Krylov’s THE STONE AND THE WORM*

Posted by jlubans on August 29, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: A still from the movie, The Apartment, 1960

“WHAT a fuss every one is making!
How wanting in manners!" observed, with respect to a shower, a Stone which lay in a field.
Have the kindness to look. Every one is delighted with it. They have longed for it as if it were the best of guests; but what is it that it has done?
It has come for a couple of hours or so—no more.
But they should make a few inquiries about me. Why I have lain here for centuries.
Modest and unassuming, I lie quietly where I am thrown.
And yet I have never heard from a single person so much as a
“Thank you!”
It is not without reason that the World gets reviled. I cannot see a grain of justice anywhere in it.
“Hold your tongue!" exclaimed a Worm.
"This shower, brief as it has been, has abundantly watered the fields, which wеге being rendered sterile by drought, and has revived the hopes of the farmer.
But you contribute nothing to the ground but a useless weight.

Thus many a man will boast of having served the state for forty years; but as for being useful, he has never been a bit more so than the Stone.

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Let’s allegorize this and make the Stone the (unhappy) worker or office holder.

The pleasing Shower is the budget or budgetary authority.
The Worm is - of course - us, the customer.
In other words the infamous “iron triangle” of budgetary theory.
As you can tell from Krylov’s epimythium (the last two lines) his target is the czar’s officialdom, the do-nothing office holders, the bureaucrats behind guarded doors with the power to approve (with rubber stamps, embossings, seals, and ribbons) or more likely to Deny us, the Worms, what we want.
Bureaucracies were never set up to frustrate people; their mission (usually emblazoned above the front door) is to serve.
Now living two years in Salem, Oregon, I am taken with how well the state’s DMV (department of motor vehicles) works: fast and courteous service with knowledgeable and pleasant staff – how Oregonian!
Not a sour puss in the bunch, not a one “afflicted with office.”
Especially notable since “the DMV” is the public’s derisive term for all that is wrong with America’s governmental offices.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
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For those living in small spaces, use your public library. They will order a copy if you ask.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

“Difficult Conversations”

Posted by jlubans on August 23, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

TRAINING magazine has published an excerpt from Fables for Leaders.
You can link to it here.
With this little bit of welcome publicity, it’s a good time to visit the notion of managerial training and learning. One hopes that most of us are open to more than one or two ways of training. But, by and large in the field of management – regardless of where we work – any training other than the utiliarian, direct, and practical, runs into credibility problems.
Using fables to help people learn about complicated issues is an indirect approach. Indeed someone might say that it is no approach. How can a talking tree or wolf or lion or rabbit offer any insights to those of us inside the corporate realm trying to keep an organization on track?
My thesis is that literature is a valid way to learn more about leadership and management and other forms of human experience.
I’ve been holding onto an article from 2016. It’s from the esteemed Harvard Business Review. The topic is the giving of feedback*. The author, Ms. Lou Solomon, reveals that a large number (she claims two-thirds) of managers “Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees”.
Of course, being uncomfortable is different from totally avoiding.
Nevertheless, it does appear to be that constructive feedback is more often avoided than not. This is the stuff of “difficult conversations”.
Who best to use as an example of an avoider but one’s self?
I have avoided and accommodated far too much. Why? Probably because of a fear about confrontation and a shortage of “scripts” in my head to use for giving feedback, resulting in inarticulation.
At one of my jobs I had a personal goal every year to have a heart to heart talk with a peer with whom I regularly butted heads.
When I left I still hadn’t had that difficult conversation. Not good!
Anyway, Ms. Solomon’s HRR article winds up, as does much of management writing, with a prescriptive list of do’s and don’ts.
When giving feedback*:
Be direct but kind.
Don’t beat around the bush.
Listen.
Don’t make it personal.
Be present.
Inspire greatness.

I’ve been guilty – in my own writing - of such lists.
Are they not, in their own way, like those morals tacked on to the end of Aesop’s fables? Did you know that the original fables had no morals?
Unlike the well meaning moralists, Aesop saw no reason to make the obvious obvious.
I do believe that too much of our training is too practical.
I term my Fables book, an Un-textbook; it’s an impractical management book. Is this foolhardy marketing? I’ll let you answer that.
I recall leading a group of managers along a forest trail. We were in a leadership-training program and my segment was an outdoor experience - a break from lectures, from readings, from seminar discussions of thorny financial problems.
In the lead, I stopped the group and asked what were they hearing. I could hear all kinds of forest sounds. My question was to prompt a taking of one’s eye off the ball and gazing upward into the trees and the open skies.
Puzzled, not a one commented on the sounds around us – the kestrel’s call, the chatter of the squirrels, the sighing of the branches, the insects buzzing.
One joker did comment that he could hear the clicking of golf balls in the distance.
Agenda driven to the exclusion of all else, he was focused on tee time at the golf club.
I hope that the readers of TRAINING magazine will be inspired to think some more about how we learn and how our literature speaks to who we are and who we want to be.
Maybe fables can be used as ice-breakers to get those difficult conversations underway?

*Like a line out of
Capek’s RUR here’s the daffynition of biz world feedback: “The transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source; also : the information so transmitted.”
In other words, it’s the screeching noise one hears in tuning a sound system.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Krylov’s THE EAGLE AND THE SPIDER*

Posted by jlubans on August 14, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Teacher Mary Blow’s illustration from Scholastic.


AN Eagle had soared above
the clouds to the highest peak of a mountain range, and perching upon an ancient cedar, admired the landscape spread out below. It seemed as though the boundaries of the whole world could be seen from that height.
"Heaven be praised," said the Eagle, "for giving me such powers of flight, that there is no mountain too high for me to reach. I am now looking down upon the beauties of the world from a point which no other living creature has ever reached!"
"What a boaster you are," observed a Spider from a near-by twig. "Where I am sitting isn't so far below you, is it, friend Eagle?"
The Eagle glanced upward. True enough, the Spider was busily spinning its web from a twig above his head.
"However did you reach this height?" asked the Eagle. "Weak and wingless, as you are, how did you ever crawl way up here?"
"Why, I fastened myself unto you," returned the Spider. "You yourself brought me from down below clinging to your tail feathers. But now that I am so high up in the world I can get along very well by myself, without your help. So you needn't put on any airs with me. For I want to tell you that—"
At this moment a sudden gust of wind swept by, and brushed the Spider, web and all, back again into the depths of the valley from which it had come.
___________
Sometimes riding another’s coattails might not be the best way to get to where you think you deserve to be.
If getting there is all you want, then relax; you’ve made it. Unless this height turns our to be - as it does for the spider and countless others in the hierarchy – your “level of incompetence”.
If you have an overweening ambition, as they say, then you had better have the resources to survive and thrive like the eagle in his home.
The eagle sees clearly from far away, she illuminates and is illuminated in the easterly sunshine of springtime.
Do you, the coattail rider, want to be inspired? From the mountain’s peak, will you inspire others?

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Democracy in the Workplace

Posted by jlubans on August 10, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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In this blog’s never ending pursuit – like Superman – of “Truth, Justice and the American Way” – we note a couple interesting articles from the Wall Street Journal:
In “Yes, Ordinary Citizens Can Decide Complex Issues” James Fishkin elaborates on his application of “deliberative polling” to problem-solve community and national problems.
Working with “representative panels of the populace have helped choose energy policy in Texas, constitutional amendments in Mongolia, and other issues in 28 countries.”
Similar to the “Future Search” process, Deliberative Polling does appear to be a way to involve normal citizens in decision making and to find good solutions to difficult problems.
However, so-called experts lurking in the background may be helping a bit too much to shape the problem, discussion and selection of “answers”. We just can’t fully trust the regular “Joe” or “Jill”, can we?
The notion of including all types of workers in making decisions about an organization’s future is nothing new.
However, much of the discussion on why we should involve workers has been largely anecdotal and theoretical.
Now we have a large study to contradict the all too easy option of limiting innovation to elites or experts.
In “Why Innovation Is a Team Sport” Janaki Chadha reports on a new study’s conclusion “that companies where more people said they felt their ideas were sought out and valued tended to yield more revenue growth and employee productivity.”
The finding comes from a survey of a half million employees at nearly 800 companies. Companies found to be less welcoming and inclusive of ideas from all employees had poorer growth prospects.
For further reading on this fascinating topic of workplace democracy consider my essays on democratic bees, town hall meetings in Vermont and the old timey mustering process to select leaders (find these via the blog index).
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Or, you can buy a copy at AMAZON.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Krylov’s THE ASS AND JUPITER*

Posted by jlubans on August 02, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Balaam’s Ass enduring one of three beatings.

WHEN Jupiter stocked the universe with the various tribes of animals, the Ass, among others, came into the world.
But, either purposely or from an accident owing to the press of work at such a busy time, (Jupiter) made a sad mistake, and the Ass came out of its mould no larger than a squirrel.
Scarcely any one ever took any notice of the Ass, although the Ass yielded to no one in pride.
The Ass was much inclined towards boasting. But what was it to boast of?
With such a puny stature, it was ashamed to show itself in the world.
So our conceited Ass went to Jupiter, and began to pray for a larger stature.
"Have pity on me !" it cried : "how can I bear this misery? Lions, panthers, elephants, all obtain honour everywhere, and, from the highest to the lowest, everyone goes on talking about them only. Why have you treated Asses so unkindly that they never obtain any honour, and not a word is ever spoken about them by any one?
But, if I were only as big as a calf, I would lower the pride of the lions and panthers, and all the world would be talking about me."
Every day our Ass continued to sing this same song to Jupiter, and bothered him so that at last he granted its request, and the Ass became a big beast.
But, besides this, it acquired such a savage voice that our long-eared Hercules dismayed the whole forest.
"Whatever is that brute? What family does it belong to? It has very long teeth, anyhow, hasn't it? and no end of horns!"
At last, nothing else was talked about besides the Ass.
But how did it all end ? Before the year was out, everyone had discovered what the Ass really was.”
Our Ass became proverbial for stupidity, and, ever since that time. Asses have been beasts of burden.

Noble birth and high office are excellent things; but how can they profit a man whose soul is ignoble?
____________
Surely, not all asses,
two legged or four, are of an ignoble soul.
I am reminded of Balaam’s Ass - the biblical talking donkey -
who disobeys his master and saves him (and the Hebrews) from destruction.
The Ass serves as a metaphor of the best kind of follower in the first chapter of my book, “Leading from the Middle”.
What’s the best kind of follower? The one that tells you the truth, especially the truth you do not want to hear.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
__________
To purchase a copy of Fables for Leaders, click on this button:


Or, you can buy a copy at AMAZON.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018