Follower as Hero: “A Message to Garcia.”

Posted by jlubans on April 18, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Andrew Summers Rowan is the hero in “A Message to Garcia, the still quoted 1899 inspirational essay written by the entrepreneurial Elbert Hubbard.
Hubbard has Rowan as a laconic, decisive and rugged individual slipping into and out of enemy territory (Cuba) to deliver a secret letter from his President to the leader of the insurgent forces, General Garcia. Yet, Rowan’s own story is not quite the paen to rugged individualism that Hubbard makes it.
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Caption: Andrew Summers Rowan
Written in 1929 – 31 years after the “Message” - Rowan describes in 9000 words how he got his message through. It is a harrowing tale of personal danger, but it is less about the individual as a solo adventurer and more about a high-risk, escorted journey - via Jamaica - on open seas and through enemy-held blockades, jungles and mountains. In the only perceptible nod to a Solo-esque adventure, Rowan quotes a Cuban newspaper describing his dramatic arrival at Garcia's headquarters: "There was no notice of his coming and the first (sight) of Lieutenant Rowan was as he galloped up Calle Commercial, followed by the Cuban guides who accompanied him."
Rather, Rowan - someone I would have liked to meet - has a wry perspective and includes a couple of engaging touches of humor. When his meeting with Garcia was delayed, even longer than one might expect from a necessary scrutiny of credentials, he explains: “There is humor in everything. I had been described in letters from the junta as ‘a man of confidence.’ The translator had made me ‘a confidence man’."
His trip back to the US was no less of a risk and an adventure than getting through to Garcia. “The boat in which we made the voyage was a cockleshell, ‘capacity 104 cubic feet’. For sails we had gunnysacks, pieced together. For rations boiled beef and water. In this craft we were to sail, and we did sail, 150 miles due north …. "
On the way, they overtook a sponging schooner and asked to be taken aboard. “This schooner carried a litter of pigs for food and an accordeon. I never want to hear an accordeon again....”
If anything, Rowan’s story suggests an extraordinarily effective insurgent force – how else could Rowan get through and past the Spanish army’s blockades and patrols?
Rowan is a hero, no question, but the notion that he did this mutely and on his own is simply wrong. Each of the people who helped Rowan did so at great risk. If caught all would be killed; not a one would be spared.
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While “A Message to Garcia” was hugely successful - with many businesses and governments ordering millions of copies, and eventually made into a sappy movie - it has its share of critics. For example: "…the (Hubbard) essay's real intent had nothing to do with Rowan. It was, instead, a heavy-handed admonition to workers to obey authority and to place devotion to duty above all else.” This critic suggest Hubbard wants workers be more like obedient dogs.
Hardly. Hubbard wanted workers like himself, a self-starter. He wanted “can-do” workers rather than the passive aggressives (in some eyes, anti-heroic) characters who, nowadays, populate comic strips like Dilbert, nor are they scarce among the cubicle and corner office set. In Rowan’s story, Hubbard saw someone accepting responsibility, taking initiative, and figuring out things for himself.
Hubbard does not analyze why some workers are less than effective, he celebrates Rowan and his successful mission and wants others to emulate Rowan. While Hubbard does not use the term, Rowan is an effective follower.
Like I describe several times in Leading from the Middle, the effective follower benefits the leadership process – getting things done. The best followers require little supervision. And, they are committed to the organization and to a purpose or person outside themselves. These followers manage themselves well – they are leaders in their own areas. Like Rowan, the effective follower thinks for himself, figures out what needs doing, and then does it. Because he is an independent and critical thinker, he asks no unnecessary question; instead he acts rather than dithers. Rowan himself offers us an insight into his sense of duty and doing: “In instances of this kind, where one's reputation, as well as his life, is at stake, it is usual to ask for written instructions. …. But in this case it never occurred to me to ask for written instructions; my sole thought was that I was charged with a message to Garcia and to get from him certain information and that I was going to do it.“

Pep talks (more)

Posted by jlubans on April 13, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

20120413-images.jpegMy cough drop wrappers come inscribed with “pep” talks. I guess the idea is as you are sucking away, you should rest your orbs on the wrapper and become inspired, kick some behind, primarily your own! Here are some of the motivational gems with my snide, no; snarky, no; snappy, yes, commentary in brackets. That's the problem with the one line pepper upper; its simplicity can offend those who want a complex rationale for why they should do better. Maybe that's what triggers the negative - the base assumption is that the individual is flawed. In some cases, true; in many others, things go awry due to circumstances more than individual malfeasance. And, like wise adages (He who hesitates is lost) is deftly countered by an equally apt one, (Look before you leap.)

Bet on yourself. (If you lose you only have yourself to blame.)
Inspire envy. (Earn the enmity of an insecure boss.)
Hi-five yourself. (If you can, the NBA wants you.)
Dust off and get up. (Or, use a vacuum cleaner the next time.)
Turn “can do” into “can did!”( Like in CANDID – tell the boss where to stick it.)

You’ve survived tougher. (But maybe not this time.)
Fire up those engines! (And get the EPA on your case.)
The show must go on. Or work. (The option to the "show going on" is work. Imagine that!)

Impress yourself today.
(I am impressed.)
Take charge and mean it! (When all about your are losing their heads, and the bridge is in flames, make sure to bite your lips, presidentially – a sure sign of “I MEAN IT !”
Don’t try harder. Do harder! (What happened to smarter? Does the definition of insanity apply here?)
Be unstoppable. (Yeah, until you run into the 6 foot 6 inch tackle (width not height) like I did as a freshman football player.)
Get back in the game. (Where have you been??? The game ended two hours ago!)
Quit reading these pep talks and get to work! (Nah, that one I made up.)

More from the bottom of the bag:
Let's hear your battle cry. (Waaaah is not a war cry!)
Put your game face on. (N.B. Warriors do not wear mascara.)
Buckle down and push forth! (Similar to escaping, Houdini-like, from a padlocked trunk tossed into the Hudson River.)
Put a little strut in it. (Not recommended on 8th Avenue.)
Nothing you can't handle. (But do not, ever, push this button.)
Flex your "can do" muscle.(Whoa-ah! That'll get 'em talkin' in the firehouse! [Or any other mostly guy enterprise])

Speaking of pep talks, A Letter to Garcia is among the most famous, inspiring, we are told, millions. I've wanted to use it in my classes and workshops, but just have not figured out how. I'll address my reluctance in an upcoming blog.

"I have begun to love the rain."

Posted by jlubans on October 10, 2012  •  Leave comment (2)

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Caption. Grits are NOT Grit!
The college admissions industry of high school counselors and admissions administrators is abuzz, we are told, with the concept of grit (not the hominy corn version pictured above) and using measures of grit to predict whether a prospective student has what it takes to stay the distance. The grit test may be the Holy Grail for predicting personal qualities not demonstrated by a perfect SAT score. Of course one might suggest that it is best to avoid (for multiple reasons) students who ace the SAT – but I digress. You can take the grit test yourself. “Be honest”, the test compilers beseech us, "there are no right or wrong answers!” I doubt if that generous perspective will hold amongst the admissions folks.
At this late point in my life, I scored a grittiness of 4.33 some degrees away from the extreme grittiness of 5.0. What’s your score?
As you can imagine, there is no consensus on the use of the test. Presumably, our colleges would want to admit mostly 4s & 5s. Would there be fallback institutions for the 1s, the “not at all gritty”? Quien sabe?
It all reminds me of my women’s basketball chapter in Leading from the Middle.
At season’s end I asked the team, “What’s been the difference-maker in this team’s growth? What’s caused the greatest improvement among the players?”
“Losing games” and “team unity”, they said. You see it’s not just having an adverse situation; more important is how you respond – that’s grit.
One player eloquently added:
“…there is a reason for rain. Sunny days are always desirable,
but if there were no rain I would have no basis for comparing sunny days. Sunny days are so much brighter after it has rained. I have begun to love the rain”.
The basketball team reference brings the notion of grit around to the concept of teamwork. I have always admired my gritty team members – when they used their grittiness to help others - and would want to include them on future teams. One does wonder, however, if the extremely gritty might not be best as solo performers, kind of like Andrew Summers Rowan who got his "letter to Garcia" through enemy lines.
One of the reasons I included, for several years, outdoor adventures in our staff development program was to introduce staff to a controlled adversity. More often than not those that volunteered to rock climb, trek overnight, or do a variety of “high ropes” found they were up to the challenge. They met it head on and overcame it. Some were surprised and most came away with raised confidence levels about taking on impossible challenges at work. Best of all, having faced adversity with other staff, they now had stronger relationships and perspectives of each other.
Speaking of grit, real grit, I can recommend the story of running star and war hero, Louis Zamperini, “Unbroken”. I am not sure there’s a high enough grit score for what Mr. Zamperini endured and survived.
Finishing on a culinary note, for those readers outside of the Southern United States, I can recommend highly this version of the classic dish, Shrimp ‘n Grits, especially for intaking on rainy days.