Invisible Leader in Latvian

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

The chapter - The Invisible Leader: Lessons for Leaders from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra - from Leading from the Middle came out this week translated into Latvian. It appears in the magazine Library World (BIBLIOTĒKU PASAULE) Nos. 54/55 (2011).

The translation includes some excellent photos of Orpheus and some photos from my Riga Fulbright class earlier this year.

Doing by Not Doing

Posted by jlubans on December 16, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Who’s in charge?

A recent TED Talk,Lead Like the Great Conductors” by Itay Talgam claims, rightly so, that the way conductors lead is relevant to non-musical bosses.
Talgam, a former conductor, is now a self-professed “conductor of people in business.”
I’ve long been interested in the topic, e.g. my articles about how Simone Young led her orchestras when she was in Sydney, Australia and then in Hamburg, Germany. My book, Leading from the Middle, has a chapter on Simone.
I found her to be a splendid example of a collaborative conductor: her’s was a partnership with the musicians. I never observed her browbeating anyone or refusing to see an opposing view.
While she may well have been the brightest person in the room, I never got the sense that she would reject other musical views simply because she knew best.
Talgam, in the TED talk, shows via video well known successful conductors. The first is Carlos Kleiber who with his body language appears to invite the musicians’ continuous involvement in making the music. How hands off is he? Hard to tell but he does seem to enjoy very much the sound he is hearing and the musicians do see his enjoyment.
Perhaps they build on that.
I might call Kleiber’s leadership style laissez faire. If you have very good people in your organization who want freedom and accept responsibility the hands-off approach might get very good results.
In counter point, Talgam is not so impressed with conductors like the controlling Ricardo Muti, nor the distant Richard Strauss nor Herbert von Karajan, who we see with eyes closed simply enjoying the music and expecting the musicians to keep at it with zero intervention from the podium.
Muti is unquestionably an autocrat. I am not sure how to characterize in management talk the other two. But, before we dismiss the command and control conductor type, remember there are people (many or few depending on the organization) who want to be told what to do. They do not want to think for themselves - it's not in their job description, as they will remind you.
And, rehearsals would likely see a very different – versus the actual performance - musical leadership from Strauss and von Karajan. I like to think that neither conducted rehearsals with their eyes closed.
Also, I am certain Muti laid down the law as to what the sound and tempo were going to be. Any problem with that?
Talgam’s ideal conductor is “Lenny” – his nickname for his mentor - Leonard Bernstein.
Indeed Mr. Bernstein does empower his musicians so that they apparently do achieve very good music. Possibly, Mr. Bernstein is a democratic leader.
Talgam’s TED talk features a video of Lenny letting go completely, we are led to believe. He puts down his baton and simply uses facial expressions to show his delight with what he is hearing. This we are told is a perfect example of “Doing by Not Doing”, the Taoist paradox.
Talgam fails to mention the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (depicted above). There’s a relevant quote from Herbert von Karajan :
"The worst damage I can do to my orchestra is to give them a clear instruction. Because that would prevent the 'ensemble', the listening to each other that is needed for an orchestra."
Listening to each other is wha the egalitarian Orpheus does better than any other orchestra.
At one Orpheus rehearsal I met a student conductor. He told me that observing an Orpheus rehearsal taught him more about conducting than his classes did!
The Talgam tape of Mr. Bernstein letting go of the reins, so to speak, reminded me of something that happened when the violinist Itzhak Perlman guested one night with Orpheus at Lincoln Center.
Most guest artists enjoy playing with Orpheus since doing so gives them unprecedented freedom of expression. If there’s a conductor involved, regardless of who, there will be constraints.
Unlike Mr. Bernstein and his facial expressions, when Perlman sat out a piece - telling the audience that Orpheus was fully capable in DIY mode - he sat there, fiddled with the sheet music, pulled up his socks all the while simply enjoying the music. This was really doing by not doing!
When I show the Lincoln Center tape, some of my students fail to see this, and criticize Perlman for being a distraction. Hardly, he truly lets go and Orpheus fails him not.
Perlman looks truly apart from the music, leading by not leading at all. He sees the musicians as they are – no pandering or patronizing or permission giving.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Managing Self

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

While I was in NYC last week, a couple of friends talked to me about the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and its organizational model. One asked, “Surely, the model cannot be applied anywhere else, can it?” Another friend, as we talked about this conductor-less group, queried “Isn’t Orpheus self-selected?” In other words, was not Orpheus born that way, a natural grouping of like-minded people?
So, can the model replace hierarchical groups?
A good question and I am going to try to come up with a more rounded explanation than my usual response of fitting the Orphean model to professional groups, like a legal, media, or medical practice or, in my realm, a medium to large-size academic library.

20121205-Opheus Chamber Orchestra-2481.jpeg
Caption: Orpheus in performance at Carnegie Hall; Like Kilroy, I was there in the first Tier, Dec 1. (Used with permission.)
In fact, the question was on my mind while listening to that evening’s glorious music (Prokofiev, Barber, Mozart ).
As the reader knows, I often write and teach about Orpheus. Chapter 6 of the book is “The Invisible Leader: Lessons for Leaders from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.” That chapter describes in detail many of the attributes of the orchestra, including the claim that Orpheus demonstrates more leadership than do hierarchical organizations. Which of course it must since there is no conductor, no single leader – each musician takes responsibility for the whole piece, not just his or her part.
And, my most recent explanatory blog entry about Orpheus is here.
Well, what happens when a hierarchical organization adopts the Orpheus model? What changes?
Here are a few of the differences, some characteristics and features. This is a preliminary listing, derived from my years leading self-managing teams and from my decade of observing Orpheus. If you have some aspects to add or delete, let me know.
- A greatly scaled back administrative group. The former departments, now self-managing teams, take on many of the responsibilities of divisional vice-presidents. While reduced in numbers, the administrative office still provides organization-wide services, like professional development and learning. Also, accounting continues centralized. There is an external-facing Leader with an overview of the organization but this is a leader in the Taoist tradition: "The best leader leads least".
- No performance appraisal. Stop cheering, please! Simply, it is not needed in effective teams.
Discipline is needed less because there are few if any administrative rules and regulations that contribute to problems and get in the way of real work and productivity. Teams are self-managing and they counsel, coach and discipline as needed.
- Less closed-off office space. Instead, most people use open workstations and cubicles. Conferences are held in former corner offices (with views) out and in. The architectural idea is to make collaboration easy.
- A supportive support staff. Non-career staff are there to assist teams, offer input and ideas, and largely to implement the work of the organization. Support staff are responsive and responsible; they are a working extension of the organization’s mission, helpful to one and all, inside and outside the organization. Support staff facilitate information requests and connect outsiders with insiders.
- No standing meetings, apart from an annual “New England town-hall” event. The annual meeting sets the budget, chooses new initiatives, and re-asserts priorities, values and mission. All other meetings are impromptu, called as needed. Whoever calls a meeting takes responsibility for research and preparation of the topic prior to discussion and resolution.
- Collaborative decision-making. If a decision involves another team, it has to include the other group and anyone else touched by the decision. Occam's razor frames the decision-making process.
- Salary equity. While not totally flat, salaries are less stratified than in the hierarchy. Regardless, salaries are competitive with markets. Seniority does matter, but most people make about the same. The leader’s salary is more but moderately so.
- Hours worked are reasonable, 30-40 per week. People set their own schedules, recognizing there is life beyond work. Vacations and sabbaticals are generous. Productivity is high.
- The “org” chart is a circle.

There you have it! None of these features require a genetic pre-disposition. (Actually, humans are already pre-disposed toward this type of organization!) All that’s needed is willingness to simplify the workplace, take responsibility and do more real work than under the old ways. If a person is at odds with managing self, he or she has the option to leave. If a musician yearns for someone in charge - a conductor, that musician should be in a conductor-led orchestra! Most re-organizations attempt, but rarely succeed, at shrinking the hierarchy. The Orpheus model is different. It reduces non-essential staffing and results in a more empowered and productive staff.

Failing to fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “Noisy Orchestra”

Posted by jlubans on January 16, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Advert for Persimfans , January 2009 in Moscow.
Speaking of democratic workplaces, there once was a conductor-less orchestra in the Soviet Union: “Persimfans”, short for Perviy Simfonichesky Ansambl, or First Symphony Ensemble (1922 – 1932).
The group interests me since I often blog about the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (now in its 40th year!). There are no less than a dozen Orphic mentions, for example, “
Committing to Magic”. And, Chapter 6 in the book, “Leading from the Middle”, “The Invisible Leader: Lessons for Leaders from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra” is among the book’s most frequently cited.
I dwell on Orpheus because they are a living, breathing example of a democratic organization, one that is self-managing and - while there are many leaders - “leader-less.”
Since I am eager to learn of other musicians running their own show, I was drawn to a brief article,* written in 1928, during Persimfans heyday. As you might expect, Moscow’s “Noisy Orchestra” was founded in 1922 with revolutionary fervor. That year’s prevailing sentiment was echoed in Persimfans’ one-day revival in 2009: "Just as the government didn't need a tsar, so the orchestra didn't need a director!"
While celebrating Persimfans’ considerable accomplishments (200 concerts) – all without a boss in sight – the authors offer up some insights and reservations about the inner workings prior to its demise in 1932 “as infighting among the musicians, pressure from the Bolshoi and Stalin's purges tore the group apart.”

From the beginning Persimfans was a revolt against the conductor. The main leader, Lev Moiseevich Tseitlin, saw conductors as superfluous entities claiming credit for work they did not do. Mr. Tseitlin (aka Zeitlin) was a first class violinist and the concertmaster of S. A. Koussevitzky’s symphony orchestra in Moscow.
As a result of the revolution, the stellar conductors had flown from Moscow and Tseitlin had at his disposal a world-class orchestra, one that had been led by the world’s best. These musicians already had an accomplished repertoire and some notions about musical interpretation.
Most Persimfans performances required 20 rehearsals – a huge investment of time and energy for reportedly very little money. In concert, the Persimfansians played in a circle, the better for the 100 players to see each other.
The orchestra was an immediate favorite with the Russian public, their comrades, but it had a few detractors. Among the latter, one termed the quality of the music “a mean arithmetical affair,” probably alluding to the now-missing inspiration of a truly great conductor.
Another critic, said that any good conductor could have led – without any rehearsal - this already expert orchestra. After all the musicians had played the repertoire countless times.
This last criticism echoes the effort and time it takes for self-managing teams to become effective. Yes, at the beginning of a team’s formation, a single leader can accomplish an assigend task more quickly than a team. However, a really good team keeps getting better over time, and eventually outperforms the solo leader.

Persimfans was not exactly self-managed: Tseitlin conducted all the rehearsals! And, in performance, all kept an eye on Tseitlin’s bow just like musicians do with a first violin or concertmaster. Perhaps that is why, for some critics, the orchestra’s quality never reached the highest level. While some will argue that Orpheus would be better if conducted, there is little dispute that Orpheus has its own soaring voice and achieves levels of beauty usually attributed only to the very best conductors.
In 1932 the music died for Persimfans. But conductors were soon back on Moscow podia for other orchestras. While Persimfans might have flown apart on its own, there was some recognition among the comradeship that while all are equal, some are more equal than others. If Mr. Stalin was “Father” to Russia, then a leader-less orchestra might be perceived – with dire consequences - as undermining the concept of a great leader for the masses. Mr. Tseitlin did survive the purges, dying a year before Stalin, in 1952.
Obviously, as demonstrated by Orpheus’ success, the “shtick” of being conductor-less is not enough to carry a musical group to greatness. Orpheus doesn’t hate conductors. They love music, are accomplished musicians, and want to have a say on what to play and in how to perform the selection. That is enough for inspired and talented musicians to make something beautiful happen. Or, put another way, you won’t go far if your motivation is to define what you are not. Instead you need to define who you are, what you want to achieve and how to you will get there. When that happens, a team or an orchestra, is well on its way to greatness.

*Sabaneev, Leonid and Pring, S. W., "A Conductorless Orchestra", The Musical Times 69, No. 1022 (1928): 307–309.

Bossless on National Boss Day

Posted by jlubans on October 15, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20131015-chihuaha boss.jpeg
Caption: A clown Chihuahua, dressed up for National Boss Day.
Yet another greeting card holiday looms; since 1958, October 16 has been set aside as Boss Day and increasingly the supervised class (us) is being gently prodded to do something. At least send a card!
One card defines the boss in ethereal terms as “Someone who knows the magic of teamwork. Someone who believes in dreaming as well as doing. Someone who is an everyday hero.”
Another card offers up self-serving praise:
“On Boss's Day, we’d like to pay you a compliment, Mr. Gilroy: You’ve sure got a great bunch of people 
working for you!”

Boss’s Day juxtapositions neatly with a recent report on “Bossless Offices”.

Caption: Group effort at Menlo Innovations: People and dogs share computers and space, productively.
Lest anyone think I have a grudge against bosses, I don’t. I supervised hundreds of staff over my career, so I have some idea about the complexities of boss-dom. Certainly, not all bosses are good; some are toxic. My favorite bosses are more leaderly, if you will. They empower (really) subordinates. They are generous in spirit, they encourage, and they possess integrity and defend staff through thick and thin. What makes my leader particularly different from other good bosses is that one of her main responsibilities is creating, training, promoting and sustaining independent leaders and self-managing teams.

But, this essay is less about the qualities of the “unboss”* and more about seeking an answer to what happens when an organization decides to be “bossless”? The NPR story offers a largely positive take on the Menlo organization but does include a cautionary perspective from a former employee of the Valve Corp. Valve is a video game developer; its bosslessness is illustrated by this quote on the front cover of their “New Employee” handbook: “A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.”
The former employee says her time at Valve "felt a lot like high school." … "What I learned from Valve is that I don't think it (self-management) works,” "I think that if you give complete latitude with no checks and balances, it's just human nature [employees] are gonna try to minimize the work they have to do and maximize the control they have."

These words remind me of comments from a survey of a student orchestra coached by musicians from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Orpheus, as readers of Leading from the Middle know, plays without a conductor and is well regarded musically and self-sustaining financially. And they truly are bossless when up on stage at Carnegie Hall. So, what could be better than Orpheus training a motivated student orchestra about going conductorless? It’s not that simple. Here are a couple insightful quotes from the student assessment:

“I really liked to work with (coach X and coach Y). They were precise, maybe more guiding than the others... We worked faster with them, but it was closer to the kind of rehearsals we would have had with a conductor.”

“Actually, most of the coaches told us what to do musically rather than helped up discover this ourselves. We need more suggestions on how to work as a group without a conductor and less about musical opinions and suggestions... I'm sure we could come up with this ourselves if we knew how to better work together….” (Emphasis added)

So, here’s a question for the aspiring unboss: Is it time to give up the bureaucracy? If your answer is yes, what will it take to introduce, cultivate and sustain the sort of teamwork apparent at Menlo and at Orpheus?
Is success a matter of:
Size? (Around 50 people work at Menlo, 40 at Orpheus).
Age? (Menlo is 10 years old, Orpheus late 30s)
Leadership vision and support? (Menlo’s founder Rich Sheridan is out on the floor along with everyone else – no corner office. Another unboss is Ricardo Semler at SEMCO. As owner and philosopher/leader he provides guidance and direction for the staff.
And, at Orpheus about half of the musicians take turns being concert master/leader – each models the Orpheus way of collaborating.)
Freestanding? (Not being part of a larger enterprise gives one the freedom to experiment without having to answer to those beholden to the hierarchy and lovin’ it.)
Self-selection? (Like-minded musicians and programmers may be attracted to the self-managing model. If you want micromanagement, you apply elsewhere.)
Singularity of purpose? (The organizational mission is narrow and everyone understands and supports its mission.)
Type of business? (Musicians – soloists and ensemblists - must collaborate, even when bossed by a conductor; software developers often collaborate – it seems a natural way of work to that field. That said, one of the most maverick staff in my career was a brilliant systems analyst.)

Probably several of these structural and cultural factors are relevant to creating a flat “bossless” organization. These same factors help explain the complexity of changing a bossed organization into an unbossed one. However desirable and superior the latter – and I believe it is - I suspect a National UnBoss Day is a few years off.

*NOTE: I used the term “unboss” in an essay in 2006.
While writing this essay I discovered that two researchers in Denmark published a book, Unboss, in 2012. I have yet to see a print copy.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Pittsburgh Hillman Library.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

“Failing to Fail”, Part 2.

Posted by jlubans on December 28, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)


“You have to lose to know how great it is to win.” – A Monopoly™ executive on why not to “throw” a game to a family member.

It’s that time of year. Festive family gatherings. Board games like Monopoly will be played. Winners will smile gleefully. Losers will cry. Some losers will vow to never play again. Most will survive to play another day, yet feelings may be bruised and grievances linger.
Back in 2011 I wrote “Failing to Fail”,
my assessment of how difficult it is to accept failure in ourselves, or, if we have the choice and the ability, to let others fail. We intervene out of mankind’s tendency for altruism. And, we may intervene for other less lofty reasons, like the parent who lets a young child win at Monopoly. (More on that below.)
Regardless of what we are told about losing, the glory goes to the winner. It’s almost as if failure is something shameful, the very opposite of success. We rarely see failure and success as inter-related, hand in hand, like the sign with the arrows pointing in the same direction. Rather, in our culture, there are two roads, one is success, and the other is failure. Quo vadis?
My 2011 essay was about how the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra – the self managing orchestra which plays at the highest level without a conductor - coaches student orchestras to play like Orpheus, sans conductor. But, and this is a big but, the theory does not always work out in practice. The time pressure of an imminent public performance and poor decision making by the student players may turn the Orpheus coach into the traditional conductor, telling not showing. Like the parent who wants his child to succeed at Monopoly, the Orpheus coach wants the students orchestra to “succeed”. (After all, there’s more at stake than the student orchestra’s putting on a good show. The Orpheus philosophy of organization is also on display.)
I asked, rhetorically, what would happen if the students’ orchestra “failed”? If failure is a great teacher, why not let the students take responsibility and learn from it? Or, if the coach backs off - after explaining what’s at stake - during rehearsal, will the students get it together before the performance? Isn’t that what happens in the happy-ending movies?
I once helped facilitate an outdoor problem solving exercise for engineering students.
These were first year students from a prestigious engineering school. Each of several groups of 6 or 8 students was assigned a half day problem-solving task: build a raft out of lengths of rope, several plastic barrels, wooden poles and, most important of all, their ingenuity and resourcefulness as incipient engineers. After much discussion and construction, each group was ready to put its raft to the test. Ooops! The rafts sank and all hands went down with their ships in the muddy water.
I have rarely seen a more downcast group of students. The debrief, in which we talk about what went well and what could have gone better, lasted about five minutes and was largely a glum silence, even with prompts from me. I intuited some blame coming my way, as if I were that parent playing Monopoly and holding back hints. Alas, as sometimes happens, I had no technical hints to offer beyond notions about group dynamics, communication, teamwork and advising them, gently, to “use all your resources”. If only the rafts had floated, what shouts of joy might have been heard on that summer’s day, echoing along the riverbanks.
So, was this failure on the river useful in helping these students become better engineers? Hard to tell when no one is talking!
I like to think these kids reflected and used it to improve how they would problem solve; that this failure, however bitter, prepared them for future success. Or, was this failure written off as an aberration, a failure on the part of those who organized the event?
Back to Monopoly.
In an article just in time for Christmas, the author asks the question, “Should you let your child win at Monopoly?” and responds with a quote from an child psychiatrist:
“Everyone remembers the kid in the playground who kicked the ball into the woods when he lost the game.” “That kid wasn’t given the skills to recover from failure. You don’t want to be that kid.”
What can we derive from failure? If we choose to ignore it, to write it off, or to cheat to avoid it, it seems there’s not much gained. What can parents and children, leaders and followers, do to avoid being “that kid”?
A letter to the editor followed the Monopoly article. It was from a grand mother who explained that two can play at “throwing” the game. The worse she played (on purpose) the kids played even worse! She was never happier than when her 7-year-old grandson beat her for real at chess.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

“The Maestro Complex” Part 1.

Posted by jlubans on May 10, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Vivian Hagner
While in New York city in April I had the pleasure of observing the violinist Viviane Hagner rehearse with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. She was their guest soloist for a performance at Carnnegie Hall. If you follow this blog, you know that the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (composed of between 25 -40 musicians depending on the piece of music) plays without a conductor. There is no boss. The players make all musical decisions (tone, mood, interpretation, tempo, etc.) Each musician is free to offer well-considered and well-informed commentary within the rehearsal time frame. The collective goal is an outstanding performance. While I have written extensively about their democratic process, I always find fresh insights at each rehearsal about their unique way of making decisions.
One of my on-the-road reads was “What Do Conductors Do?” by Justin Davidson, New York magazine’s music critic. He tells - a la George Plimpton or maybe, Walter Mitty – of his adventures in conducting the Juilliard School of Music student orchestra. Not a rank amateur, Mr. Davidson is a student of music and once conducted a few of his own compositions in college. And, he spent two months diligently preparing, with two Juilliard conducting coaches, before taking wand in hand for the 6-minute overture to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Still, Mr. Davidson is to be admired for his adventurous spirit and frame-by-frame analysis of how he did it. You can see a brief video of what happened at this .
My interest in his story was more about how he led the orchestra than his musical interpretation of Mozart. The anxiety, the “Maestro Complex,” he feels about his leadership - that “the person responsible for the totality of sound produces none” - probably is similar to that of a work group meeting for the first time with a new manager or leader. The workers, just like the musicians, are thinking: “Does this person know what he is doing? Can we have confidence, trust in his leadership? And, the leader shares in the uncertainty: “How am I coming across? Am I being clear about my expectations? Are these people on board with my leadership? Will we excel or muddle along?”
There are multiple theories about how much we should involve workers in decisions about getting the job done. Some managers prefer to direct the worker – the expert manager knows more (he or she certainly believes that) than anyone else therefore it is for him or her to make all the decisions. Others, less certain about knowing it all, take a more democratic approach and expect the worker to have ideas on how to do a better job. While this manager “lets go”, he or she is no different from the micromanager in wanting results. In my experience, a manager’s genuinely “letting go” results in more innovation and higher productivity than does the omniscient micromanager.
The conductor, as a highly visible leader, gives us insights into the process of leadership and followership. Conducting is not karaoke – a version of singing along. In a live musical performance the conductor is literally a beat ahead of the orchestra. The orchestra follows. Like what a dancing instructor told me: “On the dance floor, good leaders initiate the movement they want from their partner and then follow the movement they've created.” That’s sort of like it is between the conductor and the musician. What’s unknown is how much input the musicians have had in the decision making prior to the performance; how much collaboration has gone on among the musicians and between them and the conductor in developing the interpretation and delivery of the music. Lots, some or none?
20120516-Orpheus USEIT.jpeg
Caption: Orpheus at ease.
Today’s rehearsal, at the Kraft Center on W. 115th Street, was Ms. Hagner’s first time playing with Orpheus
Ms. Hagner rehearsed two pieces: Henry Vieuxtemps’ Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor and Beethoven’s Romance No. 2 in F Major.
I got there late, but soon after I sat down and listened, I was captivated by the bel canto quality of Ms. Hagner’s playing. I use the operatic term "beautiful singing" deliberately because it has multiple meanings about musical depth, breadth and range. The term fits what I heard: a lightness and richness, transcending and soaring alongside that of the orchestra.
Ms. Hagner, in jeans, sweater and flat shoes, plays with energy, rising up on her toes, moving about, playing toward the orchestra. (Good naturadly, a violinist reminds her that she should face front, not toward the orchestra. I think she was enjoying the collaboration so much that it was natural to turn to the orchestra.) I picked up on what must have been an immediate camaraderie – a liking and trusting of each other. (That said, I discovered during the 2.5 hour rehearsal Ms. Hagner's unstated charm that draws people to her.)
Today’s concert master (and first violin – for both pieces was
Martha Caplin.
As the concertmaster, she is in charge of the “core”, the group of 4 or 5 musicians who make pre-rehearsal musical decisions. And, as concertmaster, she led and facilitated today's rehearsal. She is not, however, the only voice offering guidance and direction. At Orpheus ideas can come from any section of the orchestra.
Along with their patented forms of giving and sharing of information with each other – “say it, play it, sing it” -I have often seen Orpheus musicians stop playing and go out into the rehearsal hall to listen to the music. Today at least a half dozen players took turns to stand, a few steps behind me, and listen intently – score in hand. Then the musician describes what he or she heard and makes suggestions on what needs to be improved in the overall sound, pace and balance. Or, it can be a request to develop a less quantifiable quality, more nuanced, such as making the music “more sensitive” or “less mushy.” During the Beethoven piece an observer offered: “(The sound is) not as convincing; it should be darker, richer.”
Nor was Viviane reluctant to offer her ideas: At one point: (That was) “a little thick, get more air in the sound.” At another, she tells them, “That was good, that was great – we got it. One more time.” Shortly after, there is a mess up, but it results in good humor, not any blaming or finger pointing. Everyone wants the piece to work. That is what drives the discussion and decision-making; it is not one interpretation competing for first place. Rather the discussion, the back and forth, is about making the most of this musical piece. The process is collaborative; no one player has the answer. Instead the answer evolves, builds as the group rehearses and talks about it, tweaking, improving, and clarifying.
The group is having so much fun that Ronnie Bausch, a veteran member of Orpheus, admonishes: “Let’s do it for real; too many jokes, asides; now, all together.” The result gets applause.
Making decisions like this – typically the realm of the musical director - means knowing the ins and outs of the music, literally “knowing the score”. Each musical selection has at least a dozen or more Orpheans who hear the entire work, not just the sound his or her section makes. It is this shared overview (the big picture) that leads to the performance the orchestra wants. It is Orpheus’ unique sound.
At rehearsal’s end, I asked Ms. Hagner, “Did you miss having a conductor make decisions?” She smiled, “I did not miss one today.”
(Part 2 of "Maestro Complex" is here.)

Training the 21st Century Information Professional

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

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

Pilot proposal. Comments welcome.

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

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

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

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

20100512-po colegio espana.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

The Leading from the Center Self Managing Team Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget considerations:

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


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

Leadership from the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Fable: Krylov’s “The Musicians”*

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

Caption: Musical critic as bird-in-the-tree.

“THE tricksy monkey, the goat, the ass, and bandy-legged Mishka, the bear, determined to play a quartet. They provided themselves with the necessary instruments — two fiddles, an alto, and a bass. Then they all settled down under a large tree, with the object of dazzling the world by their artistic performance. They fiddled away lustily for some time, but only succeeded in making a noise, and no more.
‘Stop, my friends!’ said the monkey, ‘this will not do; our music does not sound as it ought. It is plain that we are in the wrong positions. You, Mishka, take your bass and face the alto; I will go opposite the second fiddle, Then we shall play altogether differently, so that the very hills and forests will dance.
So they changed places, and began over again. But they produced only discords, as before.
‘Wait a moment!’ exclaimed the ass; ‘I know what the matter is. We must get in a row, and then we shall play in tune.’
The advice was acted upon. The four animals placed themselves in a straight line, and struck up once more.
The quarter was as unmusical as ever. Then they stopped again, and began squabbling and wrangling about the proper positions to be taken. It happened that a nightingale came flying by that way, attracted by their din. They begged the nightingale to solve their difficulty for them.
‘Pray be so kind,’ they said, ‘as to stay a moment, so that we may get our quartet in order. We have music and we have instruments; only tell us how to place ourselves.’
To which the nightingale replied:
‘To be a musician, one must have a better ear and more intelligence than any of you. Place yourselves any way you like; it will make no difference. You will never become musicians.’” (emphasis added)

You may have noted who’s first violin (the erstwhile boss): the monkey!
In my business, we’d go through disruptive episodes; these were termed, euphemistically, “re-organizations”. Unlike the candid nightingale, the participants in these administrative shuffles were reluctant to speak the truth, so we would re-arrange ourselves in hopes of some ineffable improvement in “communication” – our “music”.
The telltale clue in most of these re-groupings was the lack of any objective measures to gauge the improvement. Did we sound better? Did we listen to each other to inform our music? Was our music sweeter post-reorganization? Did we interpret the score the way the composer meant it to be?
If anyone within the organization spoke up like the nightingale they’d be portrayed as overly harsh and too blunt, destroying the group’s esteem and obstructing efforts to improve.
The re-grouping did have one positive aspect: the illusion that something was changing, somehow for the better.
On the other hand, I can say unlike Krylov’s talentless and tone deaf quartet the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra** – which plays famously without a conductor (a nightingale?) - does not hesitate to self-correct. In concert hall rehearsals, one or more musicians will go out into the middle of the hall, listen, and then report back as to the sound and ways to improve. I have long wondered if we in the workplace could not emulate this practice to improve our group efforts.
The nightingale, far from being a heartless critic, is what most organizations (and individuals) desperately need: someone to speak the truth.

*Source: The World’s Wit and Humor, Vol. XIV, Russian, Scandinavian, and Miscellaneous Wit and Humor; The Review of Reviews Company; New York; 1906; pp. 19-21.

**Search this blog for Orpheus and get a dozen or more essays.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Committing to Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martha is back on stage, walking in their midst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How’s your organization?

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

One of my most useful activities in class and in workshops is for participants to complete the Organizational Continuum, a one page chart. I got an early version of the chart from Jerry Campbell, my boss at Duke University, and I have adapted a few times since.
Here it is, in abbreviated form:

The Organizational Continuum: Where are you? On which side do you want to be?

Decision making:
Hierarchical …………………………………….....................Collaborative
Organizational structure:
Rigid ……………………………………............................Flexible
Information flow:
Limited (filtered)……………………………............Organization-wide
Work environment:
Boss: Worker ………………………………....................Team-based
Work process:
Procedure-based (“By-the-book”) ……..........Continuously improving
Response to change:
Defensive ……………………………………....................Open
Budget model:
Incremental ………………………………………....................Fluid

Most recently, I asked my Riga students to fill out this form. I explained to them that musically speaking, on the left is the conductor-led organization. We know who the boss is.
On the far right is the self-managing Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. They play without a conductor and they play very well. There is no obvious boss.
I asked my students to chart what their current organization is and then to chart the organization they want.
My 16 students – each of them – went from a line on the far left (where they are) to a line on the far right (where they want to be.)
What would your chart look like?
In my Klaipeda presentation about 90 or so librarians and university administrators took the exercise using a translated version of this chart. The end result was the same as for my students. The status quo is the command and control model on the left; and, seemingly everyone’s desired organization is on the right with more freedom and less direction.
Next time, I will stop talking and ask the audience to reflect about what they can do to move from the left to the right, clearly the direction they want to move toward.

“You’re not the boss of me!” Or, “Is this whole bossless thing bullshit?”

Posted by jlubans on July 22, 2014  •  Leave comment (2)

Vadim Liberman’s Fall, 2013 article, “”, surveys and assesses self managing organizations - bossless workplacecs.
No, it’s not a soapy infomercial; rather it’s a well balanced and critical assessment of the knitty-gritty of self management. He makes effective use of Socratic counterpoints switching between the pros and cons, the lows and highs of bosslessness. Apart from his passing mention of the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, there are no other not-for-profits in his survey. Regardless, I think the article will be of use in my Democratic Workplace class. The concepts applied in the for-profit world are extractable and applicable to the not-for-profit sector, a point I try to make everytime I discuss the un-hierarchy.
Liberman’s subtitle makes a similar point for all of us working in hierarchies: “Bossless organizations can teach you how to be a better boss.” That evokes what a conducting student told me about observing Orpheus’ conductor-less rehearsals: “I learn more about conducting than from any conducting class!”

“Who’s in Charge Here?” Is divided into seven sections preceded by a lengthy introduction.
Decisions, Decisions
In It Together
Leaders Without Bosses
Avoiding Chaos
Building Pyramids
Fitting In—or Not
Peer Management

Here are a few quotes from some of these sections, including one from the introduction taken from Ricardo Semler:
“Bureaucracies are built by and for people who busy themselves proving they are necessary, especially when they suspect they aren't. All these bosses have to keep themselves occupied, and so they constantly complicate everything.”
(My experience would confirm that, perhaps more so than others. What about you?)

Decisions, Decisions
“Superpowers held by a relatively few individuals at conventional corporations are everybody's powers at (bossless) businesses: No one is a boss; everyone is a boss.”
“Richard Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, often speaks of how his 8-year-old daughter remarked that Daddy was ‘really important’ when he brought her to work at his former company one day because people kept asking him to make decisions. ‘I realized I was a bottleneck.’”

In It Together
“In reality, while employees at bossless firms decide for themselves, they rarely decide by themselves. Often, they work in teams and solicit information and advice from many other, especially experienced, colleagues. Of course, the same happens at your company.”
“Dana Ardi says, is that ‘this isn't about creating a democracy—it's about democratization of the process. You don't always need consensus. You need consideration.’”

Leaders Without Bosses
“Nevertheless, some critics worry that it's not high school that a bossless workplace risks resembling but Lord of the Flies.”

Avoiding Chaos
Valve’s CEO, as depicted in the Valve Employee Handbook: “'Gabe Newell—Of all the people at this company who aren't your boss, Gabe is the MOST not your boss, if you get what we're saying.' You get it: Newell isn't but kind of is but not really but sort of is boss, but let's be real—only a boss can declare that he isn't a boss.”
“’If you're a big company, you don't blow up all the bosses.’”
“In other words, trust your people so they trust you. Your company may not go bossless, but you can still boss less.”

Peer Management
“The Morning Star organization struggles to ensure that co-workers don't dodge giving negative feedback. “It probably happens less often than it should,” he says—just like at your own company.”

Leading from the Middle Library of the week:
Washington County Cooperative Library Services, Hillsboro, Oregon, USA.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Teaching Self-management.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix: Team Plus/Deltas

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

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

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

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

Team C Plus Delta

Table of Contents

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

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

Table of Contents

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

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

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

Part 2
Leaders, Bosses, Challenges, Values

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

Part 3
Coaching, Self-Management, Collaboration, Communication

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

Part 4
Techniques and Tools, Productivity, Climate

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

The not so effective coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I Borrowed the Shoes But the Holes Are Mine.”

Posted by jlubans on May 01, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

The Klaipeda conference, April 27, 2011, in Lithuania, attracted 90 participants. Del Williams (Fulbrighter at Klaipeda U), shared the morning session with me. The afternoon session feautured four Lithuanian librarians reporting on research topics. One of the speakers (Gražina Lamanauskienė, Director of Šiauliai University Library) had applied the concept of "distributed leadership" to her library; I hope to post her slides here.

My talk: "Leading from the Center: ‘I Borrowed the Shoes But the Holes Are Mine.’”

Here's the abstract:
"Leading from the Center: Meaning, Experience and Implications."

Since the mid-2010 publication of his book, Leading from the Middle the author has reflected on the book’s central argument: the more democratic a workplace, the higher its productivity and creativity. This talk shares those reflections and experiences.

While reviews have been overwhelmingly favorable (a starred review in Library Journal!) some readers have questions about the book’s central argument. Indeed, some doubt that followers can lead.

If the democratization argument is even partially true, what are the implications for the various styles of leadership, from the hierarchical (systematized) to the most “Theory Y” of leaders? What are the implications for entry-level librarians who seek responsibility and a share in decision-making? What skill sets does a middle or senior manager need to evoke the best performance from beginning librarians, those who yearn for innovative and supportive work cultures and who prefer action over sitzfleisch.

The author will touch upon gender differences in leading/following as revealed in his research on women leaders in Latvia, done in collaboration with his students.

And, Lubans will share his observations about the few libraries with genuine staff empowerment. Also, he will draw upon organizational models from musical realms – the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the Grateful Dead - along with his experiences in using a self managing teams model in his teaching a at the University of Latvia s part of his Fulbright scholarship.

Holding forth, making a point which now eludes me:

Del Williams and me listening to afternoon presentat20110502-Del&me.jpgions:

“… too much democracy.”

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

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

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

© John Lubans 2015

Ten Tips for Conductors; 10 for Managers

Posted by jlubans on December 17, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

The book, Leading from the Middle, includes several musical examples of leadership and followership. For example, the unbossed Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Hamburg’s collaborative conductor, Simone Young, inspired me to apply their musical leadership ideas to non-musical fields. When the BBC put forth a list of tips for aspiring conductors, I was more than a little curious.

Caption: Finland’s Salonen in performance mode.
Esa-Pekka Salonen is the principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and a recent “conductor of the year.” I’ve improvised on and adapted his career advice – The 10 Tips - to those of us not in music. One or two of the tips (“Get a good stick”) are a stretch, I know, but worth the effort:
1. Love the music
Obviously it takes passion to take music and work beyond the mundane. It cannot just be another job. If it is, you’ve not found what you were meant to do. And, that passion has to be for what you do, not for self-aggrandizement. The perks may be nice, but that’s not why you are there if you love your work.
2. Go to rehearsals
I remember a Juilliard School of Music conducting student telling me he learned more about conducting by watching the conductor-less Orpheus rehearse than in going to conducting class. If you work with a good leader, then take notes on how she deals with conflict, how she conducts a meeting, how she promotes the organization’s mission. Observe the process of how she gets things done, not just the result. If you work for a bad boss, rehearse how not to do it.
3. Learn to play an instrument well
To be credible, a leader should know in depth all there is to know about some aspect of the work of the organization. It may not be possible to know everything about a field of work, but understanding a segment really well – philosophically and mechanically - does give you insights about the overall mission. And, according to Salonen, being knowledgeable puts you “in a moral, mental or ethical position to demand the same thing from (others).”
4. Accept that you are just a waiter
For Salonen, the composer of the musical piece is the Chef and the conductor is the waiter. (So the musicians are the cooks?) As a waiter – even the headwaiter – “I am there to make sure the food comes to the table on time and intact.” The notion of conductor as waiter (rather than an Übermensch) brings to mind the humble notion of the organization’s “invisible leader”. The invisible leader is the mission of the organization and that mission drives both leaders and followers.
5. Shed your thick skin and don't scare people
If you are trying “to focus the thoughts and ideas of a large group of people and enable them to achieve the desired … result”, then being the autocratic tough guy, is probably not the best way. Sure, fear can get results, but those are short term. “On the contrary you need to be sensitive, you need to be able to feel the vibes of an orchestra (or any organization) on a human level to be able to pick up what's going wrong.”
6. Stay in shape
Leading is hard work. To recover from the exertions of guiding an orchestra, bar by bar, through a rehearsal, Salonen runs. For me, exercise (from a casual walk to a work out) frees the mind to wander and to reconsider a decision or process, to think about how something might be done better, to open oneself to the unexpected. And, being fit, especially when a job is not going well, is something the organization cannot take away. The petty boss will nit-pick and impede what I want to do, but my keeping in shape is a way to survive and hope for better times.
7. Get a good stick
Substitute the word “style” for stick. Get a good leadership style. Indeed get several styles, just like Salonen has boxes of wooden batons to choose from. Coach Gail Goestenkors, someone observed to me, used a different leadership style with each of fourteen basketball players she coached. It was her way or reaching each player. One monochromatic style is not enough. I recall a boss telling me how one of my subordinates thought my leadership style was just right. Well, unfortunately, that was the same unassertive style I was using with everyone! To get better, I would need to be energetically direct with some and barely perceptible for others; turning them loose was the best thing for me do.
8. Make little excursions outside your comfort zone daily
To avoid stagnation, take those “little excursions” into risk. I found in my career that outdoor retreats helped work colleagues gain new perspectives and the realization that we could accomplish the apparently impossible. The perceived risk was great but it was not dangerous. Just making the attempt encouraged us; failure only made us better able for the next challenge.
9. Tweet
For Salonen, “it is an arrogant and stupid thought that classical music should somehow exist in a bubble.” Social media is an opportunity for the classical musician to engage with those in the audience. The thought takes me back to the staff elevator at the University of Michigan General Library. I was a library work-study scholar on the way to the top floor to see someone in HR when the director of the library got on. He did not say a word or otherwise acknowledge me as we rode to the top. But, being approachable is not enough. Like Salonen, reach out and engage your audience, your staff, and your users.
10. Be a boy or a girl
There is less gender discrimination in music – some say - but female conductors are hardly the norm. That condition – male dominance as CEOs and conductors - has little to do with ability or, nowadays, opportunity; it may have something, interestingly enough, to do with gender. A recent study shows that as males and females of equal potential and talent ascend the corporate ladder, women often opt out, voluntarily, of their next well-earned promotion.
In my field of work, large academic libraries, I have found many excellent women staff who love their work and do it exceedingly well but have little interest in management. That is one reason why I promote the democratic workplace – a distribution of responsibility and trust – to make for a more egalitarian culture, one with less bureaucratic drudgery and more “real, creative work.”

Copyright 2013 John Lubans

The Un-democracy

Posted by jlubans on August 29, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)


Since I will be teaching about the Democratic Workplace, I ought to have a definition for what that means. I live and vote in a democratic nation – there are some 120 democracies around the globe. As many, some vehemently, will tell you, democracy is imperfect. Of course, when the critics reveal, in moments of candor, what they have in mind for government, democracy is vastly preferable. It is the only model (apart from a Thoreauan anarchy) that promises all individuals freedom, choice and power.
So, democracy, in theory and in practice, appears to be a good model for nations. What about democracy for business?
Most bosses – for-profit and not-for-profit – make it well known to workers “We are not a democracy!” The boss may be of a participatory bent and good at listening and all that, but she is not about to surrender her legal authority and responsibility (and explicit expectation) to give a thumbs up or down on what happens in the business.
And, there’s many a boss – in both sectors – who believes that without his steady guiding hand, his unique vision, his je ne sais quoi as it were, the business would falter and fail. Perhaps.
If you’ve read this far, you may be itching to ask me, “What do you mean by the democratic workplace?” Fair enough.
Another question. “Is it even possible to have a democratic workplace?” We have democratic governments, but government offices (bureaucracies) are anything but democratic.
Maybe I should first list out some of the qualities that make for an un-democratic workplace. A negative approach is not my preferred way to consider a topic but when I (or you) “flip” the negatives, we’ll have a good start on what the democratic workplace looks like.
One dominant leader.
Centralized power.
Workers are “told”; little, if any, choice.
Closed “books” (finances and personnel).
Little worker participation, in any influential way, in planning.
Hierarchy rules, with layers of supervisors responsible for workers.
Communication follows the hierarchy.
Extensive “grape vine” communication among workers.
Many “pragmatist” – survivor – followers.
Managers supervise more than do “
real work” .
Administrators make decisions.
A pronounced fastidiousness about policies and procedures.
Formal (and elaborate) performance appraisal.
Individual perks, from parking to pay, align with the hierarchy.
A reactive, not proactive, organization.

SOON: The “flip” side.
Note: Of course, offers up numerous concepts about democratic principles. The chapters on Southwest Airlines and the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra are especially relevant. My personal experience with the democratic workplace appears in Chapter 4: “Letting Go: A Reflection on Teams That Were”.

Jazz and teamwork

Posted by jlubans on February 07, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

What does a jazz group have in common with a classical orchestra like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra? Well, besides not having a conductor, a few other things come to mind, like the essential need for intense - in-the-moment - communication among the group. And from time to time, for soloists to take the lead and assume much of the responsibility for the music.

And, when done soloing, the player has to step back into his or her player role and support, intuitively it seems, the creative sound of the next soloist. While the players know there will be solos for each of them, the exact shape and sound, even duration, are not planned out. So, while support is essential to rounding out the sound of the soloist, it is not until the solo is underway, that the support players figure out how to offer their support. While our work world routines are planned out and predictable, the exciting and innovative pieces - the creative – are not. How do we support each other during those moments of uncertainty? Does the music stop?

On one of my first nights in Riga, I observed a jam session in the student club at the Jazeps Vitols Latvian Academy of Music featuring my Fulbright colleague, Chris Beaty, pictured here taking the lead as the middle saxophone:
20110207-Chris Beaty.jpg

The combo, which sounded great, was composed of five saxophones, one drum set player, one electric bass guitar, and one keyboard player, a total of 8, a good size in my experience for any team. Four of the saxophonists were faculty members, the remainder were music students, including one high school musician.

Chris told me the group had practiced twice, but not as a complete group. True, each knew the agenda – Nic, the faculty member saxophonist on the left in the picture took on the role of organizer and the equivalent of first chair, or first violin. In keeping with the extemporaneous nature of certain kinds of jazz, he was a laid back leader even though at the start and end of each piece he was the lead communicator.

The drummer, Chris told me, has an equally important role because he controls the tempo, the beat. Obviously, Nic and the drummer would have to be in synch (sharing the leadership) for the music to be as good as it was. So, who was leading? With a conductor, there’s hardly any question – it’s the guy (more often than not) who does not play an instrument.

With a jazz group, the turn taking and distribution of musical roles that I observed, makes the leader’s role ambiguous and more challenging than being the up-front leader of an orchestra. It is less easy to lead when your leadership encourages others to take the lead. Perhaps that is what Max De Pree was referring to in this quote from his Jazz Leadership, published by Dell in 1992:

“A jazz band is an expression of servant leadership. The leader of a jazz band has the beautiful opportunity to draw the best out of the other musicians. We have much to learn from jazz-band leaders, for jazz, like leadership, combines the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of individuals.”

At that Riga jam session, I only got to see the peripheral aspects of the teamwork and shared leadership, but I came away with wanting to know more about jazz organizations and their kinship to work groups that produce their own versions of great music.

Labas rytas! "Wearing Holes in Borrowed Shoes!"

Posted by jlubans on December 05, 2011  •  Leave comment (0)

This is the text of my talk from my December 2, 2011 talk in Vilnius Lithuania*.

Labas rytas! (Good morning!)
My talk today is largely based on my new book, Leading from the Middle.
1. Meaning
2. Experience
3. Implications.

I have added a country western song as a sub-title: "I Borrowed the Shoes But the Holes Are Mine." The sub title recognizes what others have done in thinking about the democratic workplace and that I am building upon those ideas. Yet, I am putting my own holes in those borrowed shoes!
You get the idea?
1. What is the Meaning of Leading from the Middle?
My book promotes a democratic, empowered work place. I argue in the book that the best work places give staff the freedom to achieve their full potential. The less command and control, the better. The book also reveals how I lead, how I manage, so it is not all theory. Please do not think that I am advocating anarchy, however interesting it might be to find out how an anarchous library would function.

Frankly, there was some resistance to publishing the book, but what bothers me most is our superficial thinking about good leadership, about being productive, and about managing for best outcomes. It seems like none of this is especially important to us and that good leadership is something that happens somehow without our having to think too much about it. Leadership comes with the title on the door! Right? Where does bad leadership come from? How do bad followers come about? Good followers? Most of us know a few good and many bad leaders. What sets them apart? Is it really all happenstance?

I think the democratic work place – the one espoused in the book – appeals especially to the younger, newer professional. Our new librarians – the best ones in my classes in the US and in Riga - are demanding a say, they yearn for something more. Will we – today’s leaders – give them what they want?

I’d like to talk about my U of L class and how it learned to self-lead. My model for the class was that of a student orchestra learning how to play without a conductor modeled after the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. I have studied this self-managing group for over a decade and continue to marvel at their accomplished playing. Here is a picture. What or who is missing?
INSERT Carnegie Hall pics

My University of Latvia students responded very well. Not only did they excel at three team projects they also made connections between theory and practice, linking lessons and concepts learned in group activities to lectures and readings and to their own experience.
We know the hierarchy prevails in Latvian culture, as it does in the USA and I believe it does in Lithuania. I expect these students when given leadership opportunities will modify work place cultures toward the more democratic and less bureaucratic.
At the end of the class the students told me what worked and what did not: Self-management in a group is no easy task. While pleased with the results, many issues (storming) had to be resolved before the groups could produce an end product, one that met a minimum standard of acceptance.
More than once each group wished for the intervention of a strong leader – deus ex machina- like - to take over decision making, to tell them what to do. Informal leaders did appear and they made a difference.
I asked: Are effective teams more productive than the boss led variety? The answer: It depends.
A quintessential lesson from my students - I did not fully appreciate this until a recent panel presentation by three of my students ( from left, Edite Maliseva, Inara Kindzule, Aija Uzula)
(Insert picture from panel)
at my November 30 Riga workshop: Assign or have groups clearly spell out, early on, individual roles and expectations, including leadership, very much like the concert master that takes responsibility for each piece of music performed by Orpheus.
2. Now, I’d like to talk about the Experience
I have empirical evidence that empowerment, when done in a genuine and supportive way does result in a more creative and productive work place than does the hierarchy. I have seen it happen, I have been involved with it.
Still teamwork is not for everyone. Some of my library groups were unhappy with empowerment and were passive about sharing power.
Real empowerment works. Not just in libraries: in business and in music and there is much research to support the notion of freeing up people to do their best, to be all they can be.
Is Teamwork natural?
Well, apparently so: Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson was quoted in the, April 17, 2011 issue of the Boston Globe:
“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) is what forms the evolutionary basis for a variety of advanced social behaviors linked to altruism, teamwork, and tribalism.”
(Centuries before, Adam Smith wrote about man’s inherent altruism; now even some Darwinists appear to accept his idea that people like helping others simply for the pleasure derived from their kindness.)

And, the honeybee has much to teach us about collaboration in the workplace. Bees are leaderless – despite popular belief, the queen has no executive role. How then does a swarm of 10,000 bees survive?
How does the swarm select a new home from dozens of options?
How do the bees choose the one best site with an accuracy rate of 80%?
The recent book, Honeybee Democracy – Medus bite Demokratija - offers a fascinating look at democracy in the world of the honeybee.
Scout bees, when home hunting:
1. Identify a diverse set of options,
2. Freely share the information about these options,
3. Aggregate this information to choose the best option.
“Remarkably the scout bees do all these things without working under the guidance of a leader.”
3. So, what are the Implications of the concept of leading from the middle?
Leading from the middle creates new expectations among students and I was obliged to try different ways of teaching, e.g. I used children’s books and other activities
to make points about effective followers, about least likely followers, about resourcefulness, and about attitude.
Likewise, different power dynamics come into play for leaders and followers. Leaders in an empowered organization need people skills (and a strong sense of self value and confidence) to get the most from library staff, to enable staff to reach high levels of achievement.
It’s easy to talk about empowereing staff but much harder to carry out. It can be difficult to turn people loose for real. What happens? What does it mean for a manager, for a leader? When the group takes off – when the orchestra is “unleashed” what happens to the conductor? When I did it, my traditional supervisory leader role changed. It changes vastly for the better in my eyes, but it can be scary and can make a leader vulnerable, something I personally discovered. When followers become leaders, that raises questions about our leadership role and necessity as leaders and managers. Do we have a job? Of course we do. We learn to lead more and manage less.
I have a challenge for you. Be more bee-like!
Thank you!

*NOTE: "Leading from the Middle: ‘I Borrowed the Shoes But the Holes Are Mine’”
was Presented December 2, 2011 at Vilnius University, Vilnius, Lithuania at the conference, "Library science and practice: yesterday and tomorrow", the 80th anniversary of the Lithuanian Society of Librarians.

The “Unboss” Leader

Posted by jlubans on April 15, 2014  •  Leave comment (1)

20140415-unboss sm.jpeg

While preparing for the “Freedom at Work” Webinar on April 23, I’ve been seriously PowerPointing for the first time in my career. I am not a PP fan but that’s what the Webinar runs on, so I have had to crash-learn PP.
But, more importantly, I’ve had to create some new definitions. Teaching, as someone said, is the best way to learn.
One of the words I apply to the democratic Leader is “unboss”. Well, what do I mean by that? It’s a term I first used in my 2006 essay on the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. In 2012, a Danish book, “Unboss” was published by two Danish authors with much social media fanfare.
I have yet to see a copy - so do not know if they got the term from me or it is just a matter of great minds thinking alike? Hah!
The chart (scroll down to the bottom of this post) comes from the chapter in Leading from the Middle about the insecure boss I’ve known. What I had to say then applies in many ways to the unboss.
The insecure boss is of course not the unboss. Just the opposite. Nor is the unboss a glass chewing, nail spitting, ass-kicker. That’s not to say the unboss is a milquetoast, afraid to discipline. No, it really is about confidence in one’s judgment and style and in understanding one’s role in developing people and systems.
I’ve developed this short unboss definition as a webinar slide.

Un-boss: Characteristics & Qualities

Represents the organization
Collaborates in decisions and actions
Works alongside
Waits for others to initiate
Tolerates mistakes
Defends staff
Shares praise; accepts blame
Appreciates urgency and takes the long view
Listens and hears; questions and offers well-considered advice.
Takes the job seriously; self, less so.

And, most mysteriously and paradoxically, is someone, about whom the people exclaim, when the task is done, “We did it ourselves!”

Not too long, I think it captures how an unboss leads his or her organization, including the notion of staff managing self.
Now, can a dyed-in-the-wool Theory X type (“My way or else!”) be an unboss? Very unlikely, because some of our style is who we are; how far have we evolved – and, by that I do mean evolution. If we behave like life is a Darwinian pecking order, then the unboss position is untenable.
Someone with a Theory Y orientation (participatory) should have an easier time of it since many of the unboss “traits” come with the Theory Y personality. Her worldview includes sharing with, kindness toward and respect for others.

Order your library a copy of Leading from the Middle right here.

LfM is cited in the 2012 book, “LIS Career Sourcebook: Managing and Maximizing Every Step of Your Career” by G. Kim Dority:
“For a delightful and insightful book on (followership) see Leading from the Middle by John Lubans.” P. 166. Also, listed with annotation on p. 177.

20140415-Unboss toxicsm jpeg.jpeg
Caption: Lubans's "toxic boss" benign bumbler etc., taxonomy.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Reminiscences of Letting Go

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

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

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

The “Maestro Complex” Part 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Atkārtot!": Speaking up at Work.

Posted by jlubans on July 10, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

I’ve been immersed in Latvia’s quinquennial Song and Dance Festival.
This weeklong celebration – nationally televised from start to finish - of Latvian song, dance, music, theater, art and crafts involves approximately 40,000 performers. Every community in Latvia sends its best to take part in DZIESMU SVĒTKI in the capital city, Riga. And, Latvians from all over the world converge on the city and fill its streets, literally, with dance and song. The grand finale features a community-sing* with audience and choirs holding forth until 6.30AM the next day.

Caption: At sunset in the Mežaparks concert bowl, 10.30PM, the audience and the 14,000 singers, just getting started.

At the final song concert, held outdoors with 14,000 singers, led by ten or more male and female conductors*, I observed an unusual practice. After a particular song, one that went especially well, the choir would chant "Atkārtot!" to the conductor. You can hear it , and, even better, here, asking to repeat the highly patriotic song “Saule, Pērkons, Daugava” (Sun, Thunder, and the mighty river Daugava.)
My young cousin Ivars tells me that this chant is more about self-expression, “We want to repeat” than it is a command to the conductor. In my experience in the classical music world, I have never seen an orchestra say much of anything (with the notable exception of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, of course).
If there are to be encores, the conductor decides. If a particular piece goes well, the audience – in Italy, for example – may ask for it to be sung again. So, to have the performers feel this strongly and then express their desire is something I, frankly, like very much.

Why do I like it? Because of what "Atkārtot!" says about the relationship between the nominal leader – the conductor – and those being led – the followers. Getting people to speak up is one of management’s biggest challenges; not speaking up in the workplace is more the norm. Here’s an insightful note from Ivars: “As this fest's grand finale is like a party after the 5-year work for the choirs, I guess they are feeling not that much as the performers but more like a part of the audience.” (Emphasis added.)

And I like what "Atkārtot!" says about the followers. This kind of follower has her own mind – she knows a good thing when she hears it. These followers have internal standards to which they aspire. Internal is the key word here. Knowing you’ve done a good job is as much a personal realization as it is something for which you receive external recognition. These followers are analytic and they love – as does the conductor – what they are doing. When something goes really well, they want more of it.
"Atkārtot!" is remarkable because it confirms the trust between leader and follower. The conductors (half were women – this is Latvia, remember!) are publicly honored by the choirs. After the conductor leads the singing of a song, several of the choir members run up to the conductor’s platform and present him or her with flowers, smiles and hugs. You can see that at the end of the clip.
What does this have to with work? With working in libraries?
If we enjoy what we do and we do something really well, would it not be nice to do it again, that the accomplishment be recognized by one and all? If we have been well led, then let the boss know. Maybe we do not do the flowers and the hugs but we surely can smile and offer thanks. This is part of a realization that all – each and every one of us - have done a good job and that it is worth taking the time to celebrate the achievement. "Atkārtot!" brings to mind the Taoist and early anarchist, Lao Tzu: “The great leader is he who the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’"

*NOTE: In Latvian, conductor is “Diriģents”. While translated as conductor, the Latvian word may have some etymological nuances not associated with our (English-speaking) interpretation of the word.

*Two views of the community sing taken at 3AM. Perspective is from the side of the stage looking out into the audience. From a friend and colleague who was there:



“Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Please!

Posted by jlubans on August 28, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

WorldBlu* (“Freedom at Work”) has kicked off its leadership-training program by nailing a list of 22 organizational elements to Hierarchy’s obdurate door. Kind of like what Martin Luther did back in 1517 when he hammered home his “95 Theses”.
Now, I am all for using hyperbole to separate the democratic workplace from the hierarchy; what bothers me is when our claims are akin to a religious schismatic: the believers on one side and the nonbelievers on the other! And, you know, yea, verily, who’s going to hell!
According to the list of 22, Fear-Based Leadership (FBL) is the devil’s spawn and Freedom-centered Leadership (FCL) is salvation.
There’s no middle ground on this list, only certainty; you’re damned or you’re saved.
Now, while I agree with much of what’s on the list I do not see it in such absolute terms. I take issue right at the top, with the headers: “fear-based” vs. “freedom-centered”. Fear is relative and I dare say it exists in freedom-centered organizations when the economy slows down or the legislature decides to cut the budget, or when your competitor develops a break-through service, or, most certainly of all, when you have a bad boss!
Here are a half dozen of the 22 leadership elements, with those on the left defining “fear-based” and those on the right defining, “freedom-centered” leadership:
Blind dependency vs. Self-governed
Acts like a boss vs. Chooses to be a leader
Ego-driven vs. Ego-less
Arrogant vs. Humble
Unethical and immoral vs. Ethical and moral
Unhappy vs. Joyful
Undisciplined vs. Disciplined
Lacks purpose vs. Purpose-driven

OK, OK, I put down 8. I got carried away in my enthusiasm.
This short list is useful in discriminating between the two types of leadership, but we should note these are the extreme end points, the yin and the yang, on a scale, with many degrees of separation in-between. Let me clarify by using an attitudinal scale like the Likert: Strongly agree / Agree / Don’t know / Disagree / Strongly disagree in responding to a series of statements. For example:
“My leadership is ego-driven.” Circle one: Strongly Agree, Agree, DK, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.
Almost immediately you run into questions of meaning of terms. What’s ego-driven leadership? Is it necessarily bad for the organization? It sounds bad, so why would anyone admit to being ego-driven?
“I am joyful at work.” SA, A, DK, D, SD?
(Then, again, I might ask myself, “How much does my happiness derive from work?)
“My leadership is unethical and immoral.” Some leaders are indeed unethical and immoral but who is going to admit it? Who is not going to sign on with, “My leadership is ethical and moral”?
“My leadership is disciplined.” (What does it mean to be undisciplined at work? Don’t most fear-based organizations depend on discipline to keep people in line?
“I am an arrogant leader.” Who would confess to that? Would not the most arrogant claim to be the most humble? Does not that form of self-delusion go with arrogance, if you get my meaning?
I am all for using a continuum rather than an absolute scale. On a continuum I can pinpoint where I am between “unhappy” and “joyful”. Or, I can plot how I am doing in my quest to be “purpose-driven”. Or, I can mark on a continuum where I stand between “Selfish” and “Selfless”. See?
Listings like this all have some truth, but none have absolute truth. How would I do it differently? Well, I would say that to be an effective freedom-centered leader one aspires to those 22 characteristics. I may fall short in several, but I keep trying. Leadership, if anything, is always a work in progress. What went well last year, may not go so well this year – I may lapse, fall off the heaven-bound wagon and have to figure out how to scramble back on.

*WorldBlu is a good source for finding corporations and other agencies that apply democratic principles to how they organize and how they treat workers. Their “List of Most Democratic Workplaces” is the starting point if you are looking for examples of this type of company.

BLOG NOTE. My paper, "The Invisible Leader: Lessons for Leaders from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra" published in the OD Practitioner: The Journal of the Organizational Development Network, 38: 5-9, 2006, has been translated into Spanish by Cuba’s Grupo Cambio Humano y Desarrollo Organizacional: Centro de Investigaciones Psicológicas y Sociológicas with the title:
"El director invisible. Lecciones para directores impartidas por la Orquesta de Cámara Orfeo.”

Copyright 2013 John Lubans

“No CEO.”

Posted by jlubans on February 21, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Meeting rules. How you will speak and feel.

When I see a headline like that – No CEO! - I take notice.
The story, by the BBC, is about a Swedish software company “where nobody is in charge.”
The company, Crisp, based in Stockholm, has about 40 staff, mostly independent contractors.
In any case, Crisp has gone through a few organizational models - including the usual boss at the top and also a “taking turns” model.
Notably, Crisp has decided to leave the top job vacant. They’ve systematically spread out the CEO’s responsibilities among the staff and the board.
The notion that no one is in charge is, of course, journalistic hyperbole. In reality, with no boss, everyone is in charge. Bosslessness may well be the best part of this model; it should lead to a great deal of job satisfaction and motivation among the people doing the work.
Like Crisp’s organizational coach claims: “Because they are all in charge, workers are more motivated.” That is the case with the – if it were not the case; they would not be performing at one of the world’s toughest venues, Carnegie Hall.
Does the No CEO model work?
That’s hard to say. Crisp thinks so. Their annual staff satisfaction survey comes in at 4.1 out of 5. So a “B” or good grade, if an “Excellent” is a 5.
Certainly beats a 2 or a 3, but what about comparable companies? None are cited.
I know of at least one workplace in my experience that scores right up there as a “best place” to work. From my perspective, it is an unimaginative, stuffy and tradition-bound organization, coasting on past glories. It does pay well, however.
So, for Crisp, I’d like to see some numbers, bottom lines and such. I don’t mean to be negative on Crisp; I just would like to see some quantitative assessment of improvements under the No CEO model to the CEO or any other model they may have tried. Complicating any assessment is that this company sees itself as a non-profit. There is no value – they claim – to the company.
Different, for sure.
Crisp’s organizational coach claims that decision-making is greatly sped up. Again, I would like to see some comparable data – however approximate – with the way it was with a boss and the way it is now with everyone in charge. And, can any peer comparisons be made?
Crisp does have all-hands-on-deck meetings – meetings that run for up to 4 days a few times a year. A lot gets hashed out in those meetings. The detailed etiquette rules for those meetings were prominent at the not-so-long-ago
Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.
Marathon in length, those OWS meetings - towards the end of the OWS run - became more and more unruly, devolving into violence. Presumably, in pacific Sweden such behavior would not be tolerated.
The BBC write-up quotes a skeptic of the no boss model. His words rang a memory bell for me:
"Often infinite freedom … can be pretty disorientating. It doesn't always feel good, because you no longer know what you're supposed to do, what's important and you're bumping up against other people."
It reminded me when I was leading an effort to turn a hierarchy toward self-managing teams.
Perhaps crazily, I offered that my direct reports, some dozen or more, would no longer report to me directly - I became an unboss.
Some saw this as an opportunity to undermine the self-managing teams effort and to keep the hierarchy. They zealously worked at doing just that.
Some got it right. While I was no longer the immediate boss, I was someone to consult, to talk with, to bounce ideas off of, to seek help from to navigate through unknown waters. I was there to help.
A few were very uncomfortable with the model. They saw my withdrawal as leaving them adrift, not knowing quite what to do.
Had I to do it over, I would be much more explicit about my unboss role – leader, follower, coach. And, for that matter, I'd want to clarify their roles vis-à-vis me.
And I would have tried this approach only with team leaders who were the most promising unbosses; leaders who could step back and empower their teammates.
Just like my self-managing teams experiment, the No CEO model might be too extreme for many organizations. However, it does offer alternative ways of organizing and in its own way gives us insights about what leaders and followers do.
If you have effective leaders and followers, any model will work. If you have a mixed group of staff, some good, some not so good, the hierarchy may still be the best model.
I’d qualify that last statement, because in some cases the hierarchy causes dysfunction. Innovative people are shut down, problem solving becomes convoluted, etc.
So any effort toward less hierarchy, however inept, might benefit the organization and its clients in unexpected positive ways.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Freedom at Work: Elect Your Boss!

Posted by jlubans on October 29, 2013  •  Leave comment (2)

20131029-ballot hand.jpeg
Your organization is seeking a new leader. This search will be different – instead of the staff’s usual limited input to the decision, this time the staff elects leader. The candidate with the most votes gets to be the boss. Impossible?
That’s what happened at DreamHost, a 172-person, Los Angeles-based dot com.
DreamHost’s executive team (ET) - not exactly a radical setup with its 7 Vice Presidents including a VP of Human Resources - identified eight viable candidates. Then the ET narrowed the referendum to three. The three were invited to meet the staff; each on a separate day. All three agreed to the ballot process and to a company-wide meeting with staff, followed by informal meetings and opportunities to ask questions one-on-one.
Election Day was a two horse race; the third candidate opted out on the day of his interview. Simon Anderson was elected (online and anonymous) by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent. On his first meeting with the staff, he yukked it up: "All those of you who didn’t vote for me, stand up. You’re fired."
The election appears to have prompted Anderson’s thinking along democratic lines, more so than perhaps he would have done if he had been the usual appointee from on high.
While he says he was a collaborative kind of guy to start with – an Australian, so somewhat different from the stereotypical competitive MBA – he has shared detailed financial information and engaged employees in discussions of critical issues, such as how the company could continue to offer free health insurance. DreamHost recently formed a “committee of managers and rank-and-file employees to create a kind of constitution that will guide how DreamHost makes decisions.” And, Anderson practices the staff-inspired concept of “shameless honesty.” He elaborates:
“You can be sitting in a meeting and you can say, ‘I’m going to be shamelessly honest here.’ Boom. Now there’s respect and it’s not rude honesty. It just gives us permission to have those hard conversations ….”
Did the DreamHost staff make the right choice? Looks like it to me – they’re still in business and growing.

Vermont town meetings have long held public elections of town
leaders, sometimes by hand vote or often by silent ballot. I visited the Bradford, Vermont’s annual town meeting and observed firsthand the citizen decision-making that’s been going on in New England since about 1620.
It is hard to imagine a more open, democratic process. The slate of candidates for selectman and other permanent town jobs goes up on the board, each candidate speaks briefly (this is taciturn Vermont!) about why she wants the job. When all have spoken, it’s time to vote.

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Caption: The “slate” for one position, March 6, 2012, Bradford, Vt.

20131029-vt. line.jpeg
Caption: Neighbors and citizens lining up to vote, Bradford, Vt.

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Caption: Checking in to vote, Bradford, Vt.

Can electing the boss apply elsewhere? It certainly would increase, for the better, the systolic blood pressure of my peers in large academic libraries. Instead of the search committee sending a slate of three or more names to the President, let the staff vote. The same for department heads or team leaders.
Is electing the boss an outlandish concept? Why? Well, top administrators have an unparalleled expertise, broad knowledge and proven ability to pick the right person, don’t they? Those at a lower level have too little information and understanding to make this sort of choice. If you viscerally believe this, the staff’s electing the boss is not going to work. But, If you have doubts about the effectiveness of the bureaucratic and hierarchical status quo, elect your boss!

NOTE: The Perfect Swarm : the Science of Complexity in Everyday Life by Len Fisher (New York : Basic Books, 2009) cites, in an extensive note, my “Invisible Leader” paper on p. 189. This paper, revised extensively, appears in Leading from the Middle as chapter 6, “The Invisible Leader: Lessons for Leaders from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.”

If your library does not have my book, borrow it from one that does: Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Grinnell College.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

“A deeply human interaction.”

Posted by jlubans on September 29, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Cellist Joshua Koestenbaum talks with his new stand partner, Julie Albers.

As readers of my book and blog know, I am a fan of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra; they play without a conductor and do so with a unique sound and verve, performing equal to or better than if led by a conductor. Full disclosure, as they say, I am only an “I Know What I Like” music listener but I do have some expertise in observing groups and identifying teamwork and collaboration and translating those observations into other realms. A musical performance – for all to see, out in the open, the organization in the same room as the “customers” - is a sharply focused, 1-2 hour look at how humans work together toward achieving a goal. And, the partnerships on display in musical sections (wind, string, brass, etc) present us with additional organizational microcosms.
Also, as part of my “creds”, I’ve explored the conductor’s role more than once. Among my favorites is Simone Young, the Australian maestro, now conducting in Hamburg, Germany. She invited me to sit in the Sydney Opera orchestra pit while she conducted a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore opera and I got to see her as musicians see her. I marvel at her joy and “boots and all” commitment to orchestral music - in rehearsal and in performance - and how she brings her musicians along. You can read about her in Leading from the Middle.
And, while I was in Riga as a Fulbrighter in 2011, one of my Fulbright partners was the saxophonist Chris Beaty who now teaches saxophone at Texas A&M University - Commerce. He’s given me numerous insights into how jazz players interact.

Tik un tā (anyway), Chris’ wife, Eileen MacNaughton, an accomplished violinist, and their three musically gifted children were also in Riga. So, I took notice when Eileen linked on Facebook to a story about musical “stand partners” written by Max Raimi, a violist at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Raimi tells us that string partners are the only musicians to share a stand - and the musical score - with a partner. You may think that is interesting but … well, inconsequential. Yet, how it plays out offers us numerous insights about our relationships with partners at work, how well we get along or not or why. Who turns the pages, who gives up a few notes while turning the pages, how far or near is the stand, how supportive are we of each other are just a few of the pieces of the stand partner relationship that can easily apply to us. There is, according to Mr. Raimi, a protocol to be followed between stand partners, just like there may be an evolved protocol between work colleagues. Do we defer to our partner or go solo, like the timpanist, or do we share in the music and the “how” of playing it - the tone, the color, the sound, and the interpretation - or do we dominate?
The best stand partners display these qualities:
1. Make sacrifices for the good of the partnership. “Page turning is an acquired skill. Turn too soon, and your partner may miss a few notes at the end of the page. Too late, and the notes on the next page aren’t visible in time. A good page turner may have to sacrifice a few notes to make sure that the stand partner doesn’t miss any.”
2. Be diplomatic in all you do. “When stand partners don’t get along, life can be miserable.” Just like in the 9-5 work realm, “you will be ‘sitting together’” – working together - “again and again in the course of your careers. If issues are not settled peaceably, they may result in an exhausting feud….” Amen.
3. Ask permission, a simple courtesy, before marking up the score or to trying a new technique in your playing. Don’t leave your partner in the dark.
4. Be supportive, not judgmental. “(O)n occasion there can be an acoustic quirk whereby you hear your stand partner’s playing more clearly than you hear your own. If you play a passage particularly well, often your stand partner is the only person who knows it. And if you miscount, or play a wrong note, or play something dreadfully out of tune, your shameful little secret is entrusted to your stand partner.” So, offer your support, not your judgment. Your partner knows full well she could have done better.
5. Listen well and give feedback to your partner. If he or she has played a part especially well, let them know it. “Etiquette usually requires that your stand partner acknowledge your artistry with subtle applause,” like a light tap on the music or a faint foot shuffle. What variations on “subtle applause” can you bring to the workplace?
6. Be in tune with your partner. “Good stand partners are very sensitive to each other’s playing. But still, you each have your own musical styles. If you are both attentive,” – listening to each other – “you find yourselves in a wordless conversation about how the music should go.”
7. Understand the partnership’s role in contributing to the success of the overall organization. “I particularly enjoy passages in which we play different lines in harmony. We are at once blending together in our own little duet and contributing to the whole orchestral texture.”
8. Problem solve with your partner. “It is one thing to work out a difficult passage on your own. But if the two of you can play it together, …, you approach it with far more confidence at the concert.”
9. Be a companion to your partner. “It may seem strange, but to play in an orchestra can at times be a lonely endeavor…. A sympathetic stand partner can be a lifeline.” Through companionship, “(e)ven without a word being exchanged, you enjoy a deeply human interaction.”

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Brainstorming and Arm-wrestling

Posted by jlubans on May 30, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Jonah Lehrer’s provocative article, “The brainstorming myth” in the New Yorker got me thinking about how some groups are bursting with innovation energy and others are entrenched like stumps.
Lehrer backs up his hypothesis with research studies that conclude that brainstorming – with its “no criticism” rule – does not work. He cites Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”
Certainly I have seen brainstorming fail, but that failure rarely had anything to do with Lehrer’s central point: “Brainstorming enshrined a no-judgments approach to holding a meeting.” What gets in the way is less the suspension of criticism and more a lack of good ideas or a pathological reluctance to share those ideas.
In one instance I challenged, in a public forum, a group of 20 peers – the year I chaired this group of directors of large higher education bureaucracies - to come up with a quick list of ideas on what we could do to increase the productivity of our 2500 staff members. To me it would be a fun and creative exercise and we just might come up with some promising stuff. That’s not how it worked out. The group, recruited from the best and the brightest of our profession, had few ideas – I do not recall our pursuing a single one. Perhaps they were not willing to take part because of me – a maverick with democratic notions – or they feared looking foolish to the audience in the meeting room. Regardless, the slim pickings made me wonder at the time how these directors developed new procedures and processes in their bailiwicks. I suspected most leaned toward top-down directives with minimal staff discussion.
So, while Lehrer triggered this memory of a brainstorming failure, I also recall brainstorming that got good results. Success probably happened because of other factors. For one thing, there was good camaraderie and people were invested. Participants felt connected to each other – trust was high – and each participant knew the topic. Like the self-managing Orpheus musicians in rehearsal, each well-informed participant could see the big picture and did not limit his or her thinking to the immediate horizon.
Personally, brainstorming, or something like it, works for me. Give me a problem and I can list out two or three dozen ways to fix it. While jotting down ideas, I am aware some are foolish. I don’t stop to debate with myself, I build on those ideas – they become useful to me as I look for a solution. I hurry on until I feel myself circling back to earlier ideas – a natural stopping point. Then, and this is a key point, I quickly separate the wheat from the chaff - out of a list of 30 I will probably keep five or six, something in the 20% range, for further exploration.
And, I have seen brainstorming result in excellent ideas in the Future Search process of exploring where an organization wants to be. Absent a corporate will, the process breaks down – in my experience – at the crunch question: what will we stop doing to gain resources for the new?
Still, Lehrer’s explorations give us much to consider. He heralds that the best group work results when we are “hurled together” (architecturally). “Human friction creates sparks.” The best office space is open with an environment that forces us to interact with each other serendipitously and frequently rather than doodling behind closed doors. Executive suites, non-profit and for-profit, are at the opposite of Lehrer’s optimum. If you want a collaborative team at the top, you need to facilitate frequent interaction. Apparently, Steve Jobs did so at Apple: “he had the building arranged around a central atrium, so that (the) diverse staff of artists, writers, and computer scientists would run into each other more often.” (I wish it were that simple!)
Caption: Herb Kelleher Arm Wrestles For Ad Slogan "Just Plane Smart". (He" lost" and won!)
When I interviewed Herb Kelleher (pictured), the iconoclastic leader of Southwest Airlines, I saw that there were no windows in corporate offices and that the Love Field headquarters building had hallways so wide you could drive a herd of cattle down them. The walls were decorated with hundreds of examples of corporate lore and here and there were stations for people to sit and interact in chance meetings.
The quintessentials for successful group work are an organizational culture that supports (celebrates) group work and that people trust each other. For more ideas, see my Chapter 10: It’s in the DNA: Infusing Organizational Values at Southwest in Leading from the Middle.
Our greatest friend among the insects, the honeybee, has something to say to us in this regard. On page 43 of the Smart Swarm book, the author paraphrases Seeley’s “must haves” for bees to choose the best location for a future home: “Seek a diversity of knowledge. Encourage a friendly competition of ideas. Use an effective mechanism to narrow your choices.”

Sleepless Nights and Prozac Prescriptions

Posted by jlubans on March 20, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

A frequent request I get, like I did after my talk at the Estonian National Library, is to provide library examples of democratic workplaces*. That’s an interesting question to answer since there are no all-out democratic libraries, quite to the contrary. Other realms** offer up examples, like New York’s highly successful Orpheus Chamber Orchestra or, in Brazil, the highly successful and productive Semco Group as described in one of my class readings: “Thought Leaders: Ricardo Semler Won’t Take Control.”
There have been some democratic efforts in academic libraries – I had a leadership role in one – but these are parochial and circumscribed. One research library claims to be team-based and that does appear to be true, but when I inquired about their rationale the official response was similar to other tentative efforts: to make staff feel more involved in the organization, and, from that engagement, to derive greater job satisfaction. That’s commendable but I would have preferred a public statement that the teams will improve on what the library does, will develop new services and will, quantifiably, increase productivity.
I have always held that a re-organization needs a substantial rationale. Shifting people around into a new, feel-good assemblage is not enough. Some good may come from re-organization, but the dozens I have witnessed - including a huge one underway right now - show more imbroglio than improvement.
I have not much history with the Semco Group but from what I read and observe, many executives the world over admire Ricardo Semler, the owner-founder. Few, if any, want to duplicate his democratic workplace. Semler says - facetiously, I think - that there are two reasons for this: That 80% of business people will not give up control. And that the other 20% do not trust mankind, on its own, to do good. Does this absolute ratio, however tongue-in-cheek, apply to libraries? Probably.
I certainly recall a multitude of queasy feelings when I surrendered control over a bevy of departments. Because compensation and status is based on one’s place on the hierarchical ladder, a flat and ladder-less terrain may induce sleepless nights and Prozac prescriptions. Worse, some leaders egotistically do not believe staff capable of self-management (people need supervision!) and/or that none can replace their most excellent leadership. They are certain that the democratic way of work is utopian and naive in the real world of the hierarchy!
Yes, I did find - at some personal cost - that democracy in the library workplace is not for everyone. Indeed some of the library work groups I supervised were unhappy with empowerment and were very passive about sharing power. They abhorred the notion of limiting a boss’ power and freeing up people to do their best, to be all they could be.
Because of this intransigence (plus libraries are almost never stand-alone institutions which further restricts their autonomy) my book
and blog are meant to stimulate and challenge individuals, not to vex hierarchical dinosaurs. So, I encourage the individual - leader and follower - to think about democratic concepts and to apply democratic ways of working to his or her local situation. If you are a department head that believes people work best when trusted, respected and free to make decisions about how to do a job, then be democratic in leading. Or, if you are a hard working follower, then support and practice democratic concepts in working with others.
Even if your workplace is the most constipated and untrusting hierarchy, you can be democratic in what you do and think. If you are required to take part in the ritual of formal performance evaluation, you can coach and advise people separately from the paperwork.
I think the democratic work place appeals especially to the younger, newer professional. Our new librarians – the best ones in my classes in the US and in Riga - are demanding a say, they want something more. We should be paying attention.
There is a glimmer of hope on the library horizon.
A colleague at a conservative research library tells me administrative attitudes about command and control are shifting. Her term for what she is seeing is the “post-departmental” library. Her meaning: the hierarchy is frequently by-passed and that a more matrix-like organization is emerging. While departments remain, library-wide task forces - composed of staff and supervisors - are used to set policies and to avoid departmental turf battles. While this library has a long way to go on the democratic continuum, it may well exemplify what is occurring in other large libraries.
From what I know of my friend’s library, I can well imagine that the executives pine for the good old days of command and control, but they have had to make concessions. If they resist during these difficult economic times, they might discover that their power only exists as long as those whom they supervise want them to have it. I am optimistic that many reluctant administrators, like the room full of managers I spoke to in Estonia, actually may come to like a democratic organization.

*As defined here:
Many leaders.
De-centralized power.
Open “books” (finances and personnel).
Planning involves everyone.
Team-based, flat organization.
Many effective (independent and critical thinking and action-taking) followers.
Managers do “real work”.
No formal performance appraisal.
Workers help define individual perks, from parking to pay.
A proactive organization.

**For more examples of democratic organizations, there is the WorldBlu (Freedom at Work) web site for its list of “Most Democratic Workplaces.” There are no libraries or academic institutions on that list, but it is well worth looking at since those on the list are carrying out and helping define what it means to be democratic.

"The Dog Under Your Desk"

Posted by jlubans on February 04, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

My new class on the Democratic Workplace meets for the first time this week. In preparation, I’m in the throes of defining the concepts behind the class. I have lists of what it is and what it is not, but no coherent manifesto.
People ask me, “What is the Democratic Workplace?” “Does everyone vote on everything?” “Is it a socialist idea?” What exactly is Freedom at Work? Is it a New England town hall meeting? Or, is it something akin to participatory management, in which some of the organization’s decision-making is shared with staff? Is it a kindly capitalism, gently exploiting labor?
Well, perhaps it is a mix of all that. A hybrid, then. But, it does have something else that sets it apart; the real Democratic Workplace (DW), in the right circumstances, gets results. It can be more productive, quantitatively, than the Hierarchy. (In my personal experience of freeing up a tradition-bound Hierarchy, in which I implemented many democratic ideas, we danced rings around our traditionally organized competitors. Other explorers of the DW report similar improvements.)
Let’s see if I can get it right: The Democratic Workplace includes elements of democracy (rule by people) more than do other systems of organization; it is an evolving hybrid (imagine two overlapping circles (Venn); the overlap is the hybrid; the DW is waxing, the Hierarchy waning) blending the elements of a less restrictive Hierarchy/Bureaucracy with the freedom of the DW. The DW relies heavily on individuals taking ownership of their work – thinking about what they do - and having the freedom to make decisions about their work (hence the improved productivity). The worker’s perspective is that of an owner, a manager. A DW worker has authority commensurate with his/her responsibility; motivation is internal.
The leader – yes, there is one – is of the unboss* variety.
What’s that? Well, someone that let’s go of the minutiae and empowers (gives power away) workers to accomplish goals, to get the job done. Someone that listens to worker ideas and says “Do it” more than “Don’t” – or she may say nothing since doing is preferred.
It is a work in progress,
it is the Gettysburg address, “…of the people, by the people, for the people ….",
It’s Lao Tzu
and Thoreau applied to where we work.
The DW hears the customer more clearly, listens better, than those agencies with the customer on the other side of the bulletproof glass. The DW customer/client/user is not the enemy; the DW has no monopolistic delusions; it is not OK to be unpleasant and uninviting.

OK, OK! Basta! How easy is it to implement?
A new organization can implement DW ideas more easily than can an old one.
There’s no template. Just like the hierarchy evolved over a couple hundred years, from a highly regimented bureaucracy to something far less so, a blend of Theories X ,Y and Z, it will take time - a lot of it - to introduce and refine elements, like “open books”, effective teams, and “egalitarian salaries” and to flatten the organization. The process speeds up once people see positive results. But, and this is a big but (hah!), the beneficiaries of the hierarchy will do all they can to sabotage the shift.
The organizational chart may change monthly; no one gets to stay in his or her spot for too long, including the unboss. Regular movement in the organization is encouraged, facilitated but not mandated. The goal is a mutually satisfactory balance of fulfilling the needs of the organization and of the individual. Neither is the slave of the other.
Work is as important as ever, even more so. It is understood that the organization must take in energy and resources to continue to thrive, to evolve, to avoid irrelevance. That’s nothing new.
The DWs S-shaped curve which depicts an organization’s life span is upward, not downward. You re-invent, adapt as necessary to survive and to excel.
There’s no blueprint to follow but the unboss and others have the idea, the vision of what it can be. The vision trusts in the overall notion that when people have similar interests and capabilities and are given authority and responsibility they will do better on their own, than under supervision. There’s no need for external motivation.
I have to say that no one has completed the entire puzzle – with all the pieces in place, the riddle solved. As a proponent (and a practitioner) of the DW I am aware that many DW ideas have been put into practice. Ideas like creating effective teams, setting your own salary, giving spending authority to project teams, working without managers, eliminating formal evaluation, and sharing the budget.
While the DW can be imagined as an orchestra without a conductor it is not without leadership or management. It is made up of musicians that want to understand a piece of music as well as the conductor and then interpret it as if they were playing the whole piece, not just their instrumental part. The musicians select the music, decide on the theme, and schedule the rehearsals.
The DW welcomes independent, critical thinking and action-taking followers; there are fewer "survivors", fewer of the alienated, fewer yes people, fewer sheep-like followers than in the Hierarchy.
DW staff steer away from the usual jealousies and infighting found in any group; there is more energy spent on producing and less spent on discussing.
The DW permits staff to help rather than hinder; it dispenses with jargon; it favors an easily understood language. If something is patently wrong, the DW permits – writ large -the wrong to be righted, without endless discussion. But, let’s keep in mind that the DW takes teamwork, it is not a maverick or a vehicle for pettiness or caprice, granting some favors, denying others. It does things with intelligence and awareness. If it errs, it self corrects. That intelligence emanates from the freedom enjoyed by its well-qualified staff, to do what is right. The law is obeyed; all else is open to question. We do not endanger, nor do we stymie just because someone has a need to officiate. The golden rule rules.

The DW is the worker who improves what he does without consulting the boss. Without having to get permission.
It is the worker who screws up and owns up to it and goes on to do a better job the next day, without fear of reprisal,.
If a worker is not performing well, then we find out why and try to do something about it. If there’s nothing that can be done, it is time for change, and not just for the “scapegoat” employee, as in the Hierarchy; if the worker is weak, the team leaders, the team, share the responsibility.
The DW recognizes that 95% of the staff do not need to be controlled.
The DW understands that 5% may need extra training and discipline, for legitimate reasons, not just for willful neglect or incompetence.
The DW expects great things of its staff and provides the resources for that to happen.
The DW is a “cool” place to work; it has a waiting list of applicants, all for the right reasons.
It’s not “dog eat dog,” it’s the dog under your desk.

*I first used – maybe even coined - the term unboss in my 2006 essay, “The Invisible Leader”, about the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Tuesday’s Leading from the Middle Library: Saginaw Valley State University, 
, University Center, Michigan, USA

If your library lacks a copy of Leading from the Middle it can be ordered

Copyright John Lubans 2014