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.


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

ON a beautiful summer day the Leaves of a tree whispered softly to the breezes; and as the shadows fell across the valley this was what they were saying, boasting of their luxuriant abundance:
"Is it not a fact that we are the pride of the whole valley?
Is it not due to us that this tree is so vigorous and wide-spreading, so stately and majestic?
What would it be without us?
Yes, indeed, we may well praise ourselves without vanity!
Do we not, by our cool shade, protect the shepherd and the traveller from the noonday heat?
Do we not, by our beauty, attract the shepherdess to come and dance here?
And from among us, both morning and evening, the nightingale sings; while as for you, gentle breezes, you hardly ever desert us."
"You might spare just a word of thanks to us," interrupted a faint voice from under ground.
"Who is it that has the audacity to call us to account?
Who are you who are talking down there beneath the grass?" the leaves retorted pertly, tossing disdainfully on the tree.
"We are they," came the reply from far down below, "who burrow here in the darkness to provide you with food.
Is it possible that you do not know us?
We are the Roots of the tree on which you flourish.
Go on rejoicing in your beauty!
But remember there is this difference between us that with every autumn the old Leaves die, and with every spring new Leaves are born; but if the Roots once perish neither you nor the tree can live at all."
As Krylov would have it, those of us on display – like the first leaves and blossoms of spring time – sometimes forget our “roots”.
Our amnesia may apply to former colleagues who gave us a hand up (we, of course, deserved it), or if we are leaders, the countless followers who did most of the work (it was, of course, our wise leadership that made things happen). Or, if we are an organization riding a wave of success, we should not forget the early days and predecessors when failure was just around the corner.
So, let’s hope the myopic leaves heed the wise words of the roots and be thankful for their days in the sun.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

The Introvert at Work

Posted by jlubans on July 14, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Perfect weather for Introverts. Illustration by Anete Konste and Reinis Pētersons, 2018.

A cartoon promotion about “I” (an Introverted Author from Latvia) at the London Book Fair got the attention of the BBC.
Christine Ro’s story builds on the “I” cartoons and posits that Latvia, while a serene kind of place, is a land of introverts with “a personality type that gets overstimulated easily and prefers solitude, quiet and reflection.”
Since I was born there and have lived and taught there for many months each year since 2010 I know a little about the people.
She’s right more than wrong, and I could go on about why but read her article for some interesting ideas on how Latvians got the way they are.
Do bear in mind all the Scandinavian and Baltic countries have similar taciturn tendencies, certainly far more than the Mediterranean countries.
But, I digress; what I found tantalizing was the notion that somehow Latvians are introverts because they are more creative than other peoples.
In other words, Ms. Ro implies introversion may “cause” creativity.
Indeed, it is but a skip and a jump to declare there’s a “link between creativity and a preference for solitude.”
Or is it the other way around?
You can see this is becoming circular so I will desist.
But before I do, here’s an interesting quote from the BBC article: “Latvian psychologists have suggested that creativity is important to Latvian self-identity.”
If that means what I think it means, then a search for solitude goes hand in hand with innovation.
I’d venture to say that introverts or extroverts are neither fully one nor the other. We are always a combination of the two; some of us with a bias toward introversion and others toward extroversion. Some of us may even slide along the continuum, situationally.
It is no easier for an introvert to be with people than it is for an extrovert to be left alone.
Getting back to the world of work, if creativity is something we desire in our workers, perhaps we should be looking for people with strong indications of introversion.
No, I am not suggesting the use of Myers-Briggs testing. The results, like signs of the zodiac, may make for perky party chatter (boring or not, depending on your MB score) but are not based on quantitative science. Tarot cards may get better results.
Anyway, I see myself in the “I” cartoons.
Extroversion just might be overrated. It all reminds me of what PG Wodehouse observed when invited to sit in with the scintillating and gregarious founding members of New York’s daily Algonquin Round Table.
“When do they work?”
Another writer, Anita Loos, echoed the same while demurring.
That’s the implied downside of extroversion.
One produces less because four hours of back and forth with one’s chums is not the equivalent of four hours solo at a typewriter.
Presumably, extroverts eschew solitude. One study, cited by Ro, had participants who chose electric shocks over being left alone in a room for 15 minutes!
If introverts are more creative than extroverts perhaps we need more of them in decision making.
So, as a gregarious leader, remember why some of the best answers toward a solution will come from your quietest staff. Introverts take time to reflect; extroverts may do less of it and, when asked to do so, find it bothersome saying, “Let’s move on!”
Don’t deny introverts the solitude to get their job done. Don’t force them onto committees for group work.
Accept what might be regarded – in a gregarious society – as anti-social behavior. It isn’t; it is the introvert’s way of working and coming up with solutions.
Don’t expect an introvert to lead or want any part of the latest office Karaoke outing.
Interestingly, outdoor team building sessions that include solo time and reflection may fly with the introverted set, but please no group hugs.
Of course, the extrovert may bring his or her smart phone along for any “down time” so find a venue off the grid.
In any case, as the leader, encourage and protect the quiet few. You won’t regret it.
PS. On my "To Read" list: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking”
It's by Susan Cain and came out in 2013.
PPS. Christine Ro offers more insights on the introversion—creativity link in her February 2018 article: “Why being a loner may be good for your


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© Copyright John Lubans 2018


Posted by jlubans on July 03, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)


ON a certain holiday a big crowd had gathered in front of the window of a rich man's home, and stared with open-mouthed wonder at a Squirrel running in the revolving wheel of its cage.
A Thrush, perched on a branch of a neighbouring tree, also wondered.
The Squirrel ran so fast that his feet seemed to twinkle, and his bushy tail spread itself straight out behind him.
"Dear old friend of my native woods," said the Thrush, "will you please tell me what on earth you are doing?"
"My dear fellow," replied the Squirrel, "I can hardly stop to talk, for I have to work hard all day. I am, in fact, the courier of a great nobleman, so that I can hardly stop to eat or drink or even to take breath."
And immediately the Squirrel began again, running faster than ever in its wheel.
"Yes," said the Thrush, as he flew away, "I can see plainly enough that you are running. But for all that, you are always there at the same window."
There are many busy-bodies in the world, always worrying, always rushing back and forth; every one wonders at them. They seem ready to jump out of their own skins; but in spite of it all, they make no more progress than does the Squirrel in his wheel.
Do you find yourself, from time to time, very busy doing unproductive work, running in circles?
Some of us recognize it and, unlike the squirrel, get off the revolving wheel.
In my field of work, one measure of a person’s effectiveness was the number of daily meetings attended. The more attended, the more “productive” the person.
But, even the most frequent meeting-goer would eventually stop and wonder about results. Are we doing better because of meetings, or are we revisiting the same issues without resolution?
Alas, instead of banning meetings, we’d tinker with the concept: focus the agenda, narrow down the participants, improve the documentation, etc. In other words, a better exercise wheel.
What dreadful things would happen if we eliminated meetings?

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
There are more interesting ideas in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

In Praise of Micromanagers

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


I mean they mean well, don’t they?
Like when a micromanager reviews all your work (decisions and correspondence) before you send it on, isn’t that Quality Control?
Or, when a micromanager reminds you of former mistakes, doesn’t that help?
Hardly, you say.
What about the long list of “What ifs” the micromanager made for your project. Wasn’t that helpful?
You say all those negatives diverted and stopped the project?
Few admit to being a micromanager. How often have you heard the refrain, “I'm not a micromanager...” all the while looking over your shoulder or creeping up on you to see what you are doing?
Surely, they must do some good?
Attention to detail. Yes, that is important. But, bogging down in the wrong details can make a mess of things.
Like the micromanager who waits at the door for the tardy.
Or when she monitors your personal use of phones and computers.
Hmm, this is not going well.
So, what do micromanagers want?
They want to be macromanagers. They want to let go.
They want an independent and innovative workforce.
They want you free to create, to explore other ways of working.
They want you to think for yourself and to behave in ways best for the organization.
But – and this is a big but - none of that can happen - they will tell you - until you (the worker being micromanaged) become responsible and show you can manage yourself.
Until then, the micromanager has no choice but to make decisions for you and to shepherd you through the workday.
You’re just not ready yet to be on your own.

Like these ideas? Read more in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
Or, if you are an environmentalist, get your public library to buy a copy.
© Copyright John Lubans 2018

The Stranger Hen: A Story for Humans

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


Caption: Henny alone in her new digs.

I’ve written of roosters and wild turkeys to illustrate human behavior, especially in the workplace. While humans display compassion more than most other subjects in the animal kingdom, there are times when we are less than compassionate in how we treat the less able or the strange.
I have another story.
This one is about how a stranger hen is treated by an established flock of chickens and their rooster.
Let’s call her Henny, like in Henny Penny,
A couple months ago, a friend dropped Henny off at my daughter’s farm.
The friend had too many chickens and was downsizing; the options were the freezer or a new home. The friend chose the latter much to Henny’s delight.
Since coming to her new home, I have seen a distinct disdain among the flock to welcoming Henny.
Indeed, the hostile behavior – if Henny gets close, one hen or another will rush at her - continues to this day.
The rooster is aloof, neither showing support or hostility. But, his passive behavior may actually be moderating the flock's behavior, which could be much worse.
Somehow Henny manages.
Henny is most often alone, out back of the farm buildings, scratching for food.
As you see from the photo she is neither henpecked nor malnourished, and I do not see her moping. She is clear-eyed and minds her own business. Yet, I wonder.
In the last few days I have seen something like a rapprochement, détente, or a peace treaty in the works. Maybe a thaw in the relationship. Henny's gotten within a foot of some hens without a flare up.
We’ll see.
Like the new kid in school, unless someone reaches out and befriends him or her, the new kid may get the cold shoulder or worse from classmates. Ditto for the workplace. Someone different may not be welcomed and unless a leader offers tacit or explicit support, those that dislike the stranger might make life miserable for that person.
Of course, there are leaders who want the newbie to show his/her mettle in dealing with unpleasant people. “Don’t come crying to me!” Is this leader’s unstated norm when bullying behaviors occur. Deal with it!
Henny is.
An effective leader’s role, like that of the rooster, may be to control the most negative behavior until a firmer relationship can be built; until strangeness becomes familiar.
In the meantime, I toss Henny a few scraps every day, out of sight of the other chickens.
Maybe a little human kindness will help.

Like these ideas? Read more in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Breaking It

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

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


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


Caption: Happy Days

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

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

The Comedies of Terence. And the Fables of Phædrus. Literally translated into English prose with notes, by Henry Thomas Riley. To which is added a metrical translation of Phædrus, by Christopher Smart. London: George Bell & Sons. 1887.
Like these weekly fables? Read more in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Power washing and the Book business

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

Caption: Worth a million views?

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2018


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

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

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

Like these weekly fables? Buy and read more in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Rain on the River

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


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

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

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018