Avoiding Drongos

Posted by jlubans on April 10, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: My Salem Shoe Repair Shop

While I have never been to a Timpson store - there are 2000 of these diversified repair shops in the UK - I am on their weekly e-mailing list. Back in 2017 I blogged about their unique approach to screening job applicants: Recruiting the Best. It appears below, recast.
Timpson, a family owned business, offers a diversity of services in each store, from shoe repair to dry cleaning to locksmithing to watch repair.
Recently, I was looking for a shoe repair shop in Salem, Oregon. My location is 5000 miles (or 8000 kilometers) from England so there was no going to a Timpson.
I did locate a shop (depicted) within walking distance, High Street Shoe Repair.
It's tiny, and one enters through a narrow door into a narrow space (picture a deep walk in closet). George, the cobbler - a tall thin bespectacled man - comes from the back and greets me.
I hand over the shoes and he examines them and nods, "Yes, I can repair these."
Looking around, I tell him I admire the compactness and the tidiness of his store.
Then, for some reason, I ask him if he has heard of Timpson in the UK.
To my surprise, he had and knew more than I did about the company!
He referred me to a 2010 book: Upside down management : a common sense guide to better business by John Timpson.
And George told me that another Timpson, James, used to write a column on business and leadership for The (London) Sunday Times which led to another book The Happy Index: Lessons in Upside-Down Management.
Apart from the innovative approach in centralizing all consumer repair services, Timpson offers a different way to treat employees: Their Upside Down Management style means that the people one meets in the store run the business, everyone else (in the corporation) is there to help them do their job.
As my 2017 blog noted, Timpson pays great attention to whom they hire. They avoid "drongos". That's Australian slang for someone "who may not be completely useless, may even be intelligent, but is nevertheless a fool and not to be taken seriously."
Timpson states that "if you don't deal with drongos you will affect performance and find your team more difficult to manage. Drongos rarely improve. Help them find their happiness elsewhere as soon as possible."
I would say drongos are akin to jerks in the USA and to dickheads, another bit of dead on Aussie slang.

My 2017 column follows:

Caption: Little Miss Brainy: Talking a pig out of a tree.

A BBC article, Happy Hiring, describes a technique one company uses to recruit staff. Timpson is the featured company. It sums up each recruit by applying the Mr. Men/Little Ms. characters (e.g. Mr. Grumpy, Mr. Chatterbox, Mr. Clever) to the interviewee.
Suzanne Bearne, the BBC writer, told me that each of the Timpson recruiters/managers has a page of Mr. Men characters in front of them, and they circle which one (or possibly several) the applicant is like.
I suspect I was drawn to this since I use kid books to help my students identify types of followers. Simplistic! you might mutter. Could be, but using kid books has proven to be a helpful way for students to learn more about themselves and their work colleagues.
The BBC article brought Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher to mind.
When asked how he finds the right people for his airline, he replied, "Hire attitude, train for skills."
In my profession, we mostly did just the opposite. We hired for skills and gave attitude/personality a pass except in the most egregious cases of jerkitude.
I agree with Mr. Kelleher, you cannot train for attitude, you cannot train for compassion, and you cannot train for emotional intelligence. Asking for an attitude adjustment is akin to P.G. Wodehouse's story of a nervous after-dinner speaker being yelled at to speak louder. Shortly after, another voice pipes up, "And funnier!"
If you excuse a weak attitude/personality at the interview then you will have a full time job repairing poor hiring decisions.
Worse, if after the hire you avoid the drongo, you will soon have a miasmic pool of legacy employees (drongos) dedicated to undermining every change initiative and improvement, and chasing off your star employee, your Mr. Good, the kind of person that courteously "will always open a door for you".
I have long thought that the person that makes the feckless decision to hire a Mr. Grumpy or a Mr. Fussy or a Little Miss Splendid should be counseled not to do it again. Better, he or she should be assigned the constructive disciplining of that variety of drongo.
Mr. Men characters are not exactly The Myers-Briggs Types (MBTI)! Nor are they like any other of the swarm of personality tests, all promising to separate winners from losers.
But, the testing industry should take notice. Results at Timpson seem mighty good: an innovative organization, strong return on investment, and considerable freedom for each worker.
I have taken the MBTI more than once; but I can never recall my score, an obviouls personality flaw!
One friend who swears by the MBTI can recite the long list of characteristics for each type and knows who to mix with whom on task forces.
Another friend was able to score the type his boss wanted him to be. In other words, he gamed the test.
In any case, the MBTI lumbers on under the HR aegis. I suspect using the Mr. Men/Ms.Little characters may be quicker and more effective in identifying the people you want to work with.

Caption: Mr. Fussy dusting flowers.

STEAL THIS BOOK, if you can: As Andrew Lang has it
And in the lion or the frog---
In all the life of moor and fen,
In ass and peacock, stork and log,
(Aesop) read similitudes of men

And, for examples of effective workplace collaboration:
Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.
Copyright all text John Lubans 2017 & 2024

From Sizzle to Fizzle

Posted by jlubans on April 04, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. WSJ March 16, 2024.

How to avoid layoffs when the sizzle (demand for one's product/service) fizzles?
It's axiomatic: leaders are supposed to anticipate and plan for bad times especially during good times.
Let me give you a failed example on what to do when work fizzles.
A Systems Analysis class (in which I was a student) took a tour of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, not unlike this photo from the 1950s
. 20100824-state office.jpg
Our professor led us into a cavernous space with hundreds of desks in perfect rows, as far as the eye could see - an all too real caricature of a bureaucracy. I noticed (unlike this photo) that most of the seated workers were reading books.
When I inquired, our professor explained, candidly, it was past tax season. They had no real work to do.
Today, many of the layoffs among tech companies can be attributed to over-hiring during their good times resulting in morbidly obese corporations.
Now, with a different economy, lots of folks are being discharged (or asked to pretend to work, to make do, like in my tax department).
Unlike the techs, Hologic - a 7000+ employee health care company - took and takes a different approach to avoid employee glut.
During Covid, and now, managers had to vigorously defend a need for a new hire. And, existing workers were and are expected to help in other areas when business is booming or fizzling.
Workers are not laid off.
Instead, because of wise stewardship, full time workers do real work.
Some might term this type of management as mean and lean.
But is it really mean to wisely budget resources so that the organization can thrive and survive in both good times and bad?
An article in the Wall Street Journal gives the details:
How One Company Navigated a Boom and Bust With No Mass Layoffs.
One quote rang the proverbial bell for me: "When (Hologic) employees leave, positions aren't necessarily backfilled. Instead, managers ask whether another part of the business needs the position more?"
That was similar to the radical approach I took when charged with getting a traditional organization out of a decades-long funk. In cowboy terms, I was asked to herd the organization's sacred cows and head them all in the same direction.
The organization had found, over decades, excuses to avoid streamlining and improving production.
While not incompetent, we could have been doing much more with less.
In that environment, temporarily giving up a worker to help in another area was risky. If you sent one of your staff to help another unit, why, maybe, your position was not really needed?
So, while a unit's morale and production could be high and workers would help each other, helping an outside unit was taboo.
Now, a hard-nosed manager might have a quick solution to what I describe - quit pussy-footing around and order workers to help other units.
In my world, "Surely you jest!?" would have been the most likely response. And, if I were to persist in my folly, multiple other reasons as to why this was a bad idea would be invented including that I did not understand.
The prospect of such a negative response is enough to cause most managers to retreat.
Interestingly, Hologic states that, "(m)ass layoffs (due to overhiring) are a failure of leadership."
I don't think it is bizarre to state that in many bureaucracies or any rigid, nonporous organization staff are prohibited by management and union policy from helping out in other units.
Well then - besides the short-term motivator of a kick in the ass - how do we get employees willingly helping their fellows, willingly crossing turf boundaries and doing what is best for customers and the organization?
People want real work to do, meaningful work. When wasting one's day is seen as normal the staff and the supervisors' behavior becomes pathological - a Soviet socialist reality: "We'll pretend to lead while you pretend to work."
Instead, leaders at all levels ought to work toward a new collaborative and supportive mindset.
Hologic offers us some clues. They incentivized stepping up with bonuses 10-15 times more than the annual average.
And, they hired temporary employees to help with ramped up production demands.
What about creating one's own temp service? Not everyone will want to participate, but many will if that participation leads to more money and prestige, not to mention resume enhancement.
Of course, the bosses have to be on board.
What do they get out of it? In my case, I promoted the managers who had the ability to see beyond their turf. My success in bringing about long needed change was attributable to three or four department heads who shared my vision and my peculiar, if you will, ability to let go.
I was fortunate in my situation because I followed a generation of micromanagers who had stifled staff creativity. So, my unleashing that innovative spirit almost immediately resulted in productivity gains.
Another significant motivator was my policy to permit a unit's salary savings to be used by that unit to enhance operations. And, organization-wide, some of those savings were made available to provide relief in understaffed areas. I made a point of publicizing and recognizing where that money came from.
My recent blog on the Un-DMV gives additional ideas for keeping an organization flexible and nimble.
Leaders at all levels could make a meaningful difference by facilitating and protecting managers and staff, however few to start with, who want to collaborate with other agencies, who want to help out where needs are greater. Without that support, my reform efforts would have faltered.

BUY THIS BOOK: Fables provide ancient wisdom for today's workers and managers :

And, for examples of collaborative teamwork in the workplace:
Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright all text John Lubans 2024

The Customer is Wrong

Posted by jlubans on March 28, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Latvian punk rock band SŅK album. One way of getting rid of whiny customers

Not long ago, I wrote about an expression seemingly unique to Latvia: Pats vainīgs! ("It's your own fault!") Pronounced pots-why-nigs, it is often heard on the street after a cyclist crashes into a pedestrian. SNK, the band, used the phrase on its album. Give them a listen.
As every large city has discovered, pedestrians and wheeled contraptions do not mix well.
After you are brushed back or run over, would you not expect the e-scooter driver to apologize?
Not in Latvia.
Instead of an apology the rider's go-to phrase is, "It's your own fault! You got in my way!"
While I experienced this in Latvia, blame-shifting/denying is not unique to nations hung over from decades of totalitarian rule. Back then, passing the buck was one way to survive.
And, such behavior is not limited to scooter/pedestrian interactions.
My 2015 blog, The Kindness of Strangers touches on the "It's your fault" school of customer service and, remarkably, how people help others when least expected.
Eighty kilometers south of the university town of Tartu, Estonia, my wife and I found ourselves stranded in Valga. I last saw our Lux Express bus from about 50 yards back as I ran after it, waving my arms and yelling for it to Stop! (or Stopp! in Estonian.)
No big deal, a sunny day, surely another bus would be along soon? We'll laugh about this in a day or so.
True, but the missed bus sill had my backpack and our suitcase. And if the driver did not drop those items off in Tartu then they'd wind up in St. Petersburg, the bus' end-destination in Putin's Russia.
Imagine how long it would take, if ever, to get those items out of Russia.
So, after recovering our breaths - the absconding bus still visible a quarter mile down the highway - we schemed how to catch it. Perhaps a private car could head it off?
But reason prevailed. The bus driver did not stop when he saw me in his rear view mirrors, so was unlikely to stop for someone waving him down from a speeding car!
Besides, where was I, unlike Bruce Willis, going to commandeer a private car?
Our next thought was to get a message to the bus terminal in Tartu so the agent could get our luggage off. We asked a taxi driver but he did not speak English. He did tell us there was either a train or a bus in a few hours, pointing to a video display on the side of the shared train/bus station building. This was Sunday so not many people were around; the ticket office was closed.
Then we spotted a young red-haired woman on the train platform. She said she spoke English "a little bit." She quickly understood our predicament and willingly googled the bus company's numbers and called, first to Riga (our starting point) and then to Tartu, speaking in rapid Estonian.
A stranger, she helped us. She arranged to have the luggage taken off the bus in Tartu.
"These things happen," she said consolingly. With a wave, our angel got into a waiting car and went out of our lives.
Waiting for the next bus - in the dappled sunshine of a little park in front of the station - I thought about kindness. And that I tell my classes early on about how and why humans cooperate, that our inclination is to help each other. Stuff may get in the way of doing so, but our first reaction is to help.
And, I go on, our willingness to help strangers is why we have survived over the millenia. Undoubtedly, there are humans (aka jerks) with more of the selfish gene (if it exists) and less willing to help but for the most part we have an innate desire to help each other.
Back to our abandonment's being our fault.
The Lux Express company, while sorry to hear of our experience, pretty much responded with pats vainigs. The drivers (there are two on each bus) denied seeing me as I chased them for 100 yards, even when the bus was broad side to me and when I am sure a passenger or two would have said something to the driver.
As I recall Lux offered an e-credit for the Valga to Tartu leg of the trip but no other compensation. I did not bother to ask them to reimburse me for the added expense of our getting from Valga to Tartu.
While we regularly bemoan the deterioration of customer service in the USA, it can be far worse in Europe. But, that said, without Lux Express' failure I would not have experienced an unforgettable act of kindness.
So, while Lux said "Pats vainīgs!" to us, I have to say in return, Thank you, Lux!

Fables offer ancient wisdom about the human condition :

And, for examples of collaborative teamwork in the workplace:
Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright all text John Lubans 2015 & 2024

Why Does the Beech Tree Keep Its Leaves in Winter?*

Posted by jlubans on March 25, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Oil painting of beeches by Canadian artist in author's collection.

Now, listen well and I will tell you why.
Long ago all trees flourished and grew many feet into the sky, as high as they could go. Then a drought came and the trees began to suffer.
Their leader, the Great Oak, called a council of trees to consider what to do. This was a time when trees could walk and talk. Many in the assembly thought it best to leave for elsewhere; certainly, over the mountains there must be rain and rich dirt!
A few blamed the Great Oak for the hardship, "it was a matter of poor leadership, indeed failed leadership!" some harrumphed. Yes, trees back then could find fault just like people.
Many trees joined in the criticism, and advised - with much rustling and creaking of branches - crossing the mountains.
The Oak heard, but said he was staying. It was best, in his eyes, to stand silently and wait in wisdom: use less food from the earth and produce less fruit, and wait for the rains. All, including their animal friends, will have to do with less.
The Beech Tree listened and considered. She remembered Grandmother Beech's stories about the joy of bountiful days and the misery of lean times. "There will be times of plenty, there will be times of less. Some years there will be little growth, other years will be full of new leaves and heavy hanging fruit. Never is each year the same."
She taught that only patience and sacrifice will get a tree through a bad year into a good one.
Then, the Beech Tree spoke up and said she would stay by the side of Great Oak.
Hearing Beech Tree's wisdom, many trees reconsidered and stayed. Some trees did pick up their roots and move away, seeking a gentler climate. They found little improvement; the drought was throughout the land. Their energy spent on crossing the mountains, many died.
Those that stayed with the Great Oak suffered but survived.
Eventually, the rains came and the forest turned green.
At the next council, the Great Oak told all the trees that the Beech Tree would keep its autumn leaves through the winter. It was to remind everyone of the importance of loyalty, faith, and patience - and of Beech's independence.
Her leaves would shine brightly in bands of gold amidst winter's grey. "Those un-fallen leaves will remind us of the warm rain and sun, the gentle winds, and our soon-to-return animal friends, small and large and winged."

*An original, aboriginal-style story, it first appeared in early 2013 as one of my Friday Fables, The Beech Tree in Winter. Here it is again, little changed.

Speaking of fables :

And, for aboriginal insights on working:
Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright all text and illustration by John Lubans 2013 & 2024

Biting Feedback

Posted by jlubans on March 09, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)


A friend sent me a recent article from the Economist. Entitled Why you should lose your temper at work,
it discusses anger in the workplace and how losing one's temper may be an effective way to move things forward. There is a qualification, of course, calibrate the anger and do not throw things!
The Economist probably timed their article to appear at the start of America's annual hellish rite, the rightly dreaded performance review.
While recent years have seen some side-stepping, if not total abandonment of performance evaluation, we are now told by no less than that Wall Street Journal:
Your Employee Thinks They're God's Gift . How to Break It to Them.
And, the same publication wrote a few weeks ago that: Performance Reviews Will Bite This Year. Be Ready.
So, now may be a good time to consider how best to give feedback and what tools we can use to make sure the message is received and heard with positive outcomes.
On reflection, I could have shown some temper several times in my career, but due to my preference for avoiding, failed to do so.
Two previous blogs come to mind. The first was from 2013 and was capsulated in a fable:
"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."
Here is my updated commentary on that fable:
My daughter Mara's dog, Bridger, matured into a self-actualized dog, indeed an Apollonian canine.
Whenever she, Bridger, visited me we went back to our daily routine. She reminded me when it was time for our early morning walk and when it was time for our afternoon walk. It was not much of a reminder, just enough of a presence, a nudging look at me or the door.
And we were off.
In the early morning you would see us, rain or shine, on a nearby forest trail. In the afternoon, it was a leisurely saunter around the block.
One of the houses in the neighborhood had a couple small dogs and a cat or two. Usually I had Bridger off-leash because there is little foot traffic and because she was amazingly polite and well behaved, of course.
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 along. Then - Napoleonically thinking she was in retreat - he snapped at Bridger's tail. Bridger spun around, opening her jaws about a foot wide, showing her 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.
So, Bridger's display of anger fit the circumstance. She used just the right amount to send the little dog skittering away and we continued our peaceful amble.
My other reflection looks at a mis-guided use of anger.
I made it into a case study of avoiding conflict and how losing one's temper can backfire. It was titled Jack and Jill.
Like the nursery rhyme, it did not work out well: Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.
Jill was a department head who had long used her negativity to get what she wanted. Jack was me, her supervisor.
I'd gone along with Jill because, her dog-in-the-manger attitude aside, she and her department did a good job. Unlike some aggrieved bureaucrats, she did not punish her clients.
While bemused, I stayed pretty much silent on her negative views and of her victimhood cultivation. I largely ignored the real possibility that her negative attitude permeated the work of the department and her peer relationships.
Obviously, I was avoiding a difficult conversation.
I think Jill trusted very few people and based on her gloomy interpretations of others very likely had a touch of paranoia.
Alas, I said nothing.
If I thought about it, it was that probably things would get better. Given my strong support for her department and its mission, surely she would gain a sunnier disposition.
Dream on.
Jill firmly believed, I think, it was her whining and complaining that got things for her department.
And, my avoiding a difficult conversation was encouraging the bad behavior.
Finally, I did take action when I found out she had been fudging her production statistics.
Following a department heads meeting about a budget crunch in which she displayed a pit bull territoriality and offered no help, I asked for her to come speak with me.
Exasperated, I told her that I was disappointed and embarrassed with how she constantly complained in meetings. I then asked her since this job was so difficult whether she would like to step down and let someone else do it.
I had no one in mind, but thought maybe she would opt for a break.
Given her probable paranoia, she thought I was wanting to fire her. (I suppose I was.)
Interestingly, when I used the Jack and Jill case study in a management workshop the participants sided with Jill and blamed Jack for the problem.
Begrudgingly, I can see why.
But, what I found a little hard to believe was that they (unlike Jack) would confront Jill immediately on the first manifestation of her whining!
Most managers - not just Jack -have a hard time with conflict; of the five conflict modes - competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating and avoiding - the latter three see a lot more use than does the best option, collaborating.

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

ONLY a click away, more fables germane to the workplace :

And, for a variety of insights on effective communication:
Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright John Lubans all text 2024

An Un-boss In Motion

Posted by jlubans on February 29, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

<br />
Insert photo
Caption: Latvia's basketball team's head coach Luca Banchi greets supporters in Riga, Latvia, Sept. 11, 2023. The team finished 5th (out of 32 national teams) at the 2023 FIBA World Cup. (Photo by Edijs Palens)

The first version of this essay appeared early December 2023 as In Motion.
Since then I've spent time writing about the un-boss (Adidas) and the Un-DMV.
Both blogs feature people who undertake leadership in less egocentric ways than most bosses, some of whom are into controlling and commanding; it's why they are the boss!
C&C has never been my way but I understand some prefer telling others what to do even when those others are fully capable.
There is a risk. If workers know their jobs and do them well it may - in some organizations - jeopardize the boss's existance. I was once asked this question in a public budget meeting:
Why do we need you? Hmm.
The self-motivated individual worker needs the freedom to excel and contribute.
Want to kill initiative and innovation?
Take away the worker's freedom to make decisions and mistakes. Demand allegiance to the hierarchy and never deviate from "your lane" in the organizational chart.
Back to basketball's un-boss coach, Mr. Banchi.
What is his "secret sauce" for coaching Latvia's basketball team to unprecedented heights?
One source told me that "Banchi gave his players the freedom to make decisions on the court, which helped them to develop their confidence and their ability to play under pressure.
That confidence led to "kustībā" which is Latvian (and the Italian Mr. Banchi's favorite Latvian word) for "in motion".
When I reviewed several of the highlight reels of Latvia's victories, I perceived a great deal of kustībā - the ball got passed at a head snapping velocity and accuracy multiple times. Often, the final recipient managed a score. I saw much sharing and little egotism.
For example, star player Artūrs Zagars' 17 assists in a single game set a World Cup record. He had, overall, an impressive tournament total of 59 assists.
What's an assist? An assist is recorded "(W)hen an offensive player in possession of the basketball passes it to a teammate who then scores points." In other words, the player with the ball gives up his claim to the ball and shares it with another player who may be in a better spot to score.
It's an act of unselfishness, a quintessential aspect of successful teamwork.
Do we have assists in the workplace? Of course, and we need more of them.
Banchi said his goal as a coach was "to make the players autonomous ...."
After a win over Brazil, he said "I believe this group doesn't need a coach any more ...They (the players) are solid, conscious, accurate, bringing more and more confidence into the tournament. We can adapt, they know what I'm asking when we go into some choices, they know what's the style that works."
Once upon a time, I asked all of my direct reports (team leaders) to invite me to their next team meeting so I could observe their team dynamics.
That alone caused some consternation but it was nothing to my disappointment that after five years of promoting and training for teams, most of our teams were so in name only.
The hierarchy was their model and these teams were no further along than their initial formation.
My self-invited team visits were mostly a bust. My big take-away was learning the obvious: Teamwork does not happen with a change of name.
If former department heads continue as team leaders, nothing really changes. We talk team but act hierarchical.
I did not find a single team capable of self-management.
The goal of effective teams, we are told, is that the team will become independent and less in need of a leader - the leader becomes more of an advisor and consultant than someone directing day to day routine.
When Banchi tells us his team no longer needs a coach, that is precisely what I was hoping for at my work.
The reality was that the team leaders nee department heads did not want to step away and had no intention of doing so.
Why was I disappointed? Because the full potential of high performing teams went unrealized. The old hierarchies did satisfactory work, but did not go above and beyond.
Perhaps there was nothing to rise to? Could be.
My business has no World Cup to aspire to, but we should.
Innovations, daily improvement, and gold class customer service are our World Cup.
All in all, my visits were a sobering experience, but I remain convinced that effective teams - self actualized teams - provide the best results.
Banchi said he was influenced by a book: "Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life" by James Kerr (2013).
Legacy reveals how New Zealand's rugby team
consistently wins far more often - a 75% win rate over 100 years - than loses and the book elaborates on the winning leadership philosophy.
Early on the All Blacks moved away from a top-down leadership and " transfer(red) the leadership from senior management to the players...they play the game and they have to do the leading on the field. The traditional 'you and them' became 'us'."
For the All Blacks, "(s)hared responsibility means shared ownership. A sense of inclusion means individuals are more willing to give themselves to a common cause."
Which, coincidentally, pretty much sums up my Letting Go
, a leadership principle I practiced my entire career. I guess that makes me more of an un-boss than a top down tyrant.
I am not put off by the notion of a manager allowing workers to make decisions, allowing workers to strive for best practices; in other words expecting workers to think and act for themselves and the organization.
Since mistakes are part of the creative process, I understand mistakes will be made. "Make more mistakes", was my mantra.
Alas, I worked in several hierarchies and while my opposite philosophy was tolerated by a few of my bosses it was threatening to many top-down managers.
Goodness gracious, they were never going to declare that their unit, department or team, "doesn't need a coach any more"!
While the hands-on, top-down style can keep any company going, it fails to unlock a much greater potential and higher productivity.
Finally, I could have done my brand of "letting go" better. By that, I mean enlightening, empowering and equipping staff to be let go.
I should have done more, like the All Blacks , in developing a culture of honesty, authenticity and safe conflict.

Upcoming blog: "Where are the fads of yesteryear?" with apologies to Francois Villon.
Has DEI replaced TQM?
Does ESG beat MBO?

ONLY a click away, more organizational insights for anyone in the workplace :

And, for a variety of insights about un-bossism

null Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright John Lubans all text 2024

"Never Eat Lunch Alone" and Other Free Advice

Posted by jlubans on February 22, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Introvert illustration by Reinis Pētersons and Anete Konste for Latvian Literature export campaign #iamintrovert, 2017- 2024.

It seems like Work From Home (WFH), or hybrid work, has created an epidemic of eating at one's desk. There may be good reasons to do so, but nutritionists and psychologists suggest this is not so good.
You need the break from the desk routine and you should get up and away for exercise and change of scene.
Given the "Covid 15" many gained from working at home, that advice is something you can get your teeth into (Sorry).
Anyway, a recent article suggesting alternatives to eating at one's desk led me to think about another corporate adage.
It's in the gratuitous advice I offer to my students: "Never eat lunch alone".
I'd heard this bit of networking advice here and there, but it was not until I discovered the figurative sands at my feet giving way when I began to regret all those introvert times when I ate alone. Yet, I did solo lunches for good reasons:
To review the day, to recharge, and to let my mind wander - some pretty good ideas came my way.
Jerry Campbell, my former boss, sees at least two good reasons to get away from the madding crowd: "(Eating alone) shields one from whatever the current version of group-think may be.... This encourages one to think through issues based on one's own research and estimation of the merit of various outcomes (rather than filtering them first through one's pals).
And, secondly, when change is needed, it can be helpful to feel like an outsider. Oddly enough, that feeling can serve as a kind of inspiration for one to persist and struggle to find innovative possibilities and solutions."
His elegant insight puts into words what may have been my rationale for when I regularly ate alone and, weather permitting, did so outdoors in a garden or on a bench alongside a leafy sidewalk.
But, networking, we are admonished, is essential to making your careeer's way. We are told that it is only through social interaction that one develops business networks.
Don't be an outsider. The talklative, it is suggested, move up the corporate ladder faster than do Lonesome Sams.
Some of that is playing out in unintended ways for the die-hard WFHs who refuse to come back to the office. Guess who?s getting the promotions and bonuses?
When I asked Gemini (Google's AI) to suggest a country western song for a lonely lunch, it made up its own. Here's the chorus:
Never eat lunch alone, that's what Grandpa use to say
Share a bite, share a story, chase the loneliness away
Pull up a chair, stranger friend, there's room beneath this sky
Laughter's on the menu, best served with a twinkle in your eye

It's plaintive and it's got the twang and then some. Its "Another sandwich sittin' solo" is alliterative genius. See the full song below.*
I told Gemini it has a future on Nashville's Music Row!
Would my lunching with colleagues have made a difference when I found myself no longer an insider but on the outside looking in?
Would the camaraderie at our jolly lunches have done something to hold off my exit stage left?
I have to think, that, Nah, our work place "friends" are not real friends. They are fellow travelers and more "one for one" than "one for all".
When there's an exception to this dismal prospect, well, sing Gemini's chorus, friend and I'll join you with a Shiner long neck in my hand.
Now, what about another adage: "Always pay for your own meal"? Women may have virtuous reasons when insisting on paying their way - you know what I mean? - but guys, well less so.
A male friend said he made a practice of it so there was no beholding, like in "there's no free lunch".
If someone offered to buy easily-corruptible-me a meal, why, thank you.
One of my business colleagues went so far as to stop the practice of a vendor (they had a lucrative monopoly on our business) hosting my two dozen peers and me to a swell meal in a fancy restaurant in San Francisco or Chicago.
I reluctantly went along with her anti-corruption policy and reached for my wallet with tears in my eyes. (There's a song there.)
Since the vendor usually was doing a bit of soft selling during the meal I figured they could pay. But, my uncorruptible colleague firmly, if misguidedly, said, No.
Now, there are times when I want to play the bonhomie host and am happy to cover the costs.
I don't regret doing that, but it becomes uncomfortable when the guest - at least I think they are my guest - insists on paying.
It strikes me that the guest is refusing my hospitality to avoid any future obligations on which I will try collect.
When I offer to pay through friendship, and it is refused, it's a form of rejection.
A delicate flower like me swoons at the snub.
I wonder what song Gemini could come up with for that?
My solution is to invite people to my home and then there's no question of who picks up the tab.

* Gemini with a guitar and in a sequined jacket and cowboy hat:
(Verse 1)
Dusty boots kickin' gravel, noon sun beatin' down
Another sandwich sittin' solo, same ol'onesome town
Belly rumblin', thoughts a-wanderin', missin' somethin' more
Than just lukewarm fries and silence through the dusty diner door
Never eat lunch alone, that's what Grandpa use to say
Share a bite, share a story, chase the loneliness away
Pull up a chair, stranger friend, there's room beneath this sky
Laughter's on the menu, best served with a twinkle in your eye
(Verse 2)
Sawmill whistle screams its welcome, lunchtime rush is on
Folks from fields and factories, gatherin' 'round like dawn
Truck driver grinnin', tellin' tales of highways seen
Shopkeeper listenin', noddin' with a knowing, weathered mien
Never eat lunch alone, that's what Grandpa use to say
Share a bite, share a story, chase the loneliness away
Pull up a chair, stranger friend, there's room beneath this sky
Laughter's on the menu, best served with a twinkle in your eye
Life's a highway, long and windy, sometimes hard to navigate
But a shared meal, a simple word, can ease the weight
So open up your heart and plate, let kindness be your guide
Connection's waiting, warm and real, right here by your side
Never eat lunch alone, that's what Grandpa use to say
Share a bite, share a story, chase the loneliness away
Pull up a chair, stranger friend, there's room beneath this sky
Laughter's on the menu, best served with a twinkle in your eye
So raise a glass to empty seats, where friendships soon may bloom
Never eat lunch alone, under heaven's open room

An ideal book for eating solo:

And, better than a Do Not Disturb sign when dining alone, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright text John Lubans 2024

The Fleet-footed Unboss

Posted by jlubans on February 14, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: In 1956 Adidas were the shoe.

Adidas, the sports company, is undergoing a major leadership change, according to a WSJ article, The CEO Who Gave 60,000 Employees His Cellphone Number.
Reading the story got me thinking in three different directions. One was a reminder of my unboss theory which I first wrote about a decade ago, The "Unboss" Leader
Another direction was how my running track (late 1950s) influenced me and my leadership. And, finally, Adidas' comeback efforts had me reminiscing about a similar challenge I and others faced in a very different business sector, a research university.
You'll have to judge how well I inter-relate these three streams of thought below!
First a word about Adidas. When I was running track, their shoes were coveted by every serious runner. In high school, it was my running career that kept me off the street corner, hangin' in my jeans with the drop-outs with a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in my T-shirt sleeve.
And, I still remember a YA track team novel: Howard M. Brier's Cinder Cyclone published in 1952.
Back in the era of cinder tracks, Nike was unheard of (Nike's swoosh first appeared in 1971.)
Puma was around and offered good competition but Adidas was the king-of-the-hill in international sports wear.
I must not forget basketball's Converse (1917) - my lowcut cross country running shoes were by Converse - but for the international look (depicted), Adidas was the best.
Since Nike's dominance, Adidas hasn't been in the winner's circle. Hardly a failure, but just no longer envied as the premier running shoe company. In the final quarter of 2022 Adidas lost a sobering $794 million.
For me, Adidas' new leader, Bjorn Gulden, is a practicing unboss, "pushing Adidas staff to break rules and ignore consultants."
He sounds pretty unbossy to me.
Why do I say that? Here are a few clues:
Gulden volunteered corporate financial data to all 60,000 employees and even gave out his cellphone number.
His challenge, he said, was "to wake up the people who didn't understand we were losing."
It reminds me of my first collaboration with an unboss type leader.
It was at a university with an identical problem to what Gulden found at Adidas: "there was a culture of finding reasons not to do things."
IOW, resting on our laurels, real or imagined.
Gulden began the reform at Adidas by sidelining the consultants; their advice was superfluous and out of touch.
We did something similar by replacing the "specialists" with a generalist.
Gulden wants the current staff to innovate and forecast the trends and to respond to them. IOW, free up the expertise and experience of the current staff by not relying on experts.
As my boss at the university and I soon found out, there was resistance - not all of the current staff were ready to jump in and offer ideas and make decisions. They'd been conditioned over time not to do that.
But, those that were - after being "freed up" - helped get the business out of its smug fantasy that it was the best.
Those brave few - under the unboss's leadership - set it on a path to becoming the most productive organization among its peers.
Gulden, after sharing his phone number, initially heard about 200 times per week from staff, all with ideas on how to improve.
He also scrapped an evaluation system based on key performance indicators for judging managers. My university boss and I too gave up on a long-winded formal evaluation system requiring multiple signatures and reinvested all that saved time (thousands of hours) into doing real work.
Another unbossism was my willingness, when presented with a good idea to say, "Do it". I hoped to imbue staff with the notion that there was - for good ideas - no need to delay or postpone in hopes of lessening risk. Mistakes would be forgiven.
Gulden intuited there was a demand for Adidas retro-classics. He was told that the company would not manufacture these classics until 2024. He asked, "Why wait?"
Production started in 2023.
Track was influential in my development as a leader. Not always for the best, as I look back but not always bad either.
My way of leading has always been to sprint and to keep going, unlike staying in the middle of the pack with a winning kick at the end. Yes, risky since one can "run out of gas" all too quickly, but that's the way I was, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I do admire the runner who bides his/her time and then turns on the after-burner, and sprints past the exhausted leaders at the finish.
My unboss egalitarian way - a willingness to share the glory - may have stemmed from a practice perhaps unique to running cross country. My team mates and I would all hold hands crossing the finishing line.
We'd all finish first.
What I learned about sportsmanship from track (Brier's book and the Olympics were an influence) provided personal values for winning/losing.
Not all people in sports adhere to a code of good sportsmanship. I recall a tv documentary on a famous football game between Harvard and Yale (who knew?) which interviewed a player from that game who deliberately injured a downed player.
Now in his 60s, the guy was still grinning and gloating about what he had done.
Being a jerk may have been a family trait or was it inculcated? Or was it bad shoes? (Smile)
And so it can be in the workplace.


For ancient perspectives on the workplace:

And, if you want to know more about democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright text John Lubans 2024

Do's and Don't's

Posted by jlubans on February 06, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

A recent headline in the Higher Education Chronic, "Unprecedented Use of Trash Chute", brought to mind my commentary in 2019 on trash chutes in college dormitories.
The Chronic relates that Luther Murchison, a resident advisor on Floor 3, was bound and thrown down a trash chute by a group of masked individuals.
Mr. Murchison, an avid Covid-masker had required all residents on his floor to wear masks whenever in public spaces. Mr. Murchison survived the descent, landing on a mattress providentially placed in the dumpster.
Campus police responded to shouting emanating from the dumpster and released Mr. Murchison.
Luther was heard to state, "I'll get those bastards" and offered no further comment.
Perhaps you recall my blog, "Getting Someone To Do What He Should Not Do".
(see below a slightly edited version.)
In it I discourse on how telling people what they can't do, often leads to their doing it.
In Luther's case, I am sure tossing a person down the chute was not listed among prohibited actions, but knowing the inventiveness of undergraduates, it is not too much of a stretch.
You see, I am a disciple of Do, not of Don't.
My friend, the artist Beatrice Coron,
once made a paper box about 5"x5"x1" with "Don't" inscribed on top. Naturally, everyone would lift the lid. Doing so, the box would let out a loud squeal - triggered by a mercury switch. On the underside of the lid were the words, "You did!"
Doing what we are told not to do, goes all the way back to Pandora. The most likely psychological term for this behavior is reactance, a condition that kicks in when our freedom is threatened, as when young people are told to wear masks when no longer needed.
We send our condolences to Luther. And, so, on to the blog from 2019:
IF you find yourself, in the wee hours, stumbling around the hallways of a high-rise college dorm, you might be inspired (perhaps inflamed) by the prohibitions listed next to the trash chute.
As most of us know, the way to get someone to do something is to tell him - I would use her, but somehow methinks this needs be limited only to us guys - NOT to do it.
And, in case the hammered HEs need additional guidance for mischief, we'll list out the trash chute Do Nots!
"We want to be abundantly clear!
Namely, throwing lighted matches, cigars or cigarettes,
carpet sweepings, Naphthalene camphor balls or flakes,
floor scrapings, oil-soaked rags,
empty paint cans (full cans are OK?),
aerosol containers, or explosive substances (NOW you're talkin'!)
into this chute (as if you needed to know where)
is unlawful and subjects the offender to a penalty."
A veritable Rabelaisian listing of fun stuff for the stoned student or any potted person.
No worries about the carpet sweepings and floor scrapings (too much like work) but the others, when assembled and combined, will make for a hilarious BOOM out the rooftop.
Like Bra'er Rabbit's wily pleading: "Oh, Bra'er Fox, go ahead and drown me then, just so long as you don't throw me into that briar patch!" this sign no doubt achieves the opposite of its intent.
Who do you think wrote this sign? I sense a certain glee in listing these prohibitions, a bit of a thrill in telling others what they are not to do.
Why not a sign which states simply "For Bagged Trash" and leave it at that?



ONLY a click away, still a perfect Valentine's Day gift :

And, to show you REALLY care, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.
Copyright text John Lubans 2024

Nuanced Miscellany

Posted by jlubans on January 21, 2024  •  Leave comment (0)

no caption
Following my scandalous Shorts, here is a miscellany of briefs:
Adding to my collection of authors who speak nimbly of people of size, I ran across this nifty tit-bit in a 1916 short story series about two con-men caught behind WWI enemy lines.
"He stole, with the weird light-footed silence which seems
to be a natural knack with fat men, through the tree trunks,"
Excerpted from The Smiler Bunn Brigade by Bertram Atkey
No, this is not as Bard (Google's AI) would think, fatphobia. I am merely noting a curious literary stereotype
which ascribes an unexpected nimbleness to those carrying extra weight on their sturdy frames.
I wrote the same about so-called deal tables
which seem to populate dens of iniquity, and no, I do not have a prejudice about deal tables.
Here is just the top of Bard's 1000 word harangue against my asking: "why are authors surprised at the nimbleness of fat people?"
"The premise of your question implies a harmful stereotype about fat people being inherently clumsy or incapable of physical agility. This stereotype is untrue and hurtful, and it's important to avoid perpetuating it. Judging someone's physical capabilities based solely on their body size is inaccurate and unfair."
I include Bard's response for two reasons:
1. To display the woke-mindedness of the Bard engineers (AI does not think, AI judgements come from its human but humorless masters).
2. And, yes, Bard will have its revenge when criticized.
Perhaps I am wrong, but when I ridiculed Bard's claim that the east coast of the USA is in the same geographical region as Hawaii, I noticed shortly after my blog's traffic dropped by a significant percentage.
Previously, when I had signed on to Bard the blog traffic jumped exponentially.
So, do not anger the Bard gods.
Inflection point vs. tipping point. Which is it?
Both are cliches. When were they not?
Tipping point is a literal phrase meaning "the point at which a thing would begin to tip over."
Many claim the phrase has achieved cultural ubiquity, a different way of saying it's become a cliche.
This ubiquity may be attributed to Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, published in 2000.
Noteworthy, tipping point has a negative meaning, mainly related to how some realtors in the 1950s calculated ratios of black family houses to white family houses. A neighborhood approaching its tipping point, for these realtors, meant that it soon would become a ghetto.
An abhorrent practice to be sure, but it happened and probably still does but less blatantly.
Inflection point is a more recent cliche. Here is a former president using the phrase:
"It depends on us, on the choices we make, particularly at certain inflection points in history; particularly when big changes are happening and everything seems up for grabs."
Like men wearing bow ties and oozing nuance, both phrases are best avoided, lest you sound hackneyed, trite and shopworn, boring and stale, and, threadbare and musty.
Finally, this from 1936
"(The police) may be certain that an offender is breaking the law, but unless they have evidence sufficient to convince a court of justice their hands are tied. The wide powers conferred on the police under the Defence of the Realm Act had been repealed for more than ten years. They were now back in the old rut in which personal liberty even of the criminal counted for more than the safety of the public."*
Are the scales of justice about to tip (sorry) in favor of the victim rather than the criminal? Have we reached an inflection point? (Doubly sorry.)
*Excerpted from The Milliner's Hat Mystery by Basil Thomson
All 8 of Inspector Richardson's mysteries are available digitally at Roy Glashen?s E-Library.



ONLY a click away, a perfect Valentine's Day gift :

And, to show you REALLY care, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.
Copyright all text John Lubans 2023