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.



“The Bottom Line”

Posted by jlubans on January 20, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: One of several interceptions during the end of the 2020 college football season.

This past year, the University of Oklahoma’s football team went from last in defense in their league to the best defense in their league.
In the past decade they’ve been notable for an aerial offense run by quarterbacks hurling long distance passes caught by sprinting and soaring receivers.
This year, one sports writer marveled apostatically: ”Is OU’s defense better than its offense?”
How did this reversal happen?
Well, a new Defensive Coordinator (Alex Grinch), helped, along with the leadership of his boss, head coach Lincoln Riley.
The Sooners, as the OU team is known, play at an elite level. All of the coaches are fluent in the best and latest techniques and strategies for playing football, not to mention the nutrition and strengthening routines prescribed for each player. Their objective is to prepare each player to be the best he can possibly be.
Techniques and strategies are inculcated daily.
But, what appears to have made the greatest difference for these players was Grinch’s stress on playing every “snap” of the ball in practice just like they would be expected to play during the game.
In other words, the urgency, the intensity of game day (Saturday) is something to be emulated during practice drills (Monday-Friday).
This mindset, pushed daily by the coach, evolved over the season, and steadily the defense was holding opponents to low scores, much lower than in previous years.
Toward season’s end, there was one word to describe OUs defense: dominant.
What does this have to do with the workplace?
Well, in the workplace we are always puzzling about how best to motivate the troops.
Some coaches rely on yelling, butt kicking, and locker room exhortation. Businesses may use a softer, kinder approach, but it’s still pretty much the same external push to make someone do something.
Alas, these are short term solutions and always need renewal: louder yelling, escalating verbal threats and abuse and more extreme exhortation.
Many players resent being yelled at and tune out. The yelling, however subdued, often is only one way: the coach tells you what to do, what you did wrong, and how you have to improve. Eventually, the berated tune out.
So, then how do you motivate players to achieve? Or do you?
At the OU level of the sport, these players are already motivated.
Unlike many traditional organizations, there are no “lifers” on a football team.
These players want guidance; not a kick in the ass.
They have already bought in. They want opportunity.
They want to improve. They want to be shown how to improve.
They want to be challenged; but in do-able ways.
Now, keep in mind, football teams are large organizations, easily over 100 players composed of a defensive eleven, an offensive eleven, and special teams, along with a cadre of “red shirt” players who practice alongside starters but do not play in games, as yet.
And, there are second and third team platoons (22 players each).
Traditionally, the second and third “stringers” – the “bench warmers” - wait for the “starter” to graduate or become injured; then they get to step in and “step up” and show their stuff.
Due to the virus, many starters wound up in quarantine and their understudies got to play. Some coaches had to rotate players from the 2nd and 3rd teams into the game day plan.
OU appeared to have done this as well as anyone, adding exceptional depth – due to all that talent waiting in the wings - for playing an hour-long game (a televised football game takes about 3 hours).
By the 4th quarter – the last 15 minutes - a team rotating out defenders vs a team that does not is far fresher and stronger.
Fatigue results in errors, often very costly ones, such as interceptions.
As illustrated, the fresher player sprints past the tired opponent and snags the ball: a takeaway!
And there’s a key point: the player (not the coach) makes the interception. The empowered player’s being at the right place at the right time has to come from inside the player.
At post-game press conferences, I am always interested in what Mr. Grinch has to say, but I am even more interested in what his players say.
More than once, the coach used a catch phrase to explain how he inculcates urgency and a winning attitude, the term, “playing to the bottom line”.
Here’s how 2 players explain what the “bottom line “means to them:
“Straining to the ball, playing together, being physical.”
“Striving to the ball, play hard, make those plays, and make those plays present themselves.”
They’ve jumbled the coach’s phrase “playing to the bottom line” but does it matter?
There’s implied urgency (strain, strive) in how each defines the term and how they will themselves to play each snap of the ball and “make those plays present themselves”!
How do organizations achieve this level of urgency?
Do they even want urgency anywhere near them? Well, is that not something we should want in every organization? An inculcated desire to be the best every day.
What is the bottom line for you? For your organization? What’s the ball you strive toward?
Not just in football, how do you get each worker (or most workers) to play to the bottom line? In an epidemic, what does that look like in state government? Is it possible to generate such a mind set in a bureaucracy?
Yes, if you have courageous leadership and a team with a majority of willing and capable followers.


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Better than bacon (a lie), better than chocolate (also a lie) but the price is right. 35% off until Valentine's Day, Feb 14.

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Coaching in the Workplace

Posted by jlubans on January 16, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Here’s another leaderly reflection: coaching and being coached.
While management gurus encourage us to coach subordinates, we rarely do so, at least in my experience.
Why is that?
If we desire to be coached, well then it is up to us to find a mentor; don’t expect your boss to be your coach.
They may not want to, they don’t see it as part of their job, or they don’t have the time.
Still, I could have done more with the coaching role that was, for a while, actually scripted into my job description.
Why coach?
Presumably, we all want to get better at what we do. A coach - providing an informed outside perspective - can help us improve, can give us a fresh take on where we want to be.
Sports coaches – from whom we borrow many coaching techniques and in large part justify the notion of organizational coaching - predate executive coaches by decades.
A good sports coach is consistent, truthful, and pragmatic. He or she is clear about roles, and communicates observations to the player.
Are these qualities any different in the workplace? Hardly, but there is a difference.
The best players respect and trust their coach; more importantly, they desire to be coached; they are open; indeed, they expect that the truth, “no matter what it is,” will be shared fully and openly in helpful ways. The “truth” is not to be bottled up or avoided.
For that to happen, there’s got to be mutual trust, the sine qua non for an effective player-coach relationship; without it, don’t bother.
If your organization supports frank feedback, then maybe you can try to create a coaching relationship that goes beyond simple feedback on technical aspects of a job.
Doing so requires a far greater investment than the occasional suggestion for improving personal efficiency.
For one thing, you have to have content, relevance, and the ability to explain what you mean. This can only happen through studying the person, observing, taking notes, mulling over and focusing on the do-able.
Probably the coaching conversation should be outside the workplace – out of the office. You want separation from the day-to-day concerns to gain a sharper focus on individual vs. organizational goals.
Don’t time this event and do not have an explicit agenda.
What you are trying to do is to get past the formalities, the polite chit chat, to something less comfortable, something not scripted but something with meaning for you and the other person.
Here are some coaching questions I could have used:
What do you like most about your job? What do you like the least?
What are your aspirations? Where do you want to be, career wise, in 5 years?
How would you describe your personal satisfaction with your job? Do you want the job to change?
What can I (your boss) do more of for you to achieve what you want?
What should I be doing less of?
Bear in mind, you are not exactly seeking a friendship; you’re after more of a trusting work relationship.
Friendship is not an objective of coaching; friendship is incidental to gaining frankness, and trust.
So, what could I have done differently?
Almost every organization where I worked was afflicted with back biting, undercutting of other workers and persistent turf battles.
A unit’s good work stopped at its door step, only helping those outsiders deemed, like the Hatfields and McCoys, for 'em, not agin 'em.
I could have stopped the back biting; that was coachable and would have been a big step forward.
I could have stopped the intrigue by not taking part. But, how?
Easy. Change the topic.
And model the desirable behavior.
Have frank talks but always with the intention of approaching the criticized person and seeking to find out his or her point of view. Stop the “just between you and me” stuff. Instead, discover why he (the “enemy”) does what he does.
Seek to resolve issues; seek to work together.
If trust is broken, how can it be mended?
Ask the other person, what can I do to make this better?
If you believe a colleague is making decisions harmful to your work, well what, besides complaining to others, can you do about it?
Yes, you!
Obviously, if nothing can be changed, then stop talking about it.
There’s another category for self-coaching; the people you have been avoiding.
Each year you resolve to have a plain, honest talk with those people but the talks never happen. If you were to have that open and frank discussion you might discover several positives about the other person and yourself.
Ask, "I’ve been avoiding you on a couple topics; let me tell you what they are and why they bother me. Afterwards, I’d like your viewpoint. OK?"

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Better than bacon (a lie), better than chocolate (also a lie) but the price is right. 35% off until Valentine's Day, Feb 14.

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

“You Built It”

Posted by jlubans on January 12, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Southwest Airline Engine (and plane) over Rocky Mountains, west of Denver, CO, USA. January 9 2021

Early in January of this new year I was waiting for my return flight from Denver, Colorado to Portland, Oregon.
I sat across from my departure gate – just waiting and looking at the passers-by of which there were surprisingly many streaming past, all masked.
I was on a SWA dedicated concourse – full of arriving and departing SWA travelers and crews - so it was not unusual that there was a SWA flight crew sitting nearby. I was by myself having a take-away glass of wine (thank you virus!) .
One of the flight crew, a man, asked me if I was going to Spokane, the destination at the next gate and the one his crew were working. That got the conversation rolling.
I asked him about the last president of the airline, Colleen Barret, if she was still working several hours a week in spite of her retirement. He said no, she was less and less involved.
Then I mentioned my meeting Herb Kelleher (1931-2019), the co-founder of the airline and how welcomed I felt sitting in his office. From the first second, it was like visiting with an old friend.
This was in Dallas, Texas, which is where SWA is headquartered.
I mentioned my asking Herb – there was nothing of the “Mister” about Herb – about SWA’s culture of excellent customer service. I asked if the underlying values would change on his retirement.
“No”, he said, “it’s in the DNA.”
I related that story to the flight attendant, “He said that, did he?” he queried.
“He sure did.”
Hearing that, he pulled out his phone and said he had a picture to show me.
It was one of him in ramp agent* gear sitting next to Herb – in a suit - chatting away.
In other words, that’s the CEO hobnobbing with one of the workers.
He told Herb - the CEO - how appreciative he, the ramp agent, was of the “empire” Herb had built – the Southwest Airlines empire, the company.
Herb responded, “I didn’t build it, you did.”
So, here we have one of the workers with a picture of the CEO on his phone. How many workers do you know who carry around a picture of their CEO?
Just think about it.
And think about Herb’s perspective about who’s in charge, who’s responsible for SWAs success, about who should get the credit.

*We know what flight attendants do.
The lesser known “Ramp Agents” guide the plane in to and out of the gate, help get passengers off and on the plane, and unload luggage and cargo and make sure the luggage gets to the right person. They also re-provision the plane – water, snacks, drinks, paper goods.
And, on January 9th they de-iced my plane before we took off for Oregon.
Some ramp teamers, like the flight attendant I met in Denver, aspire to become flight attendants.
See my “No Bean Bags Here” essay.

Also there are chapters on Southwest leadership and culture in my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle. Amazon has it.

© Copyright photo and text John Lubans 2021

“The Hand in the Dark” Points the Way

Posted by jlubans on January 04, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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While reading a 1920s mystery* – the virus made me do it - a paragraph took me back to a workplace conversation.
I was being counseled/berated by a colleague over my foolhardy emphasis on management theory and practice.
She insinuated I was betraying the profession.
Her opinion – held by many others – was that our noble profession was above such mundane and pragmatic practices.
After all, we went about doing good, don’t you know, and that was sufficient.
Any attempt to quantify the what and the wherefore was not necessary. Doing so implied that somehow we could do better when we were already doing the best.
Imagine the embarrassment when I compared our production statistics with industry peers and found that while we claimed to be first, we came in last in many categories.
Of course, the methodology was flawed! How else could the best come in last?
My colleague advised I read an article (I’d read it years before) by a well-regarded member of the profession.
The article was deemed by my colleague and others an effective apologia, a strong and stately case for a priestly caste. And, it faulted all management techniques as “deterministic, highly reductive and transient.”*
Now, I did not really know what the first two terms meant, but I did agree with the third one: management does suffer from passing fads.
Since I knew the author, I knew he was not against (how could anyone be?) the thoughtful borrowing of applicable “appropriate and proper” business ideas but I knew that he had good cause to criticize the ineffective and halfhearted embrace of business “fads” by some of our managers.
The “Official Mind”
But before I get too high in my dudgeon, let us return to The Hand in the Dark.
The mystery writer explains that an “imperviable dogmatism” (determinism?) can afflict all traditional professionals, in particular bureaucrats.
Such dogmatism results in an “official mind, strong in the belief in its own infallibility, resentful of advice or suggestion as an attempt to weaken its dignity”.
Such a “ruffled (and resentful) dignity (leads the infallible detective’s) judgment astray”, resulting in a “grave mistake” and the near hanging of an innocent woman.
My critical colleague took umbrage – in ruffled dignity - at my seeking to improve our work. Simplifying, streamlining, and improving turnaround times all seemed unseemly.
Even counting how often we did something somehow cheapened it, simplified it and made it, I suppose, “highly reductive” and open to misinterpretation by small minds (like mine).
Anyway, like the hero in The Hand in the Dark, I ignored my colleague’s free advice, persevered in questioning the why and the what of our work and managed to make lasting improvements.
How lasting? Take a guess.

*Arthur J. Rees. “The Hand in the Dark.” 1920. Mr. Rees also wrote "THE SHRIEKING PIT! Both are Gutenberg E-Books.
**Alan Veaner, Paradigm Lost, Paradise Regained, C&RL v.55, September 1994 pp389-402

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

The Fable of The Coyote and the Ape*

Posted by jlubans on January 01, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Photo by Lorne Kenyon, December 24 2020 in Bellingham, WA. USA (Used with permission)

"Any animal without a tail is banished from my kingdom!" proclaimed the lion-king.
He waved his own tail dramatically. "All animals must have tails. If not, be gone before nightfall!"
The ape had no tail, so he packed his bags and prepared to leave.
He was surprised to see the wily coyote packing her bags too.
"You have a most impressive tail!" said the ape. "The lion-king's command doesn't apply to you."
"True," said the coyote. "But this king is a danger to us all: at any moment he could condemn me for no reason just as he has condemned you."
___________________
A colleague inquired recently, “Are there Aesop fables with coyotes?”
Alas, no, but – taking great editorial liberty – I have replaced the fox in Laura Gibbs, “The Fox and The Ape” with a foxy coyote!
It seems a perfect fit.
The coyote – surviving off the land – knows a capricious leader when he sees one.
Yes, the lion may be a harmless eccentric. But, the coyote knows better. The lion’s random act of banning tail-less creatures likely presages more oppression.
Like Orwell’s Napoleon the pig, our Lion is well on his way to proclaiming “All Animals Are Equal, Some Animals Are More Equal than Others” and justifying further subjugation of anyone resisting his goal of totalitarianism.
There are no Stalin-like bosses, you say!
Well, what about the petty tyrant, the one that schemes, undermines and plots your demise?
True, you’re not going to be taken out back and shot in the head.
Instead, the restrained tyrant conspires for your rigged departure, a less brutal form of liquidation.

*Source: Laura Gibbs, the Fox and the Ape.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

A Handshake on a Bus (WIWDD #8)

Posted by jlubans on December 18, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Waiting Convention Center Buses.

One of my first books was something of a” phenom”.
It sold exceedingly well with over 6000 international sales, approximately twenty times what one might reasonably expect for a scholarly book.
First the handshake.
I was at an annual professional conference. My seat mate on one of the convention buses was a young man of my own age. We chatted and I gathered from his name tag that
he was an editor for a well-known publisher.
We got to talking about book ideas. I told him how a small group of peers and I had put on a very well attended one-day conference in upstate NY. Afterwards we’d sold out, unexpectedly, the printed proceedings.
I ventured that an anthology of original writing on the topic just might take off. He said, “Why don’t you write that book for me?”
While professionally I was a wee bairn - a young guy who knew little about what he was getting into - I thought “Why not?”
I agreed right then and there and we shook on it.
This episode foretold of my leadership style. Call it intuitive or spontaneous, but I did not list out the reasons NOT to do this.
Instead, I went full bore with my personal belief that this was a good thing.
My audacity in this and other endeavors would give permission to others to experiment, to try out ideas. I imagine some thought, “Hell, if this guy can do this, I can do it better!”
Once back at my workplace, I sent the editor an outline for the proposed book.
A contract shortly followed.
It was to be a cloth covered book (mauve, as it turned out!) with a matching book jacket!
I wrote 40% of it and the rest were chapters from a variety of contributors, some well-known, others less so. It ran to 435 pages
An intended vade mecum (hand book) it literally became that for many. A colleague told me of going to a conference and many of the attendees were carrying the book!
It brought about or reinvigorated a vast array of service initiatives and experimentation. It energized and confirmed for the like-minded the importance of what we were doing.
So, what would I do differently?
Not much. How can you argue with success?
Probably, to make the book less ephemeral, there should have been a well thought out rationale (a thesis) for what the book was about, why it mattered now more to the profession than in previous decades.
In other words, a more philosophical underpinning.
One critic called it an enthusiastic but uneven work.
He excused the unevenness because of the number of contributors.
No doubt, I could have done better in editing their work and, more importantly, I could have been more selective in choosing authors.
I forget how I found several of them; I probably would have benefited by seeking suggestions from a few trusted people.
Most book reviews were highly supportive; but reviews matter little when readers buy and read a book regardless of its unevenness or any other flaw.
I could claim that my timing was brilliant but in truth it was all serendipitous – many people were reaching the same conclusions my little team of like-minded practitioners had reached in upstate NY.
The book inspired many practitioners; they were ready to be inspired.
You could see from other indicators, like standing room only crowds at conferences, that people were hungry for ideas, best practices, and looking to share their experiences and seeking answers to what they were facing on the job.
The book’s underlying idea was not new, but it had been largely muted in previous decades.
Now the environment had changed – the client base was booming along with increased staffing and budgets. It was a time of unprecedented ferment and transition in higher education.
One could say the book capitalized on the transition; if a wave, the book rode it well.
All in all, it turned out to be the right book for the right readers at the right time.
The most obvious lesson for me from this book’s success was that your topic has to be of interest to more than a few people.
Your readers have to want the book.
If you, the author, are the only one interested, then it is unlikely you will have many readers.
One last item. I’d clarify that, while I was the major author, the book included several other authors.
A contributor to the book (and longtime friend) has never forgiven me for the title page implying I was the author rather than the editor!
He pokes me about it whenever we get together, now going on 50 years!

Black Friday Everyday!!!
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The perfect stocking stuffer ONLY a click away, now 40% off until Christmas at BookBaby:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

Krylov’s THE PEASANT AND THE AXE*

Posted by jlubans on December 09, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Who sharpens the axe?

A MOUJIK (a Russian peasant), who was building a hut, got vexed with his Axe. The Axe became disagreeable to him ; the Moujik waxed wroth.
The fact was, he himself hewed abominably; but he lay all the blame on the Axe.
Whatever happened, the Moujik found an excuse for scolding it.
"Good-for-nothing creature!" he cries, one day, "from this time forward I will never use you for anything but squaring stakes. Know that, with my cleverness and industry, and my dexterity to boot, I shall get on very well without you, and will cut with a common knife what another wouldn't be able to hew with an axe."
"It is my lot to work at whatever you lay before me," quietly replied the Axe to the angry rebuke, " and so your will, master, is sacred for me. I am ready to serve you in whatever way you please.
Only reflect now, that you may not have to repent by-and-bye. You may blunt me on useless labour, if you will; but you will certainly never be able to build huts with a knife."

__________________
Krylov (1769 – 1844) in this fable has the boss who “hews abominably” blaming the tool or employee for the flawed product.
How often, in myriad ways, do hapless bosses castigate employees for their own shortcomings? It happens.
Of course, the good leader praises the worker when things go well and blames herself – at least in part – for when things go bad.
Now, we know plenty of bosses who blame themselves but that’s done with an imperceptible wink and a nod – a way of saying, “Yes, like President Harry Truman, ‘the buck stops with me’; but, Lord, if only I had some decent staff to get the job done, then you’d really see what I can do.
In the meantime, I do the best I can with the crappy hand I’ve been dealt.”
On the other hand, I’ve noticed one football coach this season who repeatedly – when things don’t always go smoothly for the team - includes himself in the “could do a better job category”. He praises players when they’ve done well and offers specific ways for improvement when improvement is needed.
His calm voice and demeanor remain the same when talking about how he should have called a different play or when he explains why a play failed or when a player made an outstanding contribution to the game. This coach is not one to “hew abominably” and no wonder his teams are champions.

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

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Black Friday Everyday!!!
The perfect stocking stuffer ONLY a click away, now 40% off until Christmas at BookBaby:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

Blind Spots

Posted by jlubans on December 04, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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(For ESL readers, many American dogs are named Spot.)

I like to think that these stories, drawn from personal experience, are isolated examples of our very human blind spots, those moments when we cannot see what others can.
I was going to say that these are examples of jerky behavior but jerk may be too harsh a term since it implies a complete character flaw.
Hal, Emma and Fredo would have done well to remember their lessons from kindergarten: share, do not take other people’s things, practice the golden rule, etc.

Hal, the Petulant.
I worked with Hal. In his thirties, he held a responsible professional position and was regarded, in spite of a pugnacious aspect, by his peers as a competent member of the staff.
One day Hal told me what happened to him after a late-night sporting event in a distant city.
Following the game, Hal went to his parked car to find that someone had stolen his battery.
Now, what would you do in this case?
Probably what most of us would do.
But not Hal. He noticed the car parked behind him was of the same make, and he proceeded to filch that car’s battery.
I assume he drove contentedly home.
Maybe, since he told me what he had done, he was not all that certain he’d done the right thing.
But, when I expressed astonishment (You did what?), he denied he had done anything wrong. He assumed – most cynically - that everyone else would do the same.

Emma, the Self Centered.
Emma owned an unfinished condominium (apartment). One is not allowed for numerous safety and liability reasons to occupy an unfinished condo.
This rule, Emma was convinced, did not apply to her. She proceeded to use her condo almost on a daily basis, filling the space with a variety of furniture.
The Home Owners Association (other owners in the building) told her more than once to stop.
Ultimately, the city building inspectors ordered her to cease and desist under penalty of law and gave her two weeks to move out all of her things.
Presumably, there would be serious consequences if she flaunted the city inspector’s finding.
When someone moves and ties up the elevator they are to post notes on each of the 8 floors with a phone number so that others in the 8-story building would have a way to reach Emma and ask her to release the elevator.
On the day of the move, Emma posted nothing.
The next day she assured the head of the HOA that “No one was inconvenienced!”
And she added that she had prepared the contact information notes but had left them at home.
In other words, preparing the notes but leaving them at home was just about as good as posting the notes.
So, I wrote a note to the HOA president – who had long endured Emma’s mercurial ways - telling him I had bought a bottle of whiskey to give him in appreciation but I drank it.
Emma’s Edict: Intention to do something is the same as doing it.

Fredo, the Audacious.
I was once a part of loosely organized guy’s group made up of work colleagues and other friends.
Fredo was in the latter group.
One day, after work, we gathered in a city park for a volleyball game.
Fredo, brought along a beer cooler. The city has a posted policy prohibiting alcohol in its parks – there was a sign next to where we had set up the net. Fredo drank a beer and one or two others may have joined in. I did not.
A policeman, driving past, noted the beer cooler and stopped. He asked, “Who’s beer?”
When Fredo admitted it was his, he got a ticket for violating the city’s policy.
The next day each of us heard from Fredo asking us to pay his ticket.
I did not chip in.

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Black Friday Everyday!!!
The perfect stocking stuffer ONLY a click away, now 40% off until Christmas at BookBaby:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

The “Primitive”

Posted by jlubans on November 29, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Woodcut, 1533, from Bartolommeo Cocles' 'Physiognomonia.'

Funny how things come together, how juxtapositions happen.
I recently finished the 1941 book “Kabloona” by Lewis Galantière and Gontran de Poncins which recounts de Poncins 15-month experience living in the Arctic among the Inuit people.
De Poncins, a European nobleman (1900 -1962), unhappy with “civilization” sought a simpler life; and hoped to find it among the primitive Eskimos (his term) in the far reaches of northern Canada.
As I read his fascinating stories of traveling hundreds of miles by dog sled across frozen seas, eating frozen raw meat and living in snow block igloos at -50F, I was reminded of a NYC business owner’s characterizing one of his workers as, “a primitive”.
While this sounded a bit feudal, it was not, I believe, meant as a derogatory term, but an allusion to the worker’s guilelessness, honesty and loyalty to the business.
He’d learned the business on the job and the owner was trusting him to maintain its high-quality customer service.
But is primitive really what we want in an employee? Perhaps there are other ways of looking at the primitive among us.
Maybe the worker’s boss is deluding himself and while he may not mean the term as an insult, that’s how it winds up being, a feudal stereotype of the “noble savage” instead of a unique individual.
Returning to de Poncins, our ice bound Frenchman, he is repulsed by what he sees at the first Eskimo encampment: eating rotten raw fish, the transactional practice of sleeping with each other’s wives, their ignoring (his) schedule, beating their quintessential sled dogs, and helping themselves to de Poncin’s possessions!
As de Poncins odyssey continues north, further and further from Western influences, he slowly comes to terms with himself and the Inuit’s primitive ways.
The far north Inuit differ significantly from the poorer Inuit in the south.
In the unblemished far north – with bountiful seal and fish harvests - there is less guile and cunning among the Inuit he meets. Promises are more often kept, intentions are clearer, less deceptive.
Yet hardly perfect, dogs get beaten, old people get left on the ice to drift away, some crimes go unpunished, wives are abused, etc.
It is in this harsh land that de Poncins begins to shed the ways of Kabloona, The White Man - an uncomprehending outsider – and become more of an “Inuk: a man, preeminently” self-reliant and with dignity among hardship, not driven by a schedule, and accepting his companions as they are. In other words, it is no longer paramount for him to be in charge. He becomes as “primitive” as they are.
Doing so, de Poncins confronts his own pettiness.
He’s no longer the fussy outsider, someone demanding his schedule be kept, someone digging in his heels when something unplanned come his way. Nor is he any longer willing to freeze rather than share his fuel for the igloo’s warming oil lamp.
Ultimately, he came to respect the largely guileless ways of a Stone Age people albeit 20,000 years “behind” in evolution.
Indeed, to survive in the Arctic they are each an Inuk: a man preeminently. Imagine, in a driving blizzard, the skill and courage required to build a windproof igloo shelter, one that will last as long as the storm or longer. You have but one tool: an Eskimo snow knife.
If de Poncins transformation is “primitive” then we need more of it.
How does that happen in the workplace?
First, leadership must model an unwillingness to gossip or take part in scheming.
Cliques and divisions are shunned.
Of the several places I worked only one was free of divisions; it was the only one without regular turf battles over who was to do what work.
Instead, we were on the same page, with no sniping or undercutting. I suppose we were primitive in our willingness to support each other.
Were we guileless? Probably.
Curiously, the state universities I worked in were more transparent that private schools and less likely to engage in “palace intrigue”.
It was mostly in private schools of a certain size where I got to experience first-hand the back-stabbing “perfumed dagger”.
Was this due to the nature of private institutions being less accountable to outsiders?
I’ve come to believe the more genuinely open an organization the better its health.
And, just like de Poncins transformation something like that transformation has to happen for each of us, so we become a supportive group of people wanting what’s best for the group and not just the individual.

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Black Friday Everyday!!!
The perfect stocking stuffer ONLY a click away, now 40% off until Christmas at BookBaby:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

WIWDD #7 Sheriff Cliff

Posted by jlubans on November 20, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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Libraries, regardless of size, have policies that at times put them at odds with clients.
Of what do I speak?
Well, there is - as illustrated - the “Shhhh Quiet” Policy. Libraries are said to be places for calm reflection and quietude needs to be enforced.
Then there are those pesky overdue fines. A nickel a day or more to punish the recalcitrant borrower who returns books late.
And, there is/was the no food and drink policy.
In my experience, our enforcement of no food and drink was one of our most problematic public relations fiascos.
While libraries are now more relaxed and forgiving about clients coming through the door with pizza boxes and super-size Slurpee’s, in my time we were far more prohibitive.
Many of us believed that allowing clients to bring in food and drink would lead to invasions of book-eating vermin, from silver fish to rats seeking out pizza crusts and left-over salami sandwiches and Oreo cookies.
And, we knew with righteous certitude that spilled Cokes on study tables would damage, irredeemably, pages of open books.
In my world of research libraries, we could, for many decades, count on clients being respectful of the printed word. They accommodated, maybe even understood the rationale for no food and drink.
Those students were taught at home and in grade school to respect books, to cherish them. There was a tacit agreement between librarians and clients; we were on the same side.
That changed starting in the 1970s onward.
Why? I have a theory which I will mention a bit further down.
In spite of a burgeoning resistance among the students, we were all the more adamant in enforcing the rules.
Our enforcement efforts were for naught. Food and drink were increasingly smuggled in.
Library staff responded with PR campaigns to convince clients of the importance of the policy. Preservation of library materials – civilization - was at stake!
The deviousness got worse.
One of my staff did a daily tour to confiscate drinks and food. This was our zealous Sheriff Cliff. He even wore a tin sheriff’s badge which he’d flash as he encountered violators in the stacks.
Usually at the end of his tour, he’d stop by my office to show me his harvest.
I wonder if he was shaming me since I was somehow derelict in my administrative duty. He would have been happy to make me a deputy in his posse.
With the exception of zealots like Sheriff Cliff, none of us wanted to be seen as a fussbudget. Many staff began to look the other way. They valued their helping image more than rule enforcer.
And there was more than a little illogical thinking in our behavior. When a client checked out a dozen books for home use did we really think they would not read the books while drinking and eating?
Worse, the library staff brought in food and drink for consumption at their desks. There they were, handling new books and preparing them for the shelves, while chowing down on a burger and fries.
One staffer sauntered daily into the building carrying a heaping breakfast plate from the student union. She’d parade through a study area to her office, wafting waffles and sausages.
WIWDD?
One thing I’d do differently, I’d confer with the policy evaders, our clients. Why were they doing this? What had changed? Did they really de-value books? I’d make library staff part of that conversation.
I imagine we’d discover that with incremental tuition increases, the clients were feeling entitled.
They and their parents were paying thousands of dollars to attend the university; yet, the library – a haven from noisy dorms for many students – refused to allow them the simple comfort of a cup of coffee and a candy bar while studying.
And, it was evident that university professors and even library staffers were no longer taking a pay cut to work on campus. With increased tuition and other sources of funding university staff were making decent wages, some very handsome ones.
Ye olde dedicated professors were fading away, replaced by academic entrepreneurs supported by an army of serfs - cheap labor teaching assistants.
Previously, when the clients thought we academics were making self-sacrifices to be on campus, we earned some intangible measure of respect. Once they realized this was no longer the case, they became less deferential.
So, the clients knew they were paying more, much more, and were damned if they would not get more for their money.
I suspect, incidentally, that student grade inflation occurred for the same reasons.
If we had spoken with clients earlier on, the coffee bars and cafeterias now prevalent in many research libraries would have happened much sooner.
Instead of fussers we’d be awesomes.
When well designed and managed coffee bars are a big plus in the overall library “experience”.
One last thing, I’d take away Sheriff Cliff’s badge.


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Black Friday Everyday!!!
The perfect stocking stuffer ONLY a click away, now 40% off until Christmas at BookBaby:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020