"ishness" and other attitudes

Posted by jlubans on August 25, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

I’ve mentioned previously that I was impressed with the idea of using children’s literature as a way to introduce and discuss management topics. The idea comes from Frances R. Yates, Director of the Indiana University East Library; it’s one she presented at the ALA conference in DC this June. I have been thinking about that program ever since. I’ve come up with a short list of kids’ books I plan to use in my workshop on November 17 in Atlanta: “Attitudes: Changing Problem Behavior in the Work Place”.
The reader will no doubt conclude that the subtitle is on the optimistic side. Well, so are the kids’ books – that is part of their charm and facilitates the ease with which we can engage their basic ideas. Yes, it may be unrealistic to expect a Halleluiah moment where the sour employee’s gloom and doom is switched to sunshine and flowers. We can expect, if the employee is listening, a first step toward re-considering his or her attitude. Is it time to explore where the attitude comes from and perhaps to choose a different attitude or to look for work elsewhere?

Without having figured out the protocol for how I will use them (in 45 minutes or so), here are five children’s books (three were on Ms. Yates’ handout) that might lead to frank discussion about attitudes. I probably won’t use all five. Let me know what you think.

Mon. Saguette and His Baguette. Frank Asch.
Mon. Saguette is making soup. Sacre bleu! What is soup without bread? Buys baguette. “Help”, cries a little girl, get my cat down from the tree. He does with the baguette serving as ladder. A crocodile is about to eat a baby! Baguette props open croc’s jaws. No baton to lead the parade? No problem... Ah, good soup as he eats the bread. And, then, wasting nothing, he feeds the crumbs to birds.

Not only is Mon. Saguette resourceful, he remains cheerful and unflappable throughout. When faced with a challenge, humorously presented, he does not fall down and gnash his teeth in despair. Au contraire, he smiles and waves his baguette at the problem. Zoot! His is a mind set and attitude that creatively uses existing resources to meet new or unexpected needs.

Changes, Changes. Pat Hutchins.
No words. Two wooden dolls, a boy and a girl, with an assortment of wooden blocks.
They build a house, each doing his or her fair share. Fire erupts, an alarm. They refigure blocks to put out the fire, losing some, but not all. A flood ensues from the firefighting. Make a boat and sail away. Land on beach; make a truck, (albeit fewer resources, still resourceful) then a train. Disassemble train and build their house. Finis.

The book is about being resourceful and inventive, theirs is a can-do, positive attitude. They do not stop and wait for rescue, they use what they have. Challenges are overcome by reconfiguring literally; both people survive, and appear the better for it.

(I)ish. Peter Reynolds.
Ramon loves to draw. Big brother ridicules his efforts. Ramon tries to make a drawing “right”. Then, “I’m done” he declares in exasperation. (I give up!) His sister Marisol… runs off with his discarded drawing. Her wall is covered with his drawings!
“it looks vase-ish.” They do look “ish” “Thinking “ishly”, allowed Ramon’s ideas to flow freely.” Making an ish drawing, felt wonderful.
Poem-ish poetry. Ramon lives ishfully ever after.

Often close enough can be good enough. An answer that’s not the perfect answer is better than NO ANSWER. Approximation, essences, efforts, attempts, mistakes, potentials, all that. It’s more than OK to not be “right.”

“ish-ness” often happens in work places (democracies) where there are many ideas, agendas, and limitations. The result isn’t perfect for everyone, but it’s a step in the right direction; it’s movement to the next “ish”. Ish is less about right than about action, and an attitude of resolve to do something and not to talk it to death.

Grumblebunny. Bob Hartman, pics by David Clark
3 sweet bucktoothed bunnies and their grumpy cousin, Grumblebunny (GB) have an adventure. GB looks depressed and that is indeed his attitude.
When the trio says, “Let’s go and do.” GB says it looks like rain, etc. He has many reasons not to do something. All go anyway. GB sees wolf tracks. Meet up with a whacked-out wolf; the bunnies wind up in his game bag. The wolf dumps bunnies into a cauldron for soup. “What fun!”, exclaim the bunnies. GB: not fun, we’ve got to get out of here. Bunnies are angry with GB. Not happy. Wolf tastes soup. Why sour? Don’t you know we are all grumpy bunnies? Others go along. Dumps pot. Bunnies run home. What fun say the bunnies. GB goes to bed.
The realist (GB) saves the day for overly optimistic bunnies. His negative attitude and suspicion save the bunnies. However, these bunnies plan to play with the wolf tomorrow. Lesson unlearned!

Terrific. Jon Agee.
Free vacation? Terrific (sarcasm)! I’ll probably get a sunburn! The cruise ship sinks, leaving Eugene on an island. Terrific, I’ll be eaten by cannibals, he worries. Nobody there but a parrot. What good’s a parrot? asks glum Gene. The parrot responds, “I am here because of a busted wing”. What’s to eat? Pomegranates. Terrific! Parrot draws plans for a boat. Terrific. Who’s going to build it? You are. He does. Good job. A sail? Terrific. Where? You are wearing it. Terrific! Cost me $30. Sail off. Drifting. Thirsty. Crash into a Ship. Eugene and parrot are hauled out of the water. Bird belongs to boat. Sailors make fun of bird and Eugene objects. Lenny talk? No, the parrot does not talk. Boat lands in Bermuda. Eugene gets off. Adios says boat guy. No parrot. Parrot stays with Eugene. A friend now. Eugene: “Terrific!” with a smile.

How attitude gets turned around. How the cynic, realist, begins to trust another creature. It takes work for that to happen. Habits born of mistrust take time and actions to unlearn.


Leadership from the Dead

Posted by jlubans on August 22, 2010  •  Leave comment (2)

August 23 update: I thought I'd share one of my definitions for what it means to be empowered, like the Dead Head staff is said to be:
Empowerment is an overall freedom for the individual to do good in and for the organization in pursuit of agreed upon organizational goals. It includes an awareness of others and their contribution, and a willing, active support for others.
Do we recruit people who can put that philosophy into action? What does this real empowerment look like? How is it made manifest?
<<<<<<<<< >>>>>>>>>>

My book, Leading from the Middle, has two chapters (The Invisible Leader & Peer Coaching for the New Library) and several allusions about and to a musical organization (Orpheus Chamber Orchestra), along with a chapter (Orchestrating Success: A Profile of Simone Young, Conductor) about a musical leader.
So, it is only natural that I was drawn to an organizational theory discussion of the musical group, The Grateful Dead, written by management professor, Barry Barnes: “Strategic Improvisation: Management Lessons from the Dead.”*

When I first saw the title, I was reminded of a bit of office humor posted in a cubicle: If you doubt there’s life after death, come around here at quittin’ time!

Professor Barnes applies and explains Frank Barrett’s strategic improvisation technique to the long run and huge success of the Grateful Dead. He quotes Barrett from 1998: “…when improvising musicians get together they ‘do what managers find themselves doing: fabricating and inventing novel responses without a pre-scripted plan and without certainty of outcomes; discovering the future that their action creates as it unfolds.’” (p.269). Of course, Mr. Barrett is referring to managers who proactively seek a solution to an anticipated challenge. Passive managers often avoid or delay taking action by following management formulas, like strategic planning.)
Strategic improvisation has seven requirements that transcend beyond music to other types of organizations.
1. Interrupting habits
2. Embracing errors as a source of learning
3. Allowing maximum flexibility through minimal structures
4. Continually negotiating toward dynamic synchronicity
5. Relying on retrospective sense making
6. Learning informally and developing group norms
7. Alternating between soloing and supporting

When I applied these requirements to my observed “Take-Aways for the Non-Musical Boss” from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, I found several similarities:
Take turns leading, take turns following (Barrett’s #3 & 7).
Encourage independent and articulate critical thinking (1, 2 & 4).
Manage self, disagree agreeably (4 & 6).
Listen with all your heart (4).
Be responsible toward the organization (2 & 6).
Demonstrate a philosophy of work that values followers and leaders (1, 2, 4, & 7).

Employee empowerment is a much misunderstood, misapplied, and, subsequently, maligned term, yet genuine empowerment is highly desirable according to Prof. Barnes: “Alternating between soloing and supporting is a critical ingredient for organizations where employees must not only follow but also lead from time to time … as they deal with the novel and unexpected situation.”
For the Grateful Dead, “Even with the greater degree of formality and structure of a corporation, they (the band) continued to alternate between soloing and supporting with the role of president rotated among willing band/board members.” (p.276). In other words, genuine empowerment.
I whole heartedly second Professor Barnes that strategic improvisation can produce a healthier and more responsive organization, one that is more able to anticipate and respond. The question that needs answering for an older non-improvisational culture is how does one become a Dead Head?; how does one implement this new way of working? What has to change in your workplace for it to align more with the way of the Grateful Dead or the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra or Southwest Airlines? Starting with yourself, what would you change? Play on!
* The Grateful Dead in Concert : Essays on Live Improvisation edited by James Alan Tuedio and Stan Spector. Jefferson, NC : McFarland, 2010 (pp.267-278)

Shipwrecks & Leadership

Posted by jlubans on August 17, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

August 20 update: Joan Druett pointed me to a review of her book that also emphasizes the leadership differences between the two shipwrecked crews. Her next nonfiction book is Tupaia, due out at the end of November. Tupaia, Ms. Druett told me, "... is (about) another failure of leadership, this time focused on flexibility and ethnocentric arrogance -- on the part of no less than Captain James Cook!"

Joan Druett’s Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World (Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, NC, 2007) spins a great adventure story and along the way offers up several insights into leadership and how, when democratized, an essential-to-survival camaraderie can develop. In a disaster like a shipwreck, the all-for-one and one-for-all model greatly improves the odds for a group’s survival. When leadership is absent or uncertain a group can begin to deteriorate, to fly apart and self-destruct.

Druett’s story of two shipwrecks (the Grafton and the Invercauld) on Auckland Island, some 300 miles south of New Zealand, lays out what happened to those who survived the wreck and then endured months of cold, rain, storms and starvation, disease and hopelessness in an unknown, uninhabited and inhospitable land. The two ships’ crews never met, being at least 20 miles separated by a mountain range and dense forests, one in the south the other in the north.
The story reconstructs what happened and how one crew survived while most of the other perished.

Ms. Druett’s is an adventure story, not an how-to-lead textbook – I doubt it was featured in the Harvard Business Review of important new reads in 2007 for aspiring leaders - but her insights, her observations about the crews’ struggle to stay alive, apply to a workshop’s floor, a factory’s assembly line and bureaucratic offices.

One chapter, Democracy, follows the Grafton’s crew after its Jan 3,1864 wreck. While now tossed up on the shore, they were still arranged like on shipboard - sailors and officers separate. A mood of democracy was developing among the men, with rank becoming less important. Captain Musgrave saw that his orders, while obeyed, were done so with less than a happy spirit. Musgrave was puzzled, “…I share everything that has been saved from the wreck in common with them, and I have worked as hard as any of them in trying to make them comfortable, and I think gratitude ought to prompt them to still continue willing and obedient.”
The ship’s mate, Francois Raynal, a veritable Robinson Crusoe in his resourcefulness, observed and understood that “if habits of bitterness and animosity were once established amongst us, the consequences could not but be most disastrous: we stood so much in need of one another.
Realizing just how interdependent they now were, Raynal thought of a way to intervene before hard feelings become fast anchored: elect a leader.
After agreeing on a job description, the men heartily chose Captain Musgrave! He was to be not a master or a superior but a “head” or “chief of the family.” He “would maintain discipline, adjudicate quarrels, and give out daily tasks.” So, ship’s Captain Musgrave continued in a newly nuanced leader’s role with a group of empowered followers.

Contributing to a sustaining empowerment was the suggestion to set up a school to pass the long dreary winter evenings. Each was to instruct the other in their specialties. This included teaching two of the men to read. Raynal wrote in his diary: “From that evening we were alternately the master and the pupil of each other. These new relations still further united us; by alternately raising and lowering us one above the other, they really kept us on a level, and created a perfect equality among us.”

The Invercauld wrecked on May 10, 1864 with four of the 25 man crew dying in the storm. Robert Holding, a low rank sailor, yet highly inventive and resolute, quickly found himself up against a dysfunctional and unrelenting hierarchy. The ship’s Captain Dalgarno either was incapacitated by fear or unable to provide proactive leadership. The captain, for whatever reason, could not or would not issue orders or relinquish his traditional leadership. Subsequently, many of the crew – often splintered apart - died from exposure, starvation and accidents, including a strong suspicion of cannibalism. Only the intrepid Robert Holding, the captain and his mate survived, being rescued by a whaler that happened to pass by the island.
Druett attributes the survival of the two officers to a superior diet prior to sailing, unlike most of the sailors who were not well nourished ahead of the departure. For several months, the captain and mate lived 65 yards separated from Holding, only coming closer to partake in food Holding had hunted down.
After rescue, Captain Dalgarno would write his shipwreck memoirs never crediting Robert Holding for his survival. Holding did write his own memoirs many years later, having enjoyed a successful life, long outliving the Captain, who was never to see another command. Druett suggests that if Holding had been allowed to be more of a leader many of the men would have survived. Musgrave had similar, private thoughts after reading Dalgarno’s contemporaneous account of the shipwreck. The Invercauld’s “organization” and culture would not adapt, even when confronted with life or death decisions.

Collaborative Activity # 1: The Group Juggle

Posted by jlubans on August 10, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

(This is the first of an occasional posting on group activities I have used in my workshops and in teaching. I hope that you will give them a try – maybe at your next staff development day - and let me know how it went.)

A game, the group juggle, can be played to show individuals how well they and a group can problem solve, among other learnings. The challenge is for them to “juggle” as a group with no balls - or other, perhaps more easily grasped, objects like stuffed soft toy animals - dropped and everyone touching the ball at least once. First comes the establishment of an “order” or “process” by which to accomplish the task. Usually this means setting up the routes for the ball (or “Beanie Baby” cat) to travel around the circle. For many groups not used to playing, this first step is characterized by confusion and uncertainty; occasionally some question the activity itself – what’s the point? Rarely does any group, small or large, immediately fire the ball back and forth and achieve an immediate solution. Obviously, in a game like this the traditional individual roles of department head or expert are obscured, even suspended. Indirectly, new relationships will develop, ones that may extend beyond the game. And, this activity serves as a forum for observing how ideas are brought up, treated and respected; who says what and how the group experiments to reach a solution.

As the second step I add the concept of “quality” by asking the group to define the term and its cost. Often the participants settle on quality as not dropping the ball or “Beanie Baby” in its course around the circle. The cost is usually starting over whenever the ball is dropped. The third step is “capacity.” How many balls or stuffed toys can the group handle within its quality and process definitions? When the group has reached 3 or 4 balls, I time the process and announce the time to the group.

With the announcement comes the fourth segment, the challenge for them to juggle productively. Usually the group elects to reduce the time they take in sending the balls around the group. Soon the balls are flying rapidly across and around the circle and; yes, the group does become more productive, often reducing by 25% to 50% the time they take. At this point, to the group’s disbelief, I ask them to improve their time by another 50%. Some would prefer to stop the game, believing that whatever they’ve achieved is good enough; that management (me) is once again asking for the impossible. Others accept the challenge – after all, it’s just a game, right? – and begin to innovate. After a few minutes to discuss ideas the group looks about for available resources (including gravity), exerts its creativity, and/or adjusts its shape or configuration within the limits of the game. More often than not, the group dramatically reduces its time, sometimes exceeding the stated goal and by working smarter does do more with existing resources than any in the group previously thought would be possible.

As the above should suggest, productivity in groups of people is a complicated notion that involves among other things the individual values of the participants, process, cost, quality and creative problem solving. When we are productive in the true sense of the word as I use it, we are being the best we can be.
For the debrief – the part when you ask the group to describe what juggling cats has to do with work – you might ask them to evaluate their group in writing, anonymously. I assure you will be surprised at the difference between a verbal debrief and the written. Use the written evaluations in some way, perhaps read them out loud after shuffling the anonymous pieces of paper to keep anonymity. Do not display the evaluations so the writing shows.

Ask the group to talk about what might have gone better in their group. What transfers are there to the work place. How did the quickest team get to be the quickest team? Did anyone dominate a group? Did anyone opt out of the game? Who collaborated and helped the group achieve a collective goal? Is one group’s copying another group’s best practice ethical?

In brief:
Juggle Challenge

Objective: “Juggle” the ball around circle as quickly as possible, the faster the better.
All circle up.
First person (#1) throws the ball to someone across from them (person #2). Do not toss the ball to a person next to you. (See drawing).

Number 2 throws to someone across from them, person #3. Etc. Call out the name of the person to whom you are throwing. That may help set the routine.

Keep doing this until everyone in circle has caught and thrown the ball. Keep this pattern for all the challenges. You can reorganize or regroup, but not change the pattern. 1 throws to 2, 2 throws to 3, etc.

You’ll have a minute in between challenges to talk about new ways to do the juggle. Remember, everyone has to touch the ball in the sequence established in the first round.

Four challenges:
1. Set a baseline speed.
2. Improve on the baseline – Reorganize.
3. Faster?
4. Fastest?

BONUS: Balloon Juggle & Sort:
Balloons are invariably fun, so try out this balloon version of the group. I’d expect to learn quite a bit about the group and its dynamics, particularly when the group attempts to sort balloons by color while keeping all balloons aloft. Raise the level of difficulty: “no hands” and see what happens. Was the group’s behavior ethical? How about quality and productivity?

Each person blows up a balloon and tosses it into the air. The group must then keep all balloons in the air. Once they've got the hang of it, ask them to keep juggling the balloons, but to sort them into colors. To make it harder, add a rule or two: no hands. Depending on the fitness level of the group, tweak the rules: knees only, feet only, elbows only, all the while stressing safety, of course.

Fulbrighters to Latvia

Posted by jlubans on August 08, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

Here we are at the Fulbright Orientation in Washington DC July 23, 2010.
Top row from left: Jordan Kuck, Chris Beaty, me, Mark Steiner, Kevin Healy. Bottom row from left: Brittany Kuck, Courtney Kersten, Kay Dennis. Kay leads the way. She starts lecturing this month at Liepaja University!

20100808-2010:11 Latvia Fulbrighters.jpeg

More Than A Game

Posted by jlubans on August 02, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

A dismal bit of news about a Women’s basketball team set me to thinking about my experiences in observing Coach Gail Goestenkoers – one of the best in the field - guide an immature and unproven team to its first-ever conference championship. The news item was about the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) Women’s basketball program and a long list of grievances from players about the coach. The charges read like a Twelve Steps program for Demoralizing a Team. Apparently, what’s been brewing for the past four years has boiled over with the local newspaper’s expose. The story suggests a vacuum of leadership on and off the court, a meanness of misleading that only a really bad boss might envy.
At long last the IUPUI administration is taking action and has appointed a three person investigatory panel to probe the allegations of public humiliation and emotional abuse perpetrated by the head coach and one of her assistants. A total of 28 players and coaches have quit over the past four years, with one declaring, “I grew to hate basketball”. Of course - if there is substance to the story – where was the administrative oversight of the coaching staff?

My essay (Chapter 8: More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team) in Leading from the Middle tells a different story. Observing organizations always help me better understand and appreciate the many theories about what happens in the work place. Unexpectedly, my following this team and coach helped me deal with a rough patch in my career: the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune were falling all about me (you can quote me on that!). So, seeing Coach G build and shape a team in her supportive and positive ways was a form of healing. I recall my personal joy – think screaming-with-tears-in-my-eyes for the last ten minutes of the game - when what had now become my team upset the enemy. Irrationally enough, the other team represented (for me) the top-down command and control way of working that I have always resented and resisted. My team’s huge win was a vindication of sorts. Seeing how Coach Gail led her team affirmed my self-managing ways and confirmed the best ways to set people free to do their best work.

Throughout practices, locker room sessions, one-on-one meetings with individual players, coaches’ meetings, and in games, I observed Coach G’s respect, caring and fondness for the players. She was clear about roles and expectations, she was firm and demanding. And she would, on occasion, yell at players during practice. But, the fiery feedback was always about what was lacking and what needed to be done for improvement. Never did the yelling or other criticism turn into a rant or a personal attack. Her criticism was always about something within the player’s control and within team expectations – mutually shared by players and coaches. Importantly, that constructive criticism was always softened with a ratio of four or five positive statements to the one negative.

I will be leading one of my Coaching workshops for the Lyrasis library network in Atlanta on October 5. Part of my talk will draw from my season with Gail’s team. I show participants this team huddle picture, photographed by my friend Toni Tetterton, to illustrate what an effective team looks like. What do you see in this picture? While the coach has a crucial role in assuring the team’s coming together it is, at some point, up to each player to subordinate the individual for the good of the team. And, there is a point when the coach has to let go, has to subordinate herself to the team.
20100802-TEAM b-ball.jpg