A Handshake on a Bus (WIWDD #8)

Posted by jlubans on December 18, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Waiting Convention Center Buses.

One of my first books was something of a” phenom”.
It sold exceedingly well with over 6000 international sales, approximately twenty times what one might reasonably expect for a scholarly book.
First the handshake.
I was at an annual professional conference. My seat mate on one of the convention buses was a young man of my own age. We chatted and I gathered from his name tag that
he was an editor for a well-known publisher.
We got to talking about book ideas. I told him how a small group of peers and I had put on a very well attended one-day conference in upstate NY. Afterwards we’d sold out, unexpectedly, the printed proceedings.
I ventured that an anthology of original writing on the topic just might take off. He said, “Why don’t you write that book for me?”
While professionally I was a wee bairn - a young guy who knew little about what he was getting into - I thought “Why not?”
I agreed right then and there and we shook on it.
This episode foretold of my leadership style. Call it intuitive or spontaneous, but I did not list out the reasons NOT to do this.
Instead, I went full bore with my personal belief that this was a good thing.
My audacity in this and other endeavors would give permission to others to experiment, to try out ideas. I imagine some thought, “Hell, if this guy can do this, I can do it better!”
Once back at my workplace, I sent the editor an outline for the proposed book.
A contract shortly followed.
It was to be a cloth covered book (mauve, as it turned out!) with a matching book jacket!
I wrote 40% of it and the rest were chapters from a variety of contributors, some well-known, others less so. It ran to 435 pages
An intended vade mecum (hand book) it literally became that for many. A colleague told me of going to a conference and many of the attendees were carrying the book!
It brought about or reinvigorated a vast array of service initiatives and experimentation. It energized and confirmed for the like-minded the importance of what we were doing.
So, what would I do differently?
Not much. How can you argue with success?
Probably, to make the book less ephemeral, there should have been a well thought out rationale (a thesis) for what the book was about, why it mattered now more to the profession than in previous decades.
In other words, a more philosophical underpinning.
One critic called it an enthusiastic but uneven work.
He excused the unevenness because of the number of contributors.
No doubt, I could have done better in editing their work and, more importantly, I could have been more selective in choosing authors.
I forget how I found several of them; I probably would have benefited by seeking suggestions from a few trusted people.
Most book reviews were highly supportive; but reviews matter little when readers buy and read a book regardless of its unevenness or any other flaw.
I could claim that my timing was brilliant but in truth it was all serendipitous – many people were reaching the same conclusions my little team of like-minded practitioners had reached in upstate NY.
The book inspired many practitioners; they were ready to be inspired.
You could see from other indicators, like standing room only crowds at conferences, that people were hungry for ideas, best practices, and looking to share their experiences and seeking answers to what they were facing on the job.
The book’s underlying idea was not new, but it had been largely muted in previous decades.
Now the environment had changed – the client base was booming along with increased staffing and budgets. It was a time of unprecedented ferment and transition in higher education.
One could say the book capitalized on the transition; if a wave, the book rode it well.
All in all, it turned out to be the right book for the right readers at the right time.
The most obvious lesson for me from this book’s success was that your topic has to be of interest to more than a few people.
Your readers have to want the book.
If you, the author, are the only one interested, then it is unlikely you will have many readers.
One last item. I’d clarify that, while I was the major author, the book included several other authors.
A contributor to the book (and longtime friend) has never forgiven me for the title page implying I was the author rather than the editor!
He pokes me about it whenever we get together, now going on 50 years!

Black Friday Everyday!!!
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The perfect stocking stuffer ONLY a click away, now 40% off until Christmas at BookBaby:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

Krylov’s THE PEASANT AND THE AXE*

Posted by jlubans on December 09, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Who sharpens the axe?

A MOUJIK (a Russian peasant), who was building a hut, got vexed with his Axe. The Axe became disagreeable to him ; the Moujik waxed wroth.
The fact was, he himself hewed abominably; but he lay all the blame on the Axe.
Whatever happened, the Moujik found an excuse for scolding it.
"Good-for-nothing creature!" he cries, one day, "from this time forward I will never use you for anything but squaring stakes. Know that, with my cleverness and industry, and my dexterity to boot, I shall get on very well without you, and will cut with a common knife what another wouldn't be able to hew with an axe."
"It is my lot to work at whatever you lay before me," quietly replied the Axe to the angry rebuke, " and so your will, master, is sacred for me. I am ready to serve you in whatever way you please.
Only reflect now, that you may not have to repent by-and-bye. You may blunt me on useless labour, if you will; but you will certainly never be able to build huts with a knife."

__________________
Krylov (1769 – 1844) in this fable has the boss who “hews abominably” blaming the tool or employee for the flawed product.
How often, in myriad ways, do hapless bosses castigate employees for their own shortcomings? It happens.
Of course, the good leader praises the worker when things go well and blames herself – at least in part – for when things go bad.
Now, we know plenty of bosses who blame themselves but that’s done with an imperceptible wink and a nod – a way of saying, “Yes, like President Harry Truman, ‘the buck stops with me’; but, Lord, if only I had some decent staff to get the job done, then you’d really see what I can do.
In the meantime, I do the best I can with the crappy hand I’ve been dealt.”
On the other hand, I’ve noticed one football coach this season who repeatedly – when things don’t always go smoothly for the team - includes himself in the “could do a better job category”. He praises players when they’ve done well and offers specific ways for improvement when improvement is needed.
His calm voice and demeanor remain the same when talking about how he should have called a different play or when he explains why a play failed or when a player made an outstanding contribution to the game. This coach is not one to “hew abominably” and no wonder his teams are champions.

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

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Black Friday Everyday!!!
The perfect stocking stuffer ONLY a click away, now 40% off until Christmas at BookBaby:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020

Blind Spots

Posted by jlubans on December 04, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

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(For ESL readers, many American dogs are named Spot.)

I like to think that these stories, drawn from personal experience, are isolated examples of our very human blind spots, those moments when we cannot see what others can.
I was going to say that these are examples of jerky behavior but jerk may be too harsh a term since it implies a complete character flaw.
Hal, Emma and Fredo would have done well to remember their lessons from kindergarten: share, do not take other people’s things, practice the golden rule, etc.

Hal, the Petulant.
I worked with Hal. In his thirties, he held a responsible professional position and was regarded, in spite of a pugnacious aspect, by his peers as a competent member of the staff.
One day Hal told me what happened to him after a late-night sporting event in a distant city.
Following the game, Hal went to his parked car to find that someone had stolen his battery.
Now, what would you do in this case?
Probably what most of us would do.
But not Hal. He noticed the car parked behind him was of the same make, and he proceeded to filch that car’s battery.
I assume he drove contentedly home.
Maybe, since he told me what he had done, he was not all that certain he’d done the right thing.
But, when I expressed astonishment (You did what?), he denied he had done anything wrong. He assumed – most cynically - that everyone else would do the same.

Emma, the Self Centered.
Emma owned an unfinished condominium (apartment). One is not allowed for numerous safety and liability reasons to occupy an unfinished condo.
This rule, Emma was convinced, did not apply to her. She proceeded to use her condo almost on a daily basis, filling the space with a variety of furniture.
The Home Owners Association (other owners in the building) told her more than once to stop.
Ultimately, the city building inspectors ordered her to cease and desist under penalty of law and gave her two weeks to move out all of her things.
Presumably, there would be serious consequences if she flaunted the city inspector’s finding.
When someone moves and ties up the elevator they are to post notes on each of the 8 floors with a phone number so that others in the 8-story building would have a way to reach Emma and ask her to release the elevator.
On the day of the move, Emma posted nothing.
The next day she assured the head of the HOA that “No one was inconvenienced!”
And she added that she had prepared the contact information notes but had left them at home.
In other words, preparing the notes but leaving them at home was just about as good as posting the notes.
So, I wrote a note to the HOA president – who had long endured Emma’s mercurial ways - telling him I had bought a bottle of whiskey to give him in appreciation but I drank it.
Emma’s Edict: Intention to do something is the same as doing it.

Fredo, the Audacious.
I was once a part of loosely organized guy’s group made up of work colleagues and other friends.
Fredo was in the latter group.
One day, after work, we gathered in a city park for a volleyball game.
Fredo, brought along a beer cooler. The city has a posted policy prohibiting alcohol in its parks – there was a sign next to where we had set up the net. Fredo drank a beer and one or two others may have joined in. I did not.
A policeman, driving past, noted the beer cooler and stopped. He asked, “Who’s beer?”
When Fredo admitted it was his, he got a ticket for violating the city’s policy.
The next day each of us heard from Fredo asking us to pay his ticket.
I did not chip in.

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Black Friday Everyday!!!
The perfect stocking stuffer ONLY a click away, now 40% off until Christmas at BookBaby:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, while not discounted, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2020