“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, please once again bear with me, while I talk about another quarterback, Aaron Rogers, from the Green Bay Packers.
Like Tom Brady, Mr. Rogers wants to be more involved in team decisions, especially when it comes to selecting players to let go 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.
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 Rogers are among the very best at eluding onrushing linesmen and 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 Rogers want? A lot more than “a little bit of a voice”.
Rogers 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.
Rogers 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 Rogers re-assured everyone, it’s one game, we move on to the next game.
He is right. I hope GB and Mr. Rogers 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.”

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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.

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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?

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.”

A regular reader? Show your appreciation (not by the cliché of “putting your hands together”) but by buying my latest book of workplace fables. If you already have a copy, get a second. (Just kidding).

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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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Lubans’ Tom the Turkey’s Tale

Posted by jlubans on July 31, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Tom’s mates no more. Photo by author.

First published in late 2017, this fable seems more apt today. Here it is again.

Once in winter, a flock of wild turkeys made its circuitous way across farmlands and through forests. There were two dozen, young and old.
One of the older turkeys, Tom by name, somehow mangled his foot and could not keep up.
He called to the flock and asked them to slow down, but no one responded. When the group stopped to graze, Tom caught up, only to be shunned, now a persona non grata.
Several of the healthy turkeys ganged up, surrounding Tom – wings outspread - and sought to peck him to death.
Tom escaped by flying into the branches of a sheltering tree.
A kindly Farmer saw this and put out corn and water.
Whenever the flock returned – eating up all of Tom’s food - Tom would drop down from the tree and limp over to the flock, only to be viciously pecked at.
Thanks to the Farmer and time (and the sheltering tree), Tom’s foot got better; he limped less. Then, one day, he disappeared.

Moral for the workplace: When you see something like what happened to Tom do you participate in the shunning or are you like the Farmer?
When a workmate is ostracized do you lend a helping hand or look the other way?
The flock not only wants to spurn and shame Tom, they want him dead.
Now, in the “Woke, Dox, and Cancel” era some of us daily appear as mean-spirited as Tom’s turkeys. Those atavistic turkey neurons driving the elimination of a weak member of a flock – all for the greater good, of course - seem to be coursing freely in some human brains.
Where’s it lead?
Take a guess.
If your answer includes words like re-education, concentration camps, or gulags you’re getting warm.
A few of my internet friends want people with differing (“misinformed”) opinions silenced and in a few cases, better dead than read. And, preferably, they’d like to see them well “spindled, bent and mutilated” prior to death.
To mangle a phrase, what turkeys these mortals be!
Whence the Golden Rule, Kindness, and Cooperation? Those qualities have helped us evolve and prosper – they still can.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2021

“We can do it” (Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga)*

Posted by jlubans on July 27, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Memorial to the Victims of Communism in Prague, Czech Republic by Olbram Zoubek 2002. Photo by author.

A Latvian news article caught my eye: “Historian: Latvians see themselves victims, but there are heroes to discover”.
The historian, Markus Meckl, is a professor at Iceland’s University of Akureyri. No stranger to Latvia, he lived and taught in Rīga for two and a half years. Now he teaches annually at Rīga Stradiņš University in their media department.
Meckl’s interview – the one I assigned to my students - is based on his "Latvia's Vanished National Heroes" (2016) paper which suggests that after Latvia regained independence (1991), the ideal of the national hero "simply disappeared and no heroic image emerged. On the contrary, it was now the victim that became the emblem of Latvia’s regained independence."
It reminded me of my family’s flight from Communism after WWII and how my father would rehash the awfulness of communism and how he and his family had long suffered.
There was property seized by the Commissars. There were family members dispatched to Siberia never to return, among other atrocities. And, Latvians were treated as second class citizens by an imported Russian minority in efforts to erase Latvian culture and language.
My father, like many Latvians (and Czechs – see the illustration), did not want the world to forget Stalin’s depredations.
While my father spoke of Latvians as victims, he did not suffer from a full case of “victim syndrome”.
Remarkably, he and my mother in their late 30s with three kids, made a new and successful life in America.
I can recall, with horror, a suicide in our barracks at a German Displaced Persons camp. There were others. Some people just gave up. My father and mother did not; after 4 years as DPs we found a sponsor in Massachusetts.
I do wonder, if his dwelling at times on the awfulness he’d left behind, hindered his American acculturation.
Then, we hear of “cultures of complaint” in workplaces, large and small.
Yesterday my lady barber unloaded a jeremiad on my unsuspecting hairy head:
“I do 30 haircuts a day and I get tired. I’ve never had a vacation or time off. I’ve no money to do anything.”
As an afterthought, she asked if I wanted my eyebrows trimmed, I said no, but would like her to pay extra attention to my ears.
“Well, I’ve done them and that’s all I can do.”
When I paid her, she asked if I wanted a receipt. I guessed this would be a hardship, so I declined.
In a gesture of sympathy (“I feel your pain”) I told her that I had worked for 40 years but would not like to do it again.
She, like most workplace Jeremiahs, ignored me and went on about her miserable life. This all from someone who appeared healthy into middle-age, was well dressed, and remained not un-attractive!
Was this a practical joke? Could have been!
In my career in libraries, I’ve encountered staff who, like victims, “believe they have no control over the way events unfold, they don't feel a sense of responsibility for them.” Instead of “Can Do!” it’s “No Can Do”.
When outside consultants came in and listed out changes, these were rejected by the entrenched staff – they’d say the consultants did not understand the work and that the recommendations were foolish.
All that was needed was for the parent organization to supply money for increased staff and resources. Those were not forthcoming, and the aggrieved staff simply grew more so.
It became a several years-long stalemate which was not broken until a new leader appeared. With the full backing of his boss, he dismissed the pessimism of the past.
Perhaps amazingly, without any additional funding and the smart use of existing resources we made great strides toward becoming a “best practices” workplace.

*Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, the sixth President of free Latvia from 1999 to 2007, said this in her speech in the outdoor arena of the Song and Dance festival in Riga. The live audience numbered multiple thousands and, simultaneously, her speech was televised all over Latvia.
“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!”
“We are strong. We are great. We are productive. We are beautiful. We know what we want. And what we want, we can do it. And what we can, we do it!”
What inspirational words!
My Latvian cousin says these words were meant to inspire Latvians that they have “an inner strength, and that everybody should aim to develop that strength - this you can put together with the other people's strengths, and then big things can happen. Improve for the best, get over that sense of feeling as a victim (what has been throughout the years historically - pressed under Germans, then Russians) - and do not feel as a nation of servants.”

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© Copyright John Lubans 2021

Going Down With the Ship

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


I seem to be stuck on this question:
How is it that some groups (at work or at a training event) speak up and offer insights vs. those that offer little and hardly speak.
Is it just the luck of the draw?
In my workshop experience, I prayed for an active participant or two. I called them my spark plugs.
Invariably, their visible engagement sparked the involvement of the more cautious.
Or, are there some groupings predictably ripe for failure?
In the latest episode of my training soap operas, I was one of a team of facilitators working with first year Engineering students.
We were on the lake shore with several teams of 4 or 5 students. Their timed challenge was to construct a raft out of supplied materials: wooden poles, ropes, barrels and their ingenuity.
At the bell, they were to float out into the lake and race around a pylon. First one around the pylon wins the day!
Obviously, we were hoping for a display of teamwork and skills like effective communication, idea-sharing, listening, accommodating different styles, and negotiating.
Once these students graduated, they would be expected to collaborate, to work in teams, and to engage with others. The design rationale for the rafting event was to give each student an opportunity to try out and build his or her group work skills.
At least that’s what I was looking for.
If those skills were on display, I missed them in the construction phase. My group was hesitant with no one taking the lead.
Regardless, they managed to construct what looked like a navigable raft and lined up with several others on the lakeshore to sail off toward the beckoning pylon.
What’s the worst scenario? They all sink. You got it!
Can it get worse? Yes.
In the debrief, when asked about take-aways from this activity, there was little apparent reflection.
Debriefing provides a valuable opportunity for teams to assess possible problems in execution. Was the failure caused by one person dropping the ball or more widespread dysfunction? Was the deadline impractical? Were the objectives unclear and nebulous? Was there a lack of planning? Those are a few of the topics that could come up, but they were not mentioned.
I asked, What would you do differently? No comment.
What did you learn about yourself as a team member? No comment.
What worked? What did not work? A few mumbles.
Now, 20 years later, the lead facilitator (by the way, the most personable of persons) told me: “No raft performed as I might have expected; the 'winner' swam their failed raft around the pylon and brought it 'home to victory' towed behind their swimming members.”
But, he made a proviso: “We did not, prior to the event, experiment ourselves to testify that 'it could be done' but that is really not the point, is it?
A highly functional cohort could have failed miserably to 'get round the pylon' but still come away with several, if not many, applicable learnings.”
Were these students too worried about failing?
No doubt they’d been told that “Failure is a great teacher”, probably even by the Engineering faculty. Yet here was failure staring them in the face with nothing (it seemed) learned.
One teamwork researcher has found “that better teams … (are) simply more able and willing to discuss mistakes. High functioning teams “create a climate of openness, which allows them to report on mistakes, get to the bottom of problems and streamline processes.”
So, had we not provided them with a psychologically safe space in which one “will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes?” Possibly not.
These students had gained entry to a highly selective school so they probably had good thinking skills, along with an ability to communicate ideas. Their silence in the debrief remains a puzzle.
Were they not used to working in teams?
If not, then this was a prelude to the engineering workplace, where no engineer gets to sit in a corner and work by himself or herself.
Did we contribute to the day’s failure? Maybe.
I could have asked the students what could I could have done differently?
Perhaps that nod toward vulnerability would have broken the dam of pent-up thoughts.
They might even suggest that it was our fault not theirs – that we’d set them up for failure.
Could be.
As noted, we’d failed to test the ship worthiness (albeit the design was commonly used with success by many others).
What does this have to do with the workplace and problem solving?
Well, everything.
What do you, as a manager, do when your subordinates say nothing about a work problem? When they stay silent even while you strongly believe they have ideas to offer? How do you get them to unleash their good ideas? If there’s an elephant in the room how do you get your direct reports to talk about that elephant?
Now, it is about here where most management writers make out a list of must do’s. I will skip that!
Unlike a one-day trainer, a manager has time on her side. With time and sincere effort many of the silent can be brought around to speak up and to frankly talk about that elephant. (Bear in mind, that elephant may be you!)
In any case, your listening to others can’t be fake.
Insincerity will reveal itself immediately after a listening meeting. If you ask for ideas and use none -without explanation - what do you think that says to your staff?

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021