Friday Fable. Lubans’ “The Snake and the Egg.”

Posted by jlubans on August 30, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Before the Fall.
Not long ago I got to care for a large horse, two outside cats, two chickens, one super Dog and assorted plantings and flowers. All went swimmingly until a serpent slithered into my Idyll. One of my chores was to feed and water the chickens. The chickens were in a portable, fenced-in coop. When I was done feeding and watering, I’d open the side door and pull out a freshly laid egg. A well-balanced free market, one could say. For their eggs the chickens got shelter, food and water and avoided the stew pot (and the passing fox or stray dog). And, in compensation, the farmer got the occasional egg or two for his breakfast.
Two days after I got to the farm, the egg production stopped; I concluded labor unrest about the new management - me. However, I did notice some stray feathers on the turf, apparent signs of a struggle, but the chickens were still there, uninjured and eating with gusto and relish the feed and vegetable scraps I gave them. So, I figured it was a critter, a snake likely, picking up some easy eating.
I never did see the perp, but I was told later that the culprit was a long, shiny, black snake.

And so it can be in the world of work. The “snake” – I know my bandying about the term is unfair to real snakes, a wrongly-maligned species - is anyone who steals another’s person’s work for personal, unearned gain. Plagiarism’s the word. I recall a story I wrote reappeared with a few changes as someone else’s work, now for sale at a term paper mill. Or, similarly, some idea I have shared freely is then picked up by someone and used without attribution. Use it to your heart’s content, but do mention the source! It's simple courtesy as your mother will tell you.
Likewise, there’s the leader who takes credit and fails to acknowledge the people actually doing the work. This boss never praises the person who thought up the great idea, who pulled off the impossible, who got the big job done. This organization has a single face – that of the boss, and you had better not forget it! Even worse on the corporate envy scale, is the boss who hates to hear public or private praise about the good work of a subordinate. One colleague particularly got a rise out of observing his boss when a visiting Pooh-Bah praised a subordinate in the jealous boss’ presence. My colleague detected from the boss’ expression a mental note-making to punish the person being praised; that there was soon going to be a getting-even moment. This same boss was, my colleague claimed, all about teamwork. Not exactly how most of us would understand it. He was all about anonymous teamwork for which he would then take full credit. Of course, if the team “failed” then individual team members would be singled out for punishment.

You want to know what happened to the snake? Let’s just say egg production is back to former highs and the snake is now slinking around more ethereal pastures than heretofore; a solution not generally open to us in the workplace, at least not in most!

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week
: University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Copyright 2013 John Lubans

“Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Please!

Posted by jlubans on August 28, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

WorldBlu* (“Freedom at Work”) has kicked off its leadership-training program by nailing a list of 22 organizational elements to Hierarchy’s obdurate door. Kind of like what Martin Luther did back in 1517 when he hammered home his “95 Theses”.
Now, I am all for using hyperbole to separate the democratic workplace from the hierarchy; what bothers me is when our claims are akin to a religious schismatic: the believers on one side and the nonbelievers on the other! And, you know, yea, verily, who’s going to hell!
According to the list of 22, Fear-Based Leadership (FBL) is the devil’s spawn and Freedom-centered Leadership (FCL) is salvation.
There’s no middle ground on this list, only certainty; you’re damned or you’re saved.
Now, while I agree with much of what’s on the list I do not see it in such absolute terms. I take issue right at the top, with the headers: “fear-based” vs. “freedom-centered”. Fear is relative and I dare say it exists in freedom-centered organizations when the economy slows down or the legislature decides to cut the budget, or when your competitor develops a break-through service, or, most certainly of all, when you have a bad boss!
Here are a half dozen of the 22 leadership elements, with those on the left defining “fear-based” and those on the right defining, “freedom-centered” leadership:
Blind dependency vs. Self-governed
Acts like a boss vs. Chooses to be a leader
Ego-driven vs. Ego-less
Arrogant vs. Humble
Unethical and immoral vs. Ethical and moral
Unhappy vs. Joyful
Undisciplined vs. Disciplined
Lacks purpose vs. Purpose-driven

OK, OK, I put down 8. I got carried away in my enthusiasm.
This short list is useful in discriminating between the two types of leadership, but we should note these are the extreme end points, the yin and the yang, on a scale, with many degrees of separation in-between. Let me clarify by using an attitudinal scale like the Likert: Strongly agree / Agree / Don’t know / Disagree / Strongly disagree in responding to a series of statements. For example:
“My leadership is ego-driven.” Circle one: Strongly Agree, Agree, DK, Disagree, Strongly Disagree.
Almost immediately you run into questions of meaning of terms. What’s ego-driven leadership? Is it necessarily bad for the organization? It sounds bad, so why would anyone admit to being ego-driven?
“I am joyful at work.” SA, A, DK, D, SD?
(Then, again, I might ask myself, “How much does my happiness derive from work?)
“My leadership is unethical and immoral.” Some leaders are indeed unethical and immoral but who is going to admit it? Who is not going to sign on with, “My leadership is ethical and moral”?
“My leadership is disciplined.” (What does it mean to be undisciplined at work? Don’t most fear-based organizations depend on discipline to keep people in line?
“I am an arrogant leader.” Who would confess to that? Would not the most arrogant claim to be the most humble? Does not that form of self-delusion go with arrogance, if you get my meaning?
I am all for using a continuum rather than an absolute scale. On a continuum I can pinpoint where I am between “unhappy” and “joyful”. Or, I can plot how I am doing in my quest to be “purpose-driven”. Or, I can mark on a continuum where I stand between “Selfish” and “Selfless”. See?
Listings like this all have some truth, but none have absolute truth. How would I do it differently? Well, I would say that to be an effective freedom-centered leader one aspires to those 22 characteristics. I may fall short in several, but I keep trying. Leadership, if anything, is always a work in progress. What went well last year, may not go so well this year – I may lapse, fall off the heaven-bound wagon and have to figure out how to scramble back on.

*WorldBlu is a good source for finding corporations and other agencies that apply democratic principles to how they organize and how they treat workers. Their “List of Most Democratic Workplaces” is the starting point if you are looking for examples of this type of company.

BLOG NOTE. My paper, "The Invisible Leader: Lessons for Leaders from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra" published in the OD Practitioner: The Journal of the Organizational Development Network, 38: 5-9, 2006, has been translated into Spanish by Cuba’s Grupo Cambio Humano y Desarrollo Organizacional: Centro de Investigaciones Psicológicas y Sociológicas with the title:
"El director invisible. Lecciones para directores impartidas por la Orquesta de Cámara Orfeo.”

Copyright 2013 John Lubans

Friday Fable. Lubans’ “The Three Villages”

Posted by jlubans on August 23, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130823-troll & cow.png
Caption: Troll running amuck.
Long ago, in a far away land, two trolls enthralled six villages, each tyrannizing three. The trolls were feared far and wide; their foul breath and heavy, hairy hands seemed everywhere. Each year the villagers had to give half of their earnings and crops to the trolls. The trolls grew rich and the people grew poor. The villagers suffered in silence.
One of the trolls died – he fell off a bridge – some say he jumped, others that he was pushed. Regardless, the people reclaimed those three villages but the other troll, albeit growing old and feeble, tightened his grip on his three villages.
The enslaved villagers whispered of freedom, about reclaiming what was rightfully theirs. But how to do this? The troll permitted only one festival, an annual gathering: the summer solstice. The crops were planted and well underway; soon he would get his half share. And, the days were long, so why not let the peasants have a party, as long as they paid for it, fed his minions and went back to the fields the next day. By mid-night the troll’s mercenaries were in a stupor from a surfeit of freshly baked bread, summer cheese and gallons of beer and more gallons of beer. While the troll’s minions blissfully snored, the villagers met at the bon fire and spoke of freedom, but none knew of a way to rid the land of the troll. The children listened, fidgeted; then, the village Innocent – a shy young man who was known to say the unexpected - spoke up: “Let’s beguile the troll with a chain of people, holding hands stretching across our three villages. He will see us united as one.” After thrashing it out, the villagers championed the idea: “The troll will be befuddled and know not what to do.” “Yet, others will know; our neighbors will know, and the people in the free villages will know and they will help.” “And, besides the troll is old and rickety; maybe he will give it up,” some wished.
So, all the villagers agreed to hold hands the next day in a chain that stretched along the dirt road, across the bridges and along the lake and through the forest, across the farmlands. Morning came and slowly people gathered, coming down the lanes, through the forests, along the pastures, some dressed in their colorful folk clothes - the ones forbidden by the troll, so this was a risk, but the mercenaries slept on. Soon the chain ran through the three villages and when the neighboring villages heard about it, they too linked hands and created a chain from their villages to those of the troll. They stood and sang and remembered how life was before the troll, how they farmed the land, built their barns, raised bees, made cheese and beer, and baked bread and danced and sang their songs.
The troll awakened to the forbidden music and peered out of his castle window. He was enraged by what he saw but knew not what to make of it – a long line of old and young people, babies in arms, children, even dogs and cats as far as his eye could see in each direction.
He roared, demanded they disband, or be punished. He stomped out of the castle and glared at the villagers from an arched bridge; he fumed and frowned at the crowd. No one moved. He then called for his minions to separate the people, to tear them apart and throw them into the ditches, but no mercenaries appeared – they were still sound asleep. In a temper tantrum, he stomped his feet, clenched his massive fists and jumped up and down. The floorboards gave and he crashed through (like Rumplestiltskin) and plummeted into the rushing river, never to be seen again. *
And, that is how a peaceful linking of hands across those three villages rid them of the troll and freedom was regained.

And, so it was on today’s date in 1989 two million people linked hands across the lands of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – “The Baltic Way” (Baltijas ceļš).
This human line 600 kilometers (373 miles) in length ran through capital cities, forests, along lakes and rivers, across bridges and national borders. The people flew forbidden national flags and sang forbidden national anthems and stood connected and called attention to the secret and brutal fraud perpetrated by Hitler and Stalin in 1941 and perpetuated by the Soviet Union.
On March 11, 1990 the independence of the Republic of Lithuania was officially restored and in the following year Latvia and Estonia were free once again.

* Some say the troll can be heard every August 23rd, grumbling and cursing under that bridge. Will you cross that bridge tonight?

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week:
University of California - Irvine

Copyright John Lubans 2013

Born or Made?

Posted by jlubans on August 21, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Mr. Burns, the quintessential Theory X Leader.

What kind of leader/follower are you? Do you give it much thought? I am planning a weeklong leadership retreat during the summer a year from now. As I develop the agenda, I do want to include time for each participant to deliberate about how she leads and how she follows. In my career as a librarian few of my administrative colleagues talked about their leadership or followership. We’d lead somehow or other, including not leading. Taking the time in a retreat to consider why you – the participant - leads the way you do might be an excellent next step toward becoming the leader or follower you want to be.
I’d also like to include a segment where each participant explains who they are as a leader and then gets feedback from the group about how the group perceives that person's leadership.
We’ll need to review the types of leadership styles. I have two reasons for doing this. First is to give everyone a shared vocabulary so when someone calls himself a Theory X leader, people will have a general idea of what he means. Or, if someone says she’s a transformational leader or a situational leader, we’ll all know pretty much what she is talking about. My second reason is that in many fields, including librarianship, we focus on our jobs and do not have the time or the interest to think about leadership style or to mull over the type of leader we may want to be. It’s important for personal growth to know what style may suit us best.
A basic working assumptions in every text about a new theory is that we can become the type of leader we want to be or are told to be, like Homer perusing Covey. I have questions about this assumption. Are we born to be a leader/follower (it’s in our DNA) or do we have a choice?
When teaching library management in the USA I give students a one page, ten question, self-test on theory X and theory Y*. (Quick review: Theory X holds that without the active intervention by management, people will be passive – even resistant – to organizational needs. Staff must therefore be persuaded, rewarded, punished, controlled – their activities must be directed. This is management’s task. We often sum it up by saying that management consists of getting things done through other people.
On the other side, advocates of Theory Y believe the motivation, the potential for development, the capacity for assuming responsibility, the readiness to direct behavior toward organizational goals are all present in people. Management does not (indeed cannot) put them there. It is a responsibility of management to make it possible for people to recognize and develop these human characteristics for themselves.
In brief, theory X managers supervise closely, while theory Y managers are more hands-off.)
Each student takes this test twice, once for how he supervises (or would supervise) and once again for how the student wants to be supervised. After scoring the two tests, the students arrange themselves around the room by their scores. There’s usually a wide distribution from extreme X to extreme Y but more often then not the Xs have it.
Then, I ask the students to rearrange themselves by the score for how they want to be supervised. There’s usually a total shift to the theory Y side of the room. Those with a strong theory X inclination in supervising others find themselves wondering, “Why am I the boss that I would not want?”
So, are leaders made or born? I think it important to consider why we behave the way we do on the job. If most of us prefer a democratic style, how do we wind up pushing Theory X? Do we acquire it, learn it? Are we imbued and inculcated with it? Or is it that our organizations are built around Theory X? What do work place accoutrements and appurtenances like the payroll, budget, time clock, performance appraisal, the hierarchy’s organizational chart, and the required review and sign off by upper management on paperwork suggest about the underlying dominant culture?
At semester’s end I have the students re-take the X and Y test. Is there a shift in student leadership ideas? Over the semester, the students will have participated in team building activities, group projects, and reading and discussing about organizational theories. When the students line up according to score, almost the entire class shifts toward the Y end of the spectrum. If there are Xs left, it is often demanded by the type of job, e.g. training and supervising entry level workers.
I mention this to suggest that it is possible to unlearn one way of leading in favor of a way that is intuitively more comfortable and, in many cases, more productive.

* The Human Side
of Enterprise (the Annotated Edition) by Douglas McGregor and Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006. The revised edition of the "enduring management classic" from the 1950s, with introductions by Warren Bennis and Edgar Schein, in which Douglas McGregor introduced management style Theories X and Y.
For the reader of footnotes, it might be of interest to know that I am cited by name in this book on page 102.
You can google the reference by clicking on this link.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

Friday Fable. La Fontaine’s “THE HORSE AND THE ASS.”*

Posted by jlubans on August 16, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Aesop’s and La Fontaine’s fables often used in advertising.
In such a world, all men, of every grade,
Should each the other kindly aid;
For, if beneath misfortune's goad
A neighbour falls, on you will fall his load.

There jogg'd in company an ass and horse;
Nought but his harness did the last endorse;
The other bore a load that crush'd him down,
And begg'd the horse a little help to give,
Or otherwise he could not reach the town.
'This prayer,' said he, 'is civil, I believe;
One half this burden you would scarcely feel.'
The horse refused, flung up a scornful heel,
And saw his comrade die beneath the weight:--
And saw his wrong too late;
For on his own proud back
They put the ass's pack,
And over that, beside,
They put the ass's hide.

And so it is at work when we criticize colleagues in front of library users and others. It’s easy, in library land, to fall into this trap. If you are involved with the public, well then you appear to work wonders. Of course, your “magic” is only doing your job and thanks to a huge behind-the-scenes effort you are able to do it well. So, when the professor goes on about how some things are hard to find in the catalog or on the shelf, do you commiserate and tell him “It’s those technologically challenged catalogers!” or do you shoulder part of the “burden” and find out what he is talking about and then share that information with your colleagues in cataloging?
Your rejecting any of the “burden” of something gone awry diminishes – like La Fontaine’s haughty horse - you, the library and what it is trying to do. That gossipy professor won’t forget your concurrence, tacit or otherwise. Probably, if properly primed, he’ll spread the snide news far and wide, regardless if it be credible or not.
Similarly, when a department claims to be the ruby in the library’s tiara - all the while demeaning others at every turn - I am unwilling to share in the acclaim. The best teams speak not ill of their opponents nor should the best department speak ill of its counterparts. It is why in the list of characteristics of highly effective teams, I always include “interdependence”. The best know full well they are part of a whole and do not stand alone – like some believe they do - radiating perfection over a landscape of mediocrity.

*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

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

Teamwork in the Movies

Posted by jlubans on August 14, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

20130814-dream team.jpeg
A friend suggested I see a newly released Latvian movie, Sapņu Komanda 1935 (Dream Team 1935); it’s about the Latvian basketball team which won the first European Championship in 1935 under its unorthodox head coach, Valdemars Baumanis.
Sports films often are useful in teaching about teamwork because when well done - like Hoosiers - they can provide literal examples of how teams develop, how they overcome adversity and other aspects common to teams at work or on the playing field. But, teaching with sports films comes with risk; turning off the students who have little interest in sports and/or who struggle with sports metaphors and fail to see to see any connection to the workplace. Dream Team 1935 is longish, close to two hours, but is has several scenes showing team development, so I’d like to use it in teaching. It has English and Russian captions along with the Latvian dialogue.

And, it is fun to see how the game was played in 1935. There was no shot clock, so final scores were often in the low 20s. After each basket, there was a jump ball, further eating up the clock. And, free throws were shot underhand, from between the knees!

In spite of a number of crises (lack of financial and political support ) the “little Latvia” team manages to get in shape to play in Geneva for the European championship. While it is a “team”, it is far from playing as a team. Made up of jealous rivals from the University and Army teams, the team is, after several months of rigorous conditioning, physically fit, but still torn apart by past grievances and class distinctions. The University team players never fail to demonstrate disdain for the Army team members. For example, on the train to the first exhibition game in Lithuania, the Army players brown-bag their humble dinner in their 3rd class carriage while the University players eat high off the hog in the dining car.

After the exhibition game in Kaunas, Lithuania, Coach Baumanis issues a challenge. While defeating Lithuania (46-12), the Latvians argued among themselves, displayed poor sportsmanship to its overmatched opponent and failed to share the ball. The coach has had enough. The next day in the hotel courtyard, he tosses the team’s luggage off the van and tells them: “Become a team or we go no further.” The train leaves in 30 minutes; unless they run all the way, they will miss it and the trip to Geneva.
Almost immediately the players argue, push and shove and throw punches, a violent boiling over of mis-trust and resentment. Their team captain – who, to his credit, stays above the fray – intervenes and stops the battle. “The coach is right, ” he declares. “Are we going to Geneva or not? Are we a team?” Then and there they put aside their individual differences. They take turns running with the luggage, reach the station and manage to jump on the moving train.
This is a highly instructive example of the “storming” most work teams neglect to do. I am not suggesting an all out battle; rather, once a team is formed participant grievances, mis-trust, jealousy, and hidden agenda need to be aired, cleared up, and buried.
It won’t be pretty but consider all the gains that can come from teams that know how to do this. After an honest “storming” a team knows and commits to what it is to do and how to do it. Once the Latvian team got past the storming phase, the team knew it was “them” against the other teams in the European championship. Their focus became external and goal oriented.

Another teachable feature: Coach Baumanis’ wife plays a strong role in the film. She supports him from the first scene on. It is her undiminished confidence and certainty that help him get past the lack of support and other machinations of the Sports Committee. She orchestrates, with the help of her friends in the apartment building, making the team uniforms. Through a young well-connected student she is tutoring, the President of Latvia hears of the Sports Committee’s stonewalling and he personally intervenes. And, through the wife, a retired businessman-neighbor lends the team the money to get to Geneva. This recognition of the wife’s contribution is not just a tip of the hat to a very resourceful and supportive woman; the wife’s well-defined role recognizes those characteristics that enable women in Latvia to hold positions of authority and responsibility as many of them do.

Before the championship game versus Spain, Coach Baumanis tells the team: “Until now, I decided who would play.” But, for the championship game, the team will select the 7 players for the official roster; they will self-manage. This means that a few of the players will not dress to play. There is quick agreement about the first 6 but an argument erupts over the 7th spot. – a return to past enmities. The player vying for the 7th slot speaks up. He says: “No, it is not to be me – the other player has better skills against the Spanish team than I do.“ His honest assessment defuses the controversy. Touchingly, there’s a team huddle near the end of the game and the player that relinquished the 7th spot – in street clothes – is part of the huddle. Final score of the first European Basketball Championship: Latvia 24 Spain 18.

The end-of-film acknowledgements are sobering. All the players were caught up in the war, the Nazi and Communist invasions and within a decade four or five were dead. A few escaped, emigrating to Canada and Australia. Coach Baumanis went to the USA via Europe and died in Chicago in 1992.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

Friday Fable. Jean de La Fontaine’s “THE CAMEL AND THE FLOATING STICKS”*

Posted by jlubans on August 09, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: W. Aractingy, 1989.
“The first who saw the humpback'd camel
Fled off for life; the next approach'd with care;
The third with tyrant rope did boldly dare
The desert wanderer to trammel.
Such is the power of use to change
The face of objects new and strange;
Which grow, by looking at, so tame,
They do not even seem the same.
And since this theme is up for our attention,
A certain watchman I will mention,
Who, seeing something far
Away upon the ocean,
Could not but speak his notion
That 'twas a ship of war.
Some minutes more had past,--
A bomb-ketch 'twas without a sail,
And then a boat, and then a bale,
And floating sticks of wood at last!

Full many things on earth, I wot,
Will claim this tale,--and well they may;
They're something dreadful far away,
But near at hand--they're not.”

There you have it. La Fontaine summarizes how many organizations respond to CHANGE:
1. Fear & Flee.
2. Approach with care.
3. Master & Put to use.
If we can get past the first response - that is, we acknowledge our fear or discomfort – well, then we can approach – warily - and master the change and put it to use. We can get over our fear of a strange looking beast and begin to use it for transport. Or, of the oyster and swallow it whole. We can learn from our over-reaction to a fancied fear, that some things may not be as bad as they first appear.
We learn that our anxiety about a new routine amounts to little; that the benefits outweigh our temporary inconvenience. Of course, talking – if that’s all we do - may postpone change for years. When finally it happens, we ask ourselves, what took so long?
I have seen professional groups sit and talk so much about doing something that the doing never gets done. Instead they could experiment carefully and make a wise decision in far less time.
One of the great plusses of experiential learning – if we are open to it - is its emphasis on trial and error. If an approach fails, try something else. You won’t get to the something else without making the first mistake.
I found a sure fire way to break a log-jammed discussion about a proposed change. I’d say, “Let’s try it for two weeks, then we’ll look at it again.” Hardly ever did we need to revisit it. If it worked at all, the people doing the work could figure out ways of fine-tuning the application. If not working? Well, we confirmed our apprehensions and pulled the plug.

The honey bee must re-locate every few years, find a new place to live or die. While operational decisions in organizations are rarely ultimate, the bees have much to teach us.

*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.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Université de Montréal

Copyright 2013 John Lubans

You Are Who You Were When, Maybe

Posted by jlubans on August 07, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

Not long ago I went to my first high school reunion – the 50th. I moved out-of-state right after graduation and never returned. And, I had lost touch with a very good friend, someone who ran track with me; I was hoping to re-connect –after half a century. *
The venue was a seaside hotel in Plymouth, MA. I entered the back door, wandered down a long hallway, and found myself in an open space full of old people. I did not recognize anyone; frankly, I thought I was in the wrong place or maybe the re-union was not until next week.
Well, after twenty minutes, and a couple glasses of truth serum, I started to pick up glimmers of recognition, of remembrances. A few people, blurry to start with, came into focus; others never did. If I’d been looking at a pool of water, I’d have to say it was all roiled up. Eventually, things calmed down and the face of someone I’d been talking to would reveal itself – an “Aha!” moment . The nametag helped! The wrinkles dissolved and I was able to get past the dress-up suit and cocktail dress, the gray hair – what there was of it - and the extra pounds.

This is by way of introduction to a little mind exercise I have been
doing. When I look at a person, a stranger - someone I am meeting for the first time - I try to envision what he looked like as a child. Is the child revealed in a gesture, in a smile or other expression? I’ve had bosses that I could see as children and then I have had one or two who were caught up in adulthood – the child was hidden away, presumably to better rule others.
No, I am not blubbering about “The Child Within” or about a secret society of us vs. them, of kids vs. grownups. We’ve all grown up, most of us have had to work and we’ve done the best we could, and so my little exercise is not about resistance. Rather, it’s about my gravitating toward a person who retains some quality, some fleeting aspect that she had in kindergarten, a facial expression, or a child-hood mannerism. When I see that quality, I usually like that person, I know not why.
Someone who’s glossed over, paved over who he was when, charms me less. (There is, of course, the strong possibility that person does not want to charm me!) Still, like what happened at my 50th re-union, some of the wariness and pretense can melt away from even the most mature; when rehearsing old times, a mischievous gleam enters the eye and the guard lowers.
But, I have to admit; I am drawn closer to someone when I can envision a youthful quality, when a sidelong glance stirs memories of carefree days. When I can hear an echo of something not given up along the way, not sacrificed to be someone else, someone other.

*While I missed my friend and his wife that evening, we connected via e-mail and have gotten together several times since. He’s always been more serious than me, but even now there are times when I catch an evanescent glimpse of those carefree days. In that regard, he has not changed very much at all.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

Friday Fable: Lubans’ The Fallen Tree

Posted by jlubans on August 02, 2013  •  Leave comment (0)

The night storm had wreaked havoc. Deep in the forest, the pelting rain and driving wind had toppled one of the mightiest trees, a monarch of the forest. It’d been sent crashing down onto the forest floor, mortally wounded.
The trees and forest animals gathered to mourn; they surrounded the tree. They looked anxiously about, worried if other storms would come and destroy their land. They worried about their own future. How would they get along without their old friend, its high branches, its corrugated bark, its shade on hot days and its shelter during the cold and wet times?
The fallen tree, with a sigh like that of a gentle wind through leaves, asked: “What do you see?”
The gathered trees and animals look around. “We see the destruction from the storm, the land is torn. We see your bruised body and shattered limbs.”
The fallen tree whispered again, “What do you see?”
The mourners wondered to themselves, “What’s more to see?”
Then, “Wait, wait”, cried one of the smallest trees. “Look up! I can see the sun, I can see the sky. The forest is now open to the sky.”
“Yes, yes”, sighed the fallen tree. “I soon will be gone, but the sun, our mother, will shine down to the forest floor and the young will thrive.”

And so it is, when organizations wax anxious about the departure of a workplace luminary, someone upon whom the sun had shined more than most. We are often encouraged, seemingly obligated, to make dissuading counter-offers.
I always shook that person’s hand and wished him good luck in his decision to leave. Sure, that person was irreplaceable, but I wasn’t going to replace that person. I was going to find someone new, someone who would bring fresh ideas and new perspectives, someone who would come out of the canopy’s shade and grow and aspire to be as grand in her own way as that irreplaceable star.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Nashville Public Library

Copyright John Lubans 2013