) important to be on field with other players, so I don’t want to be a coach. I want to be on the field and to play”
Being captain, “I took on responsibility for the team.” And that meant normalizing the team through “demonstrating your enthusiasm” to others. It takes an attitude, “I never like losing”, and “I never give up.”
Andris refers to the library as a team (of 400) of which he is the captain, “All (staff and friends) are members of this huge team - formal and informal.“
“A lion”
The building’s 20-year journey from inception to completion – all under Vilks’ guidance – reveals some of the best captain qualities; independent thinking, tenacity in pursuing a mission and a pragmatic approach in convincing others.
Mara Saule of the University of Vermont (USA), who consulted on the construction of the LBN, told me:
“Early on, the concept for a new National Library of Latvia building was little more than a grand idea …. In becoming a reality, it faced a skeptical public and political resistance over many years and through many changes in government. Nonetheless, Andris pushed on as a tireless and persistent warrior …. Thanks to Andris’ steadfast advocacy and relentless focus on the goal, the National Library now rises above the Daugava as a testament to the adage that no mountain is too high.”
At the building’s grand opening in August of 2014 - amidst Latvia’s elite, including the President and invited guests - the building’s architect Gunnar Birkerts termed Andris, a “lauva”, a lion!
Think for Self / Lead by Doing
In 1989, when he was promoted to the directorship of the National Library Andris was aware of the ten or more “informers” – his word - in the library. Informing, including to the secret police, was a common practice during Soviet times, widely feared and expected. **
Informers received intangible and tangible rewards from the ruling/enforcing culture.
So, on his first day as director he told each of the ten to never come to him with gossip or “information”. This action made clear to everyone this practice was over and done with; it was not going to continue under his leadership.
He was able to do this, he believes, because by 1989 he was well respected (protected) in many quarters for his knowledge and work in the profession; and, because this was the period of “glasnost” and “perestroika” a time of frank and open discussion to restructure the Soviet Union.
Indeed, Latvia regained its second independence on August 21, 1991. Still there was risk; hard-core communists inside Latvia and Russia wanted to crush, literally, any national independence-seeking movements. Had the communists prevailed, Andris would have been fast-tracked to Siberia or worse after secret imprisonment, a Torquemada-style "interview", and a forced confession.
Now, many years later, he still avoids the “whisperers” and people trying to share a secret. “If I feel a negative vibration (at work), I talk directly with the people involved - I do not go around collecting opinions from people - If something is wrong I try to intervene directly or delegate to the person in charge of the involved unit.”
Rule Breaking / Team Building
In the transition in the 90s from communism to democracy, many people were forced by economic hard times to leave the library, to look for gainful employment elsewhere.
Andris had to make a choice as to how he was going to re-build: Try to recruit trained staff from other organizations or to “grow our own”. Andris opted for the latter, “to invest in young people, that is my idea.”
Doing so came with a price. “It was prohibited to pay study fees (for staff) – but we did it. (I was penalized) for paying fees for our young staff. Almost everyone (of this group) is still working here ….”
A staff member told me that the LBNs organizational climate is supportive of staff – in other words, Andris’ idea to “grow our own” prevails. There is “not close supervision, mistakes can be made, (and) experimentation is possible”. That open atmosphere has made LBN a magnet for people from other less-open organizations, “If you have a better way at LBN, do it. You can enact….”
“A grizzly”
I asked Andris how the staff regards him. He told me, frankly, “Only an idiot thinks he is ideal.”
“Sometimes I would be happy if I were more patient – my reaction is not always best. I become too angry, not a teddy bear, sometimes a grizzly.”
However, he is “very fast to forgive, but it (his temper) is a weakness; manager should always control behavior. On other hand they know exactly what I think.” His predecessor told him: ‘Everything is seen on your face’.“
However, for him, a poker face is worse than not showing emotion. A neutral face is only important when you “try to solve conflict between two people. Both sides should understand you want to help” resolve the matter (and do not have preconceived opinions).
The most difficult situation for a leader is when his or her assessment is “very different from what your people think of you – then you are in trouble.”
Andris also ventured that he hopes, when asked, the staff would say that one of his qualities is that of “bringing together”.
“No one is hung”
Andris explained how LBN decisions are made. Decision-making is an important part of what he does, “All day I am spending in decision making.”
“A basic rule, always get the other side of discussion.”
“Consensus in important”; normally the most difficult decisions are made by top management. However, he always asks – “Who will it touch?” and those people are consulted about the decision prior to its being made. “Decisions should involve those who must execute the decision.” Failing to involve those people may lead to a poor outcome. Involving people can be the difference between leadership and dictatorship.
“I like horizontal decision-making – so am sure to include several departments (on problem solving groups”.
“If policy is already clear, then lower levels can make decisions”.
“No one is hung” for making a bad decision.
“Punishment is not the main idea”; “I am more concerned with a bad decision being repeated”; only then we might need to take corrective action.
“We analyze the decision; right or wrong. The decision may not be wrong, it may be different.”
“We should realize and analyze wrong decisions carefully; there may be another rationale and I may need to rethink.”
“I need to understand if the decision is conceptually different or if the wrong approach has been taken or the decision maker lacks confidence.
“Sometimes a “wrong” decision reflects a different – perhaps better - concept and we can accept it.”
He tries to convince managers that “humans are not robots, they may not behave always the way you think or do or want.”

Author’s note: I asked Andris to read a final draft of this essay. Prior to posting, I wanted to make sure I had not misinterpreted his answers to my questions. Not hearing from him after a few days, I asked him over lunch if he'd read the draft and did I need to make any changes? His response, with a touch of embarrassment: “Too many superlatives.”
I would add that Self-effacement is yet another’s best captain’s trait.
While multi-lingual, Andris is most comfortable speaking in Latvian; so my abbreviated English quotes (from my written notes) are but an attempt to epitomize his way of leading.
My personal takeaway is that Andris cares deeply about the individual. If someone strays from the organization’s path, I think Andris would tackle the perceived problem early on, face to face, and not delay or avoid. As he told me, the “best way (is) to just talk with someone.”
He would candidly explain to the person what he was observing and then listen to the individual’s response. I can well imagine a discussion - not a condemnation - leading to a mutually respectful and considerate resolution.

Next, Part 3: After attaining the pinnacle of the new library building, is the job done?

* My essay on Andris Vilks is in three phases: Formation, Application, and Future.
Part 1 was about the shaping of his leadership and focused on influences from childhood to the beginning of his career.
Today’s essay, part 2, is about how those early influences shape his actions and leadership.
**Background: Latvia was made into a Soviet satellite under a secret Nazi and Communist agreement prior to WWII. Inexplicably, the Yalta conference, with America’s ailing President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, England’s Winston Churchill and Russia’s Joseph Stalin, upheld this secret pact and continued the enslavement of several million people in the Baltic countries, not to mention other nations subordinated to the communist way.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($23.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Krylov’s “THE PEASANT AND THE SHEEP”*

Posted by jlubans on July 13, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Exculpatory evidence. (Photo by M. Volpone)

“A PEASANT summoned a Sheep into court, charging the poor thing with a criminal offence.
The judge was—the Fox.
The case got into full swing immediately.
Plaintiff and defendant were equally adjured to state, point by point, and without both speaking at once, how the affair took place, and in what their proofs consisted.
Says the Peasant: ‘On such and such a day, I missed two of my fowls early in the morning. Nothing was left of them but bones and feathers. And no one had been in the yard but the Sheep.’
Then the Sheep depones that it was fast asleep all the night in question; and it calls all its neighbours to testify that they had never known it guilty either of theft or of any roguery ; and, besides this, it states that it never touches flesh-meat.
Here is the Fox's decision, word for word :
‘The explanation of the Sheep cannot under any circumstances be accepted.
For all rogues are notoriously clever at concealing their real designs; and it appears manifest, on due inquiry, that on the aforesaid night the Sheep was not separated from the fowls; and fowls are exceedingly savoury, and opportunity favoured it.
Therefore I decide, according to my conscience, that it is impossible that the Sheep could have forborne to eat the fowls; and accordingly the Sheep shall be put to death, and its carcase shall be given to the court, and its fleece shall be taken by the plaintiff.’"

And so it can be at work, when the decision-maker betrays the wronged, the unjustly accused. The Sheep’s fate awaits any person threatening the norms of an organization filled with like-minded dodginess and a shortage of accountability; a certainty for groupthink and the exclusion of opposing ideas.
Groupthink is the realm of the Yes-man; when the dominant culture wants its way, the Yesser acquiesces; he or she nods in approval.
For an independent thinker this is “like being caught behind enemy lines.”
I recall at a meeting with a government agency being met with stony silence and bureaucratic glares when I asked, un-sheepishly, for five consecutive years of production statistics; the agency’s foxy custom was to provide only the immediate year’s statistics, all the while assuring us, their clients, the agency was understaffed and overworked, etc.
As I soon learned, the foxes were in charge of this “court”.
I never did get those statistics. My peers, what did they do? Not much since many shared the self-serving notion that business models could not be applied to our kind of work; it was beyond measurement; our alleged “Quality” could not be quantified!
They were content with getting the “fleece” and the agency’s keeping the “carcase.”
In the meantime, our clients – the people we served - could wait.

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

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover book, ($23.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Lubans’ Seymour and The Gluten Policeman (George Ade* in the Age of Alt.)

Posted by jlubans on July 06, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Not Gluten free

At an alternative-to-Christmas fest, our hero - Seymour by name - came face to face with the forces of Gluten-free. The alt.fest featured carol singing on timely topics like Rudolf-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer losing his way in the smog and acid rain short-circuiting his “very shiny nose”.
Attendees were each asked to bring a dish to share, a la church potluck suppers of yore.
A Newbie, and a latecomer, Seymour missed out on the dinner gong.
Be quick or be hungry, as they say. Well, not exactly hungry if settling for desiccated bean dip of Dubious Background or a Costco container of Organic Hummus scraps, or, the ubiquitous tray of Grape tomatoes and Carrot/Celery sticks fill you up.
But, if lucky, there might be a cornucopia of Dunkin’ Donuts donut holes spilling out of the DD box.
Seymour took a Little of this and a Little of that all the while eyeballing the options.
Aha! He spied the Gluten-Free table – a hanging sign stated so - along the back wall. Things looked promising; definitely more than potato chip crumbs.
So, ever the forager, he moseyed on over. Almost there, a middle aged man – the Gluten-Free Enforcer (GFE) it turned out - bustled up and scanned the Gluten Scraps on Seymour’s plate.
In sententious tones, the GFE told Seymour he could not bring That Plate anywhere near the Gluten-Free table.
Fazed but unrelenting, Seymour assured the GFE he was only Looking and not to worry; just then, out of the corner of his eye, Seymour noted a latecomer slipping past to drop off a heaping plate of cookies and donuts, gluten-free.
So, quickly backtracking into the Gluten Safe Space, Seymour Surreptitiously Stashed his dismal plate of Gluten Grub behind an unsuspecting Jacaranda.
Pivoting, he accelerated back into the Gluten-Free zone. The GFE, on the qui vive, looked askance, as if Seymour were trailing streams of gluten molecules.
When Seymour’s hand closed on a Gluten-Free donut, the GFE came alongside and queried, “Have you washed your hands since handling glutinous products?”
Seymour lied. “Of course” (It sounded more like “Ow Gorse”) as he wolfed down a donut. Alas, not particularly tasty, the flavor peculiar to a Paper Product.
Hmmm, thought Seymour, Maybe these alt.eats were not quite the same as Ye Olde church suppers of Baked Beans and Strawberry Shortcake.
Daunted, he meandered over to a group engaged in rhythmic Self-Expression.
Moral: Always Pack a Pizza in the trunk of your Smart Electric, space permitting.

*More on George Ade.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($23.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Lubans’ The Rude Old Man

Posted by jlubans on June 29, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Mr. Rude by Roger Hargreaves (1935 – 1988).*

There once lived a grumpy old man, known and avoided by large and small.
Neither troll nor ogre, just plain rude.
On the village bus, if he spotted a small child sitting in a seat for the elderly, he’d churlishly order her, with a jerk of his thumb, out of the seat.
Technically in the “right”, he’d growl and grimace instead of smiling and kindly stating what he wanted.
If a dog ogled him and wagged its tail in hopes of a treat, Fido would be disappointed with what he got: a boot to the butt.
Jupiter, high on Mt. Olympus, saw all this and smiled. The rude old man was more than fair game.
From now on every rude act would be reciprocated with rudeness. We’ll see how he likes it!
After punting a small child off the walking path into the bushes, the old man found himself sprawled on the ground, bumped into the dirt by a speeding bicyclist.
The kid he'd kicked into the shrubs chortled gleefully.
On his way to catch the bus, he slammed the building’s front door in a neighbor’s face, making her put down a child and a shopping bag in order to get out her key.
Just as our churl reached the bus, it pulled away. – the driver grinned in the mirror and flipped him the bird.
At the library, he drove the clerk to tears with his unreasonable demands to take for himself a book reserved for another reader.
Then, flustered at the grocery store, the staff blew off his inquiry as to the location of something he needed. It was as if he were invisible.
Until, a young woman appeared out of nowhere and asked in a kind voice, “Can I help you?” She smiled like an angel and said, “I know this market, tell me what you are looking for.”
Bemused and bewildered by her kindness, he told her and she led him right to the item's unlikely location.
Normally, he would have cursed the store manager for egregious (a favorite word) stupidity, instead he turned to thank his guide, but she was nowhere to be found; as she had appeared so she disappeared.
Hmmm, he thought long and hard.
On the bus home, he gave up his seat to a young mother and child, our preux chevalier!

Moral. Kindness may not always beget kindness but rudeness will get you a Jovian kick in the pants.

*Mr. Hargreaves elaborates: “Mr. Rude always wears a black hat.
He has said some very mean things in the past.
Once he did make dinner for Mr. Happy, and they are now friends.”

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($27.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

The One Tune Manager

Posted by jlubans on June 25, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Yes, Just Play One Tune More.

Once I was a manager of several branches of an organization. One of the branches was less dependent on the central organization than were the others. It – let’s call it the “Lone Branch” - had its own personnel budget but did depend on “Central” for some services.
In any case, I included the Lone Branch in my “dossier”, if one were supercilious enough to call it that.
It was my custom to visit each branch monthly. These meetings were scheduled and usually lasted an hour.
Initially, everyone seemed to like the idea. As a branch it was easy to feel isolated; my showing up on a regular basis was a link to Central, a reminder that they were not alone. After a few years most of these meetings began to feel routine, like a drill. They’d evolved into a duty, like visiting an uncongenial aunt in a far away town just because you’re passing through.
So, one day when my boss and I were talking he remarked how the head of the Lone Branch really liked my monthly visits! He had told my boss, that I “played him like a fine violin” – he was giving me credit for being respectful, diplomatic and insightful without being intrusive, without trying to impose Central’s controls on his bailiwick.
My boss was impressed since the head of the Lone Branch was a long time personal and professional friend.
But, that pat on the back gave me pause. Why? Because it dawned on me I was a one-tune manager. I did not adjust my style, my manner, and my approach to any of these half dozen or so personalities. I’d arrive, we’d talk and then I would depart. If there were issues for me to address, I would get on it. Usually there was not much more to do.
Dare I say it? These meetings were boring. I began to wonder Why meet? The meetings had become fairly one-sided (the branch head telling me what was happening) and never asking me for advice or ideas.
Of course, I accept some of the blame, at least half.
Still, I had productive and satisfying scheduled meetings with some department heads? Upon reflection, those successful meetings were a matter of personality and like-mindedness – we all agreed upon and wanted change and were willing to do more than our share. And, we trusted each other. Trust.
Yes, I should have done something. I could have asked myself: Why is this meeting so dull? Why is this person telling me things he/she thinks I want to hear? Why is she not including me in idea generation? Why is he not asking me for my ideas?
I could have included the branch head in these reflections. I could have changed the tone of those meetings, but did not know enough on how to do that.
Alas, a one-tune manager.
How then to improve one’s repertoire?
When I interviewed the head coach of a women’s basketball team – a team that would become one of the best in the nation – she told me (confirmed by the players) she tailored her coaching to each of the players. A few needed more encouragement, needed more advice, needed more direction, needed to be reminded about sharing the ball more; a few needed discipline. Of course, these players thrived on this feedback, they wanted it. I mention this since without reciprocated interest, it becomes all the more difficult to have an honest back and forth.
Well you get the idea, or do you?
My coming in and listening attentively was only part of the good meeting equation.
I should have been much clearer about what I wanted from these meetings. If I resented being treated like a visiting dignitary, I should have said so.
When in college in Pennsylvania I had a summer job in the Officers’ Club on a nearby military base. At least once each summer the supervising general came for an inspection – always announced, never a surprise. A few days ahead, the base binged on cleaning, painting, sprucing-up and repairing.
Any signs and evidence of slackness, unpreparedness were remedied or swept under the rug.
I recall hauling to an off-base freezer the technically illegal “aged steak” sides of beef from the Officers’ Club. Since many of the officers relished old steak, the club manager made sure it was out of sight. Once the general left, we’d haul back the sides of beef.
Maybe a few of my direct reports were hiding the “aged steak” whenever I came to visit. Then again, maybe there was nothing to hide.
Meetings (one-on-one or groups) are work, hard work. The more we engage the HOW, the quality of our meetings, the better they’ll be.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($3.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Wolf And The Lamb”*

Posted by jlubans on June 22, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustrations by Richard Heighway, 1894

“WOLF, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the Wolf’s right to eat him.
He thus addressed him: ‘Sirrah, last year you grossly insulted me.’ ‘Indeed,’ bleated the Lamb in a mournful tone of voice, ‘I was not then born.’
Then said the Wolf, ‘You feed in my pasture.’ ‘No, good sir,’ replied the Lamb, ‘I have not yet tasted grass.’
Again said the Wolf, ‘You drink of my well.’ ‘No,’ exclaimed the Lamb, ‘I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother’s milk is both food and drink to me.’
Upon which the Wolf seized him and ate him up, saying, ‘Well! I won’t remain supperless, even though you refute every one of my imputations.’”

“The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.”
Or as another moralist has it more aptly for humans, “If you have made up your mind to hang your dog, any rope will do for the purpose.”
When you have “strayed from the flock”, as any good independent thinking follower will do from time to time, the fuss budget boss will see a justification to foreclose on your career.
It is not for nothing the research shows that really good workers – creative, pro-active, independent-minded – are punished about half of the time.
So, stray not from your flock?
No, stray away but be aware that your independence (and good ideas and good performance) will bring envy as often as praise. Be prepared to leave; have a packed suitcase under the bed.
Alas, our little lamb had no recourse.
In the workplace we often get second chances elsewhere; don’t forgo them.

*Source: FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop’s fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at the Gutenberg Project.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Krylov’s “THE CUCKOO AND THE COCK”*

Posted by jlubans on June 15, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Soviet Postcard (1956) for Krylov fable.

“’HOW proudly and sonorously you sing, my dear
‘But you, dear Cuckoo, my light, how smoothly flows
your long-drawn-out note! There is no such singer in all
the rest of our forest.’
‘To you, my dear gossip, I could listen for ever.’
‘And as for you, my beauty, I swear that, when you are
silent, I scarcely know how to wait till you begin again.
Where do you get such a voice from? so clear, so soft, and
so high ! But no doubt you were always like that; not
very large in stature, but in song a regular nightingale.’
‘Thanks, gossip. As for you, I declare, on my conscience,
you sing better than the birds in the garden of Eden. For
a proof of this, I appeal to public opinion.’
At this moment a Sparrow, which had overheard their
conversation, said to them,
‘You may go on praising one another till you are hoarse,
my friends; but your music is utterly worthless.’

Why was it that, not being afraid to sin, the Cuckoo
praised the Cock? Simply because the Cock praised the
Beware the Mutual Admiration Society. Avoid its close cousin, Group-Think.
Similarly, associate not with those who despise each other, who have no respect for nor can hear what the other is saying; they only hear themselves.
And, always, protect the Sparrow, the endangered Speaker of Truth.

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

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($8.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). The print book, pictured, will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017


Posted by jlubans on June 12, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Mr. Burns, the quintessential Theory X Leader, preparing to motivate Mr. Simpson.

There’s a freebie question on the final exam for my class, The Democratic Workplace:
“UNLESS I AM CLOSELY SUPERVISED I WILL work less and/or make less effort.”
True False
Of course, there is no correct answer.
Some need to be supervised to do a good job. Others may not; he or she may be hindered by and resentful towards close supervision.
If the student really believes he or she needs minimal supervision, then does this self-motivation apply to other people or is the student somehow unique, an outlier?
Since the final is a team exam (BTW, the group scores were 99, 97, 92 and 87) each group had to answer this. All answered False to this question. Good. I say that because it had to be a group decision, so the individual saw that he was not unique in wanting freedom at work.
I find this relevant to a recent BBC article on motivation,
The right and wrong ways to motivate your colleagues.
It features several bromides and admonitions: “Do you use the carrot or the stick? Using threats and fear to motivate workers is often a recipe for disaster”
The article also uses a straw argument or two. For one, there’s GE’s “rank and yank“ performance evaluation system that purged the bottom 10% of each annual ranking.
While widely condemned, that system may have been instrumental in increasing the value of GE stock by billions of dollars. Perhaps fear was used to trim the organization and from there it could do a better job. Faults aside, the BBC story provides interesting insights into motivation and how it is viewed currently in organizations. For example, here is a research reference which suggests my taking a group approach to finals may not be a total crackpot idea: “One study found workers who believed they were completing a task as part of a team solved more problems, had more recall of what they learned, and worked 48% longer.” Why the difference vs. going solo?
Of course I have been known to mutter about motivation, like I did in “Born or Made?” and in “Motivation; An Eternal Question.
Here’s a relevant note from my 2013 essay: “When teaching library management in the USA I give students a one page, ten question, self-test on theory X and theory Y. (In brief, theory X managers supervise closely, while theory Y managers are more hands-off.)
Each student takes this test twice, once for how he supervises (or would supervise) and once again for how the student wants to be supervised. After scoring the two tests, the students arrange themselves around the room by their scores. There’s usually a wide distribution from extreme X to extreme Y but more often then not the Xs have it.
Then, I ask the students to rearrange themselves by the score for how they want to be supervised. There’s usually a total shift to the theory Y side of the room. Those with a strong theory X inclination in supervising others find themselves wondering, “Why am I the boss that I would not want?” Emphasis added. The BBC article echoes this:
“Become a role model by understanding how you want to be managed,” he says. “Once you understand how you want to be managed, you can apply it to others.”
My major take-away from the BBC article: “You don’t become a leader because of your position, …. You become a leader because people want to follow you.” The title on the door only goes so far. Eventually, if you are to be an effective leader, you must align workers with what you and your organizations wants and what values it professes, what challenges it wants addressed.
The more correlation between leader and followers the better the organization will be and the better the leadership.
How do you do that? Not by memo. You have to explain and model the vision and why it matters. And, then you have to explain it again until everyone understands it (including yourself!). Once internalized, self-motivation can kick in and external efforts at motivation become irrelevant.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($8.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). The print book, pictured, will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017