A "Deferred Maintenance" Metaphor

Posted by jlubans on July 25, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: BEFORE – Note the screening overgrown shrubbery.

Caption: AFTER – Spruced up, landscaped and a restored. Photo by author, July 2017.

Across the street from where we live in Riga, Latvia is the campus of the First Riga Hospital (est. 1803).
In 2011, when I had my Fulbright to teach at the University of Latvia, the main building looked pretty much like in the BEFORE picture. I walked past that visually impenetrable fence daily to catch my bus for where I teach.
This June, I was amazed to see that under the unkempt jungle was a beautifully rendered fence matching the Art Nouveau architectural style of the main building.
The fence was once again a thing of beauty anchored in rose colored granite, the first level was again revealed with a small apron of lawn setting off the curving drive, and the building soared from ground to tiled and turreted roof.
I was taken with the contrast. This sudden Cinderella transformation of what had been a grim, unwelcoming building suggested to me what can happen in some organizations. We become depressed by decades of inaction, decades of postponed decisions, decades of waiting for additional funding to get us to where we want to be - a deferred maintenance of the organization’s spirit, not just the physical facility.
While lack of money can inhibit service provision, often, if we have the will, we can make low cost improvements. Those remarkable improvements at the Riga First Hospital came about by clearing away some of the undergrowth, cleaning and restoring the high quality stone, brick and metal, and painting the fence – opening up the view from outside and, importantly, from within.
That sort of dramatic improvement can often be done within existing resources – it’s a matter of implementing a plan to get the most benefit for the organization’s workers, its clients, and how its community perception.
I recall doing something like this when we took a step-by-step reduction and elimination of backlogged materials in a large research library. As we chipped away steadily, there was a perceptible freeing up of the organizational spirit, a realization that we could do it, that we were not bound to a perverse pride of achievement in having a large backlog.
Instead we tackled it, brought it under control and within a few years eliminated it.
Our leader at the time termed those backlogs an albatross, choking the organization, impeding its progress, and stifling innovation because we had to cope with this growing jungle of unfinished work. He was right.
Most rewarding of all was that we did it with existing staff and resources. That achievement encouraged many in the organization to take on additional challenges and not settle for second or third best.
As we streamlined and freed up staff from routines, we were then able to move that extra staff to other parts of the organization, specifically service points for students and faculty.
For the next several years what had been a stodgy organization gained a sense of urgency, became vibrant, full of innovation, and gained additional support from the parent organization.

Caption. Close up of the restored fence on the pinkish granite stone. Photo by author.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($3.99) and a soft cover book, ($24.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.
Update. The book has been printed as a Riga edition of 30, numbered copies. Ten have been given to friends and libraries in Latvia. The balance will be sent to review media in the USA.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable: DIY.

Posted by jlubans on July 20, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

What fable can you develop from the above photo taken a few days ago in Vermanes Garden Park in Riga, Latvia?
If you look closely, on the stone lion’s haunch sits a swallow. Is it like Latvian proverb: “We have rowed well,’ said the flea as the fishing boat arrived at its mooring.” Or does something else come to mind?

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover book, ($23.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

“A Captain Since Kindergarten”, Part 2*

Posted by jlubans on July 16, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Latvia’s Castle of Light A-building, July 2013. Photo by author.

For one sports writer, it is not the super stars but the captains – often not the best players - who create and sustain the greatest teams. Sam Walker, the author of “The Seven Leadership Secrets of Great Team Captains”, elaborates:
“(The teams) all had just one shared characteristic: Their long streaks of dominance either began or ended—and in many cases overlapped precisely—with the tenure of one player. And in every case, this player was … the captain.”
Boiled down, Walker’s captains exhibit these qualities:
Work hard,
Break rules when necessary,
Are pragmatic in speech,
Lead by doing,
Think for themselves,
Are relentless in pursuit of goals, and
Exercise emotional self-control.
How does this relate to Director Andris Vilks of the National Library of Latvia (LBN)?
Of course, the captaincy metaphor is inspired by Andris himself – that’s his quote in the title.
He told me: “I was not the best player, some were smarter, more knowledgeable. I liked to play; so (it was) important to be on field with other players, so I don’t want to be a coach. I want to be on the field and to play”
Being captain, “I took on responsibility for the team.” And that meant normalizing the team through “demonstrating your enthusiasm” to others. It takes an attitude, “I never like losing”, and “I never give up.”
Andris refers to the library as a team (of 400) of which he is the captain, “All (staff and friends) are members of this huge team - formal and informal.“
“A lion”
The building’s 20-year journey from inception to completion – all under Vilks’ guidance – reveals some of the best captain qualities; independent thinking, tenacity in pursuing a mission and a pragmatic approach in convincing others.
Mara Saule of the University of Vermont (USA), who consulted on the construction of the LBN, told me:
“Early on, the concept for a new National Library of Latvia building was little more than a grand idea …. In becoming a reality, it faced a skeptical public and political resistance over many years and through many changes in government. Nonetheless, Andris pushed on as a tireless and persistent warrior …. Thanks to Andris’ steadfast advocacy and relentless focus on the goal, the National Library now rises above the Daugava as a testament to the adage that no mountain is too high.”
At the building’s grand opening in August of 2014 - amidst Latvia’s elite, including the President and invited guests - the building’s architect Gunnar Birkerts termed Andris, a “lauva”, a lion!
Think for Self / Lead by Doing
In 1989, when he was promoted to the directorship of the National Library Andris was aware of the ten or more “informers” – his word - in the library. Informing, including to the secret police, was a common practice during Soviet times, widely feared and expected. **
Informers received intangible and tangible rewards from the ruling/enforcing culture.
So, on his first day as director he told each of the ten to never come to him with gossip or “information”. This action made clear to everyone this practice was over and done with; it was not going to continue under his leadership.
He was able to do this, he believes, because by 1989 he was well respected (protected) in many quarters for his knowledge and work in the profession; and, because this was the period of “glasnost” and “perestroika” a time of frank and open discussion to restructure the Soviet Union.
Indeed, Latvia regained its second independence on August 21, 1991. Still there was risk; hard-core communists inside Latvia and Russia wanted to crush, literally, any national independence-seeking movements. Had the communists prevailed, Andris would have been fast-tracked to Siberia or worse after secret imprisonment, a Torquemada-style "interview", and a forced confession.
Now, many years later, he still avoids the “whisperers” and people trying to share a secret. “If I feel a negative vibration (at work), I talk directly with the people involved - I do not go around collecting opinions from people - If something is wrong I try to intervene directly or delegate to the person in charge of the involved unit.”
Rule Breaking / Team Building
In the transition in the 90s from communism to democracy, many people were forced by economic hard times to leave the library, to look for gainful employment elsewhere.
Andris had to make a choice as to how he was going to re-build: Try to recruit trained staff from other organizations or to “grow our own”. Andris opted for the latter, “to invest in young people, that is my idea.”
Doing so came with a price. “It was prohibited to pay study fees (for staff) – but we did it. (I was penalized) for paying fees for our young staff. Almost everyone (of this group) is still working here ….”
A staff member told me that the LBNs organizational climate is supportive of staff – in other words, Andris’ idea to “grow our own” prevails. There is “not close supervision, mistakes can be made, (and) experimentation is possible”. That open atmosphere has made LBN a magnet for people from other less-open organizations, “If you have a better way at LBN, do it. You can enact….”
“A grizzly”
I asked Andris how the staff regards him. He told me, frankly, “Only an idiot thinks he is ideal.”
“Sometimes I would be happy if I were more patient – my reaction is not always best. I become too angry, not a teddy bear, sometimes a grizzly.”
However, he is “very fast to forgive, but it (his temper) is a weakness; manager should always control behavior. On other hand they know exactly what I think.” His predecessor told him: ‘Everything is seen on your face’.“
However, for him, a poker face is worse than not showing emotion. A neutral face is only important when you “try to solve conflict between two people. Both sides should understand you want to help” resolve the matter (and do not have preconceived opinions).
The most difficult situation for a leader is when his or her assessment is “very different from what your people think of you – then you are in trouble.”
Andris also ventured that he hopes, when asked, the staff would say that one of his qualities is that of “bringing together”.
“No one is hung”
Andris explained how LBN decisions are made. Decision-making is an important part of what he does, “All day I am spending in decision making.”
“A basic rule, always get the other side of discussion.”
“Consensus in important”; normally the most difficult decisions are made by top management. However, he always asks – “Who will it touch?” and those people are consulted about the decision prior to its being made. “Decisions should involve those who must execute the decision.” Failing to involve those people may lead to a poor outcome. Involving people can be the difference between leadership and dictatorship.
“I like horizontal decision-making – so am sure to include several departments (on problem solving groups”.
“If policy is already clear, then lower levels can make decisions”.
“No one is hung” for making a bad decision.
“Punishment is not the main idea”; “I am more concerned with a bad decision being repeated”; only then we might need to take corrective action.
“We analyze the decision; right or wrong. The decision may not be wrong, it may be different.”
“We should realize and analyze wrong decisions carefully; there may be another rationale and I may need to rethink.”
“I need to understand if the decision is conceptually different or if the wrong approach has been taken or the decision maker lacks confidence.
“Sometimes a “wrong” decision reflects a different – perhaps better - concept and we can accept it.”
He tries to convince managers that “humans are not robots, they may not behave always the way you think or do or want.”

Author’s note: I asked Andris to read a final draft of this essay. Prior to posting, I wanted to make sure I had not misinterpreted his answers to my questions. Not hearing from him after a few days, I asked him over lunch if he'd read the draft and did I need to make any changes? His response, with a touch of embarrassment: “Too many superlatives.”
I would add that Self-effacement is yet another’s best captain’s trait.
While multi-lingual, Andris is most comfortable speaking in Latvian; so my abbreviated English quotes (from my written notes) are but an attempt to epitomize his way of leading.
My personal takeaway is that Andris cares deeply about the individual. If someone strays from the organization’s path, I think Andris would tackle the perceived problem early on, face to face, and not delay or avoid. As he told me, the “best way (is) to just talk with someone.”
He would candidly explain to the person what he was observing and then listen to the individual’s response. I can well imagine a discussion - not a condemnation - leading to a mutually respectful and considerate resolution.

Next, Part 3: After attaining the pinnacle of the new library building, is the job done?

* My essay on Andris Vilks is in three phases: Formation, Application, and Future.
Part 1 was about the shaping of his leadership and focused on influences from childhood to the beginning of his career.
Today’s essay, part 2, is about how those early influences shape his actions and leadership.
**Background: Latvia was made into a Soviet satellite under a secret Nazi and Communist agreement prior to WWII. Inexplicably, the Yalta conference, with America’s ailing President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, England’s Winston Churchill and Russia’s Joseph Stalin, upheld this secret pact and continued the enslavement of several million people in the Baltic countries, not to mention other nations subordinated to the communist way.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($23.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

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

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

Caption. Exculpatory evidence. (Photo by M. Volpone)

“A PEASANT summoned a Sheep into court, charging the poor thing with a criminal offence.
The judge was—the Fox.
The case got into full swing immediately.
Plaintiff and defendant were equally adjured to state, point by point, and without both speaking at once, how the affair took place, and in what their proofs consisted.
Says the Peasant: ‘On such and such a day, I missed two of my fowls early in the morning. Nothing was left of them but bones and feathers. And no one had been in the yard but the Sheep.’
Then the Sheep depones that it was fast asleep all the night in question; and it calls all its neighbours to testify that they had never known it guilty either of theft or of any roguery ; and, besides this, it states that it never touches flesh-meat.
Here is the Fox's decision, word for word :
‘The explanation of the Sheep cannot under any circumstances be accepted.
For all rogues are notoriously clever at concealing their real designs; and it appears manifest, on due inquiry, that on the aforesaid night the Sheep was not separated from the fowls; and fowls are exceedingly savoury, and opportunity favoured it.
Therefore I decide, according to my conscience, that it is impossible that the Sheep could have forborne to eat the fowls; and accordingly the Sheep shall be put to death, and its carcase shall be given to the court, and its fleece shall be taken by the plaintiff.’"

And so it can be at work, when the decision-maker betrays the wronged, the unjustly accused. The Sheep’s fate awaits any person threatening the norms of an organization filled with like-minded dodginess and a shortage of accountability; a certainty for groupthink and the exclusion of opposing ideas.
Groupthink is the realm of the Yes-man; when the dominant culture wants its way, the Yesser acquiesces; he or she nods in approval.
For an independent thinker this is “like being caught behind enemy lines.”
I recall at a meeting with a government agency being met with stony silence and bureaucratic glares when I asked, un-sheepishly, for five consecutive years of production statistics; the agency’s foxy custom was to provide only the immediate year’s statistics, all the while assuring us, their clients, the agency was understaffed and overworked, etc.
As I soon learned, the foxes were in charge of this “court”.
I never did get those statistics. My peers, what did they do? Not much since many shared the self-serving notion that business models could not be applied to our kind of work; it was beyond measurement; our alleged “Quality” could not be quantified!
They were content with getting the “fleece” and the agency’s keeping the “carcase.”
In the meantime, our clients – the people we served - could wait.

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

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover book, ($23.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Lubans’ Seymour and The Gluten Policeman (George Ade* in the Age of Alt.)

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

Caption: Not Gluten free

At an alternative-to-Christmas fest, our hero - Seymour by name - came face to face with the forces of Gluten-free. The alt.fest featured carol singing on timely topics like Rudolf-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer losing his way in the smog and acid rain short-circuiting his “very shiny nose”.
Attendees were each asked to bring a dish to share, a la church potluck suppers of yore.
A Newbie, and a latecomer, Seymour missed out on the dinner gong.
Be quick or be hungry, as they say. Well, not exactly hungry if settling for desiccated bean dip of Dubious Background or a Costco container of Organic Hummus scraps, or, the ubiquitous tray of Grape tomatoes and Carrot/Celery sticks fill you up.
But, if lucky, there might be a cornucopia of Dunkin’ Donuts donut holes spilling out of the DD box.
Seymour took a Little of this and a Little of that all the while eyeballing the options.
Aha! He spied the Gluten-Free table – a hanging sign stated so - along the back wall. Things looked promising; definitely more than potato chip crumbs.
So, ever the forager, he moseyed on over. Almost there, a middle aged man – the Gluten-Free Enforcer (GFE) it turned out - bustled up and scanned the Gluten Scraps on Seymour’s plate.
In sententious tones, the GFE told Seymour he could not bring That Plate anywhere near the Gluten-Free table.
Fazed but unrelenting, Seymour assured the GFE he was only Looking and not to worry; just then, out of the corner of his eye, Seymour noted a latecomer slipping past to drop off a heaping plate of cookies and donuts, gluten-free.
So, quickly backtracking into the Gluten Safe Space, Seymour Surreptitiously Stashed his dismal plate of Gluten Grub behind an unsuspecting Jacaranda.
Pivoting, he accelerated back into the Gluten-Free zone. The GFE, on the qui vive, looked askance, as if Seymour were trailing streams of gluten molecules.
When Seymour’s hand closed on a Gluten-Free donut, the GFE came alongside and queried, “Have you washed your hands since handling glutinous products?”
Seymour lied. “Of course” (It sounded more like “Ow Gorse”) as he wolfed down a donut. Alas, not particularly tasty, the flavor peculiar to a Paper Product.
Hmmm, thought Seymour, Maybe these alt.eats were not quite the same as Ye Olde church suppers of Baked Beans and Strawberry Shortcake.
Daunted, he meandered over to a group engaged in rhythmic Self-Expression.
Moral: Always Pack a Pizza in the trunk of your Smart Electric, space permitting.

*More on George Ade.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($23.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017