Friday Fable: Lubans' "Canine Camaraderie."

Posted by jlubans on April 26, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

THEY say a dog greets you each day like a long lost friend because she's forgotten, in the short term, seeing you yesterday. You're still in her long-term memory - of dog bone treats, balls thrown and fetched, long walks in rain or shine and shared moments of companionable silence - hence the effusive greeting: eyes sparkle, the tail helicopters as if lifting the rear off the ground, and her head ducks in stately bows. What joy! I reciprocate and pound her side in heartfelt greeting, pull her ears and pat her head - a most convivial picture of man and best friend.
"Fawning!" you exclaim.
Nay, not forgetting.
A dog's never too busy or overcome by the daily grind or ruled by ambition to stop and greet you in the spirit of past camaraderie.
The moral: Our finest friend among the animals forgets us NOT, nor should we ignore those of our own kind we've met and liked along the way.

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.
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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. Three Latvian folksongs (dainas), ahead of July’s quinquennial Song and Dance Festival in Riga.

Posted by jlubans on April 19, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: All the world’s a stage; a Latvian landscape.

“Song, my song, I sing you
as I sing you,
It’s not me who discovered
you;
Grandmother taught you to me
As she was sitting behind
the stove.”


Folk songs define the Baltic peoples better than land surveys, coastlines, rivers or lines on maps. Each of the three countries has a strong and unique song and dance culture dating back centuries and surviving numerous occupations. Once the people stop singing, like in the opera, it’s over.

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Caption: Often outdoors at a dozen venues, the singing can last into the morning hours. At the finale, the chorales and the audience sing together all night.

“Scan songs to me, girl of
the woods,
You know many songs,
The nightingale taught them
to you,
Sitting in a bush.”


The songs spring from the farms, the forests and the waters.

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Caption: All sizes take part in song and dance.

And, lest we forget the philosophy of leading from the middle, here's the third folksong:
“I’m puzzling over great thoughts,
Where do the masters get /their/
money;
They neither plough, nor harrow,
Nor plant hops.”


I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed about inhabitants of executive suites. Ask yourself, if you are not doing “real work” what are you doing? Thinking “great thoughts”?

*Source: Latvju Dainas: Latvian Folksongs “favorites” in English, Russian, German & Latvian. Compiled by Krišjānis Barons (1835-1023) Riga, Latvia, Writers Union of Soviet Latvia. 1984.

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.





Friday Fable: La Fontaine’s “THE BOY AND THE SCHOOLMASTER”*

Posted by jlubans on April 12, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: A teachable moment? The lesson’s learned, forget the sermon.

“Wise counsel is not always wise,
As this my tale exemplifies.
A boy, that frolick'd on the banks of Seine,
Fell in, and would have found a watery grave,
Had not that hand that planteth ne'er in vain
A willow planted there, his life to save.
While hanging by its branches as he might,
A certain sage preceptor came in sight;
To whom the urchin cried, 'Save, or I'm drown'd!'
The master, turning gravely at the sound,
Thought proper for a while to stand aloof,
And give the boy some seasonable reproof.
'You little wretch! this comes of foolish playing,
Commands and precepts disobeying.
A naughty rogue, no doubt, you are,
Who thus requite your parents' care.
Alas! their lot I pity much,
Whom fate condemns to watch o'er such.'
This having coolly said, and more,
He pull'd the drowning lad ashore.

This story hits more marks than you suppose.
All critics, pedants, men of endless prose,--
Three sorts, so richly bless'd with progeny,
The house is bless'd that doth not lodge any,--
May in it see themselves from head to toes.
No matter what the task,
Their precious tongues must teach;
Their help in need you ask,
You first must hear them preach.”

See my earlier blog on this fable: Aesop’s “THE DROWNING BOY”.
That "critics', pedants', & men of endless prose'" need to hammer the obvious and lord it over the unfortunate reminds me of performance appraisal’s all too common fundamental attribution error. The FAE is our human tendency to attribute favorable outcomes for ourselves as caused by our internal goodness while seeing our failures as caused by external forces beyond our control. However when we view the outcomes of other people we take the opposite view – we tend to see others’ success as a product of luck and their failure as a reflection of their incompetence, laziness or something else within their control, like La Fontaine’s schoolmaster’s belaboring the drowning boy, “A naughty rogue, no doubt, you are!” However true, help first, and, if you must, gab last.
Rabelais also has a version of this fable, vide Gargantua, Book I. ch. xlii. “Help me, said the monk, (hanging helplessly from a tree branch) the devil's name; is this a time for you to prate? You seem to me to be like the decretalist preachers, who say that whosoever shall see his neighbour in the danger of death, ought, upon pain of trisulk excommunication, rather choose to admonish him to make his confession to a priest, and put his conscience in the state of peace, than otherwise to help and relieve him.
And therefore when I shall see them fallen into a river, and ready to be drowned, I shall make them a fair long sermon de contemptu mundi, et fuga seculi; and when they are stark dead, shall then go to their aid and succour in fishing after them.”

* 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.





Teaching the Democratic Workplace: Student Comments

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

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Caption: After the 90 minute final exam the class reconvened for the Egg Drop activity and the Plus/Delta. Here one team explains why its design is the best. Their egg did survive the launch from a “perilous height” – for about ten minutes until stress fractures became apparent.

My students did an anonymous plus/delta on the last day of class (Day 8 on April 4). Overall, the written comments were positive. Many are brief paragraphs on what they are taking away from this class and what they liked. I am heartened and encouraged by the feedback. Here are a couple brief, unedited, examples. (Please bear in mind English is a second or third language for these students):
Comment:
“Group discussions; learning many new things and having fun at the same time; many examples from real life; different sources (books, articles, film); B2E. (Books2Eat)”

Comment:
“I liked the reading texts; one reading text would be useful for my Master work; excellent lecturers; thank you for wonderful time, what we spend together! John Lubans blog; nice pictures from the class exercises; new experience.”

DELTAS (What to improve):
There are several deltas but often these are more about the student’s role in discussion than the course’s content and rationale. Regardless, the students have given me many insights. Below are several that have me thinking already!

Little less home reading.

More examples about libraries.
Discussions in class (not so active of asking of questions)

I would like to work in such democratic library. I would like to try more my library (my workplace) democratic. It depends on people, who will work with me. Democracy would have to be everybody’s necessity, if they want to work in democratic library.

Some more reading texts was hard to understand because in English. We (students) could be more active in class (discussion).

Maybe more theory (from HR or psychology perspective).

It would be nice for the future, one lecture devoted to library experience abroad and in Latvia. It would be very interesting to compare.

I think the group was a little bit passive (no discussion after basketball film); amount of text-some weeks it was OK, some weeks we had to read too much = 80 pages; more reading from your book, it was very interesting.

Sharing ideas and listening to other people are very useful skills. I should train the skill to speak aloud. I noticed that after these classes I do it much (more) often.

Maybe was need some example about how work? How he manage his work members.

We were too passive and didn’t use all possible options to discuss matters we should discuss; some issues are possible only theoretically … there should be more time devoted to ways how to manage changes to happen; I’d like if there were more role games for real situations to find better solutions….

There are no changes only plusses. Only – for exam. It was too difficult.
Only it is sad that there are not many workplaces, where we can find a real democratic workplaces. It would be very, very good, if Latvia’s workplaces would be so democratic, how this interesting course.

The are no deltas -; some texts were very difficult, I did not understand them; the film about basketball I like it, but there is one But: I don’t like basketball. But the film was very good! I like very much the basketball coach. (This could have been Gail Goestenkors or the Coach Gene Hackman played in Hoosiers.)

The students’ and my wish for more democratic workplaces in libraries is, of course, beyond our control. I will try to make more use of the annual list produced by the World Blu “Freedom at Work” organization: You can find its 2013 List of Democratic Workplaces here.
And, I will build on my recent blog about the scarcity of libraries as democratic examples by being more diligent in finding and listing those libraries that are applying democratic concepts. For example, libraries that make extensive use of teams should be mentioned. So would those that make use of rotating leaders. And, I’d count those that have a commitment to being egalitarian and applying the Golden Rule to relationships. While outcomes are important, I think good faith democratic efforts and experiments should be recognized.
If you know of a notable one, please let me know.









Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE FOX, THE DONKEY AND THE LION*”

Posted by jlubans on April 05, 2013  •  Leave comment (2)

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Caption: The fox in C.Y.A. mode.The lion ain't buyin'.

“The fox and the donkey were partners in a hunting expedition but when they encountered a lion, the fox recognized the danger they were in. She went to the lion and offered to betray the donkey if the lion would promise to spare her life in return. The lion agreed to let the fox go, and the fox then led the donkey into a trap and made him fall in. Once he saw that the donkey could not escape, the lion immediately seized the fox, saving the donkey for later. 
Likewise, it is often the case that if you plot against your associates, you will be destroyed together with them.”

Machiavelli may not have liked this fable. It speaks of a base treachery and deviousness, with the tables turned on the conniver – not the Machiavelli way. Conniving at work might not get you eaten by a lion but it’s rarely without some bad karma accruing on the perpetrator; a psychological erosion of credibility, respect and accomplishment for the person who “plots against his associates.”

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

Fulbright Specialist Program

Posted by jlubans on April 03, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

A few weeks ago I got the good news of my appointment to the Fulbright Specialist Roster.

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Caption: Memorial plaque for Senator Fulbright in the lobby of the new University of Warsaw Library. Indicative of the senator’s prestige there is only one other plaque in the lobby: Pope John Paul II.
The Roster is used to match a specialist with an interested agency to work on a project of 2-6 weeks duration.
While the application process was near identical to that for my five month Fulbright, the proposed Specialist project and topic can be more open ended, so that an interested agency can review the roster and find someone with whom to develop a topic of mutual interest and expertise.
I took a more narrow approach and chose to focus on creating a short course on democratic organizations. Giving substance to the idea, I developed an 8-week prototype, the Democratic Workplace. This is the class I have been teaching at the University of Latvia in Riga since early February*. The last class is tomorrow, April 4. I have enjoyed the class and, with a few adjustments, believe it can be transferred easily to other venues.

The course covers teams and teamwork, group dynamics, self-management, theories of leadership and effective followership, communication and conflict resolution. It does not evangelize or preach democracy or that American organizational models are superior. Hardly! We have much to learn from other models and cultures.
I do try to show how and why libraries and other organizations that invite and encourage staff participation do better - are more productive and more innovative – than organizations that limit staff involvement in decision-making.
I use a variety of teaching approaches: lecture, class discussion, readings, including literary selections and, of course, a few chapters from Leading from the Middle.

Also, I emphasize team-building activities, media, and a self-managed team project. Throughout, I use my on-the-job experience in leading change initiatives inl large academic libraries and directing self-managing teams to provide a pragmatic perspective on how to apply democratic ideals in the work place.

This blog has served in part as a diary for how I prepared for this class and what I am learning as I teach.

Now we’ll see if others are interested in the ever-elusive and fascinating concept of self-governance. There is a cost-sharing requirement for the sponsor, unlike my five-month Fulbright, but I gather that requirement can be met with in-kind services; it’s not a deal-breaker.

* The prototype class is for credit and runs for 8-weeks or 32 contact hours. It has 16 students, half master’s degree students and half librarian practitioners and meets once a week, for three hours.
My Course Objectives were that by the end of the class, the student should have well-formed answers to these questions: What is a democratic work place? What is a self-managing team? How do teams develop? Why do teams succeed? Why do teams fail? Who are democratic team leaders and what do they do? Who and what are democratic followers and what do they do? How can democratic teams and concepts exist in a bureaucracy?