“Mama Don’t Allow No Yellin’ Round Here”*

Posted by jlubans on June 30, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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A year ago I read about how Inuit children in Canada’s northern territories learn, at mother’s knee, to manage anger.
This NPR report was of interest – given my book, Fables for Leaders - since it mentions story telling (including fables) as a way of teaching life’s fundamentals: Don’t go unsupervised near the water, don’t reach for food without asking, wear your hat in cold weather, etc.
One of the stories has a water monster ever lurking at water’s edge.
On his back is a gigantic pouch in which he stuffs captured children. That story would have kept me away from the water well into my teens!
On re-reading, I think the essay says to us adults some important things about anger.
The NPR story traces the footsteps of anthropologist Jean Briggs, who in the 1960s did a multi-year series of onsite observations on how the Inuit raise their children.
She noted that Inuit adults had an extraordinary ability to control anger: "They never acted in anger toward me, although they were angry with me an awful lot."
For herself, she was highly critical: "[I was] often impulsive in an antisocial sort of way. I would sulk or I would snap or I would do something that they never did."
The NPR reporter interviewed contemporary Inuit mothers. When it came to dealing with anger all the moms mentioned one golden rule: “Don't shout or yell at small children”.
Obviously, the parent’s not yelling is a primary driver in a child’s not yelling.
In the work place.
Leaping from an Inuit igloo into an air-conditioned office we find a strong contrast in attitudes about anger.
We Westerners are told, at times, that anger can be a good thing: “If used effectively, anger can be an effective leadership tool.”
But, like the proverbial Kick in the Ass (KITA) rage may be effective only for short-term results.
When hopping mad at work, we (and those around us) are rarely at our best. Out-of-control anger deters us from mindful thought and coherent expression – we literally “see red”.
Scientists observe that our wrathfulness “triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. …. The adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones….
Our heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase, the body temperature rises and the skin perspires.
The mind is sharpened and focused.”
However this focus may exclude most everything around us. We experience tunnel vision and a loss of awareness.
Worse is how we express our wrath: yelling, arguing, cursing and sarcasm.
And, anger may deter our getting the job done, making clear-headed decisions.
After a loss of temper, there’s always collateral damage: ruined relationships and wrong messages sent. Nor does the mea culpa bouquet of roses ever fully erase hurt feelings.
Our hissy-fit can turn off others from contributing; routine temper tantrums may imply to others that being ticked off is OK, an acceptable behavior in the organization’s culture.
When angry, we do not hear. We do not understand the other. Like enraged participants in a riotous protest – there’s only one-way - my way - and if you’re not with me, well then you are ‘agin me, so put 'em up!
I had a rare boss who, when in conflict, could rise above the fray, so to speak, and to observe cool-headedly the dynamics in the meeting – including his own!
As the Taoist reminds us, less paradoxically than usual: “The best fighter is never angry.”
The Inuit feel anger, but they are not consumed by it, ruled by it. Overt anger at sub zero temperatures may lead to destruction. Blowing your top while a polar bear poaches your catch of the day probably is not as good a survival technique as calmly and collectedly backing away.
Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist, says “if you practice having a different response or a different emotion at times when you're not angry, you'll have a better chance of managing your anger in those hot-button moments.”
Doing so, “is essentially helping to rewire your brain to be able to make a different emotion [besides anger] much more easily.".
There is of course no shortage of suggestions for anger management. Some of these I’ve augmented below with how the Inuit mothers teach their children:
Walk away until things calm down; then reflect on what happened and strive to do better; do a role play on what happened – do it playfully.
Do pinpoint the exact reasons why you were incensed.
Once you have identified the cause, consider coming up with different strategies for when you are provoked.
And, you can talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling and how to avoid pitching a fit.

*”Lord, child, we don't care what Mama don't 'low
We gonna be yellin’ anyhow
But Mama don't allow no shoutin' aroun’ here”

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© Copyright John Lubans 2020

An Inuit Fable, THE OWL AND THE LEMMING*

Posted by jlubans on June 21, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: The Owl, head faked.

AN Owl saw a Lemming feeding just outside of his burrow.
Accordingly, the Owl flew down from the tree and perched at the entrance to the burrow, and then said to the Lemming: "Two dog-teams are coming this way!"
This frightened the Lemming so badly that he came up close to his burrow, pretending that he would rather be eaten by the Owl than caught by the dogs.
He said, "I am very fat and you can have a good meal. Take me! But if you wish to celebrate before eating me, I will sing while you dance."
The Owl agreed to this; he drew himself up and the Lemming began to sing while the Owl danced.
When dancing, the Owl looked up to the sky and quite forgot about the Lemming.
While he was moving about, he spread his legs far apart, and instantly the Lemming ran between them into his burrow.
The Owl called to him to come out again, saying that the dog-teams had both passed by and were gone.
But the Lemming's wife told her husband not to go out but to throw dirt in the Owl's face. And that was what he did.
________________
This instructive fable from our Northern Brothers suggests it’s best to be clever and humble than to be proud and arrogant.
Because of his prideful celebration, the Owl loses out on lunch.
And so it can be at work. We may be so full of ourselves on achieving a goal that we begin to lose the determination, team spirit and creativity that got us there.
We take our success for granted and our continued good fortune a given.
Instead of remaining en garde and humble
we slip, slide along into complacency – we plateau, we “rest on our laurels”.
All it takes is one small change in our circumstances, our “dynamics” – be it a new team member, a new customer or a new boss – and we can find ourselves back, like Sisyphus, where we started minus all of our momentum.

*Source: Fable From “The Eskimo in Baffin Land”, by Franz Boas included in Cooper, Frederic Taber, 1864-1937. “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land.”

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© Copyright John Lubans 2020

“I'm proud of my humility.”

Posted by jlubans on June 17, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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Early in June the BBC put out a report on humility and leadership.
It got me thinking about the various traits, attributes we’ve long been told to absorb, develop, achieve, acquire, and exhibit all to demonstrate we are really, really good leaders.
Did you know there are at least 101 leadership skills, attributes, qualities, etc. all must-haves?
#1 is (to be) self-motivated, then to (display) emotional control and standards, etc. #21 is humility followed by discipline, perspective, relationship building, social skills, listening, presence, social savvy, and shared vision.
There’s more: (you must) understand what motivates others, enable others to act, (display) street smarts, make good decisions, and (be) flexible.
#101 is High Energy. Clearly, you’ll need plenty of energy to master the previous 100.
My profession developed its own list of leaderly qualities. Some 150! When I questioned the utility of such a long list my peers were not amused. Some love lists; others - like me - less so.
The BBC report singled out humility as perhaps the most important leaderly ingredient.
The article found, through psychological studies, that “humbler leaders cultivated greater work engagement and job satisfaction among their employees”. And, more importantly, the leader’s humility “give(s) the employees the confidence to disagree with decisions, the fact that the leader is willing to admit their own limits should encourage the team members to admit their own flaws – all of which should create a more honest and constructive workplace.”
According to Merriam & Webster humility is freedom from pride or arrogance. It is the quality or state of being humble. To be humble is to be not proud or haughty.
There is a risk in professing one’s humbleness – it can be seen as weakness. Humble is when we reflect, express, or offer something in a spirit of deference or submission
And, tipping it further toward an impression of weakness, a humble person may be of low rank in a hierarchy, possibly of insignificance.
Yet, writers on the topic suggest otherwise: You are not a mouse! You are a manly man (or woman) brave, and resolute, etc.
Perhaps the perception of your humility is refracted by the level of confidence you project.
Frank Lloyd Wright concluded: “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.” That may explain why his structures are high maintenance and with leaky roofs.
Just how humble are you?
Answer these questions. They come from one of the BBCs referred to psychological studies.
Ask someone who knows you quite well to assess how you work with other people. Have him or her answer each of these questions with a 1. Often; or a 2. Sometimes; or, a 3. Hardly ever.
Of course, you will want to discuss the ranker’s perceptions. Perhaps, tit for tat, you can give feedback on how you perceive the ranker’s humility.
1. I actively seek feedback, even if it is critical.
2. I admit when I don’t know how to do something.
3. I acknowledge others may have more knowledge and skills than I do.
4. I take notice of others’ strengths.
5. I often compliment others on their strengths.
6. I show appreciation for the unique contributions of others.
7. I am willing to learn from others.
8. I am open to the ideas of others.
9. I am open to the advice of others.
Can these behaviors be learned?
I suppose so; it is no different than, for example, learning to listen better. First, stop talking, start hearing and understanding.
Paramount for me is that humbleness includes the ability and inclination to ask for help, not try to do everything yourself.
Some of my best achievements came after I asked for help.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Lessing’s THE LION AND THE HARE*

Posted by jlubans on June 12, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Even the clergy do it.

A LION once honored a Hare with his friendship. "Is it really a fact," asked the Hare, "that the crowing of a miserable cock is enough to scare you Lions into running away?"
"Such is undoubtedly the case," replied the Lion. "And it is a general truth that we larger animals, almost all of us, have some one foolish weakness.
For example, you yourself must have heard that the grunting of a pig will astonish and terrify an elephant."
"Indeed!" interrupted the Hare.
"Ah! now I understand why we Hares are so terribly afraid of a dog."

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For me, this fable
illuminates how we humans, when listening to another’s hardship, chime in with one of our own, whether pertinent or nonsensical.
Our empathetic listening turns into one-ups-manship: “If you think you’ve got it bad, listen to what happened to me!”
I once belonged to a national group of 25 or so directors in a sub-field of higher education. Our go-around for sharing information on local challenges inevitably snowballed into carping.
Each subsequent speaker would raise the ante of just how bad she or he was having it. After the first director started with a mild mention of local challenges we would wind up, by director #25 with a jeremiad.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 8. Translated by G. Moir Bussey as excerted in Cooper, Frederic Taber, 1864-1937. “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land.”

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© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Tom Sawyer’s Fence

Posted by jlubans on June 08, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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A while back there was a story on how the state of Utah was re-assigning 250 state workers to help in tracing those exposed to the virus.
Why did I notice?
Because this was a “man bites dog” story. Every other state is saying how they need, urgently, to hire thousands of tracers and is in dire need of supplemental funding in the millions of dollars.
None but Utah mention deploying existing state workers to help trace. Why? A pertinent question since thousands of state workers are on paid furlough.
Yesterday’s (June 6) story about the situation said nothing, again, about deploying existing resources but only about having to find and pay for one or two hundred thousand contract workers!
What is it about an organization that gets in the way of one department helping another?
I was in one organization where we put out an “all hands on deck” call to deal with a large backlog. It was obvious to everyone – I thought - yet the response was reluctant and minimal.
While I felt the urgency few others appeared to. The tacit consensus from most was to: ”Let George do it”. In other words, somebody else should do it. They (other departments) were too busy to help out.
What could I have done differently?
Plenty.
How did Tom Sawyer get his chums to paint his aunt’s picket fence? (White-washing the fence was his punishment for sneaking out of the house.) How did he convince his cohorts to pitch in while he supervised?
Mark Twain explains: “If (Tom) had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”
“(Tom) had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”
Surely there are lessons in Tom Sawyer that could be applied to the well-known inability of organizations to shift gears, to move people into another role without resistance but with energy and a can-do spirit.
I’ve also seen how some departments had units that would help internal units, but never offer aid to anyone outside their department.
That said, I have seen organizations with just the opposite culture. The spirit of helping out was in the air when I wrote about Oregon’s Department of Motor Vehicles. This agency job shares all the time and staff are encouraged to fill in at other locations when those DMVs are short of staff. It is expected and normal to help out.
Long ago, one of my professors gave our Systems Analysis class a tour of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. He took us into a cavernous space with hundreds of desks in perfect rows, as far as the eye could see - an all too real caricature of a bureaucracy. I noticed that most of the seated workers were reading books. (Nowadays, they’d be internet surfing.)
From a book lover’s perspective, that was great! From a taxpayer’s, less so. When I inquired about this, our professor said that the staff was reading books because it was past tax season.
They had no real work to do.
Yet, it was taboo to talk about moving idle workers to areas in need of help.
People want real work to do, meaningful work.
Leaders at all levels could make a huge difference by facilitating and protecting managers and staff who want to collaborate with other agencies, who want to help out where needs are greater. There should be flexibility in every organization to assure every individual has real work to do.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2020

An Ojibway Fable, THE LINNET AND THE EAGLE*

Posted by jlubans on June 05, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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THE Birds met together one day to try which could fly highest.
Some flew up very swiftly, but soon got tired and were passed by others of stronger wing.
But the Eagle went up beyond them all, and was ready to claim victory, when a grey Linnet, a very small bird, flew from the Eagle's back where it had perched unperceived, and being fresh and unexhausted succeeded in going highest.
When the Birds came down and met in council to award the prize, it was given to the Eagle because that Bird had not only gone up nearer to the sun than any of the other Birds, but had carried the Linnet on its back.

__________
While the stow-away Linnet
flew the highest, the Birds award first prize to the Eagle, the second place finisher.
This wisdom from a usually flighty bunch is extraordinary.
This is a just and fair recognition of the Eagle’s achievement; the judges declined to award the laurel to someone covertly along for the ride.
Another fable: “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?”
We have a human version of the Linnet, the infamous Rosie Ruiz.
She won the 1980 Boston Marathon, but was forced to relinquish the win because she had not run the full marathon, joining the race only for the last few miles.
Had she read this Native American fable, she might have reconsidered the deception.

*Source: American Indian Fables, excerpted in Cooper, Frederic Taber, 1864-1937. “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land.”
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NEXT UP: Tom Sawyer's Fence.
© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Lessing’s THE WOLF AND THE SHEPHERD*

Posted by jlubans on June 02, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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A SHEPHERD had lost the whole of his flock from a dreadful epidemic. The Wolf, hearing of it, came to offer his sympathy.
"Shepherd," said he, "is it true that you have met with this sad affliction, and have lost your whole flock? Such a gentle, obedient flock! I feel for you deeply, and could almost shed tears of blood."
"Many thanks. Master Wolf," said the Shepherd, "I see that you have a heart overflowing with compassion."
"Indeed he has," added the Shepherd's Dog, "whenever he himself suffers through a neighbour's misfortune."

_____________
Another fable
comes to mind: “The Weeping Bald Man and Some Partridges”. One of the partridges empathizes with the Bald Man for his weeping while killing the partridges!
And there’s an observation by Alice in Wonderland when the Walrus and the Carpenter scarfed up all the little oysters:
(Of the two), "I like the Walrus best," said Alice, "because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters."
The shepherd is no fool; he’s well aware of the wolf’s depredations and fake crocodile tears. His response is droll, as they say.
And so it can be at work (or society), when we express empathy for the downtrodden. Compassion is better because it “does not mean sharing the suffering of another: rather, it is characterized by feelings of warmth, concern and care for the other, as well as strong motivation to improve the other’s well-being.”
There’s a stark difference in claiming to feel someone’s pain and doing something about it.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Book I, No. 8. Translated by G. Moir Bussey as excerpted in Cooper, Frederic Taber, 1864-1937. “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land.”
__________
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And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020