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.



Lubans’ What the Wren Saw

Posted by jlubans on June 17, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: The roof rafters of the outdoor stage at Latvia’s annual Dobele Lilac Festival.

A little bird, a wren, swooped into the rafters of an outdoor stage.
It was during a wind and rain-swept outdoor concert. He perched and listened.
Now and then, he’d flit off but always to come back, seemingly enthralled by and curious about the beautiful music on such a cold and wet day.
Singers sang to listeners under dripping plastic capes and umbrellas on backless wooden benches.
A half dozen instrumentalist – more exposed than the singers - supplied, with gusto, the melodies for each song.
And, each song got an appreciative cheer with applause and foot stomping on the wet grass.
The curious wren took this in and marveled.
Most of all, he took to heart the enthusiasm of the musicians and the audience.
The wren resolved - instead of hunkering down in the cold rain - he’d sing his forest song evermore sweetly.
As a leader or follower, think of the wren in the rain.
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“A Lot Less In-fighting”

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

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Caption: Kurt Lewin, (1890—1947) German-American behavioralist.

A perennial question: What is the best way to lead a workplace?
Over 75 years ago, Kurt Lewin responded with some preliminary answers on which leadership style - democratic, autocratic (aggressive or passive) or laissez-faire – was most effective.
A recent WSJ video gives us a real world peek
at personal leadership styles among recent White House Chiefs of Staff (COS).
Given the fervid reporting (largely negative) on matters Trump, a COS must be ready to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” from all sides. I suspect this sort of nervy exposure adds clarity to how each COS goes about doing the job.
The current COS, Mick Mulvaney, appears to favor, the democratic model under which staff have some flexibility and responsibility commensurate with their jobs. He says his way of leading is a middle ground between the autocratic and the laissez-faire, neither heavy handed or hands off.
The autocratic COS was retired four-star Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly. Mr. Trump appointed him presumably in an attempt to impose order and discipline following a chaotic first several months of taking office.
Taking over from a laissez-faire COS the General decided what to do and when to do it, all under his close supervision. He turned what might be termed a freewheeling cowpunchers’ bunkhouse into a “militaristic Marine camp”.
Mr. Trump’s first COS, was the laissez-faire former Republican National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus.
His, as implied above, was a “wild, wild west” style, obviously with minimal supervision.
As we know from Lewin’s experiment these three types of leaders produce different results:
Individual expression was pronounced in democracy and negligible under autocracy. Lewin and his researchers concluded something all of us have observed in rigid hierarchies: “Autocracy kills individuality.”
Time on work: It should be noted that when the autocratic leader supervises, “the work proceeds as intensely as in the democratic. But, the product frequently shows a poorer quality.”
The lower quality of what is produced and that the work disintegrates when the autocratic boss is away suggests that the democratic way may well be more productive. Similarly, Lewin’s laissez-faire boss was pretty much “absent” and had the least production and lowest quality.
As one might suspect, infighting – flying elbows - was most pronounced under the laissez-faire and the autocratic models. Lewin found that aggressiveness and egocentric behavior was highest under an aggressive autocrat leader.
“Friendliness and we-feeling” was highest under the democratic leader.
Now, according to Mulvaney, “there is a lot less in-fighting.”
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© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Aesop’s THE ASTROLOGER*

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

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Caption: Illustration by Sophia Rosamund Praeger, (1908)

An astrologer, who was famed for his great learning and his knowledge of the stars, went out for a walk.
As he walked, all the time looking up at the sky, he said to himself, "Oh, how much wiser am I than most men!
All the secrets of the stars are known to me. I read them as other men read books.
What a fine thing it is to have brains, and how glad I am not to be stupid as some arel"
Thus speaking, he came to a well, but being far too busy praising his own cleverness to notice it, he tripped and fell in headlong, and there he had to stay until his servant, hearing his cries, came and pulled him out.
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I like this new translation and a new-to-me- illustrator, Sophia Rosamund Praeger.
Save us from the experts!
I remember how experts in my field of work would always tell me how to do a better job, but they hardly ever took their own advice!
Instead, as a manager, I turned for advice to the people doing the work. That resulted in many excellent ideas for improvement.
Social media, including television, is rife with experts on how others should believe and behave. Their view, shared by like-minded people, is the only legitimate one.
No wonder this skewed perspective, from time to time, leads them to stumble into ditches or to tumble into a well.
No worries!
The downed expert, like our astrologer, never really stumbles – if he appears to, he lands on his feet, so to speak. Treading water at the bottom of the well or on his back in a muddy ditch, he insists he now has an even better view.

*Source: Aesop's Fables by Lena Dalkeith
Aesop's Fables by Lena Dalkeith, with pictures by S. R. Praeger, published in 1908.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Getting Someone To Do What He Should Not Do

Posted by jlubans on June 05, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Sign in rubbish chute at a college dorm, 8th floor.

IF you find yourself, in the wee hours, stumbling around the hallways of this high-rise college dorm, you might be inspired (perhaps inflamed) by the prohibitions listed herein.
As most of us know, the way to get someone to do something is to tell him - I would use her, but somehow methinks this needs be limited only to us guys - NOT to do it.
And, in case the hammered HEs need additional guidance for mischief, we’ll list out the Do Nots!
We want to be abundantly clear!
Namely, “throwing lighted matches, cigars or cigarettes,
carpet sweepings, Naphthalene camphor balls or flakes,
floor scrapings, oil soaked rags,
empty paint cans (full cans are OK?),
aerosol containers, or explosive substances (NOW you’re talkin’!)
into this chute (as if you needed to know where)
is unlawful and subjects the offender to a penalty.”
A veritable Rabelaisian listing of fun stuff for the stoned student or any potted person.
No worries about the carpet sweepings and floor scrapings (too much like work) but the others, when assembled and combined, will make for a hilarious BOOM out the rooftop.
Like Br’er Rabbit’s wily pleading: “Oh, Br'er Fox, go ahead and drown me then, just so long as you don't throw me into that briar patch!” this sign no doubt achieves the opposite of its intent.
Who do you think wrote this sign? A committee? The legal counsel for the Student Affairs office? With the reference to mothballs, someone from the 50s?

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© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Aesop’s THE TWO FROGS

Posted by jlubans on June 01, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: The two on a stroll. Illustration by Ernest Henry Griset. 1884

Two Frogs were neighbors.
One lived in a marsh, where there was plenty of water, which frogs love: the other in a lane some distance away, where all the water to be had was that which lay in the ruts after rain.
The Marsh Frog warned his friend and pressed him to come and live with him in the marsh, for he would find his quarters there far more comfortable and—what was still more important—more safe.
But the other refused, saying that he could not bring himself to move from a place to which he had become accustomed.
A few days afterwards a heavy wagon came down the lane, and he was crushed to death under the wheels.
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And so it can be at work.

Why stay in an “accustomed” rut? Let me count the ways and whys.
Oh yes, the reasons to hang on (even when the ground is shaking from the approaching cart wheels) will be multitudinous. A list so long, no one in his or her right mind would leave.
Au contraire, mon ami, All you have to do is leave.
I admire anyone who concludes: “This is not working. I am gone." Adios amigo, goes the song.
Of course, you want to think about it, but don’t think too long. Pack your bags, buy that Greyhound ticket, and start fresh.
If life’s an adventure, aren’t you capable? Of course you are.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Hindu Fable, THE DEATH OF THE GREEDY JACKAL*

Posted by jlubans on May 25, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration by (from?) Sir Topaz the Cure-ate

ONCE in a town, called Happy Home, there lived a mighty Hunter, named Grim-Face.
One day, wishing a little fresh venison for dinner, he took his bow and arrows and went into the woods where he soon found and killed a Deer. As he was carrying the Deer home he came upon a wild Boar of huge size. Laying the Deer on the ground, he fixed and shot an arrow, wounding the Boar, which instantly rushed upon him with a roar louder than the roar of thunder, and ripped the Hunter open with his sharp tusks.
The Hunter fell like a tree cut down by the axe, and lay dead between the Boar and a Snake, which had also been killed and crushed under their feet as they fought.
Presently a Jackal, whose name was Howl-o'Nights, passed that way, prowling in search of food; and his eye fell upon the Hunter, the Deer, the Boar and the Snake, all lying dead together.
"Aha!" said Howl-o'Nights, "what luck! Good fortune can come, I see, as well as ill fortune.
Now let me think: the man will make fine pickings for a month; the Deer and the Boar, between them, will last me two months more; the Snake will do for to-morrow; and, as I am unusually hungry, I will treat myself now to this bit of strong-smelling bow-string."
So saying, the Jackal began to gnaw the sinew of which the bowstring was made.
Presently, the string snapped apart, and the bow sprang back and pierced the heart of greedy Howl-o'Nights.

_____________
Greed like blame abounds.
And, the corpses, a la the gangster movie genre, keep piling up (5 all told).
The ensemble – Grim-Face (Robert DeNiro?), the jackal (Al Pacino?), the trampled snake and the mortified Boar (Sylvester Stallone?)
The deer’s the only corpse that died with any dignity.
The greediest of the lot (Howl-o'Nights) gets the ultimate pungle.
For some reason, it all reminds me, of an inverted maxim, “For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost!
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail!”
So, for want of a bowstring, all have gone to perdition!
Better for Grim Face (or Bobby D) to have settled for the clean kill of the deer and kept on walking, like in Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Were Made for Walkin’.

*Source: Hitopadeqa. Book IV. Fable 7. Adapted from the translation by Sir Edwin Arnold included 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.

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And, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

“You have to have some amnesia”

Posted by jlubans on May 21, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: OSUs Aleah Goodman shoots over Duke’s Jade Williams.

It’s been almost two decades since I spent a season with a university’s women’s basketball team.
When I see sports media press releases, I usually scan and forget. A recent one was different.
Why? Well for one thing it included some seemingly candid and direct language.
It sounded authentic and sincere in spite of a touch of the inevitable, biz speak: “We need to commit to a culture of excellence. We have to buy into it.”
Most of the release was refreshingly frank and personal. Perhaps because we are dealing with confident youth, some of those candid words may have slipped out, but then those words stand alongside some straightforward language from the coach.
Interestingly, this coach was recently warned by her boss, the Athletic Director, about being too tough on her players – there’d been a bit of a players revolt during the last couple years. .
She’s kept the job, so I value her honest outspokenness in this interview.
Last year (2018/19) was not a good year, indeed the coach termed the 15 wins and 15 losses season, “very disappointing”.
I saw the team play at Oregon State University in December 2018; the Corvallis stadium was full and noisy – the Beavers have a huge following in Oregon - unlike the sedate and sparse crowds at some women’s basketball venues.
The Beavers won it, 71-57, because, a. they have very good players, b. excellent coaching and c. enthuastic fans.
Duke played pretty much like they did for the rest of the season, at times sloppy and inconsistent.
The press release is about largely one player, Jade Williams
The coach offers this: “(Jade) came to Duke tough. She can handle being coached. She wants to be coached. She will speak up. She wants to be the best player she can be. She’s sharp as a tack. She’s not sensitive.”
Remember that the coach was recently admonished for how some players were treated. I have to wonder if the criticism still rankles the coach.
Jade’s a player who understands being “coached” - which implicitly includes yelling - and knows not to take it personally. “She’s not sensitive” – in other words, Jade’s not a delicate flower, and may respond well to constructive criticism.
Another women’s coach (very successful in her field) told me she had to forewarn new recruits well ahead of the season about the yelling.
Most had never experienced it.
In their high school careers, each was a standout star. Each a potential prima donna.
So, getting yelled at can be more than off putting; a few will want to leave a program. Several schools court each of these players; all will promise a supportive “family environment”. It’s implicit, if the player selects their school, they’ll get special treatment.
Unfortunately, at this competitive college level with each team aspiring to win the national title, the coaching is intense, with raised voices and at times harsh feedback.
Williams seems to be catching on as to where she must grow to realize her potential on this team: “I need to play more mature… There’s no time to think about myself. Make a mistake but you have to move to the next play. You have to have some amnesia.”
And, the coach is looking to her to become a more vocal team leader. After all, this next season she will be veteran in her third season and expected to provide leadership for incoming new players.
According to Williams, “Leadership isn’t hard. Everyone can be a leader. I’m mostly lead-by-example but I can be more vocal.”
The coach stresses that she needs “to work on her delivery (to make sure the message is getting across)”
I hope Ms. Williams will get better and better – she’s giving herself some valuable advice and getting some of equal value from her coach.
Can she take it in, absorb it and apply it?
We’ll see. I’m optimistic.

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Fables for Leaders with zippy commentary are a click away:


And, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Hindu Fable: THE FOWLER AND THE PIGEONS*

Posted by jlubans on May 16, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration by Saheb Ram Tudu, 2011.

On the banks of the (Godavari River) there stood a large Silk-cotton-tree to which the birds came at night from all quarters to roost.
Now, on a certain night, when the moon was setting behind the western hills and the night was nearly over, a Fowler came and spread his net under the Silk-cotton-tree, scattered a few grains of rice on the ground, and hid himself at a short distance.
At this moment the King of the Pigeons, named Speckle-Neck, chanced to be passing through the sky with his companions, and caught sight of the grains of rice.
Now, all Pigeons are very fond of rice. Nevertheless, the King of the Pigeons said to his companions:
"How is it possible for rice to be lying on the ground in this un-traveiled forest?
We will inquire into this, of course, but we do not like the look of it. Love of rice may lead to our ruin. We must be very careful."
"Oh, it's all very well to talk of being careful!" rejoined a young
and foolish Pigeon.
"Being too careful may cost us a good dinner."
At this all the Pigeons flew down to feast upon the rice, and were
promptly caught in the net.
Immediately they all began to blame the young Pigeon whose thoughtlessness had led them into trouble.
But when King Speckle-Neck heard their reproaches he said:
"Do not let us quarrel and blame one another; but let us work together and find some remedy.
Listen and I will tell you what to do:
At one and the same moment and with one purpose we must all rise up under the net and fly off together, net and all.
For even small things have great strength when they work together.
Even a furious Elephant can be bound with ropes of twisted grass if there are enough of them."
Upon considering this advice the other Pigeons thought it good, and decided to follow it.
Accordingly, all together at the same moment they flew upward and bore away the net with them.
The Fowler, who was still hiding at a distance, followed them for a time; but presently the Pigeons and the net passed out of sight, and he had to give up the chase.
______________
While they are on a roll, let’s hope a wee mousie comes by and gnaws through the net, freeing the pigeons.
An unusually rich fable, it displays foolish “group think”, ignored wisdom and then, wisdom embraced, and, finally, a lesson on cooperation learned for another day – we hope.
In the workplace or just about anywhere, ignoring something simply too good to be true is a human condition; it is ever with us.
When we want something so badly we can taste it, out the window flies our natural wariness.
Why, unlike these pigeons who realize their folly, some people won’t give up their group think conviction until the “Fowler” drops them into the boiling water.

*Source: Hitopadeqa. Book IV. Fable 7. Adapted from the translation by Sir Edwin Arnold included 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.

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More Fables for Leaders are a wee click away:


And, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Last Gasp*: How Annual Performance Appraisal Keeps on, Keepin’ on.

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

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The BBC offers us the latest on performance appraisal (PA): it is “…extremely costly and ha(s) no impact on productivity”.
Overall, “A soul-crushing enterprise.”
Echoes of W. E. Deming! You may recall his frank assessment:
“(PA) builds fear, demolishes teamwork… leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, and dejected.”
And yet, here we are at the end of the second decade of the second millennium, and some 80% of companies still use formal performance appraisal.
In justification, they trot out the usual HR excuses: appraisals “aren’t all bad.”
And, PA provides “a macro-view of performance and engagement levels across the company”. To whom? I have to ask. What exactly is a “macro-view”? And, can you get it only by filling out a form with a required six signatures?
My experience with PA is hardly unique. In keeping with the pervasive negative workplace view, my organization’s efforts at PA were self-serving, skewed, politicized and so dreadedly ritualistic they had nothing to do with organizational effectiveness.
All too often, bean counter-type managers like pointing to someone’s numerical ranking as a way to justify how the bean counter treats that worker or the BCs myopic view of worker motivation; always external.
If PA is shown to have no impact on productivity, the pro-PA manager always wants more.
If a 20-point scale produces mediocre results, hell, a 40 pointer will do much better! Dream on.
In my halcyon days I eliminated PA entirely for five years. In my direct-report departments (some 100 staff), productivity skyrocketed.
I, of course, was out on the floor, talking to people daily, bouncing around ideas, fielding questions as to how things were going and what needed changing.
One of the most belabored excuses for PA is that it makes compulsory a manager’s having an annual “conversation” with his or her reports.
IOW, normally, they would not talk with their staff! You’ve heard it: “If you don’t hear from me, that means you’re doing OK.”
Maybe the folks in the corner office need to find out why any manager has to be forced to have those conversations.
In HR eyes, this mandatory conversation is essential so that companies are not “vulnerable to lawsuits if they don’t have a (documented) way to justify decisions.”
Eliminating formal performance appraisal allows more time for employee advising, coaching and disciplining. "No PA" gives a supervisor and an employee more time to talk about what really matters.
In my case, if guidance was needed, they got it. I could have done better on the discipline end but still most people – the “mighty middle” - continued to do a good to very good job and some were liberated.
Our “No PA” approach let the liberated do bigger and better things. And a few did, becoming star performers.
Alas, my halcyon days came to an end and PA came back with boots on. It still is goin’ on, long after I’d “left the building”.
Innovation was replaced by “tradition” (the hierarchy). Tradition requires PA along with other top-down, tidy organizational controls.
If you are thinking of dropping PA, what will you do with the hundreds, if not thousands, of gained prime time hours?
Want a boost in productivity and job satisfaction? Dump PA.

*See my:
The Not-So-Big-Dance: Performance Appraisal

Zombie Performance Appraisal
And for a bit of humor on an un-fun topic:
Innovative Performance Evaluation, the Beer Wheel

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My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Phaedrus' THE ASS AND THE LYRE*

Posted by jlubans on May 08, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Carving from Romanesque Church Aulnay-de-Saintonge, 12th c.


How Genius is often wasted through Misfortune.
An Ass espied a Lyre lying in a meadow: he approached and tried the strings with his hoof; they sounded at his touch.
“By my faith, a pretty thing,” said he; “it happens unfortunately that I am not skilled in the art.
If any person of greater skill had found it, he might have charmed my ears with divine notes.”

_____________
An ass playing a musical instrument? While the ass in the fable appreciates his limits (hooves not fingers) he still enjoys the lyre’s melodic notes.
Some have this as a fable which describes improbabilities. An ass is as likely to play a harp as is a goat to bleet out an operatic aria.
I am less sure about that take.
It seems to me that this fable is about anyone’s appreciation of someone else’s creation.
I cannot paint a picture, yet I know what I like when I see a artist’s work. I can’t do art, but I can certainly voice my approval or disapproval.
And so it can be at work.
I may not know how to do some arcane accounting routine, but I sure can praise a spread sheet that answers my questions.
Or, I can explain that I need more information and in a certain format.


*Source: THE COMEDIES OF TERENCE AND THE FABLES OF PHÆDRUS.
TRANSLATED By HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A.
TO WHICH IS ADDED A METRICAL TRANSLATION OF PHÆDRUS,
By CHRISTOPHER SMART.
LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS, 1887.

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My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019