Lubans’ Adaptation of “Wonderbread”

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

null
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

------------------

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)

null
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?
null
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.

------------------

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)

20160610-rsz_11rsz_1rsz_1b_in_field.jpg
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?

------------------

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)

null
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.”
------------------

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.”
20130111-bridger sm.jpeg
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.

Lessing’s THE SHEEP AND THE SWALLOW*

Posted by jlubans on March 16, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

null

A SWALLOW alighted on the back of a Sheep, to pluck a little wool for her nest.
The Sheep, unwilling to lose any of his coat, tried to shake off the intruder.
"What makes you so unfriendly towards me?" asked the Swallow.
"You allow the Shepherd to shear you of your wool from head to foot; yet you grudge me the smallest bit of it.
Whatever is the reason?"
"The reason," replied the Sheep, "is that you lack the skill to take off my wool in the same easy manner that the Shepherd shears me."

__________
How one is fleeced matters. Ditto for the manner of being bilked, defrauded, diddled, fiddled, hustled, squeezed, and swindled.
If we feel unhappy being “done to” when flying economy, we feel much better in business class. The “done to” in shrink sized economy become “done for” in super-sized biz class.
When travelers are surveyed about flying guess who praises the experience? It ain’t economy class.
We are all subject to being shorned; how we feel about it and how we understand it comes down to how we are treated, how we are respected or not, how we are put on eternal hold (depicted) and/or forced to chat with robots.
Had the swallow asked before plucking, perhaps the sheep would have said, “My privilege” and kindly shared his wool.

*SOURCE: Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 3. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.Excerpted From: Cooper, Frederic Taber, 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.

------------------

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

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Lessing’s SOLOMON'S GHOST*

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

null
Caption: Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1721 – 1789) Painting by Anna Rosina de Gasc (Lisiewska)

A VENERABLE old man, despite his years and the heat of the day, was ploughing his field with his own hand, and sowing the grain in the willing earth, in anticipation of the harvest it would produce.
Suddenly beneath the deep shadow of a spreading oak, a divine apparition stood before him!
The old man was seized with affright.
"I am Solomon," said the phantom encouragingly. "What dost thou here, old friend?"
"If thou art Solomon," said the owner of the field, "how canst thou ask?
In my youth I learnt from the ant to be industrious and to accumulate wealth.
That which I then learnt I now practise."
“Thou hast learnt but the half of thy lesson," pursued the spirit.
"Go once more to the ant, and she will teach thee to rest in the winter of thy existence, and enjoy what thou hast earned."

___________
While work is noble and fulfilling, there comes a time to knock off.
According to Solomon, there’s a time to “savor the flavor” of accomplishment and “enjoy what thou hast earned.”
For me, this is not only about taking a well-earned break or a vacation to a foreign clime but barring travel, simply sitting down and going over what you’ve done. Reflecting on the other “half of thy lesson”.
If you can stop and reflect, good on you.
If you cannot, make an appointment with yourself – yes, a real scheduled appointment: date, time and place - to think about what you are doing and why.
If you have a trusted friend, that person can help guide you. Do this out-of-doors – no phone or watch.
Questions for yourself:
What’s gone really well?
What are you avoiding?
Continue avoiding or stop procrastinating? If the latter, what’s the first step?
Or, getting back to the old farmer, is what we do, however exalted we might think it, really “Just a job”?
A friend used that deflating phrase when I groused about how we old-timers in the profession were soon forgotten, in some cases put out to pasture without recognition for a job well done.
Solomon doesn’t think so.
Maybe if we looked back on challenges and accomplishments on a regular basis we’d realize an inner contentment and not keep grinding away.

*SOURCE: Lessing, Fables, Book III, No. 3. Translated by G. Moir Bussey.Excerpted From: Cooper, Frederic Taber, 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.
As you might guess, there is/was a rock band called Solomon’s Ghost. They play(ed) metal out of Statesboro, Georgia, USA. Facebook offers a link to one of their albums, screeching and clashing with occasional jangled nerve soothing interludes.

------------------

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

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Griset’s INDUSTRY AND SLOTH*

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

null

An indolent young man being asked why he lay in bed so long, jocosely and carelessly answered, "Every morning of my life I am hearing causes.
I have two fine damsels, their names are Industry and Sloth, at my bedside, as soon as ever I awake, pressing their different suits.
One entreats me to get up, the other persuades me to lie still; and then they alternately give me various reasons why I should rise, and why I should not.
This detains me so long, as it is the duty of an impartial judge to hear all that can be said on both sides, that before the pleadings are over it is time to go to dinner."

Many men waste the prime of their days in deliberating what they shall do, and bring them to a period without coming to any determination.

_____________

From well before the 1890s to the 1920s it was not unusual for a British gentleman, often classically educated, to not work.
Yet, he was hardly homeless.
If rusticated (kicked out) from Oxford or Cambridge, there were still those life-long friends from public school (like Eton or Dulwich College) to rely on.
He could be a dabbler at writing or painting, but nothing regimented or 9-5.
What permitted this life style?
A surplus of poor people looking for work and willing to work for little above room and board.
However, an enterprising valet or butler could do well, building a nest egg with tips from the young master's guests and graft from butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, and fish mongers and green grocers not to mention vintners.
It is said that a yearly allowance of 200 pounds sterling from the Governor – Dear Old Dad – could sustain in style the indolent youngster.
That 200 pounds is today the equivalent of well over 10,000 pounds .
The 200 pounds per year bought a pleasant apartment, a gentleman’s gentleman (think Jeeves) and membership in a men’s club.
Some gambled promiscuously and spent long, free, weekends at friends’ country estates, wearing bespoke clothing.
And, when so motivated, Reggie, Bertie, Ronnie or Alfie (or all four) could be found salivating at stage doors for the girls of the chorus to invite to dinner.
When in serious “trouble” Dad could be relied to fetch him out.
Paying one’s bills was another matter and much leeway was given by beleaguered tailors and restauranteurs.
With a little help from his friends the indolent could borrow money – a mutually reciprocating activity - until the next allowance installment.
As for the chorus girls, well, a quiet settlement for breach of promise could be had for a few hundred pounds from Dad.
Not infrequently, Dad could not stop the marriage and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to Reggie or Ronald or Bertie or Artie.
The ex-chorus girl took the poor sap in hand and guided him toward responsible behavior and on into the paths of righteousness.
Alas, this did result in un-employing the Jeeves.
But, as happens, the newly marrieds employed a butler and a few maids along with a cook.
Not long after World War I this type of living – apart from the Royalty – began to diminish.
All said and done, Griset's indolent young man did know enough to get up for dinner.

*Source: Aesop's fables by Aesop; Griset, Ernest Henry, 1844-1907
London ; New York : Cassell, Petter, and Galpin 1874

------------------

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

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022

Jerks No More

Posted by jlubans on March 02, 2022  •  Leave comment (0)

null

Jerks play big in my blog.
Here are several I’ve written:
“Fifty Shades of Jerkiness”
“Of Jerks, Bozos, Dorks, Fatheads, Nincompoops, Dunderheads, Twerps, Bamboozlers, Fakers, Hornswogglers, et al.
“’Bossholes’ and Other Dour Denizens”
“Telling-off the Jerk Boss: Bad Idea?”
“How Jerks Happen”
and finally an exploration of New Zealand’s “No Dickheads” rule in “Rugby in the Workplace”.
A friend and colleague – long retired - has been writing workplace vignettes on social media (SM). She writes, without giving names other than her own, about her experiences working with a jerk boss at an ultra-prestigious university.
Her boss displayed common jerkiness traits like vindictiveness and an erratic pettiness. While the boss no doubt could recite good leadership qualities such as fairness, awareness of self, developing and inspiring others, flexibility, and effective interpersonal communication, she practiced few, if any.
My friend’s SM posts are more than tragi-comic; they are instructive and invariably I come away admiring her courage and acuity of mind in speaking frankly to the boss, face to face.
My friend was unafraid to tell the boss when she was screwing up. Had her boss listened she’d have been a star performer instead of a petty tyrant.
I would call her boss a jerk. I know the word is not the kindest but it does capture for most of us someone who is unfair, petty and narcissistic toward others.
Today’s question:
Why do jerks get hired and stay hired? Some even survive into retirement and are often sent off with accolades.
I recall someone saying that when a bad leader leaves there’s no reason to spew negatives. Instead, like the song, “Thank God and Greyhound She’s Gone” leave it at that.
OK. How do jerks get hired?
First a clarification: Incompetent jerks tend not to move; it is simply too difficult for them to cultivate a support network. Often, they stay in place illustrating the Peter Principle of how organizations are reluctant to admit a hiring mistake, so instead they create face-saving ways to sideline the individual.
However, competent jerks do move.
In my experience jerks can come into a new job via a side door, an access point that limits their exposure to intensive review and analysis. Taking this route requires influential friends outside an organization who can bypass – in a closed system - the more public recruitment process.
Not that an open recruitment is any guarantee for flushing out the potential jerk.
I have had a candidate’s boss lie glowingly to me about a person’s capabilities; to such an extent that I began to question why would this boss want to give up such a paragon. Well, that was just it. They were lying to get rid of their bad apple.
Bosses who turn out to be jerks often have an inordinate ability to cultivate others – they are pre-eminent suck-upppers.
And, of course, in passive professions (most bureaucracies) standards may be low. Indeed a mediocre performer – no boat rockers, please! - might be valued over someone with a reputation for innovation and getting things done in spite of ruffling some traditionalist feathers.
My SM friend’s boss probably was well practiced at kissing up/kicking down. Had someone asked the jerk’s boss – far removed from this organization’s day-to-day operations – they’d get a largely one-sided recommendation. The more removed – but well cultivated by the subordinate jerk - the more favorably biased.
How to avoid hiring jerks.
A NYT’s article recommends asking interview questions like
“What aspect of yourself are you most proud of?”
Followed by “What aspect about yourself would you most like to change?”
The hard-core jerk is unlikely “to recognize (personal) failures and try to improve”.
The person you want to hire will have the capacity to admit failure and how he or she changed direction for the better.
And, the organization can codify and put into writing for all to see that jerky behavior is an organizational “no, no”. For example, New Zealand’s rugby team (mentioned above) has the No Dickheads Rule.
The NYT article suggests that the free pass days for jerk bosses may be running out. Driving this is the phenomenon termed the “Great Resignation” which suggests many people are leaving their fields of work for other interests.
Those fleeing the 9-5 treadmill may include some of your best people and it would be wise to listen to them on their way out.
Someone quitting for other challenges may not worry about burning bridges by giving a candid assessment of their supervisor.
If enough negatives accumulate for any one boss, maybe you – if you are the organizational leader – might want to probe some more.

------------------

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

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022