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

Caption: Pooh Bear gets dealt vigilante justice; no day in court!

Some Bees had made their combs in a lofty oak.
Some lazy Drones asserted that these belonged to them.
The cause was brought into court, the Wasp sitting as judge; who, being perfectly acquainted with either race, proposed to the two parties these terms: “Your shape is not unlike, and your colour is similar; so that the affair clearly and fairly becomes a matter of doubt.
But that my sacred duty may not be at fault through insufficiency of knowledge, each of you take hives, and pour your productions into the waxen cells; that from the flavour of the honey and the shape of the comb, the maker of them, about which the present dispute exists, may be evident.”
The Drones decline; the proposal pleases the Bees.
Upon this, the Wasp pronounces sentence to the following effect: “It is evident who cannot, and who did, make them; wherefore, to the Bees I restore the fruits of their labours.”
This Fable I should have passed by in silence, if the Drones had not refused the proposed stipulation.

With this “proposed stipulation”, we are told, Phædrus alluded to some who had laid claim to the authorship of his Fables, and had refused a challenge given by him, such as that here given to the Drones, to test the correctness of their assertions.
We are told “Ability proves itself by deeds.” No question but only if you get a fair hearing. I think of the political writing of the past few years and how accomplished deeds go unrecognized. When someone you despise does a good job give him or her credit. Don’t be a shmuck.
When I look back on my contrarian career and am reminded of some who sought to undermine good progress, it would have been nice to have a Missouri Wasp judge with the challenge, “If you can do it better, show me.”

*Source: The Fables of Phaedrus Translated into English Verse. Phaedrus. Christopher Smart, A. M. London. G. Bell and Sons, Ltd. 1913.

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

“Serene in glory”

Posted by jlubans on May 22, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)


This sets forth how an idea about “ambiverts” turned into a story about serenity by way of sublimity.
My first step in this story was perusing a taxonomy of ambivertism.
Perhaps you don’t know this term? (I didn’t)
We all know about the loud extrovert and the quiet introvert. But that’s a pretty wide span from braggadocios-ness to self-effacement.
We can’t all be at one end or the other, can we?
You can guess that the ambivert is someone – perhaps you - who can swing with the “life of the party” types and also feel at home amidst the wallflowers.
The ambivert, we are told, moves along a personality scale and has the ability to combine the best from both extremes.
Neither an absolute extrovert nor a pre-eminent introvert, ambivertism got me thinking about my own personality.
Now, permit me to stray some more.
Down the highway east from where I live you’ll see a sign for the town of Sublimity.
Named in 1852, it was so baptized because of its "fine vista and sublime scenery".
Located not far from Oregon’s capital, I’d guess most Sublimites (?) work in Salem or in agriculture.
Also, the town is a gateway to Silver Falls State Park
with its cascading waterfalls. And, the town features a gem of an Italian restaurant – best pizza and bread sticks this side of Chicago – Panezanellie.
OK, Why am I going on about this town?
Well because whenever I drive past it, I recall what a Latvian friend and colleague noted about my persona as a teacher.
She used the word “serene”.
No doubt, she had other words to choose from: deadpan, impassive, and inexpressive, but she chose a much nicer term.
How would my friend know?
Well, as my translator, she’s observed me in a professional capacity more closely than just about anyone.
Here’s how I lead workshops in Latvia: I talk briefly and stop and she translates what I’ve said. Then I start up again.
Obviously, she has to pay attention to what I am saying and how I am saying it.
Alexander Pope used the word:
“shining bright and steady
the moon, serene in glory”
It suggests an unperturbed, unruffled, and lofty something.
I can see why she chose the term. It may well be the persona I project in my workshops.
I am no evangelist hoping to salvage and re-direct lost workers. I do not regard myself as a savior, even if one or two change for the better.
Nor do I make much effort in entertaining workshop participants. I have a sense of humor, but to have them “rolling in the aisles” is not what makes a good workshop.
Nor am I the hard-nose expert who knows the answer to any and all leadership scenarios – “just follow (if you have the ability) my lead and you’ll be A-OK. Any questions?”
Much of nature is serene. Trees are serene.
A sunrise is serene and sublime. A sunset likewise.
How you respond to that serenity, is up to you. You can do something or nothing.
For example, I’ve been part of an outdoor personal development workshop in which participants go off in nature and literally hug a tree.
A short while later, we reconvene and do a go around about the experience. The tree does not speak; but what do you sense in that private moment?
What enters your mind as you cling to the tree?
Some participants are moved, others not so much. A pity, but don’t blame the silent tree.
Look deeper and puzzle over what you don’t hear and why that may be.
What’s retarding your imagination, creativity?
There’s the parable of the sower whose seeds do not grow until they fall onto “good soil”.
Some participants are prepared better, they are more open and ready, than others to receive and nourish whatever seeds I may be serenely sowing.
Alas, I am not always serene.
I am not serene when traveling – it’s high anxiety all the way.
Nor am I serene when talking to customer service.
Or, doing my taxes. Or, just about anything else in life!

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

"A Pleasant Sensation"

Posted by jlubans on May 17, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Now and then in my addiction to early detective fiction I come across a knock-out quote.
This one from 1913, apropos of today’s wokeness, is by Edgar Wallace*.

“It is a pleasant sensation, this of superiority. It enables one to mix freely with inferior humanity and take no hurt.”

*Excerpt From: Edgar Wallace in his horse racing and crime novel, “Grey Timothy.” 1913.

Ernest Griset’s THE WOLF AND THE SHEPHERDS* Redux.

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

Caption: Griset’s (1844-1907) very own illustration.

A Wolf peeping into a hut where a company of Shepherds were regaling themselves on a leg of mutton, exclaimed, "What a clamour these fellows would have raised if they had caught me at such a banquet!"
Men, forsooth, are apt to condemn in others what they practice themselves without scruple.
I first posted this fable – all about hypocrisy - in late 2019.
Have you noticed that much of the daily parade of commentary on FCBK and other anti-social media - whenever it strays from cats, dogs, grandkids, flowers and vacation photos - is, as I put it a while back, “ignorant, one-sided, negative, absolutely certain, ill-humored, repetitive (think ‘meme’ and ‘sharing’) and unforgiving?”
Today’s moral, “Men, forsooth, are apt to condemn in others what they practice themselves without scruple” is especially relevant right now.
I can justify objectionable behavior by people I like but become outraged when it’s perpetrated by people I despise.
Aesop speaks to this in his Jupiter and the Two Sacks fable. We each wear two sacks – one visibly on the front of other’s people’s faults and a sack on the back – out of sight - full of our own failings.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2021


Posted by jlubans on May 04, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)


A CERTAIN man invited a neighbor to dinner, not without an ulterior purpose.
He was fond of music, and he entrapped his neighbour into his house to listen to his choir.
The honest fellows began to sing, each on his own account, and each with all his might.
The guest's ears began to split, and his head to turn.
"Have pity on me!" he exclaimed, in amazement.
“What can any one like in all this ? Why, your choristers bawl like madmen."
“It's quite true," replied the host, with feeling.
“They do flay one's ears just a trifle. But, on the other hand,
they are all of irreproachable behaviour, and they never touch a drop of intoxicating liquor.”
But, I say, in my opinion you had better drink a little, if needs be: only take care to understand your business thoroughly.
Another translation offers this for the above moral:
Better to drink a bit, I say.
But do things the right way.”

Like karaoke - which I am told gets better the more drinks consumed – the neighbor suggests the impresario stop excluding choristers who drink.
If they drink but sing magnificently, take the latter and worry less about the former.
If a teetotaler can’t sing, why have him or her in the choir?
So, it can be at work.
We may have a co-worker with an annoying habit or shortcoming, but if he or she is a good worker, a team player, say “So, what?”

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

E-spinach & the Wood Wide Web

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


A recent headline declared, “Scientists Taught Spinach How to Send Emails to Help Fight Climate Change!”
That declaration suggested to me (and maybe Popeye) a suddenly sentient spinach, its tiny roots tapping out texts!
Regardless of the hyperbole, the spinach story did get me thinking about something called the Wood Wide Web, aka WWW.
And, in turn, that moved me to think about Complexity Theory, a topic I sometimes try to teach in my management classes.
Complexity theory applies to systems that exhibit “non trivial emergent and self-organizing behaviors.” In other words, something happens in the system with no boss to dictate behavior or make decisions.
The theory holds that leaderless groups can indeed thrive and survive; e. g. the self-organizing World Wide Web operates with simple rules and no central control resulting in highly complex collective behavior.
While the spinach research makes no claims to complexity (i.e. a root system linked with other vegetables in nearby fields), the researchers have indeed created a new method for detecting major changes in our climate via spinach root systems.
According to the study, when spinach roots detect certain soil compounds they can send a signal to an infrared camera, which then triggers an email alert to scientists.
The Wood Wide Web is very much a complex system. The buried roots of trees and fungi in the soil cooperate and communicate back and forth.
Forestry researcher Suzanne Simard - by injecting fir trees with radioactive carbon isotopes (!) - ultimately showed how fungi and tree roots collaborate for each other’s benefit, an underground “network” of relationships, a mutualism.
She asserted that fungi and roots ‘forged their duality into a oneness, thereby making a forest’, a ‘co-operative system’.” Trees ‘talk’ to one another, resulting in a collaborative intelligence, a ‘forest wisdom’.
It is claimed that older trees even ‘nurture’ smaller trees that they recognize as their ‘kin’, acting as ‘mothers’.
While her tie-dye speak may be akin to the spinach email hyperbole or Silicone Valley’s hyperventilating about “singularity” – I too have been known to ascribe human qualities to trees and have even hugged one or two.
Indeed my fable, “The Fallen Tree”, embraces “forest wisdom”.
Perhaps more of a genuine mutualism and complexity can be see among starling murmuration
in which thousands of starlings a-wing make impromptu yet coordinated evasive movements to discourage predators.
But, and this is a big but, all may not be sanguine in leaderless systems.
An already noted, just like the human workplace, the WoodWW is a competition – not solely a collaborative mutualism.
A BBC News video helps explains the difference between the wish and the reality of the WoodWW, how some trees and fungi benefit by sharing nutrients and signals, and how some trees take more than they give.
What looks like mutualism is actually a closely played competition.
As one researcher put it, “For every birch donating carbon to its fir neighbors, there’s an orchid stealing carbon from nearby trees. For every plant that informs others of a disease outbreak, another sends out toxins to kill its rivals".
Sounds like the last place I worked!
Most of us want to cooperate – it comes naturally to humans - but genuine collaboration takes work to avoid imbalance; it takes sacrifice and not always getting what you want.
This is where leadership matters.
As for the Internet, by leadership I am not talking about an executive council or dictator to regulate the Internet.
What’s needed is for the producers and consumers (US -you and me) of content to lead in letting the platforms know we are not going along.
If you don’t like Facebook (for umpteen reasons), stop giving them content.
If you are offended by the egregious censorship on Twitter, stop tweeting.
If you are tired of Google’s money-grubbing, privacy-plundering ad biz and its skewed search results, use another search engine or go to the library and ask a trustworthy librarian.
If you are offended by Amazon’s “book-burning”, go to another vendor.
Apply your opting out to any and all Internet participants who assert they know best.
Remember, the Internet is us.

Only two days left.
Leading from the Middle: Changing approaches to library leadership and communication,” offered May 3-28, 2021.
Lyda Fontes McCartin, Interim Director, Center for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning, University of Northern Colorado
Andrea Falcone, Dean, Steely Library; Northern Kentucky University,
I have no connection with this class, but it looks interesting since the title is identical to my book from 2010, Leading from the Middle.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021


Posted by jlubans on April 15, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Bridger in “Come on, let’s go!” mode.

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."

This will be the third time I’ve written about this fable. You can see the 2012 version here
and the 2016 one here.
To set the scene for 2021:
Should I stay or should I go?
I was on tenterhooks, as they say.
Well, as much as a tranquil 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.
Instead, the new boss focused on pulling the organization out of its well-worn ruts: “We’ve always done it this way!”
It would be a labor worthy of Hercules.
My ideas for the organization aligned with those of the new boss.
Predictably, these ideas conflicted with my peers stuck in the status quo, namely, that our problem was not stodginess, it was a lack of staff. “All we need is MORE”, they crooned.
One day my boss called me aside and asked if I was up for a challenge.
He told me I was a “bent reed”, bent toward his way of doing things.
In other words, I probably could learn to do things his way.
I would have appreciated a different metaphor, indeed another fable. Instead of alluding to the “Tree and the Reed” he could have used the present fable.
Yes, I was that dog at the door, barking: “I’m ready, let’s get going!'”
Remember, an effective follower like me thinks independently and believes in his or her vision just as much as any effective leader.
While the bent reed allusion didn’t make me feel warm all over, it sure beat being fired!
Subsequently, he asked me to lead and turn around the most recalcitrant departments. Their excessive pride and an inflexible bureaucratic mindset had pretty much painted a target on their backs.
Earlier calls for simplification invariably were met with additional layers of complexity resulting in more bottlenecks, backlogs and alienated clients.
I was not certain I had the expertise to unravel this mess, but, lo and behold, his choosing me proved to be brilliant.
I was no “expert” so I was unafraid to ask the people doing the work for their help.
Nor, as he insightfully surmised, did I have the hubris of my predecessors who believed it was their birth-right to dictate solutions.
So, I took a collaborative approach (it's called letting go) and gave the staff free rein to innovate and to implement long delayed changes. In short, tons of positive results.

*Source: Babrius, Fable 110 translated by Thomas James 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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© Copyright all text and photo John Lubans 2021

Joie de Vivre

Posted by jlubans on April 11, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Photo by John Lubans July 2013, Riga, Latvia.

Our kitchen window overlooks Salem’s downtown, including a large bank building. At quitting time, a parade of office workers streams forth.
Recently, a couple of young women – in their work clothes - were walking toward the parking lot. One began to dance, a graceful move, more waltz than Watusi.
Her friend responded with a similar, but different, step.
Obviously, they were happy to be done for the day or, maybe, they had somewhere fun to go.
That bit of exuberant joy – which continued all the way to their car - took me back to 2013, to an open air sports stadium where hundreds of folk-dance groups were performing.
It was the outdoor dance venue for the quinquennial Song and Dance Festival in Riga, Latvia which celebrates national song, dance, music, theater, art and crafts with approximately 40,000 performers.
The above photo is of two of the thousands of folk dancers. They were taking a victory lap around the track at performance’s end. Who would ever think from this photo of the soaking rainstorm half way through the festival that poured down for a half hour; yet, without hesitation, the performers danced through the rain and the puddles on the turf?
The beatific, beaming expression on their faces, brings to mind the joy we can find in a job well done - of “nailing it” – in solidarity with others in the human community, with people we like, achieving something greater than what we could do alone.
Latvians, as introverted as any of the three Baltic nations, rarely smile in public. The joke that’s told is that their non-stop smiling during the five-day song and dance festival
uses up their smile rations until the next festival!
There’s another, darker interpretation for the grim faces; it’s how you learn to look during 50 years of communist rule.
I think I could make an argument that the photo is an example of “flow”, that state of being when we derive great satisfaction in a doing a good job and doing it masterfully.
Our exuberance overflows.
When I ran long distance – without any aches or pains – I rejoiced in the physicality of my movement, of my gliding effortlessly (so it seemed) over hill and dale, the wind against my face, full out under the open sky.

Caption: Detail, photo by John Lubans, 2013, Riga, Latvia.

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© Copyright all text and photos John Lubans 2021


Posted by jlubans on April 06, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The Mouse (in a hole in the Wall) taunts the bull

A BULL was bitten by a Mouse, and, pained by the wound, tried to capture him.
The Mouse first reached his hole in safety, and the Bull dug into the walls with his horns, until wearied, crouching down, he slept by the hole.
The Mouse peeping out, crept furtively up his flank, and, again biting him, retreated to his hole. The Bull rising up, and not knowing what to do, was sadly perplexed.
The Mouse murmured forth, "The great do not always prevail.
There are times when the small and lowly are the strongest to do mischief."
Here the wee mousie puts one over on Ferdinand the Bull.
How does this apply to the workplace?
With just a little imagination - and my magic wand - I can relate that sanctuary Wall to a few experiences I have had with HR.
Ever seeking to avoid law suits and an organization’s embarrassment, HR sometimes produces rules and regs that stymie administrators from moving out or even disciplining ineffective people.
Like the mouse, these folks quickly learn they are safe in the HR constructed wall and that only self-sabotage or a cash payment will un-lodge them.
Yes, yes, I know HRs intentions are noble and well-intended and meant to protect employees from capricious administrators (like me).
Alas, sometimes those layers of protection backfire and result in no action taken to remedy poor performance.
Talk about a staff morale buster!
Another example is apparent in how the “mice” can hobble a basic American constitutional right - the freedom of speech (and the intellectual freedom to think for myself).
Take a look at the controversy surrounding Andy Ngo's book, “Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy”.
The rightly famous Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon had to promise the blockading antifa “mice” and the store’s censoring union employees they would only sell the book online and not display or promote it in their retail bookstores.
A fairly objective report can be found in Reason magazine.

*Source: Babrius, Fable 112 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.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Avoiding Avoidance

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


In preparing for another column on “What I Would Do Differently”, I listed out a baker’s dozen of instances in my career where I could have done better. These were conflicts; those times when someone seeks to frustrate something you want to do.
Looking at that sorry list, it dawned on me that while each of those snafus was a personal failure, my saying so and explaining how I would follow up did not address a more important question.
Could any of the dozen been averted?
What in general could I have done differently before the situation became a problem?
All too often, my silence or failure to follow up, may have escalated a small problem into something larger.
Were there not ways to anticipate and nip an incipient problem in the bud?
Was there a lack of clarity in my message, then how could I have changed that?
Did I not listen to my colleagues? How could I change that?
Were my colleagues not interested in or swayed by my intentions?
Did they not understand my purpose in making a change?
When I stated my belief that simplicity was preferable to complexity, did anyone understand what I meant?
I rarely explained; rather I assumed. And, as we know, there’s an adage for that. (When you take away the U and the ME that leaves ASS and a silly one at that).
No, we cannot know all eventualities nor do we need to, but we do want the key points well understood.
You should not leave it up to the staff to figure it out for themselves.
Some were already on my wavelength so they were not confused. Others – too many - tried to understand but, without clarity from the leader, failed to do so.
This latter outcome undercut my belief in and practice of the concept of subsidiarity; that ideas and processes are always best developed and tried out at the local level, not from above.
For that philosophy to succeed the people doing the work had to understand what I was hoping for.
At the start of any new initiative I should have made questions de rigueur, expected and wanted. Not just the abrupt “Any questions?” at the end of a meeting when everyone’s heading out the door.
Since it was not self-evident for everyone, I should have done far more follow up explaining about meanings and what was to be done. .
The Red Team technique would have been one way for those involved to really get at the pros and cons of a new way of doing something.
And, even if you can’t use a Red Team for every idea, you can do something similar, like worst-case scenarios, a plus delta, or a list of plusses and minuses and the major reasons for and against.
Any of these would help avoid the seemingly inevitable misunderstandings; they’d deter that predictable cycle I observed in those dozen miserable instances referred to at the top.
Lest ye misunderstand, I am not talking about the classical business bugbear, Communication about a made decision.
Rather, I speak of my explaining more and better of what I was trying to do and seeking feedback and advice prior to the decision. I would want to engage those working with me, both direct reports and my fellow executive leaders.
Anger was a response I underused.
For example, when one of my staff displayed an uncooperative attitude, I should have been far more explicit in why her response was unacceptable.
Instead, my tacit acceptance – like the dog in the elevator - allowed her to get away with it only to worsen matters between us.
A touch of controlled anger (a remonstrative bark or growl) would have helped get her attention and then I could have explained calmly what it was I was trying to do and what I expected from her.
After all, I was the top dog, was I not?
In another instance, I should have been furious when one of my peers grabbed me by the head, admonishing me to think.
He was offended by something I had said, perhaps jocularly, but he stepped way out of bounds when he touched me.
I ignored it, naturally, but my anger was clearly called for. I should have demanded an apology at the least and then find out what prompted that behavior.
These last few decades have given us a contrast in how leaders respond to criticism and insults. The Presidents Bush and Mr. Trump represent extremes. Mr. Trump, like a pro-wrestler, when slapped, slapped back.
That made for news and probably impeded some policy objectives but his disruptive, abrasive behavior (kick ass) also probably made some good things happen (vaccine development, for example) that never would have happened with a gentle prodding of an elephantine bureaucracy.
The Bushes, father and son, never took umbrage in public at insults hurled - like shoes - their way.
I had a mentor like that. He never sank to a backstabbing level. Indeed, I favored the Bush approach – never acknowledge an insult – over Trump’s never turn the other cheek, but perhaps there is a midpoint between the two?
Anger has its place and it can add clarity. There’s no question in my mind that I could have used it more and to better effect than I did. But, it takes practice and if you never use it, when you finally lose your temper, it won’t play out well.
Seeking clarity around conflict can be more difficult in some environments than others. I found that in ecclesiastical or academic conflict I was dealing with shadows. Innuendo, the perfumed dagger variety of intrigue was the preferred course of action. Unless you were born Byzantine, many pitfalls awaited.
It’s taken many years, but I have come to realize that frankness, sincerity, candor, honesty, all have to be made manifest. These qualities cannot be left to a guessing game. Nor can any be realized in silence.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021