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.

Caxton’s Of the Bee and of Iupiter

Posted by jlubans on February 13, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption:Only $20 per bottle.from the Fableist Wine Co.

Now the euyl which men wysshe to other /
cometh to hym whiche wyssheth hit /
as hit appiereth by this fable /
of a Bee whiche offred and gaf to Iupyter a pyece of hony / wherof Iupyter was moche Ioyous /
And thenne Iupyter sayd to the bee /
demaunde of me what thow wylt /
and I shalle graunte and gyue hit to the gladly /
And thenne the Bee prayd hym in this manere /
God almyghty I pray the that thow wylt gyue to me and graunte /
that who so euer shal come for to take awey my hony /
yf I pryke hym /
he may sondenly deye /
And by cause that Iupyter loued the humayn lygnage he sayd to the Bee /
Suffyse the /
that who so euer shalle goo to take thy hony /
yf thow pryke or stynge hym /
Incontynent thow shalt deye /
And thus her prayer was tourned to her grete dommage /
For men ought not to demaunde of god /
but suche thynges that ben good and honest

I wrote about a "different version of this fable in 2013 but the moral was similar: “Evil wishes, like fowls, come home to roost.”
Yet, the bee remains as mankind’s “greatest friend” among the insects. Bees gives us not only honey (and all of its curative properties) they pollinate our fruits and vegetables. If a bee is cranky, leave it be.
Give it some space, don’t crowd it. If she lands on you, let her explore. She will only buzz a bit and then be off.
She may fly back to the hive and do her waggle dance, advising other bees not to bother with you; you are neither sweet nor suitable for a swarm.
As for this fable’s point, pray, if you must, for what is good and honest not something to injure others. Still true to this day.

* Source: The fables of Aesop, as first printed by William Caxton in 1484, with those of Avian, Alfonso and Poggio, now again edited and induced by Joseph Jacobs
by Aesop; Caxton, William, ca. 1422-1491; Jacobs, Joseph, 1854-1916

“You Know Your Leadership!”

Posted by jlubans on February 02, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “You know your history.”

Our Cretan guide, it appeared had had a few too many pints, the night before, of the villainous national wine, retsina.
When explaining an archeological site in the fiercely bright Aegean sun, I’d see her wince and then take a short cut with “Oh well, you know your history” and hurry us along to the next site only to get another truncated history lesson.
It’s how I feel at times when I try to explain what I teach in my class, Leadership and Literature. If I am not misinterpreting, the listener’s eyes glaze over all too quickly as I delve into how I entwine the two notions and theories.
Sensing this, I cut it short with “Well, you know your leadership.”
Yes, you do.
We all hold some ideas – however loose and paradoxical – about leadership. Hundreds of books come out each year trying to define and proselytize a particular theory.
There’s the weighty tome used at one of the service academies re what great thinkers have to say about the topic. I crack it open now and then and marvel at the variety and the multiple definitions. Indeed, it is another doorstopper Norton anthology just like the ones I had to buy and scan in literature classes.
Frankly, the definite book on leadership has yet to be written. Yet, like pornography, we all know it when we see it. Or, maybe better, we know when it is absent, when it fails, when it goes AWOL. Isn’t organizational failure almost always attributed to poor leadership?
There are formulas, there are lists. There are even unlists, e.g. mine for the unboss..
Then there’s ye olde POSDCORB, aka L. Gulick’s “Functions of the Executive”.

POSDCORB, the predominant model of what passes as leadership in 95% of our organizations neither implies nor intends any leadership. Rather, it is a preternaturally careful and cautious way of running a business. While the organization's strategic plan may espouse a "disruptive" or transformational leadership, in reality such activity is despised and repelled - it is why "Change is hard."
Some time ago a trio of authors in my profession enumerated leaderly characteristics, at least 150 of them! The checklist reminded me of the requirement for a Boy/Girl Scout Merit badge.
Brief or lengthy, at best we only have a slippery grasp of any handle on the topic.
One theory works well in one place and fails in another. For example, there were a variety of leaders at California’s now near bankrupt energy company, PGE. Much of the blame for the recent plague of forest fires has been fixed on PGE failures. The PGE leaders ranged from the authoritarian to the collaborative yet failed to stop the disasters. The leaders probably would argue they were never allowed to lead, always interfered with by outside forces, like politicians and other vested interests that sought to control PGE budgets.
We do know something: without followers there is no leadership. Jalen Hurts, a young athlete, said most insightfully, “People let you lead.” If you have it to go with followers respond.
These overheated political times have come up with a bizarre pairing.
The WSJ article, “The People We Admire Most: Obamas and Trumps” declares that Barack Obama and Donald Trump are tied this year as Gallup’s most admired man. It makes clear that leadership is personal, individual; not everyone will agree; indeed leadership is in the eye of the beholder.
Some of our allegiance to a leader is whether we like or not like that person. Clearly the Gallup Poll’s outcome shows how people can hold one leader in esteem and another in contempt: yet, overall, it’s a split vote.
The split suggests just how difficult it is to define leadership. It is unlikely that the two presidents share the same admirable qualities. Perhaps one might say those qualities are miles apart or are interpreted along a continuum rather than as an on or off switch.
Because of this complexity and the lack of any definitive law of leadership, my class makes use of literary and other artistic interpretations of leaders, followers and leadership. While I do allude to the various theories, literary insights help explain the seemingly ineffable.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on February 01, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


TWO Flies, determining to change
their country, and abroad to range,
In order novel sights to see.
Explained their project to a Bee.
⁠To her they stated
Their friend. Sir Parrot, had related
Of foreign parts such wondrous things.
They were resolved to use their wings.
There surely was no great temptation
Longer to stay in this dull nation,
Where everything was cold and dingy.
And folks grew every day more stingy!
"They grudge us e'en the smallest sup;
From us poor Flies they cover up
Both meat and drink; and fence, alas!
Their fruits of every kind with glass.
So are we treated by the wealthy.
⁠And 'mongst the poor fare scarcely better.
Since Spiders there, our foes so stealthy,
⁠Weave treacherous webs, our wings to fetter."
"Well, friends," the home-spun Bee replied,
"'Tis not for
me your scheme to chide,
If you on travelling are bent.
For my part, I am quite content
Here to remain. Folks praise my Honey;
And though it is not always sunny
In this our clime, here is our hive;
And we to earn our food contrive—
Nay, all considered, really thrive.
We have our labours to attend to,
And know that those we ought to bend to;
While folk like you go where you list
And certainly will not be missed.
It matters not where you're abiders,—
None profit by you, save the Spiders."
The bee’s straight talk to make the most of it, if heeded, might result in the flies staying put. Their deal in life is not all that bad but for spiders and rolled up newspapers.
Then again, they may tell the bee to buzz off, they want to see for themselves – make their own mistakes - just how green the grass is on the other side.
Are there not people who will give you bad advice because they are jealous of your opportunity?
Maybe the flies will luck out and pick a happier environment, say a city landfill, in which to gorge to bursting but no dainty webs their “wings to fetter”.
An eternal question what might have been had I made a different decision? What might have been.
You know, the road not taken.
Worse is to live an unquestioned life, accepting what we’re handed and not making our own way. Go along to get along.
In my dotage, it feels like the more a person decides what he or she will do the better the outcome, yea or nay.
There are life decisions best taken not imposed or entrapped.

*Source: Krilov, Fables. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine In Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.)

*HALF OFF* Leap Year Sale. Get a 50% discount by ordering through Book Baby at this link.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

The Secretary

Posted by jlubans on January 22, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

I was thinking lofty thoughts.
It was by way of composing a tribute to the secretaries in my career.
All but one or two of a dozen were highly talented and capable people.
While I can still name several that I worked with – WITH was the operative word – two stand out. They were not only a great help to me – they made me look good. Both went on to advanced positions, one in law and one in higher education administration.
They balanced multiple demands never dimming their innate brightness, their calmness – their serenity. How did they make me look good?
Obviously, all their work was done in a professional way. Remember I began my career pre-internet, even pre-word processor.
Paper correspondence, including memoranda to staff – was typed from my handwritten drafts, put into envelopes and mailed out with carbon copies filed in long rows of upright file cabinets.
Pre-email, I had a large amount of professional and academic correspondence via surface mail and phone. And in my case as a quasi faculty member, there was research report preparation and distribution along with manuscript prep for publication.
One of the two was a graduate of a Manhattan secretarial school and knew how my office should appear to visitors. I had the most professional looking office on campus – everything was just so – no clutter. I yet remember the philodendron spreading gracefully across the credenza behind my desk; and, remarkably for an academic, my desktop gleaming proudly in its barrenness.
The appearance of efficiency was not imaginary, my work product really was efficient and of high quality thanks to my secretaries.
More importantly, while I was not very conscious of it, I am sure they guided me away from doing something stupid. I always felt like they were in my corner. Never, I believe, did they betray me nor align with negative factions. We were friends, good friends.
As I was reflecting on these two, along came a relevant, yet bittersweet, WSJ article: “The Vanishing Executive Assistant.
It describes how times have changed for this group of workers, mostly women. Technology has reduced the ranks of administrative assistants, executive assistants and secretaries. DIY - do it yourself – is now the norm for most managers when it comes to travel arrangements, communication and meeting scheduling.
The article explores how the secretarial path is no longer an entryway into the organization. It had been that once you got your foot in the door as a secretary, a young woman - often without a college degree - could demonstrate her talents and likely move up in the organization.
That door is now closed.
Recently I heard from a woman working for my financial adviser, a male. He is based in Portland, OR and his assistant called me from an office in Denver, CO where she lives and works. The WSJ notes this is a trend – no longer is one’s assistant nearby. Rather she (or he) may be far away and while they may appear to be dedicated to the one adviser, they are in fact handling scheduling duties for as “few” as 7 managers to as many as 70.
Indeed the workload is so dryly detailed, wearisome and task-oriented that there’s little opportunity for individual growth and movement. There’s no opportunity to shine.
No doubt the company has good economic reasons for this, but it can never be the same as the positive camaraderie that developed between assistant and boss from day to day contact. The camaraderie was apparent to visitors and to subordinates; it helped personalize work interactions.
For me, these assistants were exceptional people and it was highly positive that the organization provided this entry into the workforce.
Like my two, many young women have excelled as assistants and then gone on to higher careers.
Forlornly, the gains in technology have left behind a large number of people who could bring much to the organization.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Los Cabritos and Two Fables

Posted by jlubans on January 19, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

This pastel by M. McAllister hanging in the pool area of my Todos Santos hotel (The Hotelito) reminded me of two fables.
(No, it wasn’t the tequila.)
I saw Aesop’s The Kid and the Wolf and also his THE WOLF AND HIS SHADOW.
In the close up we’ve got three goats, two on a staircase, with one goat casting a mighty shadow. Like Aesop’s wolf, he is overly proud of his magnificence.
The cabrito on the right is eyeing the goat below, and talking trash out of the side of his mouth, like the Kid on the roof of a house bragging and ragging at a wolf.
Not to be outdone, I can hear the targeted goat, retaliating with an “Oh, yeah! Come on down and I’ll show you something.”
Are there more fables in this picture? Let me know.
Aesop made good use of goats and saw in them our human frailties and other shortcomings.
© Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on January 06, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Bad King John: more interested in hunting than governing.

There was once a certain King who did nothing but tyrannise over his people, ruining the rich and maltreating the poor, so that all his subjects, day and night, implored deliverance from his evil rule.
One day, returning from the chase, he called his people together and said, " Good people, I know that during my whole reign I have been a hard and tyrannical master to you, but I assure you that from henceforward you shall live in peace and at ease, and nobody shall dare to oppress you."
The people were overjoyed at this good news, and forbore to pray for the King's death as formerly.
In a word, this Prince made such an alteration in his conduct that he gained the name of "The Just," and every one began to bless the felicity of his reign.
One day one of his courtiers presumed to ask him the reason of so sudden and remarkable a change, and the King replied:
"As I rode hunting the other day, I saw a dog in pursuit of a fox, and when he had overtaken him he bit of one of his feet; however, the fox, lame as he was, managed to escape into a hole.
The dog, not being able to get him out, left him there ; but he had hardly gone a hundred paces, when a man threw a great stone at him and cracked his skull.
At the same instant the man met a horse that trod on his foot and lamed him forever; and soon after the horse's foot stuck so fast between two stones that he broke his leg in trying to get it out.
Then said I to myself, ' Men are used as they use others. Whosoever does that which he ought not to do, receives that which he is not willing to receive.'”
Most remarkable is the king’s decision to announce he was changing his ways.
Imagine any politician doing that? No, I am not talking about the phony contrition, apology, etc while the promised change never happens.
I speak of a sincere commitment to the golden rule and to listen and to work for the people.
Kind John, depicted, was termed a Bad King because he preferred hunting to governing.
So, a step toward self-government, not necessarily a bad thing. Like the frogs who wanted a king who truly would “govern” them, got what they wanted and then some: a frog-munching stork.
I recall one boss who was so full of idea – many good ones - I was happy, nevertheless, when he stayed away from the office – I finally got time to do my own work!

*Source: Aesop's fables by Aesop; Griset, Ernest Henry, 1844-1907
London ; New York : Cassell, Petter, and Galpin 1874

© Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on December 24, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Griset’s own illustration for this fable.

A Wolf peeping into a hut where a company of Shepherds were regaling themselves on a leg of mutton, exclaimed, "What a clamour these fellows would have raised if they had caught me at such a banquet!"
Men, forsooth, are apt to condemn in others what they practice themselves without scruple.
In Victorian times illustrated books of fables were popular Christmas gifts.
Caption: Griset's merry end illustration for his fables book.

Griset, a French born English artist, capitalized on this trend with his own book.
Why did Griset draw a raffish wolf and dissolute shepherds? What is his message?
Do not the shepherds have a “right” to feast on one of their flock or are they filching from an absent owner’s “inventory”?
If the latter, then are they not as bad as the wolf running off with the goods?
The morale may be apt. I may well engage in objectionable behavior which I rationalize as appropriate yet condemn in others.
Aesop speaks to this in his Jupiter and the Two Sacks fable. We each wear two sacks – one visibly on the front of other’s people’s faults and a sack on the back – out of sight - full of our own failings.

*Source: Aesop's fables by Aesop; Griset, Ernest Henry, 1844-1907
London ; New York : Cassell, Petter, and Galpin 1874

© Copyright John Lubans 2019


Posted by jlubans on December 13, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Heading headlong into disaster.

A CERTAIN Snake had two Heads, one in the usual place and the other at the tip of his tail.
But while the Head that he had in the usual place was provided with a pair of good eyes, the Head at the end of his tail was blind.
Now there was a constant quarrel between these two Heads, for each of them claimed to be the more powerful Head, and to have mastery over the other.
Now, it was the custom of the Snake as he roamed around, to go with his real Head foremost.
But on one occasion the Head at the end of the Snake's tail seized hold of a wooden stake with its jaws, and by holding on firmly prevented the Snake from going further.
This convinced the Snake that the Head in his tail must be more powerful than the other Head, since it had got the best of the struggle.
Accordingly, from this time on, the Snake roamed about with his blind Head foremost ; and so presently he fell into a pit full of burning rubbish, being unable to see where he was going, and was thus burned to death.
Now, I am usu
ally an advocate for leadership coming from all directions, not just the top down. I even wrote a book about it: Leading from the Middle.
In this fable, the snake’s tail is different from the head; it's blind.
Likely, sightlessness (absence of a vision) can lead to disaster. Instead of collaborating, these two ends are in opposition.
How often did I find myself in a splintered and contentious leadership?
Often enough.
It was not fatal, like slithering into a rubbish fire, but we did not get the job done; the organization did not improve.
The blind tail is a prototypical example of the "alienated follower" theory. While an independent thinker an alienated follower disagrees with the leader’s vision and seeks to undermine, to sabotage, to derail.
The alienated follower – stubborn and consumed with envy - prefers the status quo to striving to achieve something better.

*Source: Katha-Sarit-Sagara. Book X, Chapter 63, to be found in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

“Whatever they tell me.”

Posted by jlubans on December 09, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Of Parkinson’s Law and Marquet’s Flashlight*.

Two books I’ve been perusing lately, one a classic and the other a more recent application of leadership theory; both have links to the seas. The classic is by the naval historian, Parkinson, and the other is by L. David Marquet, a nuclear submarine commander. His book, “Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders” juxtapositions neatly with C. Northcote Parkinson’s 1961 essay, “Parkinson's Law, or The Pursuit of Progress”.
Parkinson pointed out – much to the everlasting chagrin of bureaucrats the world over - that while between the world wars the number of navy ships decreased by two thirds, and (ship) personnel by a third, the number of bureaucrats ballooned approximately by 6% a year.
With fewer people and less work to manage – management was still expanding.
Parkinson concluded that this was due to two influences:
Managers hired two or more subordinates to report to them so that neither was in direct competition with the manager. (I would add that “keeping up with the Joneses” is also a driver.
Jake, a unit head, sees that Jill, a competing manager, has added a staffer. Immediately, Jake wants one and goes all out to add a budget line.)
And, secondly, Parkinson claimed that bureaucrats create work for other bureaucrats. It is here where his Law of work expanding to fit available time comes in. With little real work to do, the newly minted bureaucrat spends time, a lot of it, on making work for others and reviewing that work.
And, of course, the new bureaucrat will be burdened – he will soon tell you – by interminable meetings, signing off on forms and records, approval of paperwork coming from below and going on up, and in assuring compliance with the many rules and regulations promulgated by his bureaucratic counter parts.
All this and more displaces trust in the people doing real work and shifts decision-making authority to upper levels.
Perhaps someone has disproved what Parkinson found. Maybe they have shown that all those extra office workers during peacetime in the British Navy were adding genuine value.
When I spoke with my peers about Parkinson’s findings, they’d chuckle over Parkinson’s humor but they never applied it to themselves – besides it was about the British Navy, not about their exalted work!
And so it goes.
The two books are linked.
Parkinson observed how bureaucracies grew (even absent real work) and Marquet’s book provides a good example of what can go wrong in a multi-layered, top down, bureaucracy.
If you take away an employee’s authority and freedom to do his work, you enervate the employee and befuddle the organization.
Marquet, taking over a demoralized submarine of 135 sailors, found that top down decision-making was the ship’s dominant culture.
Individual initiative was not encouraged. Early in his command, when he asked a sailor, “What do you do?” the response was, “Whatever they tell me.”
Santa Fe’s sailors had learned that waiting to be told was “safer” than going ahead and fixing something – initiative would result in discipline for not following the rules, not getting permission or bypassing the chain of command.
Marquet has made a second career out of his experiences leading the Santa Fe. Aside from his book, he consults for organizations.
I am sure they are mystified when he says Taoist-sounding things like “I practiced less leadership, resulting in more leadership at every level of the command.”
Or, when he says, Don’t “Make inefficient processes efficient” vs. Do “Eliminate entire steps and processes that don’t add value.”
One last quote sure to lead to sputtering conniption fits among old salts and landlubber managers: Don’t “Take control vs. Do "Give control.”
While I practiced much of what Marquet proposes I did it mostly on intuition. I was convinced early on that freeing responsible and capable people would make positive things happen. Like Marquet, we quickly harvested the low hanging fruit that my top down predecessors could not or would not see.
Marquet explains – in detail – his reasoning for his way of leading. I look back now some 25 years, and his rationale makes plenty of sense.
I wish I had had Marquet’s courage and ability to listen to negative views about his leadership and his ability to explain what it was he was doing.
His openness brought along many of the doubters in his command.
Marquet succeeded at turning his ship around. In the Pacific command the Santa Fe gained excellent morale and scored at the highest levels in all the indicators of a battle ready crew and ship. He’d pretty much defeated the negative attitude evident in the “Whatever they tell me to do” way of thinking.

*When Marquet took over command he asked for a flashlight. He needed it to look into the nooks and crannies of the nuclear submarine.
None of the flashlights provided worked, either too dim or broken. He got a new flashlight, one as “bright as the sun”. It worked well in illuminating not only equipment failures but also the failures of a leader-follower model, the hierarchy, which was stifling innovation and independence. Others under his command soon began carrying working flashlights.

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And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019


Posted by jlubans on November 22, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)


Lunch figures prominently in at least three workplace proverbs:
Never Eat Lunch Alone
There’s No Free Lunch
Always Pay for Your Own Lunch
Those three, in order, touch on Career Advancement, Microeconomics, and Ethical Behavior
Why never eat lunch alone?
It’s an adage I share with my management students when we talk about budgeting.
You want to know the budget officer and his staff so that you have a beneficial relationship. So that you are not a stranger or an unknown who’s budget can be reduced with impunity. Relationships are built - over time - through social interaction and lunch is a daily opportunity for that.
Career wise, the proverb speaks to networking. As a leader you will need to build coalitions of people who think of you positively and who help you with finalizing ideas. When opportunities come up, they’ll promote your name. When you become an unfair target for dismissal or demotion they’ll defend you.
Most important of all, when you have plans for improving the organization they will support your ideas.
What then does a congenital introvert do? Eating lunch alone was for me getting away from the madding crowd. Lunch on that park bench was when I recharged and reflected; I enjoyed the time to myself. Yet, there is such a thing as being too self-reliant, too willing to go solo.
Well, were I back in the corporate saddle; I would just have to build relationships better than I did.
Maybe I’d set up an informal support group to help me in figuring out to whom I should be reaching out to get to know them better.
Some, clinically or cynically, assess every meal as an opportunity for self-advancement. Better is to build relationships so that you understand your organization and that more people get to know who you are.
What’s the meaning of “There’s No Free Lunch”?
Of course, we know this is a microeconomic principle that implies that whenever someone gives you something for “free” there is an implied expectation that you will reciprocate. Or, for that matter, the lunch never was free. The free lunch provider is covering costs and expects you – while you are gorging – to spend your nickel on other items. The expectation is always there.
It’s the “loss leader” in a store. You come in for the half price item and wind up with other items at double price. So, something given to you for free is never free because of the expectation that you will return the favor, even if it is something as intangible as the emotional “feel good” on the part of the giver or the goodwill engendered by the gift.
The lovely custom of lagniappe in New Orleans may be an exception.
Why should you Always Pay for your Own Lunch?
Linked to no free lunch, some people insist on this to avoid the appearance of being obligated or influenced.
If you pay your own way, no one can say your support for a policy or a product has somehow been bought; that you have received something in payment for your support.
A boss whom I respected very much lived this rule. He never let someone else pick up his check. Doing so, he remained independent and objective about what the other person was promoting. He knew full well that a lobbyist – however bonhomious - treating him to a $75 lunch was getting close to a bribe,
Now this can go too far, but then perhaps I am being naive. A professional group I belonged to worked with a sole provider of an important service. We were all not-for- profits as was the provider. Our group would convene twice a year in distant cities and for many years the sole provider treated us to a feast at a top-notch eatery.
One of our group, when she became chair, stopped this practice for appearance’s sake. Henceforth, and unhappily, we each paid for our own meals.
My colleague was concerned about the ethical implication of our taking “gifts” from the sole provider. For her, it didn’t look good.
Others, including myself, said something like, “Don’t be stupid, we’re not that well paid and why make a fuss about a tiny perk like a free dinner?”
She prevailed, probably for the better.
Certainly, when there’s a re-payment expectation (like in some cases, a male’s buying his date her dinner in hopes of more than a handshake at evening’s end) picking up your own check is a way to avoid any implied obligation (or grappling on the front doorstep).
Well then, what of friendships, professional and personal? What if one friend pays for another with no expectations beyond friendship?
What if you are someone’s “guest”? Is it then impossible to be anyone’s guest without some implied obligation or dependency? It seems to me there are circumstances, where one should be a guest and not worry about some erosion in independence.
When one goes to a friend’s house for dinner does your $14 bottle of wine somehow compensate for the friend’s cost of the meal? Maybe the meal costs less than the bottle of wine. Is your friend/host then obligated to give you something extra?
Finally, and I mean finally, if lunch has become the highpoint of your day - regardless of who’s buying - that may be an indicator of being plateau-ed and you ought to be thinking of ways to rejuvenate your career.

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And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019