Honing Leadership

Posted by jlubans on February 28, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Wild as the wind. (photo by Debra Garside)

Kimberley Bugg, of the NYC College of Technology, offers up some ideas for identifying future leaders in the information science profession. (I think her ideas apply to most professions.)
She elaborates in a recent issue of College & Research Libraries News about five leadership development activities:
Develop organization-specific leadership competencies
Identifying potential leaders
Honing leadership
Creating opportunities for leadership
Succession planning

Perhaps the most important activity is that of “identifying potential leaders”. She quotes me:
“John Lubans Jr. describes these individuals as organizational spark plugs. A spark plug is someone with high energy, emotional intelligence, good humor, people skills, and a can-do attitude. They are highly promotable because they help the organization realize important objectives, act on good ideas, initiate, need little encouragement, follow through, and collaborate.”
It is nice, for any author, to be quoted, certainly, but I do marvel at what rings the bell - in this case, the fireplug metaphor - for some people and what I may think is profound, seems to only jangle faintly for many.
In any case, I appreciate the tip of the hat.
I would counter Ms. Bugg’s suggestion that “Honing leadership” through formal leadership skills programs – seminars, classes, symposia – somehow will reveal and prepare the best leaders.
I have seen a long parade of people who attend these seminars who move on up not long after "getting their ticket punched".
All decent people, but most are devotedly hierarchical and extremely traditional in how they view the job, colleagues and staff. Too few have ridden Hannah Kahn’s “Wild Horse”*
Yes, it is good to be aware of leadership theory and such, but I have long found that what someone does is the most important evidence of whether they have it go with or not.

*”Ride a wild horse

with purple wings

Striped yellow and black

except his head

which must be red.
Ride a wild horse

against the sky
hold tight to his wings
before you die

whatever else you leave undone

once ride a wild horse

into the sun.”

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, will be out in June 2017 as
both an e-book and a soft cover print-on-demand book. The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned, Béatrice Coron.
I hope to have prepublication information up soon on Amazon and other purchasing venues.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Abstemius's (Sir Roger L'Estrange) “A Fly upon a Wheel”*

Posted by jlubans on February 24, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Artist unknown. From a 1590 Aesop.

“What a Dust do I raise! says the Fly upon the Coach-Wheel? and what a rate do I drive at, says the same Fly again upon the Horse's Buttock?”

“This Fly in the Fable, is every Trifling Arrogant Fop in Nature, by what Name or Title soever Dignify'd, or Distinguish'd”.

One of my favorites.
While L’Estrange would add on exhaustive commentaries for each fable – often with in-depth philosophical analysis - I know of no one who translates these ancient truths with more vim and vigor.
How many workplace “Fops” do you know? I knew a few, they were clever enough to keep their jobs, but their narcissism sure had a negative effect on co-workers. And, they opened their supervisors to criticism since it had to be the supervisor's fault, surely, that enabled for the Fly’s selfishness!
More recently, librarians at the National Library of Latvia developed a similar fable from the Latvian proverb: “We have rowed well,” said the flea as the fishing boat arrived at its mooring.”

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

N.B. Both of these fables are in my book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, June 2017.
It will be both an e-book and a soft cover print-on-demand book. The print book will feature illustrations by the renowned artist, Béatrice Coron.
I am now in the process of selecting the on-line vendor, BookBaby or Ingram.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

“No CEO.”

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

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

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Lubans’ The Blackberry’s Thorns

Posted by jlubans on February 17, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)


A long time ago when trees and flowers spoke to man, it was not always wisdom they uttered. Usually, but not always.
Let us, on this spring-like day, follow a Farmer with his pruning shears into the blackberry thicket.
Have you ever heard such malevolent and spiteful muttering? Such tangy language? Well, not exactly tangy, unless you are among those that believe x-rated cursing is a sign of creativity and high intellect.
If you do, join in as the blackberry canes and thorns tear away, verbally and literally, at the Farmer while he prunes the winter’s deadwood.
Bloodied but unbowed, the Farmer seeks to sooth the blackberry; explaining that the dead canes will impede the blackberry’s flowering in the summer, but to no avail.
The blackberry canes see the growing pile and vow they will never give up – even pruned, they will strike and do harm, “You m---- f----- s. o. b.; you w-‘s son, you maggoty pile of s- ….”
Job done, the Farmer calmly balls up the canes (the canes and thorns cling to each other) and prods it out of the thicket into a brush pile for burning.

Don’t misuse your weapons or words, lest they be used against you.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Teamwork vs. Going-It-Alone

Posted by jlubans on February 14, 2017  •  Leave comment (2)

Caption: Tenting for Tickets.

I’ve written before about how many organizations emphasize
teams only to reward individual performance.
We profess working together but reward star performers. I’ve done it myself.
In teaching the Democratic Workplace, all about collaboration and how group effort can be more productive than soloing, I reverted to the traditional model of final exam to test for individual’s achievement.
Then, it dawned on me, Why not a group final? As my several workplace critics would complain - to think it is to do it for me – I asked the students, on the last day of class, if they wanted to take the test in groups and to accept the group score for their exam grade. They readily agreed.
An experiment, I’ve done this now three times and see no reason to stop. Here’s a quote from my blog about the group final:
“The results – the scores - were excellent - and should serve to drive home a central class notion that group work – when everyone is prepared to do their best – can often be superior to individual effort, to going it alone. These scores (on a scale of 10) seem to confirm this: 10.0, 9.5, and 9.3.
The previous three classes used a similar exam, with much greater variation among individual scores, ranging from lows in the 6’s to high 9’s.
And, I saw that the students learned from each other in coming up with answers. There was much animated discussion during the 50 questions final. And, given the course content and class objectives, the students saw for themselves that group work can be more effective than individual – on average - if everyone is prepared to bring their best.”
So, it was interesting to read in the Wall Street Journal of something like a group final occurring in the tent city erected for the big game between two rivals, the Duke Blue Devils and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.
Due to fanatic fans and limited seating for students – much more demand than supply - students have begun a self-monitoring tradition of tenting outside the arena, often for weeks, - in rain, snow and ice - to be sure to get into the big game.
Indeed, the tradition has become so entrenched; tenting has had to be limited to space available.
So, tent space is rationed by basketball trivia testing. Only those with the highest scores are allowed to put up their tents.
And, because not all seats in the student section are equal, they’ve added a second trivia quiz to determine the order in which the students enter the arena to take their seats – actually, the students never sit down - in the reserved student section.
Some groups are happy just to get in the building; others want to be as close to the sidelines as possible, as close to the action as they can get, providing a “6th Man” to the five players on the floor.
The WSJ elaborates about what sounds like a group final:
“One of the tents that did better (testing wise) had a simple plan. ‘All of us studied as much as we could possibly study,’ said Duke sophomore Rachel Sereix. When the exam began, her tent ripped apart pages to pass around and check each other’s work, and they turned in their answers at the last possible second.
Their strategy worked. They scored 86%—and Tent 5. They knew enough about Duke basketball to know in advance where they’ll be standing for the biggest game of the season: in the front row.”
So, all fun, but another example of how group effort – when shared among aspiring and committed team members can produce better results than going it alone.

Happy End Note: The Duke Blue Devils earned bragging rights over their Tobacco Road rivals inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils won 86-78.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

The Barnacle Bureaucracy

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

Caption: In need of a scraping.

While along for the ride on a snorkeling expedition in the Bay of Cortez at La Paz, Baja, Mexico, I heard the guide’s advice for swimmers getting back into the boat. One thing he said stuck with me. Keep you feet out from under the boat to avoid getting cut by the barnacles.
All ocean going craft are aggravated by barnacles. Periodically, boats have to have their hulls and keels scraped to get rid of these crusty free loaders. They slow down the boat and they can harm you.
It brought to mind, metaphorically, my experiences in some bureaucracies - in my case, large libraries - which seem to be encrusted with barnacles, impeding progress and doing damage to the workers
Back on shore, when I did an e-search on my invented phrase, the “barnacle bureaucracy” I found one article, "Barnacles",that used the two words but never paired them up. So, I am claiming a primacy of sorts for “barnacle bureaucracy”.
The article is enlightening because it elaborates on the metaphor and provides numerous parallels.
No, I am not claiming all bureaucracies are barnacled; some are sleek and speedy in helping people navigate not-for-profit agencies.
Some, however, are less so and do take their time, wallowing like an encrusted coastal steamer from port to port, and maybe or maybe not arriving on time with its cargo.
Here in my temporary home of Salem, Oregon I’ve been an observer of how some county agencies behave. Let’s just say I have seen some “inefficiencies”. Perhaps inefficiencies are barnacles. My Marxist friends would, no doubt shrug a collective shoulder and make excuses for that’s the way it is; deal with it. It is after all the pursuit of the public good – the intended good - that’s important.
Tell that to the person who’s not been paid for two months because the payroll office does not talk to the service agency. Or, counsel the job seeker who’s been cleared to get a job but has to wait an additional two months because the vetting done by one agency will not be used by another agency; it “must” do its own.
Redundancies are barnacles. Tradition-bound ways of doing things are barnacles. Non-work (e.g. checking of other people’s work) is a large impeding barnacle.
I could go on – and so could most of us – but I won’t.
Now and then, all “boats” need to have their bottoms scraped clean.
Caption: Thanks, Russ, the sailor man.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017