Posted by jlubans on December 24, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Griset’s own illustration for this fable.

A Wolf peeping into a hut where a company of Shepherds were regaling themselves on a leg of mutton, exclaimed, "What a clamour these fellows would have raised if they had caught me at such a banquet!"
Men, forsooth, are apt to condemn in others what they practice themselves without scruple.
In Victorian times illustrated books of fables were popular Christmas gifts.
Caption: Griset's merry end illustration for his fables book.

Griset, a French born English artist, capitalized on this trend with his own book.
Why did Griset draw a raffish wolf and dissolute shepherds? What is his message?
Do not the shepherds have a “right” to feast on one of their flock or are they filching from an absent owner’s “inventory”?
If the latter, then are they not as bad as the wolf running off with the goods?
The morale may be apt. I may well engage in objectionable behavior which I rationalize as appropriate yet condemn in others.
Aesop speaks to this in his Jupiter and the Two Sacks fable. We each wear two sacks – one visibly on the front of other’s people’s faults and a sack on the back – out of sight - full of our own failings.

*Source: Aesop's fables by Aesop; Griset, Ernest Henry, 1844-1907
London ; New York : Cassell, Petter, and Galpin 1874

© Copyright John Lubans 2019


Posted by jlubans on December 13, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Heading headlong into disaster.

A CERTAIN Snake had two Heads, one in the usual place and the other at the tip of his tail.
But while the Head that he had in the usual place was provided with a pair of good eyes, the Head at the end of his tail was blind.
Now there was a constant quarrel between these two Heads, for each of them claimed to be the more powerful Head, and to have mastery over the other.
Now, it was the custom of the Snake as he roamed around, to go with his real Head foremost.
But on one occasion the Head at the end of the Snake's tail seized hold of a wooden stake with its jaws, and by holding on firmly prevented the Snake from going further.
This convinced the Snake that the Head in his tail must be more powerful than the other Head, since it had got the best of the struggle.
Accordingly, from this time on, the Snake roamed about with his blind Head foremost ; and so presently he fell into a pit full of burning rubbish, being unable to see where he was going, and was thus burned to death.
Now, I am usu
ally an advocate for leadership coming from all directions, not just the top down. I even wrote a book about it: Leading from the Middle.
In this fable, the snake’s tail is different from the head; it's blind.
Likely, sightlessness (absence of a vision) can lead to disaster. Instead of collaborating, these two ends are in opposition.
How often did I find myself in a splintered and contentious leadership?
Often enough.
It was not fatal, like slithering into a rubbish fire, but we did not get the job done; the organization did not improve.
The blind tail is a prototypical example of the "alienated follower" theory. While an independent thinker an alienated follower disagrees with the leader’s vision and seeks to undermine, to sabotage, to derail.
The alienated follower – stubborn and consumed with envy - prefers the status quo to striving to achieve something better.

*Source: Katha-Sarit-Sagara. Book X, Chapter 63, to be found in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “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 2019

“Whatever they tell me.”

Posted by jlubans on December 09, 2019  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Of Parkinson’s Law and Marquet’s Flashlight*.

Two books I’ve been perusing lately, one a classic and the other a more recent application of leadership theory; both have links to the seas. The classic is by the naval historian, Parkinson, and the other is by L. David Marquet, a nuclear submarine commander. His book, “Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders” juxtapositions neatly with C. Northcote Parkinson’s 1961 essay, “Parkinson's Law, or The Pursuit of Progress”.
Parkinson pointed out – much to the everlasting chagrin of bureaucrats the world over - that while between the world wars the number of navy ships decreased by two thirds, and (ship) personnel by a third, the number of bureaucrats ballooned approximately by 6% a year.
With fewer people and less work to manage – management was still expanding.
Parkinson concluded that this was due to two influences:
Managers hired two or more subordinates to report to them so that neither was in direct competition with the manager. (I would add that “keeping up with the Joneses” is also a driver.
Jake, a unit head, sees that Jill, a competing manager, has added a staffer. Immediately, Jake wants one and goes all out to add a budget line.)
And, secondly, Parkinson claimed that bureaucrats create work for other bureaucrats. It is here where his Law of work expanding to fit available time comes in. With little real work to do, the newly minted bureaucrat spends time, a lot of it, on making work for others and reviewing that work.
And, of course, the new bureaucrat will be burdened – he will soon tell you – by interminable meetings, signing off on forms and records, approval of paperwork coming from below and going on up, and in assuring compliance with the many rules and regulations promulgated by his bureaucratic counter parts.
All this and more displaces trust in the people doing real work and shifts decision-making authority to upper levels.
Perhaps someone has disproved what Parkinson found. Maybe they have shown that all those extra office workers during peacetime in the British Navy were adding genuine value.
When I spoke with my peers about Parkinson’s findings, they’d chuckle over Parkinson’s humor but they never applied it to themselves – besides it was about the British Navy, not about their exalted work!
And so it goes.
The two books are linked.
Parkinson observed how bureaucracies grew (even absent real work) and Marquet’s book provides a good example of what can go wrong in a multi-layered, top down, bureaucracy.
If you take away an employee’s authority and freedom to do his work, you enervate the employee and befuddle the organization.
Marquet, taking over a demoralized submarine of 135 sailors, found that top down decision-making was the ship’s dominant culture.
Individual initiative was not encouraged. Early in his command, when he asked a sailor, “What do you do?” the response was, “Whatever they tell me.”
Santa Fe’s sailors had learned that waiting to be told was “safer” than going ahead and fixing something – initiative would result in discipline for not following the rules, not getting permission or bypassing the chain of command.
Marquet has made a second career out of his experiences leading the Santa Fe. Aside from his book, he consults for organizations.
I am sure they are mystified when he says Taoist-sounding things like “I practiced less leadership, resulting in more leadership at every level of the command.”
Or, when he says, Don’t “Make inefficient processes efficient” vs. Do “Eliminate entire steps and processes that don’t add value.”
One last quote sure to lead to sputtering conniption fits among old salts and landlubber managers: Don’t “Take control vs. Do "Give control.”
While I practiced much of what Marquet proposes I did it mostly on intuition. I was convinced early on that freeing responsible and capable people would make positive things happen. Like Marquet, we quickly harvested the low hanging fruit that my top down predecessors could not or would not see.
Marquet explains – in detail – his reasoning for his way of leading. I look back now some 25 years, and his rationale makes plenty of sense.
I wish I had had Marquet’s courage and ability to listen to negative views about his leadership and his ability to explain what it was he was doing.
His openness brought along many of the doubters in his command.
Marquet succeeded at turning his ship around. In the Pacific command the Santa Fe gained excellent morale and scored at the highest levels in all the indicators of a battle ready crew and ship. He’d pretty much defeated the negative attitude evident in the “Whatever they tell me to do” way of thinking.

*When Marquet took over command he asked for a flashlight. He needed it to look into the nooks and crannies of the nuclear submarine.
None of the flashlights provided worked, either too dim or broken. He got a new flashlight, one as “bright as the sun”. It worked well in illuminating not only equipment failures but also the failures of a leader-follower model, the hierarchy, which was stifling innovation and independence. Others under his command soon began carrying working flashlights.

ONLY a click away:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019