The not so effective coach

Posted by jlubans on November 11, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

While my recent “Committing to Magic” story tells of coaching that results in a higher level of musicality among student musicians - along with personal and team development - the reader probably knows that not all coaching is alike or at the same level. Not everyone has Coach Martha Caplin’s gift for relationship building.

So, it might be helpful for me to define the other end of the coaching spectrum: the not-so-effective-coach.

I’ve observed a rehearsal of student musicians when the coaching did not help; it may even have hindered the performance.

In the coaching chapters in my book and in my workshops I mention five essential elements* that are shared between the coach and the person(s) coached, in this case, the student musicians. Each shared element has an average range and can vary from below average to high above average.

A below average score indicates that the coaching could be better. I admit my index is imperfect and it is open to (mis)interpretation. I could be wrong in my observation of this one rehearsal, but here is what I learned about HOW NOT to coach,

Since using negative examples is not my favorite way to explain something, I’ll keep it brief:

- Be directive. Minimize interaction. Let them know who’s in charge through posture and the use of interrogation instead of conversation. Do not promote, demonstrate or suggest ways for the students to hear the music – among themselves or out front in the auditorium, listening and observing.

- Use up airtime; hold tight the (invisible) mike. Give long explanations of the piece being rehearsed. Tell the group, but do not encourage a response. You are the expert, you are the conductor. (Ooops! That slipped out.)

- If at first your technique for some musical point does not get results, try, try again. The players’ reluctance and lack of engagement means they are slow learners and do not fully understand what you are doing for them. Tell them they are “blessed” to be performing this piece; imply they need to step up their efforts.

- Ignore the work done in previous rehearsals. Be oblivious to the work of the student core group, those instrumental heads who have thrashed out the tempo and interpretation and mood of the piece. After all, you have played this piece many times and know how it should go.

- Do not expect to learn from the student players. Instead provide expert direction for them to imitate. As you know, the outside expert brings considerable expertise to solving problems. If the players have anything to teach you, there’d be no reason for you to be there.

- Finally, if the group is not talking, don’t stop the rehearsal to find out what is going on even if you are coaching them the Orpheus skills on how to be self-managing, self-directing, and self-sufficient musicians!

*James Flaherty. Coaching – Evoking Excellence in Others. Boston: Butterworth/Heinemann, 1999.
Elements of coaching:
1. Relationship
2. Pragmatic
3. Two tracks.
4. Always/already.
5. Techniques don’t work.

Table of Contents

Posted by jlubans on July 20, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

I thought having the book's T of C available might be a way to get more exposure in the search engines. We'll see.

Table of Contents

(Leading from the Middle & Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership by John Lubans Jr. Published by ABC-Clio, 2010 )

Part 1
Leadership, Leading from the Middle, Teamwork, Empowerment, Followership

1: Balaam’s Ass: Toward Proactive Leadership in Libraries
2: Leading from the Middle: I’m the Boss
3: Teamwork in Libraries
4: Letting Go: A Reflection on Teams That Were
5: Bridger and Me
6: The Invisible Leader: Lessons for Leaders from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
7: Southwest: The Unstodgy Airline
8: More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team

Part 2
Leaders, Bosses, Challenges, Values

9: I Can’t Find You Anywhere But Gone” Revisited
10: It’s in the DNA: Infusing Organizational Values at Southwest
11: She Took Everything but the Blame: The Bad Boss is Back
12: I’ll Ask the Questions: The Insecure Boss
13: The Spark Plug: A Leader’s Catalyst for Change
14: A Zabarian Experience
15: Orchestrating Success: A Profile of Simone Young, Conductor

Part 3
Coaching, Self-Management, Collaboration, Communication

16: Coaching for Results
17: Peer Coaching for the Post-departmental Library
18: You Have the Resources
19: A Gift from the Woods
20: Leaving the Comfort Zone
21: On the Road Again: Lessons along the Way
22: Rock Castle Gorge
23: Sacred Teams
24: Seeking First to Understand…
25: The Stove Side Chat
26: You Can’t Build a Fire in the Rain: Sparking Change in Libraries
27: What? So What? Now What?

Part 4
Techniques and Tools, Productivity, Climate

28: Sherlock’s Dog, or Managers and Mess Finding
29: Deterministic, Highly Reductive and Transient
30: From the Gutter to You is Not Up: Worst and Best Practice
31: I’m So Low, I Can’t Get High: The Low Morale Syndrome and What to Do about It
32: Productivity in Libraries? Managers Step Aside!
33: She’s Just Too Good to be True, But She Is: Recognition Ceremonies and Other Motivational Rituals
34: I’ve Closed My Eyes to the Cold Hard Truth I’m Seeing: Making Performance Appraisal Work
35: To Save the Time of the User: Customer Service at the Millennium
36: Where Are the Snows of Yesteryear…? Reflections on a Suggestion “Box” That Worked

"I'll make it...."

Posted by jlubans on April 14, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

Hoosiers, the 1986 movie, offers some excellent coaching insights.

The story is about the Hickory Huskers, an underdog basketball team from a tiny Indiana high school that makes it all the way to the state championship tournament.

As the embedded video shows, the championship game is tied and down to the last shot. Gene Hackman, the coach, calls a time out. In the huddle Hackman prescribes a play that uses the best shooter as a decoy and gives the ball to someone else to take the last shot. You can tell from the player’s expressions they don’t agree with Hackman’s decision, but no one says anything – until the star player speaks up, “I’ll make it.” The coach, with nary a skipped beat, re-considers and says OK.

Here the Coach is the learner and is able to recognize the better idea, at least that it is for this team, at this time. Whenever I see this scene – the players huddled around the coach – in a standing room only crowd – I wonder about how a manager gets a staff to speak up, to speak up when the pressure is on to say nothing, to go with the loudest voice or the most authoritative voice. What qualities did this coach bring to the team that enabled one of the players to speak up and, in the end, to help him be a better coach?

If you have seen Hoosiers, what's your favorite coaching part? One of mine is at at 2:36 mark of this selection - the opposing coach consoling the player who was covering Jimmie.

Failing to fail

Posted by jlubans on January 15, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

This follows up my Committing to Magic post from October 24, 2010.

As unpleasant as failing may be, we learn from it. In my admittedly contrarian point of view, if we want to hasten learning, we should fail more often. Of course, losing or failing runs counter to our desire to do it right, to win, to reach the mountain top, not falter half way up.

There is a type of failure that we do not learn from – when we fail because we do not try or care enough to do our very best. There’s no learning from a mediocre effort.

The best coaches use a hard fought loss to make a team better. Just recently a highly ranked basketball team lost a game, I was impressed with what one player had to say after the loss: “This tape's (the game video) gonna be out there now. Teams are going to watch this tape to see 'This is how X got them. This is how we can get them.' Now we can just learn from this game, get better and look forward to (the next game).” There’s a player who does not fear failure!

My October 24 post was about how Orpheus Chamber Orhchestra musicians coached a student orchestra to play without a conductor. As readers of Leading from the Middle know, Orpheus plays without a conductor and still produces a world-class sound. If anyone can, Orpheus should be able to demonstrate to students how they go about making great music without a boss telling them what to do. Over the years, I’ve been impressed with some of the Orpheus’ coaches. Their coaching calls on the students to take ownership, to collaborate with each other in the playing, and to make decisions usually reserved for a conductor. On a rare occasion, I have seen Orpheus musicians who, interestingly enough, coach more like conductors and leave little room for a student orchestra to make its own mistakes. This avoidance of failure popped up in a follow up survey report on the most recent student orchestra learning how to play without a conductor: a few students recommended that Orpheus coaches act more like conductors!

I responded to the report's author with a question:
"Are these students allowed to 'fail'? I use the word advisedly. In other words, will a coach let the players go with a 'bad' decision if that is what the musicians want to do? Or, are these students looking for the 'right answer' from the Orpheus coach? It comes through in the report that the Orpheus musician/coaches had a pretty good idea of what the music should sound like and were not reluctant to direct the students toward that interpretation. Certainly, Mr. X did. The different coaching approaches left me wondering how clearly Orpheans understand their coaching role. I would say that the coaching at times is more what I see among sports coaches, who impose their will on a team to win vs. a coach who wants the team to develop and become highly effective.

When I think of applying the Orpheus model to a management class - with teams having to choose, develop and present a project - I can see where after training the teams in group dynamics and interpersonal skills, I would leave the groups alone - to let them figure it out, learning from their mistakes, their trials and tribulations. I'd look in from time to time over a semester and I'd be available if a rescue were needed but otherwise, it would be up to them. Up to them."

I’ve seen this rigged avoidance of failure before: in outdoor adventure events there is strong motivation to have all participants succeed. Whether I am teaching the event or participating in the event I am tempted to make success happen.
20110115-fear fail.jpg In belayed rock climbs, I’ve seen instructors literally haul up someone who has made a good effort but simply does not have the strength to make it the rest of the way. Most participants know the person did not make the full climb, yet we celebrate like he did. Maybe we are celebrating his good effort?
20110115-wall.jpgWhat happens when all members of a group cannot get over a 14-foot tall wooden wall? There’s a deep value, like for the losing basketball player, in appreciating good effort, in talking with "bruised and battered" participants about what went well and what could have gone better.

While teaching in Latvia I am going to experiment with self-managing teams with the “Self-managing team Project: Leading from the Center”. There’s a risk these teams will not do as well as I might want them to. After all, like the student orchestra, if left alone, a team might make poor choices, it might knot up with failed communication, drift along with no one leading, and it might settle for adequate rather than best. We will see. Here is the gist of the assignment:

Each team will organize itself, choose a topic (about a real problem or question for Latvian libraries), plan and prepare a study plan with defined roles for each member. On June 3rd each team will make a fifteen-minute presentation to the class about the study’s outcomes. The presentation of outcomes and recommendations will be in Latvian with a written English summary for the instructor.

Prior to team formation we will spend several classes on teamwork, self- directed work groups, conflict resolution, communication and peer coaching. Also, once the teams are formed, the instructor will attend two meetings of each team and will be available for consultation and coaching throughout the semester.
Following the presentations we will assess what each team learned about self-management and what went well and what could have gone better.

No doubt, I will be tempted, just like the Orpheus coaches, to intervene when the music is not as good as I think it should be; tempted to tell the team how to solve the problem instead of empowering the team to do it or fail trying. I will try to bear in mind that if I too assiduously protect them from failing, I am doing them a disservice.

If you have thoughts on how to improve this assignment, let me know.

Letting Go

Posted by jlubans on September 13, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)


It’s always been an issue for me. No, not letting go; that’s my natural inclination. Rather, it’s about achieving desired results by letting go. While I believe in the concept, I have failed at times to consider what those “let go” think or want.
I let go - expanding a team’s leader’s authority and responsibility - because I expect that the department/team would be more responsible and would do better work without having to check with me on everything. By taking my foot off the “brakes” - the solid lines and boxes of the org chart - I expected prolonged bursts of energy and innovation.
Early on, I discovered that not everyone was comfortable with the dotted line that replaced the solid reporting line; and, some were largely clueless, even resistant, to the idea of self-management. We further complicated things by moving toward the notion of self-managing teams.
Nor was it clear to some what my role would be once I let go. Honestly, it was not all that clear to me!
I could have been far more explicit about what my role was or what I expected my role to be, somewhere between hands on/hands off or micro/macro managing.
I should have explained: “Here is what I need when I meet with you. I do not need to shoot the breeze with you (if that is all we are going to do when we meet); give me something we can both work on. Don’t leave me guessing; don’t leave me out of the decision-making aspect or the innovating aspect.”
Of course, for that to happen, you have to have an organization that recruits and supports innovators, decisive workers, dreamers, and not mostly journeymen; the more traditional an organization the more journeymen; the more mantras of “It’s a job”.
No doubt any clarification on my part would have helped those who did not intuit my role. In hindsight, letting go meant for me to be the group’s coach, a close adviser, a giver of objective advice and, importantly, a finder of funding and defender of the group’s efforts.
Letting go worked in some cases, it limped along in others and, for some it was DOA. The former were a special breed of manager. I’d term them “star followers”; doers, critical thinkers, with a personal vision not much different from mine.
For them, freedom was an opportunity to push for change and bring it about rapidly, not to have to wait for approval from me or from a strategic plan committee. I met with each of the managers in this elite group several times a week to go over their ideas – and mine on occasion – and for me to listen and to make suggestions.
A WSJ headline had me reflecting about the letting go process: “College Football’s New Coaching Strategy: Coaching.
The story is about head coaches at football programs with 100 player platoons, a dozen assistant coaches and a squad of trainers, nutritionists, and therapists, and dozens of administrative staff. And, with the pressures of satisfying the fan base, the media, and of recruiting dozens of new players each year, and managing the entire business end of the football program. The result is that many head coaches feel like they are no longer coaches. “With an offensive coordinator responsible for calling plays on offense and the defensive coordinator doing the same on defense, many head coaches say they find themselves with little to do after kickoff other than call timeouts. Mostly, they spend three-and –a-half hours stomping up and down the sidelines and yelling at people.” I could relate to that.
The article claims that more than a few head coaches are resurrecting their primary reason for being on the field: coaching. Some will either coach special teams, call plays, or otherwise take a more active, hands-on role in the their team’s performance. A bit of micromanaging, in other words. I can identify with what they’re trying to do, but I think it is misguided.
I suppose they miss what a former teacher, now a superintendent of schools, longs for. Or, a physician promoted to CEO of a hospital and waxes nostalgic about seeing patients.
Perhaps looking at the other side of letting go – where the workers, and middle managers sit - might help define the new role. How do we develop their skills and give permission to self-manage? What is our role in that happening?
Start with a frank discussion about new roles and what’s missing. Is the only solution a micromanaging one? Or is it best for the head coach to define his or her new role - like I should have done – and to create a structure in which the head coach brings insights from his/her experience and helps the coaching staff improve. I’d have the head coach elicit ideas, and seek to improve the team every week with a sit down (led by the head coach) on what went well, what did not and what to do next time. Truth-seeking. This would be a venue for constructive feedback, never blaming. That’s the beginning of the new role.
My story on the Cēsis New School shows how children learn to self-manage; it is not an easy intuitive task, self-management has to be learned because we live in a hierarchical world. There may be some clues for all of us in observing the changing teachers’ role in helping students self-manage, to help them take full responsibility for a project. The video I link to in that story is worth studying to see what roles there are for this different kind of teacher and by extension for this different kind of manager/leader/coach. A democratic leadership can only thrive when all participants share responsibility.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Managing in the Middle

Posted by jlubans on January 03, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Managing in the Middle, edited by Robert Farrell and Kenneth Schlesinger, is out! The book* “brings together the collective wisdom of some of today's most experienced and insightful public and academic library middle managers. The book is organized as a practical handbook -- a vade mecum, of sorts -- that can be consulted when issues arise. It can also be read sequentially by professionals and students looking for a concise but thorough overview of the skills managers need and challenges they face over the course of a middle management career.”
One of the chapters is “Taking Risks and Letting Go, Creating and Coaching Teams: An Interview with John Lubans.”
I encourage you to read this collection of practitioner ideas and front-line thinking.

*Managing in the Middle,edited by Robert Farrell and Kenneth Schlesinger. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2013.


Posted by jlubans on December 28, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Ruffin McNeill (L) with OU’s Head Coach. Lincoln Riley. Interestingly, Mr. McNeill was Mr. Riley’s boss at East Carolina University.

I first heard “FIDO” in a post Vietnam War song sung by Johnny Cash: Forget it, “Drive on – It don’t mean nothin’, drive on”. FIDO for short.
More recently, I heard it during the 2018 football season, American football.
FIDO means make a mistake, learn from it and move on. In other words, don’t dwell on it so much you wind up doubting yourself. It’s a favorite refrain for Ruffin McNeill, Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator at the #4 ranked University of Oklahoma.
N. B. In case you agree with the snide sports writer that FIDO is just another clichéd business term, like a Wal-Mart motivational poster, do consider the context in which it is applied and used.
Mr. McNeill took over coaching OUs defensive platoon in mid season after an upset loss to the University of Texas Longhorns team.
He was hired to instill confidence (belief in self) and to ameliorate self-doubt. Is not communicating trust and confidence a leader’s key role?
In American football, the offense - the 11-member team that has the ball - is composed of different players from those on the defensive "eleven" that tries to stop the other team’s offense.
Unlike OUs number one ranked offense, the defense has been much criticized. One kindly writer called it “porous”.
Complicating this is the new strategy of “spreading the field” - distributing players far apart so there’s more acreage to defend. If defense is “porous” on both teams then some games devolve into what are called, “shoot outs”, with 50 points each team!
Most American football games finish in the low 20s.
Since Mr. McNeill’s been in charge of the defense (coaching and anticipating what the other team might do), there’s been some noticeable improvement.
While the OU offense continues to rack up touchdowns the defense has tackled better, and has made some momentum-swinging interceptions and forced fumbles.
Mr. McNeill – ever mindful of the importance of player confidence – attributes the improvements to the FIDO mantra.
Do your best. When you make a mistake or the other team does something brilliant, forget it and drive on and do better the next time.
If you do something brilliant, savor it, then move on to the next play.
Mr. McNeill’s confidence in his players is evident in his demeanor.
In the Big12 championship game, when an OU defender sacked the Texas quarterback in the end zone for a game changing “safety” (2 points for OU), TV cameras showed McNeill's reaction to the play, “except there was no reaction — not even the slightest of smiles or fist pumps.” He was saying by not saying, “No surprise! It’s what I know you can do. Now move on.”
His predecessor, Mike Stoops, was far more excitable.
Often the TV cameras showed Mike, up in the coach’s booth high above the field, jumping out of his chair and letting fly with some rapid fist pumping.
Mike sure had enthusiasm, maybe too much of it. How long can players buy into extreme external emotion and keep it at fever pitch during 60 minutes of play (approximately 3.5-4 hours on the field)?
The unanswered question under Mike was “How do you invert that external emotion into an internal motivator for the player?
Mr. McNeill’s way is to offer steady guidance and positive feedback.
If you have the best people, you can implicitly count on them to do their best and when they mess up, remember FIDO.
In a way, the fiery locker room speech is a lack of confidence, a holding on instead of letting go. It is the coach doing the inspiring not the players from within themselves.
Mr. McNeill’s quiet enthusiasm in the coaching booth may do more for the players’ confidence than were he to run up and down, with hair on fire, fist bumping everyone in sight.
In press conferences, it is not unusual for Mr. McNeill to mention the names of his defensive coaching team and how they contribute to the defense getting better.
While many coaches (and bosses) fail to name their assistants, Mr. McNeill is deliberate in spreading confidence among his team, players and coaches.
You don’t think his positive sharing of success makes it back to the players (and the coaches)?
Of course, FIDO has relevance to the work place. When things go awry for good people, ask them to reflect, learn and move on.
Don’t stop making the extra effort; don’t cave in; don’t worry about what the boss thinks. You already know he thinks you will do the best you possibly can.
When things really click and hum along, enjoy it, reflect, and drive on.
OU plays the “Crimson Tide” of Alabama this Saturday, January 29 in the Orange Bowl down in sunny Miami, Florida.
I’ll be watching.

PS. Dec 30.
OU lost to a well balanced U of A team. After a weak start, OUs offense and defense got much better but the deficit was too great to overcome.
Apart from football, Mr. McNeill's coaching of these young men will influence them in positive ways for the rest of their lives.

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 2018

Committing to Magic

Posted by jlubans on October 24, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

It was fortuitous that only a week after leading a workshop in Atlanta on work place coaching – in which I mentioned the peer coaching of the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra*, (pictured above) - I was able to attend a rehearsal by a student orchestra (minus a conductor) coached by a musician from Orpheus!

Martha Caplin, Orpheus violinist, would coach an evening rehearsal of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, "Scottish," by the Manhattan School of Music student orchestra.

While still early, I was one of the last to get to the John C. Borden Auditorium, the School’s main performance space with its over 800 seats. The 25-30 musicians for the Bach piece were already there, either in the seats just below the elevated stage or up on the stage, tuning their instruments. All the energetic droning and sawing suggested to me that the group was wound up and ready to go.

Liz Mahler, the Orpheus coordinator (and a Juilliard graduate violinist), introduced me to Martha. Martha was in a pink bolero jacket – a half smock style and emanated an immediate friendliness, a kindliness approaching what I would call at evening’s end a motherly-ness or the loving ambiance of a favorite aunt.

Liz let me know the orchestra is zeroing in on its Friday performance, three days away! Instead of working a full semester at learning how to select the music, take responsibility for rehearsal and for performance, this student orchestra started at full speed, two weeks ago!

With only two more rehearsals after tonight for their three-piece performance, Liz cautioned me that Martha would intervene more than might be expected in a self managed rehearsal. I wondered how much she would revert to the conductor/leader model.

Unusually, as they began the Bach piece, all the violins were standing, 6 or 8 players in all. When I asked Liz why, she said the standing was unique to this piece, kind of like having multiple soloists.

(As the first bars of Bach’s music filled the hall, I made a note in my journal: “How nice to be here!” My relief probably was in large part due to the bother of getting to NYC; the first few notes of the music were indeed exhilarating and made it all worthwhile.)

To my untrained ear, the students seem to hurry their way through the Bach piece. And, there was no eye contact, each player focused on his or her paper score.

As promised, Martha steps in – in a gentle way. “OK”, says Martha, her violin in hand. “Your tempo is OK; remember this is an overture; you want to let the audience hear what is coming, but your playing should not have a feeling of anxiety." Use “bigger beats”. “Big, big beats”, she demonstrates with her arms, gesturing from her toes up. “(It’s) different from rushing through, rushing ahead. You are right about the enthusiasm (in the music) Yes! BUT, Ahh. Wait for it, the ahhhh for the audience.”

She demonstrates with her violin, light, advises, “listen to the brass”, be in touch all the time." “Already better.”

Martha uses both “adjusting" and "reinforcing" statements” – the ones I talked about in my workshop – to good effect. Her criticism is well balanced, with more pats on the back than asking the players to modify a sound or tempo. Students respond to her, engage with her. There’s a growing comfort, an easy willingness to try stuff, to adjust toward what Martha is telling them she is hearing.

Martha’s now up on stage, alongside the second violin in the middle, playing. Then, back in the center aisle out front of the stage, keeping time, swaying with hands and arms.

She cautions a second time about the anxiety. Then, “Way better”. I can see a concurrent agreement among the players. Now the clarinetist's eyes are in contact with others.

Martha is back on stage, walking in their midst.

She further sets them at ease, describes that their rushing, even running, through the piece, may result in missing, forgetting a nuance, An, “Oh, shit”…moment (Much laughter) of what might have been had we taken it slower. She asks them for “more air, more delighted-ness” in the playing.
Martha moves with the music, displays her fondness for it. Now, a high thumbs up for the group.

A cellist player is out in auditorium, listening. He stops the group and gives feedback to the group.

Another student violinist goes into the auditorium to hear, encourages them to play “like with the knees” to simulate the movement in the playing, the feeling in the music.

“OK”, even I can pick up the added richness to the music by the students' slowing down. More violinist feedback from out front. Martha: “Really good, sounds great.”

There are now six 6 players out listening to the collective sound, “lovely.”
Lots of discussion now, peer coaching going on in every direction.

Martha talks a bit about different ways of playing this piece, two styles; she prefers them to make a “commitment to magic” Martha demonstrates on her violin what THAT sounds like.

I’m picking up layers of sound, as the students fine-tune their instrumental groups. A coming together.

A touch of anxiety reasserts. “Bach, trust him”, encourages Martha. “Listen to the trumpet”. It's silvery smooth sound, glides above the orchestra.

More discussion among the players, only a few do not say anything. In general, highly participatory. “Just try it a bit,” Martha promotes experimentation.
The timpanist speaks up. (A first in my observing rehearsals for several years!) Martha tells whom to listen to for the sound in a particular segment. “Listen to the cello.” “Getting better, just trust it.”

The extra players for the Mendelssohn piece are coming in now. Different students coming in – checking their cell phones instead of talking to each other.

This is a larger musical piece; the winds and brass will be on risers. Tuning up again. There’s a new concertmaster and the person who was the 1st violin in the Bach is now a second fiddle. Martha is side by side with them. Her mannerisms, her gestures, are always encouraging the students, welcoming them to try out something different, to push themselves, Martha’s coaching is more about showing, suggesting, than about telling, directing.

These students want to be coached by someone like Martha. By someone who knows what she is doing. And, they listen to each other!

The orchestra is now double. It starts to play, Martha is gesturing, more up, be involved. (Now it’s slow, draggy). A “dreamy” sequence someone calls it. Soporific, too, I note.

“More subtle” asks Martha. In her feedback, Martha alludes to the sensation of a “heart warming up”.

She asks for more listeners in audience, promoting and prompting their individual roles in giving feedback, being proactive – after all there is no musical director, no conductor to tell them. The winds speak up. There are as many as 4-6 listeners in audience.

The concertmaster acknowledges the 3rd violin, out on the wing of the orchestra. Martha plays alongside the concertmaster, walks over to the winds, side by side. and plays alongside the satellite player on the wing.
Martha models the tempo, tone, and gives them all a reminder about the time – they have until 9:30PM.

She asks, “What do you want to do?” They decide.

Martha tells the brass when to kick in. She stands next to them. “Let’s see what happens. Try it out.” She is a coach/leader, very much in the middle, alongside other leaders. She inspires conversations with her and among other musicians. She demonstrates - quickly always with minimum airtime – no speeches or historical lectures about the music. There’s time and space for peer coaching to take place.

*In chapter 17: “Peer Coaching for the New Library”
of LfM, I elaborate on my “take-aways” from observing several student orchestras learning to play without a conductor. In summary, I saw these as essential elements for the orchestra’s success, and by extension, for the success of any self-managing group:

Collective listening
Time management
Delegation of responsibility
Being prepared
Being proactive
Communication – talking - giving feedback

More Than A Game

Posted by jlubans on August 02, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

A dismal bit of news about a Women’s basketball team set me to thinking about my experiences in observing Coach Gail Goestenkoers – one of the best in the field - guide an immature and unproven team to its first-ever conference championship. The news item was about the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) Women’s basketball program and a long list of grievances from players about the coach. The charges read like a Twelve Steps program for Demoralizing a Team. Apparently, what’s been brewing for the past four years has boiled over with the local newspaper’s expose. The story suggests a vacuum of leadership on and off the court, a meanness of misleading that only a really bad boss might envy.
At long last the IUPUI administration is taking action and has appointed a three person investigatory panel to probe the allegations of public humiliation and emotional abuse perpetrated by the head coach and one of her assistants. A total of 28 players and coaches have quit over the past four years, with one declaring, “I grew to hate basketball”. Of course - if there is substance to the story – where was the administrative oversight of the coaching staff?

My essay (Chapter 8: More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team) in tells a different story. Observing organizations always help me better understand and appreciate the many theories about what happens in the work place. Unexpectedly, my following this team and coach helped me deal with a rough patch in my career: the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune were falling all about me (you can quote me on that!). So, seeing Coach G build and shape a team in her supportive and positive ways was a form of healing. I recall my personal joy – think screaming-with-tears-in-my-eyes for the last ten minutes of the game - when what had now become my team upset the enemy. Irrationally enough, the other team represented (for me) the top-down command and control way of working that I have always resented and resisted. My team’s huge win was a vindication of sorts. Seeing how Coach Gail led her team affirmed my self-managing ways and confirmed the best ways to set people free to do their best work.

Throughout practices, locker room sessions, one-on-one meetings with individual players, coaches’ meetings, and in games, I observed Coach G’s respect, caring and fondness for the players. She was clear about roles and expectations, she was firm and demanding. And she would, on occasion, yell at players during practice. But, the fiery feedback was always about what was lacking and what needed to be done for improvement. Never did the yelling or other criticism turn into a rant or a personal attack. Her criticism was always about something within the player’s control and within team expectations – mutually shared by players and coaches. Importantly, that constructive criticism was always softened with a ratio of four or five positive statements to the one negative.

I will be leading one of my Coaching workshops for the Lyrasis library network in Atlanta on October 5. Part of my talk will draw from my season with Gail’s team. I show participants this team huddle picture, photographed by my friend Toni Tetterton, to illustrate what an effective team looks like. What do you see in this picture? While the coach has a crucial role in assuring the team’s coming together it is, at some point, up to each player to subordinate the individual for the good of the team. And, there is a point when the coach has to let go, has to subordinate herself to the team.
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Trading Jobs

Posted by jlubans on February 17, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: One benefit of job swaps – fresh ideas.

One basketball coach has his players swap roles. He changes “player positions in practice so they can understand each other.” Swapping jobs “helps them appreciate each other's role.”
OKC Thunder's Scott Brooks shares this and other coaching insights in an interview.
This tip reminds me of my experience in doing something similar when I was a supervisor. It always seemed like a good idea for the same reasons that Mr. Brooks has. It’s putting a Native American adage into practice: “Walk a mile in the other man’s moccasins” (or Adidas!) before criticizing. As Mr. Brooks' players concluded: "It's not as easy as I thought."
Yes, a good idea but not always welcome in the workplace. Why?
Here are a few quotes from memory when workers objected:
“My work won’t get done.”
“Exchanging jobs is not in my job description.”
“My work, my desk, my computer.”
And, as interpreted through body language, “No one else can do what I do!”
When job exchanges worked, it was invariably within a smallish unit or a team. These groups valued helping others and learning how to help. Doing so was important to the success of the unit. And, importantly, learning the other person’s job was manageable, doable, within that team’s boundaries. Teams that work in close proximity - that touch the same “product” -probably are more able to share in jobs than can groups far apart in expertise and location.
When I proposed an organization-wide job sharing – at least in the 100-person division I supervised – as a means to gaining the “big picture”, I ran into a lack of support even among the teams who practiced job sharing! Looking back, I wonder if it is achievable at the macro level?
In a previous post I talked about basketball’s seemingly unique process of “switching” – one player taking over for another – under certain game conditions. That was something I saw happening in the units or departments that shared jobs when necessary. And, of course, the group norm of “helping each other out” resulted in good team dynamics; ones that led to outstanding production and achievement.
OKCs Scott Brooks offers another tip: “I tell the players all the time, "I don't have the answers, you don't have the answers, but let's figure them out together." That’s another positive result of swapping jobs – gaining new perspectives for problem-solving. And, studying film of the last game is an advantage sports teams have over the workplace – taking a close look at why they won or lost, reflecting on what might have been. In OKCs case, it is not just the coach or his assistants providing analysis; Mr. Brooks calls on key players to help with the review.
Caption: Thunder’s Scott Brooks and Russell Westbrook.

He will stop the film at some point and say, "’Hey, Russell (Westbrook), what do you think about this right there? Is this guy in the right spot?’ And he'll say, ‘No.’ And I'll say, ‘Add to that. Tell him what he needs to do.’” (This is remarkable – a coach having the self-confidence to ask a player to coach!) Mr. Brooks goes on: “Our guys are pretty sharp that way (giving constructive feedback), … they'll say, ‘Come on, man, that's your man, quit trying to look for an out.’"
I’ve long advocated for brief reviews after any team effort, a quick reflection of how we did and how we can improve. I do this in my classes after team projects. The exercise helps cement key points about team work and group dynamics.
Sports require – to learn and to be competitive -a team's taking the time to review. In the workplace we appear to be reluctant to take the time and to display candor. If we did it’d be time well spent and the more honesty we brought, the greater our mutual respect and understanding.

@Copyright John Lubans 2015

"Should I leave, or should I stay?"*

Posted by jlubans on April 05, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Coach Gail Goestenkoers' surprise resignation from the University of Texas' Women's Basketball team prompts these comments. I spent a season with her 1999/2000 Duke team - at practice and at games. I grew to love the team and, as my chapter ( More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team) conveys in LfM I learned much** from Gail and the players about leadership and followership. That 1999/00 team was not supposed to do well. With five freshmen, it was going to be a "re-building" year. But, instead of a break-even season, the team won - for the first time in 25 years - the conference championship.
Citing fatigue at UT, Coach G, decided to give basketball (and herself) a rest. “My heart’s telling me it’s time to take a break, and that’s what I’m going to do." At her resignation press conference she said: "I feel very much at peace." I admire her decision.You may wonder why. Well, there are times when leaders need to step away, let someone else take charge, maybe even leave the organization. Deciding to leave takes more courage, I think, than staying. Each case is different, I know, but when going to lunch becomes the highlight of the day, as it did in one job I held onto too long, it's time to go. Early in my career I was mentored, in order to advance, to leave jobs every few years. I did some of that, but one job lasted about 20 years, probably about 5-10 years too long. I remember how it started with my coming, as an assistant director, into a tradition-bound organization struggling with change. After a few years and little progress a new leader was brought in. We had a very good five or so years but then things shifted. He left during what would have been his 10th year. I should have followed, but instead rationalized (and, unlike Gail, felt hardly at peace). So, all the more reason why I applaud Coach G! In her insightful story Mechelle Voepel observes: "Her move to Texas didn't work out in terms of basketball victories. But for right now, maybe it's time she sees how big the rest of the world is." Sometimes we get caught up in a job and lose sight of the joy or fun that brought us into a profession. Breaking away from the day to day might help us rediscover that fun and joy.
When I teach about coaching I refer to Gail's mother and the advice she gave her daughter about taking on too much of the blame for losing.
Gail's mother asked her, 'Have you ever had one loss … as a coach that you didn't take responsibility for?' "No, never" responded Gail. Her mom then said, 'Well, do you take responsibility for all the wins?' Gail said, 'No.'
Gail concluded: “(My mother) helped me a lot to see that I wasn't really seeing the big picture.”
Gail's leaving UT opens the door for a new start for the team. “I feel like it’s time for me to step away and bring in some new leadership and help this program really to go where I know it can go.”
I am including a few photos taken for me by Toni Tetterton during that 99/00 season. Unlike her recent years at Texas, Gail was able to make the team a contender for the national championship. These photos display her leadership and connection with the players and coaches, both essential elements in getting a team to realize it need not settle for less, ever.
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Caption: An exuberant Gail, at practice, scores a distant basket!
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Caption: Coach G with Freshman Michele Matyasovsky and Coach Joanne Boyle.
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Caption: Coach G, arm around Coach Shonta Tabourn, getting a rise out of players, from left:
Jennifer Forte? Rochelle Parent, Georgia Schweitzer, Olga Gvozdenovic, Missy West, Michele Matyasovsky, Krista Gingrich.
20120405-Scan 6a.jpeg
Caption: Coach G, mid-court, during a group meeting, smiling at remarks by number 40, Lauren Rice, the senior leader on the team. Lauren contributed mightily to the team's play in the conference championship.
*The title of David Charvet's plaintive song.
** My Lessons from A Season on the Hardwood:
Overcome adversity
Commit to feedback
Clarify purpose and role
Value time
Build trust
Have fun
Know there are no magic bullets

“When the Wind Changes”

Posted by jlubans on January 30, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: A fond farewell.
The authors of the spiders and starfish book
mention Mary Poppins as a fictional example of a starfish leader. This rare type of leader knows when it is time to leave and then, even though it would be easy to stay, leaves. Doing so liberates and strengthens the organization to move on and up.
The Mary Poppins film is rich in metaphor. I use it in my management classes to talk about job announcements and descriptions – the father’s list of required qualities for a nanny, contrasted with the children’s list of desirables, is far more entertaining and instructive than anything I could say about this desert-dry topic. And I use the film in my coaching classes. In the film’s “Spoonful of Sugar” sequence, Ms. Poppins demonstrates to her two charges how a positive attitude can make boring work, like picking up one’s room, fun. In the right hands, this coaching technique can shift the intractable to the engaged.
Near the end of the film – with the blue bird of happiness a-wing -there comes a literal shift in wind direction. This is important because Mary Poppins has agreed to stay only until the wind changes. With the weathervane’s spin, alas, it is time to leave. “Don’t you love us” pleads the little girl. Mary responds: “And what would happen to me, may I ask, if I loved all the children I said goodbye to?
Of course, that’s the point; she does love all the children, which makes leaving, letting go, that much more painful. And so it may be for the leader who has invested her all in an organization’s well being and growth. What is the leader’s role once the dragon’s been slain?

Caption: Patiently enduring the parrot's back talk.
Mary Poppins departure is a mix of bittersweet emotions. Julie Andrews’ evocative face mingles the pride of a job well done (the family’s new-found happiness) to a sadness-near-tears about leaving. Of course, Mary Poppins keeps a stiff upper lip: “Practically perfect people never let sentiment muddle their thinking,” she adages. The parrot, who’s been ragging her about the family’s seeming ingratitude, sums it up: “You don’t fool me a bit!”
The bittersweet ending reminds me of an essay by Charles Handy about the sigmoid-shaped curve of corporate life. (See my Chapter 26: You Can’t Build a Fire in the Rain: Sparking Change in Libraries)
Mr. Handy offers contrarian wisdom. The reforming leader, one taking a company from bankruptcy to profitability, reversing the organization’s downward direction, may well need to leave after the company has achieved its new upward curve. To stay is to tempt a flattening of the curve, a loss of momentum, an unwillingness to move further up.
I saw something like this when I was part of a long-delayed and frustrated initiative to lift a traditional organization onto a new curve to better serve and to deliver a better product. A new leader, with carte blanche from the central administration, asked me to work with him and his agenda. I did so gladly. After five years of many struggles but good results, we had achieved a genuine turn-around.
And, if we are to believe Mr. Handy, it was probably time for my boss (and for me) to leave. We had gone further up the mountain than any previous administration. There was plenty more to do and there were new challenges but we began to slow down. My boss chose to stay and took on an expanded portfolio of responsibilities. I remained as well. But, circumstances had changed – significantly there was a new leader of the central administration. Moving up the mountain become incrementally more difficult each year. On reflection, a new leadership – new faces - in the 6th year might have been better for the organization. With the positive vibe from the first five years, we might have recruited a new leader, one with an equally innovative and adventurous spirit to reach new heights.
Several years later, my leader departed and the organization plateaued out, if not dipped back to the traditional model, seemingly in reaction to the innovation and achievement of those first five years.
However sad, when the wind changes, it may well be time to leave.

Starred review of Leading from the Middle in Library Journal: "Highly Recommended"

Posted by jlubans on December 15, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

This review appeared in the Nov 1, 2010 Library Journal.

20101217-OrangeReviewStar.gifLubans, John, Jr. “Leading from the Middle,” and Other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership. ABC-CLIO. (Beta Phi Mu Monograph). 2010. c.192p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781598845778. pap. $50. PRO MEDIA
Lubans—leadership and management consultant, teacher, former library administrator, and longtime columnist for Library Leadership & Management—here collects 36 of his essays, “comprehensively revised for currency and relevance.” The essays touch on many aspects of leadership and management, from teams and coaching to quality, productivity, problem solving, communication, and more. All emphasize that democratic organizations and shared leadership are critical for successful organizations and fulfilled, productive employees. He combines anecdotes from his own experience with management research and case studies from outside libraryland (e.g., the airline industry, sports, and music) to show that autonomous, respected staff are more effective and provide better service than those subjected to command-and-control bureaucracies that stifle innovation and morale. Opinionated, engaging, and occasionally funny, Lubans challenges traditions, questions assumptions, and slays several sacred library cows. Many of these essays would be great fodder for discussion in a leadership group or staff meeting. VERDICT This refreshing, thought-provoking collection is highly recommended for library staff at all levels, as well as library school students.—Janet A. Crum, City of Hope Lib., Duarte, CA

Training the 21st Century Information Professional

Posted by jlubans on May 12, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

“Leading from the Center: Training the 21st Century Information Professional”

Pilot proposal. Comments welcome.

Background: My proposal is based on the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s model of conductor-less music making. (The book includes a chapter on Orpheus). I have worked with Orpheus for over a decade in studying their group decision making and each musician’s taking full responsibility for a performance. Doing so, Orpheus produces some of the finest music, often, if not always, exceeding in their own way, conductor-led performances.

When Orpheus began in the mid-90s to coach student orchestras at the Juilliard and the Manhattan schools of music in the Orpheus way of music making, I asked myself: Why not offer library school students self managing experiences, ones rigorous and challenging enough to transform and inculcate students in how to get the best from professional groups? And, if we are indeed becoming more collaborative in how our libraries are run, then gaining experience in self management, leading and following seems a sensible thing to do . Library schools ought to offer an opportunity for those who are interested in the challenge of working without executive oversight.

A student’s getting a job, after graduation, on a self managing team, while nice, is less important than the student’s self growth and, through the experience, gaining skills and awareness on how to bring about positive work place change in any setting.

The pilot class idea was first discussed at an August 2009 conference in Bologna, Italy*. And, I brought the notion up again at a November 2009 conference in Zagreb, Croatia. Also relevant to this discussion is my Chapter 17 in the Leading from the Middle book: “Peer Coaching for the New Library.”

20100512-po colegio espana.jpg

Photo: The street sign for the Via Urbana set high into the ancient wall of the Collegio di Spagna in Bologna, Italy suggests an enduring past(since 1488) and an accommodation of the modern. The battered inaccessible door, set high above the street, might symbolize the entry through which we leave the hierarchy and settle into more democratic organizations. (Taken by John Lubans, Jr., August 22, 2009)

Each time I mention the idea at conferences and to colleagues, I come away with a better sense of how to introduce the concept of leading from the middle and how to allow new librarians to actually give it a try. That is why I am putting the idea up on the blog. Please give me your ideas.

Originally, I termed the pilot class the “peer coaching institute”; My colleague Kate Wittenberg suggested the new title, one that speaks directly to what we are trying to do – to create a new model for working in libraries, a model that is less reliant on hierarchy and more dependent on self management to inspire new programs and to improve existing services. The new title recognizes it is not just about coaching each other – not a bad idea in itself - it is also about group work and taking turns at leading and following.

What then does this have to do with leadership in the library? For one thing, the pilot class likely could provide a response to the question: What does a leader do in an organization of self-managing teams? Students who participate in this pilot should be able to speak about what they learned and what it means for them in the new library organization, the post departmental library. (BTW, the post departmental term was given me by another colleague, Ilene Nelson.) I would expect these students to help clarify the role of the leader. I see the pilot class as a circle within a circle. The inner circle is the experiment – the laboratory - the external circle is the observatory, in which we learn about what a successful self managing team needs from managers and leaders.

In order to make the best collaborative decisions, we have to have groups of people who work well together, who disagree at times and yet move forward, who communicate clearly, who take turns leading, who produce under stress and engage conflict in productive ways.

The Leading from the Center Self Managing Team Project

Who? A dozen or so library science students work independently for credit with a sponsoring faculty member (possibly the one who normally teaches the required library management course) and a practitioner librarian coach. The students select a semester long research project topic for study and presentation of outcomes. The practitioner coach oversees and facilitates the project, including its evaluation.

What? A semester long self-directed team project – about a real problem or question - conducted by a self managing team of students with an end of semester deadline. The design of this project is based on the immersion model of team development practiced by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in how they work with the student orchestras. The student orchestra, working without a conductor, selects, rehearses, interprets and presents a musical performance.
The library group’s independent study project will need to be as meaningful for library science students as an end-of-semester live and conductor-less musical performance is to the student musicians.

The research outcome will be presented to peers, faculty, and others at a public forum. While the topic is chosen by the team, here are some to illustrate potential scope and content:
A new way of doing something.
Leading the new library.
Developing a way to channel information seekers to the library web page when starting research.
A library web page that draws users to use library resources.
A marketing plan for a library to become the go-to for information needs, engaging stumped Googlers.

Where? Based at one or more participating library schools, the pilot uses existing space and resources: class rooms, meeting rooms, media equipment, library staff and resources.

The project is semester long, for academic credit, starting with an organizational meeting of interested students, a faculty sponsor and the practitioner coach. The latter will work with the team of students regularly throughout the semester to the public presentation.

How? With guidance from the sponsoring faculty member and the practitioner coach, the student team will first go through a several day workshop with training on group dynamics, communication, team building, leadership/followership and conflict management. An experiential component might include outdoor team building activities. Following this introduction the students will choose their research topic and prepare an action plan from start to finish.

Budget considerations:

Travel and accommodation for the practitioner coach.
Team budget, including facilitator costs for introductory workshops, meals and lodging.
Allocation for inviting Orpheus musician coaches from NYC to talk about non-musical applications or for library students to attend rehearsals in NYC to observe how Orpheus coaches and trains the student orchestras.
A travel and food allocation for use by the team, as necessary, throughout the semester.


*Lubans, John. “Peer Coaching for the New Library” in Strategies for Regenerating the Library and Information Profession ed. Jana Varlejs and Graham Walton (Munich: K.G. Saur, 2009): 126–36. The proceedings for the IFLA satellite conference “Moving In, Moving Up and Moving On: Strategies for Regenerating the LIS Profession” CPDWL/New Professionals Discussion Group, Aug. 19, 2009, the University of Bologna, ex-Convento di Santa Cristina.

The Rope & The Coach

Posted by jlubans on September 09, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

While preparing for my October 5 Coaching for Results workshop in Atlanta I came across one of my past Hurricane Island Outward Bound adventures. Along with "sailing" (more like rowing for hours!) the Hurricane Island experience included a rock climb:

I was near the top of the cliff, secure as one can be on a narrow supporting ledge of rock 80 feet up. Below, blocks of granite littered the quarry floor, their sharp edges upraised like so many Brobdingnagian
molars. I rested against my unreasonably thin safety rope and wondered. How was I going to get to the top? Less rational was the incessant trembling in my legs.

The coach’s voice invisibly hailed me from above.
“See the rope? Grab it and I’ll pull you up!”
To the right, several feet away and up, he’d dropped a sturdy looking rope with a knot tied in the end. The kind of rope I never could get up in gym.
“You’ll have to jump to catch it,” advised the voice.
“To the side. You can do it”.
What? And leave the safety of my ledge?
“Sure. You’re ready to stretch yourself. Try it.”

What if I miss?
My first shaky try failed and I scraped against the granite, cursing, scrambling back to the few inches of the ledge. I counted my bruises and composed myself. I heard the encouraging shouts of my teammates below.

The voice again, from above. “Nice try. Think about where you want to go and how to get there. Use your resources. Now, tell me a joke.”
I don’t want to tell anyone a joke.
“OK, then sing me a song.”
Go to $%^#@ hell. I definitely don’t want to sing.
“OK, take your time.” The rope slithered away out of my view.

It got quiet. The beauty of the late afternoon sank into me. There was a sky above me and not far away I could see and hear the wind soothing the tremulous trees. Closer in, the quartz crystals locked in the cool stone face glimmered, coming into focus.

Gee, there’s got to be a joke I can tell. Oh, yeah. The one about the armadillos.

My teammates hooted and hollered in appreciation. Feigned or not, it was a tonic, lifting my spirits.

My coach lowered the rope.

I thought about what it would take to make this leap, a leap of faith for me and my coach.

I told myself: “From the toes and up, over to the side, and close to the cliff.”

With a prayer, I launched myself… and soared across the miles.

How does the coach help?
What role does the team play?
What moves the person to leap?

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE FLEA AND THE MAN”*

Posted by jlubans on May 27, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Charlie tap-dancing; Finnegan, on left, coaching. Moguls looking on.

“A Flea bit a Man, and bit him again, and again, till he could stand it no longer, but made a thorough search for it, and at last succeeded in catching it. Holding it between his finger and thumb, he said—or rather shouted, so angry was he—‘Who are you, pray, you wretched little creature, that you make so free with my person?’ The Flea, terrified, whimpered in a weak little voice, ‘Oh, sir! pray let me go; don't kill me! I am such a little thing that I can't do you much harm.’ But the Man laughed and said, ‘I am going to kill you now, at once: whatever is bad has got to be destroyed, no matter how slight the harm it does.’"
“Do not waste your pity on a scamp.”

The minuscule Charlie, pictured above, another flea in durance vile, takes an alternative path, reinventing himself, as they say in the office, into a performing flea. Managed by the hapless Finnegan in the cartoon, Charlie’s repertoire includes singing and tap dancing. He Looks Like Your Ordinary Flea - Until He Opens His Mouth! You Won’t Believe What you hear!
Remember Jose Cura's “Norma”? Charlie does it better.
Alas, the cartoon ends tragically. The bartender slaps the bar and inadvertently ends Charlie’s Hollywood career. Finnegan, the man, is desolated. His dreams of swimming pools, chauffeur driven limousines, starlets on each arm - the really good life is not to be.

*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.

Copyright © John Lubans 2016

The Holistic Organization – A look inside the OKC Thunder

Posted by jlubans on May 02, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: AFTER losing in the 2012 NBA finals, 4,000-Plus Thunder Fans cheer the Team’s return.

Up to the day of her death at 92 in 2013, my wife’s mother, LaVerne O. Anspaugh, was a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder. She never missed a televised game. A year before her death, she went to see them play. The Thunder kindly provided center seats (in the sold-out arena) and she and her party were met at the front door and escorted in. Her name was up there in lights on the Jumbotron.
At her memorial service, many in the congregation wore their Thunder T-shirts! She would have approved.
The Thunder have been in OKC less than a decade, arriving in 2008, thirteen long years after the 1995 OKC bombing which killed hundreds and depressed OKC’s economy.
Not that 2008 was a great year to move anywhere; nor did Seattle release this team (then named the Seattle SuperSonics) without a fight.
It was meant to be. From the git-go, the team was welcomed by OKC. It was as if both had something to prove, something to achieve, something to show the world we’ve suffered but we’re not down and out. As usual, some jeered, a basketball team in Oklahoma? It’s “like building an igloo in the desert.”
So much for the experts. Instead of failing, the Thunder has one of the highest winning percentages in major sports. Right now they are in the second round of the NBA playoffs; in 2012 they played in the NBA Finals.
And, in football-worshipping Oklahoma, the Sooner (OU) and Cowboy (OSU) fans put aside their mutual hate and converge as one into “Loud City”.
A explores the Thunder’s success, the team’s culture and its place in the community.
Ben Cohen, the writer, credits the organization’s holistic culture for the team’s success. “Team” here means everyone; players, front office, staff, the fans, not just the super stars. There’s a prevalent culture of respect and inclusion, it seems, more so in OKC than in other NBA teams. It’s a realization by everyone that “what happens in the team office is related to what happens on the court.” Or, as lead player Kevin Durant said it:
“When you walk in the building every day and see things running the right way,” … “you go out there and practice the right way and play the right way.”
Of course, it helps to win.
More than a decade ago, I interviewed NASCARs Petty Racing team. They had all the latest fads – a fitness coach for the pit crews, film reviews of every race, and three teams running three separate cars and networking information during each race.
Everything looked great and sounded great. But, they never won. Why?
Micromanagement. One of the driver’s wives perched next to the crew chief during the race! Imagine an NFL quarterback’s wife on the sideline kibitzing the coach.
Un-cooperation. The three teams refused to share information before, during and after the race. Doing so might mean the sharing team’s driver could lose. So, all three lost.
Yes, it does help to win.
So, I am not always convinced that the latest fad (e. g. letting super star Steph Curry eat prohibited peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) or mental health counseling or resiliency training leads to a team’s success. I look to the intangibles that suggest a larger philosophy. An example: The way the team selflessly and concretely ($2 million) helped the community following the tornado disaster in 2013.

Caption: Russell Westbrook and fans “feeling it”.

Another example: Players regularly visit kids in children’s hospitals.
More? When
Kevin Durant gave his MVP acceptance speech he mentioned - name-by-name - coaches, players and staff and explained why each mattered and that he loved them all. Not the typical acceptance speech by a MVP.
Does OKC do everything right? Cohen glosses over the firing of the OKC coach, Scott Brooks. I wrote about Mr. Brooks and his effective coaching style, a model for the rest of us in any organization.
Most fans liked “Scotty”. He was instrumental in identifying the team with the city. Of course, when you lose – regardless of explanation - some “fans” and sports pundits cast stones. During a losing streak, they second-guess the coaching (an “unsophisticated offensive scheme!”) or suggest that when a super star has an off night, they’re “not stepping up!” Infamously, the “Oklahoman”, a newspaper, headlined a slumping Kevin Durant, “Mr. Unreliable”.
Apparently Sam Presti, the Thunder’s general manager, was listening to the critics. In a telling note, Cohen mentions that Mr. Presti is an architectural aficionado, keeping glossy architectural mags and bios of mega-architects in his office.
Sure, to build a legacy. I get the metaphor, but some architects or wanna-be architects develop an idée fixe; there’s one way to do this and it’s his or her way. Mr. Brooks describes the hardly holistic split-up: “Sam told me, 'We don't want you back.' I got up, I shook his hand and said thank you. And I walked out.’”*

The new coach, Billy Donovan, is doing well; I’d say he is wisely building on what Brooks accomplished. Indeed, one fan (my wife) told me, that Donovan initially was going to change the offense but now is pretty much using the Brooks design, and winning. I like to think that the players – the people doing the work - have had some influence on Mr. Donovan’s coaching and that he is more a player’s coach than a front office coach.
I am happy for the many Thunder fans, including LaVerne Anspaugh, that Brooks’ leaving has not led to the team’s demise. The Thunder’s continued success says as much about the new coach as it does about the former coach and about the caring Thunder culture for players, staff and fans.

*Brooks, after a year off, has been asked to repeat what he accomplished in OKC, this time in Washington DC. The DC Wizards may well have made the right choice. A player’s coach, a relationship builder, Brooks – if given freedom – just might turn the Wizards into a winning team.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

“You have to have some amnesia”

Posted by jlubans on May 21, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: OSUs Aleah Goodman shoots over Duke’s Jade Williams.

It’s been almost two decades since I spent a season with a university’s women’s basketball team.
When I see sports media press releases, I usually scan and forget. A recent one was different.
Why? Well for one thing it included some seemingly candid and direct language.
It sounded authentic and sincere in spite of a touch of the inevitable, biz speak: “We need to commit to a culture of excellence. We have to buy into it.”
Most of the release was refreshingly frank and personal. Perhaps because we are dealing with confident youth, some of those candid words may have slipped out, but then those words stand alongside some straightforward language from the coach.
Interestingly, this coach was recently warned by her boss, the Athletic Director, about being too tough on her players – there’d been a bit of a players revolt during the last couple years. .
She’s kept the job, so I value her honest outspokenness in this interview.
Last year (2018/19) was not a good year, indeed the coach termed the 15 wins and 15 losses season, “very disappointing”.
I saw the team play at Oregon State University in December 2018; the Corvallis stadium was full and noisy – the Beavers have a huge following in Oregon - unlike the sedate and sparse crowds at some women’s basketball venues.
The Beavers won it, 71-57, because, a. they have very good players, b. excellent coaching and c. enthuastic fans.
Duke played pretty much like they did for the rest of the season, at times sloppy and inconsistent.
The press release is about largely one player, Jade Williams
The coach offers this: “(Jade) came to Duke tough. She can handle being coached. She wants to be coached. She will speak up. She wants to be the best player she can be. She’s sharp as a tack. She’s not sensitive.”
Remember that the coach was recently admonished for how some players were treated. I have to wonder if the criticism still rankles the coach.
Jade’s a player who understands being “coached” - which implicitly includes yelling - and knows not to take it personally. “She’s not sensitive” – in other words, Jade’s not a delicate flower, and may respond well to constructive criticism.
Another women’s coach (very successful in her field) told me she had to forewarn new recruits well ahead of the season about the yelling.
Most had never experienced it.
In their high school careers, each was a standout star. Each a potential prima donna.
So, getting yelled at can be more than off putting; a few will want to leave a program. Several schools court each of these players; all will promise a supportive “family environment”. It’s implicit, if the player selects their school, they’ll get special treatment.
Unfortunately, at this competitive college level with each team aspiring to win the national title, the coaching is intense, with raised voices and at times harsh feedback.
Williams seems to be catching on as to where she must grow to realize her potential on this team: “I need to play more mature… There’s no time to think about myself. Make a mistake but you have to move to the next play. You have to have some amnesia.”
And, the coach is looking to her to become a more vocal team leader. After all, this next season she will be veteran in her third season and expected to provide leadership for incoming new players.
According to Williams, “Leadership isn’t hard. Everyone can be a leader. I’m mostly lead-by-example but I can be more vocal.”
The coach stresses that she needs “to work on her delivery (to make sure the message is getting across)”
I hope Ms. Williams will get better and better – she’s giving herself some valuable advice and getting some of equal value from her coach.
Can she take it in, absorb it and apply it?
We’ll see. I’m optimistic.

Fables for Leaders with zippy commentary are a click away:

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

“When the Wind Changes”

Posted by jlubans on June 27, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

As I plug away at the" Fables for Leaders" book ( Oct 2016) I am revisiting some of my favorite essays. This is #3 "from the vault." It was first published on January 3 2013.


The authors of the spiders and starfish book mention Mary Poppins as a fictional example of a starfish leader. This rare type of leader knows when it is time to leave and then, even though it would be easy to stay, leaves. Doing so liberates and strengthens the organization to move on and up.
The Mary Poppins film is rich in metaphor. I use it in my management classes to talk about job announcements and descriptions – the father’s list of required qualities for a nanny, contrasted with the children’s list of desirables, is far more entertaining and instructive than anything I could say about this desert-dry topic. And I use the film in my coaching classes. In the film’s “Spoonful of Sugar” sequence, Ms. Poppins demonstrates to her two charges how a positive attitude can make boring work, like picking up one’s room, fun. In the right hands, this coaching technique can shift the intractable to the engaged.


Near the end of the film – with the blue bird of happiness a-wing -there comes a literal shift in wind direction. This is important because Mary Poppins has agreed to stay only until the wind changes. With the weathervane’s spin, alas, it is time to leave. “Don’t you love us” pleads the little girl. Mary responds: “And what would happen to me, may I ask, if I loved all the children I said goodbye to?
Of course, that’s the point; she does love all the children, which makes leaving, letting go, that much more painful. And so it may be for the leader who has invested her all in an organization’s well-being and growth. What is the leader’s role once the dragon’s been slain?
Mary Poppins departure is a mix of bittersweet emotions. Julie Andrews’ evocative face mingles the pride of a job well done (the family’s new-found happiness) to a sadness-near-tears about leaving. Of course, Mary Poppins keeps a stiff upper lip: “Practically perfect people never let sentiment muddle their thinking,” she adages. The parrot, who’s been ragging her about the family’s seeming ingratitude, sums it up: “You don’t fool me a bit!”
The bittersweet ending reminds me of an essay by Charles Handy about the sigmoid-shaped curve of corporate life. (See my Chapter 26 in the book Leading from the Middle:: You Can’t Build a Fire in the Rain: Sparking Change in Libraries.)
Mr. Handy offers contrarian wisdom. The reforming leader, one taking a company from bankruptcy to profitability, reversing the organization’s downward direction, may well need to leave after the company has achieved its new upward curve. To stay is to tempt a flattening of the curve, a loss of momentum, an unwillingness to move further up.
I saw something like this when I was part of a long-delayed and frustrated initiative to lift a traditional organization onto a new curve to better serve and to deliver a better product. A new leader, with carte blanche from the central administration, asked me to work with him and his agenda. I did so gladly. After five years of many struggles but good results, we had achieved a genuine turn-around.
And, if we are to believe Mr. Handy, it was probably time for my boss (and for me) to leave. We had gone further up the mountain than any previous administration. There was plenty more to do and there were new challenges but we began to slow down. My boss chose to stay and took on an expanded portfolio of responsibilities. I remained as well. But, circumstances had changed – significantly there was a new leader of the central administration. Moving up the mountain become incrementally more difficult each year. On reflection, a new leadership – new faces - in the 6th year might have been better for the organization. With the positive vibe from the first five years, we might have recruited a new leader, one with an equally innovative and adventurous spirit to reach new heights.
Several years later, my leader departed and the organization plateaued out, if not dipped back to the traditional model, seemingly in reaction to the innovation and achievement of those first five years.
However sad, when the wind changes, it may well be time to leave.

Postscript, June 27, 2016: How to avoid leaving? If you want to be a “lifer” at one job, then hope for minimal disruption and time your retirement for when the business is on its last weary legs.
There are examples of one person leading an organization for decades; that leader may well have founded the organization. Avoiding the meddlesome “founder’s syndrome”, that type of leader’s challenge is to keep the organization at the top, to keep quality and service at the forefront of the organization’s mission. That’s different from having to re-invent the purpose of an organization or to move its compass from north to south.
Still, keeping the organization at the top is plenty difficult – there’s a serious risk of resting on one’s laurels, as the saying goes. It’s different from what I imagine in the above Mary Poppins essay, the rescue of an organization from an untimely morbidity with more than a few “dragons” to slay. A heroic leader who battles and wins may well find herself on the post-victory sidelines.

© Copyright 2013, 2016 John Lubans

“… too much democracy.”

Posted by jlubans on August 31, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Not quite ready for independence. (Annie Tao Photography)

The title quote is one of the several explanations for why a bossless office may fail to live up to expectations. It comes from a recent article, Radical Idea at the Office: Middle Managers, on the travails associated with self-management. (I plan to use it as a class reading.)
Treehouse Island, an online coding school of 100 staff, did away with bosses. But, “That experiment broke,” according to CEO Ryan Carson and the article goes into some of the causes of that failure.
The article is insightful because it not only offers examples of what went wrong, but indirectly suggests that eliminating managers is not that simple – there’s more to it than flattening the organization chart. After all, effective managers actually do real work: Do you remember Luther Gulick’s PODSCORB, his executive functions from 1937 (Planning, Organizing, Directing, Staffing, Co-ordinating, Reporting and, Budgeting)?
At the least, when you take away the bunkum - like formal performance appraisal - managers, coordinate and organize, very important aspects of group work.
I would add, that really good managers lead in the sense of leading from the middle. If you fail to address and re-distribute these roles you’re in trouble. It is not intuitive for workers to take on management jobs; those responsibilities have to be recognized, learned and applied within the organization. When I ask my classes which organizational model they prefer – the democratic vs. the autocratic, the majority selects the former. But, as I learn from group projects, many students do not fully appreciate what it means to work in a democratic organization.
The article confirms that when you remove the direction-givers the remaining people may become directionless. You quickly discover that while there may be a few action-taking and independent-thinking people, for the most part many people have become inured to direction taking and having someone else do their thinking, at least on the job.
Instead of thriving when bossless, they flounder looking for someone to point the way.
Now, I have been known to make self managment sound a bit more simple than it really is. For example, this quote from my blog:
“It probably needs repeating. Organizations that de-emphasize the strong boss or the role of management, are not without leadership or management. Leading and following are distributed across the organization instead of boxed up in the org chart. For example, consider what Chris Rufer, the CEO of the no-managers, flat organization, Morning Star means when he says: “Everyone’s a manager here, …. “We are manager rich.”
But, tell that to the folks on the front line, the people Rufer would expect to “step up”, as sports people like to say when the star player is taken out of the game. If you don’t have the skill or experience, how can you possible “step up” and behave like the corporate equivalent of an All American athlete.
In my own experiment in self-management for an organization of 200 I saw a gamut of responses to our flipping what were departments into self-organizing teams. A very few caught on and landed on their feet; they got the idea and were able to work with it; they naturally assumed the action taking and independent thinking roles. Under their leadership, their teams thrived and exceeded expectations. They behaved just like I had hoped they would! However, more than a few clung to the old ways, like in the picture, and persisted in the old top-down thinking. They’d nod and say they were a team, but the behavior was departmental.
What would I do differently? I would add coaching and training – vigorous and specific – for every team. And, I would use trainers who understand what it means to be self managing and how that concept plays out in the workplace. I would leave far less to chance than I did.
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is a splendid example of a self-organizing, a self-managing group. Each player understands that if she wants to be an Orphean, she will have to think like a conductor. You have to pay attention to more than just your sound, you have to be able to offer up and defend ideas during rehearsal, and you have to think and articulate what you want the sound to be, what the product is to be.
In other orchestras, these responsibilities belong almost exclusively to the conductor, the boss. Orpheus has spent decades perfecting how to be bossless. Of course, some would say, rightly so, that they are not conductorless; instead, they have 35 conductors!
Still it’s a struggle. Even Orpheans, when coaching student symphonies to rehearse and perform without a conductor, too often revert to the directive, telling, boss model, directing rather than letting the students fail and learn.
Another reason I like this article as potential class reading is because it does present examples of what the bossless found difficult. For example, a management professor claims that, “Employees want people of authority to reassure them, to give them direction, it’s human nature.” Do they?
I would counter with that it is more intuitive for humans to spurn authority and to yearn for democracy, but it is far less intuitive to know what that means in day-to-day life, including work. When given a choice workers often choose democratic ideals over the autocratic or the laissez faire. But, as Kurt Lewin famously said, “Democracy he has to learn.” Autocracy is easy; someone tells you what to do. Democracy takes work on everyone in the democracy.
So, why do it? Because the pay off in democracy is significantly greater productivity and creativity and a far more fulfilled workforce.
To borrow from a country music song title, there's no such thing as too much democracy, just like there's no such thing as too much fun;
"It's like too much money, there"s no such thing
It's like a girl too pretty, with too much class
Being too lucky, a car too fast

© John Lubans 2015

Handshakes as Team Ritual

Posted by jlubans on October 26, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Homer Handshake.

Just prior to winning the 2015 national basketball champion, Duke University published an article, “For Duke, Handshakes an Expression of Togetherness.” It spoke to one of the team rituals that seemingly contributed to the team’s success.
That article links to an explanatory video* about how these handshakes – as frequently as five times during a game - came about and how they helped the team remain cohesive in their run-up to the championship game. Everyone credits Quinn Cook, a senior starter and co-captain, with creating and maintaining the tradition of these unique handshakes, numbering some 200.
Since I evangelize about self-management for individuals as well as teams, it’s worth noting that this ritual originated from the players, the team; none of the coaches were involved. Interestingly, the head coach does not participate in the handshakes. I wonder what it would be like if he did? I imagine Coach K would do better than Homer Simpson does in the illustration.
Are you wondering what this has to do with leadership in the workplace? As readers of this blog know, I look for examples in many domains of team building techniques that could transfer to the workplace or help illustrate the underlying concepts of effective team building.

Caption. Two Board Members Practicing the Bro Hug!

Now, I doubt anyone is going to begin a ritual of hugs and handshakes among the members of a board or at your next (shudder) committee meeting, but there is something to the notion of touching that can make for a lasting connection.
Touching, like that found in a traditional handshake or a touch of the arm, the shoulder, or a pat on the back can strengthen relationships. Touching someone introduces a different, more intimate dynamic in a relationship. It grounds a group's camaraderie, that “we’re in this together” feeling.
What do Mr. Cook’s teammates say? The handshake can be “confusable” as one player said, – talk about a Yogi Berra-ism - but it “reminds me to relax and to have fun”; it’s a “connecting between you and your brother.”
It’s “used to tell the team: “We have each other’s back … we love each other.”
“It’s a lighthearted thing that calms everyone down.”
Caption. Handshake “culprit” - one player's term - Quinn Cook, #2.

As the team’s co-captain, Mr. Cook put the handshake tactic to good use when (in 2014/2015) he had to “take on the task of mentoring 4 freshmen on an eight-man team. He was the rock and stability that Coach K needed during this year.” Often, a sports captaincy – the head of the players - is in name only; under Coach K, the captain is an extension of the coaching staff, a leader who holds teammates accountable on the hardwood.
Mr. Cook elaborates: I “always do the handshake, (even when) yelling at the guy or praising the guy… (it) symbolizes our relationship”
As a leader, “sometimes I can get on a guy, tell them to pick it up and give them a handshake.
How effective was Mr. Cook? Suggestive of Mr. Cook’s standing with the team, he was voted by them as their co-Most Valuable Player along with the freshman (super star) Jahlil Okafor.

*Another brief video can be found here. Set to music, it quickly explains the handshake ritual and provides a dozen examples from Mr. Cook’s repertoire.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Reminiscences of Letting Go

Posted by jlubans on May 08, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

A sports storyDo coaches matter?” recalls my letting go efforts when I
was heading up a large group of staff and managers.
As the story has it: “Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors broke one of the NBA’s most inviolable laws of coaching. He relinquished his dry-erase board—to a player.”
That this was deemed newsworthy by the Wall Street Journal suggests just how unusual letting go is in the highly ritualized world of basketball. How formal? Some teams have an assistant designated to provide a chair for the coach when in a huddle. Another assistant hands him/her the dry erase board for charting plays.
Frankly, I have to wonder why it’s taken so long for a coach to turn over some of the decision making to talented players.
No, I am not suggesting that each and every team can do this. As I learned from my own experience there are groups and there are individuals, who, when turned lose, deliver. On others, the new freedom is lost.
Had I to do it over again, I'd be less egalitarian and not think everyone should welcome being set free to think.
Instead, I would focus on only those direct reports who had the capacity to think on their own, who were willing to do so, and, importantly, who had the knowledge and skill to see beyond themselves. Working with this small cadre I became a better leader and the organization benefited from these new perspectives and insights.
And, timing matters. In the Steve Kerr story, one commentator notes that the coach steps aside only when the team is leading by 30 or 40 points.
So, one might ask, just how committed is the coach to letting go?
What if the game is tied and five seconds remain on the clock? Does Coach Kerr stand aside while the players huddle and decide on the “win or lose” play?
If your group is “winning” - at work or play - it may not matter that now and then the boss lets the workers make decisions.
However, once the group begins to struggle or skids into a “rough patch” then letting go may not be tolerated by higher ups.
Again, that’s a reason to be selective in who gets to lead. Some people need more guidance to lead while others simply do not want to. It’s not in their job description they’ll tell you.
My peers were shocked when I began to free up some of the best people in my organization. I was for some, a traitor to the administrative class.
The results, however, were excellent, especially in the areas in need of the most de-congestion and innovation.
Regardless, those remarkable successes did not encourage my peers to hand over, so to speak, their dry-erase boards to subordinates.
Instead, the muted response was that our success was a fluke; the boss always had to maintain control: in other words no sharing the dry-erase board, "It's mine!".
My “Leading from the Middle” book elaborates on my adventures in letting go. For example, the chapters on the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra explore the difficulties of letting workers make decisions. Only about a quarter of the orchestra wants to take on a leadership role by heading up the “core” decision-making group. Every player does offer up his or her opinion on how things are going but when the decision has to be made - and it cannot be made spontaneously, emanating from group deliberation - then it appears only a few are willing to take on that role. Interestingly, one or two then begin to boss others like the worst totalitarian conductor!

To support the blog, buy Lubans’ new book. Or, be frugal and get your library to order a copy!

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

On the Fulbright road, again!: Zadar, Opatija, Zagreb

Posted by jlubans on May 23, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

Right after the Lithuania presentation, I headed for Croatia to do three Fulbright sponsored events.
20110524-MaineinZ.jpeg (I know this looks like a pic from coastal Maine, but it is not. Across from the red "lobster shack" is a Roman wall!)
First stop was at the University of Zadar in a beautiful ancient town on the southern coast. 20110524-pyramidZad.jpeg(Students completing the first round of the paper pyramid with observation feedback to each other.) There, at the invitation of Professor Tatjana Aparac Jelušić I gave a two hour class on teams & coaching to an undergraduate class in their library and information science program. That was on May 9.
May 11-13 found me in Opatija after a five hour bus trip along a coast-that-never-ceases-to-amaze! The only interruption in this scenic bonanza is Rijeka a ship building town with a Hungarian (long forgotten) and Italian (still current) history, and its own sights to see.
The adjacent resort community, north, is Opatija. How do you spell DELIGHTFUL? No, OPATIJA!
20110524-Shoulder.jpeg(The signature Opatija statue sits on my shoulder and a sea gull abides a while on her head!)
The conference hotel was the Hotel Adriatic and had its own pier, swimming area. Do you know that Opatija has a 12 kilometer walk along the cliffs above the beach, cutting through bistros, humble villas, not so humble villas, gardens, yacht clubs,and palatial restaurants, with water access to anyone, to everyone, anytime? Yes, 12 kilometers of shaded well paved walk ways only a few yards above the greenest, most inviting water to be seen.
20110524-casino.jpeg(One morning the dappled roof of the shuttered villa across from my hotel was luminous, if that's the word.)
There on May 12, I gave a keynote presentation based on my Klaipeda talk: "Leading from the Center or I "Borrowed the Shoes But the Holes Are Mine". One person, a veterarian and librarian, said I must have known what I was talking about since I angered the Darwinists by siding with Prof. Wilson and qouted from Lao Tzu.
Alisa Martek, Head of Library at the Croatian State Archives introduced me. The conference banquet was that night and you should NOT inquire as to how I did in the ZUMBA! dance contest.
20110524-bus.jpeg(It rained, a downpour, so changed our itinerary and the bus wound its way through the ancient streets to the Governor's palace.)
Saturday, May 13, we (50 conference attendees) toured Rijeka's Governor's Palace 20110524-palace.jpeg (Come in!)20110524-palace2.jpeg (This table leg griffin? caught my eye!)
and the newly constructed campus of the University of Rijeka, soon to be the site of large contingents of American students on their semester abroad programs. 20110524-new u of r.jpeg (This is a vast open deck space between two buildings with a view of the harbor)
20110524-new rij u.jpeg
Ask me about the very tasty and highly agreeable grappa derived from mistletoe.
That night we made it to Zagreb just ahead of the rain that entire weekend. Naturally, being an Outward Bounder, what's a little rain? It only ADDS to the adventure!
Monday, I gave a talk on Internet Use (What Do Users Want? or "If the Phone Don't Ring, It's Me.") to a dozen or so staff at the Croatia State Archives.
We were back in Riga on May 17th, late afternoon.

Leadership from the Dead

Posted by jlubans on August 22, 2010  •  Leave comment (2)

August 23 update: I thought I'd share one of my definitions for what it means to be empowered, like the Dead Head staff is said to be:
Empowerment is an overall freedom for the individual to do good in and for the organization in pursuit of agreed upon organizational goals. It includes an awareness of others and their contribution, and a willing, active support for others.
Do we recruit people who can put that philosophy into action? What does this real empowerment look like? How is it made manifest?
<<<<<<<<< >

My book, Leading from the Middle, has two chapters (The Invisible Leader & Peer Coaching for the New Library) and several allusions about and to a musical organization (Orpheus Chamber Orchestra), along with a chapter (Orchestrating Success: A Profile of Simone Young, Conductor) about a musical leader.
So, it is only natural that I was drawn to an organizational theory discussion of the musical group, The Grateful Dead, written by management professor, Barry Barnes: “Strategic Improvisation: Management Lessons from the Dead.”*

When I first saw the title, I was reminded of a bit of office humor posted in a cubicle: If you doubt there’s life after death, come around here at quittin’ time!

Professor Barnes applies and explains Frank Barrett’s strategic improvisation technique to the long run and huge success of the Grateful Dead. He quotes Barrett from 1998: “…when improvising musicians get together they ‘do what managers find themselves doing: fabricating and inventing novel responses without a pre-scripted plan and without certainty of outcomes; discovering the future that their action creates as it unfolds.’” (p.269). Of course, Mr. Barrett is referring to managers who proactively seek a solution to an anticipated challenge. Passive managers often avoid or delay taking action by following management formulas, like strategic planning.)
Strategic improvisation has seven requirements that transcend beyond music to other types of organizations.
1. Interrupting habits
2. Embracing errors as a source of learning
3. Allowing maximum flexibility through minimal structures
4. Continually negotiating toward dynamic synchronicity
5. Relying on retrospective sense making
6. Learning informally and developing group norms
7. Alternating between soloing and supporting

When I applied these requirements to my observed “Take-Aways for the Non-Musical Boss” from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, I found several similarities:
Take turns leading, take turns following (Barrett’s #3 & 7).
Encourage independent and articulate critical thinking (1, 2 & 4).
Manage self, disagree agreeably (4 & 6).
Listen with all your heart (4).
Be responsible toward the organization (2 & 6).
Demonstrate a philosophy of work that values followers and leaders (1, 2, 4, & 7).

Employee empowerment is a much misunderstood, misapplied, and, subsequently, maligned term, yet genuine empowerment is highly desirable according to Prof. Barnes: “Alternating between soloing and supporting is a critical ingredient for organizations where employees must not only follow but also lead from time to time … as they deal with the novel and unexpected situation.”
For the Grateful Dead, “Even with the greater degree of formality and structure of a corporation, they (the band) continued to alternate between soloing and supporting with the role of president rotated among willing band/board members.” (p.276). In other words, genuine empowerment.
I whole heartedly second Professor Barnes that strategic improvisation can produce a healthier and more responsive organization, one that is more able to anticipate and respond. The question that needs answering for an older non-improvisational culture is how does one become a Dead Head?; how does one implement this new way of working? What has to change in your workplace for it to align more with the way of the Grateful Dead or the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra or Southwest Airlines? Starting with yourself, what would you change? Play on!
* The Grateful Dead in Concert : Essays on Live Improvisation edited by James Alan Tuedio and Stan Spector. Jefferson, NC : McFarland, 2010 (pp.267-278)

The Maieutic Mojo

Posted by jlubans on January 23, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

“Maieutic” is a spelling bee word if there ever was one. It came to me a while back as a Word-of-the-Day. It’s stayed with me because of its etymology:
The word derives “from ‘maieutikos,’ the Greek word for ‘of midwifery.’ In one of Plato's ‘Dialogues,’ Socrates applies ‘maieutikos’ to his method of bringing forth new ideas by reasoning and dialogue; he thought the technique analogous to those a midwife uses in delivering a baby (Socrates’ mother was a midwife)”.
The midwife metaphor is also used to describe the Taoist non-leader:
“Imagine you are a midwife; you are assisting at someone else’s birth.
Do good without show or fuss.
Facilitate what is happening rather than what you think ought to be happening.
If you must take the lead, lead so that the mother is helped, yet still free and in charge.
When the baby is born the mother will rightly say, ‘We did it ourselves.’”*
For me, this is leading from the middle, and demonstrates a leadership that trusts, encourages, and expects participants to be engaged and able to reach goals. The maieutic leader assists, the maieutic leader does not direct.
The book features an example of this type of leadership. You can find it in Chapter 18: "You Have the Resources". It came from an overnight outdoor activity created for a few dozen MBA students. One of their first challenges was to take a pile of canvas, poles, pegs and guy lines and put up a tent – their shelter for the night from the cold wind sweeping off the nearby river. Already twilight, the group grew increasingly frustrated. It kept turning to Gordon, the facilitator, for a solution. Gordon told them more than once, calmly, “You have the resources.” He could have easily stepped in and fixed it. Instead he gave the group the freedom to develop its own solution. It did. They really could say, “We did it ourselves.”

Caption: My tent on a happier day.
Years later, I found myself in a similar situation: trying to erect an unfamiliar one-person tent in a blowing wind on the bank of the Rio Grande. After a long day of hauling canoes over and through a rocky river bed in Texas’ Big Bend National Park, I was ready to crawl into my tent, but first I had to put it up. The wind bedeviled me and the tent, lifting the floor and sending it flapping. Fed up, I considered finding the zipper and crawling inside, the hell with it. The guide, Burt, probably hearing a few of my choice words, came over and gave me a hint: “John, peg the floor before putting in the poles.” Burt could have said more, but didn’t. Well, the tip was good and I got to sleep in the tent. I suppose I could say, “I did this myself.”
While Gordon was adamant about offering no clues, Burt was less so, “Thank the Lord!” That suggests different levels of maieutic leadership, and that’s what’s needed when the leader is part of a group’s problem solving. Nathan C. Funk elaborates. “(D)ialogue is at the core of a mutual learning process and there is no assumption that the person speaking is necessarily wiser than those who are being engaged."
The notion that one’s co-workers may be as wise as the leader is hard for some leaders to accept. Yet that is what has to happen for the group’s wisdom ever to see daylight. While we may say a group is empowered, it has to know what that means; there are many levels of empowerment, some only a few degrees shy of a dis-empowered state.
Other turn offs for losing the maieutic mojo:
1. As implied above, hedge on empowerment, implicitly not trusting the group to achieve its goals.
2. As a supervisory member, tell the group, as often as necessary, why it’s ideas won’t work.
3. Take charge; you know nothing is going to happen unless YOU do it!
4. Withhold information, not because you want the group to find out what it can do on its own, but because, well, just because.
5. As leader, declare your “solution” before the group’s members have puzzled their way through the options.
6. Finally, tell the group, when at the peak of its frustration, to "work smarter, not harder".

*An abbreviation of a quote from a handout I use in my Coaching workshop. The source is Lao-Tzu’s The Book of the Way, circa 500BC.

The One Tune Manager

Posted by jlubans on June 25, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Yes, Just Play One Tune More.

Once I was a manager of several branches of an organization. One of the branches was less dependent on the central organization than were the others. It – let’s call it the “Lone Branch” - had its own personnel budget but did depend on “Central” for some services.
In any case, I included the Lone Branch in my “dossier”, if one were supercilious enough to call it that.
It was my custom to visit each branch monthly. These meetings were scheduled and usually lasted an hour.
Initially, everyone seemed to like the idea. As a branch it was easy to feel isolated; my showing up on a regular basis was a link to Central, a reminder that they were not alone. After a few years most of these meetings began to feel routine, like a drill. They’d evolved into a duty, like visiting an uncongenial aunt in a far away town just because you’re passing through.
So, one day when my boss and I were talking he remarked how the head of the Lone Branch really liked my monthly visits! He had told my boss, that I “played him like a fine violin” – he was giving me credit for being respectful, diplomatic and insightful without being intrusive, without trying to impose Central’s controls on his bailiwick.
My boss was impressed since the head of the Lone Branch was a long time personal and professional friend.
But, that pat on the back gave me pause. Why? Because it dawned on me I was a one-tune manager. I did not adjust my style, my manner, and my approach to any of these half dozen or so personalities. I’d arrive, we’d talk and then I would depart. If there were issues for me to address, I would get on it. Usually there was not much more to do.
Dare I say it? These meetings were boring. I began to wonder Why meet? The meetings had become fairly one-sided (the branch head telling me what was happening) and never asking me for advice or ideas.
Of course, I accept some of the blame, at least half.
Still, I had productive and satisfying scheduled meetings with some department heads? Upon reflection, those successful meetings were a matter of personality and like-mindedness – we all agreed upon and wanted change and were willing to do more than our share. And, we trusted each other. Trust.
Yes, I should have done something. I could have asked myself: Why is this meeting so dull? Why is this person telling me things he/she thinks I want to hear? Why is she not including me in idea generation? Why is he not asking me for my ideas?
I could have included the branch head in these reflections. I could have changed the tone of those meetings, but did not know enough on how to do that.
Alas, a one-tune manager.
How then to improve one’s repertoire?
When I interviewed the head coach of a women’s basketball team – a team that would become one of the best in the nation – she told me (confirmed by the players) she tailored her coaching to each of the players. A few needed more encouragement, needed more advice, needed more direction, needed to be reminded about sharing the ball more; a few needed discipline. Of course, these players thrived on this feedback, they wanted it. I mention this since without reciprocated interest, it becomes all the more difficult to have an honest back and forth.
Well you get the idea, or do you?
My coming in and listening attentively was only part of the good meeting equation.
I should have been much clearer about what I wanted from these meetings. If I resented being treated like a visiting dignitary, I should have said so.
When in college in Pennsylvania I had a summer job in the Officers’ Club on a nearby military base. At least once each summer the supervising general came for an inspection – always announced, never a surprise. A few days ahead, the base binged on cleaning, painting, sprucing-up and repairing.
Any signs and evidence of slackness, unpreparedness were remedied or swept under the rug.
I recall hauling to an off-base freezer the technically illegal “aged steak” sides of beef from the Officers’ Club. Since many of the officers relished old steak, the club manager made sure it was out of sight. Once the general left, we’d haul back the sides of beef.
Maybe a few of my direct reports were hiding the “aged steak” whenever I came to visit. Then again, maybe there was nothing to hide.
Meetings (one-on-one or groups) are work, hard work. The more we engage the HOW, the quality of our meetings, the better they’ll be.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($3.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Freedom at Work: Saying No to “Gamification”, Slogans, Mottos, Mantras and Maxims, including Performance Appraisal.

Posted by jlubans on July 16, 2013  •  Leave comment (1)

(This continues my series on what it means to be free at work, what the democratic workplace looks like.)

You’ve seen them, those glossy posters of an iced-over climber staking a flag on a mountaintop or a kayaker soloing a raging river; they’re all about excellence and what it takes (for you!) to be the best. Pretty good photography but is it effective in doing what it is meant to do: goosing the lackadaisical, the disinterested, the fatigued and tired to new levels of production?
Caption: Tom Sawyer’s Fence.
With the internet comes a new term: gamification*. It’s a way to get people to do things they normally would not do – e. g. write long reviews for free, for Amazon and TripAdvisor. In return, we get e-badges, congratulatory e-mails for achieving or aspiring to new levels of contribution. We may even be designated “top contributors!” If this reminds you of Tom Sawyer getting his friends to pay him so they can paint his fence, then you understand gamification. Indeed, gamification concepts have long been applied to work. If you achieve a certain level, you are rewarded along the way, maybe with a gold star, a badge, a medal Now, the computer tracks your progress and e-rewards you to keep you on task and tricks you (willingly), ala Tom Sawyer, to work harder. You are having fun. Right?

Well not really. Gamification – while automated - is not much different than any other external motivator, like the high-flying eagle on the wall poster. You might like the picture, but if you do not personally aspire to soar metaphorically alongside that eagle, then it is not likely you will. Anytime you are exhorted, reminded externally to do better, to give more, to pick up the slack, the assumption is that you are holding back and that you are not giving it your all.

I would go so far as to suggest that Performance Appraisal (PA) is a pre-internet example of gamification. PA is different from much of the new gamification in its explicit “carrot and stick” (rewards and punishment) approach. Most gamification suppresses punishment – Amazon does not upbraid me for failing to review a book I’ve purchased nor does TripAdvisor reproach me for too few reviews. LinkedIn does not admonish me - yet - for failing to post my CV. No, gamification does not at the moment use electrodes to buzz me with gentle reminders that I am, yet again, falling down on the(ir) job, that I have not clicked the SUBMIT button often enough.

Nowadays, most everyone in the library workplace goes through an annual ceremony of boss sitting down with an employee and assigning one of five levels (badges?) to that employee, from Exceptional to Unsatisfactory. Much of this process is tacit, highly ritualized, and pleasing only to HR officers who think – without any quantifiable evidence - that PA makes a positive difference. You disagree? Totally? Well, please show me a study or two concluding that performance appraisal makes a difference instead of stealing hours away from service desks and other real work. The notion that PA forces the boss to talk to the employee tells me that the boss needs to be replaced. Or, there's the other heralded result of PA; an official document that protects the employee from a mean-spirited supervisor. Again, why are we employing such cretinous bosses? PA has little, if anything, to do with the frequent coaching and disciplining, guiding, mentoring, and conversing - all essential components - in the daily relationship between leader and follower. The more independent and accomplished the follower the less frequent the interaction.

“OK, OK”, you exclaim! “You’ve convinced me to tear down (sob!) my inspirational posters, to stop with the Vince Lombardi wannabe exhorting my team to excellence, and to limit PA to an annual conversation about ambitions and goals! Now, what can I do to help my staff be more creative, more industrious, more willing to think about what they do?” “Gamify reference and cataloging?”
Nyet! No easy task or solution. I quote or allude to Fred Emery’s research more than once in my book. His research helps clarify what an organization must provide each worker to augment, perhaps waken, internal motivation:

Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
Desirable future

Work towards these ends, then you’ll have a motivated library staff. Some workers will excel regardless, but if you do not provide what Emery concludes most workers want, they won’t be around for long.

*I ran into “gamification” in the Times Literary Supplement: Michael Saler, "How the internet is using us all”. Published: 22 May 2013.

Last Gasp*: How Annual Performance Appraisal Keeps on, Keepin’ on.

Posted by jlubans on May 13, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)


The BBC offers us the latest on performance appraisal (PA): it is “…extremely costly and ha(s) no impact on productivity”.
Overall, “A soul-crushing enterprise.”
Echoes of W. E. Deming! You may recall his frank assessment:
“(PA) builds fear, demolishes teamwork… leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, and dejected.”
And yet, here we are at the end of the second decade of the second millennium, and some 80% of companies still use formal performance appraisal.
In justification, they trot out the usual HR excuses: appraisals “aren’t all bad.”
And, PA provides “a macro-view of performance and engagement levels across the company”. To whom? I have to ask. What exactly is a “macro-view”? And, can you get it only by filling out a form with a required six signatures?
My experience with PA is hardly unique. In keeping with the pervasive negative workplace view, my organization’s efforts at PA were self-serving, skewed, politicized and so dreadedly ritualistic they had nothing to do with organizational effectiveness.
All too often, bean counter-type managers like pointing to someone’s numerical ranking as a way to justify how the bean counter treats that worker or the BCs myopic view of worker motivation; always external.
If PA is shown to have no impact on productivity, the pro-PA manager always wants more.
If a 20-point scale produces mediocre results, hell, a 40 pointer will do much better! Dream on.
In my halcyon days I eliminated PA entirely for five years. In my direct-report departments (some 100 staff), productivity skyrocketed.
I, of course, was out on the floor, talking to people daily, bouncing around ideas, fielding questions as to how things were going and what needed changing.
One of the most belabored excuses for PA is that it makes compulsory a manager’s having an annual “conversation” with his or her reports.
IOW, normally, they would not talk with their staff! You’ve heard it: “If you don’t hear from me, that means you’re doing OK.”
Maybe the folks in the corner office need to find out why any manager has to be forced to have those conversations.
In HR eyes, this mandatory conversation is essential so that companies are not “vulnerable to lawsuits if they don’t have a (documented) way to justify decisions.”
Eliminating formal performance appraisal allows more time for employee advising, coaching and disciplining. "No PA" gives a supervisor and an employee more time to talk about what really matters.
In my case, if guidance was needed, they got it. I could have done better on the discipline end but still most people – the “mighty middle” - continued to do a good to very good job and some were liberated.
Our “No PA” approach let the liberated do bigger and better things. And a few did, becoming star performers.
Alas, my halcyon days came to an end and PA came back with boots on. It still is goin’ on, long after I’d “left the building”.
Innovation was replaced by “tradition” (the hierarchy). Tradition requires PA along with other top-down, tidy organizational controls.
If you are thinking of dropping PA, what will you do with the hundreds, if not thousands, of gained prime time hours?
Want a boost in productivity and job satisfaction? Dump PA.

*See my:
The Not-So-Big-Dance: Performance Appraisal

Zombie Performance Appraisal
And for a bit of humor on an un-fun topic:
Innovative Performance Evaluation, the Beer Wheel

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

A Pointed Assist: Dean Smith’s Teamwork Innovations

Posted by jlubans on February 24, 2015  •  Leave comment (2)

Caption: In a sport crossover, Lionel Messi “soccer’s Michael Jordan” pointing at teammate who gave the assist for his scoring kick.

The justly famous college basketball coach, Dean Smith, died on February 7, 2015. Accolades continue to pour in. A memorial service at the “Dean Dome” (the Dean E. Smith Center) on February 22 drew thousands.
When you played for Dean Smith, many players recalled, it was the start of a friend-for-life relationship. This applied to everyone, stars and bench players. Indeed, one former player said he never made a major life decision without consulting Dean Smith.
I recall his ethical stand against beer sponsors of televised collegiate games. Pretty much a contrarian voice in this big bucks era of college basketball, I admired his courage.
I am most impressed with how Coach Smith influenced teamwork and player relationships; indeed he innovated many of the “scripts” in what has become a highly ritualized game. Below are a few of his – now ubiquitous - innovations. Each was meant to build and maintain team camaraderie; each demanded the player’s commitment to a philosophy of “one for all and all for one”. Seemingly artificial – some might say mechanical – these practices work once they become routine. (It takes repetition to turn these behaviors into habits.) No, none of these alone win games but they contribute to team cohesiveness and cohesive teams win more games than teams of loosely connected individuals.
The reader may be thinking - as many do about sports metaphor - that these sorts of rituals do not transfer to work. But, work does have its customs, its own protocols. A personal bête noire is the annual silliness of performance evaluation – well worthy of a Monty Python sketch. Unproven in its effectiveness, we still invest thousands of hours to get supervisors to talk with subordinates (we hope) at least once a year! Coach Smith offers us some proven and highly effective notions about teamwork.
Along with listing Smith’s innovations, I’ve included a few of my ideas on how these apply in the workplace. By all means, add your own.

Caption: Pinkerton Academy (Maine) Astros bench and fans cheer the team on towards the end of the game. They lost. By Carl Russo (2010).

Standing and cheering teammates: Bench players were expected to stand and to applaud their teammates after every score and when they returned to the bench, coming out of a game.
Workplace app: Praise team members; show that you appreciate their efforts. Recognize everyone’s effort. Sure, have the annual recognition dinner but acknowledge good stuff as it happens. Do this during and at the conclusion of a project. Encouraging teammates is important especially when the team hits a rough patch; continue to recognize people for their efforts. External recognition triggers the most powerful internal motivators. Not to get overly sententious, but do it daily.

Diving for loose balls: when a ball got loose, Smith made clear everyone was expected to dive for it, not just the ball handlers or the guards. Smith’s teams were known for unrelenting hustle and coming up – out of the scrum - with the ball. If you avoided floor burns, you did not play.
Workplace app: No cherry picking of assignments. Everyone does an equal amount of work and shares in the hard stuff as well as in the easy. As the OKC Thunder's Coach, Scott Brooks said:
"The dirty job, garbagepail mentality is not for Perk and Nick Collison (bench players); it's for Kevin and Russell (stars)." If they're not defending and they're not getting on the floor for loose balls and they're not trying to win every free throw block out, and they're not trying to win every jump ball, why is it important for the other guys to do it?”

Tired signal: Players who needed a break were encouraged to hold up one fist – that was the tired signal. When a player gave Smith the tired signal, he would put in a substitute, and, most importantly, the player would decide when he was ready to get back in the fray. When Smith had to “sit” a tired player, it was Smith’s decision as to when he would return, a subtle difference not lost on players who cherish every minute played.
Workplace app: Communicate when you are unable to help the team, when you need a break. Ask for help when you need it. Make clear how you are feeling about a team issue. Take a break from a tense moment, come back to it after sleeping on it.

Huddle before free throws: Tar Heel players were taught to huddle before free throws. This huddle – within the rules of the game - gave players the effect of a 5- to 10-second meeting without sacrificing a time out. “There were no coaches in the huddle setting up offenses or defenses of course, but signals could be relayed from the bench to the point guard or team leader. Above all, these huddles ensured all players would be on the same page.”
Workplace app: So, huddle with your team. You don’t need a group hug, but do stop the action and say what needs to be said. What needs doing, what’s worrying you, what needs to get better? And, as needed, clarify any disagreement. Speak to it when it happens. How much can you possible say in 5-10 seconds? Paradoxically, a whole lot more than you can say in a formal hour-long meeting.

Finally, Smith would recognize his senior players by starting them in the Senior Day game. He wanted to credit publicly the players’ contribution, whether as starters or bench and practice players. Once, legend has it, when his team included six seniors (one over the game limit of 5), “he put all six on the floor at the beginning of the game – drawing a technical foul. He did that rather than leave one of them out.”
Workplace app: Sometimes it's justified and good to break the rules.

NOTE: Chapter 8 in is about Gail Goestenkors’ coaching of a women’s basketball team: “More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team.”

@Copyright 2015 John Lubans

Teaching Self-management.

Posted by jlubans on September 14, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

Can the concept of self-management in the workplace be taught successfully?
That was my question, during my Fulbright semester, when building the class agenda for a graduate level introduction to management at the University of Latvia. My conceptual model was the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s musicians coaching a student orchestra to perform a musical concert without a conductor.
Another question, once underway, could I leave the teams alone or would I need to intervene in conductorly ways, like I saw some Orpheus musician/coaches doing?
Besides a strong curricular emphasis on teamwork, I designed three projects over the semester for three different student teams. In other words, each student was part of three different teams. The third project was to be these students’ concert performance in which they put together all they had learned about teamwork and collaboration.

1. “Books2Eat” team
2. “Women as leaders” interview team
3. “Self-managing team” working on a team-selected topic.

In team project number 3, the self-managing teams (5 or 6 students each) presented their findings and recommendations on the last day of class in Riga on June 3. 20110914-picpresent1.jpegHere are their topics:

Team A. ”One library – equal possibilities for everybody.” They developed a submission ready grant proposal to create a “socially accessible environment for every inhabitant of our city.”
Team A’s product was a “funding ready” proposal for improving access for disabled library users.

Team B. (The “Garden of Eden” team!) Women in the profession – A look at economic and prestige aspects of librarianship. The team hypothesized that the “field’s feminization (female predominance in the sector), the traditional treatment of librarian as a secondary profession” result in low salaries for librarians and inordinate salary reductions during economic downturns.

Team C developed ways to make the library more relevant to students and to draw them into the library building. Team C has these goals in mind:
- Draw more young people into public libraries
- Make students more excited about using the public library
- Become more appealing overall to the students and to get them to use the library as a resource more often
- Entertain students while familiarizing them with the library for their future use
To return to my question about teaching self-management. Each team’s plus/delta (what went well, what could have gone better) gives us insights into the stresses each team endured and survived and the pluses show each team’s success.

As you can see in the attached plus/deltas, each team has many things they would change and shortcomings they would like to improve upon. Their candid listings suggest to me an elevated understanding by each team of what is desirable behavior and what is required for a successful group project, for a team to be highly effective. The deltas show an understanding of not only what to improve but how to improve - literally, what they would do differently if they were again in a team situation.

These students learned a great deal about teamwork dynamics and what it means to be self-managing. When I contrast my students’ work with the conductor-less student orchestras I find similarities. The student musicians, like the Riga students, delivered a high quality product and yet have a long list of what could have gone better!
Just like the student musicians, some would prefer a boss, a conductor to direct and to demand. Most, if I look at the pluses, see the value of working in teams and derive satisfaction from that process. No team asked me to intervene, either in the plus/deltas or during the semester. Perhaps I could have done more as a coach, but as a first effort, I am very pleased with and proud of the students

My own delta: give each team one hour to present and respond to comments and questions. Twenty minutes was sufficient for the report, but left little time for questions and discussion. There were numerous questions we could have discussed not the least of which would have been about the plus/deltas and their meaning.

Appendix: Team Plus/Deltas

Team A Plus/Delta
• Good teamwork.
• New knowledge acquired.
• Clear distribution of assignments and roles.
• Equal contribution to the work.
• Possibility to cooperate and to get acquainted with new people.
• Topical theme (there are very few libraries, which disabled people can visit freely and get in easily).

Concern in the beginning, how successful will be our cooperation with the previously unknown people.
• Small lack of motivation to begin the work out of the project earlier.
• The lack of the leader who will motivate us to aim higher and to perform even better.
• Difficulties to get together.
• Need more teamwork.
• Need to change strategy to get better teamwork.

Team B Plus/Delta
• Team is made of various profiles of people belonging to different levels of knowledge and experience;
• Everyone were informed about the progress of the task activity;
• Actively conducted questionnaire distribution;
• Since the project’s theme was made up, all team members were clear about what to do, about responsibilities;
• The team’s ability to agree on a goal, theme and actions to reach the goal;
• Good ideas;
• Team members’ responsibility taking;
• Responsive members of the team;
• Respondents were also very responsive. We received back a great quantity of questionnaires;
• Duty sharing (distributing among members of the team);
• Collaboration / also had Yes people on the team;
• Good organization using e-mail – communication;
• Constant progress discuss;
• Mistake correcting (each member had an opportunity to correct mistakes);
• Everyone had an opportunity to express ideas, participate in questionnaire analyzing;
• Taking the self-managing team project problem (assignment) very seriously;
• Great planning and time distribution;
• Two bright leaders on the team, who took initiative;
• Each member of the team chose a task (part of the project) for himself, without pressure, independently;
• Everyone has completed his task successfully (according to their capabilities);
• The team had an informal leader, who took initiative in bringing the team together, organization of work and activities;
• Presentation will be very good!

• Before starting working, precise and objective tasks and roles of each member of the team should have been determined;
• Endeavor to listen to each other;
• Limited opportunity to work as a team on a project for every member of the team. The communication was within the groups of two or three people. At the beginning of the project, there were only two or three people involved in a discussion by e-mail;
• A leader was needed for decision making;
• Bad circumstances;
• The form (questionnaire) could have been developed better;
• The team’s spirit appeared in the end of the project’s making;
• Communication could be better;
• Hard to work with people from different institutions;
• Hard to find time to meet;
• Could have met more often with the team;
• Too much focus on details sometimes;
• No clarity about the problem formulating at the beginning;
• Very limited direct-acting communication possibilities;
• Different teamwork building activities weren’t … used („intellectual parties”, collective discussions at the cafes or at someone’s home etc.);
• The more quiet, more restrained team members weren’t fully engaged in teamwork in the beginning (their potential wasn’t fully unlocked and used).

Team C Plus Delta

The “Maestro Complex” Part 2.

Posted by jlubans on May 15, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Viviane Hagner (see Part 1) elaborated on her response: “Even in symphonies (with conductors, the players) need to talk with each other.” Her words are a good lead-in to Part 2 of the "Maestro Complex."

Davidson, in his article “What Does a Conductor Do?” suggests that leadership styles among conductors are changing. As implied in Ms. Hagner’s quote, he claims that there is a perceptible shift for more freedom (and power) for players.
This change is due more to unionization of musicians than to conductors “letting go” of their usual tight grip on the reins. A tyrannical conductor can still publicly humiliate a musician, but he’ll pay a price. The modern orchestra (a few are self-managed) has some say over which conductors get asked back.
Still, Davidson’s preferred way of leading leans to the traditional conductor, the self-sufficient and all-knowing maestro. I am not suggesting Davidson turns into an intolerant leader. Rather, he acts on the received tradition that the conductor’s job is to figure out the music and to lead it. Input from the musicians is incidental; it is not pursued. After all, as Davidson says, “(a) good conductor is a parent who’s always ready and always right.” In other words, musicians are children in need of guidance/direction.
While most of us think it is desirable to share decision-making, when we become THE boss, our go-to way of leading, our intuitive impulse is to centralize decisions, to go it alone - just like Davidson did - regardless of evidence that collaborating with others usually results in better decisions. (No, seeking advice from an inner circle of like-minded managers is not the same as talking to the people doing the work.) It takes a deliberate effort to ask for the workers’ advice and opinion. Doing so (letting others participate) can be seen by some as weakness. I am reminded of a study in a recent book, Sway. The authors maintain that dissent – a normal part of democracy - is essential to limiting our wrong-headedness. To get honest dissent, the boss has to establish a climate that permits, even empowers, dissent. Airlines now train cockpit crews in how to “block” – the term for getting in the way of irrational behavior - when a safety rule may be violated. Not only does dissent improve decision-making it can also save lives.
Corporate leaders, because they rarely allow others to see how they lead, are under far less scrutiny than are conductors (or surgeons or airline pilots). Inferior performance in an organization can be hidden for years or, if business is good, an inferior leader can take credit for the work of effective followers. Some corporate leaders may fantasize that they, alone, make the difference. I recall a friend’s boss who often spoke at professional meetings and encouraged collaboration and risk taking, innovation and experimentation. Back home, my friend learned to her dismay, that her boss talked the game but then punished anyone who took him up on it. If you experimented, innovated, collaborated with others then the boss would undercut your efforts, maybe even encourage you to leave. This boss was not about to relinquish control, and the organization suffered. Of course the damage (unlike a failed public musical performance) caused by this boss is not easily perceived by higher ups.

Early on in my career, I certainly thought it was up to me to make decisions and to do so with minimal input from staff. As I matured, I suffered less from Davidson's Maestro Complex (the need to justify my higher salary and to exhibit my “superior” knowledge). When I turned to the staff for help, we achieved our goals and higher productivity. It was really very simple, I had no illusions about my expertise, so I had to let go and allow staff to collaborate. Not that I was detached; I was an active participant in work meetings and I did ask good questions that complemented my ability to spot redundancies at 50 paces. I knew the type of followers I wanted and was active in recruiting them. And, I was very good at finding the best people (both staff and managers) and allowing them freedom to get the job done. My “hands off” approach worked well for about five years. Then, because of organizational shifts, we started to bog down once again, returning to the hierarchy in structure and behavior. My way of leading now ran counter to what the organization wanted and, as I have already said, inefficiencies can be easily rationalized and covered up. Finally, when my boss departed, I lost the necessary support and my days were numbered.

For those five golden years I did not have to justify my presence – staff relished their freedom (and saw me as the source of that freedom) and my boss supported me. Insecure conductors (and managers) "gesticulate, point, urge, and cajole" – they micromanage. For example, one of the conductors coaching Davidson in one session “demonstrated for a percussionist how to get the right sound on the triangle, corrected a bowing in the violin part, sang the bassoon line, and pointed out a subtle harmonic shift—all without glancing at the score.” For Davidson the key point here is the conductor’s phenomenal memory. Well, a good memory is important, but this is micromanaging. Why not let the musician make the mistake and figure it out; why not let them “lead” themselves and make decisions relevant to the work they do.

Conductors are essential for facilitating communication in large orchestras.
Caption: Karel Mark Chichon
Some conductors, like Karel Mark Chichon, whom I have seen perform a half dozen times with the Latvian National Symphony, have great gifts. Maestros, like Chichon, can take a very good orchestra and make it great. They understand the composer’s meaning, articulate it, and somehow inspire musicians to reach high levels of performance. I doubt there is much micromanaging (or ass-kicking, to put it crudely) by this superb leader; the true maestro works at the conceptual level, eliciting a particular sound from the musicians, the workers. It is up to the players to rise to the occasion, to meet the conductor at the mountain top and share in the joy of the music! The conductor trusts the musicians and the musicians trust the conductor. This shared trust spurs everyone to higher and higher levels of performance. That’s the best kind of leadership: followers and leader interacting and producing something very good.
Interestingly, Davidson does note, among other clues, his mentor’s advice (very much like a manager’s “letting go”) for getting through a dicey part in the score:
“Just beat clearly and they’ll take care of it.”
However, Davidson qualifies this counsel: “That’s a useful though not universal commandment: Do Less.”
Davidson’s coaches give him additional insights about leading: One tells a conducting student not to lean toward the players, (hectoring them) instead “to set aside the baton, close his eyes, and turn his back to the orchestra so that he’ll listen more and insist less.” No micromanaging there.
Then, Davidson heard some great advice from Bernard Haitink, the Dutch maestro during his visit to Juilliard. Observing a student rehearsal, Haitnik cautions: “The musicians are very busy with playing.... “You (the conductor) should not distract them!” Definitely no micromanaging there!
Davidson further reinforces the notion of letting the musicians lead with this quote from a principal cellist: “It’s amazing how beautifully we play when we don’t know what the hell the guy on the podium is doing.”
In spite of these several bits of leadership wisdom, Davidson is anxious about how he will lead the student orchestra through a difficult part of the overture. He calls it the No, really passage. Worried for several days, he hopes for the best that somehow something will come to him.
Here he describes how he did in his conducting debut:
“I make plenty of flubs: I scramble the beat, forget a cue, confuse the players once or twice. The Juilliard students respond with sensitivity and respect, and a desire to play as beautifully as I will let them.” And, his mentor offers him high praise for how he conducted the No, really.
Why did Davidson not ask the student musicians for help or simply let them play through the No, really? To collaborate with them and figure it out. Davidson did well, but I am left with a What if? What if he and the students had talked about the No, really?
“I learned more about conducting by watching (Orpheus) rehearse, than I have in all my conducting classes.”
This quote in my book comes from a conducting student who, like me, sat in on an Orpheus rehearsal. He had learned something remarkable: there is a process for and value in soliciting ideas from the players – the people doing the work. And while that may sound obvious to most managers, it is a lesson worth re-stating and practicing.