Friday Fable. Odo of Cheriton’s “An Athenian”*

Posted by jlubans on May 31, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

(Here is a second fable from Odo of Cheriton. The first, “The Weeping Bald Man and Some Partridges”, included historical information about the fabulist and his contribution to the Aesopic tradition.)

“It was a custom among the Athenians that anyone who wanted to be thought of as a philosopher should be flogged, vigorously. And if he bore up patiently, then he would be esteemed a philosopher.
Now one man was being thoroughly whipped. Then before judgment had been pronounced where he should be held a philosopher (indeed, immediately following the whipping), he started shouting. ‘I am more than worthy,’ he exclaimed, ‘to be called Philosopher!’ And another answered him: ‘Brother, you might have been – if you could have kept quiet.’”

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I am reminded of the Polish folk saying “Broda nie czyni filozofa.” (“If the beard were all, the goat might philosophize.”) Obviously, the Athenians in this fable have a higher standard for their philosophers. There is something to the notion that if we hold steadfast and silent in the face of adversity, we are better able to say sincerely who we are and what we are about. It is like Mr. Stand-Fast in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress reaching deep into himself to resist the temptress, Madam Bubble.
Or, the moral of this story might be that any one, in declaring himself to be a great leader or great thinker or great writer, confirms the opposite. Often, such declarations of greatness are not explicit, rather implicit in a recounting of accomplishments, a process by which the teller self-leverages onto what he believes is a lofty pedestal.

*Source: The Fables of Odo of Cheriton, translated by John C. Jacobs. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1985 p. 150.

More Music to Manage By.

Posted by jlubans on May 29, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “Hank Drank “ Hank Williams, 1923 – 1953. The song title’s brevity surpasses W. H. Auden’s poem “Fleas”, “Adam Had ’Em”.
This is the second installment of country music titles. The first appears here and is related to my writing on Latvian folk music to be found here, here and here.
As a noted industrialist remarked, “There’s more good sense in this music than in a year’s worth of Harvard Business Review.”
1. Walk out Backwards Slowly So I Think You’re Coming in.
(For the farewell party when your best work buddy on the East coast work decides to go West. Sob!)
2. If You Can’t Bite, Don’t Growl.
(If the organization won’t let you back up your threat to fire a relentless under-performer, then don’t threaten. Just keep on ‘em. One of two things will happen. He will improve or he will leave to get away from the daily pressure of showing up.)
3. All I Want from You (Is Away.)
(Tell me about it! Like the previously listed “Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone!” But, don’t sing about it until that person is ON THE BUS and THE BUS IS MOVING; fate and her co-conspirators may be lurking in the wings to keep that “irreplaceable” person in place and on your case.)
4. I Ain’t No Cowboy (I Just Found This Hat.)
(The song describes my funny feeling about taking on a new way of managing without much of a clue. I meant well, but at times I was riding bareback on a run away horse.)
5. You’re Going To Ruin My Bad Reputation.
(When my work team had great success and accomplished the “impossible” that confounded my bad reputation among the deniers. But not for long; theirs was a sliding scale!)
6. You Can’t Build a Fire in the Rain.
(If doubters surround you, all eager to stomp on your campfire, you might feel like this. Same effect:, You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd.
7. The Bridge Washed out, I Can’t Swim, and My Baby’s on the Other Side.
(Classic. Use it when you need to explain why you are a no show. And for that difficult phone call to the spouse after you’ve gone missing for several days after the out-of-town convention: Don’t Pay the Ransom, Honey, I’ve Escaped.
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Caption: Hank Williams and band in his prime.

Friday Fable: La Fontaine’s “THE (HOUSE) OF SOCRATES.”*

Posted by jlubans on May 24, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Reminiscent of Diogenes abode** this house might have appealed to Socrates.

“A house was built by Socrates
That failed the public taste to please.
Some blamed the inside; some, the out; and all
Agreed that the apartments were too small.
Such rooms for him, the greatest sage of Greece!
'I ask,' said he, 'no greater bliss
Than real friends to fill e'en this.'
And reason had good Socrates
To think his house too large for these.
A crowd to be your friends will claim,
Till some unhandsome test you bring.
There's nothing plentier than the name;
There's nothing rarer than the thing.”

No fool celebrity, Socrates knew about the scarcity and evanescence of true friendship. He built his house for his few “real” friends.
And so it goes at work. If all of our friends are from work, then our retirement may well be a lonely one. A few of those friendships do survive, but most do not. Maintaining relationships is a struggle, to be sure. Once absent, the heart may not grow fonder; instead it may grow forgetful.
And that works both ways. Like my retired university friend responded when I asked him why he had moved to a distant retirement community instead of living in the one preferred by his university colleagues: “I had to work with those bastards for forty years!”

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882.

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**Caption: Diongenes who lived in a barrel, is the butt of a practical joke by Max und Moritz (Katzenjammer). The joke backfires, flattening the two mischief makers.

Perceptions of the Possible.

Posted by jlubans on May 22, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Not long ago I happened upon the televised running of the 2013 collegiate indoor men’s mile championship.
The announcer declared that each of the 10 finalists had previously run a sub-4 minute mile! Indeed, the first five finishers of the championship race came in under four minutes! The winning time was 3.54.
Seventy years ago many coaches, runners and writers believed a sub-4 minute mile was humanly not possible. In 1945 a Swede ran the mile in 4.01. His mark stood for nine years, with runners failing to crack the perceived psychological and physiological barriers.
Then on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister, with the help of two pace setters, ran the mile in 3.59.4. In a mere 7 weeks, the Australian John Landy reeled off a mile in 3.58. Over the next few years, numerous runners went below 4 minutes.
What happened to the former psychological and physical barrier? How did the perceived impossible move to the possible?

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Caption: Herb Elliott training barefoot on sand dunes led by the legendary coach, Percy Cerutty.
In 1958, my personal hero when I was a high school miler - the Australian Herb Eliott - ran the distance in 3.54.5 “shattering” the then-world record by 2.7 seconds!
In 1999, Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj ran a 3:43 mile, the current world record. Is 3.43 the new psychological and physical barrier? Perhaps.
Why, you may be yawning, is this guy going on about some obscure track and field event?
Well, because I’ve run into parallel perceptions about what was possible/not possible in the workplace. Leading from the Middle discusses at length the challenges faced by an organization in which I worked. This was a large research library and we suffered chronically from vast backlogs and plodding turnaround; instead of new books going to the open shelves the books went into storage. Previous efforts at eliminating backlogs and speeding up production had mostly failed. When extra staff were added, the “experts” implemented even more complicated quality controls that created traffic jams and aggravated backlogs. The experts’ mantra was that “high quality” – never defined - was our quintessential product. And, no, we could not lower quality to improve production!
The general mindset was that unless we got more people and more equipment, we would never achieve our version of a sub-four minute mile: no backlogs and one-day turn around. Within existing resources, these goals were psychologically and physically impossible. Like Bannister, we were in a world that said it could not be done.
Naively enough, I accepted the charge to eliminate bottlenecks and backlogs. I did believe we could achieve these goals but I knew we needed new perspectives and attitudes about our work. We would need to experiment, to make mistakes, and to expect and permit more innovation from our staff, both professional and support. One of my leadership initiatives was to look elsewhere, to see what our 20 or so peer institutions – those with whom we compared ourselves – might offer. I discovered that while most of us - as traditional institutions tend to be - were bogged down in similar ways, a few of the peers were indeed innovating, doing a few things differently, faster and better with fewer people and with less “tradition” than the rest of us. Of necessity, those innovating placed was far less emphasis on tacit standards that, in my opinion, added little value while slowing down our work.
While these innovations were not system-wide, they were useful in two ways. I was encouraged that our work could be done differently – we did not all have to be in lock-step - and that I could bring back new ideas and experiences to my teams to encourage them to try alternative ways. Someone else’s creating a different way (like Bannister) helped change our attitude, gave us permission to look toward what was possible. And, in the best tradition of one-upmanship, I was convinced: “if they can do it, we can do it better!”
So, fresh outside perspectives were good, but best of all, we had our own Roger Bannister. This was a support staff member who, once liberated, could not be held back in setting new production records. She was fearless, curious and playful. She looked at how she worked and how she could tweak what she did to save time and produce more. Her personal success was considerable; if 100 units per month were the so-called norm, she challenged herself to double it. If the “norm” were 200 units, she would come up with ways to produce 400. Shattering the divisive barrier between support staff and professional work, we allowed her to cross the line – to do work once saved only for advanced professionals. While largely accepted now, this was then an organizational taboo.
Her kind of performance is often derided as “rate busting”, but fortunately we were able to keep the naysayers at bay and she freely offered her time saving methods to several others who followed her lead. Her demonstrating that she could indeed work smarter, not harder, made a difference for anyone open to improving his or her workflow. Pretty soon backlogs began to disappear and we found ourselves out pacing our peer group. Of course, we had our critics inside and outside of the organization. Unlike sports where when someone sets a record they are usually praised, bureaucracies tend to find fault and look for ways to denigrate the success of the rate-buster. I think, in retrospect, we actually freed up a lot of workers at other institutions. We had run our own mile faster than ever before and, in so doing, we eliminated perceived barriers. Others could now see their way more clearly to higher levels.

Friday Fable. Odo* of Cheriton’s “The Weeping Bald Man and Some Partridges”**

Posted by jlubans on May 17, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

“Against Rulers Feigning Justice”
“A bald man, his eyes streaming with tears, was killing partridges. And one partridge said to another: ‘Behold the man – how good and saintly he is.’ And the other asked: ‘Why do you call him good?’ ‘Don’t you see, ‘ replied the first, ‘how he is weeping?’ To this, answered another one back: ‘Don’t you see how he is killing us? This man’s tears are damnable – for while weeping he is annihilating us!’”

Odo’s epimythium: “Thus many … great men seem to pray beautifully and give alms – weeping all the while. Yet they flay and annihilate those who are simple and subject to them. Such men’s prayers and tears are damnable!”

My take: Alice in Wonderland remarked after the Walrus and the Carpenter scarfed up all the little oysters: (Of the two), "I like the Walrus best," said Alice, "because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters."
Odo’s story reminds me of an un-bald boss who fired a worker and then waxed solicitous about the ex-employee’s well being. It was meant to come across as a most magnanimous gesture, shedding rays of empathy and (crocodile) tears upon the displaced and downsized!
It was, instead, all a scam, a persona cultivated for the environment in which this boss worked.
Some people actually regarded this boss as a kind person and a great leader. Like the first partridge said, he was “good and saintly!” A few, especially those that were “flayed and annihilated” by him, penetrated the “good and saintly” veneer and saw the magnanimity for what it was: a politically cultivated strategy for self-advancement.

*Historic note about Odo the Fabulist by Prof. Laura Gibbs: “One of the most famous of … medieval fable collections was written by Odo of Cheriton, a 13th-century English preacher and scholar. Odo’s Latin fables were well known and circulated widely, as evidenced by numerous manuscript copies as well as translations into Spanish, French, and Welsh. Odo was a very learned man for his time, having studied in the schools of Paris, but he was not a high-brow scholar. Instead, he intended for his writings to appeal to a general audience, embracing both the clergy and lay people. Many of the fables evince a strong sympathy for the poor and oppressed, with often sharp criticisms of high-ranking church officials. At the same time, Odo also looked for theological messages in the fables, interpreting the stories of the animals as a symbolic code for the workings of God in the world.”

**Source: The Fables of Odo of Cheriton, translated by John C. Jacobs. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press 1985 pp, 79-80

Freedom at Work: Setting Your Own Schedule*

Posted by jlubans on May 15, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

One of the key tenets of a democratic workplace is for workers to set their own schedules. How can this possibly work? One supervisor told me that among his several staff, a “slacker” like Kyle –given his druthers - would now come to work at 11AM and leave at 3PM after a two-hour lunch. Jamal, who arrives early and leaves late, would get shafted. And, what about Jordan? She says her family situation restricts her working evenings or weekends.
Is this supervisor’s incredulous response warranted? Yes, if nothing else changes in the organization. If the culture of the hierarchy remains compartmentalized and departmentalized, self-scheduling is improbable. I had a similar response when one organization I worked in decided to empower its staff. The planning group had a pretty good idea of what empowerment meant, but the staff did not – the fault of us planners. Staff asked me, “Since I am empowered, don’t I get to fire my co-workers and do what I want and only when I want to?** I explained – to the worker’s disappointment - that was not “our” version of empowerment. The needs of the organization prevailed, the work had to get done. My response to the would-be-anarchists applies doubly when workers set their own schedules. As a member of a team - the preferred organizational unit in a freed-up organization – you do not work alone. So, decisions about hours of work are not self-serving or made in isolation. An effective team (nota bene: effective) understands why it exists, where it is headed and what it hopes to achieve.
Please keep in mind that “democratic organizations are transparent, (egalitarian) and open with employees about the financial health, strategy, and agenda of the organization.”*** In other words, the “books” – budget and personnel - are open.
So, if an information desk has to be staffed weekends and evenings or if a processing unit has a one-day turnaround goal then the team knows its parameters, its limits. However, while getting the job done takes priority in schedule setting, there is flexibility in start and end times, breaks, lunches and vacations. These exceptions are negotiable within the team. Effective teams - those that have high trust and good communication - can customize individual schedules and still achieve stellar performance. And, when there’s conflict – say a team member is not abiding by his or her agreed-upon schedule, like our slacker friend, Kyle - the group takes care of the disciplinary process.
Remember, an effective team by definition, enjoys high trust, open communication and has had some training in how to have difficult conversations. While team members personally may desire to avoid, accommodate or compromise on conflict the group’s accountability steers it away from the avoidance route. There’s far less likelihood of game playing in self-managing teams than in a top-down supervisor arrangement. The group self monitors and is more likely than a supervisor to call a negative behavior.

*Note: This is the first of several blog entries on how democratic workplaces behave. Besides the topic of work schedules I will cover pay and perks, production norms, hiring and firing, and workflow planning. In most hierarchies these “choices” have been removed from the workers and delegated to a central authority. The centralization idea is misguided – a central authority is not the way to a productive and smoothly performing organization. Choice is the difference between the hierarchy and a democracy. “Democratic organizations thrive on giving employees meaningful choices.”

** Karl Marx, famously offered up, in 1845, this glimpse of utopia:
“In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” Or, to bring it up to Web.2 speed, the freed worker can now “facebook” in the morning, “tweet” in the afternoon and “yelp” or "telecommute” in the evening or whatever else he or she wishes in cyberspace.

***Quoted material comes from a list of principles for successful and sustainable democratic workplace.

Friday Fable. La Fontaine’s THE LION AND THE RAT*

Posted by jlubans on May 10, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

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"To show to all your kindness, it beho(o)ves:
There's none so small but you his aid may need.
I quote two fables for this weighty creed,
Which either of them fully proves.
From underneath the sward
A rat, quite off his guard,
Popp'd out between a lion's paws.
The beast of royal bearing
Show'd what a lion was
The creature's life by sparing--
A kindness well repaid;
For, little as you would have thought
His majesty would ever need his aid,
It proved full soon
A precious boon.
Forth issuing from his forest glen,
T' explore the haunts of men,
In lion net his majesty was caught,
From which his strength and rage
Served not to disengage.
The rat ran up, with grateful glee,
Gnaw'd off a rope, and set him free.

By time and toil we sever
What strength and rage could never."

A variation on La Fontaine's Dove and the Ant; same message, good deeds are not always punished, often rewarded. Keep in mind the lion’s munificence when someone at work or home would benefit from a helping hand. I’ve found an egalitarian spirit, like that practiced at Southwest Airlines, (see Chapter 10: ” It’s in the DNA: Infusing Organizational Values at Southwest” along with SWAs core value of the Golden Rule can lead to productive ideas and unstinting effort from all, not just those designated in charge.

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New
, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs,1882.

Friday Fable. La Fontaine’s “THE FOX AND THE BUST”*

Posted by jlubans on May 03, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption. The Fox Un-Impressed

“The great are like the maskers of the stage;
Their show deceives the simple of the age.
For all that they appear to be they pass,
With only those whose type's the ass.
The fox, more wary, looks beneath the skin,
And looks on every side, and, when he sees
That all their glory is a semblance thin,
He turns, and saves the hinges of his knees,
With such a speech as once, 'tis said,
He utter'd to a hero's head.
A bust, somewhat colossal in its size,
Attracted crowds of wondering eyes.
The fox admired the sculptor's pains:
'Fine head,' said he, 'but void of brains!'
The same remark to many a lord applies.”

And, I might add, “applies” to many an inhabitant of the executive suite. But, let us refrain from vilification, some are only trying to do what’s right and good while others believe what their Yes Men** tell them. Clothes make the man and there’s something similar to be said for a sculpted piece or oil painting of one as he or she wishes and not as is.
I do like a Brooks Brothers suit and what it can do. But, when in NYC, I shamble about in jeans, sneakers and sweater – it’s too much effort to bring along a suit and shoes, shirt and tie. In Riga, at Migration Control seeking a visa extension, I wore my “power coat”, a beautifully tailored black overcoat, but swayed the system not. It (Migration not the coat) said, “You must Apostille this and that or otherwise….”

*Source: THE FABLES OF LA FONTAINE Translated From The French by Elizur Wright. [Original place and date: Boston, U.S.A., 1841.] A New Edition, with Notes by J. W. M. Gibbs, 1882.
And, Illustration and full text at the charming, - as only the French can be - website of the MUSEE JEAN DE LA FONTAINE with birds atwitter, barking dogs and other countryside music.

**One of several follower types as discussed in my book, Chapter 2: Leading from the Middle: "I’m the Boss."

Music to Manage By

Posted by jlubans on May 01, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

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I have several dog-eared and much marked-up pages of an article from the March, 1979 issue of D (as in Dallas, TX) Magazine. Jerry Campbell, a true Texan, gave it to me in the mid 80s.
“I Don’t Know Whether to Kill Myself Or Go Bowling” is written by Larry Sons. He plucks the most woeful 150 out of his master list of 400 country western song titles.
Many apply to our workplaces, democratic or otherwise. If you don’t like your boss, you’ll find a song to suit. If you like your drink too much, you will definitely find several songs about drinking yourself into a forgetful and sorry state. And, if you are thwarted in love, well, hell, you’ll have plenty of company as your sad tears drip down your cheeks into your beer.
This has been my go-to list for sub titles for papers and talks for over two decades. A third of the chapters in my book, Leading from the Middle have song subtitles. Some of you may be thinking "Ain't it kinda presumptuous for a Latvian to use counry western music?" Well, I lived in Houston Texas for three years, so that makes me nearly a native.
When I use music titles in talks, their wry humor about life’s complexities often gets a good response, like a well placed joke. Other times, imagine the vibe from a room full of humorless faces and crossed arms. Now, this frigid – maybe puzzled - response is not limited to non-English speaking countries. It’s happened to me in TEXAS! In Georgia and Colorado! And, I’ve gotten zero response in Australia, in England, and in Croatia and Latvia. The latter two have an excuse – my using the most colloquial of English.
When the group’s bemused, maybe it’s me or maybe it’s my topic they don’t like. I mean, many librarians did not like hearing the tones of doom in “Forever, for Us, Wasn’t Nearly As Long As We Planned” when I used it in my talk to underline the huge changes confronting libraries in the late 90s along with the documented-but-denied precipitous reference question drop-off.
Here are ten for May Day:
How Can Anything That Sounds So Good Made Me Feel So Bad?
From the Gutter to You Is Not Up.
I’ve Got a Funny Feeling I Won’t Be Feeling Funny Very Long.
I’m Too Low To Get High.
Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone!
I Can’t Afford to Half My Half Again.
There’s No Use Running If You’re on the Wrong Road.
It’s Not Love, But It’s Not Bad.
Don’t Tell Me You’re Sorry, I Know How Sorry You Are.
She Took Everything But the Blame.

More to come…. In the mean time, Happy Trails!
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