Traveling Mercies*

Posted by jlubans on January 24, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The diffident Ms. Molly - formerly inaccessible - now a daily visitor.

In the Kingdom of Complaint attempts at humor are D.O.A. And, is there anywhere a greater source of complaining than in air travel?
Indeed, I will hop, skip, and jump over the grievances, laments, gripes, grumbles, squawks, and bleats to which all long-distance travelers feel entitled.
So, let me tell you about the fun parts of my recent trip to Todos Santos in Baja California, Mexico.
You know, a window seat is not always bad. It beats the middle seat. On the flight down from Portland, Oregon our stop over was Salt Lake City.
The plane began its descent far out and so I got to see miles and miles of the Great Salt Lake. I’d read about it and heard about it, but had never seen it.
It’s remarkable in its large pools of water and lack of habitation hedged in by what look like small mountains. How the pioneers must have wondered.
I’ve been to the vast and inviting SLC airport once before, less than a year ago on my way to Latvia. I liked it then and like it even more now. After a mile or more of walking from our arrival gate to our departure gate (no complaint – I needed the walk) we were hungry.
We’d skipped breakfast in Portland. Not far from our departure gate was a large open area with several restaurants. Yes, one was serving breakfast. The hostess walked us over to a table pointed to a worn decal in the middle of the table (the QR code) telling us, “Use your phone to order and to pay.
She left us and we must have looked bemused, bewitched and bewildered for a middle-aged waitress came over, plunked herself down in a chair and offered to teach us how to use the QR code. Or, like an angel from on high, “Do you just want to tell me; I can take your order.
You can imagine which option, after rising at 3AM, we chose!
Surprisingly, like the nimble fat man
breakfast was very good.
Hunger abated, we were ready for the plane to Mexico.
My seat mate to Cabo (our destination) was a doppelgänger for Danny DeVito with a flowered shirt, pie hat, and shorts, man-spreading into my space.
I promptly, without asking permission, put down the arm rest between our seats – if not then, when?
No complaint. I was amused at how much he looked like Matilda’s father in the Roald Dahl film.
Speaking of movies, on planes I rarely view anything more than the flight tracker. I have a disdain for the movies offered, although, I must confess, I do find myself caging views at other people’s screens starring Sylvester, Clint, Tom, and Bruce.
This time, I clicked on Lyle, Lyle the Crocodile film. I knew the 1965 book and was wondering how it would be made into a film.
I was more than engaged with the foot tapping salsa dance routines, led by the ebullient Javier Bardem alongside crocodile Lyle. Bardem’s role (Hector P. Valenti)
was not in the book, as I recall. In any case he played a passé vaudevillian and the original human friend to Lyle.
All ends happily, of course, with Lyle going on vacation with his new human family. Set in NYC, there were countless scenes of places I’ve been while walking about in the best tradition of the flaneur.
After landing at Cabo in the mid-afternoon, we headed to Customs.
It was not just our plane’s passengers but several others. There were ten switchback lanes with about 50 travelers in each, so a total of 500 in the hall.
We were to pass each other ten times. I wondered if there were a better way; what would Frederick Taylor (the Scientific Management man) do? How would he organize this 500 person conga line?
I amused myself by imaging a twilight zone experience where we never saw the same person more than once instead of the mandated ten times.
Or, psychedelically, if we saw the same people, they would be wearing different clothes or making different facial expressions.
Gaining parole from Customs (I gave the wrong flight number to the agent – but he only grinned wryly) we arrived in Baggage.
And there, amidst several rows of neatly arranged luggage, was our bag, waiting for us.
Out the door and on our way!
At the local car rental the “hail-fellow well-met” tummler greeted me like a long-lost relative and regaled me as a boulevardier of some repute.
Mockingly, he accused me of running off with the cute senorita and abandoning my wife at the counter. Esta bien, no?
Well, better to be cajoled for an old roué than a senescent infant. Alas, that’s probably around the corner.
The car rental guy did give me some good advice: “Remember it’s a straight road to Todos Santos from the airport, sort of.
I should have listened.
Now for three years running, I left the straight and narrow, and took the wrong turn and had to U-turn back after 5 miles of going the wrong way.
Slow learner.
El Pescador is not far from Todos Santos. It’s a small fishing village but with a lot of activity on the one main road, the highway north to Todos Santos and to La Paz. Poorly lit, I have seen dozens of men, women and children on the side of the road waiting for rides on busses or on truck or cars. People cross the highway all the time with cattle trucks roaring past, belching diesel. An obvious need for traffic calming.
In town, the speed limit is 15 kph. It is only obeyed by gringos like me. Locals whiz through at 60 or 80 kph.
As a first effort at speed reduction, the government had installed on the side of the highway a plywood cut-out of a police car. At night, it would look like the real thing. Of course, as soon as the locals figured it out, they went back to speeding.
So, since our last visit, the government had put in rumble strips, not just a few, but over 30s strips to get your attention and to wake up the borracho driver.
If the rumble strips don’t get you to slow down, there’s still a ways to go, a ten yard stretch of pavement that rattles one’s bones. If you are still running, it’s the high jump for you, a “sleeping policeman” (tope) on the pavement that make you do an Evel Knievel and land in the distant pass.
After 16 hours of transport, we arrive in Todos Santos, at our Hotelito. There’s the joy of arrival, of seeing Jenny, the owner. With drinks outside under the stars, I realize the sensation of not moving, not next-stepping, the sense of arrival.
And a new friend made, Molly, the tiger-striped cat. Usually distant – one of Jenny’s many strays - tonight she wants her cheeks rubbed and curls up a foot or so away.
On a sad note – even when trying to be funny, reality prevails -Jenny’s extraordinary pig, Collette – a celebrity in Todos Santos and beyond – has died as of a few days ago. ¡Qué lástima!

*Listen to Emily Scott Robinson sing Traveling Mercies, here.
Copyright John Lubans all text and photo, 2023.

Crying Crocodiles

Posted by jlubans on January 17, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


Something in this cartoon captures, for me, not only that frequent fakery found among those crying crocodile tears – that weeping of the “false or affected” variety - but also to be found among some disingenuous life and leadership coaches, advisers and counselors.
We are told that crocodiles have lachrymal glands (for keeping their eyes lubricated) and that were centuries ago observed: “Theise Serpentes slen men, and thei eten hem wepynge."
The depicted life coach crocodile, in empathizing with the fake tears, is perpetuating victimhood.
Telling someone “I feel your pain” is not as good as “I feel your pain and let’s do something about it.”
Some advisers, consultants complicitly encourage you to think “you are victims, to believe that you have no agency, to believe that what you must do to improve the world is to complain, is to protest…” instead of working to create alternatives.
It’s very much job security for the paid grievance adviser.
In commenting on Odo’s Fable on “The Weeping Bald Man and Some Partridges” I referred to Alice in Wonderland who “remarked after 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."
Odo’s story reminded me of a boss who fired a worker and then waxed solicitous about the ex-employee’s wellbeing. It was meant to come across as a magnanimous gesture, shedding rays of empathy and (crocodile) tears upon the displaced and downsized!
It was a scam, a persona cultivated for the environment in which this boss worked.
For me, the Crying Crocodiles cartoon is about the "grievance industry", as some have called it in the USA.
I have seen the "culture of complaint" in my native Latvia when remembrance of bad things immobilizes its leadership from moving forward.
I recall my father (and other Latvians of his era) dwelling on the atrocities of the communists but rarely mentioning the heroic efforts – including his own - of Latvians past and present.
Today, I believe Latvia's unprecedented financial and physical support for Ukraine in its fight to win against Russia’s brutality is a move away from historic victimization or as one of my Latvian cousins put it: (to no longer) "feel as a nation of servants.”
I have never before seen so many Latvians doing so many positive things for others.
One of Latvia's most admired presidents, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga,
gave - during her presidency (1999-2007) - a much needed pep talk to the recently post-Soviet nation she was leading:
We are a strong nation! (say, please, all together – we're strong!) We are sublime!
We're productive! We're beautiful!
We know what we want! And what we want, we can!
And what we can, that's what we do!

This January, the New Year's speeches by the Prime Minister and the President of Latvia boldly echoed Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga’s inspirational outlook.

My book, Fables for Leaders – absent crocodile tears - is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text by John Lubans 2023

The Gentleman Leader

Posted by jlubans on January 10, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Don Quixote illustration by Honoré Daumier (1808-79).

A friend’s passing – let’s call him Norbert - set me thinking about what characterized his leadership.
Norbert hired me for an executive job; he was my boss for a few years prior to his being sidelined into an advisory position at the university in which we worked. (That was one of many instances of “quiet firing” I observed during my career.)
My thoughts of him kept coming back to a defining term: gentleman, a Gentleman Leader.
I’ve met a few in my career, and I must say gentlemen do not have an easy time of it in organizations.
Well, unless they have extraordinary social skills. I am not talking as much about just the diplomatic or political as the internal courage to turn the other cheek - to avoid the slings and arrows and perfumed daggers from the un-gentlemen and un-ladies in any kind of business.
Gentlemen/Gentlewomen Leaders have a code. That code is more understood than explicitly stated:
There are other qualities – including the sartorial - but the above is sufficient to separate the knight errant, the preux chevalier, from the workplace’s knaves, scalawags, back-stabbers, cockalorums and rapscallions.
While Don Quixote is a classical caricature of the Knight Errant, many of his qualities, however exaggerated, are illustrative of the knightly code.
Gentleman Leader Undone
Norbert’s previous bosses all had been of the old school, gentlemen.
When a new boss was put in place, Norbert and he failed to hit it off. As mentioned, that resulted in Norbert’s being shunted aside. Shabbily so.
Not long after, Norbert retired.
We continued our friendship and we’d see each other at social events.
Did we gossip?
Not really. A gentleman does not gossip. We rarely spoke about work, past or present. We enjoyed each other’s company, there was no need for grousing to bond us together.
But one time, my friend responded to me in an uncharacteristically blunt way.
I asked him why he’d moved to a retirement community several miles distant instead of choosing the local retirement village. Each were of equal value and well regarded, so why not stay local where he’d lived for 30 years?
His response: “Because that’s where all the bastards (I had to work with) are!”
I laughed; I knew of what he spoke.
You see, the problem with being a gentleman leader is that you may have to work with men and women who have fewer scruples than you do, have more ambition, and are willing to kick others off the success ladder.
Remember, if you are dealing with the overly ambitious, then you no longer have shared values nor the desire to have honest discussions about what needs doing.
Your all-in-it-for-himself opponent is not going to have a quiet, helpful chat with you, the all-for-the-greater-good person.
Well, when unseemly ambition goes up against modest ambition, you can imagine what one may have to do. We succumb to the temptation to hit back. The maligned becomes the maligner. Norbert, as a Gentleman Leader, was incapable of sinking that low to counter betrayal.
Norbert’s gentleness somewhat tied his hands as to what he could do to improve his standing in the eyes of his superiors.
He continued to believe (and avoid conflict) that his employees were well intentioned even when they were not.
Some of this was deliberate behavior (who knows what schemes were percolating?), or it may be, that these individuals were incompetent bad hires made by a previous administration. Their's was a peculiar kind of incompetence to be found among experts; the inability to make the complex simple and the ability to make the simple overly complex.
In any case, good faith efforts on Norbert’s part failed to move the entrenched to simplify, to accept change and to innovate.
Norbert’s boss, whether a Gentleman Leader or not, saw the stalemate and made the necessary decision – however unfair - to remove Norbert.
Alas, the most entrenched and stubborn escaped while the gentleman leader was punished.
At least for the time being; change – like springtime follows winter - was just around the corner.

My book, Fables for Leaders – full of gentlemanly and un-gentlemanly allusions, is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text by John Lubans 2023

A Wintry Melt Down

Posted by jlubans on January 03, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Thousands of stranded passengers, 13,000 flight cancelations and mountains of unclaimed/undelivered luggage all suggest that Southwest Airlines is in “melt down”. Indeed, that is the head-line writers preferred term.
Count me a SWA loyalist.
I’ve written about SWA and their - at one time - unique style of leadership and teamwork.
In my teaching, I use SWA as an exemplary organization for putting best management theory into practice.
And, I fly on SWA whenever I can.
Why the melt down?
SWAs flight attendant union doesn’t hold back: “It is the complete failure of Southwest Airlines’ executive leadership. It is their decision to continue to expand and grow without the technology needed to handle it.”
It does seem to me from afar that SWAs new leadership - unlike the iconoclastic duo of Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett - comes across pragmatic and staid. Worse, unimaginative. The leadership blames IT failure, that all too familiar organizational scapegoat.
The proactive and iconoclastic SWA of the 1970s now appears reactive.
Perhaps it was inevitable that an organization could not sustain the zip, verve and ingenuity that characterized the un-afraid SWA of the Kelleher/Barrett years.
Back in the 70s, SWA was all about doing it better and differently to keep expenses down and, along the way, keeping a sense of humor.
Why do you think SWA was the first domestic airline back in American skies after 9/11?
Once head and shoulders above the rest, it is now hard to distinguish SWA from any other airline, even those claiming to have weathered the epidemic better than SWA.
SWAs success was not due to whiz bang IT systems; it was people who loved doing what they were doing and a leadership that encouraged them - set them free - to do so!
Some critics suggest that the post-pandemic SWA has gone “woke” with a distracting focus on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) matters over getting the job done for the least cost and maximum profit with the highest customer satisfaction.
It may be that ESG moved up the priority list ahead of replacing, refurbishing aging computer systems.
Well, my activist friends will say, why not do both ESG and IT?
I suspect given SWAs reputation for frugality, it does not have the built-in fat of so many other corporations. Indeed a survey of other airlines suggest they too have major IT concerns, so it is not just SWA.
Two years ago this month I blogged about an encounter with SWA: “You Built It.
Here it is again to remind me what a great airline it was and still can be.
Caption: Southwest Airline Engine (and plane) over Rocky Mountains, west of Denver, CO, USA. January 9 2021

Early in January of this new year I was waiting for my return flight from Denver, Colorado to Portland, Oregon.
I sat across from my departure gate – just waiting and looking at the passers-by of which there were surprisingly many streaming past, all masked.
I was on a SWA dedicated concourse – full of arriving and departing SWA travelers and crews - so it was not unusual that there was a SWA flight crew sitting nearby. I was by myself having a take-away glass of wine (thank you virus!) .
One of the flight crew, a man, asked me if I was going to Spokane, the destination at the next gate and the one his crew were working. That got the conversation rolling.
I asked him about the last president of the airline, Colleen Barret, if she was still working several hours a week in spite of her retirement. He said no, she was less and less involved.
Then I mentioned my meeting Herb Kelleher (1931-2019), the co-founder of the airline and how welcomed I felt sitting in his office. From the first second, it was like visiting with an old friend.
This was in Dallas, Texas, which is where SWA is headquartered.
I mentioned my asking Herb – there was nothing of the “Mister” about Herb – about SWA’s culture of excellent customer service. I asked if the underlying values would change on his retirement.
“No”, he said, “it’s in the DNA.”
I related that story to the flight attendant, “He said that, did he?” he queried.
“He sure did.”
Hearing that, he pulled out his phone and said he had a picture to show me.
It was one of him in ramp agent* gear sitting next to Herb – in a suit - chatting away.
In other words, that’s the CEO hobnobbing with one of the workers.
He told Herb - the CEO - how appreciative he, the ramp agent, was of the “empire” Herb had built – the Southwest Airlines empire, the company.
Herb responded, “I didn’t build it, you did.”
So, here we have one of the workers with a picture of the CEO on his phone. How many workers do you know who carry around a picture of their CEO?
Just think about it.
And think about Herb’s perspective about who’s in charge, who’s responsible for SWAs success, about who should get the credit.

*We know what flight attendants do.
The lesser known “Ramp Agents” guide the plane in to and out of the gate, help get passengers off and on the plane, and unload luggage and cargo and make sure the luggage gets to the right person. They also re-provision the plane – water, snacks, drinks, paper goods.
And, on January 9th they de-iced my plane before we took off for Oregon.
Some ramp teamers, like the flight attendant I met in Denver, aspire to become flight attendants.
See my “No Bean Bags Here” essay.
Also there are chapters on Southwest leadership and culture in my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle. Amazon has it.

© Copyright photo and text John Lubans 2021, 2023

The Sinister "Deal Table": A Year's-end Literary Curiosity

Posted by jlubans on December 19, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)


My first literary curiosity in this series was The Nimble Fat Man.
Now I descend to a new level, about table height: The infamous and nefarious “deal table.
In thriller fiction – especially among the British - the villains invariably gather around a deal table to hatch out their next dastardly deed.
I have long wondered what such an item of furniture might be. Was it a gaming table around which outlaws dealt out cards to while away the hours?
Deal is a cheap wood, like fir or spruce.
As depicted, it is often dented, flawed, begrimed, and banged up. To further the image we can add (and the authors often do) a threadbare carpet on which the table totters.
Here are a few uses taken from popular fiction:
The room “was meagre and stale-smelling, with bare floor and stained and sagging wall-paper; unfurnished save for a battered deal table and some chairs. He sank into one of them and stared ….”
The “house was plainly furnished , and on the bare deal table Connor had set his whisky down whilst he peered through the rain - blurred windows at the streaming streets.”
She “struck a match, and found part of a bougie (a candle, not a member of the bourgeoisie) stuck in the mouth of an absinthe bottle, resting on a rough deal table.”
“On one side of the deal table stood Gurther, white as death, his round eyes red with rage.”
"Down those stairs!" he said, and the murderer obeyed. They were in the kitchen now, and again the bright light gleamed ... There was a gas bracket in the centre over a large deal table ….”
“(A)nd a deal table in the middle of the room. Upon this was stretched the body of a motionless man.”

Next up: An elaboration on this comforting quote from R. Austin Freeman published in the 1940s:
“God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.”

My book, Fables for Leaders – full of literary curiosities and a deal table or two, is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Lubans’ Fable of the “Ugly” Christmas Ornament

Posted by jlubans on December 06, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)


Early on as a parent, one Mother prided herself on her blunt honesty.
The Mother recalled how she had been “built up” and then disappointed by lies about Santa Claus and other myths and beliefs encouraged by adults.
Out of an abundant love, she was not going to do that.
One day the Mother’s little girl came home with a hand-made Christmas ornament. The Mother – keeping her vow not to lie – told her daughter that she obviously had made a good effort, but, well, the ornament was kind of ugly.
The little girl was crushed but understood, sort of. She put away the ornament.
Over time the ornament was lost.
Decades later, the Mother sadly told the daughter how much she regretted calling her ornament ugly and how she wished it had not been lost.
The little girl, now a parent with children, consoled her Mother, telling her she knew she loved her.
Sometimes it is best to say nothing regardless of one’s personal philosophy. And, a dear friend advises: "If something is made with love, it is always beautiful."

Caption: Speaking of ugly, but I do like what's in Homer's bag!

My book, Fables for Leaders - many of which are guides to getting by - is available. Click on the image and order up in time for Christmas!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

More Canine, Less Feline

Posted by jlubans on December 01, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Bridger doing her job. (Author photograph)

During the week when many Americans offer thanks, the WSJ ran an article, “In Praise of the Office Suck-Up”.
It explains the role and rationale behind the ubiquitous kiss-uppers, sychophants, grovelers, fawners and flunkies on display in the workplace/classroom.
Maybe you’ve engaged in some sucking-up of your own?
Now, calling someone a suck-up – defined as a person who flatters another in order to get ahead - is not going to win you friends, so just plug it into your silent workplace taxonomy.
You may recall Robert Kelly grouped followers into categories: the Alienated, Stars, Survivors, Sheep and Yes-Men. The suck-up is Kelly’s Yes-Man.
Unlike Sheep, Yes-Men are less dependent-minded and more able to think for themselves.
Probably the key to why Yes-Men get promoted, is that they are active – they make things happen - even if only to please the leader.
When a boss can rely on a suck-up to carry out his directive, he takes notice.
So, when promotions and pay raises come around, guess who’s top-of-mind?
Suck-ups are not going away, even if we profess disdain; they exist in every social group. Indeed, one psychologist claims: “The reason we don’t like suck-ups is because we’re suck-ups” ! (Emphasis added.)
Interestingly, in studies of organizational dynamics, a group that has a balance of suck-ups and regular folks, gets more stuff done than groups that are all suck-ups. (They spent too much time battling for the boss’s favor instead of getting the job done.)
When there are too few suck-ups, the team may not communicate enough with the boss and may result in the team’s not getting necessary resources.
We all know intuitively that people – including ourselves - like to be complimented about their bright ideas and accomplishments. The boss is no different.
The person we regard as a shameless toady, the boss may see as someone supportive of her initiatives to improve the workplace.
While we believe the flatterer is only “in-it-for-himself”, the boss regards as an ally who takes positive action.
Don’t we all want to move up, get rewarded, be recognized, and achieve personal goals? We don’t want to be overlooked, do we?
There’s nothing particularly sinister in ambition and in recognizing you will need help from others to get where you want to be.
Someone who never offers praise may be short on social skills or envious.
Praising and supporting should be part of how you behave at work – praise those due praise.
Don’t over-do but don’t resent anyone other than yourself being praised.
It’s a matter or degree. If your praise-giving is syrupy and exaggerated, it’s not going to earn you any points.
If you do not routinely blow your horn or sing your praises, what can we learn from those who are masters at sucking-up?
If you are more like a cat (aloof, circumspect) you could turn to man’s best friend for some clues on how to gain recognition and ingratiation.
First, no faking. If you have to lie to suck-up, don’t.
A Dog is sincere; none of what she does is a connivance.
A Dog listens; he will sit with you for hours while you cogitate and talk to yourself.
A Dog doesn't hold grudges nor engage in gossip.
A Dog expects the best from you; she has high expectations. You should too.
A Dog jumps for joy when happy, he greets enthusiastically.
A Dog accepts himself, no imposturing.
A Dog is loyal and dependable.
A Dog plays every day, she takes joy in play. Play is his/her job, so to speak. Leading you on a walk is in the job description and she does it with zest.
My book, Fables for Leaders, many of which illustrate dog wisdom, is available. Click on the image and order up in time for Christmas!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text and photo by John Lubans 2022

Free Will(y)*

Posted by jlubans on November 21, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Homer’s Donut: Chosen or Destined?

A sad tale, for Thanksgiving week, about a failed friendship, all because of free will.
Free will ended your friendship?
Yes, my excommunication resulted from a freshman dorm-type discussion about free will between my friend (a professed socialist) and me (not a socialist).
Over beer (!), our normally friendly banter and camaraderie had deteriorated into a shouting match.
For the socialist, free will is anathema or so it seems. I mean how can one become subordinate to the state if you have free will?
Remember, the socialist state is superior to the individual, hence the state takes priority.
Never a particularly reflective person, I tossed off our overheated disagreement as regrettably stupid behavior.
My friend did not, as it became apparent several months later.
While on a trip to Poland, I took a photo
of a Frey Wille store and sent it to him with a punning joke.
You know, Free Willy (the movie), Frey Wille, a jewelry store, get it?
My joke fell flat.
My friend said, tersely, he did not get the joke.
Not long after, our friendship formally ended, kind of like the Latvian proverb, paraphrased “Once you've cut the bread (or donut), you cannot put it together again".
I guess my conviction there’s free will, crossed an invisible line. I was now one of the deplorables and as such unworthy of his or any socialist’s friendship.
Discussion closed.
Apart from any individual’s belief to the contrary, socialism cannot tolerate the idea of people having choice or individual volition. Remember, the individual is subordinate; others – believe me, they are there in the wings waiting their turn - will make decisions for us.
In socialism, even Homer’s relationship with donuts is pre-ordained; he has no choice, other than choosing between cinnamon or bacon or jelly.
We are all victims of fate or fortune.
In Soviet times, the bosses took away the individual’s right to choose. Do as we say, or else.
It’s still going on in Russia. Commenting on Britney Griner’s (the basketball player) labor camp imprisonment, a former inmate offers this advice,
"It's important to not forget yourself and not lose your freedom. Because this is what the system teaches you. They teach you how to forget your right to choose."
Well then, what does this have to do with the workplace?
The more choice the competent individual has, the better job she/he will do.
That’s been an enduring tenet of my management philosophy. And, regardless of working in a hierarchical or autocratic workplace, that’s how I’ve done my job, often with highly positive results.
Naturally, most managers want to be needed. Letting go, for many managers, is a sign of weakness. Some even claim that letting go will put them out of a job; as if leadership exists solely to supervise.
Back in 1958, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin claimed there were two kinds of liberty: negative and positive. Negative was freedom from obstacles and interference by others, in brief, freedom from control.
Positive freedom pertains to controlling your own destiny and shaping your life, freedom to control oneself.
Is not free will implicit in positive freedom?
In this current workplace milieu of quiet quitting, quiet firing and quiet restraint allowing competent/productive workers more positive freedom might be one way to enlarge upon a mutually beneficial relationship between boss and worker, between the personal and the professional.

*The movie, Free Willy, is about the relationship between a young boy and a captive killer whale, both separated from their natural families. The boy helps Willy, the whale, escape his captivity. It touches on free will, especially the boy’s choosing to help Willy break free. And, of course, Willy, wants nothing but to be free. Like most of us.

My book, Fables for Leaders, many of which exemplify free will, is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

"Crickets*” and Sabotage

Posted by jlubans on November 10, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)


We’ve been hearing about the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting (QQ) and Firing (QF). Now we are told there’s a rival strategy: Quiet Restraint (QR).
According to one QR study, many employees are withholding information that might help a workmate or an organization. To quote:
“Over half (58%) of corporate workers say they are withholding knowledge that could benefit their co-workers.” And, “Gen Z is the top generation for untapped knowledge sharing; 77% of Gen Z'ers say they have more knowledge they could share at work.”
Back in 2015 I offered “Tips for Wrecking an Organization. Free!” which came from the wartime “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” produced by the US Office of Strategic Services (1944).
It was a guide for resisting/undercutting the bad guys, the invaders, like putting sand into a gear box, slashing tires of unguarded vehicles, or burning down a factory through surreptitious means.
The manual offers advice on doing what would nowadays be called QQ or QR, e.g.
“Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful
“Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job….”
The manual, in its “General Devices for Lowering Morale and Creating Confusion” segment, anticipates our current employment milieu.
I wonder if the Quiet Quitters and Those of Quiet Restraint have been perusing (on company time, of course) the Sabotage Manual?
Of the 9 pointers these are the most apt:
1. “Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.
3. Act stupid.
4. Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble. (Do the woke come to your mind?)
And if all else fails:
9. Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion, especially when
confronted by government clerks.
” (I’ll use that one the next time I am audited by the IRS.)
I doubt if the McKinsey consulting firm could top these strategies.
Obviously, we encounter some of these behaviors daily in any bureaucracy, but post-covid they apparently are no longer taboo.
What’s missing in the QQ write ups is that managers – if not themselves bought into QQ and QR – have these same strategies at their fingertips when quietly firing someone. Obfuscation has two sides to it – the employee is not the sole owner.
In my personal experience with Quiet Firing I got to see how it worked.
While not a life and death dilemma, it’s still a sneaky and insidious process. Mine included no longer being involved in decision-making and some removal of responsibilities including professional travel.
When I informed a colleague – who I thought was on “my side” – that I was still on the various work-related email lists and therefore getting the minutes and agenda from meetings I now no longer chaired, she said little.
But, not long after – in seemingly unseemly haste - my name disappeared from those email lists. Obviously, my former colleague had shifted loyalties. No longer was it “one for all”, now it was “one for one”
To survive, she chose to be a willing collaborator with the “other side”, if you will.
In life and death situations – generally not found in many offices - QQ and QR raise the personal risk level.
A recent WSJ article (“Russian Retreat in Ukraine Exposes Collaborators—and the Finger-Pointing Begins”) describes Ukrainian citizens collaborating with the Russian military in the town of Shevchenkove.
Only 35 miles from the Russian border, the town was occupied Feb. 24. Now liberated, the article provides an example of life and death QR. In the story, a former policeman was accused of collaboration. He admitted that he had indeed briefly joined the Russian-led police but only to steal the list of local hunters who owned rifles. As well, he had passed on intelligence to Ukrainian forces. The investigators dropped the charge.
Here's hoping copies of the Simple Sabotage manual - in Ukrainian – are in plentiful supply.
*THE CRICKETS (awkard silence) LET LOOSE.
My book, Fables for Leaders, full of self-management tips, is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

“Stupid Question”

Posted by jlubans on October 28, 2022  •  Leave comment (1)


Whenever I use kitchen plastic wrap I am reminded of a long ago incident when a staff member reacted in a negative way to a simple request from me.
I edited something called the Suggestion/Answer Book. It was an open book, literally, and clients could write in it for all to see their questions, compliments and complaints. (If you want to know more about it, you might find this article of interest.)
In any case, the student client asked “Why does plastic wrap cling?”* The staffer to whom I sent the question rejected it, saying it was a stupid question, one deserving a stupid answer. I assume her rejection was the stupid answer.**
Her humorless response forfeited the opportunity to engage a client in a positive way.
As always, a “stupid question” can open the door to a “teachable moment” and more.
Another staff member to whom I sent questions made the most of each; it never crossed her mind to think a question was not worth answering. If it did, she resisted the temptation to ridicule.
For her, each question was a spring board to opening the doors to more information – just the right amount – and she would invite the reader to tag along in the process of getting to an answer. She never talked down, was always level-headed and respectful.
Her answer was a pedagogical tool to not just the questioner but to the many who read her response.
In over 3000 questions/suggestions I avoiding sarcasm in my answers.
I believed it would turn off readers.
In my run as the Answer Person with hundreds of my previous responses on display in a very public three ring binder, the user knew action would be taken to fix bad policies and procedures, or if no action were taken, the reader would be told why.
And, importantly, I deliberately edited my responses to be welcoming, and, as often as not, wry and whimsical.
My style of humor added, it seems, the right touch to keep passing readers interested, amused and coming back for more.
That tone also assured the reader no comment or question would be dismissed as “stupid” – a not unusual anxiety on a campus brimming at times with an intellectual hubris that could infect any full-of-herself librarian.
But it did happen; as kitchen wrap never fails to remind me.
Rube Goldberg, back in the early 1900s had a regular newspaper comic strip; he called it Foolish Questions, and provided zany, madcap answers. Here are a couple for your entertainment
Women in apron to man puffing away on an immense stogie:
“Anthony, are you smoking again?”
The smoker responds: “No, Cleopatra, I’m taking a bath in a bowl of clam chowder.”
Silly but not a brutal, dismissive put down. Might even bring a smile to Cleo's face.
Another cartoon by Rube has a man in loudly checkered pants asking a bald friend chasing something:
“Did your wig blow off?”
Baldy responds, “No, I’m chasing butterflies for my coin collection!”
More zany than acidulous, there is an essence of silly humor there.
More recently the satirical magazine, Mad, offered “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.
An example: A woman, looking at a ceiling dripping with water, asks the plumber “Is that from a leaking pipe?”
Plumber offers three responses:
“No, it’s from someone watering their lawn upstairs”.
“No, your house is crying because you are so stupid
“No, the water is coming from a basement in China.”
That's supposed to be humor; it’s not. It’s churlish, and boorish. Al Jaffee, the illustrator and author explained: While going through a divorce, “I got a lot of my hostility out through Snappy Answers.”
Had I done that in the S/A book, the readership would have disappeared and I would have spent my time battling nasty comments, like in the anonymous Twitter-sphere.

*In case you were wondering
Why does clingfilm cling? The Internet provides an answer:
“Most cling wrap is made of one of two materials; polyvinyl chloride or low-density polyethylene. Both of these are long polymers - chains of molecules. These chains cling to each other very well. In fact, the polymers in polyvinyl chloride are so bound together that they do not let water or air get through them. The military used to spray "Saran," the early name of the chemical, on fighter planes to prevent corrosion. It was also used in upholstery. To make it suitable for home use, companies add platicisers to make it softer and more malleable.”

**I was bewildered by her response. Among the 200 in this organization I rated her among the top 5 or 6. Early on we worked well together, but now I did sense a growing antipathy towards me, but never figured out what or why. Not long after this incident, she and her professor husband departed for another university, presumably for greener pastures.

My book, Fables for Leaders, full of whimsy, is available. Click on the image and order up!

And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle
© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022