From Bees to Bradford

Posted by jlubans on February 25, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

“We encourage all Bradford residents to come and participate in this annual exercise of democracy.” That’s the message on the Vermont town (est. pop, 2716) of Bradford's web site.
I’ll be inside the auditorium of the depicted Bradford Academy building on March 6 as a guest observer courtesy of Larry Coffin, the town’s Moderator.
Why will I be there? Because the Bradford town meeting is mentioned as an outstanding example of the democratic-decision making process. It is an annual event led by a moderator and not an elected or appointed boss. I know about Bradford (and Larry) from mentions in two books:

Miller, Peter. The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done.
New York: Penguin Group 2010 (Describes the Bradford town meeting process on pp. 86-91)
Seeley, Thomas D. Honeybee Democracy
. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 2010 (Seeley comments, on pages 221 & 223, about Larry Coffin’s 40 years of moderating Bradford’s Town Meetings.)
This year there will be a new moderator; Larry has said 40 years is enough, but he will remain one year more as the Parliamentarian who interprets Robert's Rules of Order when procedural questions come up. And, I’d guess he will be there to offer assistance and support as needed for the new Moderator.
Seeley says the effective democratic leader, based on what he has learned from his research on honeybees, is limited to the following:
1. States group’s object
2. Defines group’s decision-making process
3. Keeps group on track
4. Fosters a balanced discussion
5. Identifies when decision is reached
New England town meetings go back to 1663. That first meeting occurred in Dorchester, Massachusetts, near Boston.
Town meetings have their critics, including James Madison: "In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob."
Mr. Madison makes it sound somewhat like a pro wrestling match (I’d expect Passion’s costume (yes, there is a lady wrestler by that name) to beat Reason’s every time). Of course, long after Mr. Madison spoke of Athenian mobs (true to this day!) Civil War General Henry M. Robert’s Rules of Order have helped Reason keep her scepter.
I'll be posting my observations a few days after the meeting.

The Not-So-Big-Dance: Performance Appraisal

Posted by jlubans on February 19, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

It's that time of year. In many workplaces across our fair corporate landscape, that old chestnut, Performance Appraisal, unlike that "gentle rain from heaven," bonks us on our heads. It certainly is raining not mercy but chestnuts at my friend's job; in his case, like at many others, the process involves a multi-page form, chock-full of corporate-speak with expectations of much introspection and deliberation by the incumbent and the supervisor.

While the two of us commiserated, the term “dance-like ritual” popped into my head. Whether I was the reviewer, the reviewee, or the 5th signature on the sign-off sheet, I had little faith PA was worth the negligible result. (In fact, Chapter 34 in Leading from the Middle, “I've Closed My Eyes to the Cold Hard Truth I'm Seeing: Making Performance Appraisal Work” describes what happened when a large organization, letting go, gave up performance appraisal: NOTHING, except we had higher productivity, a lot more time for real work and real conversation between leaders and followers!)

I googled “Dance and performance appraisal” and several hits came up with "the dance" used to describe the ritual engineered by Human Resources departments around the globe. While the source pages did not elaborate much on the meaning of that use of the term, I sensed a Dilbertean sarcasm and that PA is no happier an event than what it was in my time: a contrived corporate event.

My humorous brain wave of “dance” was triggered in large part by images of the “waggle” dances put on by scout bees when describing and recommending a hive’s next home. (See my honey bee write up here.) It’s a serious, democratic process, a joyful one. (We’ll, with all that buzzing, curveting, and tail shaking the bees do look joyful!)
The scout bees let everyone know what they have been up to and what has gone well and, by omission, what has not gone so well. And, each of the scouts recommends a new home site, the future for their organization.

If bees use dance to describe their aspirations, why not us cleverer humans? Let’s use dance to replace the frowsy form.

How would it work? Each person in the organization invents a dance to show how things are going and where they want to be in the next year. Interpretive dance, straight from the 60s.

Kindly judges are poised to dish out high praise:
What dance will claim the gold cup, the 10? What would reap the highest score for ingenuity and expressiveness?

A stately minuet? Tepid tango? Or, fevered fandango? Or, from the executive suite: a boss-led conga line? Maybe a square dance is more apt?

Or, for those rare self-managing teams, an updated Hokey Pokey (It really is what it’s all about! Or, is it?)

I’m for adapting what the bees do. I envision a swarm of wagglers, earnestly shaking their backsides, giving us coordinates for the future and telling us what’s good and what needs change.

A requisite: Since it takes two to tango - you can quote me - the PA dance has to be a partnership between those who supervise and those who are supervised. I almost said “those who need supervision”, but thought better of it.

Like Leah Long, my dance instructor, says:
“On the dance floor, good leaders initiate the movement they want from their partner and then follow the movement they've created.” Apply that concept of leading and following in lieu of the traditional PA process and see the difference.

But, remember:

Now, where did I leave those castanets?

Complementary book to Leading from the Middle

Posted by jlubans on February 15, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Middle Management in Academic and Public Libraries is a 2011 book from ABC-Clio/ Libraries Unlimited, edited by Tom Diamond.
MMiA&PL cites my Leading from the Middle six times. It may be of interest to readers of LfM who want to explore more fully the role of the middle manager. I look forward to reading it.

Mr. Diamond’s book has a dozen or more contributors and is divided into five parts:

Managing and Managing People
Creating a Leadership Development Program
Managing Cross Collaborations
Managing Change in Library Services
Developing Managerial Skill

Gredzens (The Ring): A Fairytale about following and leading*

Posted by jlubans on February 12, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

(Illustration 1. A collection of plays by Mirdza Timma)
RAITS is the prince, born to wealth and splendor. TISS is the orphaned, barefoot swineherd. Legend has it that a miasma-shrouded castle, laden with treasure, in the middle of an enchanted forest awaits a liberator. But only if the knight errant can survive a battle with a 9-headed dragon and discover a magic ring – hidden somewhere in the wooded landscape - before darkness descends. If you fail, you turn into a tree and join the many other failed adventurers.

I like fairy tales as a rule, and this one, by Mirdza Timma, sang to me. Raits is not your usual entitled royal, looking down his aristocratic nose at the lesser among us. Nor is the outcast Tiss the cowering rustic scraping and bowing to his “betters”. Each - Raits and Tiss - is his own person. Tiss loves his pigs and the pigsty. Often, he sleeps out of doors and is happiest with his pigs in the fields and forests. He knows the forest world. Raits, chivalrous, well trained and courageous, undertakes the dangerous challenge. He does so to do good and because it is his destiny.

When none of the courtiers will accompany Raits to liberate the castle, someone suggests the expendable Tiss. Tiss knows he has to say yes, but he brings his own contrarian knowledge and skills to the challenge. We discover how what the prince does – rationalizing where he will go and what he will do – is balanced by Tiss’ intimate and intuitive knowledge of the forest and the ways of nature. Instead of being a liability, the swineherd complements the prince.

At the forest’s perimeter, Raits tells Tiss not to accompany him any further, essentially sparing Tiss’ life. Tiss, after a short nap, enters the forest regardless and takes the trail perceived as the most dangerous. He comes to Raits rescue – the 9-headed dragon (a “moving hill”) is about to chow-down on Raits. Tiss whips out his slingshot and systematically knocks out each head. Raits then chops off the heads, one by one.

The quest is not complete. The ring is still to be found. Tiss is hungry and shoots a stone into a nut tree, bringing down clusters of nuts to eat. By chance, one falls into his pocket.

Sunset is not far off. After a final handshake initiated by the prince, they have a Don Quixote (Raits) and Sancho Panza (Tiss) exchange about the qualities of tree bark, roots and the best exposure for trees, while awaiting the inevitable. They stand together late into the night. Nothing happens. Raits is puzzled since he knows that only the ring could spare them. Still, they receive a heroic welcome back at his castle.

Tiss, of course, has the ring in his pocket – it fell out of the nut tree. It takes a while for Tiss – a bit of an oaf to all but Raits - to figure out what he might have done with the ring. With the guidance of a wise old magician, Raits’ encouragement, and some more adventures in the forest, Tiss relocates the ring. He gives it to Raits so he can claim the castle. The prince refuses to put it on his finger – it is Tiss’. Doing so, the fog dissipates in the enchanted forest. The old heroes revive, transformed from trees to human forms. The sun shines on the castle with its “amber framed” windows, a “garden where the nightingales sang and the brooks splashed cool and clear water,” quenching thirst and giving wisdom. Raits and Tiss jointly take possession of the liberated castle and they rule wisely and kindly, “in harmony and friendship,” for many years.

Tiss has many traits of the best followers (independent – even, contrarian - thinking, a willingness to learn, courage, intelligence and humility). Raits is the born leader sensible enough to appreciate Tiss and then at the end to share his princely power with the swineherd. Raits, understands how Tiss complements the prince’s own good qualities.
(Illustration 2. Cover of Miglas kamoliņš :pasakas (folktales) by Mirdza Timma. Published in Rīga : Zvaigzne ABC, [2008]. This book may have the ring story in it.) Update, February 20. The Ring is not in this book. Rather it is in this one by Mirdza Timma published in 1953: Zelta atslēdziņa pasakas. My library colleague tells me a copy can be found at the U of Minnesota!
I hope to track down the original Latvian language version of this story for my planned short course in Riga: "Democracy in the Workplace: Self-Managing Teams & Managing Self". I look forward to that class discussion!
August 19, 2012 UPDATE: Also available in Latvian in Timma’s 1953 book: Zelta atslēdziņa pasakas 1953 (Saturs: Zelta atslēdziņa. Kalps Andis. Mairas āboli. Zobens. Ķēniņa draugi. Pūķa kāvējs. Uģa cirvis. Divas laimes. Gredzens.)

*Timma, Mirdza (1925-1962), “The Ring” (Gredzens) in the anthology, Latvian Literature, edited by Aleksis Rubulis. Consulting editor, Marvin J. Lahood. Toronto: Daugava Vanags Publishers. 1964. pp. 370 – 382 translated by Austra Zervins with a drawing of Ms. Timma by Gvido Brūveris.

The Three Whats

Posted by jlubans on February 09, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

As readers of this blog know full well, I rely on experiential learning to explain and augment leadership, management, and teamwork concepts. I am among a very few teachers of management in library schools to use experiential activities. Certainly, many use team projects but I know of no one else who uses group activities, at least not to the extent I use them. If I am wrong, let me know!

I’ve culled and adapted my problem-solving “initiatives” from the many (really hundreds of “new games”) created within the experiential education movement dating from the 60s. I used several in my Fulbright teaching last year: Egg Drop, Bibliofoon, Mirage, Pyramid, and Frenzied Fun and Facts. Biblofoon and Frenzied Fun and Facts are customized versions of Pipeline and Corporate Connection. Most, if not all, of these activities can be found on the Internet and in publications from Project Adventure.

Most of these activitites can be done and discussed inside 60 minutes. In that discussion we explore, among other questions and observations, the three Whats:
The What?, the So, What? and the Now, What?
To help explain the 3 Whats, I use Vincent Andriani’s children’s book, Peanut Butter Rhino. It’s a story about a rhinoceros – intent on lunch with an elephant friend - that loses his peanut butter sandwich. The sandwich is not lost but stuck to the rhino’s backside – he sat down on it. (Imagine the giggles among young children hearing the words and seeing the illustrations! Nor are adults immune to this juvenile humor). The story explains how several animals try to help find the missing sandwich. A monkey looks in several trees, then a lion checks out a cave, and a mouse finds some old cheese in a mouse hole but, alas, no sandwich.
Stumped, the rhino declares he will just have to see elephant without his “most wonderful peanut butter sandwich.” Enter the elephant, which inquires, “Why is there a squished peanut butter sandwich on your bottom?” No matter, elephant has brought two peanut butter sandwiches, one to share.

The first What? is the story. A fun story with an absent minded rhino and a happy resolution due to a kindly friend, the elephant.
There is more to the story, the So, What? The story shows other animals helping rhino to find the missing sandwich. And it shows elephant willing to share his second sandwich. So, helping and sharing.
Finally, Now, What? asks what the reader will take away from this story and apply to herself? Will it be the lesson not to sit on a peanut butter sandwich or will it be something more, like helping others and sharing with the less fortunate?

I tell the students that just about everything we do in the class can be looked at from the perspective of the three Whats. I mean for that to enlarge their thinking on class activities and for them to look for personal meaning in what happens in the class.

Copyright John Lubans 2013


Posted by jlubans on February 05, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)


I like this picture (enough for a second appearance in the blog). It speaks to me about planning (or not). The photo is from one of three hikes I took on the Mt. Baldy Ice House Canyon trail in mid-May 2010. The Mt. Baldy trailhead is a 30 minute drive from Claremont, California.
If I asked one of my management classes to reflect on this photo, I wonder what they would say?

Another photo from those hikes:
It reminds me (how many padlocks?) of urban living in some blighted locations, not, one would think, in a wilderness Eden.
And, the photo suggests one response to a changing environment. Some libraries' reaction and response when overwhelmed by young adults or plagued by thefts allegedly perpetrated by "outsiders" might look like this picture.

“I tried to lead by not being on the team.”

Posted by jlubans on February 01, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Most sports stories don’t go very deep into teamwork dynamics. Sure, we hear of “chemistry” (good and bad) among team members or if a player gets injured the rest of the team is supposed to “step up” and make an extra effort. “Stepping up” suggests that players have not been putting forth as much good effort as they could be – a bit of an implied criticism. Or, maybe that exhortation is like what we do in the workplace when we suggest people “work smarter, not harder.”

A recent story about the three veterans on the Duke Women’s basketball team offers up some unusual insights. I was particularly drawn to Shay Selby’s difficult season and how she, a senior starting guard, was redeeming herself with the team.

Ms. Selby was suspended for a violation of team rules.
For over a month, “until her teammates and (Coach) McCallie allowed her to return, she wasn’t able to practice with the team or sit on the bench for games.”

Of most interest is that while the Coach suspended her, her return depended on the team’s approval. Now that is different! Did the coach have informal discussions with the players about Selby’s return or was it a vote?

I have often wondered about how we go about disciplining team members – in the work place – who are not giving their best effort. One of the most frequent complaints about student project teams is that the one or two high achievers wind up with all the work and only part of the credit. The one or two slackers skate by. What sanctions can a team apply to the unproductive team member? Perhaps like what happened to Ms. Selby, exile. And, reinstatement only when the team decides.
Here she is pictured driving up court.
During her suspension, Ms. Selby continued to work out, to do everything she could to maintain her skills and conditioning. She proved she was ready to return. The story’s most engaging comment is a quote from Selby: “I tried to lead by not being on the team.” That bears reflection and then some.

What did she mean by that? Throughout the punishment she behaved like a leader - she worked hard, she stayed in touch, she communicated with her team mates, supported her team mates, in brief, to quote the coach: she “worked her butt off even when she couldn’t be with the team.”

Since her return she has played in all the games, coming off the bench.

I got to see Ms. Selby in action when Duke played the formidable and fearsome University of Connecticut Huskies two nights ago. Duke did not do well. A young team, (mostly sophomores) it was a night to learn from. If anyone can learn from the drubbing, Ms. Selby will.