Friday Fable. Aesop’s “Fortune and The Boy”*

Posted by jlubans on March 24, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Verse by W.J. Linton. Illustration by Walter Crane. 1887

“A Boy heedless slept by the well
By Dame Fortune awaked, truth to tell,
Said she, ‘Hadst been drowned,
'Twould have surely been found
This by Fortune, not Folly befel.’"

It’s all too easy, is it not, to blame circumstance or others or the Ladies Luck and Fortune and their Sister Fate, than to consider what I may have done to bring about my misfortune.
How DID I get into this pickle?
And, on the other side of retrospection one should seek lessons on how to avoid misfortune in the future. What will I change? What will I do differently?

*Source: The Baby's Own Aesop (verse fables by W.J. Linton), 1887. Illustrations by Walter Crane. .
Also, at
Laura Gibbs index to fables.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book ($15.00) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.00). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.
I hope to have prepublication information up soon on Amazon, Powell’s Books, Barnes & Noble and other purchasing venues.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Phaedrus’ THE EVILS OF WEALTH*

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

Caption: Plutus (with cornucopia) and his mother Demeter, C4th B.C..

Riches are deservedly despised by a man of worth because a well-stored chest intercepts praise from its true objects.

When Hercules was received into heaven as the reward of his virtues, and saluted in turn the Gods who were congratulating him, on Plutus approaching, who is the child of Fortune, he turned away his eyes.
His father, Jupiter, enquired the reason:
“I hate him,” says he, “because he is the friend of the wicked, and at the same time corrupts all by presenting the temptation of gain.
Hercules, a
lways more brawn than brains, has made a faulty assumption.
He claims poor Plutus (the blind god of Fortune) intentionally lets good things (fortune) happen to bad people and bad things (misfortune) to happen to good people.
The truth according to Plutus, spoken through the playwright Aristophanes is: “Zeus (or Jupiter) inflicted (blindness) on me, because of his jealousy of-mankind. When I was young, I threatened him that I would only go to the just, the wise, the men of ordered life; to prevent my distinguishing these, he struck me with blindness' so much does he envy the good!”
Zeus comes off as petty and jealous. Especially of the good follower who does good and thinks for himself/herself.
Do you know any Jovian leaders like that?
Given his druthers, Plutus would prefer to shun the wicked and to visit the good.
Likewise, the Herculean certainty on Facebook is probably more akin to Zeus’ envy of good than to giving a guy a break.


© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Luck or Skill?

Posted by jlubans on January 13, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Lady Fortune at Her Wheel*

I recall from my undergraduate literature classes the medieval concept about Lady Fortune’s whimsies; one day you are on top (a monarch) and the next day you are a beggar, barely holding on.
The above illustration comes from a book about Boethius in which mistress “Philosophy demonstrates that Fortune rules the world and that the wise person ignores her ever-shifting ways, preferring eternal truths.”
The puzzle is knowing what’s an eternal truth.
Wilmot Kidd, an investment manager whose success rivals Warrant Buffet must have a few eternal truths to which he ascribes. When asked if his success was due to luck or skill he responded:
“Skill is just recognizing when you’ve gotten lucky.”
He explains the paradox, “It’s when you’ve been fortunate enough to make an investment in a great company, and suddenly you realize just how very lucky you were, and you buy more. That’s skill, I suppose. That—and holding on to what you have and not chickening out.”
Dwell on that.
Here’s a leader brave enough to admit luck plays a role in his success, but more so does holding on and “not chickening out.” In other words, focus on the long term over the short term gain.
I have to agree.
Were it not for chance meetings, being in the right place at the right time, I’d likely have had a different career path.
For the most part, if I had good fortune in some undertaking, I would keep doing whatever got me to the good luck part.
Looking back on my career, I had a “great ride”, as they say in NASCAR, but then one day it changed.
When it did, Fortune's Wheel from my literature classes popped into my head. I could now identify with the Sad Sack at the bottom of the wheel.
It’s not much of a stretch – for me - while contemplating the role of luck vs. skill in leadership to hark back to Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth extraordinaire and champion of ratiocination: the inimitable Sherlock Holmes.
Holmes had a literary competitor by the name of Paul Beck, a creation of M. McDonnell Bodkin (1850-1933).
While Sherlock Holmes was the ultimate logical reasoner, Bodkin’s Beck went a contrary (and a deliberately plodding) other way:
"I just go by the rule of thumb, and muddle and puzzle out my cases as best I can."
Nor did he minimize good luck. When congratulated by a client in solving a case he responded: “I was lucky, as usual, that's all."
Beck attributes his success to luck and common sense not ratiocination.
I’ve had the experience of not letting go of a pet idea and unwilling to change course.
Like the hedgehog in the fox and hedgehog parable I was convinced of One Big Thing and became fodder for Lady Fortune.
Unswerving allegiance to “one way” is not an eternal truth.
The flexible fox on the other hand is like Mr. Beck, willing to go with whatever rule of thumb may apply.
He enjoys a free-wheeling creativity, puzzles over possible causes, tries things, and learns from mistakes. Yet, he can be playfully inscrutable.
Ylvis and Brer Fox would agree, I think, that “Change is Fortune’s normal behavior" and change, alas, is an eternal truth.

*Detail from “Philosophy Consoling Boethius and Fortune Turning the Wheel” by Henri de Vulcop? about 1460–1470. Paris, France.

Still available

And, don’t forget my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Fulbright award

Posted by jlubans on May 09, 2010  •  Leave comment (6)

I have had the good fortune to receive a Fulbright Scholarship Lecturing Award beginning February 2011. My five month placement will be in the capital city of Riga at the University of Latvia, Faculty of Social Sciences.

I will be giving lectures, seminars and workshops in library management and leadership for students and practitioners in the Department of Information and Library Studies and at the University of Latvia Libraries.

In addition, I will be undertaking research on post-Soviet leadership in Latvia. I’d like to refine my understanding of Latvian leadership practices and how those practices and applications differ from the American model.

Along the way, I do hope to get better at speaking the Latvian language through classes and daily use.

Why teams?

Posted by jlubans on June 10, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

Why hierarchy? could be just as effective a lead-in title. Well, the Darwinists have something to say. (When don't they?) Their unruffled sea of "settled science" is now roiled up. The tempest is about recent comments from biologist, Edward O. Wilson as summed up in the April 21st Boston Globe. Mr. Wilson claims that:
The key (to goodness) is the group: Under certain circumstances, groups of cooperators can out-compete groups of non-cooperators, thereby ensuring that their genes — including the ones that predispose them to cooperation — are handed down to future generations. This so-called group selection, Wilson insists, is what forms the evolutionary basis for a variety of advanced social behaviors linked to altruism, teamwork, and tribalism.... (emphasis added.)

So, here we have a biological hypothesis about why we enjoy teamwork, and of course, why we may NOT enjoy teamwork.
I assume non-cooperators - there must be significant numbers - do not like teams because they do not want to cooperate or collaborate to survive. Whatever rationale given for why teams fail, it is interesting to have a biological suggestion. Some people really do NOT want a team to succeed while some people REALLY DO.

Of course, Adam Smith had something to say in 1759, about our instinctual wanting to help others:

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.”

A necessary happiness

Posted by jlubans on July 13, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

Since my July 8 ABC CLIO blog entry had a cowboy emphasis, a reference to Adam Smith did not exactly fit my home-on-the-range metaphor*. Try as I might, I could not see Mr. Smith in hat and spurs mounted on a quarter horse, minding the lowing herd while contemplating his Theory of Moral Sentiments.**

But, it is still important to note that centuries ago, Adam Smith alluded to what he saw as man’s instinctual sympathy: “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.”

Don’t just take his word for it, economic and psychological research does support Mr. Smith’s insight. It gives hope to those who want to find a supportive work place in which people look out for others selflessly. Unlike the dystopic offices in the comics, there are decent organizations and decent people to work with. You just have to find them.

*That's Long's Peak, in the distance, under the brim of my hat.20100713-cowboy john.jpeg

** One of many editions of Adam Smith’s 1759 work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments , was edited by Knud Haakonssen in 2002 for Cambridge University Press.


Posted by jlubans on September 17, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)


ANY a man, starting with a modest capital, has ended by acquiring great wealth.
But I built up my large fortune by starting with nothing at all. Listen, and you shall hear how I did it.
My father died before I was born; and my mother's wicked relations robbed her of all she possessed. So in fear of her life she fled from them and took refuge at the home of one of my father's friends.
There I was born, to become later the protector and mainstay of my excellent mother.
Meanwhile she supported our lives by the pittance earned through hardest drudgery; and, poor as we were, she found a teacher who consented to instruct me in the simple rudiments of reading, writing and keeping accounts.
Then one day my mother said to me, "My son, your father before you was a merchant, and the time has come for you also to engage in trade.
The richest merchant now living in our city is the money changer, Visakhila, and I hear that it is his habit to make loans to the poor sons of good families to start them in business. Go to him and ask him for such a loan."
Straightway I went to Visakhila, the money changer, and found him angrily denouncing another merchant's son, to whom he had loaned money:
"See that dead Mouse upon the ground," he said scornfully, "a clever man could start with even such poor capital as that and make a fortune.
But, however much money I loan you I barely get back the interest on it, and I greatly doubt whether you have not already lost the principal."
Hereupon I impetuously turned to Visakhila and said, "I will accept the dead Mouse as capital to start me in business!"
With these words, I picked up the Mouse, wrote out a receipt, and went my way, leaving the money changer convulsed with laughter.
I sold the Mouse to another merchant as cat's meat, for two hand-fuls of peas.
I ground the peas and taking with me a pitcher of water, I hastened from the city and seated myself under the shade of a spreading tree.
Many weary wood-cutters passed by, carrying their wood to market, and to each one I politely offered a drink of cool water and a portion of the peas.
Every wood-cutter gratefully gave me in payment a couple of sticks of wood; and at the end of the day I took these sticks and sold them in the market. Then for a small part of the price I received for the wood I bought a new supply of peas; and so on the second day I obtained more sticks from the woodcutters.
In the course of a few days I had amassed quite a little capital and was able to buy from the wood-cutters all the wood that they could cut in three days.
It happened soon afterwards that because of the heavy rains there was a great scarcity of wood in the market, and I was able to sell all that I had bought for several hundred panas.
With this money I set up a shop, and as I am a shrewd business man I soon became wealthy.
Then I went to a goldsmith and had him make me a Mouse of solid gold. This Mouse I presented to Visakhila as payment of the loan; and he soon after gave me his daughter in marriage.
Because of this story I am known to the world as Mushika, the Mouse. So it was that without any capital to build on, I amassed a fortune.
Horatio Alger has nothing on our hero, Mushika the Mouse.
While there’s no moral appended. I am guessing the story was to inspire a poor reader to get out of poverty, to improve his or her lot in life.
If anything, the story speaks to one’s using existing resources – however minimal – to move ahead.
In the workplace we often fail to use what we have and instead bemoan what we do not have. An atmosphere of depression sets in, and weighs heavily upon the organization.
Every now and then along comes a leader like Mushika, who uses what’s available and achieves something special – not just in escalating production but also in raising followers’ morale and inspiring them to genuinely “do more with less”.
It’s the “can do” attitude – alas, a cliché nowadays - but when that attitude is sincere, amazing things happen, all within what you already have.
In Aesop’s fable “The Shipwrecked Man and Athena” a wealthy man clings to a capsized boat and prays to Athena, making many promises if only she saves him.
A survivor – heading for the distant shore - swims past and says, “While you pray to Athena, start moving your arms!”
Ditto for the shipwrecked workplace with only doom and gloom on the horizon. Instead, “move your arms” and work with what you have. There’s a new dawn coming.
Remember Mushika!

*Source: Katha-Sarit-Sagara. Book I, Chapter 6; adapted from the German of F. Brockhaus. To be found in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Friday Fable: “THE DOG AND THE REEDS*”

Posted by jlubans on August 24, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Against evil associates and the like. 
There was a dog who wanted to do his business right on top of a clump of bulrushes but one of the reeds poked the dog's behind. The dog backed off and began to bark at the reeds. The reed said, 'I would rather have you bark at me from a distance than have you dirty me up close!'”

20120824-barking dog.jpeg
Caption: A chihuaha’s yapping end is preferable to his other end.

What to do when someone dumps on you? When disparaged, does one exhibit umbrage (whatever that is) or sit in dignified silence. I suppose it depends; as the fable declares, even the reed has a limit.
There are some circumstances (like the reed’s) that justify jabbing back, getting some distance. The difficulty is in knowing how to respond, when to roar and when to purr. A respected friend advised me, early in my career, it was best not to respond to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. A true gentleman, he firmly believed and practiced that reacting to a slur or slander only would lend dignity to the pejorative comment. Ignore it and it will go away. For me, turning the other cheek worked most of the time but not always.
It’s probably best to respond to the perceived insult with something comical; humor is better than the risk of looking foolish through angry over-reaction or appearing a milquetoast. So, ramp up your repartee. However, “Yo Momma” does not qualify as a snappy comeback!

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by . Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

How Jerks Happen

Posted by jlubans on January 18, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)


While working on my Fulbright sponsored class, Literature and Leadership, I came across an intriguing essay,
The Dark Triad and the Evolution of Jerks
The author, a psychology professor, wonders how jerks thrive.
Most of us, perhaps up to 90%, try to live our lives according to the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. When attacked, we are cautioned to “turn the other cheek”.
So, how do we get jerks, those habitués of the Dark Triad?
The class will make use of my book, Fables for Leaders. As fables go, many are stories about jerks and offer examples and advice.
For example, there’s the fable of "The Travelers and the Purse"
in which one of the two travelers claims full ownership of money the two find on the road, (my good fortune, not our good fortune). When threatened by an approaching posse, the jerk reneges on his claim of exclusive ownership.
And there’s, “A Hedge-hog and a Snake”, about an unwanted guest who ousts the hospitable Hedge-hog from his nest.
Even better, there's Aesop and the Stone in which an injured Aesop tricks the perp into a much graver folly, likely leading to his death.
And, finally, there’s
The Weeping Man and the Birds” about how a man who “weeps” crocodile tears while slaughtering birds for the cooking pot.
Here’s what’s in the Dark Triad: “Narcissism (an excessive focus on oneself), Machiavellianism (manipulating others for one’s own gain), and psychopathy (an overall disregard for others).”
Looking for more information about the dark triad, I discovered that there are tests you can take to find out if you are one of them. Please note that I question the credibility of these tests. Who –when kindness and cooperation are what set most humans apart from other living creatures - would agree with any of these following beliefs/behaviors?
It's true that I can be mean to others.
I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so.
Most people can be manipulated.
Hurting people would be exciting.
I enjoy having sex with people I hardly know.
Payback needs to be quick and nasty (see above, "Aesop and the Stone").
I like to get revenge on authorities.
I’ll say anything to get what I want.
Make sure your plans benefit you not others.

If you strongly concur with these statements, then you are probably reading this in a jail cell or lolling in the lap of luxury as the jefe of a drug gang.
Or, if you have more than an occasional lapse or two (“To err is human”, after all), and routinely apply these behaviors to get ahead at work, you are more than likely One Big Fat Jerk (OBFJ) a new type for the Myers Briggs Type Indicator!
So, if most of us value kindness and cooperation, how does the dark side thrive?
Well, according to research, unkind people adapt and use trickery to make gains and to survive against the kind folks they encounter and abuse.
Is it nature or nurture one might ask? Do big jerks beget little jerks?
Some of the dark behavior is what it takes to survive under bad conditions. And one might ask realistically, if it is permissible to fight a jerk with jerk behaviors? That question should make for some interesting class discussion about effective leadership and followership.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Friday Fable. Sir Roger L'Estrange’s “AN ASTROLOGER AND A TRAVELER”*

Posted by jlubans on August 26, 2016  •  Leave comment (3)

Caption: Illustration by Grandville for La Fontaine's retelling of Aesop’s fables (1855).

“A certain Star-gazer had the Fortune, in the very height of his celestial Observations, to stumble into a Ditch; a sober fellow passing by, gave him a piece of wholesome Counsel. Friend, says he, make a right Use of your present Misfortunes; and pray, for the future, let the Stars go on quietly in their Courses, and do you look a little better to the Ditches.”

LaFontaine offered this moral:
To an astrologer who fell
Plump to the bottom of a well,
'Poor blockhead!' cried a passer-by,
'Not see your feet, and read the sky?'

Perhaps aware that gazing into the future might be hazardous to one’s well-being, most contemporary prognosticators make predictions well beyond their estimated death dates!
I recall the part time "wizards" in my profession who offered much expensive advice to solve my workplace’s problems.
When I inquired what they were doing at their own “shop”, it turned out they rarely followed their own advice, or if they were, the results were hardly impressive.
Pontificate they could, but bring about productive change they could not.
I found it far better to locate on my own “best practice” institutions and then ask the people who were doing it to show me how they did it. More often than not the secret was to let the people doing the work figure out how to best do it. That took a hands-off leadership, a way of leading the wizards would never credit.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Hold for Arrival: Gleason’s Trunk

Posted by jlubans on February 03, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “And Away We Go”, Jackie Gleason’s signature shtick.

Speaking of Lady Fortune, Jackie Gleason, a famed American comedian and actor, had a unique way of dealing with the ups and downs in his show biz career.
We are told that not long after making it big on TV and Broadway in the early 50s a friend observed Gleason packing a variety of tailored clothes into a battered old trunk.
When asked what he was doing Gleason had this to say: “Right now, I’m supposed to be playing burlesque in the Adams Theater in Newark,”
That made no sense; born in 1916, he’d knocked around show biz, vaudeville and burlesque houses for 35 years but now his name was in lights on Broadway. He’d made it!
Well, Mr. Gleason knew Lady Luck could knock him off Fortune’s wheel just like she could keep him on top.
Gleason explained that “if not for his run of unanticipated good luck, he might very well still be working in burlesque houses. He remained the same person even if he was now a coast-to-coast star.”
So, just in case (JIC), he sent that trunk across the Hudson River to Newark, with the tag: “Jackie Gleason, Hold for Arrival.”
His trunk was a pragmatic way of preparing in good times for the hard times lurking just around the corner.
If his luck ran out and he was back introducing strippers in a dilapidated burlesque theater, he’d be a well-dressed Master of Ceremonies, waiting for the next spin of the wheel.
Mr. Gleason stayed on top until his death in 1987,
There’s a country western song about life’s ups and down: “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”.
Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines based at Love Field in Dallas Texas no doubt heard that song while sipping his favorite adult beverage, Wild Turkey bourbon. His personal philosophy: “We figure there’s going to be at least two crises in every decade, and we’d better be ready for them. My slogan has always been, ‘We manage in good times so that we’ll do well in bad times.’”
It was his caution (and millions in JIC lines of credit) that had Southwest the first airline back in the sky after 9/11.
It’s not easy, this anticipation of bad times a’comin’.
When you’re on top, everything is looking rosy, the bluebird of happiness is flying over ever greener pastures, so why bother? Good times are here again, goes the song.
Remember Gleason’s trunk. Don’t wait until a crisis; you and the organization should take the time to think about what you will need to see you through and beyond.


And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022


Posted by jlubans on May 25, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustration by (from?) Sir Topaz the Cure-ate

ONCE in a town, called Happy Home, there lived a mighty Hunter, named Grim-Face.
One day, wishing a little fresh venison for dinner, he took his bow and arrows and went into the woods where he soon found and killed a Deer. As he was carrying the Deer home he came upon a wild Boar of huge size. Laying the Deer on the ground, he fixed and shot an arrow, wounding the Boar, which instantly rushed upon him with a roar louder than the roar of thunder, and ripped the Hunter open with his sharp tusks.
The Hunter fell like a tree cut down by the axe, and lay dead between the Boar and a Snake, which had also been killed and crushed under their feet as they fought.
Presently a Jackal, whose name was Howl-o'Nights, passed that way, prowling in search of food; and his eye fell upon the Hunter, the Deer, the Boar and the Snake, all lying dead together.
"Aha!" said Howl-o'Nights, "what luck! Good fortune can come, I see, as well as ill fortune.
Now let me think: the man will make fine pickings for a month; the Deer and the Boar, between them, will last me two months more; the Snake will do for to-morrow; and, as I am unusually hungry, I will treat myself now to this bit of strong-smelling bow-string."
So saying, the Jackal began to gnaw the sinew of which the bowstring was made.
Presently, the string snapped apart, and the bow sprang back and pierced the heart of greedy Howl-o'Nights.

Greed like blame abounds.
And, the corpses, a la the gangster movie genre, keep piling up (5 all told).
The ensemble – Grim-Face (Robert DeNiro?), the jackal (Al Pacino?), the trampled snake and the mortified Boar (Sylvester Stallone?)
The deer’s the only corpse that died with any dignity.
The greediest of the lot (Howl-o'Nights) gets the ultimate pungle.
For some reason, it all reminds me, of an inverted maxim, “For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost!
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail!”
So, for want of a bowstring, all have gone to perdition!
Better for Grim Face (or Bobby D) to have settled for the clean kill of the deer and kept on walking, like in Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Were Made for Walkin’.

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

More 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

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “THE TRAVELERS AND THE PURSE”*

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

Two men were traveling in company along the road when one of them picked up a well-filled purse.
‘How lucky I am!’ he said. ‘I have found a purse. Judging by its weight it must be full of gold.’
‘Do not say 'I have found a purse,'’ said his companion. ‘Say rather 'we have found a purse' and 'how lucky we are.' Travelers ought to share alike the fortunes or misfortunes of the road.’
‘No, no,’ replied the other angrily. ‘I found it and I am going to keep it.’
Just then they heard a shout of ‘Stop, thief!’ and looking around, saw a mob of people armed with clubs coming down the road.
The man who had found the purse fell into a panic.
‘We are lost if they find the purse on us,’ he cried.
‘No, no,’ replied the other, ‘You would not say 'we' before, so now stick to your 'I'. Say 'I am lost.'"

“We cannot expect any one to share our misfortunes unless we are willing to share our good fortune also.”

OTJ (on the job), the unboss, never claims sole credit for organizational accomplishment nor blames others when things go bad. The unboss understands he is as much responsible for an organization’s failure as he is responsible for its success. As a result, the salary multiple for the unboss is not 200 times the lowest paid worker; it’s a much smaller multiple, permitting a greater share for everyone in the organization.
It should be noted that a prime factor in humankind’s evolutionary survival is our widely distributed desire to cooperate and to be considerate of others. Aesop’s selfish traveler comes up short on the cooperation gene.

*Source: Aesop for Children (translator not identified). Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956). Chicago: 
Rand McNally & Company, 1919. Available online at Project Gutenberg.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Krylov’s “THE MAN AND HIS SHADOW”*

Posted by jlubans on November 18, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The elusive shadow.

“THERE was a certain (one-of-a-kind) who must needs desire to
catch his own Shadow. He makes a step or two to-
wards it, but it moves away before him. He quickens his
pace; it does the same. At last he takes to running; but
the quicker he goes, the quicker runs the Shadow also,
utterly refusing to give itself up, just as if it had been a
treasure. But see! our eccentric friend suddenly turns
round, and walks away from it. And presently he looks
behind him; the Shadow runs after him now.

Ladies fair, I have often observed what do you sup-
pose ? — no, no; I assure you I am not going to speak about
you that Fortune treats us in a similar Way. One man
tries with all his might to seize the goddess, and only loses
his time and his trouble. Another seems, to all appearance,
to be running out of her sight but, no, she herself takes a
pleasure in pursuing him.”

As some say, the pleasure is in the pursuit (as depicted), not in the catching. Perhaps the more you want something - a friend, a job, a favor – the better to keep a respectful distance; hence according to this fable, the better your chances of getting what you want. Is this then a form of dissembling, an “aw, shucks” me-ing?
No doubt a psychology study exists to prove (well sorta, if we don’t look too closely at the data!) that aloofness gains more concessions, than does a display of too much interest, regardless of merit.)
In job place interviews, I always made clear – nicely, of course - that I was interviewing the organization just as much as they were interviewing me. Would there be a good fit? - was as much my question as it was the employer’s.
If the employer behaved arrogantly – there are ways of being arrogant without being overtly rude; for example, assuming that since I’ve shown up for the interview I want the job. Au contraire, I am no more pursuing the shadow, than it is pursing me.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Prophet”*

Posted by jlubans on April 03, 2015  •  Leave comment (1)


“A WIZARD, sitting in the marketplace, was telling the fortunes of the passers-by when a person ran up in great haste, and announced to him that the doors of his house had been broken open and that all his goods were being stolen. He sighed heavily and hastened away as fast as he could run. A neighbor saw him running and said, ‘Oh! you fellow there! you say you can foretell the fortunes of others; how is it you did not foresee your own?’"

This fable is a distant cousin to “do as I say, not as I do”. I recall a consulting expert who could spout dozens of remedies to my workflow problems. It was on a reciprocal visit to his shop that I saw his workflow problems were even worse than mine. Apparently, while he had answers for me, he could not apply them in his own bailiwick. Now, I suspected that the problems were caused more by his untrusting attitude toward staff than with the mechanics of doing something. While he could talk about the mechanics with lighting speed, he never could relinquish control to the people doing the work. I had the good fortune to work with my staff, one on one, and the workflow improved, seemingly all on its own.

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

Leading from the Middle Library of the week: The
Roger John Voskuyl Library, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

N.B. Fifth year anniversary of publication of Leading from the Middle looms (June 2015). Get your copy before it goes out of print.

PS. I am currently at the University of Latvia as a Visiting Professor for my 8-week seminar on Freedom at Work: The Democratic Workplace.

© 2015 John Lubans

Customer Service Secrets from Trader Joe’s

Posted by jlubans on February 27, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Because of its tight-lipped ways, Trader Joe’s can make for the wrong kind of story, all about the covertness of its German owners. For example, this headline from a 2010 story in Fortune: “Inside the secret world of Trader Joe's
It’s true, TJs managers will not talk about the business side of the business, but the “crew” – as the staff are known - offers just about the best service in the retail grocery business. You’ll have a hard time “getting (TJs) kind of love at the Piggly Wiggly.”
A TJs crewmember interacts with you more like a person than a consumer in an economic equation. TJs staff appear to understand the fundamental truth about retail: if you help people find what they are looking for, and make them feel good in the process, they will spend money in your store AND they will come back. The money from the sales, the profits, then can be used to further enhance the enterprise for staff and customers.
When I called the nearby TJs in Chapel Hill, inquiring about a discontinued item, I was put straight thru to the store’s manager, Greg Forte. I told him about my dismay in the absence of TJs stone-ground Southern Grits. When would the product be back? He expressed surprise and said something like “I love those grits!” But in the time it takes to check a computer inventory, he confirmed the sad news. Both of us commiserated about the situation. However, when I asked him if I could come by and interview him about their excellent customer service, his tone became wary. He’d have to check with headquarters. I offered to write a letter explaining my interest, who I was, and how I worked, but he said no, that’s not necessary. He’d get back to me in a week. Not.
So, as you can see, TJs strength is not in talking about the organization but in doing service better than most other food stores. I had the good fortune to interview Saul Zabar co-owner of Zabar’s, New York’s delightful food shop at 79th and Broadway. Over several months, Saul showed me the business, gave me back office and kitchen tours, allowed me to accompany him more than once on his weekly tasting of hundreds of pounds of smoked salmon at a Zabar’s vendor in Brooklyn, and he gave me full access to a dozen or more staff to ask any question I wanted. It made for an insightful story about the complex world of a retail business. It’s in the book:
Chapter 14: A Zabarian Experience
But, TJs, and its German owners, think differently from Saul – perhaps for their own right reasons. Still, you can derive much about a business by how you are treated. TJs staff have an obvious interest in what the customer thinks. Is this a trained-in empathy? Or, maybe that empathy is in the corporate DNA, an inherited gene from TJs California culture that the new German owners have the smarts not to re-engineer.
Well, just how does an organization establish a uniform friendliness toward its clients? Somehow, TJs staff can be spontaneous and not worry about getting yanked by corporate policy. As much as I like Costco, the staff on the floor invariably avoid eye contact with customers. If the customer makes the effort and asks a question, the response is usually positive, but it’s up to me to take the initiative. Yeah, I know Costco’s "great", but eye contact or a friendly nod is the exception, not the rule. Why is that?
TJs apparent policy is to look people in the eye and ask how to help. Better, the policy seems to say, if you see someone who might need help, you help. You stop re-stocking the shelf and help the customer find what she is looking for. Or, if the store does not have it – most TJs have a limited line of products, e.g. one type of lip balm, no more - you confirm that and express your regrets. You do not leave the customer wandering around (like I have done numerous times at Costco) hoping for serendipity to come to my rescue. When I asked a staffer in TJs dairy area about where a vegetable might be – I’d looked and looked in the produce area - he stopped his inventory of the cheese bins, without a hint of “I’m busy” - and walked me to a shelf in produce. It was the same shelf I had scrutinized. There was the product. He pulled it out and showed it to me. Sale made!
At TJs there’s a detente in the barrier between staff and customer, and there’s no enforced impersonality; apparently it is OK to be yourself. (Much like the individuality permitted staff at SWA.) There’s a much mis-guided concept in too many organizations that staff must present the same face to every customer. Those plastic smiles seem to be saying, “We are impartial, we are fair, we are consistent, just like the robotized “Your call is very important to us.” It’s a different message that the client receives: We may empathize with you, but we know our limits; we know the narrow boundaries of what we can and cannot do; I do not have permission to help you beyond point x, regardless of the national advertising that “if something’s not right we’ll fix it!”
Think back about a great interaction between you and an employee. What happened? I remember thirstily looking for a water fountain at Frankfurt’s vast-desert-of-an-airport. When I asked someone behind the service desk at Lufthansa for the nearest one, she said there were not any water fountains, then left her desk, unlocked a door, went inside, retrieved and gave me a bottle of water! Did I like that?
I was pushing one of TJs tiny grocery carts – with several bottles of wine and olive oil rolling around – when one of the “crew” observed me and made some comment about the party I must be having. Then she asked if I could use a box for the bottles. Actually, she did not ask me, she got the box and put the bottles in it so I could continue do my shopping.
On another visit, I saw a couple staff restocking the shelves. (Consider that this would be an obvious inefficiency to any retail expert. Why not stock only when the store is closed? Imagine the savings from a minimum wage stocking crew that can focus on the job at hand? Instead, TJs re-stocks during the day, while the customer is there. A stocker is a ready target for questions that take him away from his job and add to the retail labor cost. Actually, restocking during the day is a highly efficient way to get staff out on the floor to help people find what they need (or to try something new!).
But back to the re-stocking staffers. A little boy, three or four, imitating two TJ staff, was also re-stocking a bottom shelf. This was fun for the little boy. Work as fun. Imagine that.
It’s remarkable to me that the staff were OK with the little boy’s playful interest instead of telling the parent their insurance does not permit children playing with the merchandise.
I wonder what TJs policy manual looks like? Is it hundreds of pages of detailed direction or is it one page with the simple statement, “Help the customer.” I cannot confirm that, I can only admire how TJs helps their customers (of all ages and economic circumstances*).
The Fortune article concludes that TJs good staff benefits package makes for the good customer relations. I’d say it helps, but good pay is hardly the only reason. It’s in the corporate culture. It’s what is transmitted and demonstrated daily to every staff member. The rules can be bent – what’s the harm in the little boy playing at re-stocking? And, yes, when someone asks for help, you do stop what you are doing and help.
Back in the day of library card catalogs, I recall the controversy over a card filer’s helping a library user find a book. It made perfect sense to me for a user to ask for help from someone who looked like a library worker. Yet there was considerable opposition from some staff. The filer might misguide the user! The filer’s job was to file not to assist, etc. All this was nonsense. A type of nonsense that the TJs organization has overcome in its expectations of each crewmember to help people to the best of their ability. If the Chapel Hill manager agrees to an interview I’d love to pass on something more substantial about TJs than my best guesses.

*However TJs customer base is largely white. Perhaps curiously, the Durham (where I live) Aldi store (owned by the same German family but run in an altogether different fashion) has a fair number of black customers.

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Bear and the Two Travelers”*

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

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

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

“Misfortune tests the sincerity of friends.”

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

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

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

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Free Will(y)*

Posted by jlubans on November 21, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Homer’s Donut: Chosen or Destined?

A sad tale, for Thanksgiving week, about a failed friendship, all because of free will.
Free will ended your friendship?
Yes, my excommunication resulted from a freshman dorm-type discussion about free will between my friend (a professed socialist) and me (not a socialist).
Over beer (!), our normally friendly banter and camaraderie had deteriorated into a shouting match.
For the socialist, free will is anathema or so it seems. I mean how can one become subordinate to the state if you have free will?
Remember, the socialist state is superior to the individual, hence the state takes priority.
Never a particularly reflective person, I tossed off our overheated disagreement as regrettably stupid behavior.
My friend did not, as it became apparent several months later.
While on a trip to Poland, I took a photo
of a Frey Wille store and sent it to him with a punning joke.
You know, Free Willy (the movie), Frey Wille, a jewelry store, get it?
My joke fell flat.
My friend said, tersely, he did not get the joke.
Not long after, our friendship formally ended, kind of like the Latvian proverb, paraphrased “Once you've cut the bread (or donut), you cannot put it together again".
I guess my conviction there’s free will, crossed an invisible line. I was now one of the deplorables and as such unworthy of his or any socialist’s friendship.
Discussion closed.
Apart from any individual’s belief to the contrary, socialism cannot tolerate the idea of people having choice or individual volition. Remember, the individual is subordinate; others – believe me, they are there in the wings waiting their turn - will make decisions for us.
In socialism, even Homer’s relationship with donuts is pre-ordained; he has no choice, other than choosing between cinnamon or bacon or jelly.
We are all victims of fate or fortune.
In Soviet times, the bosses took away the individual’s right to choose. Do as we say, or else.
It’s still going on in Russia. Commenting on Britney Griner’s (the basketball player) labor camp imprisonment, a former inmate offers this advice,
"It's important to not forget yourself and not lose your freedom. Because this is what the system teaches you. They teach you how to forget your right to choose."
Well then, what does this have to do with the workplace?
The more choice the competent individual has, the better job she/he will do.
That’s been an enduring tenet of my management philosophy. And, regardless of working in a hierarchical or autocratic workplace, that’s how I’ve done my job, often with highly positive results.
Naturally, most managers want to be needed. Letting go, for many managers, is a sign of weakness. Some even claim that letting go will put them out of a job; as if leadership exists solely to supervise.
Back in 1958, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin claimed there were two kinds of liberty: negative and positive. Negative was freedom from obstacles and interference by others, in brief, freedom from control.
Positive freedom pertains to controlling your own destiny and shaping your life, freedom to control oneself.
Is not free will implicit in positive freedom?
In this current workplace milieu of quiet quitting, quiet firing and quiet restraint allowing competent/productive workers more positive freedom might be one way to enlarge upon a mutually beneficial relationship between boss and worker, between the personal and the professional.

*The movie, Free Willy, is about the relationship between a young boy and a captive killer whale, both separated from their natural families. The boy helps Willy, the whale, escape his captivity. It touches on free will, especially the boy’s choosing to help Willy break free. And, of course, Willy, wants nothing but to be free. Like most of us.

My book, Fables for Leaders, many of which exemplify free will, is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Quick Ones: Three for the Road

Posted by jlubans on February 14, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: "Hey, Mister, throw me something!".

Speaking of the road, a 1933 espionage thriller, “The Two Undertakers" features a bit of unexpected, if twisted humor. The quote occurs with the bad guys in hot pursuit of the 2 good guys, both British Secret Service, who are in an open, horse-drawn wagon.
The villains are in a motorized Maybach (think Mercedes) sedan.
Ever resourceful, one of the good guys, Ronald Briercliffe, is inspired by a case of bottled beer in the back of the wagon.
As for the other spy, Granby by name,
“He was still tugging at the galloping horse, assisted not unskilfully by the horse's driver, who had at last begun to grasp the fact that the animal was trying to run away.
"But we might break the bottles on the road," I suggested.
"Good lad," answered Granby.
I crawled over the back of the seat, reached for the bottles, and dropped them one by one from the tailboard.
I had once read a story of a Russian family pursued in their sledge by a pack of wolves, and how the father threw his children overboard one by one to delay pursuit. I knew now how the poor man must have felt.”

Saying No.
The reader may remember a January story about a terrorist holding 3 hostages in a Texas synagogue. The Wall Street Journal editorialized on what happened:
One of the hostages, “Jeffrey R. Cohen, wrote … that at one point during the siege, the gunman (Akram) ordered the trio to their knees….
Instead of kneeling as … ordered…, Cohen, 57, said he defied the attacker’s demand. He stood up and mouthed the word ‘no,’ looking Akram straight in the eyes.
‘I was not going to let him assassinate us,’ Cohen said. ‘I was not going to beg for my life and just have him kill us.’
Rather than shooting Cohen, Akram backed down.
He turned around and put his gun down to pour some soda, Cohen said. Cytron-Walker, the rabbi, seized on the moment, yelling ‘run’ and throwing a chair at Akram as the three hostages ran out.”
The FBI surged in and brought the stand-off to an end, an unfortunate one for Mr. Akram.
Are you as impressed as I am with Mr. Cohen's astonishing courage?
Saying No in the office is usually not a capital offense; yet we hesitate when our higher ups and/or work colleagues are rushing head-long into a mistake. Instead of saying No! we sit silent.
Next time you find yourself accommodating a bad decision, think of that Tall Texan, Jeffrey Cohen.

Eternal Truths in the Workplace.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Lady Fortune
and her whimsical ways and I quoted some advice from Mistress Philosophy: While “Fortune rules the world and that the wise person ignores her ever-shifting ways, preferring eternal truths.”
The puzzle is knowing what’s an eternal truth.
Well, we are told there are mathematical rules that might qualify, e.g. Euclid’s “All right angles are equal.”
No doubt there is some Euclidian link to the modern office, but it seems that there may be other “truths” more appropriate and applicable. I refer to “Open Systems Theory” in which several biological constants appear to hold for any organization and, if that is so, every leader and effective follower should keep in mind.
Messrs Katz and Kahn “note 10 characteristics (each of which is worthy of lengthy discussion) of open systems:
1. Importation of energy from the environment (resources, people, etc.)
2. Throughput (transform resources available to them).
3. Output (export some resources to the environment).
4. Systems as cycles of events
5. Negative entropy, to keep the organization viable (through input of energy/resources)
6. Information input, negative feedback, and a coding process (to maintain steady state).
7. The steady state and dynamic homeostasis (and a tendency toward growth to ensure survival).
8. Differentiation and specialization.
9 Integration and coordination
10. Equifinality (many paths to same end).”


And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE HEN AND THE EGGS”*

Posted by jlubans on April 07, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: An "Oh, Oh" moment. Woodcut from the 1672 Amdsterdam edition of Aesop's Fables.

“A hen came across the eggs of a snake and devoted herself to them, settling atop the eggs and brooding on them. A swallow saw what the hen was doing and said, 'O you stupid, senseless creature! They will destroy you first of all and then destroy everyone around you!'”
"The fable shows that we should never put our trust in a wicked man, even if he seems to be completely innocuous."

L'Estrange added his own epimythium: ''Tis the hard Fortune of many a Good Natur'd Man to breed up a Bird to Pick out his own Eyes, in despite of all Cautions to the contrary.'”
And thus can be said of a subordinate whom you have supported, indeed, championed, who stabs you in the back.
It reminds me of a politically incorrect friend. He had promoted and backed a young manager, helped her achieve a job well beyond what she could have expected were it not for my friend’s recognizing her potential and championing her in the organization.
No, there was no “hanky panky”.
Well, there came a time when my friend found himself besieged by a fuss budget boss and was politically in need of a helping hand. He turned to the subordinate for a good word or two. The subordinate informed him - through a mutual colleague, no less - that she would not speak on his behalf. “Every man for himself” in other words.
My friend was forced to leave the organization.
Now years later, he has still not heard from the former subordinate why she chose not to speak well of him. Nor has she ever thanked my friend for giving her an opportunity that nobody else in that organization would have. Can you spell i-n-g-r-a-t-i-t-u-d-e?
So, like the hen, my friend had bred “up a Bird to Pick out his own Eyes.”

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book ($15.00) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.00). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron. One of the fables in this forthcoming book is relevant to today's fable: my “The Snake and the Egg” which was first posted to this blog in August of 2013.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

What’s Fair?

Posted by jlubans on February 13, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130213-Greek runners.jpeg
Caption: Amphora depicting three long-distance runners.

A few months back there was a story in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, with the sub-title: “Vitoria-based athlete Iván Fernández Anaya refused to take advantage when his rival stopped short of the finishing line in a cross-country race.”
In brief, Mr. Anaya’s opponent , the Kenyan Abel Mutai , was well ahead near the finish of the race. Coming into the finish gate, he slowed down to a near stop, possibly confused by the finish line arrangement. Anaya, a distant second, drew up on the leader and noted his confusion. But, instead of brushing past and winning, Anaya helped Matai – through words and gestures – cross the finish line and claim his win. For many in the media this was a “man bites dog” story, attracting comments and observations from all over. Most adopted the view that we need more of what Anaya did. However, Anaya’s coach was not happy with his runner’s decision: "The gesture has made him a better person but not a better athlete. He has wasted an occasion. Winning always makes you more of an athlete. You have to go out to win."
While the coach was dismayed, Mr. Anaya was not. He did what he thought was fair. Now, to me, that is the point. One person deciding it would be unfair to take advantage of another. In spite of the negatives that dominate the media, humans possess a quintessential sense of fairness and kindness. That belief in fairness differentiates the vast majority from a minority of coeval cave man survivors, ones who will go to any extreme to win, to be top dog - with apologies to Apollonian canines everywhere. Sticking with the sports metaphor, this atavism (and its ready reciprocation) is on display in the jabbing, slashing , spiking, tripping, and bumping that go on during the bunched starts of many European track races.

Centuries ago, Adam Smith* alluded to what he saw as man’s instinctual sympathy:
“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.”
Smith drew his conclusions from everyday occurrences, like when I hold a door to let another person pass through or when someone stops to offer sympathy to a crying child. Of course, there is nothing absolute about humans nor was it ever Smith’s intention (as many too often presume) to suggest there was. I’ve seen numerous acts of boorishness, outright rudeness – even cruelty - in which selfishness dominates, like littering or not giving way on the sidewalk or highway or stealing a mobile phone. Some days the milk of human kindness flows like tree-sap in springtime and other times, the well of compassion is bone-dry.

Anya's decision to do what's fair reminded me of my previous essay on the women’s softball team in which the opposing team carried an injured player around the bases.
There was a similar reaction to that story: incredulity, since winning is all-important. Yet, there came unstinted applause from most quarters because of the “fairness” of what those players did.
Playing to an opponent’s weakness has little to do with fairness or what’s right or wrong. Instead, that’s the tactical, thinking side of sport. When I ran track, I’d go out and run like hell from start to finish. Some strategy! I never much liked it when someone in the back kicked past me as my leaden legs froze up. Still, I admire greatly the required discipline to run in third or fourth place, hold back some energy and then kick to the win. As a spectator, I’m on my feet cheering the guy on.
What I call the “thinking runner” is usually not the guy that jabs his elbow, in passing, into an opponent’s ribs – that’s done to gain an unfair advantage. That happened to me in a prep-school cross-country run through fields and forests in western Massachusetts. Walter Mitty-like I replay that event and sprint after the miscreant (probably now a Fortune 500 CEO or B. Madoff’s cell mate) and, à la Clint Eastwood, knock the bastard down and give him a couple juicy ones to the face. No doubt, I’d be ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct. Yet, my fantasy is largely congruent with the ire most of us feel when we encounter unfairness.

This week, the students in my Democratic Workplace class are reading a survey article about human fairness. According to evolutionary theorists and researchers it is our inherent belief in what’s fair that has helped us evolve and survive. It is “the legacy of our long nomadic prehistory as tightly knit bands living by veldt-ready team-building rules: the belief in fairness and reciprocity, a capacity for empathy and impulse control, and a willingness to work cooperatively in ways that even our smartest primate kin cannot match.”
When we discuss that reading I’d like for the students to think about human cooperation and organizational structures. What kind of structure is more in keeping with our inclinations toward fairness and kindness?

* Knud Haakonssen edited one of many editions of Adam Smith’s 1759 work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in 2002 for Cambridge University Press.

"Kids" books and teaching leadership

Posted by jlubans on February 28, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

Hardly "kids" books! I used these two children's literature titles in teaching my Latvian library management students about strong followers, sheep, yes men, survivors, & nodders, too.

20110228-king-bidgoods.jpg King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub. (Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood).
This richly illustrated book demonstrates not only how the least among us can be the most effective follower, it also demonstrates that the simplest –yet bravest - solution is often the best. It’s Occam’s razor made explicit: “When you hear hoof beats, think horses not zebras.” Who empowered the page, the follower who pulled the plug in the king’s bathtub?

After all have failed, rank matters less. When things are desperate enough - the king won't get out of the tub - we will ask others – the quiet, unnoticed staffer - for help or they will speak up on their own. Of course, the plug pulling page has the most to lose. The rich kow-towing nobility have name, fame, fortune, The page could be dismissed or worse. Why did the page speak up? Where did his courage come from? What if the King really liked being in the tub. Is the page brave or foolhardy? He could have lost his head - just like we could lose our jobs if we take on a toxic boss in public! Here the class listens to a team presentation on the king and the heroic page:
20110303-presentation king.jpeg

20110228-tippy toe.jpgTippy-Toe Chick, GO! By George Shannon, illustrated by Laura Dronzek
The story: Hen takes chickens daily to garden to snack on bugs. Little chick is a wanderer and adventurer, not willing to settle for the daily routine. One day a chained-up dog keeps them from the garden. We’re hungry, whine –if chickens can whine - the chickens. Hen says, We’re out of luck, we’ll never get past the dog. Big Chicken says I’ll take care of it. Dog barks. Big Chick runs back to Mom. Middle Chick scolds the dog. The dog barks and Middle Chick takes shelter behind Momma Chick. Little Chick runs at dog, stopping short when she feels his breath. Little Chick runs sideways and the poor dog runs around tree and ties himself up. Time to eat, says little chick. The effective follower concept was clearly demonstrated by this student team:
20110303-follower work book1.JPG

Here's another team's more literal match up of this book to Kelley's follower chart:
20110303-literal follower.jpeg


Posted by jlubans on June 21, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The Owl, head faked.

AN Owl saw a Lemming feeding just outside of his burrow.
Accordingly, the Owl flew down from the tree and perched at the entrance to the burrow, and then said to the Lemming: "Two dog-teams are coming this way!"
This frightened the Lemming so badly that he came up close to his burrow, pretending that he would rather be eaten by the Owl than caught by the dogs.
He said, "I am very fat and you can have a good meal. Take me! But if you wish to celebrate before eating me, I will sing while you dance."
The Owl agreed to this; he drew himself up and the Lemming began to sing while the Owl danced.
When dancing, the Owl looked up to the sky and quite forgot about the Lemming.
While he was moving about, he spread his legs far apart, and instantly the Lemming ran between them into his burrow.
The Owl called to him to come out again, saying that the dog-teams had both passed by and were gone.
But the Lemming's wife told her husband not to go out but to throw dirt in the Owl's face. And that was what he did.
This instructive fable from our Northern Brothers suggests it’s best to be clever and humble than to be proud and arrogant.
Because of his prideful celebration, the Owl loses out on lunch.
And so it can be at work. We may be so full of ourselves on achieving a goal that we begin to lose the determination, team spirit and creativity that got us there.
We take our success for granted and our continued good fortune a given.
Instead of remaining en garde and humble
we slip, slide along into complacency – we plateau, we “rest on our laurels”.
All it takes is one small change in our circumstances, our “dynamics” – be it a new team member, a new customer or a new boss – and we can find ourselves back, like Sisyphus, where we started minus all of our momentum.

*Source: Fable From “The Eskimo in Baffin Land”, by Franz Boas included in Cooper, Frederic Taber, 1864-1937. “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land.”

ONLY a click away, now 40% off all summer long only at this link:

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

A Tale of Two Covers: Designing Fables for Leaders

Posted by jlubans on November 28, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Because of America's 2016 presidential election we opted not to use this cover; the elephant is symbolic of one of the political parties

One of the benefits of indie publishing is the author’s having more say in a book's design.
I recall early in my writing career authors were not consulted about the cover design or how the book would look.
One of my first books, “Educating the Library User” was a fairly large success for an academic book (over 6000 copies were purchased) but I had no input about the book jacket design. I liked it, but I would not have picked the art work the publisher used.
Yet, I do like the mauve (pink trying to be purple) fabric binding!
More recently, my "Leading from the Middle" book, was moving full speed ahead in production with no word to me about the cover.
When I inquired, I was shown the most prosaic, functional cover imaginable. A flat dull color for the background and the title along with my name in nondescript type. As dull as any dissertation!
Nothing to pull the reader in, nothing to entice the eye, everything to suggest to the prospective reader, “Why would I want to read this dull and boring book?”.
I persisted and the publisher sent me a half dozen cover suggestions.
All but one was a variation on the soporific.
I opted for the and I am sure that design had much to do with the success of that book.
So, as an indie publisher, I had a lot to say about the cover for Fables for Leaders. And to my good fortune, I was working with the renowned artist
Béatrice Coron and ALISE ŠNĒBAHA as the book’s illustrator and designer. Between the two of them I had a variety of covers and illustrations to choose from.
The final cover itself had 27 iterations of color and placement of text. Yes, 27!
Caption: Two early versions of cover. One with real people and their totems. And, the other with animals in a meeting room led by (who else?) Leo, the Lion!
The final version (see the masthead for this blog) fired Leo and replaced him with Ozols, the bear drawn from my fable in the book, "The Bear in the Tree".
When I look back over my several books, Fables for Leaders is the one worth collecting as an example of how design and illustration contribute to the purpose of the book.
A visually appealing book, with the right heft, draws the reader in. And, keeping the implied promise, (“You can judge a book by its cover!”) the content adds to the enjoyment of the book.
Order your copy before the holiday postal stampede!
Find Fables at any number of Internet vendors, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Powell’s Books.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

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.
20100802-TEAM b-ball.jpg

Motivation; An Eternal Question

Posted by jlubans on March 28, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: One way to fire up a staffer.

Early in March, I revisited Economist Dan Ariely’s research on what motivates workers. In an , he reveals four ways to get your employees to do more than just minimal effort:
Make work rewarding
Trust your employees
Challenge them
Rethink bonuses

Mr. Ariely’s conclusions are based on psychological experiments.
Australia’s Fred Emery found that workers want:
Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
Desirable future

How different are these two lists?
While similar, I would suggest that Mr. Emery spots more genuine motivators than does Mr. Ariely, but that may be a matter of interpretation. Emery developed his own list; Ariely’s is something put together by a journalist from an interview.
In another story,
SHELF LIFE, the Wegmans grocery chain is cited as one of Fortune Magazine's best places to work. This year Wegman’s came in second, behind Google.
“It’s not immediately obvious why Wegmans fare(s) so well. Salaries are not high: … cashiers average $9.44 an hour, while department managers make about $60,000 a year. The work is not particularly exciting or challenging, and while helping customers feed their families can be rewarding, it’s not exactly curing cancer.”
Simple things seem to make the difference: “Wegmans stands out by offering schedule flexibility, opportunities for advancement and thoughtful gestures, like cakes on birthdays and hot chocolate for employees working outside in the cold.”
I first heard of Wegmans from Saul Zabar, the boss at the eponymous NYC deli at 80th and Broadway. He emulates the Wegmans philosophy and gets similar results in employee effort, quality of product and customer care. (See the Zabar's chapter in my book, Leading from the Middle.)
Like Wegmans, Zabar’s offers employees tuition benefits and even goes as far as making cash loans to help low income workers avoid pay day lenders. (Last year Wegmans put up $5 million in college scholarships.)
Any regular customer at Zabar’s soon notes the low turnover among the store’s staff; the same faces behind the bakery counter, the fish counter, the cheese counter, and all through the store! People like working there; but it should be noted that Zabar’s does offer competitive wages: “You can make a living here” is how one Zabar’s supervisor put it to me.
Lists of motivators aside, I believe there are ineffable reasons why some places appeal to workers more than others. Leadership’s attitudes toward workers matter a great deal. Genuine interest in and concern for people, humane attitudes, respect for the individual – those qualities may make more difference than other external motivators like company policy, medical insurance, salaries, or free parking.
Unless there is a genuine warmth and meaning behind kind gestures like “cakes on birthdays” employees quickly figure out that this kind gesture is just another gentle kick in the rear end, the classic external motivator.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book ($15.00) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.00). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable: More Music to Manage By

Posted by jlubans on July 26, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130726-jerry lee lewis*.jpg
Caption: Country rocker Jerry Lee Lewis.
In my impressionable youth, living in the Boston (MA) ‘burbs, I got to see country rocker Jerry Lee Lewis perform his piano stomper, “Great Balls of Fire”. A subdued version is here.
Subsequently, Rock and Roll shows were “Banned in Boston” for many years. I wonder what influence Mr. Lewis and Boston’s banning had on my library career? Goodness Gracious!
Joining three previous posts (here, here and here) on Music for Managers, today’s Friday Fable highlights more country western songs for managers to ruminate about.

When the Phone Don’t Ring, You’ll Know It’s Me.
I used this title for its contradictory sense to suggest to librarians that the Internet was profoundly changing our work. Back then our users were (and still are) becoming more and more independent: search engines produced usable results and e-resources promised relief from trudging to the book stacks to retrieve that unique copy of an item. Those days of library dependence were slipping away and the best evidence, was in front of us every day – the long lines at the Reference Desk were no more and the phone rang with a marked lack of persistence.

Just in Time To Be Too Late.
Describes what our long-delayed response to rampant change might have looked like to our now-independent users. They’d developed their own ways of finding and using information. Playing catch-up is no fun. Some libraries knew sooner than others that little would remain the same. Those libraries that anticipated and adjusted still matter mightily – their relevance continued unabated - to their users.

If You Keep Checking up on Me, I’m Checking out on You.
A tune for crooning by micro-managers. A worker, regardless of industry, needs room in which to think and do her job. Telling her repeatedly what to do and how to do it might make the micro-manager feel good, but it will lead to resentment and low performance. Micromanaging takes many forms. One boss I called the creeper. He enjoyed silently coming up on workers and startling them – kind of like Jeeves doing his swami impression of being there and then not being there. All in fun, of course. Yeah!
Too close supervision can result in the loss of a good person who needs far less oversight than another worker who really needs it and you are avoiding. You know what I am talking about.

She Even Woke Me up To Say Good Bye.
Some staff really do rub it in all wrong. When I’ve screwed up, I could always count on a few subordinates to let me know I’d done so and to tell me more than once.

I’ve Been Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart.
For when the wheel of fortune tosses you out from the sky gondola unto the packed dirt pavement, A good song to reflect on the absurdities of what can happen at work. Or, when a good friend in the profession is elevated to a new position, higher than yours, and no longer wants to hang with you.

Please Put Her out of My Misery.
Sometimes it takes a metaphoric bus, like in “Thank God and Greyhound, She’s Gone.”

A Sad Song Don’t Care Whose Heart It Breaks.
In Houston, on my way to work at 8AM, I swear I heard this song coming out of the Hard Case Hangover Cafe on Fannin St. All morning, lachrymose music drifted out the open door (along with the fumes from last night’s beer) into the ears of the passerby.

I May Fall Again, But I’ll Never Get Up This Slow.
For the slow learner about human relationships at home and at work. It gets through eventually to even the most obtuse.

20130726-jerry album.jpeg
Leading from the Middle Library of the week: Omaha Public Library.
Copyright - John Lubans, July 26, 2013

“A Lot Less In-fighting”

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

Caption: Kurt Lewin, (1890—1947) German-American behavioralist.

A perennial question: What is the best way to lead a workplace?
Over 75 years ago, Kurt Lewin responded with some preliminary answers on which leadership style - democratic, autocratic (aggressive or passive) or laissez-faire – was most effective.
A recent WSJ video gives us a real world peek
at personal leadership styles among recent White House Chiefs of Staff (COS).
Given the fervid reporting (largely negative) on matters Trump, a COS must be ready to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” from all sides. I suspect this sort of nervy exposure adds clarity to how each COS goes about doing the job.
The current COS, Mick Mulvaney, appears to favor, the democratic model under which staff have some flexibility and responsibility commensurate with their jobs. He says his way of leading is a middle ground between the autocratic and the laissez-faire, neither heavy handed or hands off.
The autocratic COS was retired four-star Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly. Mr. Trump appointed him presumably in an attempt to impose order and discipline following a chaotic first several months of taking office.
Taking over from a laissez-faire COS the General decided what to do and when to do it, all under his close supervision. He turned what might be termed a freewheeling cowpunchers’ bunkhouse into a “militaristic Marine camp”.
Mr. Trump’s first COS, was the laissez-faire former Republican National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus.
His, as implied above, was a “wild, wild west” style, obviously with minimal supervision.
As we know from Lewin’s experiment these three types of leaders produce different results:
Individual expression was pronounced in democracy and negligible under autocracy. Lewin and his researchers concluded something all of us have observed in rigid hierarchies: “Autocracy kills individuality.”
Time on work: It should be noted that when the autocratic leader supervises, “the work proceeds as intensely as in the democratic. But, the product frequently shows a poorer quality.”
The lower quality of what is produced and that the work disintegrates when the autocratic boss is away suggests that the democratic way may well be more productive. Similarly, Lewin’s laissez-faire boss was pretty much “absent” and had the least production and lowest quality.
As one might suspect, infighting – flying elbows - was most pronounced under the laissez-faire and the autocratic models. Lewin found that aggressiveness and egocentric behavior was highest under an aggressive autocrat leader.
“Friendliness and we-feeling” was highest under the democratic leader.
Now, according to Mulvaney, “there is a lot less in-fighting.”
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And, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Good Teams: What’s the Secret?

Posted by jlubans on March 17, 2015  •  Leave comment (2)

Caption. Bridging the gap.

It’s an eternal question for me, why some teams do well and others fail. Is it luck or circumstance, personality, leadership, or urgency? All of these, none of these? Some of my work teams would take off and soar far above others . I try to explain this phenomenon in my classes by exploring the team theory espoused by Katzenbach and Smith, by discussing Tuckman’s “form, storm, norm, perform” and by introducing the students to Kurt Lewin’s studies on democratic leadership of groups.
And, I interweave the notion of leaderless teams, the idea that shared leadership can help a team realize its potential.
Still, it seems that teams fail much more easily than succeed.
Recently, there’s new research that claims to have found the lodestone for what makes a good team, something called “Factor C” or “collective intelligence”. “Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others” – an article I will assign to my students - explains the new theory.
“C” is a predictor of group failure or success and includes three elements: participant emotional or social IQ; the number of engaged participants; and, interestingly, the number of women on the team. Here’s an explanatory quote:
“(T)he smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.
“First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.
Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states ….
Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. … This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.”

Now, keep in mind, C or collective intelligence is a predictor of team success on group tasks performed in a laboratory setting. Six hundred and ninety seven participants (N=697) were randomly assigned into teams of 2 to 5 people. The tasks to be “solved” included brainstorming on the uses of a brick;
Caption: A RAPM test question.
answering Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices questions (depicted); dealing with the complexity of a disciplinary cases study, and planning a group shopping expedition, along with a couple other tasks. Statistically, the groups with the highest collective intelligence – the highest C score - performed best of all.
A big plus for this research, at least in my book, is that these teams had to achieve quantifiable results – the research was more about achieving goals than it was about how happy team members were with each other. I emphasize this because sometimes we think that a happy team is a productive team. That is rarely the case. I recall an organization that was convinced its teams were the best because team members felt good about being on teams – no productivity figures were kept. It was as if expecting improved results – faster, better, more innovation and higher production – were repulsive concepts. For me, an effective team has to improve on what it does – group feelings may be important but not as important as group productivity.
As expected, some believe C is “mumbo-jumbo” and has little to do with real world teams, teams that have to do real work. One Fortune 500 consultant says all that good teams need is “checking-in”, a quick process to clear the decks of hidden agenda, bad vibes, etc. Each member’s revealing what’s “eating his lunch”, results in increased honesty and respect among participants; from there good work can be done. Then there are the die-hard Myers–Briggs Type Indicator test proponents. Apparently, this vastly popular personality test is used by organization to assemble teams, supposedly well-balanced and diverse teams which anecdotally are better than teams selected on participant IQ or other criteria.
So far, the research on C appears to offer us some useful insights into teamwork, why some team get the job done while others spin their wheels.

NOTE: Sarah Brown’s intriguing chapter in the book, “Leading the 21st-century academic library : successful strategies for envisioning and realizing preferred futures” (edited by Bradford Lee Eden and published by Rowman & Littlefield, in 2015) cites Leading from the Middle several times.

© John Lubans 2015