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.



Hindu Fable: THE FOWLER AND THE PIGEONS*

Posted by jlubans on May 16, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration by Saheb Ram Tudu, 2011.

On the banks of the (Godavari River) there stood a large Silk-cotton-tree to which the birds came at night from all quarters to roost.
Now, on a certain night, when the moon was setting behind the western hills and the night was nearly over, a Fowler came and spread his net under the Silk-cotton-tree, scattered a few grains of rice on the ground, and hid himself at a short distance.
At this moment the King of the Pigeons, named Speckle-Neck, chanced to be passing through the sky with his companions, and caught sight of the grains of rice.
Now, all Pigeons are very fond of rice. Nevertheless, the King of the Pigeons said to his companions:
"How is it possible for rice to be lying on the ground in this un-traveiled forest?
We will inquire into this, of course, but we do not like the look of it. Love of rice may lead to our ruin. We must be very careful."
"Oh, it's all very well to talk of being careful!" rejoined a young
and foolish Pigeon.
"Being too careful may cost us a good dinner."
At this all the Pigeons flew down to feast upon the rice, and were
promptly caught in the net.
Immediately they all began to blame the young Pigeon whose thoughtlessness had led them into trouble.
But when King Speckle-Neck heard their reproaches he said:
"Do not let us quarrel and blame one another; but let us work together and find some remedy.
Listen and I will tell you what to do:
At one and the same moment and with one purpose we must all rise up under the net and fly off together, net and all.
For even small things have great strength when they work together.
Even a furious Elephant can be bound with ropes of twisted grass if there are enough of them."
Upon considering this advice the other Pigeons thought it good, and decided to follow it.
Accordingly, all together at the same moment they flew upward and bore away the net with them.
The Fowler, who was still hiding at a distance, followed them for a time; but presently the Pigeons and the net passed out of sight, and he had to give up the chase.
______________
While they are on a roll, let’s hope a wee mousie comes by and gnaws through the net, freeing the pigeons.
An unusually rich fable, it displays foolish “group think”, ignored wisdom and then, wisdom embraced, and, finally, a lesson on cooperation learned for another day – we hope.
In the workplace or just about anywhere, ignoring something simply too good to be true is a human condition; it is ever with us.
When we want something so badly we can taste it, out the window flies our natural wariness.
Why, unlike these pigeons who realize their folly, some people won’t give up their group think conviction until the “Fowler” drops them into the boiling water.

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

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More Fables for Leaders are a wee click away:


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

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Last Gasp*: How Annual Performance Appraisal Keeps on, Keepin’ on.

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

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The BBC offers us the latest on performance appraisal (PA): it is “…extremely costly and ha(s) no impact on productivity”.
Overall, “A soul-crushing enterprise.”
Echoes of W. E. Deming! You may recall his frank assessment:
“(PA) builds fear, demolishes teamwork… leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, and dejected.”
And yet, here we are at the end of the second decade of the second millennium, and some 80% of companies still use formal performance appraisal.
In justification, they trot out the usual HR excuses: appraisals “aren’t all bad.”
And, PA provides “a macro-view of performance and engagement levels across the company”. To whom? I have to ask. What exactly is a “macro-view”? And, can you get it only by filling out a form with a required six signatures?
My experience with PA is hardly unique. In keeping with the pervasive negative workplace view, my organization’s efforts at PA were self-serving, skewed, politicized and so dreadedly ritualistic they had nothing to do with organizational effectiveness.
All too often, bean counter-type managers like pointing to someone’s numerical ranking as a way to justify how the bean counter treats that worker or the BCs myopic view of worker motivation; always external.
If PA is shown to have no impact on productivity, the pro-PA manager always wants more.
If a 20-point scale produces mediocre results, hell, a 40 pointer will do much better! Dream on.
In my halcyon days I eliminated PA entirely for five years. In my direct-report departments (some 100 staff), productivity skyrocketed.
I, of course, was out on the floor, talking to people daily, bouncing around ideas, fielding questions as to how things were going and what needed changing.
One of the most belabored excuses for PA is that it makes compulsory a manager’s having an annual “conversation” with his or her reports.
IOW, normally, they would not talk with their staff! You’ve heard it: “If you don’t hear from me, that means you’re doing OK.”
Maybe the folks in the corner office need to find out why any manager has to be forced to have those conversations.
In HR eyes, this mandatory conversation is essential so that companies are not “vulnerable to lawsuits if they don’t have a (documented) way to justify decisions.”
Eliminating formal performance appraisal allows more time for employee advising, coaching and disciplining. "No PA" gives a supervisor and an employee more time to talk about what really matters.
In my case, if guidance was needed, they got it. I could have done better on the discipline end but still most people – the “mighty middle” - continued to do a good to very good job and some were liberated.
Our “No PA” approach let the liberated do bigger and better things. And a few did, becoming star performers.
Alas, my halcyon days came to an end and PA came back with boots on. It still is goin’ on, long after I’d “left the building”.
Innovation was replaced by “tradition” (the hierarchy). Tradition requires PA along with other top-down, tidy organizational controls.
If you are thinking of dropping PA, what will you do with the hundreds, if not thousands, of gained prime time hours?
Want a boost in productivity and job satisfaction? Dump PA.

*See my:
The Not-So-Big-Dance: Performance Appraisal

Zombie Performance Appraisal
And for a bit of humor on an un-fun topic:
Innovative Performance Evaluation, the Beer Wheel

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


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

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Phaedrus' THE ASS AND THE LYRE*

Posted by jlubans on May 08, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Carving from Romanesque Church Aulnay-de-Saintonge, 12th c.


How Genius is often wasted through Misfortune.
An Ass espied a Lyre lying in a meadow: he approached and tried the strings with his hoof; they sounded at his touch.
“By my faith, a pretty thing,” said he; “it happens unfortunately that I am not skilled in the art.
If any person of greater skill had found it, he might have charmed my ears with divine notes.”

_____________
An ass playing a musical instrument? While the ass in the fable appreciates his limits (hooves not fingers) he still enjoys the lyre’s melodic notes.
Some have this as a fable which describes improbabilities. An ass is as likely to play a harp as is a goat to bleet out an operatic aria.
I am less sure about that take.
It seems to me that this fable is about anyone’s appreciation of someone else’s creation.
I cannot paint a picture, yet I know what I like when I see a artist’s work. I can’t do art, but I can certainly voice my approval or disapproval.
And so it can be at work.
I may not know how to do some arcane accounting routine, but I sure can praise a spread sheet that answers my questions.
Or, I can explain that I need more information and in a certain format.


*Source: THE COMEDIES OF TERENCE AND THE FABLES OF PHÆDRUS.
TRANSLATED By HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A.
TO WHICH IS ADDED A METRICAL TRANSLATION OF PHÆDRUS,
By CHRISTOPHER SMART.
LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS, 1887.

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


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

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Horse-sense Leadership

Posted by jlubans on May 06, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Back in April, Sam Walker wrote of a new staff development program, one involving horses.
You know the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, BUT … (you fill in the rest.)
Well this is a horse of a different color, (ouch).
Albeit gimmicky sounding – as do many well-meaning open air T&D programs - this is not about making the horse drink, it is truly about leading him/her to the trough.
Now a delicate point for some would be the analogy that a horse is like your average worker: in desperate need of being led, of being shown the way, of needing daily guidance as to what to do.
Actually, the story reveals that horses, like humans, need less “leadership” not more. Collaboration gets better results than pulling or pushing the horse.
The horse T&D organizers would have you believe that effective team building takes places, listening and leadership skills are enhanced, and, it sure beats a day at the office. (No, the last item is not in the brochure.)
I don’t mean to sound dismissive or to diminish these efforts to improve communication and understanding in the workplace. There’s plenty to do and outdoor T&D can be very effective, especially for an individual who willingly engages and is open to reflecting about how a “day in the woods” applies to him at work and at home.
At the least, a participant will gain insights about who she is when working with other people.
There’s a genuine learning provided by Dallas and Disney, the two horses resisting human persuasion usually framed in the KITA school of management; Want movement? Kick ‘em in the ass!
This is “carrot and stick” external motivation; coercive in nature, it has a clear message; do as I say and you will be rewarded (a carrot). Resist and you will be punished (the stick).
Failure to move the horses might prostrate the KITA crowd; the head trainer says, “We always have a mental-health professional standing by.” Welcome to the newly sensitized world of outdoor T&D!
I have to ask why they don’t have a few good old cowboys standing by? Could be that a real cowboy would never take part but they’d have some mighty good advice to offer.
The day of which Mr. Walker writes, the take away lesson is that the horses respond best to humble people: “It’s usually a quiet, hardworking, unassuming person with a collaborative streak—which sounds a lot like the kind of manager most employees want to work for“ who gets the horse to move.
Indeed, on that day it was an humble (she admitted to a lack of self-confidence) participant, who spent time with and calmly spoke to the horse, stroked its neck. IOW, got to know the horse. It followed her.
I shared this example last week in my Leadership & Literature class when teaching about the so-called H Factor: “Humbleness and Honesty” which posits that humble group members are of considerable value to a team. The theory is that team members who exhibit strong humility probably will do better than someone who seeks to dominate.
Call it a social skill, the ability to suspend one’s self-importance for the good of the group.
The horse story took me back to a rainy day in a forest with a dozen MBA students. I was co-facilitating "Hot Stuff", a timed team building game in which the group is given resources and then must figure out how to extract an item out of a circle without stepping foot into it. Failure to complete the task results in the destruction of the human race.
Two of the group - both guys - would not stop telling the others what to do. Nothing was working nor was the group close to a solution, but the two guys kept on directing – they just knew better. So, my co-facilitator and I muted them!
What does that mean? We told them they could not speak for the rest of the game, to put a sock in it, so to speak. (Lest you think it unlikely they’d follow this directive, keep in mind these students were part of a class and the professor was in attendance. They knew if they disrupted, they would be down-graded.)
Guess what happened next, in click bait terms?
The quietest members, one in particular, suggested the several collaborative steps to solving the problem. The group extracted the item in the circle just before time (and the human race) expired.
The two muted guys, beet-red in face, were not happy. Did they learn anything? Alas, probably not. If there ever was a need for a mental health professional standing by this was it!

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


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

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

An HINDU FABLE: THE BRAHMIN AND THE POTS

Posted by jlubans on April 23, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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ONCE upon a time in the city of Varna, there lived a Brahmin whose name was Deva Sarman.
At the Equinoctial Feast of the Dussara he received the gift of a dish of flour, which he took with him to a Potter's shed; and there he lay down in the shade, staff in hand, among the pots.
As he thus reclined he began to meditate after the following fashion:
“I can sell this flour for at least ten Cowrie-shells, and with them I can purchase some of these pots and sell them at a profit.
With all that money I can buy a stock of betel-nuts and body-cloths and make a new profit by selling them; and so I can go on buying and trading until I get a Lakh** of Rupees—what's to prevent me?
Then I shall marry four young wives—at least, one of them shall be both young and beautiful, and she shall be my favourite.
Of course the other three will be jealous; but if they quarrel and talk too much and make themselves troublesome, I shall beat them like this—and this—and this—“
And so saying, he flourished his staff with such vigour that he not only smashed his own meal-dish, but also broke several of the Potter's jars. The Potter, rushing in, caught him by the throat and threw him out of the shed, and so ended the Brahmin's dreams of a Lakh of Rupees.

Who, e'er he makes a gain has spent it.
Like the Pot-breaker, will repent it.
_______________
My first boss used to say,
“There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.” The Brahmin’s dreams come up empty.
Is his loss a form of karma for greedy dreams or is this always the outcome for he who counts his chickens before they are hatched?
OK, enough of the childhood clichés.
Serves him right for his wife-beating. Had he written Dear Abby he might still have his dish of flour.

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

** Google says one lakh Indian rupees is worth about $1,500 USD.

Phaedrus’ THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE VICTOR IN THE GYMNASTIC GAMES*

Posted by jlubans on April 16, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Black-figure amphora ca. 6th BCE.

How Boastfulness may sometimes be checked.

A Philosopher chancing to find the Victor in a gymnastic contest too fond of boasting, asked him whether his adversary had been the stronger man.
To this the other replied: “Don’t mention it; my strength was far greater.”
“Then, you simpleton,” retorted the Philosopher, “what praise do you deserve, if you, being the stronger, have conquered one who was not so powerful?
You might perhaps have been tolerated if you had told us that you had conquered one who was your superior in strength.”
_________________
Like Krylov’s nightingale who bashes the aspiring yet toneless musicians, or Aesop’s harsh criticism of an ego-tripping writer, Phaedrus tells what to say to the braggadocios among us: If you are so great, how can you revel in a victory over someone weaker?
Good point.
I recall, after leading an organization out of its basement ranking to the top ranking among its peers, asking, Who’s the competition?
While we’d done a good job, the answer to that question was to remind me that anyone could have done so. We were fortunate in being given freedom to innovate, to repurpose resources, and to cut red tape.
We’d stormed the hill; the mountains, the real challenges, lay ahead.

*Source: THE COMEDIES OF TERENCE AND THE FABLES OF PHÆDRUS.
TRANSLATED By HENRY THOMAS RILEY, B.A.
TO WHICH IS ADDED A METRICAL TRANSLATION OF PHÆDRUS,
By CHRISTOPHER SMART.
LONDON: GEORGE BELL & SONS, 1887.

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


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

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

From Riga: Teaching Leadership & Literature

Posted by jlubans on April 08, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Barefoot Rainis. Look carefully, past BIG Rainis, down the slope in the background, is little Rainis. Big Rainis is about 12 feet tall (4 meters) Little R, under 5’. Big Rainis looks skyward unconcerned of those many taking selfies. Little R, when you are seated next to him, looks disconcertingly into your eyes, wondering who you are and why you are here.
(Photo by Viktorija Moskina.)

On the road again, I am for the next few months in Riga, Latvia. What takes me here? A Fulbright award to teach a short class on leadership concepts and theories at the University of Latvia.
I’ve puzzled on the topic. First, I’d use my Fables for Leaders book and we’d have long discussions about the morals and points of these ancient and modern stories.
But, I began to worry – could we really spend 3 hours (the length of each class) in discussion of a book?
Perhaps another book, but not mine.
I began to revise the original idea, now months back. Un-jelled, each class will change a bit but I think I have got something to run with.
Here’s what’s become clear as a basis for the L&L class:
- Literary and cultural examples of leadership and leadership qualities. In literature, I've included a variety of the other arts.
- How culture (including art and music and politics) affects leaders and followers and vice versa. It’s a two way process; bounded by culture we take from it and we give to it.
- On occasion, I’ll take a separate track and elaborate, briefly, on the prescriptive theories of leadership, management and organizational behavior. This separate track is independent of art, culture and literature. In other words the fodder of management. We’ll add some mustard with paradoxical questions.
- A new twist: hearing from Latvian leaders and artists and their experiences; their use of metaphors, legends, philosophy, and inherited values to influence culture. We’ll consider what it means to act heroically.
- Finally, I’ve added something I call “Artistic Insights”. We’ll step aside to view a propaganda film from 1977 about a successful manager of a Soviet era farm collective: we’ll wonder what Tom T. Hall means when he demands, “Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs?” and, we’ll discuss the meaning of a Latvian pop singer’s take about a national leader/hero, the Poet Laureate, Rainis (pictured).
My first class was last week. Twenty bright students, all with good English and interest in the topic. My next class is this week. I keep revising.
__________
My book, “Fables for Leaders”, is only a click away:


And, my 2010 book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Sir Roger L’Estrange’s APPLES AND HORSE-TURDS*

Posted by jlubans on March 22, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Rene Magritte’s Son of Man, 1946

Upon a very great Fall of Rain, the Current carried away a huge Heap of Apples, together with a Dunghill that lay in the Watercourse.
They floated a good while together like Brethren and Companions; and as they went thus dancing down in the Stream, the Horse-Turds would be every foot crying out still, “Alack-a-day! How we Apples swim!”
THE MORAL. Every thing would be thought greater in the World than it is; and the Root of it is this, that it first thinks itself so.

_________________
Like braggadocious fishing boat fleas claiming as the boat comes into harbor, “We have rowed well!” here we have Horse turds along for the ride.
They’re in the flood with Apples like “Brethren and Companions” regaling all who will listen, “How we Apples swim!”
So, the moral would have us be mindful of humankind’s (yours and mine) impression that we are more important than we really are.
In other words, practice humility, be humble, lest ye look foolish like the Horse-turds claiming to be something they are not.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.
__________
More “Fables for Leaders” are only a click away:


And, my 2010 book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Krylov’s THE CASK*

Posted by jlubans on March 16, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Ye Olde Wooden Cask

NEIGHBOUR, a favor I would ask⁠
 —'Tis no great thing—'tis but a Cask
An empty Cask's not much to lend
Just to accommodate a friend.
When one money wants to borrow.
Then 'tis as well to cry 'To-morrow—
Not just now—I can't indeed—
No cash have I but what I need.'
For he that lends away his purse
May find it to return averse."
The Cask was lent—the Cask came back
Quite sound—at least, without a crack;
But then of oil't had such a snack!
So strong a scent that it quite spoiled
Whatever was poured in. 'Twas boiled.
Was scalded, aired; yet still the taint
Remained matter of complaint.
To cure it was a fruitless task.
And so they burned the infected Cask.

Parents! The lesson of my fable
⁠For you is specially intended.
⁠Deem not defects may be evaded
Imbibed in youth; since naught is able.
When once the evil's taken place,
Early impressions to efface,
Do what we may, they still prevail
And to correct them all our efforts fail.

________________
The epimythium
(the moral at the end of a fable) would have us be careful with whom our darling and dearest children associate. We know our Johnny or Janie would do no wrong; if misdeeds are done, it’s the fault of those friends from the wrong side of the tracks!
Maybe.
Still, there is truth in our fable.
I recall delegating one of our staff to a multi-university program. The planned cooperative result was years overdue; yet the project kept stumbling along, one excused delay after another.
So, to get it over and done with, we sent one of our staff to help out.
Alas, our staffer soon began to echo all the reasons why the project was so far behind. The only cure was more. More of everything: time, money and staff; he’d been, as they say, co-opted or tainted evermore like the borrowed cask.

*Source: Krilov, Fables. Translated from the Russian for Fraser's Magazine.
__________
More “Fables for Leaders” are only a click away:


And, my 2010 book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

Krylov's THE ELEPHANT AS GOVERNOR (The Sheep’s Petition)*

Posted by jlubans on March 09, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Detail from a monument to Krylov by Peter Klodt von Urgensburg (1854–55)

AN Elephant was once appointed ruler of a forest.
Now, it is well known that the race of elephants is endowed with great intelligence; but every family has its unworthy scion.
Our Governor was as stout as the rest of his race are, but as foolish as the rest of his race are not.
As to his character, he would not intentionally hurt a fly.
Well, the worthy Governor becomes aware of a petition laid before him by the Sheep, stating that their skins are entirely torn off their backs by the Wolves.
"Oh, rogues!" cries the Elephant, "what a crime! Who gave you leave to plunder?
But the Wolves say,
"Allow us to explain, О father.
Did not you give us leave to take from the Sheep a trifling contribution** for our backs in winter?
It is only because they are stupid sheep that they cry out. They have only a single fleece taken from each of them, but they grumble about giving even that! "
“Well, well," says the Elephant, "take care what you do. I will not permit any one to commit injustice.
As it must be so, take a fleece from each of them.
But do not take from them a single hair besides."

He who has rank and power, but wants sense, however good his heart may be, is sure to do harm.

**ОЬгок—A tax levied on the Russian peasant by his master.

-----------------
This is another version of Krylov’s The Sheep’s Petition.
Herein it’s not a lion but a feckless elephant dispensing injustice. Unlike Krylov’s The Grandee, this elephant does not know his limits.
So, cluelessly he goes along with the wolves and their wicked scheme.
I’ll use this fable on my first day of the “Leadership and Literature” class, April 4, at the University of Latvia.
A few of my discussion questions will dwell on a leader’s self-assessment: How am I doing? What can I be doing better? Who can I turn to for guidance.
If the elephant has an advisor, what is her role? Does she speak up on behalf of the shorned sheep or does she let it be, lest she earn some injustice by speaking the truth?

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

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


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


© Copyright John Lubans 2019