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.



An HINDU FABLE: THE BRAHMIN AND THE POTS

Posted by jlubans on April 23, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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ONCE upon a time in the city of Varna, there lived a Brahmin whose name was Deva Sarman.
At the Equinoctial Feast of the Dussara he received the gift of a dish of flour, which he took with him to a Potter's shed; and there he lay down in the shade, staff in hand, among the pots.
As he thus reclined he began to meditate after the following fashion:
“I can sell this flour for at least ten Cowrie-shells, and with them I can purchase some of these pots and sell them at a profit.
With all that money I can buy a stock of betel-nuts and body-cloths and make a new profit by selling them; and so I can go on buying and trading until I get a Lakh** of Rupees—what's to prevent me?
Then I shall marry four young wives—at least, one of them shall be both young and beautiful, and she shall be my favourite.
Of course the other three will be jealous; but if they quarrel and talk too much and make themselves troublesome, I shall beat them like this—and this—and this—“
And so saying, he flourished his staff with such vigour that he not only smashed his own meal-dish, but also broke several of the Potter's jars. The Potter, rushing in, caught him by the throat and threw him out of the shed, and so ended the Brahmin's dreams of a Lakh of Rupees.

Who, e'er he makes a gain has spent it.
Like the Pot-breaker, will repent it.
_______________
My first boss used to say,
“There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.” The Brahmin’s dreams come up empty.
Is his loss a form of karma for greedy dreams or is this always the outcome for he who counts his chickens before they are hatched?
OK, enough of the childhood clichés.
Serves him right for his wife-beating. Had he written Dear Abby he might still have his dish of flour.

*Source: Hitopadeqa. Book IV. Fable 7. Adapted from the translation by Sir Edwin Arnold included in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

** Google says one lakh Indian rupees is worth about $1,500 USD.

Phaedrus’ THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE VICTOR IN THE GYMNASTIC GAMES*

Posted by jlubans on April 16, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Black-figure amphora ca. 6th BCE.

How Boastfulness may sometimes be checked.

A Philosopher chancing to find the Victor in a gymnastic contest too fond of boasting, asked him whether his adversary had been the stronger man.
To this the other replied: “Don’t mention it; my strength was far greater.”
“Then, you simpleton,” retorted the Philosopher, “what praise do you deserve, if you, being the stronger, have conquered one who was not so powerful?
You might perhaps have been tolerated if you had told us that you had conquered one who was your superior in strength.”
_________________
Like Krylov’s nightingale who bashes the aspiring yet toneless musicians, or Aesop’s harsh criticism of an ego-tripping writer, Phaedrus tells what to say to the braggadocios among us: If you are so great, how can you revel in a victory over someone weaker?
Good point.
I recall, after leading an organization out of its basement ranking to the top ranking among its peers, asking, Who’s the competition?
While we’d done a good job, the answer to that question was to remind me that anyone could have done so. We were fortunate in being given freedom to innovate, to repurpose resources, and to cut red tape.
We’d stormed the hill; the mountains, the real challenges, lay ahead.

*Source: THE COMEDIES OF TERENCE AND THE FABLES OF PHÆDRUS.
TRANSLATED By HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A.
TO WHICH IS ADDED A METRICAL TRANSLATION OF PHÆDRUS,
By CHRISTOPHER SMART.
LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS, 1887.

__________
My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

From Riga: Teaching Leadership & Literature

Posted by jlubans on April 08, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Barefoot Rainis. Look carefully, past BIG Rainis, down the slope in the background, is little Rainis. Big Rainis is about 12 feet tall (4 meters) Little R, under 5’. Big Rainis looks skyward unconcerned of those many taking selfies. Little R, when you are seated next to him, looks disconcertingly into your eyes, wondering who you are and why you are here.
(Photo by Viktorija Moskina.)

On the road again, I am for the next few months in Riga, Latvia. What takes me here? A Fulbright award to teach a short class on leadership concepts and theories at the University of Latvia.
I’ve puzzled on the topic. First, I’d use my Fables for Leaders book and we’d have long discussions about the morals and points of these ancient and modern stories.
But, I began to worry – could we really spend 3 hours (the length of each class) in discussion of a book?
Perhaps another book, but not mine.
I began to revise the original idea, now months back. Un-jelled, each class will change a bit but I think I have got something to run with.
Here’s what’s become clear as a basis for the L&L class:
- Literary and cultural examples of leadership and leadership qualities. In literature, I've included a variety of the other arts.
- How culture (including art and music and politics) affects leaders and followers and vice versa. It’s a two way process; bounded by culture we take from it and we give to it.
- On occasion, I’ll take a separate track and elaborate, briefly, on the prescriptive theories of leadership, management and organizational behavior. This separate track is independent of art, culture and literature. In other words the fodder of management. We’ll add some mustard with paradoxical questions.
- A new twist: hearing from Latvian leaders and artists and their experiences; their use of metaphors, legends, philosophy, and inherited values to influence culture. We’ll consider what it means to act heroically.
- Finally, I’ve added something I call “Artistic Insights”. We’ll step aside to view a propaganda film from 1977 about a successful manager of a Soviet era farm collective: we’ll wonder what Tom T. Hall means when he demands, “Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs?” and, we’ll discuss the meaning of a Latvian pop singer’s take about a national leader/hero, the Poet Laureate, Rainis (pictured).
My first class was last week. Twenty bright students, all with good English and interest in the topic. My next class is this week. I keep revising.
__________
My book, “Fables for Leaders”, is only a click away:


And, my 2010 book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Sir Roger L’Estrange’s APPLES AND HORSE-TURDS*

Posted by jlubans on March 22, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Rene Magritte’s Son of Man, 1946

Upon a very great Fall of Rain, the Current carried away a huge Heap of Apples, together with a Dunghill that lay in the Watercourse.
They floated a good while together like Brethren and Companions; and as they went thus dancing down in the Stream, the Horse-Turds would be every foot crying out still, “Alack-a-day! How we Apples swim!”
THE MORAL. Every thing would be thought greater in the World than it is; and the Root of it is this, that it first thinks itself so.

_________________
Like braggadocious fishing boat fleas claiming as the boat comes into harbor, “We have rowed well!” here we have Horse turds along for the ride.
They’re in the flood with Apples like “Brethren and Companions” regaling all who will listen, “How we Apples swim!”
So, the moral would have us be mindful of humankind’s (yours and mine) impression that we are more important than we really are.
In other words, practice humility, be humble, lest ye look foolish like the Horse-turds claiming to be something they are not.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.
__________
More “Fables for Leaders” are only a click away:


And, my 2010 book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Krylov’s THE CASK*

Posted by jlubans on March 16, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Ye Olde Wooden Cask

NEIGHBOUR, a favor I would ask⁠
 —'Tis no great thing—'tis but a Cask
An empty Cask's not much to lend
Just to accommodate a friend.
When one money wants to borrow.
Then 'tis as well to cry 'To-morrow—
Not just now—I can't indeed—
No cash have I but what I need.'
For he that lends away his purse
May find it to return averse."
The Cask was lent—the Cask came back
Quite sound—at least, without a crack;
But then of oil't had such a snack!
So strong a scent that it quite spoiled
Whatever was poured in. 'Twas boiled.
Was scalded, aired; yet still the taint
Remained matter of complaint.
To cure it was a fruitless task.
And so they burned the infected Cask.

Parents! The lesson of my fable
⁠For you is specially intended.
⁠Deem not defects may be evaded
Imbibed in youth; since naught is able.
When once the evil's taken place,
Early impressions to efface,
Do what we may, they still prevail
And to correct them all our efforts fail.

________________
The epimythium
(the moral at the end of a fable) would have us be careful with whom our darling and dearest children associate. We know our Johnny or Janie would do no wrong; if misdeeds are done, it’s the fault of those friends from the wrong side of the tracks!
Maybe.
Still, there is truth in our fable.
I recall delegating one of our staff to a multi-university program. The planned cooperative result was years overdue; yet the project kept stumbling along, one excused delay after another.
So, to get it over and done with, we sent one of our staff to help out.
Alas, our staffer soon began to echo all the reasons why the project was so far behind. The only cure was more. More of everything: time, money and staff; he’d been, as they say, co-opted or tainted evermore like the borrowed cask.

*Source: Krilov, Fables. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine.
__________
More “Fables for Leaders” are only a click away:


And, my 2010 book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Krylov's THE ELEPHANT AS GOVERNOR (The Sheep’s Petition)*

Posted by jlubans on March 09, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Detail from a monument to Krylov by Peter Klodt von Urgensburg (1854–55)

AN Elephant was once appointed ruler of a forest.
Now, it is well known that the race of elephants is endowed with great intelligence; but every family has its unworthy scion.
Our Governor was as stout as the rest of his race are, but as foolish as the rest of his race are not.
As to his character, he would not intentionally hurt a fly.
Well, the worthy Governor becomes aware of a petition laid before him by the Sheep, stating that their skins are entirely torn off their backs by the Wolves.
"Oh, rogues!" cries the Elephant, "what a crime! Who gave you leave to plunder?
But the Wolves say,
"Allow us to explain, О father.
Did not you give us leave to take from the Sheep a trifling contribution** for our backs in winter?
It is only because they are stupid sheep that they cry out. They have only a single fleece taken from each of them, but they grumble about giving even that! "
“Well, well," says the Elephant, "take care what you do. I will not permit any one to commit injustice.
As it must be so, take a fleece from each of them.
But do not take from them a single hair besides."

He who has rank and power, but wants sense, however good his heart may be, is sure to do harm.

**ОЬгок—A tax levied on the Russian peasant by his master.

-----------------
This is another version of Krylov’s The Sheep’s Petition.
Herein it’s not a lion but a feckless elephant dispensing injustice. Unlike Krylov’s The Grandee, this elephant does not know his limits.
So, cluelessly he goes along with the wolves and their wicked scheme.
I’ll use this fable on my first day of the “Leadership and Literature” class, April 4, at the University of Latvia.
A few of my discussion questions will dwell on a leader’s self-assessment: How am I doing? What can I be doing better? Who can I turn to for guidance.
If the elephant has an advisor, what is her role? Does she speak up on behalf of the shorned sheep or does she let it be, lest she earn some injustice by speaking the truth?

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

__________
My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.


© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Phaedrus’ THE ASS DERIDING THE BOAR*

Posted by jlubans on March 04, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Drawing by Ernest Griset (1874)

Fools often, while trying to raise a silly laugh, provoke others by gross affronts, and cause serious danger to themselves.

An Ass meeting a Boar: “Good morrow to you, brother,” says he.
The other indignantly rejects the salutation, and enquires why he thinks proper to utter such an untruth.
The Ass, with legs crouching down, replies: “If you deny that you are like me, at all events I have something very like your snout.”
The Boar, just on the point of making a fierce attack, suppressed his rage, and said: “Revenge were easy for me, but I decline to be defiled with such dastardly blood.”

_________________
One moralist explains the wisdom behind not responding vengefully: “it takes off something from the reputation of a great soul, when we see it is in the power of a fool to ruffle and unsettle it.”
The boar responds but only on his own terms. Likely, the ass is left sitting on his hind quarters puzzling over the boar’s lofty language.
Foolish speech can be countered with wit; no need to go to war.

*Source: THE COMEDIES OF TERENCE AND THE FABLES OF PHÆDRUS.
TRANSLATED By HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A.
TO WHICH IS ADDED A METRICAL TRANSLATION OF PHÆDRUS,
By CHRISTOPHER SMART.
LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS, 1887.

__________
My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Become Spontaneous in Three Days. Guaranteed.

Posted by jlubans on February 26, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Not off to a good start.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying “it usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”
Mr. Twain’s drollery is apt. Impromptu, according to Merriam-Webster means something “made, done, or formed on or as if on the spur of the moment.” In other words, spontaneous, unrehearsed.
Most of us fear public speaking. Worse, we fear being asked to deliver impromptu remarks. Given a choice between being caged up with a dozen rats or having to talk off the cuff to a dozen people, I’d take the cage.
Once, when I was a job candidate, I was asked to talk about the issues in our industry. This “request” came from the man who would be my boss were I to get the job and he made it as we entered a full staff meeting. “You wouldn’t mind would you?” he asked.
While I did get off a one liner - re how the stock market report was on the local paper’s comics page – I managed to cobble together a few random thoughts. Kind of like the young lady depicted above.
I did wonder why the boss waylaid me that way. Perhaps so I could display how well organized my mind was.
If anything my remarks showed a certain creative disorganization reminding me of the way I compose written essays.
First I sketch out rough notes and ideas, many irrelevant; second, I edit, add, delete, elaborate concepts and ideas and, thirdly I begin to write a first written draft which I will go over and reflect upon before finishing. It's a messy highly personal process, not something ready for prime time, as they say.
I did not get the job but that was more than OK since I had lost interest and had reservations about this boss. I assume leaders who want people who can “think on their feet” would be OK with followers who can organize clichés and unoriginal ideas into a coherent, yet uninspired statement of issues.
I know of only a few peers who, when asked to, could actually hold forth originally and coherently for 20 or more minutes.
In the spirit of Mark Twain, The Wall Street Journal advises the ambitious among us to be prepared, like a Boy Scout, for the inevitable request for impromptu remarks.
How do you prepare? Figure out what you might be asked and then rehearse a focused answer. Expect to be asked “What do you believe are the most important challenges for us coming up and what would you do about them?”
Have that impromptu talk in your pocket.
According to the WSJ you should have a brief structure in mind when you are asked for off the cuff remarks. “One approach is to state the problem, describe the solution and summarize the benefits. Or, frame your thoughts with the 3 Whats: what, so what, now what?” Create a mental road map — stating the issue or topic, explaining why it matters and laying out next steps.
The 3 Whats are a way to ask yourself questions and to answer them in your remarks.
Be sure, we are told, to express how delighted you are to have the opportunity to talk with this group. Tell them that the sweat on your brow and your knocking knees are signs of excitement, not of anxiety.
In my alluded to interview, I should have remarked that my wide, nervous grin was a sign of how honored I was to be among such an esteemed group.
Sure!
Better, if I can remember to do it, is to turn the tables on the group. Asking them for input on what the issues are can be a useful way to show yourself as a collaborative person, as someone who listens and wants to hear, as someone who involves others in his thinking. Best of all, start a conversation and you may be amazed at how much competent people enjoy being asked for their views.
What I should have done in my interview was to return the favor to the boss. After presenting an array of issues, I should have asked the big cheese for his thoughts; does he have areas that need special emphasis?
Yes, you may embarrass the boss, but then again that person will get the message you know what he was doing by putting you on the spot.
If you believe you have truly been ambushed, well, why would you want to work for an organization or an individual who behaves that way?
Maybe you’ve gotten a sneak preview on how this boss treats people. Interviews go two ways. It’s not just you. You are interviewing the organization and its people.

__________
My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 democratic workplace book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Innovative Performance Evaluation, the Beer Wheel

Posted by jlubans on February 15, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Beer Performance Appraisal Wheel

Recently, while touring the Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, our guide pointed out the beer tasting wheel used by a 40 member panel – drawn from the staff – of tasters when rating (whether to sell or not) the various flavors produced by this around-the-clock craft brewery.
Daily, thousands of bottles and cans are filled, crated and shipped all over America's Pacific Northwest.
Daily, hundreds of kegs are trucked to bars and restaurants.
The tasting wheel reminded me of an organizational ritual that occurs around this time of year: the annual performance appraisal!
What if we gave supervisors (those doing the ratings) a wheel like this to describe what’s good or not so good about their direct reports. A form of crib sheet like used by teachers in preparing home reports on how Johnny is doing or not doing in school.
No, I am not suggesting a dittoing of the wheel’s terms, like the off-flavor “acetaldehyde” (green apples). Then again, maybe I am!
Surely we could borrow many of the terms to move away from the clichéd and meaningless and to enlarge upon our laconic rating scales: meets expectations (IOW, we have our eye on you, but it is not for promotion), exceeds expectations, far exceeds expectations (a self-actualized person!) and, at the bottom, does not meet expectations, ranging from a five point to ten point scale with liberal decimalization in-between depending on the fussiness of the organization’s culture.
First, a positive word about using those people doing the work in evaluating what they produce. Not long ago, beer assessments were left to designated tasters, those who specialize in quality control or maybe just the brew master. While these people still have an important role, the idea of enlarging the tasting pool makes perfect sense – it’s a form of letting go, a necessary step in leadership if competent people are to do their best job.
One of the earliest business essays on worker involvement in decision-making appeared in the Harvard Business Review as "How I Learned To Let My Workers Lead”. More a personal testament than one of HBRs patented survey articles with 50,000 participants, this essay is about one man’s decision to share decision-making in a sausage factory.
He let the workers taste the sausage; no longer was he the lone taster! According to him, everything got better. I can well believe it.
Back to the wheel;
I see using terms like these to describe staff and performance. My favorites are followed by an exclamation point.
Under TASTE – in the wheel - appears a sub category: “Mouthfeel”
Under that term there’s
Warming!
Carbonation (gassy or flat)
Astringent
Metallic
Mouth coating
Alkaline
Bitter!
Salty
Again, for TASTE, there’s “Oxidized” or “Stale”.
Descriptors include:
Moldy!
Leathery
Papery
Catty!
Under the broad term of ODOR, these terms apply:
Aromatic!
Nutty!
Cereal
Roasted
Phenolic (band aids)
Fatty
Sulfury.
Need to define aromatic? No problem:
Alcoholic
Solvent-like
Estery (another solvent-like off flavor)
Fruity!
Acetaldehyde
Floral!
Hoppy!
Use the terms that fit your high and low performers. Make up new ones. Give it a go.

__________
My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 democratic workplace book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Phaedrus’ THE TREES UNDER THE PROTECTION OF THE GODS*

Posted by jlubans on February 07, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: An ancient olive tree in Sicily.

The Gods in days of yore made choice of such Trees as they wished to be under their protection.
The Oak pleased Jupiter, the Myrtle Venus, the Laurel Phœbus, the Pine Cybele, the lofty Poplar Hercules.
Minerva, wondering why they had chosen the barren ones, enquired the reason.
Jupiter answered: “That we may not seem to sell the honor for the fruit.” “Now, so heaven help me,” said she, “let any one say what he likes, but the Olive is more pleasing to me on account of its fruit.”
Then said the Father of the Gods and the Creator of men:
“O daughter, it is with justice that you are called wise by all; unless what we do is useful, vain is our glory.”

This little Fable admonishes us to do nothing that is not profitable.
___________
While there's much to be said
for the decorative, there’s as much or more for the productive. We need both what’s pleasing to the eye and what’s nourishing to the rest of the body.
While appearances have never been my strong suit, I do understand that when I’m meeting people for the first time, I should not let a mismatched pair of socks or a soup-stained tie give the wrong impression.
I knew one man who never altered his look: black leather jacket and jeans. And he smoked like the proverbial chimney.
No doubt an eye catcher and off putting to some, but what he offered was an unparalleled understanding of the Internet and where it might be going. I wonder how he is doing.

*Source: THE COMEDIES OF TERENCE AND THE FABLES OF PHÆDRUS.
TRANSLATED By HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A.
TO WHICH IS ADDED A METRICAL TRANSLATION OF PHÆDRUS,
By CHRISTOPHER SMART.
LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS, 1887.

__________
My book, Fables for Leaders is only a click away:


Also, My 2010 democratic workplace book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019