Friday Fable. The Cherokee Nation’s “WHY THE BEARS HAVE SHORT TAILS”*

Posted by jlubans on August 18, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Illustration by Paul Bransom (1921)

“AT first all the Bears had long tails.
One winter day the Bear met the Fox, who had a fine lot of Crawfish. Being hungry the Bear wanted some too: so he asked the Fox where and how he got his Crawfish.
The Fox replied:
‘Go and stick your tail down in the water and let it stay there until it pinches you. The more it hurts, the more fish you will have.’
This was what the Bear had in mind to do: so he proceeded down to the lake and made a hole through the ice.
Sitting over it, he let his tail hang in the cold water.
When it began to freeze, he felt a pain; but as he wanted to catch lots of fish, he did not stir until his tail was frozen fast in the ice.
The Fox's instructions were not forgotten: so he suddenly jumped up in the expectation of getting heaps of fish; but he merely broke his tail off near the body instead.
And ever since the Bears have had short tails.”
______________
One might think this Native American story has nothing to do with cubicle land. How could the duped bear’s frozen tail offer any lessons for the workplace?
Well, who’s that lurking in the background? Mr. Fox. Reynard.
My first “professional” job in the 60s – my title was “Junior Science Librarian”! – was at a famous engineering school.
The president (a “bench” engineer) of that school was convinced automation was a way once and for all to control library costs – reduce the payroll.
In any case, he imposed on the library a former systems analyst (Mr. Fox) who proceeded to tell us all about scientific management and how easy it would be to move from print to full electronic text. It sounded really good and like the bear in the fable we were convinced we’d have more than our share of “crayfish” if we automated.
Cluelessly, we began a huge project of automating the periodical collection. We worked overtime coding forms, punching cards, running tallies, and producing reams of printouts. Ye olde manually typed list would have accomplished just as much in one percent of the time!
That the IBM corporation was just around the corner was not a plus; it was in their interests back then to promote automation of everything.
Soon, we realized just how big a job it was. (It would be several decades before genuine automation would produce benefits.)
Our foxy consultant was hired away by a major library to head up their automation effort – with the same result!
We were left with rolls of flexowriter paper tape, stacks of punch cards and piles of alphabetical printouts. Other than the experience, we had little to show for the thousands of hours of effort.
We kept our tails, but at least two of us had our tails kicked out the door;
one deservedly so, one very unfairly.
I went west to a new administrative job somewhat wiser and less likely to stick my tail into icy water. I began to ask questions.
Two decades later, Illustrative of how bizarre organizational life can be, the engineering school campus named its new library building after the former president.

*Source: Myths of the Cherokee, by James Mooney in “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Followers & Dissenters

Posted by jlubans on August 15, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Like-minded dissent.

In my July essay on Andris Vilks leadership – he is director of the National Library of Latvia, an organization of over 400 - I linked to an article about sports teams’ captains and their considerable influence on team success.
In 2016, when I asked Andris to characterize his leadership, he responded readily, “as a team captain”.
A long time basketball player, he was invariably the team captain and he preferred that type of leadership to any other. Not “a king and his court”, nor “a general and his army” or “the father of a large family” but a captain of a team.
Sam Walker, the author of the captains’ study, argues that it is not the super stars but the captains – often not the best players - who create and sustain the greatest teams.
In “The Seven Leadership Secrets of Great Team Captains”, he states,
“(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.”
It may be that the captain – not the coach or the CEO - is the one who sets the team’s “chemistry, that ineffable dynamic that can make or break a team.
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.
For me, good captains are like effective or “star” followers in any type of organization.
A “star” follower displays these characteristics: manages oneself – she is a leader in her own right.
The effective follower requires little supervision, even less direction.
And, he is committed to the organization and to a purpose or person outside himself – he is not a narcissist.
The best follower is independent in mind and thinks critically.
She prefers action to being passive or engaging in endless discussion.
However, all is not sweetness and light for the effective follower. Really good followers (not the yes men or those in the sheep or survivor categories) find themselves often at risk.
How can that be? Surely, does not an organization always look for the competitive edge with critical assessment by everyone (not just the MBAs in the C-suite) of any and all ideas?
Let’s return to Walker’s essay, especially how his captains were independent thinkers, unafraid to dissent.
“The captains on (his) list didn’t hesitate to let coaches and executives know when they disagreed with them. But their dissent wasn’t personal. They understood that conflict, when focused on supporting a team’s goals, is not destructive. It‘s essential.”
He gives an example:
In 1980 the Soviet (Russian) hockey team lost to a young USA team. “The Soviet coach, Viktor Tikhonov, had told his players not to point fingers. The story they would tell in Moscow is that they had lost as a team. On the plane returning to Moscow, however, Tikhonov huddled privately with his assistants - and probably a few “political minders” - and began ripping individual players for their failures. Valeri Vasiliev, a veteran defenseman, overheard this critique. He flew into a rage. He rushed over, grabbed Tikhonov by the neck and threatened to throw him off the plane if he didn’t take it back.”
Normally, dissent of any kind in “Soviet times” was punished by exile or worse. Somehow, Vasiliev survived and his teammates, several months later, elected him captain.
Surprisingly, the coach and the Kremlin let the decision stand.
“With Vasiliev as captain, the Soviet team became unstoppable for the next four seasons,” posting a record of 94 wins, 4 ties and 9 losses.
Robert Kelley, who articulated in 1988 a theory on followers, believes that about half the time effective followers are punished for speaking up, for articulating their own viewpoints, for threatening an organization’s complacency.
Consider last week’s outcome for James Damore, the young engineer at Google wanting to discuss - internally - Google’s diversity mandate.
He was fired for speaking his mind, for asking difficult questions. No, he was not proselytizing; he was poking around in Silicon Valley’s Pasture of the Sacred Cows. His doing so was intolerable to many in Google’s like-minded ruling elite.
Supposedly, he was a very good engineer, recruited by Google, which, of course, claims only to attract the best and the brightest.
We will see how Mr. Damore’s “manifesto” plays out.
Perhaps Google will learn that critical thinking is uncomfortable but of great value and may adopt genuine contrarian thought as a practiced and protected corporate value.
Or, it may smugly reassure itself in its “group think” that “We Never Make Mistakes” about much of anything and therefore questions are cause for excommunication.
Is this an extreme example limited only to race and gender?
Hardly.
Go up against the prevailing values and mores of any organization and you will experience first hand why effective followers are an endangered group. And you will begin to realize their value – like Vasiliev and other great captains - to the organization.
Who then, but the leader, can protect dissenters?

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017, ($26.99) and will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
20170628-rsz_1rsz_fables_cover_half.jpg
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

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

Posted by jlubans on August 11, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Not to be. 'Farm Yard in Finland', Oil by Valentin Serov (1865-1911)

“A PEASANT, who was beginning to stock his little farm, had bought a cow and a milk-pail at a fair, and was going quietly homewards by a lonely path through the forest, when he suddenly fell into the hands of a Robber. The Robber stripped him as bare as a lime tree.*
‘Have mercy !’ cried the Peasant. ‘I am utterly ruined. You have reduced me to beggary.
For a whole year I have worked to buy this dear little cow. I could scarcely bear to wait for this day to arrive."
‘Very good,’ replied the Robber, touched by compassion; ‘don't cry out against me.
After all, I shall not want to milk your cow, so I’ll give you back your milk-pail.’”

*”’Bare as a lime tree’ after it has been stripped of its bark, of which the peasants make shoes, baskets, &c.”
________________
We laugh at the wry humor, the grim irony. The farmer’s dream gone pffft. The maid and the cow, alas, not this year.
Organizationally, it’s like being fired without due process and the boss (the Robber) offering to write a letter of reference (the milk-pail).

**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, ($26.99) and will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
20170628-rsz_1rsz_fables_cover_half.jpg
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

Dancing Alone

Posted by jlubans on August 08, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Making moves at the wedding; alone and happy.

I’ve often thought about what my dance instructor told me about leading:
“On the dance floor, good leaders initiate the movement they want from their partner and then follow the movement they've created.”
At a recent wedding, I noted a few guys dancing alone and having a good time doing it. Somewhat inspired by the open bar, no doubt, still they were doing it their way, creating steps and moves, unhindered and uninhibited.
Well, what about leading in the workplace ritual? We really cannot dance alone, at least not all the time. The leader has to “initiate the movement” among followers and then – here’s the tricky part – follow the movement she’s created. What complicates everything is that those two events (initiating and following) are milliseconds apart. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could and did merge leading and following into a beautiful leadership.
The little guy in the picture is going his own way – you can see to the side a horrified little spectator; probably an embarrassed older sister!
Unfortunately, if you are prone to go off and do it on your own, your followers may leave you rejected on life’s dance floor. Or, possibly worse, if your followers do not respond to what you are initiating – channeling Elvis, let’s say - you won’t even want to dance alone – even in the privacy of your kitchen with the sound system blaring - too down to be up.
Undaunted, I say, “Play on!”

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Krylov’s “THE ASS AND THE PEASANT”

Posted by jlubans on August 04, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Silhouette by Egor (Georgi) Narbut (1886-1920) of Mr. Krylov, “Walking in the Park”, 1912.

“A PEASANT, who had hired an Ass for his garden during the summer, set it to drive away the impudent race of crows and of sparrows. The Ass was one of a most honest character, utterly unacquainted with either rapacity or theft. It never profited by a single leaf belonging to its master, and it would indeed be a sin to say that it connived at the proceedings of the birds. Still the Peasant got but little good out of his garden. The Ass, as it chased the birds with all its might, galloped across all the beds, backwards and forwards, in such a manner that it trod underfoot and trampled in pieces everything that grew in the garden.
Seeing then that all his pains were thrown away, the Peasant took a cudgel and revenged himself for his loss on the back of the Ass.
"No wonder! " says every one; " serve the beast right! Was it for a creature of its parts to undertake such a business? "
But I say—though not with the intention of defending the Ass; it was certainly in fault, and it has already paid the penalty—“But I say—though not with the intention of defending the Ass; it was certainly in fault, and it has already paid the penalty—surely he also was to blame who set the Ass to guard his garden.”

__________________
I have been known, in the office, to say some outlandish things. For example, when a worker turns toxic. Well, of course, discipline is needed to set the errant soul on the righteous path, but – here’s the outrageous part – what of the supervisor (or in my biz, the committee) who hired the miscreant? Compounding this, as often happens, is the supervisor’s ignoring the bad behavior.
Should not the employer (supervisor or hiring committee) suffer some consequence for making a poor decision and lacking the courage to do something about it? No, redemption is not to be found in the HR solution of promoting the person to an harmless oblivion or transferring said bad apple to another part of the organization. I won’t get into the obvious details of disciplining the delinquent, but what about the people doing the hiring? A free pass? Or, a demotion?
*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 a PDF file ($3.99) and as a soft cover book, ($25.99). Both formats will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
20170628-rsz_1rsz_fables_cover_half.jpg
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