Fables for Leaders includes 100+ short stories of talking animals and trees…. and my ruminations on each. I emphasize the philosophical and ethical aspects in these stories – from across the centuries - to my own on-the-job experiences, - successes and failures - and relate them to our contemporary behavior and decision-making. We relate to stories, we remember stories, and these fable stories may help in thinking through and solving, in untraditional ways, problems on the job.” Whimsical illustrations by international artist and paper cutter, Béatrice Coron, capture the charm of this ancient literature and add to its comprehension and enjoyment. Each entry -in 7 chapters- sets forth the original fable followed by Lubans’ commentary. And, many fable feature a “My Thoughts” space to explore how this fable relates to the reader. The seven chapter heads: “Us and them” “Office politics” “The Organization” “Problems” “Budgeting and strategic planning” “The effective follower” “The effective leader”. Topical sub-heads include: “Perspective makes a difference” “Where is the cooperation?” “Hiring decisions” “Performance appraisal” “Pretenders” “Kindness, loyalty and respect for the boss…or not” “Have you heard of the Tall Poppy?” “Gossip and envy” “Are you leading or am I following?” Etc.


Posted by jlubans on November 02, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Up in a lofty oak the Bees
Had made their honey-combs: but these
The Drones asserted they had wrought.
Then to the bar the cause was brought
Before the Wasp, a learned chief,
Who well might argue either brief,
As of a middle nature made.
He therefore to both parties said:
“You’re not dissimilar in size,
And each with each your color vies,
That there’s a doubt concerning both:
But, lest I err, upon my oath,
Hives for yourselves directly choose,
And in the wax the work infuse,
That, from the flavor and the form,
We may point out the genuine swarm.”
The Drones refuse, the Bees agree—
Then thus did Justice Wasp decree:
“Who can, and who cannot, is plain,
So take, ye Bees, your combs again.”
This narrative had been suppress’d
Had not the Drones refused the test.

Justice Wasp dispenses justice. The drone, which exists many think solely to mate with Queen Bees, is regarded as lesser than a worker bee. This is unkind.
Without the drones the hive dies.
They have a quintessential purpose: propagation
Similar, it seems, to the members of Wodehouse’s immortal Drones Club.
In that day and age, around 1900, an annual income of 200 pounds sterling a month was sufficient to keep a servant, a gentleman’s gentleman (like Jeeves) and to rent a fashionable apartment and to pay club dues. Beyond that, one lived on credit and studiously avoided creditors.
Wodehouse obviously chose the name, the Drones, to reflect on the social situation of all of these non-working young men.
Fathers were more than glad to pay the young men to stay away.
Sort of like today’s “Trust Babies”, but just better educated: boarding schools like Eton and higher up, Sandhurst, Cambridge or Oxford.
Of course, for propagation a drone had to be caught by an ambitious young woman and therein lies many of Wodehouse’s comedic plots.
Alas, or perhaps inevitably, this world ended in the great and senseless tragedy of the First World War.

* *Source: The Fables of Phaedrus Translated into English Verse. Phaedrus. Christopher Smart, A. M. London. G. Bell and Sons, Ltd. 1913.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

“I’m not here to entertain you.”

Posted by jlubans on October 30, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Cartoon by Edward Steed in the New Yorker magazine.

Have those admonishing words flitted through your mind when standing in front of a blank eyed audience? They have for me.
While most participants (say 80%) are open to learning and engaging with others, there are The Other:
The Empty vessel. Takes me back to how I participated in algebra class – pour it in, I do not need to understand it, just pour it in while I think of the “girl with the red dress on”.
Those “who have been sent”. Involuntary participants; the zombies of the workshop circuit. Their being sent is a “Hail Mary” pass by the boss hoping for a miracle. It’s never to be realized but the boss does put off for another day that dreaded “heart to heart” conversation with the “problem staffer”.
“This beats work”. Voluntarily there but not to learn; instead a well deserved day to switch off from a pest-of-a-boss.
The “Out-of-Towner”. Has plans to meet friends an hour before the workshop concludes. Returns 30 minutes late from lunch, after the afternoon segment – on team building - is well underway.
“Show Me”. The doubter from Missouri. If he gives you credit for any new idea, it’ll be a first.
“I don’t get it”. Applies a literal interpretation to every group activity. Forget analogies and metaphors. Unwilling or incapable of thinking in figurative ways.
The multi-tasker. Professes he can text and surf and read email and still be engaged. (He can’t.) Leaves frequently to take phone calls.
Those are some of the disconcerting and amusing un-participants I have met along the way in workshops and speeches.
No, I am not all hard-core lecture. I use humor in anecdotes and one-liners.
I minimize lectures. I promote discussion.
And, I seek to mix and match participants so they get to know each other and to engage in shared problem solving, to learn from each other.
My philosophy was (and is) that each person has a unique perspective that, when shared, can help others better understand.
I remember giving this feedback to one of the consortia that hired me as a free lancer.
The response to my bemused griping implied that maybe it was something more to do with me and my message than with the fee-paying participants.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

To Go Forward Face Backwards

Posted by jlubans on October 26, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Contrarian Jumping Horse by Peter Baldus

Less than a week ago, NPR marked the 50th anniversary of Dick Fosbury’s win in the high jump at the Mexico City Olympics.
What was remarkable then was this young man from Oregon using a move now immortalized as the Fosbury Flop.
As the NPR headline cleverly has it: He “turned his back on the bar and made a flop a success”.
Well, actually unlike the German cartoon with the horse launching backwards, Fosbury still faced the jump, approached it face on and then torqued his body so that he flew over with his back to the bar.
I’d say clearing 7 feet 4 inches and a quarter is a bit like flying.
Fosbury’s story offers all of us a lesson in contrarian thinking.
Few if any coaches believed his technique could work, yet he persisted because he believed going backwards, and lifting his hips, would help him clear the bar.
Now, for almost all subsequent high jumpers, the “only way forward was to go backwards.”

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018


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

The H Factor Joins Factor C

Posted by jlubans on October 12, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Arrogance knows no bounds.*

A while back I posted about a fascinating bit of research on something called “Factor C” or Collective Intelligence.
Boiled down, the C Factor is essential in helping teams become high performing.
What is it?
“C” is a predictor of group failure or success and includes three elements: participant emotional or social IQ; the number of engaged participants; and, interestingly, the number of women on the team.
What is the H factor? Honesty and Humility.
Sue Shellenbarger concludes in her WSJ essay that “The Best Bosses Are Humble Bosses,” rather than overwhelmingly charismatic, or attention seeking or persuasive ones.
The contrarian research she cites has the H factor composed of attributes like sincerity, modesty, fairness, truthfulness and unpretentiousness.
OK, OK you may be saying, so what?
Well the humble leader gets better results than the ego-tripper!
Interestingly, “Humility is a core quality of leaders who inspire close teamwork, rapid learning and high performance in their teams, …. Humble people tend to be aware of their own weaknesses, eager to improve themselves, appreciative of others’ strengths and focused on goals beyond their own self-interest.”
What’s been my experience?
Not quite so clear-cut. Apart from my more-than-humble self☺, a few of my bosses have been humble, but more so with their higher ups than with their direct reports. Their braggadocious-ness came out when away from the boss’s boss.
Others, slyer than most, made efforts to appear humble to camouflage an all-consuming lust for power. The cloven hooves of arrogance and ambition always popped out when under stress.
So, Factor H is not an easy read.
I do know genuinely humble leaders, servant leaders. But they are humble in different ways all the while being “highly competitive and ambitious.” Yet, “they tend to avoid the spotlight and give credit to their teams.”
Indeed, some very outgoing leaders may appear almost narcissistic; but they never fail to mention how the overall organization has achieved success, not just because he or she is at the helm.
Often, they are heard to say, “We have accomplished” far more than “I have accomplished.” That’s enough for me to believe they are humble in their own way.
And that they understand progress will take everyone getting on board, not just the captain’s.
I mentioned the C factor in the title. The C factor applies to work groups and how they go about getting results.
Group members that exhibit strong humility and honesty probably will do better than members who feel a need to dominate. Call it a social skill, the ability to suspend one’s self-importance for the good of the group, for the good of the cause.
Generally, those groups with high Factor C scores are going to get more done than those with poor Factor C.
So, I tend to believe the research that shows how humbleness gets groups further along than groups with domineering members.
Of course, an emergency might require very strong command and control; a crisis might be best met if someone steps up and takes over and, through good direction, brings along other people.

Take the test: How humble are you?
Do you agree or disagree with these statements?
1) I appreciate other people’s advice at work.
2) It’s not my job to applaud others’ achievements.
3) People lose respect when they admit their limitations.
4) I am entitled to more respect than the average person.
5) I do many things better than almost everyone I know.
6) It annoys me when others ignore my accomplishments.
People high in humility tend to agree with Item 1 and disagree with Items 2 through 6.
*My Australian friend and colleague, Steve Ryan, reveals the identity of the cartoon's skeweree: John Howard, prime minister of Australia (1996–2007).
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Lubans Gets Fulbright Award

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

A week or so ago, I heard from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board that I had been selected for an award. I will be teaching a pilot class at the University of Latvia in Riga in the spring of 2019: “Leadership & Literature”.
The class will make use of the international fable literature and other literary genres to explore teams and teamwork concepts, group dynamics, self-management, leadership and effective followership.
My book, Fables for Leaders, will be the core un-textbook along with films, short stories, poetry, and the performing arts.
The class will pursue answers to these and other questions:
How do literary genres help illuminate complex topics like leadership, self-managing teams and team development?
Are there literary examples of democratic team leaders and what they do? Who and what are democratic followers and what do they do?
How does literature help us to personally understand and adapt to an organization’s behavior?

Another matter:
When your coffee pot blows up, catches fire, or otherwise fails to make coffee, the manufacturer wants to know and may even issue a product recall. Such an undertaking incurs large costs but manufacturers have no choice. To stay in business, they want to fix the problem.
Why then does Facebook (or any other social media vendor) think an apology and a promise to do better is sufficient when someone absconds with your personal and private information?
Most recently, 50 million Facebook accounts were “hacked”. Hacking is stealing, so let’s stop romanticizing this theft of millions of records as if it were the work of Napoleons of Crime. They are crooks.
The thieves sell or otherwise exploit this information.
We may get upset when our political opponents pay Facebook (both political parties do this) to persuade us one way or the other at election time but we should be getting far more concerned when our p&p information is stolen.
So, here’s a modest proposal. Social Media is required to issue a product recall type notice to every person victimized by data thieves. And, the vendor needs to provide each user with a new account with enhanced security and safeguards.
And, they need to monitor how the stolen information is used.
Failure to do this will result in fines and penalties for the vendor.
Of course, we all have the choice to close our accounts, but even then, the vendors may or may not shut down access to our p&p information. No doubt there is a healthy “after-market” in which vendors sell this info.
Finally, the rules and regulations in hundreds of legalese pages used by vendors to cover their liability needs to be boiled down to a few phrases like “We treat your p&p information just the way we would our own”, “You own the information you provide” and, “If you wish to close your account, we will do so and erase all of your information.”
Get it?

©2018 Copyright John Lubans in all forms and formats.

Phaedrus' Socrates and His Friends*

Posted by jlubans on September 29, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Socrates and friends at his execution**.

“The word 'friend' is in common use but true friends are hard to find.
Socrates had erected for himself a very modest house - and I myself would even be willing to die as Socrates died** if I could achieve an equal fame, yes, I would be willing to suffer the same public disapproval if I too could be vindicated after death!
Anyway, just as you would expect on such an occasion, one of his neighbours had to ask,
'Why is it, Socrates, that someone like you would build himself such a tiny little house?'
'Ah,' said Socrates, 'if only I could fill it with true friends!'”
This is my second telling of the “Socrates’ house” fable, once in verse by La Fontaine and today by Phaedrus.
In my interpretation of the La Fontaine version, I contemplated the short-lived friendships in the workplace. Once you leave, it seems too many job-related friendships slip away.
Phaedrus likewise touches on the scarcity of true friends but most notable may be his willingness to die, as Socrates did**, on principle, as long as he “could be vindicated after death!”
Observing the televised blood sport of confirming a Supreme Court justice nominee, I doubt if even Socrates saw much vindication, certainly not enough to drain the hemlock cup.
Phaedrus’ adulation goes too far for me, but his point about the paucity of genuine friends rings true.
And, returning to the blood sport, it seems the more alleged friends one has, the more enemies. The further we scramble up the ladder of success, the more slippery the rungs.
Aristotle said, “In all things moderation." Perhaps a few good friends are sufficient.
But, a life without true friends is an empty house.

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

**Socrates was executed by the state of Athens in 399 B.C.E.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018


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

UPON the summit of a lofty rock,
⁠An Eagle chanced to espy
A Worm; whom thus he 'gan in taunting tone to mock:
"Reptile! What raised thee thus high?
How haps it I so vile a creature see
Perched on the same eminence with me.
⁠Here daring to abide?"
"By my own strength," the Worm replied.
"I hither made my way; and small in
My opinion, the difference of the mode
In which to the same point we took our road;
What you by soaring did, I did by crawling."

So, slow and steady gets the job done.
Also, Krylov may be saying that those eminently gifted (with a pair of wings, for example) succumb to arrogance and believe themselves superior to those less so endowed.
Actually, one admires the humble worm more than the eagle because the worm got there inch by inch while the eagle was born to it, so to speak.
Krylov likely was sniping at the Russian royals, born with the proverbial silver spoon, who consider it is some inherent genius that has them at the front of the line rather than who their daddy was.

*Source. Anonymous. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine.

Copyright by John Lubans from 2010 to 2018. All rights preserved.

The Unhappy, Un-Mindful and Unsustainable Leader

Posted by jlubans on September 12, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Mindful Smiley Face

No doubt you have heard of America’s right to the pursuit of Happiness. And, maybe even of the World Happiness Index, a nation by nation listing of most happy to least happy peoples.
In any case, the business world is paying attention to Happiness for its workforce and customers.
A recent book claims much in its 19-word title:
“Leading with Happiness: How the Best Leaders Put Happiness First to Create Phenomenal Business Results and a Better World.”
The author’s prior book was "Happy Hour is 9-5." (Are these folks drinking at their desks?)
I certainly am not one to put down happiness. I am all for sunshine and bluebirds in the workplace. But, a sure sign of faddishness for me was when the Harvard business press inserted itself and put out a one-volume compendium on three au courant topics: Happiness, Mindfulness and Sustainability (HMS).
The Harvard book compresses the three and makes clear (for me) that HMS are inter-related, indeed so much so you cannot tell them apart. Yet, each claims to draw “on fascinating lessons from psychology, neurobiology and philosophy” as if there is scientific proof of these concepts. For example, it claimed with certainty that HMS organizations do better those not so happy, mindful or sustainable organizations.
HMS is different from fads like Six Sigma, or Re-engineering or Matrix Management; the HMS trio is less about prescribing how to do business than it is about one’s state of being or mindset.
Perhaps we should take a look. Certainly we do not want to be on the sinister side of the HMS continuum: unhappy, un-mindful, and unsustainable. Perhaps we already are, but do we want to be there? If not, let’s see how we can change toward the bright side, to Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
Here are the key elements for shoring up HMS:
Human connection (recognize others daily).
Gratitude for self and others.
Positive outlook for mind and body; turn stress to your advantage.
Purpose: find meaning in your work.
Generosity (practice kindness to others).
Take a Break from Your Goals.
Hire for Attitude and Train for Skill (Where have we seen that before?)

If you think about it, there is really not much new in seeking happiness, being mindful and wanting sustainability. Maybe there’s a new emphasis in being purposeful in the pursuit of HMS.
Essentially HMS is the repurposing of ways of human thinking and behavior that have been known for centuries. Nothing is new except for the increased emphasis and the alleged science that claims HMS works and is good for you and the organization.
The encapsulated notions make good sense for anyone, working or not. However, we do go a bit too far if and when we mandate happiness in the workplace. You will be happy – or else.
Reality is otherwise. People have lives, they endure, they prevail or fail, they suffer or find joy, they seek and find or get lost; in any case they need a helping hand.
And, effective leaders need to be aware of followers and what is happening with them. So, EQ (emotional intelligence) – albeit designated a “fad” - may in fact be worthy of cultivating. And, keeping in mind the underlying practices of HMS may help one with improving his or her EQ score.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018


Posted by jlubans on September 07, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Oil painting by Sergei Gribkov 1854

A CERTAIN Cook, rather more educated than his fellows, went from his kitchen one day to a neighboring tavern —he was of a serious turn of mind, and on that day he celebrated the anniversary of a friend's death—leaving a Cat at home, to guard his viands from the mice.
On his return, what does he see?
The floor strewed with fragments of a pie, and Vaska the Cat crouching in a corner behind a vinegar-barrel, purring with satisfaction, and busily engaged in disposing of a chicken.
"Ah, glutton! ah, evil-doer!" exclaims the reproachful Cook. "Are you not ashamed of being seen by these walls, let alone living witnesses? What! be an honorable Cat up to this time—one who might be pointed out as a model of discretion!
And поw, ah me! how great a disgrace!
Now all the neighbors will say,
“The cat Vaska is a rogue; the cat Vaska is a thief.
Vaska must not be admitted into the kitchen, not even into the courtyard, any more than a ravenous wolf into the sheepfold.
He is utterly corrupt; he is a pest, the plague of the neighborhood."
Thus did our orator, letting loose the current of his Words, lecture away without stopping.
But what was the result? While he was delivering his discourse, Vaska the Cat ate up the whole of the chicken.

I would advise some cooks to inscribe these words on their walls : "Don't waste time in useless speech, when it is action that is needed.”
Likely the cook stumbled
home in the wee hours (viz the dangling bottle) and the cat - honorable up to now - got hungry.
One indiscreet nibble, gluttony took over.
Krylov’s advice is clear. When someone reverts to type, why talk about it, take action: Save the chicken!
The office needs Krylov’s inscription as much as the kitchen.
So, at work, when a previously honorable Vaska exercises his envy and seeks to destroy your storehouse of good deeds and successes, don’t just cry in your beer, do something about it.
Time to leave? Don’t linger with false hope. Leave and begin anew.
If it is time to confront the “utterly corrupt”, do so.
Probably long overdue, kicking Vaska in the pants is not a bad idea.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
To purchase a copy of Fables for Leaders, click on this button:

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For those with personal libraries full up, borrow a copy at your library. If not on hand, ask them to get a copy.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018