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.



Krylov’s THE EAGLE AND THE SPIDER*

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

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Caption: Teacher Mary Blow’s illustration from Scholastic.


AN Eagle had soared above
the clouds to the highest peak of a mountain range, and perching upon an ancient cedar, admired the landscape spread out below. It seemed as though the boundaries of the whole world could be seen from that height.
"Heaven be praised," said the Eagle, "for giving me such powers of flight, that there is no mountain too high for me to reach. I am now looking down upon the beauties of the world from a point which no other living creature has ever reached!"
"What a boaster you are," observed a Spider from a near-by twig. "Where I am sitting isn't so far below you, is it, friend Eagle?"
The Eagle glanced upward. True enough, the Spider was busily spinning its web from a twig above his head.
"However did you reach this height?" asked the Eagle. "Weak and wingless, as you are, how did you ever crawl way up here?"
"Why, I fastened myself unto you," returned the Spider. "You yourself brought me from down below clinging to your tail feathers. But now that I am so high up in the world I can get along very well by myself, without your help. So you needn't put on any airs with me. For I want to tell you that—"
At this moment a sudden gust of wind swept by, and brushed the Spider, web and all, back again into the depths of the valley from which it had come.
___________
Sometimes riding another’s coattails might not be the best way to get to where you think you deserve to be.
If getting there is all you want, then relax; you’ve made it. Unless this height turns our to be - as it does for the spider and countless others in the hierarchy – your “level of incompetence”.
If you have an overweening ambition, as they say, then you had better have the resources to survive and thrive like the eagle in his home.
The eagle sees clearly from far away, she illuminates and is illuminated in the easterly sunshine of springtime.
Do you, the coattail rider, want to be inspired? From the mountain’s peak, will you inspire others?

*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

Democracy in the Workplace

Posted by jlubans on August 10, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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In this blog’s never ending pursuit – like Superman – of “Truth, Justice and the American Way” – we note a couple interesting articles from the Wall Street Journal:
In “Yes, Ordinary Citizens Can Decide Complex Issues” James Fishkin elaborates on his application of “deliberative polling” to problem-solve community and national problems.
Working with “representative panels of the populace have helped choose energy policy in Texas, constitutional amendments in Mongolia, and other issues in 28 countries.”
Similar to the “Future Search” process, Deliberative Polling does appear to be a way to involve normal citizens in decision making and to find good solutions to difficult problems.
However, so-called experts lurking in the background may be helping a bit too much to shape the problem, discussion and selection of “answers”. We just can’t fully trust the regular “Joe” or “Jill”, can we?
The notion of including all types of workers in making decisions about an organization’s future is nothing new.
However, much of the discussion on why we should involve workers has been largely anecdotal and theoretical.
Now we have a large study to contradict the all too easy option of limiting innovation to elites or experts.
In “Why Innovation Is a Team Sport” Janaki Chadha reports on a new study’s conclusion “that companies where more people said they felt their ideas were sought out and valued tended to yield more revenue growth and employee productivity.”
The finding comes from a survey of a half million employees at nearly 800 companies. Companies found to be less welcoming and inclusive of ideas from all employees had poorer growth prospects.
For further reading on this fascinating topic of workplace democracy consider my essays on democratic bees, town hall meetings in Vermont and the old timey mustering process to select leaders (find these via the blog index).
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Krylov’s THE ASS AND JUPITER*

Posted by jlubans on August 02, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Balaam’s Ass enduring one of three beatings.

WHEN Jupiter stocked the universe with the various tribes of animals, the Ass, among others, came into the world.
But, either purposely or from an accident owing to the press of work at such a busy time, (Jupiter) made a sad mistake, and the Ass came out of its mould no larger than a squirrel.
Scarcely any one ever took any notice of the Ass, although the Ass yielded to no one in pride.
The Ass was much inclined towards boasting. But what was it to boast of?
With such a puny stature, it was ashamed to show itself in the world.
So our conceited Ass went to Jupiter, and began to pray for a larger stature.
"Have pity on me !" it cried : "how can I bear this misery? Lions, panthers, elephants, all obtain honour everywhere, and, from the highest to the lowest, everyone goes on talking about them only. Why have you treated Asses so unkindly that they never obtain any honour, and not a word is ever spoken about them by any one?
But, if I were only as big as a calf, I would lower the pride of the lions and panthers, and all the world would be talking about me."
Every day our Ass continued to sing this same song to Jupiter, and bothered him so that at last he granted its request, and the Ass became a big beast.
But, besides this, it acquired such a savage voice that our long-eared Hercules dismayed the whole forest.
"Whatever is that brute? What family does it belong to? It has very long teeth, anyhow, hasn't it? and no end of horns!"
At last, nothing else was talked about besides the Ass.
But how did it all end ? Before the year was out, everyone had discovered what the Ass really was.”
Our Ass became proverbial for stupidity, and, ever since that time. Asses have been beasts of burden.

Noble birth and high office are excellent things; but how can they profit a man whose soul is ignoble?
____________
Surely, not all asses,
two legged or four, are of an ignoble soul.
I am reminded of Balaam’s Ass - the biblical talking donkey -
who disobeys his master and saves him (and the Hebrews) from destruction.
The Ass serves as a metaphor of the best kind of follower in the first chapter of my book, “Leading from the Middle”.
What’s the best kind of follower? The one that tells you the truth, especially the truth you do not want to hear.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
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Or, you can buy a copy at AMAZON.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

The 3-Speed Bike

Posted by jlubans on July 30, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: My Raleigh was silver gray.

Many years ago, I had a 3-speed bike. You know, low, middle and high. I pedaled to work and back, rain or shine, and used it on campus as part of my job as a branch manager.
While a 3-speeder in the Rocky Mountains town of Boulder, Colorado was not up to mountain bike standards, it got me where I needed to be and even up some of the in-town foothills.
The wind in my face was hardly a friend – rather like a large invisible fist impeding my progress.
On my back, the wind was my BFF. I’d spread out my arms and the wind would hurtle me home, pell mell.
Now, years later in Salem, Oregon, I have a gee-whiz new 24-speed bike.
My favorite trail is more flat than not; It’s a forested flood plain island in the Willamette River.
There are a few elevations where I gear down, enough to reduce my pedaling effort.
Of the 24 options, I probably use 8; there’s no need for more. That’s hardly unique in this technologically over-enhanced age; like my dishwasher with its "top rack only" setting, my bike has unused features.
I have to ask, like with so much of technology, do we really need all the “enhancements”?
Or, do the improvements just complicate life? As I type this on my Mac Book, I know there are dozens of unused applications just waiting to be released like so many geniis in bottles.
Siri, a Pandora wallflower in my side bar, must be disconsolate. I have yet to ask her for the meaning of life.
But, back to my now using more than double the speeds I had in Colorado.
Is life better?
Maybe. I can peddle more easily when confronting gravity, when my aching legs signal my brain to let up. Do I get to where I want to be? Yes. But, if “life is a journey, not a destination” how am I doing?
In the lowest gear, my pedals move rapidly but my wheels advance very little, inches instead of meters. Am I making progress standing in place?
Of a sort.
With 3 speeds, I’d have to work harder, maybe even build up a sweat, but I’d be moving at a more rapid pace and further along.
With 24 speeds, my planning ahead is different. In the old days, downhill, I’d peddle furiously to get a big boost uphill; now I just click and click and click until I make it to the top of the hill, inching along.
Is it better to work hard and get the job done, or can we maximize technology and minimize personal effort?
It is illusionary to think there’s no difference in the quality of my old ride to the new one. No question, I put out more personal effort on the 3-speed and I had a greater sense of accomplishment than when I click through 8 gears.
Are there comparables in the workplace? When in the face of resistance, do we gear down or up?
Do you give in to gravity’s pull (the workplace’s inertia) or do you ratchet up your efforts and push through?
Do you use all 24 gears – all of bureaucracy’s tools - to wend your careful way through the office or do you limit yourself to 3-speeds and seek daily progress?
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Best of all, get your library to order a copy. Free to you and of benefit to other readers.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Phaedrus’ THE PANTHER AND SHEPHERD*

Posted by jlubans on July 26, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Bullies beware.

Their scorn comes home to them again
Who treat the wretched with disdain.

A careless Panther long ago
Fell in a pit, which overthrow
The Shepherds all around alarm’d;
When some themselves with cudgels arm’d;
Others threw stones upon its head;
But some in pity sent her bread,
As death was not the creature’s due.
The night came on—the hostile crew
Went home, not doubting in the way
To find the Panther dead next day.
But she, recovering of her strength,
Sprang from the pit and fled at length.
But rushing in a little space
From forth her den upon the place,
She tears the flock, the Shepherd slays,
And all the region round dismays.
Then they began to be afraid
Who spared the beast and lent their aid;
They reck not of the loss, but make
Their pray’r for life, when thus she spake:
“I well remember them that threw
The stones, and well remember you
Who gave me bread—desist to fear,
For ’twas the oppressor brought me here.”

_____________
So, a warning for those who mistreat others with impunity (or so they think.)
Reading this, Rambo came to mind.
Rambo the much afflicted Vietnam vet who wreaks havoc on his persecutors.
Phaedrus’ panther does the same, “She tears the flock, the Shepherd slays”.
But, for those displaying kindness, the panther says, No worries, “desist to fear”.
And so it can be in the workplace. We may not seek to intentionally destroy anyone, but we may be unethical to get ahead.
When given the choice to do something unsavory in order to move up, do we go along to get ahead? Or, do we say No?
If we acquiesce, do we suffer or do our excuses give us cover?
Does the panther ever come to call?

*Source: The Fables of Phaedrus Translated into English Verse. Phaedrus. Christopher Smart, A. M. London. G. Bell and Sons, Ltd. 1913.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

An Indie Author Ally

Posted by jlubans on July 24, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

If you are an indie author, I have a marketing tip for you: the BookLife platform, underwritten by Publishers Weekly (PW).
As an indie author you have no doubt struggled with how to market your book in a realm clearly biased toward commercial presses. Indeed one could say that the commercial publishers control the book market and get priority for book reviews.
PWs platforms can help get your book noticed.
When I was in the book business, I read Publishers Weekly religiously. It wasn’t only to see what new books were coming out; it was to ascertain new trends in the publishing industry ranging from book deals to paper to bindings to printing and marketing; really, all things to do with the book world.
Until recently I was unaware of PWs role in indie publishing. None of the indie author “How To” sites included PWs BookLife as a way to promote an indie book.
You can see what BookLife offers by taking a look at the page for my Fables for Leaders.
BookLife is free and there’s a reasonably priced upgrade: PW Select service at $149. For the fee, your book appears in PW (print and online), and in BookLife and you get a 6-month subscription to PW online.
Also, you can send in your book to be considered for review in the print PW.
There’s no guarantee for a review, but it sure beats the silence emanating from traditional review media when I ask them to review my Fables book.
Obviously, PW does not have issues with indie books.
I am impressed with their embrace of indie authors. They realize they have a large market so why not work with it, instead of against it.
Smart.
Many in the traditional book biz appear to be hoping Indies will go away: there are too many and most are drivel, etc.
Of course, there’s indie drivel like the “My Cocky Doctors” romance series, but what do you think Harlequin novels are, or for that matter, how about the recent slew of management books presented as “fables”?
Many outstanding books have been self-published.
If you are a contrarian and cannot get a publisher to put out your ideas, and you believe in what you are writing, then self-publishing is an option.
And, these days you can self publish (print books and e-books) for far less money than in previous generations.
_____________________
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© John Lubans 2018. All rights reserved regardless of format: tree bark, clay tablet, papyrus, electronic or paper.

Krylov’s THE LEAVES AND THE ROOTS*

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

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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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To purchase a copy of Fables for Leaders, click on this button:

Or, you can find a copy at AMAZON.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

The Introvert at Work

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

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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
health.


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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Krylov’s THE SQUIRREL AND THE THRUSH*

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

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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.
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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)

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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.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018