Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE MOON AND HER MOTHER”*

Posted by jlubans on October 10, 2014  •  Leave comment (1)

“The Moon once begged her Mother to make her a gown. ‘How can I?’ replied she; ‘there's no fitting your figure. At one time you're a New Moon, and at another you're a Full Moon; and between whiles you're neither one nor the other.’"

I have to admit, my main reason in selecting this fable is Arthur Rackham’s poignant illustration; the mildly exasperated seamstress-mom with the adolescent daughter. As for a moral, well it may have to deal with not knowing who you are, generally an attributable quality of any teenager. More pertinently, changeable personalities are the dickens to deal with at work. A moody boss is not an easy person, especially given the power relationships. Give me the unflappable leader, rain or shine, whose imperturbability calms and lets reason prevail.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

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@Copyright John Lubans 2014

From Bees to Bradford

Posted by jlubans on February 25, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

“We encourage all Bradford residents to come and participate in this annual exercise of democracy.” That’s the message on the Vermont town (est. pop, 2716) of Bradford's web site.
I’ll be inside the auditorium of the depicted Bradford Academy building on March 6 as a guest observer courtesy of Larry Coffin, the town’s Moderator.
Why will I be there? Because the Bradford town meeting is mentioned as an outstanding example of the democratic-decision making process. It is an annual event led by a moderator and not an elected or appointed boss. I know about Bradford (and Larry) from mentions in two books:

Miller, Peter. The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done.
New York: Penguin Group 2010 (Describes the Bradford town meeting process on pp. 86-91)
Seeley, Thomas D. Honeybee Democracy
. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 2010 (Seeley comments, on pages 221 & 223, about Larry Coffin’s 40 years of moderating Bradford’s Town Meetings.)
This year there will be a new moderator; Larry has said 40 years is enough, but he will remain one year more as the Parliamentarian who interprets Robert's Rules of Order when procedural questions come up. And, I’d guess he will be there to offer assistance and support as needed for the new Moderator.
Seeley says the effective democratic leader, based on what he has learned from his research on honeybees, is limited to the following:
1. States group’s object
2. Defines group’s decision-making process
3. Keeps group on track
4. Fosters a balanced discussion
5. Identifies when decision is reached
New England town meetings go back to 1663. That first meeting occurred in Dorchester, Massachusetts, near Boston.
Town meetings have their critics, including James Madison: "In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob."
Mr. Madison makes it sound somewhat like a pro wrestling match (I’d expect Passion’s costume (yes, there is a lady wrestler by that name) to beat Reason’s every time). Of course, long after Mr. Madison spoke of Athenian mobs (true to this day!) Civil War General Henry M. Robert’s Rules of Order have helped Reason keep her scepter.
I'll be posting my observations a few days after the meeting.

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE THIEVES AND THE COCK”*

Posted by jlubans on January 13, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Sauntering thieves; 17th century woodcut.

“Some Thieves broke into a house, and found nothing worth taking except a Cock, which they seized and carried off with them.
When they were preparing their supper, one of them caught up the Cock, and was about to wring his neck, when he cried out for mercy and said, "Pray do not kill me: you will find me a most useful bird, for I rouse honest men to their work in the morning by my crowing.
‘But the Thief replied with some heat, "Yes, I know you do, making it still harder for us to get a livelihood. Into the pot you go!’"
One moralist has it: “The safeguards of virtue are hateful to those with evil intentions.”
If you’ve been woken at dawn, after a late night carouse, by a neighbor’s rooster cock-a-doodling, that might be reason enough to throw a shoe in its general direction. But, that’s unlikely if you live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. If you live in Sheridan, Oregon, on Gopher Valley Road, that’s pretty much the daily drill.
For the workplace, this fable illustrates how declaring against the boss’ agenda, albeit for good reasons – often results in reproach, not praise. Kelley’s study on leadership (and my personal experience) finds that the odds are even that a star follower will be punished for speaking the truth. Half the time it will be a KITA (kick in the ass) or a POTB (pat on the back.)
Like the thief, the bad boss (insecure, petty, jealous, etc - take your pick) will find a reason to punish you for questioning her actions and intentions.
With those 50-50 odds, it’s understandable why workplace “survivors” never speak up. Good leaders seek the painful truth and deal with it; bad leaders do not.

*Source: AESOP’S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable: More Music to Manage By

Posted by jlubans on June 21, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: When I Get Through With You by Patsy Kline

Them That Ain’t Got, Can’t Lose.
(If your budget’s always been low, you ain’t got much to lose, but you will anyway. If your budget is higher than most, there’ll be concern at the top about doing you wrong. )

I’m Going Someplace I Hope I Find.
(When we start in with a new idea, sometimes we do not know where we are going. No reason not to go; some destinations reveal themselves. Like the man said, a long walk is better when you do not have a destination in mind.)

I Don’t Know Whether To Kill Myself or Go Bowling.
(A good song to keep in mind when the inanity around you regardless of the enterprise gets to fever pitch and out of proportion to what needs doing. Go bowling. Even alone.)

Somewhere Between Lust and Sitting Home Watching TV.
(Similar to the above conundrum, but not as poetical as Wordsworth’s line, “Something between an hindrance and a help,” from his Michael: A Pastoral Poem, but close. Hah!)

Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out When I’m Dead and Gone?
(I used this song title for when we experimented with cutting the direct reporting relationships between staff and administration. It was an attempt to free up the former – to give them more elbowroom for decision-making. Much consternation ensued, but some staff were overly gleeful – “Hell, yes!” and so I had to rein in the enthusiasm with a reminder that there was more to supervision than just the line on the organizations chart. My new role was still a leadership one and not to be forgotten. A few expressed their dismay at being turned lose. They did not want the line erased. Most humored me. Probably better if we had used a tentatively dotted line rather than obliterating it. Live and learn by doing.

I Borrowed the Shoes, But the Holes Are Mine.
(I’ve used this song title numerous times to reflect that, unlike too many writers - in my field of libraries - who theorize and express interest in new ways of organizing, we actually did the theory we wrote about. Trying it is what matters. Wearing those borrowed shoes and putting your own holes in ‘em is when you learn. Doing, of course, puts you at risk. So be it.)

Caption; Johnny Cash
When I’m Alone, I’m in Bad Company.

(A good song to reflect on when you begin to believe you have THE answer and all others are inferior. Think again. Another reason for teamwork. Really good teams help reign in the rampant ego.)

And we’ll end this Friday’s Fable (More Music #3) with one from Memphis, the home of the King:
True Love Travels On A Gravel Road.
Kind of like “It’s Not Love, But It’s Not Bad.” There are bumps, potholes and detours aplenty on the road to mature relationships, at home or office. You might even plunge into a sinkhole. Learn from that gravel road.
“Elvis has left the building.”


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

This November I dust off my "Attitudes" workshop for a full day session in Atlanta. Whenever I do this workshop, I wonder if the people that are participating have been "sent" - sent in like their boss has told them in a most discreet way, of course, they need to turn around their BAD 'tude. Of course, anyone "sent" knows the score. The thought of all those grim faces gives me pause, sort of like a Christian about to be served up as an appetizer to the lions at the Coliseum.

But, my real reason for posting is to share this charming and highly evocative ad from Southwest Airlines - the book has two chapters on teams at SWA. The flight attendant's bonhomie and posture remind me, inexplicably at the moment, of paintings by Hals, Rubens, or Vermeer. I have not yet found the painting that's in my mind's eye (a laughing woman, in a yellow blouse, head tipped back) but I feel confident it is out there. Help me please if you have an idea. (N.B. I am using this ad with SWA's permission, September 8, 2011. The person pictured is a flight attendant at SWA.)
20100911-Tude SWA medium.jpg

Friday Fable. Abstemius's (Sir Roger L'Estrange) “The Mice and the Oak”*

Posted by jlubans on February 05, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Mouse munching on acorn.

“The Mice found it so troublesom to be still climbing the Oak for every Bit they put in their Bellies, that they were once to set their Teeth to't, and bring the Acorns down to them; but some wiser than some, and a Grave Experienc'd Mouse, bad them have a care what they did; for it we destroy our Nurse at present, who shall feed us hereafter?”

“Resolution without Foresight is but a Temerarious Folly: And the Consequences of Things are the first Point to be taken into Consideration.”

The “Grave Experienc'd Mouse” has got it right. We deforest the land at our own risk just like we do when, presumptuously, we rush through a policy without considering worst-case scenarios. And, acts of “Temerarious Folly” arm the naysayers, those who resist change regardless of necessity. They point to the unintended consequences of the past as sufficient reason to do nothing.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday’s Fable: Jupiter and the Two Sacks*

Posted by jlubans on July 20, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Jupiter has given us two sacks to carry. One sack, which is filled with our own faults, is slung across our back, while the other sack, heavy with the faults of others, is tied around our necks. This is the reason why we are blind to our own bad habits but still quick to criticize others for their mistakes.”
Re-reading this little bit of wisdom, I was reminded of one of the major mistakes - along with a multitude of inherent limitations - we are prone to make in performance appraisals, that of the “Fundamental Attribution Error.” In brief, this happens because of our tendency to attribute favorable outcomes for ourselves as caused by our excellent internal qualities (fairness, hard work, perspicacity, etc.) while seeing our failures as caused by external forces (misfortune, envy, etc.) beyond our control.
However, when we view the outcomes of other people we use the opposite view – we tend to see the others’ success as a product of luck and their failure as a reflection of their less than admirable qualities: incompetence, laziness or something else within their control. En Garde!

*An Aesop's fable, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002)

Friday Fable. Abstemius' (Sir Roger L'Estrange) “An Eele and a Snake”*

Posted by jlubans on January 29, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Jellied eels, a favorite London Cockney snack.

“You and I are so alike, says the Eele to the Snake, that methinks we should be somewhat a-kin; and yet they that persecute me, are afraid of you. What should be the reason of this? Oh (says the Snake) because no body does me an Injury but I make him smart for't.”
“In all Controversies they come off best that keep their Adversaries in fear of a Revenge.”

So, bite your tongue or bite the attackers head off? Abstemius (15th century) suggests that the fear – not necessarily action - of “a Revenge” is what keeps the adversary at bay. Snarling like a junkyard dog will get you labeled as uptight, thin-skinned, paranoid, and, horrors, un-cool!
In the workplace we're told to turn away, that karma will come around and bite the maligner. Eventually.
Instead, cultivate humor as your vehicle of revenge, the snake’s stinging bite; petty people abhor ridicule.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “The Old Man and Death”*

Posted by jlubans on January 10, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “Ooh, ahh, er, I meant that figuratively, no, no, liter…aw hell you know what I meant….”

“AN OLD MAN was employed in cutting wood in the forest, and, in carrying the faggots to the city for sale one day, became very wearied with his long journey. He sat down by the wayside, and throwing down his load, besought ‘Death’ to come. ‘Death’ immediately appeared in answer to his summons and asked for what reason he had called him. The Old Man hurriedly replied, ‘That, lifting up the load, you may place it again upon my shoulders.’”

WHEN ALL seems lost and you are feeling particularly sorry for yourself, don’t send out those invitations for a pity party just yet. Instead lift that load – whatever it may be - and go on for a few more miles. Once arrived, you might be in luck: the price of wood is high and going higher. “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” sayeth Mr. Shakespeare.

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

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: , Alberta, Canada

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

Posted by jlubans on August 28, 2015  •  Leave comment (2)

Caption: Illustration by ARTHUR RACKHAM, 1912.

“A Man and a Satyr became friends, and determined to live together. All went well for a while, until one day in winter-time the Satyr saw the Man blowing on his hands. ‘Why do you do that?’ he asked. ‘To warm my hands,’ said the Man. That same day, when they sat down to supper together, they each had a steaming hot bowl of porridge, and the Man raised his bowl to his mouth and blew on it. ‘Why do you do that?’ asked the Satyr. ‘To cool my porridge,’ said the Man. The Satyr got up from the table. ‘Good-bye,’ said he, ‘I'm going: I can't be friends with a man who blows hot and cold with the same breath.’”

Isn’t this just how some friendships come to an end, over some inane misunderstanding? The man “blows hot and cold”, so the satyr abandons the friendship. Why does he not accept that the same action might be the result of two different causes?
A long time friend of mine ceased being a friend. Why, I have no reason. Was it me or was it a series of things that resulted in his turning away?
Maybe the man in the fable should have said to the satyr something like, “Are you serious? You want to quit being friends because I blow on my hands and on my soup, an easily explainable behavior?”
May not make any difference, but worth a try.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

© John Lubans 2015

Days in the Woods

Posted by jlubans on April 24, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Adventure-based education (aka “experiential learning”) can be helpful in creating high performing teams. However, going out in the woods, doing “trust falls”, or rappelling down a cliff does not result automatically in world-class teams. From years of personal experience with adventure-based learning, I have found that these elements are essential:
1, Willing participants. Just because your boss says you must is not enough of a reason to be enthused about a treetop “high ropes” course or any other adventure program. All of my adventure learning activities, personal and organizational, were voluntary. Of course, being there does not suggest an uncritical acceptance nor that your experience will be superior to a traditional indoor class - it is very much up to the open and willing individual learner to take what he or she learns and make the transfer from the woods to the workplace.
Reminiscing over a group photo from my former employer’s first adventure event - an overnight rock climb at Hanging Rock State Park - I see several faces of people who were instrumental in leading our successful change initiative. They were open and willing to look at how we worked and how we could do better. I like to think that what happened at Hanging Rock influenced us in positive ways; maybe it was only to confirm how we were going to work together, but I think we did see each other differently – in good ways - after that weekend at Hanging Rock.
Caption: Established new relationships in this wildly fun activity, everyone getting up on a two-foot square platform. Try doing this while maintaining the hierarchy!

2. Tuned-in facilitators (the people leading the event.) These leaders have to focus discussion so it addresses the reasons for being there – backpacking or the rock climb or the “low ropes” is not the real reason. Mastering the two person “Wild Woozy” – something I have never done – is an accomplishment, but it is not the end reason for the activity.
How you and your partner worked together is the learning. In my rock climb example, the real reason was to give permission to try out new ways, to support each other, to take risks and to realize there were multiple ways of doing something. And, it was important for peers and supervisors to see each other in ways different from an office setting.

3. Peers as participants. The people with whom you work need to be present. In my case, while the adventures were offered to the organization at large, most of the participants were my co-workers and divisional supervisors. On a rare occasion, we would have a participant from an external group; that was good, but I realized the limitations of one person’s being able to do much of anything – beyond personal growth - with what she learned from our day(s) in the woods.

4. The leader as participant. This is risky. The boss might slip and fall into a bog hole and be left wet and feeling like a doofus. Or the leader might struggle up the cliff acrophobically, for all to see.
Caption: I had a hard time making it to the top.
A junior staff member turned out to be a prodigious rock climber and did the climb twice; stopping both times to relish the open landscape view 2500 feet below. Here’s another picture of one joyful participant reaching the top. I wish I’d felt that way!
Or, the boss’s idea for solving a problem might be ignored by the group. You, the boss, have to be ready for that to happen. When group members see the leader supporting an idea, regardless of source, they understand the boss appreciates good ideas from all over, not just from the titled. Once the staff see you more as a colleague and less a supervisor, the more likely they will become active participants in your change initiative.

5. A real challenge. There has to be a manageable and meaningful challenge for every participant. You may relish dangling from a rope against the cold granite of a cliff face; but you might not be the happiest camper when waking up in a wet sleeping bag, in a drenching rain and figuring out, with the group, how to start a fire, keep dry and get hot food.
And challenges do not always require a win. Whether a participant makes it to the top or not is less important than for the difficulty encountered and dealt with along the way. Adventure learning adds challenge through perceived risk.
Caption: The safety drill before rappelling into the Hurricane Island quarry.
In the rock climb, we’re harnessed in, wearing helmets, with belayers at the top and bottom of the climb; injuries - beyond scrapes and bruises - are highly unlikely. Most of us will be challenged – to the point of trembling legs - and if we make it, we’ll be exhilarated (I did it!) and happy it’s over. We may be surprised at our meeting the challenge head on; even better if we thought we could not!
What made the difference? It’s something to think about the next time we find ourselves up against it at work.
And, if we do not make it up the cliff – “failure” - we’ll also have something to think about. What got in the way? What would I do differently? Did I use all available resources?
20130424-kayaks from hellTulle.jpeg
Caption: Setting forth into the unknown. An open water crossing, Penobscot Bay, Maine Coast.

6. Team-based adventure. Being there has to be more about the team, the group than the individual. That is why the “Wall” activity, which cannot be performed solo, is a better team builder than is the infamous Pamper Pole.
While I learned a great deal about myself from my Outward Bound expeditions (with strangers) I also learned about how groups evolve and about leadership and followership and about how a group may fail to develop. I learned how unusual it is for a group to “click”, to feel good about itself and not worry about who’s top dog or if everyone is doing his or her fair share of cooking or rowing or cleaning up.

7. A continuum of learning. Finally, your adventure has to be part of a staff development program that builds on and reinforces what is learned with each adventure. Our organizational approach to staff development was, alack, more hit and miss, with few offerings – we did not have a training platform on which to build. Follow up seminars could have introduced theories and discussion about group dynamics, conflict resolutions, team development, and communication. Another time.

For more on this topic, see Leading from the Middle’s Chapter 19: “A Gift from the Woods” and Chapter 4: “Letting Go: A Reflection on Teams That Were.”

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Crow and the Serpent”*

Posted by jlubans on August 08, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

“A CROW in great want of food saw a Serpent asleep in a sunny nook, and flying down, greedily seized him. The Serpent, turning about, bit the Crow with a mortal wound. In the agony of death, the bird exclaimed: ‘O unhappy me! who have found in that which I deemed a happy windfall the source of my destruction.’"

And, so it can be at work. Sometimes, in haste, what we think is the best solution turns out to be the worst. The difficulty for the manager is knowing when to “leap” on a solution and when to “look” and think twice. In an organization of “yes people”, accommodators, and compromisers, the lack of spirited disagreement can lead to poor choices.

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

N.B. ”Leading Change”: A seminar on leading and following change in libraries and other organizations.
Sponsored by the University of Latvia. August 25-28. By John Lubans & Sheryl Anspaugh. At Ratnieki Conference Center, near Sigulda, Latvia. Instruction in English. Cost: 170 €. Includes tuition, accommodation, meals and transport from Riga.

On August 29th there’s a special reason to be in Latvia: the grand opening of the National Library of Latvia in Riga!

@Copyright 2014 John Lubans

The Kindness of Strangers

Posted by jlubans on June 02, 2015  •  Leave comment (1)

Caption: Stopp!

Eighty kilometers south of Tartu, Estonia, we found ourselves stranded in Valga. I last saw our bus from about 50 yards back as I ran after it, waving my arms and yelling for it to Stop! (or Stopp! in Estonian.)
No big deal, a sunny day, surely another bus would be along soon? We’ll laugh about this in a day or so.
True, but the missed bus had my backpack and our suitcase on it. And if the driver did not drop those items off in Tartu – why should he? - then they’d wind up in St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, Russia. Imagine how long it would take, if ever, to get those items out of Russia.
So, after recovering our breaths - the absconding bus still visible a quarter mile down the highway - Sheryl and I schemed how to catch it. Perhaps a private car could head it off? But reason prevailed. The bus driver didn’t stop when he could see me in his rear view mirrors, so was unlikely to stop for someone waiving him down from a speeding car! Besides, where was I going to commandeer a private car?
Our next thought was to get a message to the bus terminal in Tartu so the agent could get our luggage off. We asked a taxi driver but he did not speak English. He did tell us there was either a train or a bus in a few hours, pointing to a video display on the side of the shared train/bus station building. This was Sunday so not many people were around; the station ticket offices were closed.
Then we spotted a young red-haired woman on the train platform. She said she spoke English “a little bit.” She quickly understood our predicament and willingly googled the bus company’s numbers and called, first to Riga (our starting point) and then to Tartu, speaking in rapid Estonian.
A complete stranger, she helped us. She arranged to have the luggage taken off the bus and left at the Tartu bus station. “These things happen,” she said consolingly. With a wave, our angel got into a waiting car and went out of our lives.
Waiting for the next bus - in the dappled sunshine of a little park in Valga - I thought about kindness. And that I tell my classes early on about how and why humans cooperate, that our inclination is to help each other. Stuff may get in the way of our doing so, but our first reaction is to help. And, I go on, our willingness to help strangers is why we have survived over the millenia. Undoubtedly, there are humans with more of the selfish gene (if it exists) and less willing to help – the jerks – but for the most part we have an innate desire to help each other.
Our abandonment and rescue in Valga relates to an anthropological study discussed on NPR.
The lead author explained: "Sharing and cooperation is crucial to survival … So [tribe members] evolved mechanisms to cooperate with unrelated individuals."
The researchers studied existing tribes of hunter-gatherers and their cooperative relationships with non-family members. There’s a very practical reason: “hunters only find food about 75 percent of the time. That would mean a family would go hungry one day out of four. But that doesn't happen because unrelated neighbors learned to share their food.”
And interestingly there was support in this study for the “Collective Intelligence” result of another study on why some teams are smarter than others. That latter study found that, among a couple other factors, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men.
The anthropological study found that when males and females have equal roles in decision-making – including which tribes to join – the result is an optimal mix of family and strangers. Instead of rejecting anyone not a family member the mixed tribes of family and strangers cooperate and strengthen their likelihood of survival.
While our red haired angel of Valga is far away from the Palanan Agta tribe of the Philippines and Congo's Mbendjele BaYaka tribe, still there’s an exclusively human link - the kindness of strangers.

© John Lubans 2015


Posted by jlubans on October 17, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Krylov’s tiny pug chasing the elephant. Moscow. 197

ONCE upon a time the Elephant was high in favor at the Court of the Lion, King of beasts.
All the animals of the forest began to gossip, and many were the guesses they made as to how the Elephant had become such a favorite.
"He is not a handsome beast," the animals all agreed, "he is not even amusing.
And as for his habits, he certainly has very bad manners!"
"If he only had a brush like mine," said the Fox, proudly whisking his fine, bushy tail, "I should not have thought it so strange!"
"Or if he had big, strong claws like mine," rejoined the Bear, "it would not have been so extraordinary.
But, as we all know, the poor beast has no claws at all!"
"You don't think, do you, that his tusks got him into favor?" broke in the Ox. "Is it possible that they were mistaken for horns, like mine?"
"Do you mean to tell me," demanded the Ass, shaking his ears, "that you really none of you know what it is that has made the Elephant so popular at Court?
Why, I guessed the reason right away! If it had not been for his beautiful long ears, he would never have got into favor!"
This was not the only time Krylov would use the elephant as a foil for pretentiousness.
His THE INQUISITIVE MAN introduced the phrase, “the elephant in the room”.
And, there’s the one on the
Krylov’s technique is first to show the jealousy of the other courtiers – how could the elephant be popular when he lacks their attributes: a “fine, bushy tail”, or “big strong claws” or the Ox’s horns? Besides he is ill mannered, neither handsome nor amusing!
Case closed!
But, not to be outdone, the Ass knows exactly why. Like himself, the elephant has “beautiful long ears”, the obvious reason for King Lion’s esteem.
Of course, Krylov is mocking the Czar’s courtiers and their petty rivalries and jealousies. Doing so got him into trouble, but being the Czar’s favorite, his excommunications were brief and he returned to have the last laugh.
Let’s leave the Court and take a peek at any C-suite to see who is riding high and who is not.
Is there much difference between Krylov’s animal courtiers and the C-suite denizens? Is the level of envy and jealousy amongst all of those in or out of favor any less in the C-suite?
What then is the leader’s role? Smile and say, “It’s just office politics”? Or does the leader set the standard of never talking behind someone’s back, of never criticizing someone to others?
What would you do?

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

“A FOWLER AND A PARTRIDGE” by Sir Roger L'Estrange* (1692)

Posted by jlubans on March 09, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustration by CHARLES ROBINSON, 1912.

A Fowler had taken a Partridge, and the Bird offer’d her self to decoy as many of her Companions into the Snare as she could, upon Condition that he would give her Quarter.
No, says he, you shall die the rather for that very Reason, because you would be so base as to betray your Friends to save your self.

THE MORAL. Of all scandalous and lewd Offices, that of a Traitor is certainly the basest; for it undermines the very Foundations of Society.
And so it can be at work.
Has this ever happened to you?
After a leadership change, you find yourself on the outs with the new leader.
Your many years of good effort and achievements are now for naught.
So, in defense and to retain some dignity you turn to a close colleague someone you’ve worked side by side with in improving the organization, vastly for the better.
You ask that person if they will stand by you.
The response, indirectly, not to your face, is “No”. No explanation is offered.
Like L'Estrange’s Partridge, the trusted colleague is looking out for Number One; no risking their future!
I wonder if the betrayer has any regrets? Is the treachery worth it?
It wasn’t for the Partridge.

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

For more fables to guide one’s leadership or followership, get your copy of . Or get your library to order a copy. Just tell the information desk you want the book!

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

“Slackers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your YouTube”

Posted by jlubans on April 04, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Frederick dreaming. Leo Lionni. 1967

There may yet be hope for the torpid among us. A research study in the prestigious Nature magazine, as reported in an NPR story, “Before You Judge Lazy Workers, Consider They Might Serve A Purpose” offers up some unconventional insights on slackerism. (As a side note, the ant researcher is a university professor of agriculture and thereby has considerably more credibility than, say, a behavioral psychologist mashing something up for a TED talk.)
Slackers don’t get a lot of good press. Usually they serve as a contrast to the strivers, the ambitious, and the contributing members of society. Well, it appears that slackerism is to be found in other places than in Mom’s basement bedroom. The insect world is full of laziness; it’s abuzz with it. Observe the meandering ant, ogling the sights, while his mates get down to it pulling 5 times their weight in food or behold the snoozing ant while dozens of intertwined ants sacrifice all in service as a bridge for their bretheren rushing home with the bacon. NPR’s story states, “At any given moment, … half of (the) ants are basically doing nothing. They're grooming, aimlessly walking around or just lying still.”
How can this be? We are taught a life’s lesson in Aesop’s story of the
and the industrious, yet heartless, ants. Speaking of Aesop, does not Greece and her unforgiving debtors come to mind? Aesop’s counsel is direct, goof off and die. Not to be outdone, America’s Poor Richard offers up “the sleeping fox catches no poultry, there will be sleeping enough in the grave!” (emphasis added)
Well, there may be good reason for the fox to sleep.
Less final are the derisive smirks and scowls of the busy bees in our cubicle hives as I game, Facebook, and YouTube away the day.
From the Nature study’s abstract: “Evidence of the replacement of active workers by inactive workers has been found in ant colonies. Thus, the presence of inactive workers increases the long-term persistence of the colony at the expense of decreasing short-term productivity.”
In other words, please, this suggests that slackers have purpose, a raison d'être if you will; they are simply conserving their energy for when their number is called; for when they get to strut their stuff.
On the other hand, the office mate gazing off into the middle distance might be more poet than slacker. They might even be like Leo Lionni’s Frederick, the story of a poet/musician/raconteur Mouse, who, in winter, summons up images of warm summer days and happy times for the other mice.
When the ever-industrious-you is worn out, turned out to pasture, or found face down in a cubicle, the slacker next door is going to step up and in for you and make sure your pension or disability check arrives on time.
It seems slackerism is a component of natural selection or evolution; once the strivers in an ant colony burn out or die, the slackers pick up the slack, so to speak.
So, the next time you find yourself muttering that the bum in the next cubicle is not doing his share and you have to do more work because of his laziness, there might be a good reason for it. Alas, since humans may be more ambiguous than ants, “(t)he person slacking off at work might be a genuine slacker — or might be thinking through a complex problem. Sometimes being effective means getting perspective.” Let’s hope it is the latter and not the former.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “JUPITER AND THE TORTOISE”*

Posted by jlubans on December 25, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “Bruņurupucis” (Turtle) in Winter at Jurmula Beach in Latvia, heading out, house and all, to the Baltic Sea.

“Jupiter was about to marry a wife, and determined to celebrate the event by inviting all the animals to a banquet. They all came except the Tortoise, who did not put in an appearance, much to Jupiter's surprise. So when he next saw the Tortoise he asked him why he had not been at the banquet. ‘I don't care for going out,’ said the Tortoise; ‘there's no place like home.’ Jupiter was so much annoyed by this reply that he decreed that from that time forth the Tortoise should carry his house upon his back, and never be able to get away from home even if he wished to.”

So, now we know how the turtle got its carapace; well in advance of the tiny house movement. And, it goes to show that a blasé answer might get you more blowback than you want. Be not a dolt; mind your manners. There’s a reason.
I recall how - when answering Suggestions and Questions in a public forum - sometimes I’d make a supposedly funny reply instead of taking the question seriously. While I apologized, I probably should have had a more sensitive ear. Taking the question seriously, I’d follow a different path for repairing something broken or fixing a policy or situation in need of improvement rather than dismissing it out of hand for a cheap laugh. Sort of like Jupiter’s turtle, stupid things said and done can become a burden.

*Source: AESOP’S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

© John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable: La Fontaine’s “THE (HOUSE) OF SOCRATES.”*

Posted by jlubans on May 24, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130524-small house for Soc.jpeg
Caption: Reminiscent of Diogenes abode** this house might have appealed to Socrates.

“A house was built by Socrates
That failed the public taste to please.
Some blamed the inside; some, the out; and all
Agreed that the apartments were too small.
Such rooms for him, the greatest sage of Greece!
'I ask,' said he, 'no greater bliss
Than real friends to fill e'en this.'
And reason had good Socrates
To think his house too large for these.
A crowd to be your friends will claim,
Till some unhandsome test you bring.
There's nothing plentier than the name;
There's nothing rarer than the thing.”

No fool celebrity, Socrates knew about the scarcity and evanescence of true friendship. He built his house for his few “real” friends.
And so it goes at work. If all of our friends are from work, then our retirement may well be a lonely one. A few of those friendships do survive, but most do not. Maintaining relationships is a struggle, to be sure. Once absent, the heart may not grow fonder; instead it may grow forgetful.
And that works both ways. Like my retired university friend responded when I asked him why he had moved to a distant retirement community instead of living in the one preferred by his university colleagues: “I had to work with those bastards for forty years!”

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882.

20130524-LaFontaine HouseDiogenes.jpeg
**Caption: Diongenes who lived in a barrel, is the butt of a practical joke by Max und Moritz (Katzenjammer). The joke backfires, flattening the two mischief makers.

Sale extended for Christmas and New Year's

Posted by jlubans on December 01, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Another reason to get your copy of Fables: Because it is illustrated by the illustrious Béatrice Coron! See her fabulous animated art for Dave Mathews with the songs “That Girl Is You” and “Again and Again”.
So, due to popular demand (see how easy it is to slip into advert talk?) act now and take 30% off your order of Fables for Leaders, through December, by clicking on this button:

Or, you can buy a full price copy at AMAZON.

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

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE SNAKE AND THE WASP”*

Posted by jlubans on February 08, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

“A wasp landed on the head of a snake and began to harass him, stinging him again and again. As he was suffering from terrible pain but couldn't get rid of his enemy, the snake crawled into the road and looked for an oncoming wagon. He then put his head under the wheel as he said, 'I die together with my enemy!' 
This is a fable for people who share their troubles with their enemies.”

Dying with your enemy seems extreme; is there not an alternative step to avoid this Lose/Lose outcome?
Since Aesop’s animals can talk, the snake should find out what’s bugging the wasp, what is the source of the conflict? It’s doubtful the wasp is after the snake as food – there’s some other reason for it to afflict so much suffering on a fellow creature. So, identify the grievance. If some concession or compromise can be made, then make it. Alternatively, instead of the snake crawling into traffic he could look for water, dive in and be rid of the wasp.
Now that’s all easily said. Advice giving is vastly different from advice taking! I worked in an academic setting for many years. Among the faculty there were legendary feuds, some never resolved until the death or departure of the combatants – indeed, they died with their enemy. And, I’ve seen departmental faculty who do not talk to each other, ever, because of some philosophical difference. Not exactly dying with your enemy, more a mutual suffering. And, I’ve seen the two enemy camps waste creative effort in trying to enlist support through complaining ad naseum to any one trapped into listening. I have to admit we in the library have our own versions of petty, hardly irreconcilable, conflict. Those spiteful jealousies and that lack of trust are detrimental to the institution. Our service and production suffer, decisions are avoided or delayed, and resources are not well used. Nor are readers as well served as they might be.
So, to take my advice for the snake and the wasp, why, in my time, did we not address it? Why did I not approach the opposition and open the discussion about what’s going on and how can we get past it? I think it would have been easy to do, if only we had done it!

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


Posted by jlubans on June 15, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Happy Days

An ancient dame a firkin sees,
In which the rich Falernian lees
Send from the nobly tinctured shell
A rare and most delicious smell!
There when a season she had clung
With greedy nostrils to the bung,
“O spirit exquisitely sweet!”
She cried, “how perfectly complete
Were you of old, and at the best,
When ev’n your dregs have such a zest!”

They’ll see the drift of this my rhyme,
Who knew the author in his prime.
To appreciate – even savor -
this fable, maybe you have to be of an age. One moralist has it as “The memory of a good deed lives”, but I would say this is more about memories of good times not long gone.
For whatever reason, health or money, the good old days are gone. No more partying for our “ancient dame.”
And our rhyme setter makes a personal allusion, as to being quite the party animal when “in his prime.”
So, for me this is about aging but not yet “quite over the hill”.

The Comedies of Terence. And the Fables of Phædrus. Literally translated into English prose with notes, by Henry Thomas Riley. To which is added a metrical translation of Phædrus, by Christopher Smart. London: George Bell & Sons. 1887.
Like these weekly fables? Read more in Lubans’ book.
Or, if you are a frugal rate payer, get your public library to buy a copy.
© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Friday Fable. Lubans’ “Fable of the Ruined Life”

Posted by jlubans on June 24, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)


Once upon a time a woman built a beautiful home on a forested lot. She was proud of it, especially the view from her windows that looked down a gently sloping arboreal hillside, much of it on the adjoining unbuilt lot.
It belonged to someone, who, because of a Crookedness in the system, had kept the lot as an investment rather than building on it per the property rules. More than a few earnest buyers of that lot were chagrined when their offers were spurned.
Of course, the woman with the beautiful view did not complain. For two decades, she just enjoyed the view.
Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end. A real estate boom convinced the holdout owner to sell.
And soon the bulldozers and chain saws were tearing down trees and digging a foundation that ran from one end of the lot to the other. Each day the obscuring walls crept up and up until the view was no more. The anguished neighbor wailed to one and all, “My life is ruined!”
Yes, the new mega mansion ruined her view. But is there not more to a life than a view? Perhaps it was hyperbole on her part.
Moral: Like some realtors forewarn would-be-buyers of mountain homes, “You can’t buy the view.

And so it can be in real life at home and at work. Does our happiness come from outside ourselves or from inside? Where does one’s motivation come from? External or internal? Here’s a telling quote: "The local high school … wasn't of particularly high quality, and I was not intellectually stimulated or motivated there. In fact, I became disinterested, started skipping class and feigning illness to avoid going to school."
Note where the responsibility for stimulation and motivation lies.
As a blogger under the long, long, long tail of the blogosphere, I need to have a better reason for writing than hoping for a large number of clicks to my blog. Indeed, I derive an inner satisfaction from this very personal act called writing. Yes, recognition is very nice, but there have to be other motivators for why one tries to do a good job; it can’t only be because you want a large number of “likes” on Facebook.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Phaedrus’ THE EVILS OF WEALTH*

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

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

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

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


© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Friday Fable. Krylov’s “THE PEASANT AND THE LABOURER”*

Posted by jlubans on November 25, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

“AN old Peasant and a Labourer were going home through
the forest to the village one evening, in the time of the hay-harvest, when they suddenly found themselves face to face with a bear. Scarcely had the Peasant time to utter a cry when the bear was upon him ; it threw him down, rolled him over, made his bones crack again, and began looking about for a soft spot at which to commence its meal. Death draws near to the old man.
‘Stefan, my kinsman, my dear friend, do not desert me!’ he cries, from under the bear, to the Labourer.
Then Stefan, putting forth all his strength like a new Hercules, splits the bear's head in two with his axe, and drives his pitchfork into its bowels. The bear howls, and falls dying. Our bear expires.
The danger having vanished, the Peasant gets up, and soundly scolds the Labourer. Our poor Stefan is astounded. ‘Pardon me, what have I done?’
‘What have you done, you blockhead ? I'd like to know
what you are so absurdly pleased about; why, you've gone and stuck the bear in such a manner that you've utterly ruined his fur!’"
More joke than fable, the story does help us understand that essential human element, humor. If incongruity is what makes us laugh, then this story is a perfect illustration. Instead of the Peasant falling on Stefan’s – the Bear Slayer - neck, kissing both cheeks and promising him a share of the harvest and his eldest daughter’s hand in marriage, he finds Fault with a capital F.
In the workplace, the Peasant is the never-satisfied Boss. For whatever reason, this Boss never gives you credit; indeed he is set against you and resents your bear-slaying successes. He’s made up his mind and if you have enough sense and opportunity you will spruce up the resume and start looking to escape to another organization. Don’t be like Stefan, a beleaguered serf, a slave, who cannot leave. You must flee – because you can - at the first opportunity.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Lubans’ Neptune and the Curlew.

Posted by jlubans on December 05, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Littoral Curlew/Sandpiper.

ONCE Upon a time the curlew resided in Neptune’s pelagic kingdom. Instead of feathers, the curlew had scales and swam in the deep ocean. While he loved the water, his curiosity took him ever toward the surface. Skimming along, he could see the sandy shore glistening under a blue sky. He dove down to tell the other fish of his adventures.
Neptune was jealous and annoyed with Curlew’s description of the wonders beyond the sea. He made the curlew promise not to return to the shore.
Well, as you can imagine, it was not long before the curlew once again was swimming in the rushing surf, ogling the new sights. Alas, this time he became stranded on a sand bar, a fish out of water, gasping his last. Neptune intervened and spared Curlew but angry over the broken promise, changed him into a bird and banished him to the water’s edge, never to return to the depths of the sea.
So, the curlew now skirts the shore and wades into the water, torn between the water and the land, plaintively calling to the unhearing sea.

Moral: Set your sights to the achievable lest you perish in the pursuit of the impossible.

Leading from the Middle citation:
I ran across Michael F. Bemis’ ‪”Library and Information Science: A (bibliographic) Guide to Key Literature and Sources.” The American Library Association published it in 2013. Here’s what Mr. Bemis thinks:
‬‬…. “The ‘contrarian’ in the title stems from the author’s nontraditional view of leadership. Again and again, he shows the limiting nature of the command-and-control model used in a majority of organizations, which basically means that the person at the top gives the orders and the loyal underlings are expected to march in lockstep as they carry them out. Lubans’ view is one of true empowerment, in which everyone in the organizational hierarchy is not only allowed but expected to contribute opinions, ideas and suggestions. Quite simply the author argues for a democracy within the library, rather than a dictatorship.”

A good reason to get a copy for Christmas for your organization.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014


Posted by jlubans on May 18, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: The expiring pike as Admiral, by E. M. Rayev, 1961

A CONCEITED Pike took it into its head to exercise the functions of a cat. I do not know whether the Evil One had plagued it with envy, or whether, perhaps, it had grown tired of fishy fare ; but, at all events, it thought fit to ask the Cat to take it out to the chase, with the intention of catching a few mice in the warehouse.
But, my dear friend," Vaska (the cat) says to the Pike, " do you understand that kind of work? Take care, gossip, that you don't incur disgrace. It isn't without reason that they say, 'The work ought to be in the master's power.' "
"Why really, gossip, what a tremendous affair it is!
Mice, indeed ! Why, I have been in the habit of catching perches! "
" Oh, very well. Come along!"
They went; they lay each in ambush.
The Cat thoroughly enjoyed itself; made a hearty meal; then went to look after its comrade.
Alas! the Pike, almost destitute of life, lay there gasping, its tail nibbled away by the mice.
So the Cat, seeing that its comrade had undertaken a task quite beyond its strength, dragged it back, half dead, to its pond.
The Pike, we are told, represents Admiral Tchichakof, who was inexplicably put in charge of army troops to prevent Napoleon’s escape from Russia. Tchichakof, a fish out of water so to speak, was surprised by the French soldiers and Napoleon eluded capture.
Sometimes, not always, the people who know what they are doing should be left alone to do their job.
But, then there are those times when the experts are stuck like so many sticks in the mud and an outsider can make things happen.
That happy outcome depends fully on the outsider’s getting the full support of the troops, of the staff doing the work. In Krylov’s fable, Tchichakof being a prickly sort with British mannerisms was not one to rally the troops.
So he goes down in history as a failure.
But, I have to return to one of my most frequent questions when faced with a failed employee.
Who hired him? Does not that person or committee share the blame?

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Friday Fable. Abstemius “An Eele and a Snake”*

Posted by jlubans on October 27, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Papercut by Béatrice Coron, 2016**

“You and I are so alike, says the Eele to the Snake, that methinks we should be somewhat a-kin; and yet they that persecute me, are afraid of you. What should be the reason of this? Oh (says the Snake) because no body does me an Injury but I make him smart for't.

In all Controversies they come off best that keep their Adversaries in fear of a Revenge.”

So, bite your tongue or bite the attackers head off? Abstemius suggests that the fear – not necessarily action - of “a Revenge” is what keeps the adversary at bay. Snarling like a junkyard dog will get you labeled as uptight, thin-skinned, paranoid, and, horrors, un-cool!
In the workplace we're told to turn away, that karma will come around and bite the maligner. Eventually.
Instead, cultivate humor as your vehicle of revenge, the snake’s stinging bite; petty people abhor ridicule.

*Source: Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists: Abstemius's Fables by Sir Roger L'Estrange.

**This fable appears on p. 187 of “Fables for Leaders”. I include it to whet your appetite to see more of Béatrice Coron’s captivating illustrations and Alise Šnēbaha’s creative book design.)

Fables for Leaders, with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron and designed by ALISE ŠNĒBAHA, launched September 30, 2017 ($19.99- NEW PRICE pending).
Ezis Press
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783

BOOKBABY’s BOOKSHOP! The BookBaby listing features a “See Inside” the book.
NEW PRICE at BookBaby: $19.99

© Copyright 2017 John Lubans

The Artful Skiver

Posted by jlubans on March 31, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: How to be at work when not there./b

Skive, in British slang, began as a term for skipping school, playing hooky.
A noun and a verb, it now applies to filching time, from family or the boss at work, for personal use.
It’s a form of theft justified by the claim that it is earned and deserved.
Skiving ranges from taking sick leave for a home improvement project to holding down an esoteric full time job. We all know skivers (slackers) but few of us can make a full time job of it.
But, I had a few workers like that. One was in charge of keeping track of numbers for reporting out to other agencies, probably at most a few hours a week job. Somehow he’d managed to make it into a full time job!
While this worker was not a direct report, I still feel foolish about letting that happen!
At least one skiving study shows it is “borrowing” paid time for personal use ranging from online shopping to viewing salacious web sites.
The study" writing in the WSJ,
explains: “The average person spends 1.5 to three hours a day at work on “private activities” (70% of U.S. internet traffic passing through porn sites is done during working hours, and 60% of all online purchases are made during working hours.)”
While some of us may “tsk, tsk” about this and notch it up to the untrustworthiness of mankind, there may far more unsettling reasons for this behavior.
One is that organizations (and families) expect too much of its workers: the company may profess a desire for balance between life and work, but all the signals point to work comes first, personal time is second and best not taken.
Another reason is that many organizations claim to be democratic but in practice are hierarchies with top down decision making.
Theory X thinking rules the roost: if the worker is unsupervised he will take advantage of the organization; coercion is what makes people work.
You can sugar coat it, but many workplace bosses do not trust workers and give them little latitude for thinking, scheduling and working. Our workplaces are largely systems of masters and servants.
So, just like in ancient times, the clever slave tricks the slave owner. Indeed, there’s a literary genre around the cunning slave (e.g. Aesop) or servant (e.g. Jeeves) getting the upper hand on the feckless master.
And so it can be with the supervisor and the skiver.
One HR representative offered clues for spotting skivers at work – this is HR as truant officer.
There are several clues: one is the jacket on the chair (illustrated). The skiver leaves it to suggest he or she is at work but has stepped away for a moment and will be back soon. Well it may be two or three hours.
Another, looking-busy technique is to walk around with a piece of paper in hand.
That suggests a mission to clarify a memo, or to answer some important question.
In reality, the skiver is headed out the door for a latte and a bit of a rest on a park bench.
So, is it always going to be this way at work?
It needn’t be. We know from a simple experiment with boys clubs back in the 50s, that people work best under a democratic style of leadership.
That means the boss trusting and collaborating with workers. This results in high production and acceptance of responsibility by workers. Most importantly, when the boss leaves, the workers continue to work and produce.
Under the traditional HR autocratic model (close supervision and little trust in the worker) production can be goosed into high gear but once the boss leaves the goofing off begins, including bullying.
There are two options:
Leave things as they are and assume that skiving is a “cost” to the modern organization and trying to stop it will result in even lower morale and a further drop in production.
Or, we recognize that the workplace needs improvement:
Democratize the workplace (what this Leading from the Middle blog and book
Leading from the Middle.
are about).
Make work meaningful.
Give people freedom to make work related decisions.
Give people reason to believe their job has a future.
Work towards mutual support and respect.
And, leaders should model and encourage achieving a balance between the personal and the professional, not the latter ever ascendant.
My daughter is an Oregon State Trooper – a dangerous, stressful profession with a reputation for burn out.
She told me how impressed she was by the agency leadership’s repeated emphasis on work-life balance at the training academy. At the graduation ceremony, the commander spoke of the crucial need for family time at length in front of the many proud families in attendance.
Not only was it stressed in theory, once she got to her assigned station at the State Capitol, it is practiced.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Friday Fable. Lubans’ “The Fat Baron”*

Posted by jlubans on August 15, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Book cover by Frank Lieberman (1946)

With the collusion of a corrupt king, a baron plundered his neighbors. The baron grew fat; the neighbors waned thin. After the death of the monarch, the baron was brought to justice and jailed. The judge restored the ill-gotten gains to the neighbors and the remainder he put into the public treasury. The baron’s family pleaded with the judge to return this wealth; it had not been stolen - rather these were “investments” made through the family’s hard work and should not be confiscated.
The judge pondered and then remembered the Judgment of Bocchyris.
His verdict: Just like the plundered neighbors who daily saw the baron grow large while they starved, so now the baron’s family could come to the treasury once a year and gaze upon “their” money. And so was the family’s wish granted but not in the way they intended.

*Laura Gibbs, the Latin scholar, who recently wrote about the Judgment of Bocchyris, inspired my fable as did a recent news article about a crook’s family in Detroit claiming as their’s, the cash and other property seized by the police.

N.B. ”Leading Change”: A seminar on leading and following change in libraries and other organizations. Sponsored by the University of Latvia. August 25-28. By John Lubans & Sheryl Anspaugh. At Ratnieki Conference Center, near Sigulda, Latvia. Instruction in English. Cost: 170 €. Includes tuition, accommodation, meals and transport from Riga.

On August 29th there’s a special reason to be in Latvia: the grand opening of the National Library of Latvia in Riga!

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Abstemius's (Sir Roger L'Estrange) “A Wolf and a Porcupine.”*

Posted by jlubans on April 30, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Engraving by Samuel Howitt (1756-1822)

“Your Porcupine and your Hedge-Hog, are somewhat alike, only the Former has longer and sharper Prickles than the Other; and these Prickles he can shoot and dart at an Enemy. There was a Wolf had a mind to be dealing with him, if he could but get him disarm'd first; and so he told the Porcupine in a friendly way, that it did not look well for People in a Time of Peace, to go Arm'd, as if they were in a State of War; and so advis'd him to lay his Bristles aside; for (says he) you may take them up at pleasure. Do you talk of a State of War? says the Porcupine, why, that's my present Case, and the very Reason of my standing to my Arms, so long as a Wolf is in Company.”

“No Man, or State can be safe in Peace, that is no always in readiness to encounter an Enemy in Case of War.”

And what of this fable is irrelevant today? Well, there’s the now disproved claim - made by Aristotle no less - that the porcupine can “shoot” his quills. Otherwise, all relevant. I could comment about the motives of a neighboring nation to where I am living in northern Europe, but I won’t (clever?).
What about the workplace? Well there were times when turf wars would erupt inside and outside the research library in which I worked. One notable example (replayed at many campuses) was the university’s IT (Information Technology) department’s wanting to enlarge its domain; the aggressive and self-aggrandizing IT director salivated over the library’s resources budget. So, while the IT folks might call us paranoid, (Was it Heller who said, “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they’re not out to get you”?) the library’s leader was forewarned and forearmed and stymied the takeover; indeed, he turned the tables and co-opted IT! On some campuses, the library was annexed, unhappily, to IT; but, like our Porcupine, proved to have “prickles” longer and sharper than first anticipated, much to IT’s dismay and chagrin. Many of those shotgun weddings were short-lived because the two cultures were like night and day.

*Source: Abstemius' Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange.

Leading from the Middle Library of the week: University of the Fraser Valley, UVF Library, Abbotsford BC., Canada
If your library lacks a copy, copies are available from ABC-Clio, the publisher.

Friday Fable. Sir Roger L’Estrange’s, “A Hedge-Hog and a Snake”*

Posted by jlubans on November 06, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. These edible hedgehogs would never behave like their brother in this fable.

A Snake was prevail'd upon in a Cold Winter, to take a Hedge-Hog into his Cell; but when he was once in, the Place was so narrow, that the Prickles of the Hedge-Hog were very troublesome to his Companion: so that the Snake told him, he must needs provide for himself somewhere else, for the Hole was not big enough to hold them both. Why then, says the Hedge-Hog, He that cannot Stay, shall do well to Go: But for my own part, I'm e'en Content where I am; and if You be not so too, y'are free to Remove.”
“Possession is Eleven Points of the Law.”

The unwanted houseguest or the guest who overstays his welcome! We’ve all had them. P.G. Wodehouse tells, in a note on the oddities of American life, of an overnight guest who stayed for 15 years. Probably in Chillicothe, Ohio. For some reason Mr. Wodehouse, was taken with the name of this buckeye town. But, I digress.
More relevantly, Grant Burningham’s “Your Worst House Guest” documents dozens of outrageous tales of woe about hedgehog guests. There’s a prevalent theme among the comments on these jeremiads: spineless hosts. If the hapless host showed some gumption and set limits the hedgehog guest would know the score and either get out or behave.
And, I suppose, that’s the way it is in the workplace. Sometimes, when a worker behaves badly, the boss is to blame for making a poor hire and subsequently for not calling the behavior or for not adequately training the miscreant.
“It came seventeen years ago—and to this day
It has shown no intention of going away.”

— Edward Gorey, "The Doubtful Guest"

*Source: Abstemius' Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

Leading from the Middle Library of week: Campbell County Public Library, Gillette, Wyoming, USA

© Copyright John Lubans 2015


Posted by jlubans on January 06, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Bad King John: more interested in hunting than governing.

There was once a certain King who did nothing but tyrannise over his people, ruining the rich and maltreating the poor, so that all his subjects, day and night, implored deliverance from his evil rule.
One day, returning from the chase, he called his people together and said, " Good people, I know that during my whole reign I have been a hard and tyrannical master to you, but I assure you that from henceforward you shall live in peace and at ease, and nobody shall dare to oppress you."
The people were overjoyed at this good news, and forbore to pray for the King's death as formerly.
In a word, this Prince made such an alteration in his conduct that he gained the name of "The Just," and every one began to bless the felicity of his reign.
One day one of his courtiers presumed to ask him the reason of so sudden and remarkable a change, and the King replied:
"As I rode hunting the other day, I saw a dog in pursuit of a fox, and when he had overtaken him he bit of one of his feet; however, the fox, lame as he was, managed to escape into a hole.
The dog, not being able to get him out, left him there ; but he had hardly gone a hundred paces, when a man threw a great stone at him and cracked his skull.
At the same instant the man met a horse that trod on his foot and lamed him forever; and soon after the horse's foot stuck so fast between two stones that he broke his leg in trying to get it out.
Then said I to myself, ' Men are used as they use others. Whosoever does that which he ought not to do, receives that which he is not willing to receive.'”
Most remarkable is the king’s decision to announce he was changing his ways.
Imagine any politician doing that? No, I am not talking about the phony contrition, apology, etc while the promised change never happens.
I speak of a sincere commitment to the golden rule and to listen and to work for the people.
Kind John, depicted, was termed a Bad King because he preferred hunting to governing.
So, a step toward self-government, not necessarily a bad thing. Like the frogs who wanted a king who truly would “govern” them, got what they wanted and then some: a frog-munching stork.
I recall one boss who was so full of idea – many good ones - I was happy, nevertheless, when he stayed away from the office – I finally got time to do my own work!

*Source: Aesop's fables by Aesop; Griset, Ernest Henry, 1844-1907
London ; New York : Cassell, Petter, and Galpin 1874

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

A Different Democracy: The 99% & Boulder (CO) Remembered

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

In last week’s post I spent time with Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond contemplating anarchism. I also visited Walden Two, the BF Skinner utopia book and commune, which, to these eyes, is more dystopic than utopic.
Well, today from Thoreau’s Walden I have shot, boots and all, into the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement***.
You may recall last year, after only a few weeks of protest, many heralded OWS as a new and preferable way of governing, a “(l)eaderless, consensus-based participatory democracy!” That’s what the Economist insinuated in an October 19th, 2011 article.
The article points to the economist David Graeber as the “Anti-Leader” daddy of OWS. Mr. Graeber did anthropological work with the people of a mysterious 10,000-person Madagascar commune, Betafo, who rule themselves through "consensus decision-making.” Business Week summarized Mr. Graeber’s version of Betafo: “an egalitarian society where 10,000 people made decisions more or less by consensus. When necessary, criminal justice was carried out by a mob, but even there a particular sort of consensus pertained: a lynching required permission from the accused's parents!” (Emphasis added.)
Less than two weeks later, the Christian Science Monitor enthused about OWS:
“Is this the era of leaderlessness? Their politics may be diametrically opposed, but the Occupy Wall Street protesters and the tea party activists have one thing in common: a deep distrust of leaders. Are they onto something?”
The article continues: “(OWS) has developed
into an ongoing micro-society with a micro-government that directly exemplifies a principled alternative to the prevailing American order!” Again, emphasis added!

Caption: Unhappy campers?
A year later.
On September 17, 2012, APs Meghan Barr tolled: “Occupy movement in disarray ….”
What happened?
Ms. Barr describes the turmoil: “(OWS) began to disintegrate in rapid fashion last winter, when the weekly meetings in New York City devolved into a spectacle of fistfights and vicious arguments. Punches were thrown and objects were hurled at moderators' heads.”
I unearthed a couple of online accounts corroborating an imminent demise of OWS. These suggest to me that the “disarray” may have been caused by OWS veering from its sole purpose of protesting the very rich into a hundred and fifty other directions.
My previous posts about democratic ideas may be of interest when we think about the OWS democracy and how it might have had better success.
The humble honeybee offers up advice about collective decision-making.
Collaborating Bees have: No dominating leader; A strong incentive to make a good decision (survival); One problem to solve; An agreed upon process; and, Agreement among all. Which of these must-have elements were present or missing in OWS deliberations?
And, as another model, there is the highly democratic New England town meeting.
An early critic of the town meeting, James Madison, groused: "In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob."
It does appear, given Ms. Barr’s report, that the OWS “Assembly” devolved into a “Mob” and that passion wrested the scepter from reason. To stay ruly and on track, The New England town meetings use the very available Robert’s Rules of Order. These Rules of Order, (deemed too hierarchical by OWS) when fairly applied by a neutral moderator, might be more efficacious than up or down “twinkles”.

Caption: Mr. Stephen Gaskin
*** The OWS camper images of dancing, drumming, doping, communing, and protesting take me back to late summer of 1970 when I landed in Boulder, Colorado at a new job. This was the Woodstock-Berkeley-Timothy Leary-era of “drop out, tune in, and turn on” and peace and love.
An estimated 5000 “flower children” populated the town’s student zone, The Hill. Boulder welcomed/accepted/ignored/despised the hippies and pretty much left them alone. However, there were numerous angry business owners who refused street people the use of their toilets. (Instead they came to CUs Norlin Library, where I was in charge of public services, to bathe and toilet.)
I do not recall a leader or parliament or general assembly of this rag-tag, ever-fluctuating, group of 5000. Once, the followers of the prophet “Stephen” did come to town in 50 rainbow school busses. These hippies were organized and had a cause presumably as set forth by their leader, Stephen Gaskin.
Nowadays, Mr. Gaskin (born 1935) is a founder of the The Farm, a community and enterprise in Tennessee. He lists his politics as “Beatnik” and his religion as “Hippy”. His multi-page resume confirms my Boulder memories: (I was) “Convenor of the Caravan, a speaking tour of the United States with engagements in 42 states with a Caravan of 50 School buses and forty or so other vehicles and up to 400 hippys. We were the largest hippy community in the US before we parked in Tennessee…." The price of gas back then was .36 cents per gallon!
Mr. Gaskin offers insights on how The Farm is organized: “The way we work has always involved a lot of talking and arguing through many forms (forums?) and committees. We currently have a seven-person board that is elected for three-year terms. I am not now and have never been a member of this board.“

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.

Edible Books, 2016

Posted by jlubans on April 24, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

The B2E team project in my class gives each team the opportunity to try out the several democracy-at-work concepts: developing into a productive team, collaborating, leading, following, supporting each other in getting something done, delivering a product; in this case a “book to eat”. It’s action-learning about group effort.
After lectures and assigned readings and after case-studies and experiential activities, each team now gets hands-on experience in rehearsing democratic concepts. And each team, like a musical group, gets to deliver a public performance of its metaphoric interpretation of the chosen story or song; its music, if you will.
Following their performances, I ask each team to gather for a plus/delta on how they worked together, what went well, what could have gone better? As in previous years, each of the 2016 groups stressed the value of getting to know each other:
“Good reason for bonding, getting to know our team members.”
“We would like to see each other again”
“Relationships go through stomach”
“(Meeting) Different people”

The three group presentations:
1. "Rabbit Meets New Friends", Latvian folk tale “Zakis Satiek Jaunus Draugus
Caption: Puppet show of story.

2. “The Sea Needs a Fine Net” " A plaintively sweet, traditional prenuptial song: Jūriņ' prasa smalku tīklu”.

Caption: Singing of nets and boats and unrequited love.

3. Mouse and rats, Latvian folktale, “Pelēns un žurkas” by Jānis Dailis.
Caption: Planning steps.

Prevalent in each team’s deltas was that time management could have been improved:
“Our performance could have been better, because of the lack of time.”
“We should have more rehearsals”
Each team appeared to come to an easy agreement on their choice of topic; two of the three mentioned voting to decide.
I was most impressed this year by how each team’s members fully participated in their projects and how each played a real role:
“Like in the story, everyone in our team did what they can do best.”
“We are creative, trust each other; no boss.”
“No one (was) left out.)
“We divided tasks equally.”
There is of course a tangible and immediate payoff for creating and working together: first, there’s the satisfaction of having gotten through the B2E project and the savoring by all of each team’s best effort.

©Copyright John Lubans 2016

Proactive vs. Reactive

Posted by jlubans on April 17, 2013  •  Leave comment (2)

One hears from time to time that a proactive workforce is preferable to a reactive one. The implication is that the proactive seek challenges and reactives wait for challenge to plop on their front porch, like newspapers once did. The former is thought to be the more desirable of the two.

Proactive even sounds better, does it not? But what does it mean to be proactive? The word is a relative newcomer, as words go, dating back a mere 70 years to 1933, according to the dictionary. Reactive has been with us much longer. It first raised its tentative head in 1794. Of course, etymology does not help much in explaining why we have more reactive organizations than we do proactive. Perhaps social psychology would offer a better explanation. Maybe we are using the wrong term; what passes for reactive might be more congruent with inactive!

One of my main rationales for a democratic workplace is that it empowers staff to be proactive. When staff are proactive good things happen for the individual worker and for the organization. Yet, as I puzzle over it, it seems we have a dearth of proactive workplaces or of democratic workplaces. They exist in small numbers and are often much admired, but rarely emulated.

Does it matter? Here is what I regard as the positive behaviors of a proactive staffer:

Is open to ideas; knows a good idea when it pops up or when he or she runs into it. Ideas come to the proactive worker because he likes what he does and thinks about doing it better.

Acts like a business owner; thinks about the business and ways to make things better. If there’s a bit of trash on the sidewalk in front of the business, the proactive worker picks it up – it’s not her job, but she wants the workplace to look its best.

Takes pride (no, not the kind that goes before the fall) in what she does. Derives pleasure from a job well done.

A proactive person listens and hears; asks questions and listens to answers.

Seeks improvement each day, to how he or she does her job. Is willing to give change a chance. If it does not work out, then learns from the failure and does better the next time.

Understands, indeed knows, the business and what it is about. Can draw the organization’s big picture and believes it matters.

Brings others along; seeks group support for ideas and relies on groups to come up with better solutions than those developed solo.

Wants to know what others are doing – a basic reason to belong to a professional association.

Wants to be relevant, to improve the organization in its bottom line and the numbers of people well served.

Relies on instinct when things go awryt; takes action to remedy. When stymied, develops “work arounds” – alternative solutions - rather than long explanations (rules) about why something cannot be done.

Not every boss or organization wants – regardless of advertising – proactive workers. Too many proactive workers would lead to organizational chaos many bosses claim. Rules are, well, rules and they exist for ruly reasons. What happens when staff do what needs doing in spite of rules? Does the world end?

Leading from the Middle is largely about being proactive and creating an organizational climate that encourages the proactive worker.


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

Caption: An ancient olive tree in Sicily.

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

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


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

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Friday Fable: Lubans’ The Raindrop and the Snowflake.

Posted by jlubans on October 18, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Zeus, the weather-maker, was listening with a growing impatience to an extended oration by the Snowflake. The Snowflake wanted a divine status in the weather pantheon; after all it was he, the Snowflake, who, in winter, transformed the brown earth and the naked trees into wondrous shapes and undulating landscapes. Why, he even capped Mount Olympus’ awesome majesty with a white diamond crown! And, lest there be any doubt as to his superiority the Snowflake sniffed: “I cannot be compared to the Raindrop; that shapeless blob that falls to the earth and makes mud. Worse, the raindrop pelts down on my glistening snow and turns it into slush.”
“Besides”, the Snowflake unabashedly concluded, “I am unique; there’s not another like me!”
Zeus rolled his eyes and turned to the Raindrop. “What do you have to say?” he growled. The Raindrop replied, “I am the rain, I beseech no special rank. I ‘falleth alike upon the just and the unjust.’ I ask only to be left in peace.”
Zeus pondered. Then, he turned back to the Snowflake, “Yes, you are indeed unique. Unique as a grain of sand! While you blanket the naked earth, the Raindrop brings warm moisture and turns the earth green and fills the rivers and lakes. You, however, do mischief by covering the icy ground so Mankind slips and falls.” After letting that sink in, Zeus roared, “That’s my job, not yours, damn you!” With a couple blue lightning bolts he turned the Snowflake into what would become known as a “wintry mix” that was cursed by all. Neither snow nor rain but mostly an annoyance in its persistence to be something it was not.

And so it can be in the workplace when we employ prideful Specialists who sometimes lord it over the lowly “Generalist” and even our clients. Too often, when we require extra qualifications we exclude the outgoing and resourceful Generalist who will get the job done and win over clients. When credentials trump people skills – unstated, of course - we may be recruiting a wintry mix. If a new position involves collaborating with others - inside and outside the agency - then attitude (enthusiasm, energy, warmth, and natural intelligence) far outweighs a Specialist’s unique expertise. Like someone – not Zeus - said, “Hire attitude, Train for skills.”

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Michigan, Hatcher Graduate Library

Your library - if for some peculiar reason it does not already have the book, - can get a copy here.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

Mr. Clippy: The Irrepressible Do-Gooder

Posted by jlubans on May 22, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Mr. Clippy ever-ready to advise.

Do you, if you are of an age, remember the talking paper clip –a Bill Gates look-alike- that would appear, uninvited, on your laptop as you typed in the word, dear?
"It looks like you're writing a letter. Would you like help?"
No question - we are assured even by geeky denizens of Silicone Valley – maddened more people back in the heady days of Microsoft 97.
Unbidden, he would default on your screen when least expected. And, to top it off, there were no workarounds to get rid of the ever helpful Clippy.
In other words, what Mr. Clippy really was saying:
“It looks like you're writing a letter, and I'm going to help you with that. Whether you like it, or not.”
In 2001 Mr. Clippy ceased being a default.
But, while Mr. Clippy may be gone, the underlying reason for Mr. Clippy is not.
It is identical to the inner belief possessed by a certain kind of micromanager: I know better.
Therefore, follow my lead, if you know what is good for you.
The micromanager masks this control behavior by claiming he or she is simply being helpful – aiding the less intelligent or the less able – and certainly finds it difficult to understand why people find this kind of “free” help egregiously arrogant, insulting, belittling, disdainful, an indignity, and deprecatory.
(All of these terms appeared frequently in posts about Mr. Clippy).
I have always aligned Clippy with Mr. Bill and other unexpected micromanagers, like Ms. Docker, the protagonist in Patrick White’s play “A Cheery Soul”
I recall her on a Sydney stage as a do-gooder who itched – it was her Christian duty, she’d say - to correct those in error, albeit with a gleeful vengeance and catastrophic result.
And, then there a department head peer who was tingling to tell me just how ineffective I was; all she needed was my permission.
Why do we dislike micromanagers?
It’s a fairly simple answer. The micromanager gets more out of giving advice than we do. He has us under his thumb, so to speak, and we have to listen.
We cannot turn Mr. Clippy off and he knows it, aggravating even further our disdain for being told what to do instead of being left alone to figure it out.
The latter is how people learn and the effective teacher knows when to offer advice and when to stay silent, letting “trial and error” lead the way to a better understanding.
I have found myself more and more content with bouncing around a problem, even when I know I could probably arrange an orderly agenda. I am not really multi-tasking even while jumping from task to task.
I am sure my approach would inspire all micro-managers and do-gooders to tell me how wrong I have got it.
But, you know what?
Maybe it’s the Wrong that I am content with; maybe knowing that I can get to what needs doing IN MY OWN WAY is just fine.
Or, is this an onset of early dementia or creeping curmedgery?
In solidarity with the millions stuck under the long, long tail of the Internet, buy Lubans’ new book. Or, for the frugal, get your library to ante up for a copy.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “The North Wind and the Sun”*

Posted by jlubans on August 01, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Tomie dePaola’s retelling of the fable.

“THE NORTH WIND and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes. The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do. The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.”

“Persuasion is better than Force.” Or, as another translation has it: “True strength is not bluster.”

I suppose “nudge” economics derives from this fable. You suggest a path for the desired behavior rather than require it.
Part of my career in libraries was during the verboten era: No Noise & No Food or Drink in the Library! Our wrath was mighty and righteous. By confiscating cans, bottles, coffee cups and pizza boxes we were saving books from insect and other dreaded infestations. We were preserving the human record for future generations! Yet, somehow we justified – at least to ourselves – staff pizza parties in offices filled with books. Our well-intentioned efforts were further undermined when we hosted trustee luncheons and donor dinners in the Rare Book Room – visible to every passer by. The double standard – as in much of bluster - was clear: “Do as we say, not as we do.”
No more shushing is vastly OK, but the spreading buffet in study halls and book stacks is hardly ideal.

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

N.B. ”Leading Change”: A seminar on leading and following change in libraries and other organizations. Sponsored by the University of Latvia. August 25-28. By John Lubans & Sheryl Anspaugh.
At Ratnieki Conference Center, near Sigulda, Latvia. Instruction in English.
Cost: 170 €. Includes tuition, accommodation, meals and transport from Riga.
On August 29th there’s a special reason to be in Latvia: the grand opening of the National Library of Latvia in Riga!

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Dakota State University Karl E. Mundt Library Madison, SD. USA.

@Copyright 2014 John Lubans

Yessers, Survivors and Sheep.

Posted by jlubans on May 05, 2015  •  Leave comment (2)

Caption: From Punch magazine, 1895.

Followers, good and bad, feature in my class on Freedom at Work: The Democratic Workplace, which I am currently teaching in Riga.
G. du Maurier’s cartoon, famously known as “The Curate’s Egg”, catches some of the dilemma each of us faces when being a Yes Man (or Woman) – or as Wodehouse has it, a “Yesser”. There’s also a bit of the compliant Sheep in the young curate and most of all, the Survivor.
How times have changed, or have they?
The winner of a recent caption contest for this cartoon, has the milquetoast slanging the Bish, “You’re bloody right, this effin’ egg is off!” While refreshing for its candor the curate’s response – given the power imbalance between the two – would hardly help advance the curate’s career. But, then stranger things have happened. Perhaps the Bishop will slap his knee, and say something like: “You s.o.b! I sure do like a man who speaks his mind! You can do my sermon this Sunday!”
In Wodehouse’s literary world, the curate was a poor assistant to a vicar, striving to get to the next level, a vicarage of his own. Usually, that meant a guaranteed salary – a sinecure for life, and enough money on which to marry. It was all up to the bishop. So, there was more than a little motivation to not ruffle the bishop, at least not until you got booted upstairs.
When my class looks in on the various taxonomies of leaders and followers, I want them to consider the reasons behind being a star follower or a loveable fool or a Yesser. How does one’s apparent role choice happen? Are we born that way – sheep like, cooperative and dependent thinking – or do corporate and personal factors influence us? I ask them about the risks of speaking up, of speaking the truth, of being an active, independent thinker.
Why can’t we all be candid – in a nice way of course – about problems at work? What gets in the way? One answer all too frequently is the demeanor of the leader. If you speak honestly about a problem, does that leader support you? Really support you?
Does the leader squirm, visibly or not, when opposing perspectives clash? What happens over time to someone that takes an alternative view to the boss’s proposal? How does the boss treat her after the discussion? Is she marginalized or do her views influence the final decision?
By the end of our classroom discussion, there’s a good understanding of the leader’s essential role in creating a climate for open and frank debate. And, the students understand, I hope, why that is important. An unquestioned leader will likely make a poorer decision than that made by a leader willing to engage in energetic and urgent debate, demanding of alternative views, and respectful of opposing viewpoints. (That's my unboss.)
I ask each of the students to consider, in private, where they would land on these follower charts. That’s to ensure that our in-class discussion is not just an academic exercise. Most of the students in this current class are already employed, so they can apply these theories immediately not just to themselves, but also to where they are working.
At the minimum, I want them to have the vocabulary to understand what is happening to them in the organization. And, ultimately, I’d like for them to understand that there is no reason to be stuck in a particular role. If there’s an opportunity to be independent and active, then do it. The risk is there but so are the personal rewards.

© John Lubans 2015

Even More Scoundrels, Knaves and Varlets. *

Posted by jlubans on October 08, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

The Case of the Presumptuous Profs.
A University of Colorado business school professor came to my attention for failing to return a large number of bound business and economics journals, now long overdue.
I asked the business school dean to intervene and the periodicals were returned, but they did not look right – they bulged - and the bindings were sprung. It turned out that the professor and a faculty colleague had glued in their own page headers (imagine peel-off address labels) on every page of several dozen articles – hundreds of pages - and they had, with White-Out, eradicated the original page numbers and other header information.
These articles were then photographed and put into a course pack/anthology for sale to their students and others. Apart from mutilating library materials – the university’s shared resource - their publishing someone else’s work for commercial gain - without permission from the copyright holder – crassly violated the “fair use” copyright provision. They exposed themselves and the University to a major statutory fine. When confronted with their handiwork, the two saw nothing wrong with what they had done – they thought themselves “self-starters” - but did agree to pay a fine to restore the journal pages. The Business Dean took little interest. Let’s hope these two were not teaching business ethics!

20131008-book thieves pic.jpg
Caption: University of Waterloo, Davis Library, Security Gates
The Case of the Pilfering Professor.
One of the ways to beat a library’s security system was to hold the book above your head as you passed through the security gates. The gates did not detect much of anything above shoulder height. Most thieves don’t take this conspicuous approach, preferring something less obvious. A prestigious English professor at Duke University, must have been thinking, “Who would dare question ME!” as he made his high-handed way through the security gate. Our circulation librarian observed him hoisting a leather-bound rarity on high, heading out the door. When called to explain himself, the prof claimed he was borrowing the book to go to his office for a quick browse and, of course, was going to return it within the hour! He meant no harm, etc. Our circulation librarian, outraged, did not see it that way – he had reason to suspect the prof of building a collection of stolen books. We took the matter to his department head for some form of censure. The department head did manage to extract an apology and a promise to never do it again, but that was the extent of the discipline. Academic justice. Had he been caught lifting a pair of shoes at the mall he’d be taking a ride, handcuffed, in a black and white.

*This essay follows these previous posts:
Book Thieves and Other Library Scoundrels.”
More Scoundrels, Knaves and Varlets.”

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of New Hampshire.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

The World's Information Desk: Redux

Posted by jlubans on June 06, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: A radial tire made to look like a bias ply tire!

Back in 1991, Microsoft’s Bill Gates worried about radial tires. Why?
. Radial tires were replacing bias-ply tires because radials lasted approximately 4 times longer.
Mr. Gates, as a leader, was able to make the transfer from the grungy garage floor to his spotless tech labs that unless people began to drive more, the tire industry was in serious trouble. Fewer tires sold each year translated into fewer jobs and less money for tire companies, even if radial tires cost a bit more.
What, you may be asking, does this have to do with technology or for that matter with all the ancillary businesses to technology, like libraries?
My laptop dates from 2013. I see little reason to replace it, to upgrade it. It runs fast and does everything I need.
In previous years I might have replaced my laptop in 2 or 3 years. So, multiply that difference across all owners of technology and you might correctly surmise that the market for upgrading tech hardware is shrinking.
So, if Bill Gates was worried about radial tires in 1991, why were libraries not worried in the mid-90s about losing anywhere from 30%-50% of market share to Yahoo/Google, etc. To date much of our response to that precipitous dip has been similar to that of the bias-ply companies that went out of business.
I blogged about that two years ago. Maybe this allusion to Mr. Gates and radial tires will pique your curiosity again about the relationship of leaders to change.
Here is my 2015 essay, The World’s Information Desk.
Back in 2000, Google’s co-founder, Sergy Brin had some lofty aspirations: “In five years I hope (search engines) will be able to return answers, not just documents.” “… Google will be your interface to all the world’s knowledge – not just web pages.”
Among the hallmarks of a good leader is the ability to read visible trends and to share a vision with followers. Looking back from today, Mr. Brin does appear, by one measure*, to have attained about 75% of his target to become the World’s Information Desk.
Why am I writing about this? One reason is to consider just how long organizations take to change, even when action is urgently needed. I was among a few in my field of work in the late 90s to declare that the Internet was changing us irrevocably. My field was academic libraries, large research libraries. At the time we were still pretty smug about our dominant role in information provision. After all, for many years libraries were the only show in town. Often, we held a region’s unique copy of a book - only accessible through our card catalog - and if you needed help even with simple informational questions you came to or phoned the library. Librarians were genuine intermediaries or gatekeepers. An even more literal image comes from the days of closed stacks, a library staff member either approved or denied you physical access to the books.
With the introduction of e-resources libraries began to lose their monopoly on information.
Preceded by the World Wide Web experimentation of Mosaic, Yahoo and Google soon made information (and sometimes, answers) readily available to anyone with an Internet connection. One student observed back in 1998, “(The Internet’s) moved library resources to my desktop.”
So, how did libraries respond to this erosion of what was clearly the bread and butter of their business?
Well, we return to leadership or non-leadership. A colleague told me: “It seems like all we did (at her library) was to re-act to whatever came our way.” My colleague was yearning for action, not reaction.
Leaders are presumed to have a vision for their enterprise. Actions are to flow from that vision. The best leaders are blessed with an inner compass, a sense of true north, which guides them through uncertainty. I have met a few visionary leaders who demonstrate this capacity. When confronted with a situation needing resolution, they do not delay. Convinced, they act. A few might be accused of foolhardy haste, but at least they are taking action not standing on the sidelines. They step into the fray without waiting to be asked, without seeking permission, or being prodded. If their efforts stumble and fail, they and their organizations learn and are better for the experience.
So, how did leaders respond? Initially there was denial. As I said earlier I was one of a few who observed that the long lines at the reference desk were no more. Even though there had to be fewer questions along with less demand for our services, we continued to staff the desk as if nothing had changed. When I did a simple calculation showing that the costs in answering those decreasing questions were now increasing, that still did not garner much support.
Or, maybe our denial was attributable to simply not knowing what to do, either at the service level or in the executive suite. In any case, I got the feeling back then that this was a taboo topic, only to be aired at some personal risk.
Apparently, it no longer is a taboo. Perhaps the dark clouds have passed and beams of sunshine play upon calm waters and bluebirds of happiness again flutter in the book stacks.
A recent report suggests that our denial was of several years duration. While I observed voluminous drop offs as early as 1992, some libraries were still claiming their reference desks were unaffected by the user’s new found independence, “The top five (research libraries in 1995) handled over 500,000 questions each.” The writer appears to share my incredulity: “I’m sure in those early days there were some interesting approaches to collecting the data as well as different interpretations of a reference query.”
Let’s be clear again. I am not hyperbolizing the Internet’s role in information finding and using. It’s swell, up to a point. But, to test googling’s limits, type in a complex question. Unless you intend to always keep life simple, you will not get instant answers to your questions. There’s an avuncular bit of advice passed on by bright college seniors to college freshmen: “befriend a librarian.” That’s still a very good idea whether you are on or off campus. If libraries have lost the bread and butter piece of their business, they still have the main course – the meaty part. That’s the ability to help users navigate and find answers to complex questions.

*If in 1995 research libraries answered 20 million questions vs. 5 million in 2014, the difference might be ascribed to independent information seeking and finding outside of the library.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015 & 2017

More Scoundrels, Knaves and Varlets.

Posted by jlubans on September 11, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

As regular readers know, I’ve been inspired by Travis McCade’s new book about historic book thievery in NYC to consider the book crooks I’ve encountered. Last week I touched on the Felonious Flier and the Magazine Mutilator.

Two more for the line-up: The Literary Lurker & The Elusive Eviscerator

The Literary Lurker dates from my days at a large research library. He was eventually caught and sent to jail, but only after stealing (and keeping!) thousands of rare books – valued at over $20 million - from a hundred and more prestigious and well-guarded special collections in the USA and Canada. A library staffer worked with the FBI in recovering the loot taken from this library’s Rare Book Room. Originally the staffer thought he would find a few dozen pilfered items, but it turned out to be many more, in the hundreds. Fortunately, most of the thief’s ill-gotten gains were stashed in a large house in Ottumwa, Iowa. His m. o., for this library – as confessed to the library staffer - was to secrete himself under a table in the back of the Rare Book Room reading area. How, you might be asking, could this be done? The room’s lighting benefited the malefactor. Since it was a replica of a gentleman’s lounge-like personal library the lighting was dim; if someone slid under a table, he’d be out of sight and not missed. He’d stay hidden – with a sandwich and a thermos? - until the library closed, then he’d ramble around, taking a bit of this and some of that – he allegedly knew his stuff – and then, most remarkably of all, evacuate the building through an alarm-armed door. When the police checked out the furiously clanging alarm, the door was closed and no one about, so they’d chalk it up to a malfunction or, more likely, a prank. Remember, the Rare Book Room was in a vast building serving many undergraduates; some of whom would hide and spend the night. Why? Well, let it suffice to say it was not for lucubration.
As someone said, all’s well that ends well. The library eventually got its books back, and ramped up security for its special collections.

The Elusive Eviscerator – encountered at the University of Colorado and Duke – is perhaps the most heinous of the ilk. His specialty is to gut a book, rip out the innards and discard the covers - very much like the “Unman” character in the C. S. Lewis novel, “Perelandra”.
Why the violence? There are two possible reasons: When libraries started using security strips – back in the 70s - the strip was usually glued inside the spine of the book. If you wanted to steal the book, you’d rip out the strip. If the cover got in the way, too bad. Then you and your book bag could stroll in a leisurely way through the un-sensing security screen devices.
A second reason is made apparent in McCade's book. There is a market for books that have been “sophisticated”. The thief erases all library markings, tears out perforated pages, bleaches stamps, and rips off covers with library markings and bookplates. Then the thief inserts any missing pages (copies), re-binds and offers the “sophisticated” book for sale as a formerly beaten-up book purportedly stumbled upon in some yard sale. In McCade’s book, most dealers winked when presented with a newly bound book with faint marks of a previous, possibly more monastic, life on library shelves.
We never caught the Eviscerator(s). At large, shoot on sight.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

More Music for Managers.

Posted by jlubans on September 24, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130925-merleand Jukebox.jpeg
Caption: Merle Haggard (“The Hag”). Born April 6, 1937, Bakersfield, California

This is the blog’s fifth listing of country western song titles for managers to manage by. Written and sung from the heart, this music offers us – when we are ready – solace and wisdom.

“How Can Anything That Sounds So Good Make Me Feel So Bad?”
You’ve been there. Someone is telling you how great it’s going to be and yet you have some doubts. You inner hype-detector is flashing. “Trust and verify” worked for the Ronald and the Roos-kies; apply the same skepticism to those "never-again" promises of a wandering lover or the absolute certainty of the in-house work flow expert about the breakthroughs to be had with more equipment and more staff.
“From the Gutter to You Is Not Up.”
That’s the song that reared up in my head when the boss, after firing me, told me he’d give me a good reference. The last thing I wanted was an obligation to this boss, nor would my disdain permit me to accept the offer. I never did.
“I’ve Got a Funny Feeling I Won’t Be Feeling Funny Very Long.”
That dawning realization that you are no longer the “golden boy” in your organization. Indeed, there may be a piano about to drop on your unsuspecting head as you slip on a banana peel on the sidewalk of life.
“I’m Too Low To Get High.”
There are workplaces with a “Culture of Complaint.” Even when the pay is OK and the work is hardly arduous, nor is the boss all that bad, for some reason, morale is low. After a while, moving is the only cure if you want to be happy in your work. Or, if don’t want to move, then renounce your role in the culture of complaint: stop agreeing with the grousing and speak only in terms of how to make things better.
“I Can’t Afford to Half My Half Again.”
A song for that fiscally reeling feeling most libraries (and many other businesses) have had since October of 2008. How many cuts can a budget sustain before the cupboard is bare and it’s time to shut the door?
Caption: Don Williams. Born May 27, 1939, Floydada, Texas.
“There’s No Use Running If You’re on the Wrong Road.”(By Don Williams).
I used to be one of the Pooh-Bahs in the user education movement, now termed “information literacy” (after molting out of “instruction in library use”, “bibliographic instruction” and “library literacy”. ) Some of our ideas were well intentioned, but not the best – we were running on the wrong road. I see some of the same ineffective ideas still supported – for example, mandatory information literacy classes. Everyone knows since the mid-60s that help at a “point-of-need” is when the student library user learns best.
Caption: Merle, older & wiser.
“It’s Not Love, But It’s Not Bad.”
When your deal won’t float, you take what you can get. It’s the “I can live with that” type of consensus. You may have no choice or inclination to do otherwise. But the best result is when two good ideas merge to produce a third, the best idea. So, Merle is onto something, love may come.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

The un-hierarchy.

Posted by jlubans on July 01, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Why you may hate your job.

Decades ago, Fred Emery summarized what people want from work:
Adequate elbowroom for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
A desirable future

Pretty straight forward and I’ve had no reason to question his conclusions. These elements, when present, make for a great place to work, whether in a hierarchy or not. However, in my research, I’ve found these elements most often present in un-hierarchical structures. I think in Emery’s day he was a proponent of team-based organizations.
On June 1, the New York Times published research on why people hate working.
The researchers concluded that there were four needs, when met, which make employees feel better and work better: Renewal, Value, Focus, and Purpose.
Renewal refers to taking breaks, short and long. The fewer breaks taken and the more people work beyond 40 hours, the worse they feel and become less engaged. (Engagement is a measure of effectiveness – of doing a good job or not.) A supervisor’s encouraging the worker to take breaks doubles the employee’s sense of health and well-being and they are more likely to stay with the company.
Value is about supportive supervisors who care about the employee’s well being. As a result the worker feels better about his work and wants to stay at the job.
Focus relates to the ability to work on one thing at a time rather than experiencing an Internet-fueled burnout. Probably more so than in the good old BI days, (before the net) the worker is pulled in multiple directions at all hours and days of the week. Multi-tasking detracts from focus. The more “focus” the more the worker feels engaged and does a good job.
And, just like Emery found, staff work best when they regard their work as meaningful, that what they do is for a good purpose.

A good friend asked me to comment – in absentia - on an upcoming discussion at the Las Vegas meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) this week. A sub, sub, sub-group of the 60,000 member ALA will take on the question of what library organizational structure (management model) is best for 21st century libraries?

One could ask, why bother? Isn’t it a given that the boxed in hierarchy is the one and only way to run your business? If you agree, then let me ask you, “Why?”
“Well, It’s obvious, it’s all around us, it works!”
But, even if that were true – which I doubt - where’s it written that the best way to organize is the way we’ve got it now? Here are just a few of the inherent assumptions about the hierarchy: People want and have to be led; workers do best when their work is structured and controlled. Supervisors add value by making sure work gets done; the supervisor shepherds the largely unthinking worker. Left to his or her own devices, the worker will dither.

What assumptions can we make about the un-hierarchy. Well, for starters rewrite, as opposites, the stated assumptions for the hierarchy.
How do those opposites sound, how would they play out in the real work world? What organizational structure best serves those opposites?
Here are the discussion questions I sent to my friend:

1. Does your current organizational arrangement get in the way of what you want to do?
2. Do you need freedom to do a good job? How much?
3. Would genuine empowerment make a difference in how well you do your job?
4. Would you prefer less freedom, more being told what to do?

I look forward to what my friend discovers in Las Vegas.
What are your answers to my four questions?

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Why not?

Posted by jlubans on August 12, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Wilbur deciding what to wear.

One of the activities I’ve developed for the Leading Change seminar* is for participants to read a children’s book and identify and build upon aspects of change found in that book. Mo Williams’ “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed” is one of the four books I’ll be using.**
Williams’ story is about Wilbur, a non-conformist who loves fashion but runs into rancorous opposition from the naked legions. They want to stay in the buff, but more importantly – as is too often the case with most people unhappy about change - they don’t want anyone else to change. They want Wilbur to cease and desist with the button-down shirts and bell-bottom trousers!
Wilbur remains puzzled and asks, “Why not?” Since Wilbur’s not one “ to go along to get along” (an accommodator), the mole rats turn for a ruling to Grand-pah, the patriarch naked mole rat.
Fortunately for our clothes-loving hero the Patriarch muses and concludes “Why not?” And so now the naked mole rat community includes the clothed and the unclothed and everyone is A-OK. (Or, so we hope.)
Clearly a child’s book requires a suspension of disbelief – perhaps less so among librarians - but there’s much to be learned about change in Wilbur’s tale that applies to our grown-up world. Even when we think about another outcome – the Patriarch siding with the naked hordes – there’s something to learn. Change rarely goes smoothly and differences are not well tolerated. Any hint of oddness, of queerness, can become off-putting. It’s what change agents have to contend with in storybooks and in the work place.
Some of my most productive results as a team leader came from asking Why? and Why not? and Why do we do this? I also asked, What happens if we stop? What’s the worst that can happen?
My asking those questions upset some people – for them it was obvious why we do what we did and anyone questioning the status quo was a fool.
But many staff were willing to re-think what was important and what was not – they’d had their doubts all along! My simple Why? gave them permission to experiment and to change the status quo. They could see the labor savings in stopping something redundant and applying those savings to where the need was greater.
Wilbur’s openness to change reminds me of an exchange between Saul Zabar (of NYCs premium deli store, Zabar’s) and one of his daughters, Rachel, a film maker. They were in the kitchen and Saul was explaining why he experiments with food, even though he “almost never” comes up with a success. “Anyone can do it right”, Saul said. “Guess what would happen when something you are not supposed to do comes out good?” That’s Wilbur-thinking. Still, Rachel was not convinced about his latest culinary concoction of hash and cucumbers. “Euuuw” is how she put it!

*N.B. ”Leading Change”: A seminar on leading and following change in libraries and other organizations. Sponsored by the University of Latvia. August 25-28. By John Lubans & Sheryl Anspaugh. At Ratnieki Conference Center, near Sigulda, Latvia. Instruction in English. Cost: 170 €. Includes tuition, accommodation, meals and transport from Riga.
On August 29th there’s a special reason to be in Latvia: the grand opening of the National Library of Latvia in Riga!

**Also, these three books:
“Changes, Changes” by Pat Hutchins.
“Let’s Do Nothing” by Tony Fucile.
“Mon. Saguette and His Baguette” by Frank Asch.

Libraries with Leading from the Middle: University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA.

@Copyright 2014 John Lubans

Participation in Class and On-the-Job

Posted by jlubans on June 22, 2012  •  Leave comment (1)

Dr. Jana Varlejs, my esteemed colleague at Rutgers, gave me some feedback about the Democratic Workplace syllabus. “My only ‘quibble’ is with so much of the grade (45%) going to participation, which is a squishy thing to measure - needs some criteria, or less weight. You probably have criteria in your head, but the students will want to know.”
Caption 1: The Mohawk Walk, taking all of your team across the cable requires intense participation.
Dr. Varlejs makes a good point, one I had not thought a lot about. Is participation not obvious? Certainly not as evident as in the above picture of outdoor team building! Well, what does participation look like? What student behaviors demonstrate class participation?
A few minutes freethinking produced these criteria:
- Doing assigned work ahead of class.
- Preparing for discussion of readings and topic discussion.
- Encouraging others through word and gesture.
- Being there!
- Asking questions and making observations based on course content, personal experience, group activities.
- Being an effective follower, independent in thought and action-oriented.
- Listening to what others say.
- Volunteering to do more than your share.

Caption 2: Up-close participation.
As I made the list, I had second thoughts about using it as a hand out. Would it not be regarded as yet another prescription from Herr Professor?
Instead, I am going to ask the students to define participation through small groups, of 4 or 5 students. Their charge will be to tell me five key participant behaviors (in English). Once I know what the students think, I’ll merge with my perspective. If we are miles apart, then we’ll discuss and resolve.
Since this class is about working, any definition of what it means to participate in class could be relevant to the workplace.
Here’s the adjusted list:
- Doing assigned work ahead of decision-making meetings.
- Preparing for discussion of agenda topics.
- Encouraging others through word and gesture.
- Being there!
- Asking questions and making observations based on expertise, personal experience, and on what needs doing.
- Being an effective follower, independent in thought and action-oriented.
- Listening to what others say.
- Volunteering to do more than your share.
I know workers, regardless of title, who participate fully. For some reason, they are less about themselves than they are one-for-all in support of their colleagues. They think about their work and tinker with ideas to make the work more efficient. If they have ideas to share they do not hold back. (Chapter 13, Leading from the Middle, “The Spark Plug: A Leader’s Catalyst for Change" discusses my experiences with these exceptional people.)
What role does a leader have in encouraging and protecting this kind of staff member? What actions can organizations take to make participation the expected and enforced norm?
I also know workers who are stingy in their participation. Now, I know that organizations and their cultures have a lot to do with shutting down participation. An organization’s culture or a controlling boss probably has more to do with non-participation than any individual worker’s unique intransigence or taciturnity.
What does non-participation look like? Flip each of the statements to the negative, presto!
- Don’t prepare.
- Don’t ask questions.
- Don’t listen.
- Don’t support others.
- Do not volunteer.
If you as a leader want more staff participation, you might ask your staff - just like I will query my students. Have a conversation. Mention what you observe and what you would like to see changed and why. Ask for their help in identifying what you and the organization can do differently. I will guarantee (money back!) three things about this conversation:
1. The staff will know you much better.
2. You will know the staff better.
3. You will “liberate” at least one staff member to think and make suggestions, independently.

What I Would Do Differently, #1.

Posted by jlubans on September 03, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Yours 40 years later (courtesy of a WSJ app)

From time to time I will write about some past event which I would do differently – this is the first installment.
These reflections will come after a 40-year career in higher education (teaching and administration). Some, like this first case, will be based upon a failure. Others will be based upon successes.
I won’t bore you with personal life-decisions I’d do-over.
I will just bore you with things I would have done differently at work!
Why? Well, since I still teach management topics this is a constructive way for me to reflect. And, maybe a reader will find something of value for how she or he leads.
So here goes.
Numero Uno was a project, long unrequited.
Simply put, we had two different ways of labeling files. The new way one had about 3 million files (more recent and most used) in it and the old one (less used) had 1 million.
Some wanted to reconcile the two systems.
Others saw little value in doing this because, besides the work being redundant, there were several other ways to find any desired old or new file.
However influential clients mounted a persistent campaign and were adamantly convinced about merging the two sets of files.
I was charged with chairing a team as to whether to do this merger and what the costs might be.
We never got much past the best guessing phase.
The end result was that our (probably skewed) estimate of the high costs of changing labels prevailed. The pro-relabeling forces folded their tents and went off to brood some more.
While conclusive for one side, the recommendation did not assuage those believing a merger was essential
How would I do it differently? In several ways:
Borrowing from the military and business, I would appoint red and blue teams. Each would argue factually their side of the problem. To merge or not to merge.
Of course, this would also require our stating what the real problem was. Indeed, was it a problem? And, if so, just how large was it.
The evidence was pretty much only complaints claiming that having two systems inconvenienced some and somehow did not provide “good optics” of a modern organization. If one were a fuss budget, then this was something to fuss about.
We needed to get past the emotion and absolute certainty on each side of the issue.
I would include in the exploration team a few of the staff closest to the work, not just the supervisors.
I’d also try to find out via focus groups what it was the pro re-label faction wanted and why.
Once we had some conclusions to offer, I would lead a robust after action review (AAR) to make sure we were on the right track.
Another different approach would be to jump in feet first and do a large sample and actually re-label 1000 of the old files.
Doing so, would get at underlying complexities and the true costs – perhaps they would be far less than what we guessed they might be.
None of this re-label work would be wasted since the newly re-labeled would go into the new label side. And we would have a much firmer idea of how to do this project, if and when decided, and what the most effective procedure would be.
While not a new approach of doing the work, I’d use the opportunity to leverage a quid pro quo from the re-labeling advocates.
The same clients agitating for a merged system were largely opposed to storing files off-site. Perhaps if we agreed to re-label the most heavily used (all files had records of use) and store the least used, the opposition might go along not only in reducing the size of the re-label project but also getting them to be a bit more positive toward the use of off-site storage.
That might have been an acceptable trade off.
Probably the ratio would be around 60% for storage while the remaining 400,000 could be relabeled and merged with the new system; I’d be happy with 50/50.
Doing so, we would gain badly needed on-site space and reduce substantially the redundant and other work required by a re-labeling process.
In any case, the more we showed a full faith and inclusive effort to study the problem, the more trust we could between the two factions.
But, as happens in traditional organizations like bureaucracies, reason does not always prevail.
As it turned out, in a few years, many of the old and new labels would be replaced with barcodes linked to e-records for off site storage.

Copyright John Lubans 2020

Best Practice Meetings

Posted by jlubans on October 10, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Drilling down, as they say, into an anthropological study of business meetings, I found a few takeaways, ones I could have used when I was chairing and taking part in the many meetings of my lengthy career.
Meetings would not score well on Yelp. Maybe a 1.5 out of 5. Almost as bad as long distance movers whose sins are the stuff of customer disservice legend.
Sure, there are those 10% of meetings that click; something gets done!
One professional association – of which I was a very busy member – could only meet in certain cities. Why? Not enough meeting rooms. While many cities had beds for 10,000 or more conventioneers, my association required thousands of meetings rooms.
Was this good? Well, if the meetings got anything done it could be very good. But, having sat through hundreds I can assure you little got done. I suppose people felt busy and that has some rewards in itself, but busy-ness is not always correlated with productivity. Indeed, it may work in reverse – the more busy, the less done.
Again, my 10% rule applied, when the stars aligned, things clicked and decisions were made; new ideas were born and supported. The other 90% were in dire need of the oxygen masks in the cartoon.
You know you are in trouble when there are groups charged with meeting about meetings, as there were in my association.
Here’s how-to-improve meetings from an anthropological perspective:
1. Hold accountable everyone at the meeting. What does this mean? Be prepared. Even in a “culture of collaboration” the individual cannot dodge the responsibility to be informed (IOW, read the background) and to have thought through matters relevant to the purpose of the meeting.
A sure sign of in-effectiveness is the desire to hear all sides of the problem. Quantity of information does not trump quality of information.
2. Empower the leader. Make known who will decide on meeting outcomes. Make clear that decisions are indeed expected – this is not a discussion group. Avoid situations where “guests” hijack the meeting and “force the team into a spiral of blackness.”
Other basic recommendations from the anthropologist’s analysis:
1. Ensure that all meeting invites include basic information. That’s so “that people have the tools they need to come prepared. If people are not prepared, ask them.”
2. “Invite participants, not spectators. And don't be afraid to ask people to leave if they weren't invited.”
3. “Create spaces that are conducive to meetings, this includes stand-up tables and clocks for meeting rooms. Not every meeting requires a giant table: giving smaller groups the flexibility to huddle can help move projects along.”
4. Schedule shorter meetings. “If a status (sic) can occur in 15 minutes, you really don't need 30 minutes just so folks can chat about The Walking Dead.”
5. “Call an audible when the meeting is over. Despite what we believe, we are terrible multitaskers.
When the meeting has completed its objectives, it's over. Send participants away.”
The anthropologist gives us much to think about and much to take action on.
No, there is no reason to meet on this!
Fables for Leaders, with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron and designed by ALISE ŠNĒBAHA, launched September 30, 2017 ($26.99).
Ezis Press
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783

© Copyright John Lubans 2017