In Motion

Posted by jlubans on December 08, 2023  •  Leave comment (1)

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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)

I asked AI's Bard for Luca Banchi's "secret sauce" for coaching Latvia's basketball team to unprecedented heights. This time, Bard got it pretty much right, absent any sources, of course:
"Banchi refused to accept that Latvia was a minnow on the world stage. He believed that the team could compete with the best, and he instilled that belief in his players."
"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.
Banchi's "secret sauce" is a combination of all of these factors."
Bard does fail to mention "kustībā" which is Latvian (and the Italian Mr. Banchi's favorite Latvian word) for "in motion".
When I reviewed several of the highlights 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 all over the court. Often, the final recipient managed a score. I saw much sharing and little egotism.
For example, star player Artūrs Zagars set the World Cup record for most assists in a single game with 17.
Mr. Banchi, now a national hero in Latvia, offered - tirelessly - multiple interviews to an enthralled nation.
Banchi said his goal as a coach was "to make the players autonomous ..."
"More than once he said his team 'doesn't need a coach any more' after a win over Brazil."
Earning the World Cup's Best coach award, he said that "it is not for the coach, it is a prize for the best team."
When asked for influences on his coaching philosophy, he cited a 2013 book: "Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life" by James Kerr.
Legacy breaks down how New Zealand?s rugby team
consistently wins far more often than loses and the leadership philosophy behind the winning.
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. So, 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.
Sure, that puts you at risk but only in organizations wedded to the hierarchy - think micromanaging - and fearful of sharing the decision-making power.
Alas, I worked in several organizations like that and while for the most part my philosophy was tolerated by a few of my bosses it was threatening to many top-down managers.
They were never going to declare that their unit, department or team, "doesn't need a coach any more"!
While the top-down style can keep any company going, I feel like it fails to unlock a much greater potential and higher productivity.
But, and there is always a but, 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.
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Copyright John Lubans all text 2023

Lubans Fable: What the Wren Saw, Repeated from 2019

Posted by jlubans on November 23, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The roof rafters of the outdoor stage at Latvia?s annual Dobele Lilac Festival.

A little bird, a wren, swooped into the rafters of an outdoor stage.
It was during a wind and rain-swept outdoor concert. He perched and listened.
Now and then, he?d flit off but always to come back, seemingly enthralled by and curious about the beautiful music on such a cold and wet day.
Singers sang to listeners under dripping plastic capes and umbrellas on backless wooden benches.
A half dozen instrumentalist - more exposed than the singers - supplied, with gusto, the melodies for each song.
And, each song got an appreciative cheer with applause and foot stomping on the wet grass.
The curious wren took this in and marveled.
Most of all, he took to heart the enthusiasm of the musicians and the audience.
The wren resolved - instead of hunkering down in the cold rain ? he?d sing his forest song evermore sweetly.
As a leader or follower, think of the wren in the rain.


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And, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.
Copyright John Lubans all text 2023

How Far Has AI to Go?

Posted by jlubans on November 16, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: AI & Homer Doing a Beer Mind-Meld

As mentioned in a previous blog about AI, I use, from time to time, Google?s Bard.
A while ago, I asked Bard about a football player?s ethnicity because I was curious if he was of Native American heritage.
In response, Bard gave me a 700-word lecture on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) but with no clue as to the player?s ethnicity.
Did the word "ethnicity" trigger Bard to take umbrage and consider me a racist?
I wonder if I went to a library?s information desk and asked the same question of a librarian, would the response be different?
It is supposed to be, according to professional standards and education.
More recently, I queried Bard about why two contemporary politicians have the same pacing, intonation, and inflection in their speech. Why is that?
Bard responded. Here is the first paragraph - with names left out:
"There are a few reasons why X might sound like Y when he speaks. First, they are both from the same region of the United States. X was born in New York City and raised (nearby), while Y was born in Hawaii, and raised (there).
People from the same region often share similar speech patterns, including pronunciation and intonation" (emphasis added)
Besides Bard?s outlandish claim that New York and Hawaii, 5000 miles apart, are in the "same region" it failed to take into account - apart from both being educated in elite schools - the ethnicity or cultural background or other influences on one's language and speech.
And, most certainly, it avoided the possibility that one may be slavishly mimicking the other.
So, I ask again, who is priming the AI pump?
Finally, Bard offers no listing of sources. Where is Bard getting the information for its answers?
My blog is copyrighted - it is my intellectual property; if Bard uses my writing, should not Bard abide by my request that anything I write if used by someone else must be acknowledged. This applies to anyone whose writing is used by Bard.

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And, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.
Copyright John Lubans all text 2023

The Prince Gets Fired

Posted by jlubans on November 13, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


Reading PG Wodehouse's 1912 novel, The Prince and Betty, I came to an abrupt stop.
Wodehouse (1881-1975), the English language's greatest humorist, almost exclusively wrote humorous stories; think of Jeeves and Wooster. Plum, by nickname, could find humor in the most unlikely places, such as a despondent Dostoevsky or in his own harsh internment in France and Germany during WWII.
But, early in this book, there's a sobering page which stopped me. It's when John Maude (the soon-to-be-prince) is fired by his uncle, Mr. Westley.
This atypical departure from Wodehouse's farcical - good natured and goofy - lyrical style gave me pause.
I reflected, because, like for many in the work force, there comes a time when the grim issuer of pink slips might make a stop at your desk to fire, sack, ax, or discharge you.
In our hero's case, he's fired for going to a ball game instead of working. Well, actually, that's the excuse for Mr. Westley to kick John out the door.
What's different about this dismissal of a less than engaged worker?
It's not the termination as much as the way in which Mr. Westley bushwhacks John and shows him the door.
Here's the excerpt:
"It (John's dismissal) was so different from anything sudden, so essentially not of the moment.
(John) felt instinctively that it had been smoldering for a long time, and realized with a shock that his uncle had not been merely indifferent to him all these years, but had actually hated him. It was as if he had caught a glimpse of something ugly." (Emphasis added.)
I could not but wonder how many of us, when unfairly or shabbily dismissed, have felt likewise; that there was "something ugly", unexpressed.
In John's case, the uncle has hated him from birth because he hated John's father.
The uncle - who had raised John from an infant - never spoke to him about his simmering resentment. He never talked about how badly John's father had treated John's mother, Westley's sister.
Similarly, some folks are fired because of a petty boss' jealousy or envy of a star subordinate or for some other shabby, irrational reason.
Like I said, it's not the what, it's the how, especially if there are repressed, never discussed reasons that could have been aired and perhaps resolved. Instead, the resentment festers until it finally spills over and the recipient gets a "glimpse of something ugly".
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And, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.
John Lubans all text 2023

Lubans' Fable "The Cat, the Man, and the Flying Sausages." Repeat!

Posted by jlubans on November 07, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


While looking on my hard drive for mention of Ralph Stayer's classic 1990 HBR article "How I Learned to Let My Workers Lead" (or, as I recall it, "Let 'em Taste the Sausage"), I ran into one of my fables: "The Cat, the Man, and the Flying Sausages" from May of 2015.
I was reminded of Stayer's article while reading "Legacy: What the All Blacks (NZs rugby team) Can Teach Us About the Business of Life" by James Kerr: "Shared responsibility means shared ownership. A sense of inclusion means individuals are more willing to give themselves to a common cause."
That pretty much sums up my Letting Go theory, a leadership principle I practiced my entire career.
I will write some more about Legacy and the All Blacks
but my cats and sausages fable takes whimsical priority.
Here it is again:
Once upon a time, a hungry man went to the store. He looked and looked; he was a fussy shopper. He picked a big package of sausages because it looked the best of all; it had happy faces on the wrapper that was in colors of gold and green. I said he was a fussy shopper not a smart one.
Well, after frying up a few, he put the rest away in the fridge. The sausages tasted terrible and looked even worse when cooked, all curled up like mottled intestines.
But, whenever he went to the refrigerator, he wondered what to do with those disgusting sausages? Being frugal, of necessity, he could not bring himself to throw them away.
When he offered them to his neighbor, she took a look and emphatically shook her head. No, thank you!
One day, looking out the kitchen window of his third floor apartment, he saw a raggedy white cat in the enclosed yard, a yard full of weeds and dandelions.
Aha! he thought, I bet that cat would like a sausage. So he tossed one out. Thirty minutes later, the sausage was gone; the cat must have scarfed it up. So, he tossed a sausage out the window each day until they were all gone. The man was happy.
The next day, he heard meowing below. The cat looked up at the man in the window, as if saying, "Where's my sausage?"
So the man went to the store and bought more sausages. Each day he would throw out a sausage. Those flying sausages, the man thought, must be like manna from heaven.
The man had very little money and soon it was all gone, spent on sausages. He could no longer buy food for himself. He died.
The cat, also died. Not from hunger, but from over-eating.
In Heaven, when they bumped into each other, the cat reproached the old man. "You are a kind man, but I have to tell you those were the worst sausages I have ever eaten. I only ate them because I like a tidy yard; after all it is where I live and hunt, under the vines up against the walls. I did not want the yard full of foul smelling sausages. When I meowed up at you that one day it was to tell you to quit tossing those damn sausages into the yard!"
The man was abjectly sorry. The cat flicked his tail, as cats will do, and went his way.
So think twice, my listeners, maybe try an ounce before buying a pound.
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? John Lubans all text 2015 & 2023

Party Hearty (Study Hardly?)

Posted by jlubans on October 29, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


At one university, the unit in which I worked had an Advisory Board of alums.
The board gave us good ideas and were influential in advancing our budgetary needs to the higher-ups.
Some advisors donated cash gifts; all were supportive and encouraging of our efforts aimed at students and faculty.
Advisor motivation varied.
Often, service on a unit's advisory board could be a stepping stone to a more prestigious position including an appointment to the university's Board of Trustees.
While a few board members self-promoted, most loved the institution and generously gave advice and dollars.
On a personal note, a few board members thought I did good work and was worth defending and retaining.
That was tested when a new boss decided I was no longer a good match.
While he ultimately succeeded in my removal, a few friends on the Advisory Board probably extended my run by a couple years and gained for me a decent termination agreement.
Without their backing I?m sure there would have been nothing like a golden parachute.
But, time to party.
Twice a year, our board traveled to campus for two or three days of meetings and wining & dining.
At my table, during one of the formal dinners, was a proud alumna whose daughter was soon to attend the university.
Over copious amounts of wine, a half dozen of us were conversing about the excesses (however ironically) of student drinking and that reform was long past due.
The proud parent would have none of it .
For her, the incoming freshman class was composed of "people I want my daughter to get drunk with".
Pretty shocking? Well, not really.
A quintessential pragmatic, the mother recognized - perhaps from her own undergraduate partying - what many students want when they get to campus: It's party hearty time! (And parenthetically, "study hardly").
Of course, partying with your peers ("future leaders of America", no less) is a good way to make life-long connections.
For mom, it was better the daughter have her benders on campus then in some urban dive.
If the daughter was going to "lie down with dogs" then it was best they be high class dogs.
Needless to say, any reforms of bingeing and underage drinking on campus were still a few years off.

ONLY a click away, Aesopic wisdom for any aspiring Bacchante daughter:

And, my book on democratic workplaces has much to say about ?working hearty? Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright text by John Lubans 2023

Artificial Intelligence: A Ways to Go

Posted by jlubans on October 27, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


I've been using Bard, a Google AI experiment. Pretty good results and probably with the right topic a senior in high school or a freshman in college might be able to get Bard to write their three-page term paper in five seconds.
I use Bard to get a quick background on a topic.
But, and this is a big but, when I asked Bard about the ethnicity of a football player at the University of Oklahoma (my team!) Bard gave me a 700-word lecture on DEI (for non-Americans this is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; hyper-wokeness).
Regardless, I did not need the lecture nor did Bard answer my simple question.
The player has an unusual name: Gavin Sawchuk.
He's a stellar player, a running back, and I thought maybe - since he hails from Oklahoma City - he might be of Native American heritage.
(Again for non-Americans, Oklahoma (statehood 1907) was formerly known as Indian Territory and largely populated by tribes forced to move there along the infamous "Trail of Tears". I admire and respect Native Americans and was curious to see if Mr. Sawchuk was of that culture.
When I looked up his last name, Google told me Sawchuk was an Americanized form of Polish Sawczuk or Ukrainian Savchuk.
He does not look Ukrainian or Polish (yeah, yeah, I know). And Sawchuk, when I first heard the name on a tv broadcast, sounded, just maybe, Native American.
All this to show you how far AI has to go.
I did not need the DEI lecture. That was an unnecessary overreaction to my harmless use of the word "ethnicity".
But, it does show a few things about AI. First, the response suggest inherent prejudices - what else is political correctness? - of some of the AI developers.
Second, Bard and all other AI programs only have access to what's on-line.
AI does a good of reformatting available data into a freshman quality paper but it adds nothing new.
That is worth repeating but I won't.

All pre-AI, my Fables for Leaders, is only a click away:

Copyright all text John Lubans 2023

Peter Porcupine, Grammarian

Posted by jlubans on October 22, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Marjorie Bowen* writes eloquently of William Cobbett, (1763-1835), the indefatigable critic of England's elites and champion of the many men, women and children exploited by the ruling classes.
As a soldier, he saw the not uncommon practice of officers stealing soldier food allowances, leading to a half-starved military. Questions were met with floggings and worse.
Another example was the common practice of children working 12 hour days.
When a ten-hour day was proposed the notion was squashed by the government!
So, Peter Porcupine had much to agitate about and he did so relentlessly by authoring, as the quill-throwing Peter Porcupine, hundreds of pamphlets, many books and publishing and editing several newspapers including the immensely popular and easily affordable, "Two-Penny Trash".
In these he expressed his dissatisfaction with England?s industrialization and economic unfairness to the great dismay of those living off the fat of the land.
He was sued, imprisoned and scorned. But he never gave up.
No incipient Marxist-type, he was always a champion for the small, land-owning farmer.
Biographer Bowen explains how a self-declared, uneducated "peasant" could possibly be such a force:
"This literary achievement in so unlikely a person is less
surprising when we consider that it was founded on grammar.
William Cobbett had a great deal to say; he was the born journalist always
ready with eager commentary on what was passing about him, and the
born political writer always willing to rush into a debate or to
accept a challenge, and his native shrewdness told him that if he
was to write effectively he must learn grammar. He had not that
smattering of education which deceives so many into trusting their
own ignorance.
Handicapped by no oddments of ill-digested learning
and humbly conscious of his own lack of knowledge, he set his
strong mind the task of learning grammar as he set his strong hands
the task of planting and sowing, pruning and reaping.
The labour was easily accomplished and gave him vast and lasting
He was an egoist and nothing seems to gratify the
egoist mere than a knowledge of grammar; the pride of the
grammarian seems to exceed all other pride, he is like a man armed
with a stick and everlastingly using it on others, even on those
who may be his superiors in all but this.
So the acquisition of this power gave a great sense of superiority to the self-taught
peasant and deeply pleased his simple vanity; there was hardly
anyone that he met who might not be caught up on some point of
grammar, hardly any book that might be opened which was not
sadly deficient in grammar.
He was able to laugh at those better born, better educated, more powerful than himself because he could detect in their speech or writing slips of grammar.

So, AI now, presumably, arms all of us with the grammarian?s sledgehammer.
Use it wisely.

*Marjorie Bowen

Peter Porcupine: A Study of William Cobbett.
Longman & Co., London, 1935
Available online here.

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Copyright John Lubans 2023

An Ignorant Man

Posted by jlubans on October 13, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Followers of Leading from the Middle know of my occasional detours from leadership topics into noting the evocative and forceful writing I encounter in my reading of books from olden times.
My most recent instance is the below quote from Marjorie Bowen?s 1935 biography on William Cobbett, a radical conservative (1763?1835) and feared pamphleteer. (So feared, he was jailed and threatened with more jail for his views on the endemic corruption in the British government.)
Always for the little guy, Cobbett?s pseudonym was Peter Porcupine and he did prickle the powers that be whenever he encountered the raw deals handed out to the lower classes. Himself a highly articulate self-taught ?peasant? he differentiated between book learning and those who learned on their own through experience and observation and most importantly through ?doing?.
The notion that only a college education can produce an ?educated man? remains a popular myth. Absent that piece of paper one may be judged to be an ?ignorant?.
While this ?paper ceiling? is showing a few cracks, too many capable people are denied jobs because of an artificial requirement, rather than their demonstrable capacity to think clearly and precisely.
Here?s what Peter Porcupine had to say:
?If the farmer understands well how to conduct the business of his farm, and if, from observation of the seasons and the soil, he knows how to draw from the latter as much profit
as therefrom can be drawn; if the labourer be expert at ploughing, sowing, reaping, mowing, making of ricks, loading the wagon, threshing and winnowing the corn, and bestowing on the cattle the various necessary cares: if this be the case, though neither of them can write or read, I call neither an ignorant man.?

Copyright John Lubans 2023

Sir Roger L'Estrange's APPLES AND HORSE-TURDS* Redux.

Posted by jlubans on October 11, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Rene Magritte's Son of Man, 1946 OR, The Quiet Quitter.

This "horse turds" fable fits some quiet quitters, shirkers and slackers of the egregious variety better than does the harmless fly along for the ride:

Upon a very great Fall of Rain, the Current carried away a huge Heap of Apples, together with a Dunghill that lay in the Watercourse.
They floated a good while together like Brethren and Companions; and as they went thus dancing down in the Stream, the Horse-Turds would be every foot crying out still, "Alack-a-day! How we Apples swim!"
THE MORAL. Every thing would be thought greater in the World than it is; and the Root of it is this, that it first thinks itself so.
Like braggadocious fishing boat fleas claiming as the boat comes into harbor, "We have rowed well!" here we have Horse turds along for the ride.
They?re in the flood with Apples like 'Brethren and Companions" regaling all who will listen, "How we Apples swim!"
So, the moral would have us be mindful of humankind's (yours and mine) impression that we too, while quietly quitting, are pulling our fair share of the load when we are not.
In other words, practice humility, be humble, lest ye look foolish like the Horse-turds.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.
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Copyright John Lubans 2023