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 September 15, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

UPON the summit of a lofty rock,
⁠An Eagle chanced to espy
A Worm; whom thus he 'gan in taunting tone to mock:
"Reptile! What raised thee thus high?
How haps it I so vile a creature see
Perched on the same eminence with me.
⁠Here daring to abide?"
"By my own strength," the Worm replied.
"I hither made my way; and small in
My opinion, the difference of the mode
In which to the same point we took our road;
What you by soaring did, I did by crawling."

So, slow and steady gets the job done.
Also, Krylov may be saying that those eminently gifted (with a pair of wings, for example) succumb to arrogance and believe themselves superior to those less so endowed.
Actually, one admires the humble worm more than the eagle because the worm got there inch by inch while the eagle was born to it, so to speak.
Krylov likely was sniping at the Russian royals, born with the proverbial silver spoon, who consider it is some inherent genius that has them at the front of the line rather than who their daddy was.

*Source. Anonymous. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine.

Copyright by John Lubans from 2010 to 2018. All rights preserved.

The Unhappy, Un-Mindful and Unsustainable Leader

Posted by jlubans on September 12, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Mindful Smiley Face

No doubt you have heard of America’s right to the pursuit of Happiness. And, maybe even of the World Happiness Index, a nation by nation listing of most happy to least happy peoples.
In any case, the business world is paying attention to Happiness for its workforce and customers.
A recent book claims much in its 19-word title:
“Leading with Happiness: How the Best Leaders Put Happiness First to Create Phenomenal Business Results and a Better World.”
The author’s prior book was "Happy Hour is 9-5." (Are these folks drinking at their desks?)
I certainly am not one to put down happiness. I am all for sunshine and bluebirds in the workplace. But, a sure sign of faddishness for me was when the Harvard business press inserted itself and put out a one-volume compendium on three au courant topics: Happiness, Mindfulness and Sustainability (HMS).
The Harvard book compresses the three and makes clear (for me) that HMS are inter-related, indeed so much so you cannot tell them apart. Yet, each claims to draw “on fascinating lessons from psychology, neurobiology and philosophy” as if there is scientific proof of these concepts. For example, it claimed with certainty that HMS organizations do better those not so happy, mindful or sustainable organizations.
HMS is different from fads like Six Sigma, or Re-engineering or Matrix Management; the HMS trio is less about prescribing how to do business than it is about one’s state of being or mindset.
Perhaps we should take a look. Certainly we do not want to be on the sinister side of the HMS continuum: unhappy, un-mindful, and unsustainable. Perhaps we already are, but do we want to be there? If not, let’s see how we can change toward the bright side, to Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
Here are the key elements for shoring up HMS:
Human connection (recognize others daily).
Gratitude for self and others.
Positive outlook for mind and body; turn stress to your advantage.
Purpose: find meaning in your work.
Generosity (practice kindness to others).
Take a Break from Your Goals.
Hire for Attitude and Train for Skill (Where have we seen that before?)

If you think about it, there is really not much new in seeking happiness, being mindful and wanting sustainability. Maybe there’s a new emphasis in being purposeful in the pursuit of HMS.
Essentially HMS is the repurposing of ways of human thinking and behavior that have been known for centuries. Nothing is new except for the increased emphasis and the alleged science that claims HMS works and is good for you and the organization.
The encapsulated notions make good sense for anyone, working or not. However, we do go a bit too far if and when we mandate happiness in the workplace. You will be happy – or else.
Reality is otherwise. People have lives, they endure, they prevail or fail, they suffer or find joy, they seek and find or get lost; in any case they need a helping hand.
And, effective leaders need to be aware of followers and what is happening with them. So, EQ (emotional intelligence) – albeit designated a “fad” - may in fact be worthy of cultivating. And, keeping in mind the underlying practices of HMS may help one with improving his or her EQ score.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018


Posted by jlubans on September 07, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Oil painting by Sergei Gribkov 1854

A CERTAIN Cook, rather more educated than his fellows, went from his kitchen one day to a neighboring tavern —he was of a serious turn of mind, and on that day he celebrated the anniversary of a friend's death—leaving a Cat at home, to guard his viands from the mice.
On his return, what does he see?
The floor strewed with fragments of a pie, and Vaska the Cat crouching in a corner behind a vinegar-barrel, purring with satisfaction, and busily engaged in disposing of a chicken.
"Ah, glutton! ah, evil-doer!" exclaims the reproachful Cook. "Are you not ashamed of being seen by these walls, let alone living witnesses? What! be an honorable Cat up to this time—one who might be pointed out as a model of discretion!
And поw, ah me! how great a disgrace!
Now all the neighbors will say,
“The cat Vaska is a rogue; the cat Vaska is a thief.
Vaska must not be admitted into the kitchen, not even into the courtyard, any more than a ravenous wolf into the sheepfold.
He is utterly corrupt; he is a pest, the plague of the neighborhood."
Thus did our orator, letting loose the current of his Words, lecture away without stopping.
But what was the result? While he was delivering his discourse, Vaska the Cat ate up the whole of the chicken.

I would advise some cooks to inscribe these words on their walls : "Don't waste time in useless speech, when it is action that is needed.”
Likely the cook stumbled
home in the wee hours (viz the dangling bottle) and the cat - honorable up to now - got hungry.
One indiscreet nibble, gluttony took over.
Krylov’s advice is clear. When someone reverts to type, why talk about it, take action: Save the chicken!
The office needs Krylov’s inscription as much as the kitchen.
So, at work, when a previously honorable Vaska exercises his envy and seeks to destroy your storehouse of good deeds and successes, don’t just cry in your beer, do something about it.
Time to leave? Don’t linger with false hope. Leave and begin anew.
If it is time to confront the “utterly corrupt”, do so.
Probably long overdue, kicking Vaska in the pants is not a bad idea.

*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


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

Caption: A still from the movie, The Apartment, 1960

“WHAT a fuss every one is making!
How wanting in manners!" observed, with respect to a shower, a Stone which lay in a field.
Have the kindness to look. Every one is delighted with it. They have longed for it as if it were the best of guests; but what is it that it has done?
It has come for a couple of hours or so—no more.
But they should make a few inquiries about me. Why I have lain here for centuries.
Modest and unassuming, I lie quietly where I am thrown.
And yet I have never heard from a single person so much as a
“Thank you!”
It is not without reason that the World gets reviled. I cannot see a grain of justice anywhere in it.
“Hold your tongue!" exclaimed a Worm.
"This shower, brief as it has been, has abundantly watered the fields, which wеге being rendered sterile by drought, and has revived the hopes of the farmer.
But you contribute nothing to the ground but a useless weight.

Thus many a man will boast of having served the state for forty years; but as for being useful, he has never been a bit more so than the Stone.

Let’s allegorize this and make the Stone the (unhappy) worker or office holder.

The pleasing Shower is the budget or budgetary authority.
The Worm is - of course - us, the customer.
In other words the infamous “iron triangle” of budgetary theory.
As you can tell from Krylov’s epimythium (the last two lines) his target is the czar’s officialdom, the do-nothing office holders, the bureaucrats behind guarded doors with the power to approve (with rubber stamps, embossings, seals, and ribbons) or more likely to Deny us, the Worms, what we want.
Bureaucracies were never set up to frustrate people; their mission (usually emblazoned above the front door) is to serve.
Now living two years in Salem, Oregon, I am taken with how well the state’s DMV (department of motor vehicles) works: fast and courteous service with knowledgeable and pleasant staff – how Oregonian!
Not a sour puss in the bunch, not a one “afflicted with office.”
Especially notable since “the DMV” is the public’s derisive term for all that is wrong with America’s governmental offices.

*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

“Difficult Conversations”

Posted by jlubans on August 23, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

TRAINING magazine has published an excerpt from Fables for Leaders.
You can link to it here.
With this little bit of welcome publicity, it’s a good time to visit the notion of managerial training and learning. One hopes that most of us are open to more than one or two ways of training. But, by and large in the field of management – regardless of where we work – any training other than the utiliarian, direct, and practical, runs into credibility problems.
Using fables to help people learn about complicated issues is an indirect approach. Indeed someone might say that it is no approach. How can a talking tree or wolf or lion or rabbit offer any insights to those of us inside the corporate realm trying to keep an organization on track?
My thesis is that literature is a valid way to learn more about leadership and management and other forms of human experience.
I’ve been holding onto an article from 2016. It’s from the esteemed Harvard Business Review. The topic is the giving of feedback*. The author, Ms. Lou Solomon, reveals that a large number (she claims two-thirds) of managers “Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees”.
Of course, being uncomfortable is different from totally avoiding.
Nevertheless, it does appear to be that constructive feedback is more often avoided than not. This is the stuff of “difficult conversations”.
Who best to use as an example of an avoider but one’s self?
I have avoided and accommodated far too much. Why? Probably because of a fear about confrontation and a shortage of “scripts” in my head to use for giving feedback, resulting in inarticulation.
At one of my jobs I had a personal goal every year to have a heart to heart talk with a peer with whom I regularly butted heads.
When I left I still hadn’t had that difficult conversation. Not good!
Anyway, Ms. Solomon’s HRR article winds up, as does much of management writing, with a prescriptive list of do’s and don’ts.
When giving feedback*:
Be direct but kind.
Don’t beat around the bush.
Don’t make it personal.
Be present.
Inspire greatness.

I’ve been guilty – in my own writing - of such lists.
Are they not, in their own way, like those morals tacked on to the end of Aesop’s fables? Did you know that the original fables had no morals?
Unlike the well meaning moralists, Aesop saw no reason to make the obvious obvious.
I do believe that too much of our training is too practical.
I term my Fables book, an Un-textbook; it’s an impractical management book. Is this foolhardy marketing? I’ll let you answer that.
I recall leading a group of managers along a forest trail. We were in a leadership-training program and my segment was an outdoor experience - a break from lectures, from readings, from seminar discussions of thorny financial problems.
In the lead, I stopped the group and asked what were they hearing. I could hear all kinds of forest sounds. My question was to prompt a taking of one’s eye off the ball and gazing upward into the trees and the open skies.
Puzzled, not a one commented on the sounds around us – the kestrel’s call, the chatter of the squirrels, the sighing of the branches, the insects buzzing.
One joker did comment that he could hear the clicking of golf balls in the distance.
Agenda driven to the exclusion of all else, he was focused on tee time at the golf club.
I hope that the readers of TRAINING magazine will be inspired to think some more about how we learn and how our literature speaks to who we are and who we want to be.
Maybe fables can be used as ice-breakers to get those difficult conversations underway?

*Like a line out of
Capek’s RUR here’s the daffynition of biz world feedback: “The transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source; also : the information so transmitted.”
In other words, it’s the screeching noise one hears in tuning a sound system.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018


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

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)

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


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

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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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

The 3-Speed Bike

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

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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© Copyright John Lubans 2018


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

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