Posted by jlubans on September 29, 2010  •  Leave comment (1)

While in Hollywood during the 30s, P. G. Wodehouse saw a lot of “Yes men”. He wrote a short story about this phenomenon entitled The Nodder*. In the story, decades before Robert Kelley set forth his Follower grid, Mr. Wodehouse established a hierarchy of toadyism. Sunny Hollywood, of course, was (is?) a natural breeding ground, equal to Wall Street, for the worst kind of followers what with its megalomaniacal studio bosses, a sycophantic press, the star system, and - being the only show in town during the Depression - a generous stream of cash to cover vanity payrolls, including a colony of Brits: writers, actors and penniless members of the peerage. The colony had its own cricket team.

One of those colony writers (and cricketer) was P. G. Wodehouse. It is said he endured being paid thousands for doing next to nothing (not his choice) for three years, and then his contract was not renewed. Shortly after (more likely during his three years of being under used) he wrote several stories, including at least one novel that exposed child labor in the film industry. Not at all like the muckraker Sinclair Lewis, all of Wodehouse’s writing was in good humor and with his usual celebration of the absurd.

The story includes a definition:

“A Nodder is something like a Yes-man, only lower in the social scale. A Yes-Man’s duty is to attend conferences and say “Yes.” A Nodder’s, as the name implies, is to nod. The chief executive throws out some statement of opinion and looks about him expectantly. This is the cue for the senior Yes-Man to say yes. He is followed, in order of precedence, by the second Yes-Man - or Vice-Yesser -, as he sometimes is called- and the junior Yes-Man. Only when all the Yes-Men have yessed, do the Nodders begin to function. They nod. “

The Nodder in the story is a young man who seeks the hand of a bird imitator – yes, back in the day there were vaudeville performers paid to warble. He encounters difficulty in his suit until the Cecil B. DeMille-type studio boss fires the bird imitator when she speaks truth to Cecil’s power: the cuckoo exclaims with a Wuckoo!, not a Cuckoo!. Now, the Nodder has his chance to demonstrate to his true love that he is a Real Man – or not, by telling off Cecil. Will he? Will the worm turn?

When teaching about leaders and followers, I combine the assigned reading for Kelley with Wodehouse’s Nodder short story. Some students never quite get the connection. Others immediately see the link and probably learn more from it about the iniquitous side of following than from reading Kelley with his elaboration of sheep, yes men, alienated followers and survivors.

*P. G. Wodehouse, “The Nodder”, in his Blandings Castle.
NY: The Overlook Press (original copyright, 1935) 2002,

Copyright John Lubans 2014

Dagwood Bumstead As Work Place Hero: An Everyman for the Office

Posted by jlubans on September 22, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)


Dagwood is a much more likeable wage slave than, let’s say Dilbert, that embittered and alienated staffer. In fact, Dagwood fits the Lovable Fool
archetype promoted by Casciaro & Lobo.

And Mr. (Julius) Dithers, is the stereotypical boss applying, as can be seen, a swift and literal motivation to Dagwood’s posterior; a very model of Herzberg’s Kick In The Ass (KITA) boss.
While Dagwood remains cheerfully incompetent – eating and sleeping through much of life – Mr. Dithers is ever on a slow boil, ready to erupt at every perceived incompetence of his minions.
At home it’s a different story where Cora, the Mrs., rules and induces a quaking fear in Julius akin to a trembling Jell-O. To compensate for his domestic pusillanimity, he hounds and abuses his employees, all – in good fun, of course - in mythical cartoon-land.
As Herzberg has it, KITAs are external motivators but not all KITAs are literal, some can be figurative. Indeed most work place policies and structures, e. g time clocks, rules and regs, and performance appraisals are KITAs – things done to employees to keep them in line and in hopes that they will improve.
Dagwood helps demonstrate what’s wrong with the KITA theory of motivation. Yes, there is a short-term effect – Dagwood flies through the office door - and Mr. Dithers experiences some short-term relief. But, in the next Sunday comics, Dagwood is back to his old ways, unperturbed, unchanged and unflappable. And, no doubt, Mr. Dithers, will feel his foot itching for another go - the abusive cycle kicking in.
At home, unlike Dilbert, Dagwood is eminently happy – Blondie, a model wife and cook, nice kids, Daisy, his loving dog, He bowls, but not alone. He car pools to the job. Work is a chore, a bore, something to be avoided, ignored, dilly dallied about.
In the short list of followers first delineated by Kelley,
Dagwood is a survivor. He is too much of an individual to fit Kelley’s sheep/conformist category. And, of course, he is NOT an effective/exemplary follower, that extraordinary individual who enjoys her work and brings much intelligence and energy to it.
I’ve known a few Dagwoods, though they’ve never been as cheerful as Mr. B. Work was not where they wanted to be and they worked all the angles to have as little of it as possible. They were on the job, but not fully there. Whenever nearby, I could feel my inner Mr. Dithers stirring. It was frustrating in two ways. One the job not getting done as well as it could and if we applied a KITA, there was no lasting effect.
You have to ask, what would it take for Dagwood to enjoy his job, what would it take for him to derive as much satisfaction O.T.J. as he gets from building one of his 6 layer sandwiches? Well, for one thing, it’d take a different boss.
Mr. Dithers, in my own taxonomy of bosses (Chapter 12) is not the Benign Bumbler (low insecurity and low competence), nor is he exactly the Radioactive Boss (high insecurity and high competence). No, he is more like the Petty Boss, with high insecurity and perhaps less competence than desirable.
If a new boss insisted it was Dagwood’s responsibility to do a good job, that it was Dagwood’s choice to do just that, then we might see Dagwood begin to derive a greater satisfaction from work. Of course, a KITA – in all its slapstick glory - is a lot more visually gratifying than someone going about doing a great job. And, if work at Dithers & Co. is an unrelenting grind no matter how much we gussy it up, well, then Dagwood is probably doing the best he can.


Posted by jlubans on September 11, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

This November I dust off my "Attitudes" workshop for a full day session in Atlanta. Whenever I do this workshop, I wonder if the people that are participating have been "sent" - sent in like their boss has told them in a most discreet way, of course, they need to turn around their BAD 'tude. Of course, anyone "sent" knows the score. The thought of all those grim faces gives me pause, sort of like a Christian about to be served up as an appetizer to the lions at the Coliseum.

But, my real reason for posting is to share this charming and highly evocative ad from Southwest Airlines - the book has two chapters on teams at SWA. The flight attendant's bonhomie and posture remind me, inexplicably at the moment, of paintings by Hals, Rubens, or Vermeer. I have not yet found the painting that's in my mind's eye (a laughing woman, in a yellow blouse, head tipped back) but I feel confident it is out there. Help me please if you have an idea. (N.B. I am using this ad with SWA's permission, September 8, 2011. The person pictured is a flight attendant at SWA.)
20100911-Tude SWA medium.jpg

The Rope & The Coach

Posted by jlubans on September 09, 2010  •  Leave comment (0)

While preparing for my October 5 Coaching for Results workshop in Atlanta I came across one of my past Hurricane Island Outward Bound adventures. Along with "sailing" (more like rowing for hours!) the Hurricane Island experience included a rock climb:

I was near the top of the cliff, secure as one can be on a narrow supporting ledge of rock 80 feet up. Below, blocks of granite littered the quarry floor, their sharp edges upraised like so many Brobdingnagian
molars. I rested against my unreasonably thin safety rope and wondered. How was I going to get to the top? Less rational was the incessant trembling in my legs.

The coach’s voice invisibly hailed me from above.
“See the rope? Grab it and I’ll pull you up!”
To the right, several feet away and up, he’d dropped a sturdy looking rope with a knot tied in the end. The kind of rope I never could get up in gym.
“You’ll have to jump to catch it,” advised the voice.
“To the side. You can do it”.
What? And leave the safety of my ledge?
“Sure. You’re ready to stretch yourself. Try it.”

What if I miss?
My first shaky try failed and I scraped against the granite, cursing, scrambling back to the few inches of the ledge. I counted my bruises and composed myself. I heard the encouraging shouts of my teammates below.

The voice again, from above. “Nice try. Think about where you want to go and how to get there. Use your resources. Now, tell me a joke.”
I don’t want to tell anyone a joke.
“OK, then sing me a song.”
Go to $%^#@ hell. I definitely don’t want to sing.
“OK, take your time.” The rope slithered away out of my view.

It got quiet. The beauty of the late afternoon sank into me. There was a sky above me and not far away I could see and hear the wind soothing the tremulous trees. Closer in, the quartz crystals locked in the cool stone face glimmered, coming into focus.

Gee, there’s got to be a joke I can tell. Oh, yeah. The one about the armadillos.

My teammates hooted and hollered in appreciation. Feigned or not, it was a tonic, lifting my spirits.

My coach lowered the rope.

I thought about what it would take to make this leap, a leap of faith for me and my coach.

I told myself: “From the toes and up, over to the side, and close to the cliff.”

With a prayer, I launched myself… and soared across the miles.

How does the coach help?
What role does the team play?
What moves the person to leap?

LfM: A "good addition to the management shelf...".

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

The September 2010 issue of American Libraries, p. 50, briefly reviews Leading from the Middle in the Librarian's Library segment by Mary Ellen Quinn. The book's cover gets a pic all of its own,(nice design, what ho!) and Ms. Quinn recommends the book as a "good addition to the management shelf...".

Case 3: Team Dynamics

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


What do you decide to do about these not uncommon team situations? What might be driving the team member’s behavior? Do you call the behavior or ignore it? Tell me why.

1. Hal waxes eloquent with little prompting. Actually, sometimes without any prompting. He’s infatuated with the sound of his voice. When a simple yes or no would suffice, Hal goes on for two or three minutes or more. You’re the team leader and you’ve been keeping track of Hal’s “airtime” in team meetings. He’s at about 50%, and gaining. While there’s usually some value in his comments, his verbosity is shutting down other viewpoints, especially from quieter team members whom he leaves, literally, speechless.

2. Sally and Ralph sit side by side in your team’s weekly meeting. They often whisper during team discussions. You have no idea if what they are murmuring about is related to the topic under discussion. Every now and then, when the general team discussion gets a bit unfocused, they’ll get into an out loud side-conversation totally irrelevant to the topic being discussed. You get a sense their behavior is annoying to the other team members, but so far no one has confronted them, including, you, the team leader. Do you?

3. Lucy is a know it all. She ignores other team members’ viewpoints, giving the impression that her view is better informed than anyone else’s. Lucy can quote chapter and verse on most policies and procedures. However, her arguments, invariably, are to maintain the status quo rather than to improve and make changes. In the process she silences other team members who do not have the familiarity she has with the topic and are fearful of being shown up. Yet, you know these silenced team members have very good ideas. Confront?

4. Jack really, really, would like to be back in his cubicle cataloging books rather than in the weekly team meeting. His disdain for team work is on view as he squirms in his seat, checks his watch, and rolls his eyes when discussion goes on and on. He tries to hurry the process along so he can get back to his “real work”, as he calls it. He is a highly productive worker, is very courteous outside of team meetings, and has a fine sense of humor. He simply detests team projects. What’s up?

5. In team discussions, Jamie is supportive of other views, builds on ideas, listens keenly, asks constructive questions and provides excellent feedback. Her failing? Whenever she volunteers to do extra work for the team, which she does often, she rarely completes it on time, if ever. When confronted about her procrastination, Jamie rattles off lots of reasons why her work is delayed. Keep on keepin’ on?

6. Sofia’s a hard working team member in this public services unit. But she has a knack for turning team discussion into a negative energy drain. A cheerleader for her own team, she has nothing good to say about the other teams in the organization: to her they are all incompetent. Sofia has derisive names for the members of other teams, including “deadwood”, “shiftless,” “asleep at the switch”, etc. Since you must collaborate with these groups, Sofia’s disdain is a major stumbling block. Well, WHAT are you going to do about Sofia?