An Un-boss In Motion

Posted by jlubans on February 29, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Latvia's basketball team's head coach Luca Banchi greets supporters in Riga, Latvia, Sept. 11, 2023. The team finished 5th (out of 32 national teams) at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. (Photo by Edijs Palens)

The first version of this essay appeared early December 2023 as In Motion.
Since then I've spent time writing about the un-boss (Adidas) and the Un-DMV.
Both blogs feature people who undertake leadership in less egocentric ways than most bosses, some of whom are into controlling and commanding; it's why they are the boss!
C&C has never been my way but I understand some prefer telling others what to do even when those others are fully capable.
There is a risk. If workers know their jobs and do them well it may - in some organizations - jeopardize the boss's existance. I was once asked this question in a public budget meeting:
Why do we need you? Hmm.
The self-motivated individual worker needs the freedom to excel and contribute.
Want to kill initiative and innovation?
Take away the worker's freedom to make decisions and mistakes. Demand allegiance to the hierarchy and never deviate from "your lane" in the organizational chart.
Back to basketball's un-boss coach, Mr. Banchi.
What is his "secret sauce" for coaching Latvia's basketball team to unprecedented heights?
One source told me that "Banchi gave his players the freedom to make decisions on the court, which helped them to develop their confidence and their ability to play under pressure.
That confidence led to "kustībā" which is Latvian (and the Italian Mr. Banchi's favorite Latvian word) for "in motion".
When I reviewed several of the highlight reels of Latvia's victories, I perceived a great deal of kustībā - the ball got passed at a head snapping velocity and accuracy multiple times. Often, the final recipient managed a score. I saw much sharing and little egotism.
For example, star player Artūrs Zagars' 17 assists in a single game set a World Cup record. He had, overall, an impressive tournament total of 59 assists.
What's an assist? An assist is recorded "(W)hen an offensive player in possession of the basketball passes it to a teammate who then scores points." In other words, the player with the ball gives up his claim to the ball and shares it with another player who may be in a better spot to score.
It's an act of unselfishness, a quintessential aspect of successful teamwork.
Do we have assists in the workplace? Of course, and we need more of them.
Banchi said his goal as a coach was "to make the players autonomous ...."
After a win over Brazil, he said "I believe this group doesn't need a coach any more ...They (the players) are solid, conscious, accurate, bringing more and more confidence into the tournament. We can adapt, they know what I'm asking when we go into some choices, they know what's the style that works."
Once upon a time, I asked all of my direct reports (team leaders) to invite me to their next team meeting so I could observe their team dynamics.
That alone caused some consternation but it was nothing to my disappointment that after five years of promoting and training for teams, most of our teams were so in name only.
The hierarchy was their model and these teams were no further along than their initial formation.
My self-invited team visits were mostly a bust. My big take-away was learning the obvious: Teamwork does not happen with a change of name.
If former department heads continue as team leaders, nothing really changes. We talk team but act hierarchical.
I did not find a single team capable of self-management.
The goal of effective teams, we are told, is that the team will become independent and less in need of a leader - the leader becomes more of an advisor and consultant than someone directing day to day routine.
When Banchi tells us his team no longer needs a coach, that is precisely what I was hoping for at my work.
The reality was that the team leaders nee department heads did not want to step away and had no intention of doing so.
Why was I disappointed? Because the full potential of high performing teams went unrealized. The old hierarchies did satisfactory work, but did not go above and beyond.
Perhaps there was nothing to rise to? Could be.
My business has no World Cup to aspire to, but we should.
Innovations, daily improvement, and gold class customer service are our World Cup.
All in all, my visits were a sobering experience, but I remain convinced that effective teams - self actualized teams - provide the best results.
Banchi said he was influenced by a book: "Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life" by James Kerr (2013).
Legacy reveals how New Zealand's rugby team
consistently wins far more often - a 75% win rate over 100 years - than loses and the book elaborates on the winning leadership philosophy.
Early on the All Blacks moved away from a top-down leadership and " transfer(red) the leadership from senior management to the players...they play the game and they have to do the leading on the field. The traditional 'you and them' became 'us'."
For the All Blacks, "(s)hared responsibility means shared ownership. A sense of inclusion means individuals are more willing to give themselves to a common cause."
Which, coincidentally, pretty much sums up my Letting Go
, a leadership principle I practiced my entire career. I guess that makes me more of an un-boss than a top down tyrant.
I am not put off by the notion of a manager allowing workers to make decisions, allowing workers to strive for best practices; in other words expecting workers to think and act for themselves and the organization.
Since mistakes are part of the creative process, I understand mistakes will be made. "Make more mistakes", was my mantra.
Alas, I worked in several hierarchies and while my opposite philosophy was tolerated by a few of my bosses it was threatening to many top-down managers.
Goodness gracious, they were never going to declare that their unit, department or team, "doesn't need a coach any more"!
While the hands-on, top-down style can keep any company going, it fails to unlock a much greater potential and higher productivity.
Finally, I could have done my brand of "letting go" better. By that, I mean enlightening, empowering and equipping staff to be let go.
I should have done more, like the All Blacks , in developing a culture of honesty, authenticity and safe conflict.

Upcoming blog: "Where are the fads of yesteryear?" with apologies to Francois Villon.
Has DEI replaced TQM?
Does ESG beat MBO?

ONLY a click away, more organizational insights for anyone in the workplace :

And, for a variety of insights about un-bossism

null Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright John Lubans all text 2024

"Never Eat Lunch Alone" and Other Free Advice

Posted by jlubans on February 22, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Introvert illustration by Reinis Pētersons and Anete Konste for Latvian Literature export campaign #iamintrovert, 2017- 2024.

It seems like Work From Home (WFH), or hybrid work, has created an epidemic of eating at one's desk. There may be good reasons to do so, but nutritionists and psychologists suggest this is not so good.
You need the break from the desk routine and you should get up and away for exercise and change of scene.
Given the "Covid 15" many gained from working at home, that advice is something you can get your teeth into (Sorry).
Anyway, a recent article suggesting alternatives to eating at one's desk led me to think about another corporate adage.
It's in the gratuitous advice I offer to my students: "Never eat lunch alone".
I'd heard this bit of networking advice here and there, but it was not until I discovered the figurative sands at my feet giving way when I began to regret all those introvert times when I ate alone. Yet, I did solo lunches for good reasons:
To review the day, to recharge, and to let my mind wander - some pretty good ideas came my way.
Jerry Campbell, my former boss, sees at least two good reasons to get away from the madding crowd: "(Eating alone) shields one from whatever the current version of group-think may be.... This encourages one to think through issues based on one's own research and estimation of the merit of various outcomes (rather than filtering them first through one's pals).
And, secondly, when change is needed, it can be helpful to feel like an outsider. Oddly enough, that feeling can serve as a kind of inspiration for one to persist and struggle to find innovative possibilities and solutions."
His elegant insight puts into words what may have been my rationale for when I regularly ate alone and, weather permitting, did so outdoors in a garden or on a bench alongside a leafy sidewalk.
But, networking, we are admonished, is essential to making your careeer's way. We are told that it is only through social interaction that one develops business networks.
Don't be an outsider. The talklative, it is suggested, move up the corporate ladder faster than do Lonesome Sams.
Some of that is playing out in unintended ways for the die-hard WFHs who refuse to come back to the office. Guess who?s getting the promotions and bonuses?
When I asked Gemini (Google's AI) to suggest a country western song for a lonely lunch, it made up its own. Here's the chorus:
Never eat lunch alone, that's what Grandpa use to say
Share a bite, share a story, chase the loneliness away
Pull up a chair, stranger friend, there's room beneath this sky
Laughter's on the menu, best served with a twinkle in your eye

It's plaintive and it's got the twang and then some. Its "Another sandwich sittin' solo" is alliterative genius. See the full song below.*
I told Gemini it has a future on Nashville's Music Row!
Would my lunching with colleagues have made a difference when I found myself no longer an insider but on the outside looking in?
Would the camaraderie at our jolly lunches have done something to hold off my exit stage left?
I have to think, that, Nah, our work place "friends" are not real friends. They are fellow travelers and more "one for one" than "one for all".
When there's an exception to this dismal prospect, well, sing Gemini's chorus, friend and I'll join you with a Shiner long neck in my hand.
Now, what about another adage: "Always pay for your own meal"? Women may have virtuous reasons when insisting on paying their way - you know what I mean? - but guys, well less so.
A male friend said he made a practice of it so there was no beholding, like in "there's no free lunch".
If someone offered to buy easily-corruptible-me a meal, why, thank you.
One of my business colleagues went so far as to stop the practice of a vendor (they had a lucrative monopoly on our business) hosting my two dozen peers and me to a swell meal in a fancy restaurant in San Francisco or Chicago.
I reluctantly went along with her anti-corruption policy and reached for my wallet with tears in my eyes. (There's a song there.)
Since the vendor usually was doing a bit of soft selling during the meal I figured they could pay. But, my uncorruptible colleague firmly, if misguidedly, said, No.
Now, there are times when I want to play the bonhomie host and am happy to cover the costs.
I don't regret doing that, but it becomes uncomfortable when the guest - at least I think they are my guest - insists on paying.
It strikes me that the guest is refusing my hospitality to avoid any future obligations on which I will try collect.
When I offer to pay through friendship, and it is refused, it's a form of rejection.
A delicate flower like me swoons at the snub.
I wonder what song Gemini could come up with for that?
My solution is to invite people to my home and then there's no question of who picks up the tab.

* Gemini with a guitar and in a sequined jacket and cowboy hat:
(Verse 1)
Dusty boots kickin' gravel, noon sun beatin' down
Another sandwich sittin' solo, same ol'onesome town
Belly rumblin', thoughts a-wanderin', missin' somethin' more
Than just lukewarm fries and silence through the dusty diner door
Never eat lunch alone, that's what Grandpa use to say
Share a bite, share a story, chase the loneliness away
Pull up a chair, stranger friend, there's room beneath this sky
Laughter's on the menu, best served with a twinkle in your eye
(Verse 2)
Sawmill whistle screams its welcome, lunchtime rush is on
Folks from fields and factories, gatherin' 'round like dawn
Truck driver grinnin', tellin' tales of highways seen
Shopkeeper listenin', noddin' with a knowing, weathered mien
Never eat lunch alone, that's what Grandpa use to say
Share a bite, share a story, chase the loneliness away
Pull up a chair, stranger friend, there's room beneath this sky
Laughter's on the menu, best served with a twinkle in your eye
Life's a highway, long and windy, sometimes hard to navigate
But a shared meal, a simple word, can ease the weight
So open up your heart and plate, let kindness be your guide
Connection's waiting, warm and real, right here by your side
Never eat lunch alone, that's what Grandpa use to say
Share a bite, share a story, chase the loneliness away
Pull up a chair, stranger friend, there's room beneath this sky
Laughter's on the menu, best served with a twinkle in your eye
So raise a glass to empty seats, where friendships soon may bloom
Never eat lunch alone, under heaven's open room

An ideal book for eating solo:

And, better than a Do Not Disturb sign when dining alone, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright text John Lubans 2024

The Fleet-footed Unboss

Posted by jlubans on February 14, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: In 1956 Adidas were the shoe.

Adidas, the sports company, is undergoing a major leadership change, according to a WSJ article, The CEO Who Gave 60,000 Employees His Cellphone Number.
Reading the story got me thinking in three different directions. One was a reminder of my unboss theory which I first wrote about a decade ago, The "Unboss" Leader
Another direction was how my running track (late 1950s) influenced me and my leadership. And, finally, Adidas' comeback efforts had me reminiscing about a similar challenge I and others faced in a very different business sector, a research university.
You'll have to judge how well I inter-relate these three streams of thought below!
First a word about Adidas. When I was running track, their shoes were coveted by every serious runner. In high school, it was my running career that kept me off the street corner, hangin' in my jeans with the drop-outs with a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in my T-shirt sleeve.
And, I still remember a YA track team novel: Howard M. Brier's Cinder Cyclone published in 1952.
Back in the era of cinder tracks, Nike was unheard of (Nike's swoosh first appeared in 1971.)
Puma was around and offered good competition but Adidas was the king-of-the-hill in international sports wear.
I must not forget basketball's Converse (1917) - my lowcut cross country running shoes were by Converse - but for the international look (depicted), Adidas was the best.
Since Nike's dominance, Adidas hasn't been in the winner's circle. Hardly a failure, but just no longer envied as the premier running shoe company. In the final quarter of 2022 Adidas lost a sobering $794 million.
For me, Adidas' new leader, Bjorn Gulden, is a practicing unboss, "pushing Adidas staff to break rules and ignore consultants."
He sounds pretty unbossy to me.
Why do I say that? Here are a few clues:
Gulden volunteered corporate financial data to all 60,000 employees and even gave out his cellphone number.
His challenge, he said, was "to wake up the people who didn't understand we were losing."
It reminds me of my first collaboration with an unboss type leader.
It was at a university with an identical problem to what Gulden found at Adidas: "there was a culture of finding reasons not to do things."
IOW, resting on our laurels, real or imagined.
Gulden began the reform at Adidas by sidelining the consultants; their advice was superfluous and out of touch.
We did something similar by replacing the "specialists" with a generalist.
Gulden wants the current staff to innovate and forecast the trends and to respond to them. IOW, free up the expertise and experience of the current staff by not relying on experts.
As my boss at the university and I soon found out, there was resistance - not all of the current staff were ready to jump in and offer ideas and make decisions. They'd been conditioned over time not to do that.
But, those that were - after being "freed up" - helped get the business out of its smug fantasy that it was the best.
Those brave few - under the unboss's leadership - set it on a path to becoming the most productive organization among its peers.
Gulden, after sharing his phone number, initially heard about 200 times per week from staff, all with ideas on how to improve.
He also scrapped an evaluation system based on key performance indicators for judging managers. My university boss and I too gave up on a long-winded formal evaluation system requiring multiple signatures and reinvested all that saved time (thousands of hours) into doing real work.
Another unbossism was my willingness, when presented with a good idea to say, "Do it". I hoped to imbue staff with the notion that there was - for good ideas - no need to delay or postpone in hopes of lessening risk. Mistakes would be forgiven.
Gulden intuited there was a demand for Adidas retro-classics. He was told that the company would not manufacture these classics until 2024. He asked, "Why wait?"
Production started in 2023.
Track was influential in my development as a leader. Not always for the best, as I look back but not always bad either.
My way of leading has always been to sprint and to keep going, unlike staying in the middle of the pack with a winning kick at the end. Yes, risky since one can "run out of gas" all too quickly, but that's the way I was, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I do admire the runner who bides his/her time and then turns on the after-burner, and sprints past the exhausted leaders at the finish.
My unboss egalitarian way - a willingness to share the glory - may have stemmed from a practice perhaps unique to running cross country. My team mates and I would all hold hands crossing the finishing line.
We'd all finish first.
What I learned about sportsmanship from track (Brier's book and the Olympics were an influence) provided personal values for winning/losing.
Not all people in sports adhere to a code of good sportsmanship. I recall a tv documentary on a famous football game between Harvard and Yale (who knew?) which interviewed a player from that game who deliberately injured a downed player.
Now in his 60s, the guy was still grinning and gloating about what he had done.
Being a jerk may have been a family trait or was it inculcated? Or was it bad shoes? (Smile)
And so it can be in the workplace.


For ancient perspectives on the workplace:

And, if you want to know more about democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright text John Lubans 2024

Do's and Don't's

Posted by jlubans on February 06, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

A recent headline in the Higher Education Chronic, "Unprecedented Use of Trash Chute", brought to mind my commentary in 2019 on trash chutes in college dormitories.
The Chronic relates that Luther Murchison, a resident advisor on Floor 3, was bound and thrown down a trash chute by a group of masked individuals.
Mr. Murchison, an avid Covid-masker had required all residents on his floor to wear masks whenever in public spaces. Mr. Murchison survived the descent, landing on a mattress providentially placed in the dumpster.
Campus police responded to shouting emanating from the dumpster and released Mr. Murchison.
Luther was heard to state, "I'll get those bastards" and offered no further comment.
Perhaps you recall my blog, "Getting Someone To Do What He Should Not Do".
(see below a slightly edited version.)
In it I discourse on how telling people what they can't do, often leads to their doing it.
In Luther's case, I am sure tossing a person down the chute was not listed among prohibited actions, but knowing the inventiveness of undergraduates, it is not too much of a stretch.
You see, I am a disciple of Do, not of Don't.
My friend, the artist Beatrice Coron,
once made a paper box about 5"x5"x1" with "Don't" inscribed on top. Naturally, everyone would lift the lid. Doing so, the box would let out a loud squeal - triggered by a mercury switch. On the underside of the lid were the words, "You did!"
Doing what we are told not to do, goes all the way back to Pandora. The most likely psychological term for this behavior is reactance, a condition that kicks in when our freedom is threatened, as when young people are told to wear masks when no longer needed.
We send our condolences to Luther. And, so, on to the blog from 2019:
IF you find yourself, in the wee hours, stumbling around the hallways of a high-rise college dorm, you might be inspired (perhaps inflamed) by the prohibitions listed next to the trash chute.
As most of us know, the way to get someone to do something is to tell him - I would use her, but somehow methinks this needs be limited only to us guys - NOT to do it.
And, in case the hammered HEs need additional guidance for mischief, we'll list out the trash chute Do Nots!
"We want to be abundantly clear!
Namely, throwing lighted matches, cigars or cigarettes,
carpet sweepings, Naphthalene camphor balls or flakes,
floor scrapings, oil-soaked rags,
empty paint cans (full cans are OK?),
aerosol containers, or explosive substances (NOW you're talkin'!)
into this chute (as if you needed to know where)
is unlawful and subjects the offender to a penalty."
A veritable Rabelaisian listing of fun stuff for the stoned student or any potted person.
No worries about the carpet sweepings and floor scrapings (too much like work) but the others, when assembled and combined, will make for a hilarious BOOM out the rooftop.
Like Bra'er Rabbit's wily pleading: "Oh, Bra'er Fox, go ahead and drown me then, just so long as you don't throw me into that briar patch!" this sign no doubt achieves the opposite of its intent.
Who do you think wrote this sign? I sense a certain glee in listing these prohibitions, a bit of a thrill in telling others what they are not to do.
Why not a sign which states simply "For Bagged Trash" and leave it at that?



ONLY a click away, still a perfect Valentine's Day gift :

And, to show you REALLY care, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.
Copyright text John Lubans 2024