Leading from the Middle" promotes a democratic, empowered organization, based on my leadership experiences and on research. The best work places empower staff to achieve their full potential; the less command and control, the better the product and service.
Library Journal review: “highly recommended”. Book List: “great reading…”
This blog augments my book with weekly notes. In 2011 I was a Fulbrighter and taught in Latvia, Croatia and Lithuania. In 2013 I was a Visiting Professor at the University of Latvia teaching an 8-week class on the Democratic Workplace.
I'm on the Fulbright Specialist Roster to teach about management and democratic organization concepts.

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE CAT AND THE COCK”*

Posted by jlubans on September 11, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Insert cat and cock
“A Cat pounced on a Cock, and cast about for some good excuse for making a meal off him, for Cats don't as a rule eat Cocks, and she knew she ought not to. At last she said, ‘You make a great nuisance of yourself at night by crowing and keeping people awake: so I am going to make an end of you.’ But the Cock defended himself by saying that he crowed in order that men might wake up and set about the day's work in good time, and that they really couldn't very well do without him. ‘That may be,’ said the Cat, ‘but whether they can or not, I'm not going without my dinner’; and she killed and ate him.”

“The want of a good excuse never kept a villain from crime.”

Or, as Caxton had it in 1484: “And thus is it of hym whiche is custommed to lyue by rauyn / For he can not kepe ne absteyne hym self fro hit / For alle the xcusacions that be leyd on hym.”

Sir Roger L'Estrange (1692) offered another moral: “’Tis an easy Matter to find a Staff to beat a Dog. Innocence is no Protection against the arbitrary Cruelty of a tyrannical Power.”

And so it is, this little story applies geo-politically as we see a nearby tyrant making absurd excuses to violate another people. As well, it applies to the petty and jealous boss, who, envious of a more-than-effective subordinate goes out of his way to find reasons to fire him: “ For he can not kepe ne absteyne hym self fro hit”, his envy is so great.

For the literary scholars out there, the Vernon Jones telling (1912) leaves out the cat’s accusing the cock of incestuous relationships as another excuse for killing him. L'Estrange and Caxton, however, dish all about this barnyard behavior.

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

Still kicking after all these years: Jennifer A. Bartlett, in her 2014 column, “The New and Noteworthy” includes several paragraphs about my 2010 book and this blog. Her essay “The Power Deep in the Org Chart: Leading from the Middle” appears in the latest issue of the online magazine from the American Library Association: Library Leadership & Management, 2014. Ms. Bartlett’s column “focuses on recent publications involving the recognition and development of leadership skills at all levels of the library organization, not only those positions at the top of the organizational chart.” She is Head of Reference Services at the University of Kentucky Libraries.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

What if?

Posted by jlubans on September 09, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

I like to mix up my teaching – no, I am not alluding to confusing my students. Rather, it is about how I teach: some lecture; some guided discussion of readings by small groups; some game-like activities that get everyone involved in doing the theory; and, some small group tasks that emphasize, in imaginative ways, lecture points. For me, lecture is not very effective. Why? It could be me, it could be the powerpoints, it could be the topic, and it could be the students. If I could get rid of lecture, I would. But, lecture seems necessary for setting forth basic concepts and content, for laying a foundation. What I say in my lecture helps with the intellectual framing of specific terms and concepts. Or, does it?
A “What if” lingers. What if we took away lecture and used readings and guided activities and discussion exclusively? Would learning happen? Less or more?
(If I take this on, and I just might, I’ll report back.)
I’ve written about using children’s books to underscore, indeed to teach, particular concepts covered in lectures and in readings. My most recent application of this technique was at a 3.5-day seminar about leading change. Participants were divided randomly into small groups, assigned an illustrated book and told to respond to a question: “What most important part of change do you derive from this story? Agree on and DRAW IT (emphasis added) to share with the large group including a summary of the story so others understand.”
Each of four groups went off with a book, crayons, and a blank sheet of flip-chart size paper.
Caption: One of the four titles used in conceptualizing change or not.

I’d selected four titles: “Changes, Changes”, “Let’s Do Nothing”, “Mon. Saguette and His Baguette” and, “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed”.
Each tells a story about change and how people (mole rats, too) encounter and respond to change. Prior to the seminar, the students had read about a dozen articles on change, its theories and its application in organizations, including libraries.

Caption: Re-telling the story, Changes, Changes.

Caption: One group’s summary of key points in Mon. Saguette.

From a teacher’s perspective, I’d like to know if this activity could influence how a person responds to her next instance of change. Will this little exercise, among peers, suggest new ways, new approaches to dealing with the next real-life change occurrence? Or, is that too much to hope for? Perhaps not.
I look at the above drawing and am impressed with what the students
took away from this little book, the rays emanating from the sun of creativity:
Using for another action
Adapting to the situation
Looking for added value
Going back to the previous situation

Now, I could have listed out the same points, in a whiz-bang powerpoint keyed to disco music and flashing lights. Somehow, I doubt if my lecture or media would have been anywhere near as effective as this group’s displaying the relevance of this story to our topic.

For the record: I am happy and honored to announce that I have been awarded a Fulbright Specialist Program Grant to teach at the University of Latvia in Riga from September 15 – October 20, 2014. These six weeks will give me an opportunity to test some of the ideas presented in this latest blog entry as well as to impart the concepts of freedom at work, the democratic workplace - among other organizational theories – and the process and challenge of leading from the middle.

@ Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Two Pots”*

Posted by jlubans on September 05, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: By Heinrich Steinhowel,(1412-1482).

“A RIVER carried down in its stream two Pots, one made of earthenware and the other of brass. The Earthen Pot said to the Brass Pot, ‘Pray keep at a distance and do not come near me, for if you touch me ever so slightly, I shall be broken in pieces, and besides, I by no means wish to come near you.’”

“Equals make the best friends.”

A chance winter’s visit to a British pub in the English countryside had me in an eddy alongside a rushing current of Brit aristocrats straight out of an Evelyn Waugh novel. They were downright dashing in their tailored long coats and bright chitchat in Oxford and Cambridge tones. However fleeting my impression, I envied them their existence in the pages of Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage: country mansions, valets, chauffeurs, nights “on the tiles” and high teas. They swept past me talking of this and that with a fluency I’d never achieve. Aye, there I felt like a clay pot. Much later, I thought of that keenly envying moment and concluded it was not the pot you were in, but what you grew in it that mattered.
But still, I think now and then how a bespoke suit from Saville Row would be nice, even more so if I knew what bespoke meant. Hee-haw!

*Source: AESOP’S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop’s fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at the Gutenberg Project.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Changes, Changes!

Posted by jlubans on September 02, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: A farewell photo.

And "Changes, Changes!" could well have been a better title for my Leading Change (Pārmaiņu vadība), August 25-28, 2014 seminar in Latvia. (See below* for the Summary Abstract from the agenda.)
First, there was a last minute change in the venue site. Our new venue, “Laimes Ligzda” (Happy Nest) was not far from the original venue and, as change sometimes turns out, a change for the better: smaller, more intimate, an equally beautiful terrain of forest, ponds and fields and – a bit of karma here – only 8 kilometers away from where I was born!
Another change agent was the weather, surprise!
I’d planned the agenda to be spent outdoors about a third of the 3.5 days, but the autumnal mists, chilly drizzles, sporadic downpours and gusting winds made staying inside a better option.

Caption: The “Happy Nest”, our venue near Cēsis, Latvia.

Of course, some of the events – e.g., a 60 minute paired “walk and talk” into the forest – would not work indoors. As change sometimes requires, we had to improvise, juggle the agenda, extrapolate on the planned activities, and to keep an eye out for sunshine to get a few outside moments.
We managed. By we I mostly mean the participants whose engaged involvement never faltered, unaffected by changes, changes!
My seminars depend on this – engagement and involvement and focus by participants. Otherwise, we don’t accomplish half of what we set out to achieve. I saw numerous examples of creative resourcefulness, insightful transfers from theory to problem solving tasks, and relationship building.
Here are a few pictures that might get across some of what I am trying to say:
Caption: Scoring and changing, applying Deming's PDSA change concept.
Caption: Throwers strategizing.
Caption: Teamwork.

Finally, as an indicator of how the seminar went, here’s the plus/delta, an ending exercise in which participants get to tell me what worked and what could have been better:

Plus/Delta (BTW, the word for Change)
Variety of method
Presentations by students at end of seminar
Rasma (translator)
Books/Reports/Drawings by students
Organization of seminar
All motion games
Not too much theory
Theory and practice
Film (Dream Team 1935) “Sapņu komanda 1935”
Food, Fire, Rooms, & Pirts (sauna).
Personal contact among participants
Beautiful setting
Weather (rain, cloudy, cool, windy). This one delta was also acknowledged as a plus.

Sponsored by the University of Latvia, its Library and the Department of Information and Library Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences under the leadership of Dr. Iveta Gudakovska and Dr. Baiba Holma.

Together, we will consider theories of change, leadership, followership, team development, conflict, staff empowerment, and motivation. We will examine these topics from both internal and external perspectives, using our expertise from inside the library profession and pursuing ideas from outside our profession. Topics will be explored through readings, lectures, small group guided discussions, interspersed with films. Our venue, “Laimes Ligzda”, provides a unique setting in which to take time for self-reflection and team projects as we learn how we lead/follow and want to lead/follow to achieve organizational goals, to bring about changes for the better.

Course objectives and Individual goals are three-fold:
1. New ideas and strategies in leading, following and introducing and managing change will be compared and contrasted to traditional management principles. What do I keep, what will I add to my management style? How can I manage successful change and how can I avoid failing at change efforts.
2. Networking will allow me to share my own expertise and enhance my repertoire as I engage in peer discussion and guidance. This seminar will be a chance to meet new people; make the most of that opportunity. Through shared experiences I can learn what worked, what didn’t. What are causes for difficult or failed change; what promotes successful change?
3. Experience teaching and learning strategies that I may transfer to my home institution, influencing my role as change agent and innovator.

Knowledge: We hope to deepen our understanding of organizational change and the elements necessary for successful change and innovation. We expect to heighten our understanding of motivation, leadership and followership.
Skills: We will seek to improve communication skills, teamwork and to consider the advantages of a genuine participatory style of management, which can lead to a more welcoming culture for change.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Kid and the Wolf”*

Posted by jlubans on August 28, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: "Who's your daaaa-aady? Who's your daaaa-aady?"

“A KID standing on the roof of a house, out of harm's way, saw a Wolf passing by and immediately began to taunt and revile him. The Wolf, looking up, said, ‘Sirrah! I hear thee: yet it is not thou who mockest me, but the roof on which thou art standing.’"

“Time and place often give the advantage to the weak over the strong.”
Or, from another moralist:
“Do not say anything at any time that you would not say at all times.”

In Oklahoma they say, “Don’t let your alligator mouth overrun your canary tail.” I learned pretty much to ignore the nay-saying and nit-picking of my proverbial "roof critics". Like the wolf, I knew who was doing the talking! Had these critics proof of their actions and achievements than I might have been impressed and taken notice. But, invariably, the loudest (and hollowest) mocking came from those with the weakest records.

*Source: AESOP’S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop’s fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at the Gutenberg Project.

Copyright 2014 John Lubans

Vincent’s Brother.

Posted by jlubans on August 26, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Top: Vincent on left, brother Theo on right. Both by Vincent Van Gogh. Bottom: Johanna Bonger (Van Gogh) by Johan Cohen Gosschalk, 1905. Johanna published Vincent's letters to Theo following the deaths of both brothers.

This is more of a place keeper than the full blog. I am in the Latvian countryside leading a seminar from Aug 25-28 on Leading Change or as they say in Latvian: Pārmaiņu Vadība. Off to a great start, in the rain and wind yesterday; today promising sunshine. Good spirits among these 13 participants.
But, back to Theo Van Gogh, younger brother to Vincent. I have a Van Gogh calendar, the weekly kind, bound with illustrations and commentary on each pictured print. He was a frequent correspondent with Vincent and offered him unstinting support throughout his short but brilliant life. Vincent’s letters to Theo include descriptions of what the artist was seeing, experiencing and doing. Theo’s wife, Johanna , also played a role in friendship and support for the struggling artist. The couple bought Vincent’s work – a few others did as well – but Joanna took it a step further; she followed Vincent’s suggestions on how the art should be displayed. I believe that kind act had to bolster Vincent’s confidence and commitment to his vision. I want to develop this theme of support and what it means to anyone in a low spot of one’s life.
So more on that soon. For the now, back to the seminar.

@Copyright 2014 John Lubans

Friday Fable. Lubans’ “The Traveler and the Leaf.”

Posted by jlubans on August 21, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)


A traveler in the mountains faced a challenge: crossing a chasm on a crumbling log. The chasm was too wide to leap over. Far below, water rushed over stones and boulders. While fearful of heights, the traveler knew he had no choice but to use the log, however rickety. Gathering his courage, he stood on the end of the log, hoping to find his balance. His legs trembled and faltered; this was not going well at all. He reached out to some nearby tree branches to steady himself. Surprisingly, as his fingers touched a cluster of leaves, he felt gently supported in the stillness, his balance leveled out. He gave a leaf a gentle tug but it did not give. He calmed down, took a deep breath and stepped along the log.

Later, as he ate over a fire, the traveler reflected on how he had been supported by a cluster of tremulous leaves, attached to a few flimsy twigs....
And so it is in the world, when a kind gesture, or a smile of encouragement, or a quite word of support – as seemingly insignificant as a leaf - helps someone meet and overcome an anxious moment.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Change: Multi-faceted Rotoni

Posted by jlubans on August 19, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Insert Simpson, trying is the first step toward failure now in Ratnieki folder
Change is good. Change is inevitable. Change is the only constant. Life is change, Change is law. Nothing stands still. Embrace change. And, so on.
As I prepare to impart wisdom (or something passing for that) on leading change*, I’m focused on all things change. Is change something done to us or is it something we do to others? If the latter, we may be more willing to embrace change than if we are in the “done to” group. So, how we see change and how enthusiastic we are depends in large part on where we are when.
There’s a country song that comes to mind when I'm in a “done to” change effort: “How Can Anything That Sounds So Good Make Me Feel So Bad?”
Often, we are not leading change; we are in fact following. Change comes upon us and we have little choice in the matter. In library land, the roll out of the Internet profoundly changed the way libraries were and are being used. Not long after the first self-service DVD, the OPAC, and the Yahoo search engine, we all knew there was a coming sea change. But, many of us confirmed - through our actions - the Kübler-Ross model when confronted with sudden change: Denial.
The best libraries, with the best leaders and followers, changed their services with a far greater emphasis on out-reach. One benefit of fewer students at the reference desk was that there was more staff time to go to classrooms and to teaching departments. Another positive in the move from paper to electronic was that our faculty colleagues were bemused and bewildered by what was happening. They knew paper, but now they needed our help to understand and use the electronic; again, the best led libraries, were the most effective in providing that assistance. Faculty and librarian relationships evolved and improved. Those libraries led change and avoided being run over on the information highway.
This shift from paper to electronic also, gives insights into the timing of change. When do we see the matter as urgent? Do we begin the change in good times or when we are about busted? It may be easier in the latter – it’s all doom and gloom, so there’s little resistance – but the best time for change is when the blue bird of happiness is a-wing and all is rosy. That’s the best time for creative thought and when the best leaders begin to build support for the future.
The better a leader (or follower), the better he or she anticipates and interprets the signals from what is barreling down the road. However, early efforts to get the organization moving forward come with risk. Some will ask: “Why fix something not broken?” The implication is that there is no need to change and that you (the person seeking change) are wrong.
I came across a change formula, one that I will use in my workshop. I think it compactly explains the essential elements (and difficulties) in changing something and it also suggests the leader’s responsibilities:
C = D x V x F > R
C = Change
D = Dissatisfaction with the current organizational system
V = Clear vision of the organizational goals for the future
F = Practical first steps
R = Resistance to change that is present in the organization
One of the most popular change metaphors is Kurt Lewin’s freeze, thaw, and refreeze. Imagine a square cube of ice that you would like to make into a triangle. Simple: Thaw into water, pour the water into a triangle form, freeze and there you have it.
Imagine now an organization, say of 50 people, - very square - going about doing their business, sort of, but not as well as they should or could. That’s the frozen state. So now, we unfreeze it; we want something more nimble and less expensive. How do we do that? How do we get those 50 people into a liquid state – metaphorically speaking, please – so they can be re-frozen into inter-linking circles or a multi-faceted rotoni shape? How do we even know what shape we want?
So, change is not simple. Nor are the complex guides to change as transparent as we would like or as easy to apply. If anything, because the helpful ones recognize the complexity of change, they obscure the very process they claim to clarify. Do I mean to suggest that John Kotter’s 8 steps for change is not much better than Lewin's melted ice cube? Probably, yes. Under Kotter’s theory we are expected to do the following, pretty much in the given order. I’ve added in brackets, another consultant’s more casual take on these 8 steps).
Create Urgency (Increase urgency)
Form a Powerful Coalition (Build the guiding team)
Create a Vision for Change (Get the right vision)
Communicate the Vision (Communicate for buy-in)
Remove Obstacles (Empowerment)
Create Short-Term Wins (Create short-term wins)
Build on the Change (Don’t let up)
Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture (Make it stick)

I’ve been part of many change efforts. Some succeeded, – we were lucky – while others failed. I am sure I could look at Kotter’s list and find reasons for failure or success. That’s helpful. No doubt I could have become a better change agent had I spent some time reflecting on Kotter’s theory and my personal experience. And, that’s pretty much the advice I'll offer the seminar participants.

* ”Leading Change”: A seminar on leading and following change in libraries and other organizations. Sponsored by the University of Latvia. August 25-28. By John Lubans & Sheryl Anspaugh. At Ratnieki Conference Center, near Sigulda, Latvia. Instruction in English. Cost: 170 €. Includes tuition, accommodation, meals and transport from Riga.
On August 29th there’s a special reason to be in Latvia: the grand opening of the National Library of Latvia in Riga!

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Lubans’ “The Fat Baron”*

Posted by jlubans on August 15, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Book cover by Frank Lieberman (1946)

With the collusion of a corrupt king, a baron plundered his neighbors. The baron grew fat; the neighbors waned thin. After the death of the monarch, the baron was brought to justice and jailed. The judge restored the ill-gotten gains to the neighbors and the remainder he put into the public treasury. The baron’s family pleaded with the judge to return this wealth; it had not been stolen - rather these were “investments” made through the family’s hard work and should not be confiscated.
The judge pondered and then remembered the Judgment of Bocchyris.
His verdict: Just like the plundered neighbors who daily saw the baron grow large while they starved, so now the baron’s family could come to the treasury once a year and gaze upon “their” money. And so was the family’s wish granted but not in the way they intended.

*Laura Gibbs, the Latin scholar, who recently wrote about the Judgment of Bocchyris, inspired my fable as did a recent news article about a crook’s family in Detroit claiming as their’s, the cash and other property seized by the police.

N.B. ”Leading Change”: A seminar on leading and following change in libraries and other organizations. Sponsored by the University of Latvia. August 25-28. By John Lubans & Sheryl Anspaugh. At Ratnieki Conference Center, near Sigulda, Latvia. Instruction in English. Cost: 170 €. Includes tuition, accommodation, meals and transport from Riga.

On August 29th there’s a special reason to be in Latvia: the grand opening of the National Library of Latvia in Riga!

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Why not?

Posted by jlubans on August 12, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Wilbur deciding what to wear.

One of the activities I’ve developed for the Leading Change seminar* is for participants to read a children’s book and identify and build upon aspects of change found in that book. Mo Williams’ “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed” is one of the four books I’ll be using.**
Williams’ story is about Wilbur, a non-conformist who loves fashion but runs into rancorous opposition from the naked legions. They want to stay in the buff, but more importantly – as is too often the case with most people unhappy about change - they don’t want anyone else to change. They want Wilbur to cease and desist with the button-down shirts and bell-bottom trousers!
Wilbur remains puzzled and asks, “Why not?” Since Wilbur’s not one “ to go along to get along” (an accommodator), the mole rats turn for a ruling to Grand-pah, the patriarch naked mole rat.
Fortunately for our clothes-loving hero the Patriarch muses and concludes “Why not?” And so now the naked mole rat community includes the clothed and the unclothed and everyone is A-OK. (Or, so we hope.)
Clearly a child’s book requires a suspension of disbelief – perhaps less so among librarians - but there’s much to be learned about change in Wilbur’s tale that applies to our grown-up world. Even when we think about another outcome – the Patriarch siding with the naked hordes – there’s something to learn. Change rarely goes smoothly and differences are not well tolerated. Any hint of oddness, of queerness, can become off-putting. It’s what change agents have to contend with in storybooks and in the work place.
Some of my most productive results as a team leader came from asking Why? and Why not? and Why do we do this? I also asked, What happens if we stop? What’s the worst that can happen?
My asking those questions upset some people – for them it was obvious why we do what we did and anyone questioning the status quo was a fool.
But many staff were willing to re-think what was important and what was not – they’d had their doubts all along! My simple Why? gave them permission to experiment and to change the status quo. They could see the labor savings in stopping something redundant and applying those savings to where the need was greater.
Wilbur’s openness to change reminds me of an exchange between Saul Zabar (of NYCs premium deli store, Zabar’s) and one of his daughters, Rachel, a film maker. They were in the kitchen and Saul was explaining why he experiments with food, even though he “almost never” comes up with a success. “Anyone can do it right”, Saul said. “Guess what would happen when something you are not supposed to do comes out good?” That’s Wilbur-thinking. Still, Rachel was not convinced about his latest culinary concoction of hash and cucumbers. “Euuuw” is how she put it!

*N.B. ”Leading Change”: A seminar on leading and following change in libraries and other organizations. Sponsored by the University of Latvia. August 25-28. By John Lubans & Sheryl Anspaugh. At Ratnieki Conference Center, near Sigulda, Latvia. Instruction in English. Cost: 170 €. Includes tuition, accommodation, meals and transport from Riga.
On August 29th there’s a special reason to be in Latvia: the grand opening of the National Library of Latvia in Riga!

**Also, these three books:
“Changes, Changes” by Pat Hutchins.
“Let’s Do Nothing” by Tony Fucile.
“Mon. Saguette and His Baguette” by Frank Asch.

Libraries with Leading from the Middle: University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA.

@Copyright 2014 John Lubans