“You Built It”. October 2021

Posted by jlubans on October 14, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Southwest Airline Engine (and plane) over Rocky Mountains, west of Denver, CO, USA. January 9 2021

What with Southwest’s meltdown in recent days with hundreds of canceled and delayed flights I thought it a good idea to recycle my most recent Southwest story, “You Built It”. It appears below under the bar.
How did this latest fiasco happen?
Some say it was the weather and flight control, the FAA.
Others, that it was a shortage of staff from flight crews to ramp teams to reservation agents.
A bold few suggest it is an informal work stoppage due to SWAs compulsory covid vaccinations, no exceptions even for those with immunity and those with sincere religious objections.
Many vehemently respond, “Not so and don’t you dare say it!”
I’ve written and taught about Southwest; they are one of my most go-to examples of an outstanding, democratized organization. Their customer service is legend, or at least it was until this past week.
There is a mystery.
Why did Southwest promote early retirement and long leaves during the plague, reducing staff by hundreds if not thousands? Southwest took in millions from the government’s Payroll Protection Plan which was designed for keeping people ready to roll once the epidemic diminished.
And, why did SWA expand its footprint and add destinations during the epidemic?
All summer SWAs leadership team has been playing musical chairs. That uncertainty of who is in charge and for how long may contribute to the breakdowns.
Herb Kelleher, co-founder and Southwest’s CEO for decades, told me, no worries, “It’s in the DNA” when I asked him what would happen to Southwest’s vaunted reputation when his leadership ended.
Herb died in early 2019. Colleen C. Barrett, his right-hand woman, continues as President Emeritus but is no longer working her usual long hours.
Is Herb Keller spinning in his grave or maybe, just maybe, it’s Southwest’s maverick tradition that’s rearing up among its pilots and other workers against a compulsory vaccine, a last straw leading to a "Let's go Brandon" moment.
I wonder.
UPDATE: Southwest pilots' union asks court to delay vaccine mandate.
Here starts my essay, You Built It from January 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 him – 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 (see below).

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© Copyright photo and text John Lubans 2021

The Freedom to Excel. 2021

Posted by jlubans on October 07, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

20130731-Stakhanov work.jpg
Caption: Work like Stakhanov! (While Nazis had better tailors, Communist propaganda was equal to that of the Fascists).

My essay on Stakhanovism from July 31, 2013 re-appears below under the bar.
Stalin claimed this “Hero of Socialist Labour” would engender “a new wave of Socialist emulation”. In other words, recognizing and celebrating Stakhanov, the Herculean coal miner, would boost production by all his wannabes.
After all, who wouldn’t want a smart apartment (with a bathroom) in Moscow along with multiple photo-ops with Uncle Joe?
No doubt Stakhanov was an innovative and prodigious worker, but using him as an example probably did little to boost Soviet innovation or productivity regardless of the endless propaganda and fake claims made by the Soviets and the media here and abroad.
Collectivism, with a few exceptions, did not work and its products were often of abysmal quality.
Back in the USA, America’s Taylorism (aka Scientific Management) did lead to huge production gains and to improved pay for workers. Unions had a helpful role in this happening.
Henry Ford’s production lines also lead to significant economic and societal gains.
The jury remains out on a new concept, dubbed “Bezosism” which is practiced at Amazon warehouses.
Workers are not only time-and-motion studied, they are surveilled every minute and production goals are monitored. Warehouse workers partner with robots and, like the latter, are highly regimented and controlled.
Pay is good, but the repetitive work standing in one place is exhausting and uninspiring or so some claim.
Here starts my “blast from the past” from 2013:
Next month will record another anniversary of the Stakhanovism movement. In 1935 a Ukrainian miner (in the Soviet) hewed 102 tons of coal in a single shift, 14 times the norm. His name was Aleksei G. Stakhanov. Stakhanovism was communism’s answer to capitalism’s piece-rate. Soon after, at Dictator Stalin’s merciless prodding, other industries followed suit with exemplary workers being heralded and rewarded – and elaborate claims put forth of how socialism was outstripping capitalism.
But resentment set in, as it often does when management exploits a worker’s exceeding productivity norms. If a Stakhanovite can produce three times the norm, well, they autocratically rule, that will be everyone’s new quota!
There was an expected jealousy over the rewards (a car, travel, visits with Mr. Stalin, lingerie and perfume) for the Heroes of Labor, but the new quotas profoundly embittered workers. In the Soviet, protesting the new norms would get you a trip to a labor camp or a bullet in the head.
There’s a bitter, if comical, ballad* by Vladimir Vysotsky, about a worker who hates the new quotas foisted on him by his mine’s Stakhanovite.
The Hero is trapped in a cave-in. As the rescue team descends into the mine, the unhappy worker sings to his fellow miners:
“Our grief, everyone’s grief, is one
and the same.
If we dig him out, again he’ll start filling three quotas,
Again, he’ll start giving the nation coal and giving it to
Us, too.
So, brothers, in order not to work too hard, let’s take it
Easy now – one for all all for one.”

As you can tell, Stakhanovites or America’s “rate-busters” have earned a considerable enmity among their fellow workers.
Well, doing a great job should not result in loathing. You should have the freedom to excel.
I recall one very effective library worker who greatly exceeded established norms. Instead of inflicting her productivity on everyone else, we looked at how she managed to do so much more.
The Soviets could have done likewise when Stakhanov set his record. He was a hard worker but what enabled him to produce so much more was that he was a very smart worker.
The Soviets should have celebrated the teamwork that resulted in Stakhanov’s record setting. Instead of drilling and shoring up as he went along all by himself, Stakhanov drilled while three other workers followed and shored up the mine – that was how he did so much more.
My point is that some of us are naturally quicker, brighter, and more able to discern, to distinguish, and to do certain kinds of work faster than the rest of the population. Few of us can run a 100 yards or meters in under ten seconds. Those that can have some capacity that the rest of us do not.
I’ll never run that fast, but I can learn and improve my speed from the faster person’s achievement. Their speed is probably more than just the snazzy spikes and kangaroo skin uppers!
I can look at the sprinter’s stride, her stance at the start, how he finishes, how she trains, and what he does just before the starter's gun goes off.
When others develop new ways of doing a job we should be free to use those ideas. Freedom at work includes the option to be a rate buster with impunity.
Getting back to my effective worker – our library’s Stakhanov – we did look at what she was doing and made those ideas generally available.
It never occurred to us to even imply new quotas. We trusted that people who were doing similar work would want to improve. Many applied her ideas and we got good results. Word got out about our productivity and I offered to share the ideas.
My impression was that some mangers at other libraries were doing the Soviet thing: If X can do this faster, then you WILL, too.
They missed the point. If you give people freedom to invent and to innovate, you then must share the results without inducing fear.
The higher production – if it is to be had - will follow. This is when managers need to “let go,” quit hammering the obvious message, and trust that good people will do what is right. Most workers want to do a good job.

*SOURCE: “In Soviet, Eager Beaver's Legend Works Overtime,”
By SERGE SCHMEMANN Special to The New York Times
New York Times, Aug 31, 1985; pg. 2.

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My books are printed and shipped in the USA, so when you buy my latest book of workplace fables you can expect speedy delivery. Something to keep in mind as the gift giving season looms.
And, of course, there's no memory chip shortages for printed books!

And, don’t forget my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright all text by John Lubans 2013 & 2021

Krylov’s THE WHISK*

Posted by jlubans on September 30, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)


GREAT honours were suddenly conferred upon a dirty Whisk (broom or brush).**
It will not now any longer sweep the floors of kitchens; for the master's caftans are handed олег to it, the servants having, probably, got drunk.
Well, our Whisk set to work vigorously. It was never tired of belabouring the master's clothes, and it thrashed the caftans like so much rye.
Undoubtedly its industry was great; only the misfortune was, that it was itself so dirty.
Of what use, then, was all its toil ?
The more it tried to clean anything, the dirtier did it make it.
Just as much harm is done when a fool interferes in what is out of his own line, and undertakes to correct the work of a man of learning.
In the workplace,
I am bound to say, the ineffective whisk is analogous to he who would disdain – because of spite or jealousy – from going along with someone’s very good idea.
Instead, the disdainer promotes/defends a bad idea, thereby sabotaging the organization.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
** In Russian, a Golik. A bunch of bare twigs, greatly resembling a “scholastic birch” once used in the UK in corporal punishment of mis-behaving students.
More often nowadays, these are used in saunas all over northern Europe and Russia. However, the sauna birch whisks I’ve seen in Latvia all had leaves and intended more for swishing than twitching.

No supply-chain issues here! My books are printed and shipped in the USA, so when you buy my latest book of workplace fables you can expect speedy delivery. Something to keep in mind as the gift giving season looms.

And, don’t forget my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright all text by John Lubans 2021

“Monday Morning Quarterback”

Posted by jlubans on September 21, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Gabe Brkic, University of Oklahoma football team kicker, with his power-inducing mustache.*

Back in February of this year, I wrote about the inestimable American footballer, Tom Brady in “Letting Go to Win”.
So, once again please bear with me, while I talk about another quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, from the Green Bay Packers.
Like Tom Brady, Mr. Rogders wants to be more involved in team decisions, especially when it comes to selecting players to retire and players to acquire. His bosses at GB, don’t appear to see it that way.
Today’s title is a descriptive phrase used for those fans who, at game’s end, would have done a better job than the coach or the players.
So, let me be a bit of a MMQ, a second-guesser.
But first, let me explain for non-sports readers that American football’s quarterback is the signal caller and lines up behind the center to receive the ball at the start of each play. His job is to get the ball to the end zone and score.
Even if not elected captain, once on the playing field, he is the team leader.
The quarterback gets the ball and either hands if off to a running back (full back, half back), or keeps it and runs, or passes it to a player down the field. Sometimes, in a play called the triple option, he does all three.
All the while the defenders on the other side of the ball seek to crush him under a combined weight of a ton (907 kilos) or two!
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are among the very best at eluding onrushing linesmen, gaining yardage and winning.
Contrast this quote from Tampa Bay coach, Bruce Arians, about Brady’s leadership with the following quote from Brian Gutekunst, the general manager of the GB Packers:
“(Brady) has been (the leader) all year. (He’s) got the air of confidence that permeates through our team every day. I allow him to be himself. Like, (the former team) didn’t allow him to coach. I allow him to coach. I just sit back sometimes and watch.”
Here’s what Gutekunst has to say about sharing his decision making power:
“So what’s your definition of input? Are you listened to? If you’re listened to, and a different decision is made, do you still feel listened to?
Or is it just doing what you want? I think there’s a difference there. But I do think those guys that have put so much into an organization, played at a high level, I think it’s important that they have a little bit of a voice.” Emphasis added.
What does Rodgers want? A lot more than “a little bit of a voice”.
Rodgers suggest a role:
"I can be used as a pseudo-consultant because I know this place," he said. "When you're a quarterback, you hear a lot of [stuff].... It's the people that get it done, and I just want to be a part of people decisions."
Moreover, in an unusually candid press conference -in which he came across as a thoughtful communicator with good ideas and a reasonable manner – he explained:
“People come here to play with me, to play with our team and knowing that they can win a championship here. And the fact I haven’t been used in those discussions was one I wanted to change moving forward.”
Let’s leave the stadium and ask the eternal work place question? What do people want from work?” There’s an easy answer:
mutual support and respect, and meaningfulness in what they do.
They don’t want to be ignored when they have good ideas to offer.
Being ignored and dis-respected are obvious signals from the organization or your boss for you to move on.
Rodgers is not going to go silently into retirement. He is articulating probably what many players (and workers) believe and would likely offer to a team.
So what effect is the GB power struggle having on the new season?
Latest score: Green Bay 35, Detroit Lions 17. The game was preceded by much Chicken Little, “Sky is falling”- behavior among the media after Green Bay lost the first official game the week before, 3-38. A shellacking for sure, but Rodgers re-assured everyone, it’s one game, we move on to the next game.
He is right. I hope GB and Mr. Rodgers can come to an understanding which welcomes him into the team's key decisions.
Look what "letting go" led to at Tampa: Victory in the Super Bowl.

*More Football and Parallel Parking:
University of Oklahoma Kicker Gabe Brkic (depicted) tied an American record with three 50-yard (46 meters) field goals Sept 4, 2021. Each field goal is worth 3 points. (By the way his name is pronounced Brr-kich).
Kickers are, we are told, a breed apart, (loners, superstitious, idiosyncratic and a bit zany) so his insights are well worth having.
He explained how he focuses on making kicks from mid-field:
“My dad’s best friend, when we were younger, he told me kicking a football is like parallel parking. Every kick, you just parallel park the football through the goalposts.” Goalposts are 18.5 feet wide (5.64 meters).
What about the Guy Fawkes mustache? “That’s where my power comes from, the 'stache,” Brkic explained. "I’m going to let that thing grow out.”
On September 25 against the University of West Virginia playing in Norman, Oklahoma, Mr. Brkic kicked the winning field goal with ZERO time remaining on the play clock. Just like parallel parking! Final score: 16-13.
Coincidentally, with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, Green Bay beat the San Francisco 49rs 30-28 on September 26 with a last second 51-yard field goal!
Today, October 14, Green Bay is 4 wins, 1 loss, and going strong.

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© Copyright all text by John Lubans 2021

"Atkārtot!": Speaking up at Work. 2021

Posted by jlubans on September 13, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Below is an essay first posted on July 10, 2013.
Why repeat it?
Primarily, the essay gives an example of followers (choristers) being on an equal footing with their leaders (conductors). These followers know when something has gone well and want to celebrate it by repeating it – if a football player spikes the ball in the end zone after a score, well the choir says “let’s do it again!”.
That celebration of a job well done reflects on the followers and on the leader. The conductor’s way of leading contributes to the success of the song.
Would it not be nice for organizations to linger over sweet moments, to reflect and to celebrate genuine achievements? If not to repeat a success, then to talk about what went well, what challenges were overcome and to acknowledge those who contributed the most.

Here, slightly emended, starts the original blog posted back in mid-2013.
I’ve been immersed in Latvia’s quinquennial Song and Dance Festival.
This weeklong celebration – nationally televised from start to finish - of Latvian song, dance, music, theater, art and crafts involves approximately 40,000 performers. Every community in Latvia sends its best to take part in DZIESMU SVĒTKI in the capital city, Riga. And, Latvians from all over the world converge on the city and fill its streets, literally, with dance and song. The grand finale features a community-sing* with audience and choirs holding forth until 6.30AM the next day.

Caption: At sunset in the Mežaparks concert bowl, 10.30PM, the audience and the 14,000 singers, just getting started.

At the final song concert, held outdoors with 14,000 singers, led by ten or more male and female conductors*, I observed an unusual practice. After a particular song, one that went especially well, the choir would chant "Atkārtot!" to the conductor. You can hear it here, and, even better, here, asking to repeat the highly patriotic song “Saule, Pērkons, Daugava” (Sun, Thunder, and the mighty river Daugava.)
My cousin Ivars tells me that this chant is more about self-expression, “We want to repeat” than it is a command to the conductor. In my experience in the classical music world, I have never seen an orchestra say much of anything (with the notable exception of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, of course).
If there are to be encores, the conductor decides. If a particular piece goes well, the paying audience – in Italy, for example – may ask for it to be sung again. So, to have the performers feel this strongly and then express their desire is something I, frankly, like very much.
Why do I like it?
Because of what "Atkārtot!" says about the relationship between the nominal leader – the conductor – and those being led – the followers.
Getting people to speak up is one of management’s biggest challenges; not speaking up in the workplace is more the norm. How often have you been told to keep your head down; don’t rock the boat; don’t make a fuss?
Here’s an insightful note from cousin Ivars: “As this fest's grand finale is like a party after the 5-year work for the choirs, I guess they are feeling not that much as the performers but more like a part of the audience.” (Emphasis added.)
And I like what "Atkārtot!" says about the followers.
This kind of follower has her own mind – she knows a good thing when she hears it. These followers have internal standards to which they aspire.
Internal is the key word here. Knowing you’ve done a good job is as much a personal realization as it is something for which you receive external recognition.
These followers are analytic and they love – as does the conductor – what they are doing. When something goes really well, they want more of it.
"Atkārtot!" is remarkable because it confirms the trust between leader and follower. The conductors (half were women – this is Latvia, remember!) are publicly honored by the choirs.
After the conductor leads the singing of a song, several of the choir members run up to the conductor’s platform and present him or her with flowers, smiles and hugs. You can see that at the end of the video.
What does this have to with work?
If we enjoy what we do and we do something really well, would it not be nice to do it again, that the accomplishment be recognized by one and all?
If we have been well led, then let the boss know. Maybe we do not do the flowers and the hugs but we surely can smile and offer thanks.
This is part of a realization that all – each and every one of us - have done a good job and that it is worth taking the time to celebrate the achievement.
"Atkārtot!" brings to mind the Taoist and early genuine – not fake - anarchist, Lao Tzu:
“The great leader is he who the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’"

*NOTE: In Latvian, conductor is “Diriģents”. While translated as conductor, the Latvian word may have some etymological nuances not associated with our (English-speaking) interpretation of the word.
More photos:
Caption. Opening ceremony in the original location of the first song and dance festival near city center, Riga. Photo by author.

Caption. Crowd at rehearsal performance prior to the big blow out night time event. Thousands of singers on stage. For approximately a week, Riga houses singers in schools gyms, sleeping on cots. By week’s end, the singers and dancers are exhausted, but happy.

Caption: Close up of one dance. Photo by author. An amazing effort of coordination, planning and competition. Photo by author.

Caption: Close up of dance groups. The groups come from all over Latvia and merge into one large dance group. Photo by author.

A regular reader?
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© Copyright by John Lubans 2013 & 2021

"The Dog Under Your Desk" 2021

Posted by jlubans on September 07, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: People and dogs share computers and space, productively. Alas, the way it used to be pre-pandemic at Menlo Innovations. Now that dog (left of center) is under your kitchen table and you’re connected with peers on social media.

Here (WAY BELOW) from early 2014 is my first attempt at defining elements of the democratic workplace.
The workplace, at least the white collar one, has undergone unprecedented stresses during the past 18 months.
It’s called “working from home” (WFH) and I do wonder what if any influence those months out of the office (OOO)) have and will have on the staff and management relationship.
It is apparent that work which relies on the Internet can be accomplished anywhere: from the lakeside cottage to the lobster shack at the beach; from a national forest to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (at least while a satellite soars overhead).
What other jobs can be done from home?
Will we enter a hybrid era, a foot in the office door and a foot in the home office?
Very likely for some industries.
How will managerial roles change?
Remember, as managers we should be providing guidance to our direct reports. How does that happen OOO? How do we set and maintain trust?
Are we now in the era (no choice) of “letting go” with workers taking responsibility for their performance with minimal guidance?
Are the dreaded and wasteful performance appraisals still being done, now Zoomed, adding yet another artificial layer to the ritual?
PAD, I’d call it - pun intended - Performance Appraisal at a Distance.
How are managers now aware of WFM people excelling and those working well below the norm? For that matter, what will the norm be?
Will it differ for onsite workers vs. those working from their kitchens with home-schoolers in the background?
How much slack will managers (also at home) cut their workers?
There are reports of WFH workers who hold down two jobs – said to be a legal if unethical practice - each kept secret from the other. A few workers report that they can do both in less than 40 hours, so why not?
One double dipper claims that he was able to do his first job in less than 2 hours a day, so why not add another for twice the pay?
No telling where this will go. Nor do we know the extent of this underground movement.
As organizations move toward gig workers (no benefits), it is only to be expected that gig workers will seek to maximize their situation vis a vis the organization(s).
Is it not the Marxist dream to work a few hours a day and spend the rest of the time fishing and thinking deep economic thoughts? It’s happening. Well, all but the latter.
Are Zoom teams as productive as face-to-face high performance teams? Somehow, I have my doubts.
Many questions. Is this the dawning of the Democratic Workplace?
The BBC in its usual woke way offers another perspective on double-dipping; they call it "overworking"!
Here starts the 2014 essay, slightly edited:
My new class on the Democratic Workplace meets for the first time this week. In preparation, I’m in the throes of defining the concepts behind the class. I have lists of what it is and what it is not, but no coherent manifesto.
People ask me, “What is the Democratic Workplace?” “Does everyone vote on everything?” “Is it Marxist?” What exactly is Freedom at Work? Is it a New England town hall meeting? Or, is it something akin to participatory management, in which some of the organization’s decision-making is shared with staff? Is it a kindly capitalism, gently exploiting labor?
Well, perhaps it is a mix of all that. A hybrid, then. But, it does have something else that sets it apart; the real Democratic Workplace (DW), in the right circumstances, gets results. It can be more productive, quantitatively, than the Hierarchy. (In my personal experience of freeing up a tradition-bound Hierarchy, in which I implemented many democratic ideas, we danced rings around our traditionally organized competitors. Other explorers of the DW report similar improvements.)
Let’s see if I can get it right:
The Democratic Workplace includes elements of democracy (rule by people) more than do other systems of organization; it is an evolving hybrid (imagine two overlapping circles (Venn); the overlap is the hybrid; the DW is waxing, the Hierarchy waning) blending the elements of a less restrictive Hierarchy/Bureaucracy with the freedom of the DW.
The DW relies heavily on individuals taking ownership of their work – thinking about what they do - and having the freedom to make decisions about their work (hence the improved productivity). The worker’s perspective is that of an owner, a manager. A DW worker has authority commensurate with his/her responsibility; motivation is internal.
The leader – yes, there is one – is of the unboss* variety.
What’s that? Well, someone that let’s go of the minutiae and empowers (gives power away) workers to accomplish goals, to get the job done. Someone that listens to worker ideas and says “Do it” more than “Don’t” – or she may say nothing since doing is preferred.
It is a work in progress,
it is the Gettysburg address, “…of the people, by the people, for the people ….",
It’s Lao Tzu
and Thoreau applied to where we work.
The DW hears the customer more clearly, listens better, than those agencies with the customer on the other side of the bulletproof glass. The DW customer/client/user is not the enemy; the DW has no monopolistic delusions; it is not OK to be unpleasant and uninviting.
OK, OK! Basta! How easy is it to implement?
A new organization can implement DW ideas more easily than can an old one.
There’s no template. Just like the hierarchy evolved over a couple hundred years, from a highly regimented bureaucracy to something far less so, a blend of Theories X ,Y and Z, it will take time - a lot of it - to introduce and refine elements, like “open books”, effective teams, and “egalitarian salaries” and to flatten the organization. The process speeds up once people see positive results.
But, the beneficiaries of the hierarchy will do all they can to sabotage the shift.
The organizational chart may change monthly; no one gets to stay in his or her spot for too long, including the unboss.
Regular movement in the organization is encouraged, facilitated but not mandated. The goal is a mutually satisfactory balance of fulfilling the needs of the organization and of the individual. Neither is the slave of the other.
Work is as important as ever, even more so. It is understood that the organization must take in energy and resources to continue to thrive, to evolve, to avoid irrelevance. That’s nothing new.
The DWs S-shaped curve which depicts an organization’s life span is upward, not downward. You re-invent, adapt as necessary to survive and to excel.
There’s no blueprint to follow but the unboss and others have the idea, the vision of what it can be. The vision trusts in the overall notion that when people have similar interests and capabilities and are given authority and responsibility they will do better on their own, than under supervision. There’s no need for external motivation.
I have to say that no one has completed the entire puzzle – with all the pieces in place, the riddle solved. As a proponent (and a practitioner) of the DW I am aware that many DW ideas have been put into practice.
Ideas like creating effective teams, setting your own salary, giving spending authority to project teams, working without managers, eliminating formal evaluation, and sharing the budget.
While the DW can be imagined as an orchestra without a conductor it is not without leadership or management. It is made up of musicians that want to understand a piece of music as well as the conductor and then interpret it as if they were playing the whole piece, not just their instrumental part. The musicians select the music, decide on the theme, and schedule the rehearsals.
The DW welcomes independent, critical thinking and action-taking followers; there are fewer "survivors", fewer of the alienated, fewer yes people, fewer sheep-like followers than in the Hierarchy.
DW staff steer away from the usual jealousies and infighting found in any group; there is more energy spent on producing and less spent on discussing.
The DW permits staff to help rather than hinder; it dispenses with jargon; it favors an easily understood language. If something is patently wrong, the DW permits – writ large -the wrong to be righted, without endless discussion. But, let’s keep in mind that the DW takes teamwork, it is not a maverick or a vehicle for pettiness or caprice, granting some favors, denying others. It does things with intelligence and awareness. If it errs, it self corrects.
That intelligence emanates from the freedom enjoyed by its well-qualified staff, to do what is right. The law is obeyed; all else is open to question. We do not endanger, nor do we stymie just because someone has a need to officiate.
The golden rule rules.
The DW is the worker who improves what he does without consulting the boss. Without having to get permission.
It is the worker who screws up and owns up to it and goes on to do a better job the next day, without fear of reprisal,.
If a worker is not performing well, then we find out why and try to do something about it. If there’s nothing that can be done, it is time for change, and not just for the “scapegoat” employee, as in the Hierarchy; if the worker is weak, the team leaders, the team, share the responsibility.
The DW recognizes that 95% of the staff do not need to be controlled.
The DW understands that 5% may need extra training and discipline, for legitimate reasons, not just for willful neglect or incompetence.
The DW expects great things of its staff and provides the resources for that to happen.
The DW is a “cool” place to work; it has a waiting list of applicants, all for the right reasons.
It’s not “dog eat dog,” it’s the dog under your desk.
*I first used – maybe even coined - the term unboss in my 2006 essay, “The Invisible Leader”, about the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

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© Copyright all original text by John Lubans 2014 & 2021

Democracy: “The mustard on the hot dog"* 2021

Posted by jlubans on August 29, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

20130918-hot dog.jpeg
This post dates back to SEPTEMBER 18, 2013.
It’s worth a repeat appearance in these viral times in which some leaders have clearly overreached, they’ve shown their totalitarian “cloven hoof”.
What do I mean by “cloven hoof”?
PG Wodehouse, afflicted with dozens of aunts in his childhood, elaborated: “It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof. ”
It’s visible when leaders demand obedience (at gunpoint) without convincing explanations as to why: it’s on display when leaders fail but do not admit to bad decisions; and, it’s particularly grating when there is little or no involvement of the governed in decisions affecting their lives.
A few “good or humble aunts” of our governing class try to achieve a balance between what’s good for public health and what’s good for normal life. They avoid lock-step decision making; they weigh costs and benefits, and above all, they respect individual rights.
Here begins the re-post, slightly edited from its initial appearance in 2013:
I’ve been going on - in this blog - about the democratic workplace, as if I knew what democracy is.
E. B. White – in wartime England – was asked to write a statement on “the meaning of democracy.” His entertaining response appears in full below*. For my immediate purposes, I have separated out and annotated those defining points I think especially relevant to the democratic workplace in hopes of illuminating some of the concept’s nooks and crannies.
The Meaning of Democracy:
“It is the line that forms on the right.”
Egalitarian, democracy is. If you break into line, someone will mention it to you, probably not in the kindest of words.
“It is the ‘don't’ in don't shove.”
Mind your manners; say please, thank you, and would you mind? As a boss you have no inherent right to push people around. In stressful times, keep a sense of humor.
20130918-Stuffed Shirt.jpg
Caption: Finishing touches, “Ain’t I something!”

“It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which sawdust slowly trickles.”
Ahhh, probably my favorite. Democracy anchors the easily inflatable, like a boss, down to earth. The boss who claims full personal credit for the people doing the day-to-day and making the wheels of industry hum, does so at his own ego-tripping risk. The stockholders will believe the stuffed shirt in good times, but the workers – no sycophants, they - know better, much better. Some omniscient experts have, over 18 months, worn several holes in their shirts, and the sawdust has all but trickled out.
“It is the dent in the high hat.”
20130918-dent hat.jpeg
Caption: Dent caused by hat colliding with Brazil nut followed by much jeering.

You bet; enjoy your high hat; just don’t expect everyone to think you are somehow above the rest of us, the hoi polloi. If you do, your hat – in a democracy - becomes a magnet (and target) for the stray slingshot walnut or biscuit.
“Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.”
In the workplace, the best boss knows her idea can only get better if she shares and builds on it with ideas from the staff – the people doing the work.
Experts have their place, but the notion of being ruled by an elite galls many people.
“It is … the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.”
Libraries have changed but when you go into one and think about it, yes, there is a communion in the hallowed purpose and tradition of the “people’s university”. As for vitality, that’s in scarce supply these days as many libraries have chosen to close, declaring themselves, nonessential!
However, I did observe plenty of vitality (and a surfeit of communion), at a recent Vermont town hall meeting, a walking, talking, breathing example of democratic decision-making.
“It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet.”
Lincoln’s unfinished work at Gettysburg comes to mind: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Remember? Our “great task”, ensuring “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”Democracy in the office is also unfinished work.
“It's the mustard on the hot dog.”
That’s the piquant sense when people feel equal and effective, when they stress “We” over “Me”, and mean it. It’s when the group achieves what no individual can and everyone concludes, “Wow, we did it!”

*SOURCE: E. B. White as quoted by ROBERT KRULWICH in his essay
Democracy, My Mother And Toast” on National Public Radio on July 02, 2013:
“Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the "don't" in don't shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere.
Democracy is the letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn't been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It's the mustard on the hot dog, and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.”

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© Copyright all original text by John Lubans 2021

“We’ll be fair.”

Posted by jlubans on August 24, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

That’s (“We’ll be fair”) what I heard when I asked a Developmental Disabilities staffer about Oregon’s financial policy on a certain kind of welfare for people with disabilities.
In North Carolina, 3000 miles east, the policy was just the opposite. When I asked legislators from both parties about removing the policy’s punitive aspects, the answer was “It can’t be done”.
How, then, did one state* practice a very fair policy (assuring that a person could retain some assets) while another state practiced fiscal confiscation that led to impoverishment and dependency.
Without going into details, my question is about how the political or other leadership establish the principle of fairness (a corporate value) while another leadership decides on punitive policies for clients.
Now, Oregon has long claimed there is an “Oregon Way” – a philosophy deriving from its earliest settlers, a philosophy of fairness and of helping others.
Another example is Oregon’s “People’s Coast”. Unlike many coastal states, Oregon decided long ago that the ravishingly beautiful coast could not be developed and restricted only for those with the big bucks or other influence.
As a result, Oregon has hundreds of miles of open access beaches and parks.
Is it politics? Some of my East Coast liberal friends assure me that Oregon is on the Left Coast and hence guided by leftist leaning policies.
It may be that way now, but at the time of the beaches and the health care policies, Oregon was conservative, not liberal.
In any case, Oregon’s policy makers were either more intelligent or had a value system that stressed fairness.
When I challenged the unfair policy in North Carolina, I met with legislators of both parties. Regardless of politics, every one of the pols was of the “I feel your pain” persuasion, and would do nothing to reverse the punitive practice.
I recall one bright-eyed legislative assistant explaining to me that any change was fiscally impossible. She was almost gleeful about having a budgetary justification to do nothing. According to her, it would cost millions which the state did not have (of course!).
Her reasoning was that any policy change had to encompass everyone not just the people with disabilities. In other words, the state was fiscally incapable of making one life better without a fiscal obligation to make all lives better.
The former is doable. The latter is impossible. So, “Sorry, but our hands are tied.”
Have you ever used that kind of lame excuse? I have.
Where does leadership enter? The leaders of these two states obviously influenced the legislation and how that legislation would be put into practice.
One state chose fairness, while the other chose unfairness.
What then is the leader’s role in changing bad practices in any organization? Even if the leader (say a state’s governor) would like to make changes, how do they persuade others. If your followers are unpersuaded, you will have an uphill battle.
My two-week lobbying effort with state legislators in person went nowhere. Most figuratively patted me on my head and sent me on my way.
One legislator, probably a Southern conservative, was angered by my pitch. He roared at me that I should be grateful for what the state was doing, and that was that. I remain mystified to this day about what set off the fireworks.
Was it something I said or was it something in this man’s background?
So, there is a culture one has to deal with.
I came to believe that while people with disabilities come in all colors and creeds, the North Carolina legislation may have been racially influenced because of the state’s Southern (slavery) history and significant black population. Yet, I am aware that many northern states (supposedly enlightened) with tiny black populations have policies that emulate the harsh one in North Carolina.
How would you, as a leader, change the unfair to fair? What would it take for your organization to say sincerely to clients, without hesitation, “We’ll be fair”?

*For my Latvian readers, America’s 50 states have much autonomy over how things are done. There’s state law and there’s federal law. For example, in Oregon you cannot pump your own gas. In 48 other states, you can pump it. Some states have sales taxes, a few states have none.
Just about on every issue, states vary and most like it that way.
Of course, those who know best and thrill at telling everyone what to do, prefer a centralized approach, like in Soviet times.
There are strong subsidiarity arguments to let American states have control. However there is constant tension between the states and the federal government, just like with member states of the European Union and the unelected officials in Brussels. Of course, subsidiarity applies to any organization and the decision-making freedom it permits (or not) for local units.

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© Copyright text by John Lubans 2021


Posted by jlubans on August 12, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “It has been determined” - Bureaucratese

Here follows a miscellany of odds and ends of blog ideas, ones that never matured into something on which I could write 500 or 750 words - the usual length of one of my essays.
So, here is the first installment of “Shorts”. I could have titled it “miscellany”, “potpourri”, or “grab bag”, but I decided on Shorts, like the short movies in the olden days of movie theaters when the main feature was preceded by short films.

It has been determined.
The above photo is of a notice stuck onto a tree giving advance notice of removal. Why do you think who made the determination is kept anonymous? Why not say who made the decision?
Sounds like CYA to me.
Who’s hiding?
Perhaps no one, but why do bureaucracies prefer stilted, if rotund, speech?
How about: “This tree is to be cut and removed.” Etc. Or, “Salem’s Parks Operations Division has decided, after due consideration, to remove this tree.”
Party Hearty
At one university where I worked we had a library advisory board of alums. They gave us good ideas and were influential, as well-to-do alums, in making our case to the administration.
Twice a year, the board would travel to campus and we would wine and dine them.
At my table was a proud parent whose daughter was soon to attend the university.
Over copious amounts of wine, a half dozen of us were conversing about the excesses of student drinking and how 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. She recognized – perhaps from her own undergraduate days - what goes on for many students when they get to campus. It’s party time! And, partying is a good way to make connections for the future. Networking starts at the kegger!
Better the daughter have her fling on campus then in some urban bar. If the daughter was going to sleep with dogs than it was best they be coequals with a higher class of flea.
Dreams of the Spanish Inquisition:
The brilliant and fearless George Orwell, life-long socialist, author of Animal Farm and infantry soldier in Spain’s civil war offered up this all too realistic view of what can happen when idealist socialists and anarchists come to power:
“It cannot be said too often—at any rate it is not being said nearly often enough—that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamed of. ” He added: “Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war.”
No focus groups for Henry (Ford):
“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.”
Elon Musk’s colossal ego would’ve met its match in Henry and then some.

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© Copyright text and photo John Lubans 2021

A Runner’s Reminiscence

Posted by jlubans on August 05, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: from left Andy Steele, John Lubans, George Davis, Mike Glynn, Bruce Grigsby and Coach Jim Morrow

The Tokyo Olympics have prompted memories of days gone by, when I was an aspiring runner. The photo takes me back to 1960, however misty my recollection.
There I am, a callow youth, posing with my relay teammates with the winner’s trophy, a Thanksgiving turkey-size platter!
We’d won the prep school one mile relay at the Penn Relay Carnival in Philadelphia.
I was the alternate for the race; happily along for the van trip from Boston to Philadelphia. When George Davis pulled a muscle, I got the nod to take his place.
The Penn Relays at Franklin Field (yes, named after that Franklin) has been around since 1895 and on the day of the race many thousands were in the stands. Probably not near the capacity of 52,000 but more spectators than I had ever seen at a track meet.
I was to run the second leg of the race; somehow I managed to focus, ignore the crowd noise and chatter from the other runners, and wait for the baton to arrive.
We’d practiced and practiced handing off without looking back.
Would I start too soon, would I exceed the passing zone, would I drop the baton?
Some of the Tokyo relay races show what happens when things go wrong at the baton pass: disaster.
Amazingly, the baton slapped into my hand and I high-tailed it down the track for 440 yards. Whatever our position at the time, I did not give up any ground to other runners.
I handed off to Mike Glynn (much to my relief, Mike and I didn’t bumble the exchange) and he handed off to our anchor, the team’s best runner, Bruce Grigsby. Bruce lived up to his billing and sprinted away to glory.
In a way, how I ran that race in 1960 defined my leadership into the future. I did my best (my time was the second fastest of the four) and supported my team mates.
In short, I was an effective follower and a good team player. To put it musically, never a conductor but I’d be a pretty good first violin.
Once I left Huntington School, only Bruce Grigsby would reconnect with me. All of us went our separate ways to different colleges; I regret not staying in touch. Even without the Internet, we could have been in contact, but that’s what happens with too many guys like me – we don’t network very well.
It took me 50 years to reach out to another former running friend from my high school days. I am glad I did.
There’s probably a moral in there; for me, don’t let your friends slip away, especially if you are a guy.

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021