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 Bear and the Two Travelers”*

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

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Caption: Illustration by Henry Justice Ford, ca. 1888 at age 28.

“TWO MEN were traveling together, when a Bear suddenly met them on their path. One of them climbed up quickly into a tree and concealed himself in the branches. The other, seeing that he must be attacked, fell flat on the ground, and when the Bear came up and felt him with his snout, and smelt him all over, he held his breath, and feigned the appearance of death as much as he could. The Bear soon left him, for it is said he will not touch a dead body. When he was quite gone, the other Traveler descended from the tree, and jocularly inquired of his friend what it was the Bear had whispered in his ear. ‘He gave me this advice,’ his companion replied. ‘Never travel with a friend who deserts you at the approach of danger.’”

“Misfortune tests the sincerity of friends.”

“Aye, it be true, young Jim,” talking like a pirate out of Treasure Island. This fable’s moral dredges up an unpleasant memory. After a business acquaintance – he worked at a different institution - was fired, I saw him at a national meeting and failed to approach him. I avoided offering him my best wishes or reaching out to him. I’ve an excuse – embarrassment for him, maybe - but more likely it was some quirky avoidance reaction on my part. It’s not that I “cut” him - to use a British term – that’s deliberate and mean-spirited. This was more a feigned not noticing - yet knowing - someone in a crowd of people on a conference floor. I’d change it if I could. So, listen me sea-faring laddies and lassies; do what’s right when you next encounter someone upon whom fortune is leering.

*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.

Leading from the Middle Library of the week: Kelburn Library of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Copyright John Lubans 2014

“Luck and looks”

Posted by jlubans on December 16, 2014  •  Leave comment (1)

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Caption: NYCs The Hungarian Pastry Shop in summer.

In my prolonged youth, whenever I went to New York City I’d stop at the Hungarian Pastry Shop located in Morningside Heights, the Columbia University neighborhood. I got to know a couple of the regulars there – I met them through a mix up over the poppy seed and cherry cheese strudel. The two were pensioners, recent retirees, and long-time friends, Jack and Joe. On the job, they’d both been at or near the top, inside the “corridors of power” – no Willy Lomans these.
One winter’s day we were having coffee at the back of the store. They got to reminiscing about the world of work and what defines personal success and failure. While each had some career episodes they’d do differently, for the most part there was plenty on the positive side and enough in the bank account to keep the wolf from the door.

Joe: “I’ve been thinking, Jack, about life and how things turn out or not. You’ve done pretty well. A long career, maybe some downs but mostly ups. You got started early did you not? I mean right out of school you went into management. How’d that come about?

Jack: “Looks and luck! And, no getting around it, gender still mattered in my business in the mid-60s. I looked good in a suit and that made me an automatic candidate for managerial jobs, at least in my field. My “good looks” got me noticed and opened a few doors. And, fortunately, I met some people who seemed to think I might go somewhere – even though there was hardly any academic evidence of that! But they saw something in me, in spite of my rough edges, and were willing to encourage me. You know, they trusted me. Of course, there were always others who saw me as an empty suit. Hell, I probably did more than a few things to confirm that impression. I’m not blameless. Overtime, if you stay in the same job, poor decisions can mount up and erode support. Maybe if I’d been more of a diplomat, a better communicator…?
As I think about it, maybe I moved up too fast, that I “peaked” too soon. If I had wanted to I could have lain low – like some of my peers - and laid out a trajectory with a big job at the end. I could have been like Gilbert & Sullivan’s, “… the very model of a modern major general”, a prissy bureaucrat!
But, I guess, I never had the discipline or the desire, really. How about you?

Joe: Well, no Adonis, I did get credit for having brains, but that was not an automatic pass into management! (For that matter, I really did not want to be a manager – I loved working with the customers.) Regardless, I did my job well and moved up in position and salary. And, eventually the bosses saw that I could lead. I probably could have kept on moving up – in my immediate field or even other fields – I was pretty good, you know, (smile).
But, I had a family, kids and a wife with an established career; why would I want to move, to the west coast or to some university center in mid-America? And, I had plenty of opportunity where I was to do what I wanted to. Much of the time, I had excellent support – my ability to get grants was better than average (“I’ll say!” exclaimed Jack).
I had a pretty good run. Then, when I thought I was really hitting my stride, new leadership showed up and began to change things. The new leader initially was supportive, but then less so. You know whom I’m talking about. He was all about teamwork (“There’s no ‘I’ in team”, he loved to say). We were supposedly equal members of "his" team, but I think he wanted more obeisance than I could offer. His definition of team captain was closer to “THE boss” than mine. Hell, I think I scared him because I had ideas. This guy was on record for wanting innovation but he really was a traditionalist at heart and if it was not his idea, it was not a good idea.
So, I had to leave, a very scary time. Luck was with my family and me; I landed on my feet and found another institution and new challenges.

Jack: I had a somewhat different “finale”, Joe. The daily grind came to an end sooner than I wanted – or so it seemed at the time. But being forced out actually freed me up to do things I wanted to do. There are times when I think I should have gotten out long before I had to.
Anyway, you know I am still doing what I want personally to do. That’s me – going well beyond the job description and pursuing my own, job-related questions. My questioning annoyed some people, of course. If you are moving, there’s going to be friction when you brush up against the unmoving. If there is such a thing as an incremental enmity among the people resentful of change – those with the ruffled feathers – I was able to avoid it until near the end of my career.
When my luck did run out – there’s no denying it, I was in a funk. But, the gloom lifted and rarely returns.
Like you, Joe, I’ve discovered there’s always more to do, more to offer, more to explore, so in a way, I am happy to be free of the endless meetings – gad, some of that routine is awful!
I still get excited in following through on my own ideas; if I fail, it’s largely my fault. If I succeed, well, it’s never just me; invariably it is someone else who says, “Hey, I like that idea. Let’s do it.”

Joe: It may sound trite, but I’m happy to focus on family and in sustaining the relationships from my career, the folks, like you, I want to stay in touch with – it’s friendship. And, you know I still teach. I want to keep doing that as long as I can. It’s a confirmation of my expertise and the school wants it and the students see it as relevant and of interest. So, I guess I am like you in wanting that confirmation.

“Hey, Junior (me), pour me some more of that coffee!”

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “The Father and His Two Daughters”*

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

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Caption: A literal interpretation for a Turkish version of this fable.

“A MAN had two daughters, the one married to a gardener, and the other to a tile-maker. After a time he went to the daughter who had married the gardener, and inquired how she was and how all things went with her. She said, ‘All things are prospering with me, and I have only one wish, that there may be a heavy fall of rain, in order that the plants may be well watered.’ Not long after, he went to the daughter who had married the tile maker, and likewise inquired of her how she fared; she replied, ‘I want for nothing, and have only one wish, that the dry weather may continue, and the sun shine hot and bright, so that the bricks might be dried.’ He said to her, ‘If your sister wishes for rain, and you for dry weather, with which of the two am I to join my wishes?’

At one time I was active in a professional society. It alleged to be an egalitarian grouping but in truth had more levels and ranks than a Masonic temple. And, while some professed it mattered little, elected positions were jealously coveted. So, I found myself unintentionally caught in the middle much like the father in the fable. A professional friend told me he was running for office and asked for my vote. This was well before the slate was set, so I did not know his opponent. Regardless, since I liked him and thought he'd do a good job, I promised him my vote. Lo and behold, shortly before the election another friend asked me to vote for her! I decided honesty was the best policy and told her, as much as I admired her and would have readily voted for her, I could not do so since I had promised my vote to the opponent. She seemed to take it OK, but our correspondence ceased nor has it (now years later) resumed. She won the election, as I knew she would, but I apparently had failed her. A friend no more.

*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

An Un-boss Quiz

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

How much of an unboss are you? Or, how democratic are you when leading others? This is a short quiz* about decision making in the workplace. If you are not a supervisor but would like to be, then answer these statements the way you WOULD lead others.

The answers for each of the 12 statements include Never (1 point); Seldom (2 points); Sometimes (3 points); Often (4 points); and Always (5 points).

So, How frequently do you allow others to participate in:
1. Defining personnel needs for your group?
2. Deciding which new people to hire?
3. Defining training needs for staff?
4. Making job assignments for the group?
5. Deciding on promotions for group members?
6. Making decisions about what work YOU will do?
7. Scheduling work for the group?
8. Setting performance standards for the group?
9. Making performance evaluations for group members?
10. Defining group norms, (e. g. start and end times, leaves, breaks, etc.)?
11. Preparing the annual budget for the group?
12. Preparing annual plans and defining objectives for the group?

There you have it. Sum up your scores. To illustrate scoring, if you “Seldom” allow others to take part in #11, “Preparing the annual budget for the group”, then you would score yourself 2 points. The maximum score for all twelve statements is 60 or that you always involve others in decision-making. The lowest scores is 12 or that you never involve others.
Once you have your score divide it by 12. If you got 60 points your base number is then 5.
The base score of 4 and greater suggests you practice “decision decentralization”. You are more of an unboss or a “democratic leader” than the traditional boss. The lower the base score (2 or less) the more it appears you practice “decision centralization” or limiting the input of others into decision making. You are the boss!
There may be good reasons for retaining exclusive decision making authority: inexperienced group members; unwillingness of group members to take part in decision making and/or the organization frowning upon supervisors who involve workers in decision making. On the other hand if you have highly experienced members in the group with ideas to offer, then it is probably a mistake not to involve them in decision-making. In my experience, decentralizing decisions usually produced higher quality decisions and improved our “product” and customer satisfaction.

*Adapted from J. L. Pierce, “Employee Affective Responses to Work Unit Structure and Job Design: A Test of an Intervening Variable.” University of Wisconsin. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, 1977.

@Copyright 2014 John Lubans

Friday Fable. Lubans’ Neptune and the Curlew.

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

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Caption: Littoral Curlew/Sandpiper.

ONCE Upon a time the curlew resided in Neptune’s pelagic kingdom. Instead of feathers, the curlew had scales and swam in the deep ocean. While he loved the water, his curiosity took him ever toward the surface. Skimming along, he could see the sandy shore glistening under a blue sky. He dove down to tell the other fish of his adventures.
Neptune was jealous and annoyed with Curlew’s description of the wonders beyond the sea. He made the curlew promise not to return to the shore.
Well, as you can imagine, it was not long before the curlew once again was swimming in the rushing surf, ogling the new sights. Alas, this time he became stranded on a sand bar, a fish out of water, gasping his last. Neptune intervened and spared Curlew but angry over the broken promise, changed him into a bird and banished him to the water’s edge, never to return to the depths of the sea.
So, the curlew now skirts the shore and wades into the water, torn between the water and the land, plaintively calling to the unhearing sea.

Moral: Set your sights to the achievable lest you perish in the pursuit of the impossible.

Leading from the Middle citation:
I ran across Michael F. Bemis’ ‪”Library and Information Science: A (bibliographic) Guide to Key Literature and Sources.” The American Library Association published it in 2013. Here’s what Mr. Bemis thinks:
‬‬…. “The ‘contrarian’ in the title stems from the author’s nontraditional view of leadership. Again and again, he shows the limiting nature of the command-and-control model used in a majority of organizations, which basically means that the person at the top gives the orders and the loyal underlings are expected to march in lockstep as they carry them out. Lubans’ view is one of true empowerment, in which everyone in the organizational hierarchy is not only allowed but expected to contribute opinions, ideas and suggestions. Quite simply the author argues for a democracy within the library, rather than a dictatorship.”

A good reason to get a copy for Christmas for your organization.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

"The Singing Revolution"

Posted by jlubans on December 02, 2014  •  Leave comment (1)

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This 2009 documentary explores how the little nation of Estonia escaped from the Soviet Union, largely through its cultural heritage of song and literature.
The DVDs “Extras” include several historical clips and side notes. One, “Role of culture under Soviet Occupation,” features interviews with two participants in the Singing Revolution - from the late 80s to the year of independence, 1991 - Marju Lauristin and Artur Talvik. Lauristin is now a professor emerita at the University of Tartu and a former Popular Front leader for the transition from communism to democracy. Artur Talvik was an outspoken participant and leader in the Singing Revolution. Both risked exile to Siberia, or worse, had Russia not been in its own turmoil (or “thaw” if we use Lewin’s change model) during the late 80s.
Lauristin observes that arts of all sorts (culture) were supported by the Soviet/Marxist philosophy. Of course, much of the Soviet notion of culture was about inculcating Lenin, Stalin and Marx. Nevertheless, the arts provided subterfuge for captive people to “argue” ideas, sub rosa. Or even to make trade-offs of propaganda for national identity. Talvik describes how during the 1987 national song festival the choirs sang Soviet “crap” for three days, songs about Lenin and Stalin and Soviet happiness. Then at the end of the concert the choirs – 30,000 participants - erupted into forbidden national songs. In this instance, the KGB allowed it, thinking perhaps that after 3 days of incessant propaganda a little nationalism might be innocuous. More likely, the KGB did not know what to do under the new notion of “glasnost” which supposedly permitted openness and transparency in government and allowed an undefined amount of free speech and expression. As one commentator in the DVD remarks, “The ghost (of freedom) was out of the bottle”; no putting it back. Lauristin describes the phenomenon as springtime; forbidden Estonian flags blossoming like so many flowers.
Estonian audiences knew and were well versed at “reading between the lines.” While the risks were there, especially prior to glasnost, the Russian police were pretty much hapless as to what to do even when they understood the veiled literary or musical reference. (See my Pūt vējiņi: Of individual freedom.)
For example, in a Tallin theater’s 1970s production of Hamlet the curtain went up on a blank stage only decorated with architectural columns. Behind each column was a man, in hiding. The audience applauded; they knew. Those guys were the KGB, sneaking around and spying. And, the play’s line “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” was immediately applied by the audience to the sorry state of the Soviet Union.
So indeed, culture was a vehicle to get out ideas, to get people thinking, and, eventually, changing its society.
I will use this DVD in teaching about change and about democracy in the workplace, about freedom at work. And, I’d like to work the DVD into a discussion about sustaining large change. How does any organization moving from dysfunction into effectiveness, continue the progress? For Talvik, not long after 1991’s glorious independence theater and films became “highly boring”, there was “nobody to fight,” “the tricky jokes (about the Soviet) were gone.” No longer did theater provide the hidden messages of freedom and the arts went back into their ivory towers. Lauristin explains; during Soviet times Estonian poems were published in runs of 30,000; now editions of 1000 or less sit on store shelves waiting for readers.
More broadly, consider the low voter turnouts in democracies.
Once we reject totalitarianism, what do we want to be? What can any organization do to advance movement and avoid the stagnation implied in the conclusion of a W. H. Auden poem:
“So an age ended, and its last deliverer died

In bed, grown idle and unhappy; they were safe:

The sudden shadow of a giant’s enormous calf

Would fall no more at dusk across their lawns outside.”


@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE CRAB AND THE FOX”*

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

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Caption: Silkscreen print by Eleanor Grosch.

“A Crab once left the sea-shore and went and settled in a meadow some way inland, which looked very nice and green and seemed likely to be a good place to feed in. But a hungry Fox came along and spied the Crab and caught him. Just as he was going to be eaten up, the Crab said, ‘This is just what I deserve; for I had no business to leave my natural home by the sea and settle here as though I belonged to the land.’”

“Be content with your lot.”

This disputable moral – aren’t they all? - reminds me of the infamous “Lawsuit among the Adages.” No, not cabbages, adages. You know, “Look before you leap” Vs. “He who hesitates is lost.” The jury is still out.
In the workplace, one all too frequent refrain in opposition to change is the mantra: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We’ll just keep on doing what we are doing, even if we are discontent. My injudicious response? “If it ain’t broke, break it!”
While that sounds a bit too close to the insufferable certainty of Thomas Alva Edison’s “Show me a thoroughly satisfied man — and I will show you a failure,” I think judicious application of the “break it” principle might help untie those workplace Gordian knots that impede and frustrate.
Less dramatic but perhaps more germane is the Latvian folk saying about pursuing one’s discontent for the best deal: “Why settle for a sandwich if you’re invited to dinner?”

*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.

Friday’s Leading from the Middle Library:
Susquehanna University, Blough-Weis Library
Selinsgrove, PA. USA

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

“Where the ball is going to be.”

Posted by jlubans on November 25, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Marquette's coach, Carolyn Kieger, in her first year, encourages the team.

I make frequent use of basketball movies and articles to teach teamwork. (Indeed, “Leading from the Middle” has a chapter – “More than a Game” - on what I learned from a season with a women’s basketball team.) The two films I use are “Hoosiers” and “Sapņu komanda 1935" (Dream Team 1935). They share a similar storyline: a dysfunctional team that has a long way to go to achieve its potential. Each coach makes passing or sharing the ball of paramount importance in the team’s development. Of course, the ball hog players refuse to share and the storyline develops around how the coach and team work out their differences. The teams eventually learn that by sharing the ball their team will become better able to score and to win.
A coach’s instruction, “I want every player to touch the ball before anyone shoots,” is not a silly team building exercise. Passing really is about improving the probability of scoring. Rather than a player’s going it alone, passing the ball can set up players for the rebound or to gain a fraction of a second for an open “look” at the basket prior to shooting. Several head-snapping passes on the outside perimeter can confuse and freeze defenders and get the ball to the most open player.
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Caption: Program featuring freshmen players.
I went to a game this weekend and it reminded me, once again, of the many good lessons about leading, following, sharing, and support one can find in a well played game.
Azura Stevens, a first year player, had an outstanding game. When asked to compare her play to an earlier game in which she was less effective she said: “The main difference was just thinking of the team before myself,” Stevens said. “I had a semi-decent game (a week ago), and I’ll admit I was a little bit prideful. So going into this game, I was really trying to focus on the team goals and what we were going to get done as a team, and the rest just came.”
When a player steals the ball and runs the court, usually there’s a team mate trailing; often that player is in a better position to score. If the player decides to keep the ball and shoots at full speed, it may rim out, a lost score. Indeed the other team may get the ball back. Similarly, I see a coach shaking her head when a player surrounded by defenders keeps the ball and puts up a wobbly shot.
So what does this have to do with work?
Passing the ball is like sharing ideas at work. The more touches an idea has the better the idea (the notion of an idea “scoring” or “winning” is not a complicated concept). A willingness to talk frankly and honestly and to have the patience to wait for an idea to develop is akin to a basketball team’s communicating and patiently passing and setting up shots. Also, passing represents players knowing their inter-dependencies. To pass without losing the ball means being aware of one’s colleagues, of being in the right place at the right time. Wayne Gretzky, the hockey player, said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” (BTW, when repeated by hidebound bosses, the ending of this quote – Gretzky’s excoriation of tradition - is always dropped!)
Some of that mind set and skill is what a good team gains through practice. The player charging up the court knows – without seeing – that there’s a trailing player ready to catch a behind-the-back pass for an easy lay-up. Or, when one player, screened by a defender and out of view of the passer, steps to the right and catches the pass. And it means talking, making yourself heard to all the players, letting the other players know where you are, literally and figuratively. Look at any good team (on the court or at work) and you’ll see “hands up” and other gestures of being open and you’ll hear the players talking to each other, letting everyone know where one is to help, to offer support.
You do not have to be prescient, like Mr. Gretzky suggests; rather you have to be familiar with your team and its procedures to know where to move the ball; you need to be where the ball is going to be.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week:
University of South Carolina, System Library Service
University Libraries, Columbia, SC 29208 United States

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable: La Fontaine’s version of Aesop's “THE STAG AND THE VINE.”*

Posted by jlubans on November 21, 2014  •  Leave comment (1)

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Caption: The 42nd Psalm. Mosaic, probably from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Ravenna, Italy.

“A stag, by favour of a vine,
Which grew where suns most genial shine,
And form'd a thick and matted bower
Which might have turn'd a summer shower,
Was saved from ruinous assault.
The hunters thought their dogs at fault,
And call'd them off. In danger now no more
The stag, a thankless wretch and vile,
Began to browse his benefactress o'er.
The hunters, listening the while,
The rustling heard, came back,
With all their yelping pack,
And seized him in that very place.
'This is,' said he, 'but justice, in my case.
Let every black ingrate
Henceforward profit by my fate.'
The dogs fell to--'twere wasting breath
To pray those hunters at the death.
They left, and we will not revile 'em,
A warning for profaners of asylum.”

Moral supplied by V. S. Vernon Jones: “Ingratitude sometimes brings its own punishment.”

In mordant moments, I like to think that people who do harm to others endure some level of unrelated suffering. Probably not as immediate as what the stag experiences, but over time, a karmic fate meanders their way, like a yellow fog oozing in and around and shutting off their light. So, all those folks in Kafkian customer service remember, do no harm to the customer (your metaphoric vineyard), lest you find yourself the stag surrounded by slings and arrows. Help, never hinder. The customer is always right, even when she’s wrong. Now that’s more Beckett than Kafka, but you know what I mean. Uber, the ride share company with vicious thoughts and surge pricing, could benefit from reading this and other fables from La Fontaine.

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882. Available at Gutenberg.

Two of my students, Ilze Kleinšmite and Santa Lozda, have written about the class I just finished at the University of Latvia. My teaching of this class was supported through a Fulbright Specialists Program Award from the United States Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. I was one of over 400 U.S. faculty and professionals to travel abroad this year through the Fulbright Specialists Program.
The students’ report, “Informācijas pārvaldības studenti apgūst demokrātiju darba vietā.” (Information Management students learn about democracy in the workplace) is on the U of Ls Faculty of Social Sciences web page.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: High Point University, Herman H. and Louise M. Smith Library, High Point, NC, USA
Available at Amazon just in time for an egalitarian Christmas.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

“Untold” opinions

Posted by jlubans on November 18, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: The singular mindset. (Maine photo by JL.)

Andrew Hill, writing in the Financial Times,
reveals that a nondescript bank clerk - Eric Roberts - was a double agent during WWII, “controlling and neutralising hundreds of Nazi sympathisers and ‘fifth columnists’ in Britain”. What sets Mr. Hill to thinking is an archived note from one of this master spy’s bank supervisors questioning the rationale behind the request for him to help in the war effort: “What we would like to know here is what are the particular and especial qualifications of Mr. Roberts – which we have not been able to perceive – for some particular work of national military importance?” (Emphasis added.)
This supervisor’s inability to recognize talent when it was front and center sets Andrew Hill wondering how many other just plain workers – maybe more of the quiet, unassuming kind than of the extroverted – are passed over, go unrecognized and are under-used by the organization.
In my personal career, I know of at least two bosses – neither of whom I worked for – that would make noises akin to Robert’s boss, undercutting and mean-spirited. One was a director of a library in an elite private institution and the other was a director in a large public university. No, their inability to recognize talent was not just a blind spot; rather, it was something more calculated. Both resented someone’s being singled out for positive recognition and could not get past their personal envy. You can imagine the type of staff these two directors accumulated in their respective organizations. Probably not creative, independent, critical thinkers!
Hill suggests that there may well be talent, like the “genius spy”, in our organizations that simply does not fit neatly into the "paradigm” (excuse me) we think separates the best people from the crowd. “(D)etecting those who are hiding in plain view” is made all the more difficult by our preconceptions and intolerances.

I have written more than once about the quiet team member; the one who is not saying much. Do you invite them in to the discussion or ignore them? For that matter, do you even assign them to a team project since they are not loquacious and garrulous? I see this play out regularly when I form classroom teams and give them 10 minutes to come up with a solution to some problem. Often the quiet people are ignored and while the team products are OK, they could well have been better had the group made an effort to make sure everyone had a say, however briefly.
I encourage the quiet people to speak up, to exercise their voices. A few actually do and all - including the quiet person - are amazed at just how good his/her ideas are. Others reflect – remember these are quiet thinkers - and realize they indeed have something to offer, but that without speaking up, their ideas will go nowhere. One such student who received a grade of 9 on a scale of 10, made this observation when I asked her what she needed to develop to be more effective in a group:
“I would like to be more open, to communicate with others (more freely). Don’t be a shy person. Sometimes I noticed my views and opinion were right, but I haven’t announced it, (so) no one knew about it.”
Another student in this same class saw clearly the perils of not speaking up:
“I would like to develop my own follower qualities, e.g. my ability to speak my mind, express my ideas. Because “untold” opinions can be negative to a group’s work.”
(N. B. I have kept the language as written by the students; please remember these are students for whom English is a second or third language.)

Going back to Robert’s snarky boss, Andrew Hill argues that it is important for leaders to recognize talent. If someone does not measure up to your yardstick of corporate qualities, you may want to ask yourself why? In groups you lead, do you invite in the quiet person or do you figure they must not have anything to say – why else would they be quiet! Or do you invite them in, e.g. “I notice you’ve been thinking quietly, what should we do?” Or, “OK, we’ve talked about this and I’ve heard from most of you. I want to hear what those who have not spoken think, so don’t be shy about telling me what’s right, what’s wrong. If you think we’re barking up the wrong tree, let me know.” And then wait.
I like to tell the story – it appears in Leading from the Middle
of how during an outdoor leadership challenge we muted the two domineering MBA students who really believed they knew best. But, try as they might, their ideas, were not getting the job done, nor was anyone else speaking up. We decided to see what would happen if we silenced these two and asked the others to work out the problem – you might not get away with doing that in the workplace, but in a “harmless” adventure activity, it’s acceptable.
How did it work out? The quietest person came up with the solution. All she needed was some space and encouragement in which to offer ideas. Did the two domineering personalities change? Probably not, but the quiet participants certainly took home a memorable lesson.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week:
Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika Library
Torun, Poland


@Copyright John Lubans 2014