Aesop’s The Boy and the Nettle*

Posted by jlubans on June 13, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Nettle Bread

A Boy was stung by a Nettle. He ran home and told his mother, saying: "Although it pains me so much, I did but touch it ever so gently."
"That was just it," said his mother, "which caused it to sting you. The next time you touch a Nettle, grasp it boldly, and it will be soft as silk to your hand, and not in the least hurt you."

Whatever you do, do with all your might.

_____________

Well, sure when it comes to nettles.
But, there’s no one way for all “whatever(s) you do”.
The wise person knows when to be gentle and when to be strong and assertive.
It’s situational and it takes experience and skill to know what you are up against and what your approach should be.
Emulating others who have had success (like the mother) and also practicing different techniques will help you build your arsenal.
Be multi-faceted in your dealings.
Unless it’s imperative, it might be best to stay away from nettles.
But, if you are collecting nettles to make nettle bread, then follow what Momma says.
I recently had some nettle-seasoned sourdough bread, baked in the Latvian countryside. I bought it an outdoor crafts fair. How did I know to buy bread at that stand among dozens of other bakers? The long line!
My purchase stayed moist for days and had a subtle, likable flavor to the very end.

*SOURCE: Aesop's Fables: A New Revised Version From Original Sources” WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
BY HARRISON WEIR, JOHN TENNIEL, ERNEST GRISET
AND OTHERS” New York : Frank F. Lovell & Company, c1884

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Copyright. John Lubans. 2022

Defect or Effect, That Is the Question

Posted by jlubans on June 08, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Mosaic Tile by Gaudi.

My attorney cousin related to me her participating in a discussion while she was touring a new corporate property in Barcelona.
The tour group consisted of the builders and architects and, my cousin, representing the corporate client.
She noticed a wall with several holes and asked why this was not finished, you now, like patched, sanded, smoothed and painted over to blend with the rest of the wall?
The group erupted (in Spanish) into a debate about whether these holes were indeed defects or, more likely, desirable and fitting effects, appropriate to the design of the space.
Obviously, the client’s wishes take priority, but the aesthetes in the group felt obligated to protest that these holes were effects as in “something designed to produce a distinctive or desired impression.”
Well, OK. Barcelona is the home of many iconoclastic and magnificent works by Gaudi (depicted tile). And, let’s not forget Salvador Dali’s limp watches! Nor, Picasso and his incoherent, at times, outpourings.
And, if we want to get any more quixotic, there’s my hero the Don, and his sidekick, Pancho Sanza who may still be wandering around Andalusia battling windmills.
So, I get the impulse.
In my career, I’ve worked in places where arguments over quotidian points would consume weeks.
Like a dog chasing its tail, there was no sense of urgency – other than for catching the tail.
Instead of resolution, there was yet another argument, yet another reason for more exploration and discussion.
What’s the leader’s role?
Surely, there is one. Or, is it to await a group’s decision, however interminable the wait?
No, a leader’s role is to make things urgent.
There is a time to call a halt and declare:
“Basta! Vote!
Hands up for defect. Hands up for effect.
If you do not vote, I will make the decision.”
I do not know the outcome of the Barcelona imbroglio but am hopeful the wall got painted.

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Copyright. John Lubans. 2022.

Lessing’s THE OSTRICH*

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

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THE arrow-swift Reindeer once saw an Ostrich, and said: "There is nothing remarkable about the way in which the Ostrich runs.
But it is quite likely that he flies much better."
At another time the Eagle saw the Ostrich, and said:
"To be sure the Ostrich cannot fly, but I dare say that he may run rather well."
____________

How often do we see this in the workplace?
When I mentioned how something I did was well received one supervisor responded: “Oh., yeah, what you do there is notable, (adding sotto voce) but not much else”.
The hand writing was on the wall, as they say and it was more like what you find on the side of passing boxcar than on a certificate of merit.
In the theater of the absurd which we call Performance Appraisal, there’s even a label for this systemic error: Self Serving Bias.
Generally, I’ve used the term to describe the not unusual phenomenon in which the evaluator inflates the evaluation scores of his employees to gain credit himself for their performance. “See, my team is really hot stuff”
Lessing’s high-flying eagle - seeing as how the ostrich can’t fly - is magnanimous in suggesting the ostrich runs well.
But, the swift (and jealous) reindeer minimizes the ostrich’s excellent running speed, instead, suggesting the ostrich “flies much better” even though he can’t.
Self-serving bias on display.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Translated by G. Moir Bussey in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

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

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Lubans’ The Birds Talk Turkey

Posted by jlubans on May 31, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Bird Convention Hotel. Photo by author. 2022

At the annual birds convocation – with invited guests of other species – there was a panel on the limits of expression. Should there be censorship of views one finds personally abhorrent or should all reasonable speech be permitted?
The Sloth was the first to speak: “Animals I disagree with need to be censored – their views are counter to mine, untrustworthy and dangerous.
However, I am highly offended when my speech is censored or ridiculed; it matters not if I am wrong or right. I mean well and should always be heard out.”
The Vulture chimed in: “I am often restricted in speech because of my reputation for eating carrion. Somehow, while I perform a valuable public health service, my opinion is worth less than, say, that of the Owl who sits in a tree and hoots, however serenely.”
To that, one could hear gasps and giggles from the audience.
The Ow blinked omnisciently but did nothing more.
The Eagle offered up his bird’s eye judgement: “Just as on earth there are people who insist their’s is the only valid opinion, there are animals who believe the same.
They abhor being countered and when in possession of power seek to limit others and demean them as undeserving and incapable of discerning between fact and fiction.”
Peacock strutted his stuff: “Listen up. Censorship is necessary because birds and people - at least half - are bird-brained (present company excepted) and cannot tell a lie from the truth. They must be guided by someone like me who knows better. Indeed, when I can shut down someone I disagree with, I am doing a great good by protecting the most vulnerable among us.”
“Hear, hear!” muttered a few, amidst several snickers at the peacock’s latest display of pomposity.
Then, Chipmunk chattered: “Am I hearing that I cannot be trusted to understand for myself? That I must be told; that I cannot judge for myself by myself?”
“If so, Up yours!”
With that, he scampered off to his little house among the roots of a very wise and towering tree.
Maybe, just maybe, some of that tree’s wisdom had seeped into the chipmunk’s thinking.

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

© Copyright text and photo by John Lubans 2022

Lubans’ Adaptation of “Wonderbread”

Posted by jlubans on May 18, 2022  •  Leave comment (2)

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A classic Latvian folk tale is entitled Brīnumskapis* (magic cabinet) but the English translation makes no mention of a cabinet or wardrobe.
Instead of “magic wardrobe”, the English translation calls it “Wonderbread”.
Any American will tell you that is the name of a highly popular spongy, sliced, white bread found in every grocery store.
I have not had a slice in 60 years, but at one time thought it was the best bread imaginable.
My tastes have changed!
As for magic, the tale does depict a loaf of bread spinning over hill and dale with a small boy in hot pursuit.
In brief the story is about a boy, in his 6th year, declining to walk.
His hapless father is beside himself and begins to haul the kid around in a wheeled cart.
A neighbor farmer (Latvian farmers all have good sense) sees what is happening and invites the father and the boy into his kitchen.
He tells the petulant young boy - still in the cart - that the beautiful round loaf of bread on the table is his to eat.
He tells the father, the loaf is not for you; you must not touch it.
So, the youngster wants the bread and thrusts out his hands, demanding it.
The farmer says, “Get it yourself!”
A number of tantrums by the hungry 6-year old gets the same result.
The father remains silent.
Then, remarkably, one of the boy’s legs appears over the side of the cart.
Then, the other leg follows.
Soon the little boy is at the table eagerly reaching for the bread.
But, the bread jumps up and rolls off the table and out the open door. The little boy is disappointed but sets off in earnest pursuit. No falling down and kicking his heels. He wants that bread and aims to get it!
Alas, after a merry chase through fields and forests, the bread rolls into a river and disappears. The boy is sad.
Don’t cry, all is well. The farmer puts food on the table and they all enjoy a meal together with a pitcher of amber ale.
From that day on the little boy behaves responsibly and becomes a helpmate to his father.
____________
How many of us have been helped by not getting what we wanted? Ah, adversity! Sweet, someone said, are thy uses.

*Source: Latvian folk tales (in English). Told by Astrida B Stahnke. Riga, Latvia: Star ABC 1998
133 pages
ISBN: 9984047571

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

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

“The Introvert at Work” Revisited

Posted by jlubans on May 09, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Jimmy Buffett: If The Phone Doesn't Ring, It's MeMore country: “If the Phone Don’t Ring, It’s Me”

If you’ve been taking memory pills, you may recall my writing about introverts.
That essay was inspired by an article put out by the BBCs Christine Ro: “Latvia: Europe’s nation of introverts.
Ms. Ro was intrigued by a stand-out exhibit at the London Book Fair. It was the highly imaginative #iamintrovert campaign put on by “Latvian Literature”, the cultural agency in charge of promoting Latvian authors and books.
Given the great deal of notice by the press and other media, the introvert theme appeared to resonate for many. It did more than resonate! Many of us with the least bit of introversion could put ourselves in “I” the introvert’s shoes.
We’ve been there.
I was among those who found the exhibit refreshingly innovative and also relevant to the debate about introverts and extroverts in the workplace.
Prior to the epidemic, I had scheduled two of the principals behind the exhibit to speak to my University of Latvia class, Leadership and Literature.
I invited them because while their campaign was specific to authors and other book people, I thought the class would enjoy and learn from a discussion about introversion and leadership.
I wanted the students to consider how introverted leaders and followers help or hinder an organization.
If the “quiet people” have something to offer, how do we, as leaders or effective followers involve them in an organization's decision making?
I have workplace experience that the folks who do the least talking often give us the greatest insights into what we should be doing.
At the far end of the continuum, the extrovert can often dominate discussion at the expense of shutting down other ideas.
Well, here we are, it’s 2022 and I am back in Latvia.
It was natural (if extroverted) to talk with some of the people at Latvian Literature. I recently met with Anete Konste, Rita Dementjeva and Ildze Jansone.
Why the campaign? I asked.
The LL staff in brainstorming on the London Book Fair exhibit design had something like an epiphany, a good humored realization:
“We decided to stop pretending who we are not, and start to be proud of what we are. We’re better at writing than doing small-talk.”
Therefore, they proclaimed: “WE ARE PROUD TO BE INTROVERTS”
In other words, flipping what many – including introverts - perceive to be a weakness into a strength.
Their manifesto: “The world is a perfect place for extroverts. For the kind of people who know how to start a relaxed conversation with a stranger, perform in front of an audience, …. But we are different. Latvians can feel deeply confused when kissed on both cheeks.
… If someone compliments a Latvian, he will turn red white red.
Latvia is one of the world’s most introverted nations. And so are our writers, of course.
And we are proud of that.
We allow our books to speak for us, since literature is the perfect world for introverts.”
I wanted to talk with the creators about how to adapt that to the workplace, the very place that appears to reward the loudest voices and those most able to make impromptu speeches and to stand in the limelight. It’s not that they always speak with substance – it’s the “standing out from the crowd” that counts for the extrovert.
So, with the introvert “cat out of the bag” – the manifesto - it made sense to me to include what they did in the Leadership class.
Now, if you think this is all a flash in the pan, a “15 minutes of fame” ephemera, let me tell you how well Latvian Literature has done in accomplishing its goals.
Other countries are looking more closely at Latvian literature. In less than 6 years or so it has increased grants to editors and translators from 10 editions in 2016 to 50 editions in 2020.
There is also an uptick of interest among translators and editors.
In 2020 there were 53 Translator applications and 36 were approved. The previous year it was 31/27.
For editors there were 75 applications with 42 approved. The previous year, there were 31 editor applications with 29 approved.
But this is not to suggest that the introvert campaign is primarily responsible for the strong gains.
Anete Konste emphasized: “There is hard work in book fairs, literary visits, festivals behind it. The (introvert) campaign is only one part of our activities. It attracts attention and builds our brand, but nobody decides to translate or publish something just because of it.”
Agreed.
While the introvert theme has an appeal among book people, the notion of reversing negative perceptions of introversion can also apply to workplaces.
It begs the leader’s responsibility to free-up ideas in the organization – unless, of course, you are one of those leaders who have a monopoly on good ideas!
I have numerous examples that not infrequently the best ideas, the ones that solve problems, that enhance a product, that fix what needs fixing, often come from the quietest members of a staff, but only if they are prompted, if they are given the freedom and opportunity to express, to speak up.
What do you as a leader do to elicit ideas from the introverted?
When the Latvian Literature staff comes to my class, I hope they will address some of the above and other questions like,
How do you assure unspoken ideas become spoken?
What steps can the leader take to make sure that happens?
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Caption: From the #iamintrovert campaign, by the Latvian artist Reinis Pētersons and publicist Anete Konste. Used with permission. 2022.

“Nightmare” brings to mind my own experience with introversion. I was to be recognized for writing a quarterly column for a professional journal.
The ceremony would be at the annual convention in front of some several hundred members and the executive board.
I was flattered; I’d worked hard, took great care with what I wrote, and brought my own style to each essay. Feedback had been consistently positive; my column, readers said, was the first item they looked at.
But, as it turned out, the ”Board” belatedly decided to give awards to all the columnists not just to me!
So there would be four awards not just mine! My recognition award had been downgraded to a participation award!
At the ceremony, all of us were called to the stage and presented with plaques. The presenter then asked if we had some impromptu comments for the audience.
I waved to the audience and declined. It was, to paraphrase the Latvian manifesto, letting my written work speak for itself. The only one to speak was the columnist whose work was frequently the most rushed and least thought out. For me, she was an extrovert.
Not to be mean-spirited, but her speech was simply rubbing it into us introverts who took our writing seriously.
She would, by the way, eventually be elected to the board.

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

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Posted by jlubans on May 09, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

Barkis is willin'; no more than Bridger!

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

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Caption. Bridger In “Come on, let’s go!” mode. (John Lubans photograph)

A Latvian professor, colleague and friend – I am in Latvia for late spring and early summer - introduced me to the new-for-me expression from Charles Dickens, “Barkis is willin’ “
Mr. Barkis is a stagecoach driver in the novel David Copperfield. Mr. B is persistent in his courtship of another character in the novel and is known for his optimistic, oft-repeated phrase “Barkis is willin’.”
It leads me once again* back to an Aesop fable:

A CERTAIN Man was setting out on a journey, when, seeing his Dog standing at the door, he cried out to him,
"What are you gaping about?
Get ready to come with me."
The Dog, wagging his tail, said, "I am all right. Master; it is you who have to pack up."
____________

I was on tenterhooks, as they say.
Well, as much as a phlegmatic, if serene, personality like mine can be.
I had a new boss.
My previous boss - the one who hired me – had been pushed aside by his new boss and the governing board.
Prior to his departure, he told me that there were people on the board who, at the urging of an outside consultant, wanted me gone.
This consultant had engineered my boss’ early retirement.
The board left it up to the new leader to drop the hammer on me.
So, would the new boss give me the boot?
Remarkably, I did not get fired.
Another leader – a less ethical one - in the same situation would likely have pulled the plug to score points.
And so it turned out years later. If you are going to rock the boat, wear a life jacket.

*This is the fourth time I’ve written about this fable. You can see the 2012 version here
and the 2016 one here.
And, setting the scene for 2021:
Should I stay or should I go?

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

© Copyright text and photo by John Lubans 2022

The Messy Desk Syndrome

Posted by jlubans on April 25, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

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Many years ago I had a secretary.
She was a graduate of NYCs Katherine Gibbs School which trained executive assistants. A Gibbs graduate back then was guaranteed a decent job. At the time, most executives had at least one secretary.
I hired her in 30 minutes.
Once she started, my office and I were never the same.
For one thing, she was smarter than me – she eventually got her law degree and went on to become a luminary in the legal profession..
And, of course, being female, she had far more social skills than me.
Finally, while not stated in the job description, she assumed her job was to make me look good.
She did.
Her professionalism made up for my many too casual ways.
She rearranged my office. No more mess, no more piles of scattered folders, no more dying plants or half-empty coffee cups.
I recall how, under her guidance, one plant behind my desk rejunevated and spread symmetrically a meter to each side.
My office became remarkable for its order, its efficient appearance; not a bad thing to project to colleagues and visitors.
I enjoyed that clutter free office with all things at right angles.
It oozed business.
Some readers - sweat suited at their kitchen table home office - might cringe at the above. Not me.
I can deal with some mess, but not the mess I once found in a colleague’s branch office. The word “mess” fails. The mot juste is “squalor”. Unopened mail cascaded from the desk onto the floor. He’d put up a sign on his door advising custodial staff not to enter.
I’d say this was less the gesture of an Einstein famous for his messy desk than more a psychological condition.
My colleague was pretty much an OK worker, not a star. I suspect the mess was his way of decision making. If something really needed to be done, it would somehow rise in importance out of the piles of unopened correspondence. His decision to delay and ignore, first, second and third appeals for action, may have been an effective way to sort through mundane office trivia.
When we began using e-mail he probably had a thousand or two unopened e-mails. (Yes, there’s plenty of digital mess. How much free space do you have on your digital “desktop”?)
Another colleague opened all of her email, but never deleted any. At last count she had 23,546 messages in her in box!)
My branch office colleague’s mess was not unlike that to be found in many faculty offices across academia which - like the ubiquitous literary fat man who is, always surprisingly, nimble on his feet - is full of apocryphal tales of the allegedly absent-minded professor who knew exactly in which towering stack of preprints and committee reports to find his missing needle.
This is heard so often, I have to wonder if this is not performance art to impress gullible graduate students?
Yet, I could not help but wonder about my colleague, if this was closer to the mess of a homeless encampment than the disorder in a normal office space.
I wonder if the misnomered Diogenes syndrome* applied?
So, is there anything to the notion that mess is better because it suggests, unlike an empty desk, that something is happening: “If your desk isn't cluttered, you probably aren't doing your job.”
Mess makers of the world arise: “it's time to stop apologizing to the neat-freaks and start feeling good about our ability to prioritize. While our cluttered desks may not prove we're brilliant, they do show that we might be geniuses.”
Or is tidy better for production?
In my case, the less mess the better. I work better in a clean space.
For some others it appears that environment makes little difference. They are effective managers and are not distracted by clutter.
I am.
But, then advocates of the “mess is best” mantra might accuse me of being a fuss-budget or the above mentioned “neat-freak”.
There is psychological research, naturally, to support either view.
One example: Are people more creative in a messy room than in a neat room?
A study had participants list out new uses for ping pong balls while sitting in a clean room and in a messy space. The messy room produced more creative uses than did the clean room.
Another experiment by the same researchers asked participants for charitable donations; those in a tidy room gave more than twice of those in the messy room.
On the way out, when offered an apple or a chocolate bar, the tidy room participants were more likely to take the healthy snack.
“Our surroundings, it seems, can influence whether we make the choices society deems proper.”
So, does this suggests cleanliness enforces conventional (learned) behavior and messy spaces promote out-of-the-box (sorry) thinking and spontaneity and, perhaps self indulgence, in which we always choose chocolate over apples?
The researchers conclude that “disorder, apparently, helps us be more creative by steering us clear of tradition.”
If it does for you, then by all means keep to your squalid (how unkind) ways. If not, do what works best for you.
* A “behavioral-health condition characterized by poor personal hygiene, hoarding, and unkempt living conditions.”
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And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

A Tribute to Ms. Bridger - a Friend for the Ages

Posted by jlubans on April 04, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

Aesop’s THE DOG AND THE LION*, first appeared in this blog on January 11, 2013. With Bridger's passing my commentary is all the more poignant.
“A dog was chasing a lion with all his might when the lion turned around and roared at him. The dog abandoned his pursuit, turned tail, and ran. A fox happened to see the dog and said, 'Why on earth would you chase after something when you cannot even stand the sound of its voice?' 
It is a foolish man who wants to rival his superiors. He is doomed to fail, and becomes a laughing-stock as well.”
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Caption: A photo from the book, Leading from the Middle, Chapter: 5: “Bridger and Me.”
My daughter Mara’s dog, Bridger, spent a year with us. She, Bridger, was probably a year old at the time. Since that year’s adventures – which are described in Chapter 5 - Bridger has matured and appears now to be a self-actualized dog, indeed an Apollonian canine.
Whenever she visits we go back to our daily routine. She reminds me when it is time for our early morning walk and when it is time for our afternoon walk. It’s not much of a reminder, just enough of a presence, a nudging look at me or the door. And we’re off.
In the early morning you’ll see us, rain or shine, on a nearby forest trail. In the afternoon, it’s a leisurely saunter around the block. One of the houses in the neighborhood has a couple small dogs and a cat or two. Usually I have Bridger off-leash because there is little foot traffic and because she is amazingly polite and well behaved, of course.
Not long ago, as we strolled past the house with the several pets, a high-strung barking erupted. Within seconds a tiny dog shot out of the driveway scrambling after Bridger. Bridger was un-impressed. Here was this 3 or 4-pounder, barking and snarling at a 50-pound black lab. “Bring it on” the little guy was shouting, “Bring it on!” Bridger, imperturbable, ambled on. Then – Napoleonically thinking she was in retreat - he snapped at Bridger. Bridger spun around, opening her jaws about a foot wide, showing all of her teeth back to the molars. And, her hackles stood up three inches, adding another 20 pounds to her presence. The little dog, stunned, eyes bulging, ceased and desisted back into the safety of his yard. I like to think Bridger was a little amused.
The epimythium for my story: if you must bark, then bark at dogs your own size or smaller. And, in the workplace, if you insist on making asinine comments don’t be surprised when a superior barks back, and then some.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.