Follower as Hero: “A Message to Garcia.”

Posted by jlubans on April 18, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

Andrew Summers Rowan is the hero in “A Message to Garcia”, the still quoted 1899 inspirational essay written by the entrepreneurial Elbert Hubbard.
Hubbard has Rowan as a laconic, decisive and rugged individual slipping into and out of enemy territory (Cuba) to deliver a secret letter from his President to the leader of the insurgent forces, General Garcia. Yet, Rowan’s own story is not quite the paen to rugged individualism that Hubbard makes it.
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Caption: Andrew Summers Rowan
Written in 1929 – 31 years after the “Message” - Rowan describes in 9000 words how he got his message through. It is a harrowing tale of personal danger, but it is less about the individual as a solo adventurer and more about a high-risk, escorted journey - via Jamaica - on open seas and through enemy-held blockades, jungles and mountains. In the only perceptible nod to a Solo-esque adventure, Rowan quotes a Cuban newspaper describing his dramatic arrival at Garcia's headquarters: "There was no notice of his coming and the first (sight) of Lieutenant Rowan was as he galloped up Calle Commercial, followed by the Cuban guides who accompanied him."
Rather, Rowan - someone I would have liked to meet - has a wry perspective and includes a couple of engaging touches of humor. When his meeting with Garcia was delayed, even longer than one might expect from a necessary scrutiny of credentials, he explains: “There is humor in everything. I had been described in letters from the junta as ‘a man of confidence.’ The translator had made me ‘a confidence man’."
His trip back to the US was no less of a risk and an adventure than getting through to Garcia. “The boat in which we made the voyage was a cockleshell, ‘capacity 104 cubic feet’. For sails we had gunnysacks, pieced together. For rations boiled beef and water. In this craft we were to sail, and we did sail, 150 miles due north …. "
On the way, they overtook a sponging schooner and asked to be taken aboard. “This schooner carried a litter of pigs for food and an accordeon. I never want to hear an accordeon again....”
If anything, Rowan’s story suggests an extraordinarily effective insurgent force – how else could Rowan get through and past the Spanish army’s blockades and patrols?
Rowan is a hero, no question, but the notion that he did this mutely and on his own is simply wrong. Each of the people who helped Rowan did so at great risk. If caught all would be killed; not a one would be spared.
While “A Message to Garcia” was hugely successful - with many businesses and governments ordering millions of copies, and eventually made into a sappy movie - it has its share of critics. For example: "…the (Hubbard) essay's real intent had nothing to do with Rowan. It was, instead, a heavy-handed admonition to workers to obey authority and to place devotion to duty above all else.” This critic suggest Hubbard wants workers be more like obedient dogs.
Hardly. Hubbard wanted workers like himself, a self-starter. He wanted “can-do” workers rather than the passive aggressives (in some eyes, anti-heroic) characters who, nowadays, populate comic strips like Dilbert, nor are they scarce among the cubicle and corner office set. In Rowan’s story, Hubbard saw someone accepting responsibility, taking initiative, and figuring out things for himself.
Hubbard does not analyze why some workers are less than effective, he celebrates Rowan and his successful mission and wants others to emulate Rowan. While Hubbard does not use the term, Rowan is an effective follower.
Like I describe several times in Leading from the Middle, the effective follower benefits the leadership process – getting things done. The best followers require little supervision. And, they are committed to the organization and to a purpose or person outside themselves. These followers manage themselves well – they are leaders in their own areas. Like Rowan, the effective follower thinks for himself, figures out what needs doing, and then does it. Because he is an independent and critical thinker, he asks no unnecessary question; instead he acts rather than dithers. Rowan himself offers us an insight into his sense of duty and doing: “In instances of this kind, where one's reputation, as well as his life, is at stake, it is usual to ask for written instructions. …. But in this case it never occurred to me to ask for written instructions; my sole thought was that I was charged with a message to Garcia and to get from him certain information and that I was going to do it.“

Pep talks (more)

Posted by jlubans on April 13, 2012  •  Leave comment (0)

20120413-images.jpegMy cough drop wrappers come inscribed with “pep” talks. I guess the idea is as you are sucking away, you should rest your orbs on the wrapper and become inspired, kick some behind, primarily your own! Here are some of the motivational gems with my snide, no; snarky, no; snappy, yes, commentary in brackets. That's the problem with the one line pepper upper; its simplicity can offend those who want a complex rationale for why they should do better. Maybe that's what triggers the negative - the base assumption is that the individual is flawed. In some cases, true; in many others, things go awry due to circumstances more than individual malfeasance. And, like wise adages (He who hesitates is lost) is deftly countered by an equally apt one, (Look before you leap.)

Bet on yourself. (If you lose you only have yourself to blame.)
Inspire envy. (Earn the enmity of an insecure boss.)
Hi-five yourself. (If you can, the NBA wants you.)
Dust off and get up. (Or, use a vacuum cleaner the next time.)
Turn “can do” into “can did!”( Like in CANDID – tell the boss where to stick it.)

You’ve survived tougher. (But maybe not this time.)
Fire up those engines! (And get the EPA on your case.)
The show must go on. Or work. (The option to the "show going on" is work. Imagine that!)

Impress yourself today.
(I am impressed.)
Take charge and mean it! (When all about your are losing their heads, and the bridge is in flames, make sure to bite your lips, presidentially – a sure sign of “I MEAN IT !”
Don’t try harder. Do harder! (What happened to smarter? Does the definition of insanity apply here?)
Be unstoppable. (Yeah, until you run into the 6 foot 6 inch tackle (width not height) like I did as a freshman football player.)
Get back in the game. (Where have you been??? The game ended two hours ago!)
Quit reading these pep talks and get to work! (Nah, that one I made up.)

More from the bottom of the bag:
Let's hear your battle cry. (Waaaah is not a war cry!)
Put your game face on. (N.B. Warriors do not wear mascara.)
Buckle down and push forth! (Similar to escaping, Houdini-like, from a padlocked trunk tossed into the Hudson River.)
Put a little strut in it. (Not recommended on 8th Avenue.)
Nothing you can't handle. (But do not, ever, push this button.)
Flex your "can do" muscle.(Whoa-ah! That'll get 'em talkin' in the firehouse! [Or any other mostly guy enterprise])

Speaking of pep talks, A Letter to Garcia is among the most famous, inspiring, we are told, millions. I've wanted to use it in my classes and workshops, but just have not figured out how. I'll address my reluctance in an upcoming blog.

"Should I leave, or should I stay?"*

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

Coach Gail Goestenkoers' surprise resignation from the University of Texas' Women's Basketball team prompts these comments. I spent a season with her 1999/2000 Duke team - at practice and at games. I grew to love the team and, as my chapter ( More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team) conveys in LfM I learned much** from Gail and the players about leadership and followership. That 1999/00 team was not supposed to do well. With five freshmen, it was going to be a "re-building" year. But, instead of a break-even season, the team won - for the first time in 25 years - the conference championship.
Citing fatigue at UT, Coach G, decided to give basketball (and herself) a rest. “My heart’s telling me it’s time to take a break, and that’s what I’m going to do." At her resignation press conference she said: "I feel very much at peace." I admire her decision.You may wonder why. Well, there are times when leaders need to step away, let someone else take charge, maybe even leave the organization. Deciding to leave takes more courage, I think, than staying. Each case is different, I know, but when going to lunch becomes the highlight of the day, as it did in one job I held onto too long, it's time to go. Early in my career I was mentored, in order to advance, to leave jobs every few years. I did some of that, but one job lasted about 20 years, probably about 5-10 years too long. I remember how it started with my coming, as an assistant director, into a tradition-bound organization struggling with change. After a few years and little progress a new leader was brought in. We had a very good five or so years but then things shifted. He left during what would have been his 10th year. I should have followed, but instead rationalized (and, unlike Gail, felt hardly at peace). So, all the more reason why I applaud Coach G! In her insightful story Mechelle Voepel observes: "Her move to Texas didn't work out in terms of basketball victories. But for right now, maybe it's time she sees how big the rest of the world is." Sometimes we get caught up in a job and lose sight of the joy or fun that brought us into a profession. Breaking away from the day to day might help us rediscover that fun and joy.
When I teach about coaching I refer to Gail's mother and the advice she gave her daughter about taking on too much of the blame for losing.
Gail's mother asked her, 'Have you ever had one loss … as a coach that you didn't take responsibility for?' "No, never" responded Gail. Her mom then said, 'Well, do you take responsibility for all the wins?' Gail said, 'No.'
Gail concluded: “(My mother) helped me a lot to see that I wasn't really seeing the big picture.”
Gail's leaving UT opens the door for a new start for the team. “I feel like it’s time for me to step away and bring in some new leadership and help this program really to go where I know it can go.”
I am including a few photos taken for me by Toni Tetterton during that 99/00 season. Unlike her recent years at Texas, Gail was able to make the team a contender for the national championship. These photos display her leadership and connection with the players and coaches, both essential elements in getting a team to realize it need not settle for less, ever.
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Caption: An exuberant Gail, at practice, scores a distant basket!
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Caption: Coach G with Freshman Michele Matyasovsky and Coach Joanne Boyle.
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Caption: Coach G, arm around Coach Shonta Tabourn, getting a rise out of players, from left:
Jennifer Forte? Rochelle Parent, Georgia Schweitzer, Olga Gvozdenovic, Missy West, Michele Matyasovsky, Krista Gingrich.
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Caption: Coach G, mid-court, during a group meeting, smiling at remarks by number 40, Lauren Rice, the senior leader on the team. Lauren contributed mightily to the team's play in the conference championship.
*The title of David Charvet's plaintive song.
** My Lessons from A Season on the Hardwood:
Overcome adversity
Commit to feedback
Clarify purpose and role
Value time
Build trust
Have fun
Know there are no magic bullets