Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Farmer and the Snake”*

Posted by jlubans on May 30, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

20140530-snake good deed.jpeg
Caption: A la those Facebook postings, “if you can read this you are smarter than 95% of the general population” (of Singapore).

“ONE WINTER a Farmer found a Snake stiff and frozen with cold. He had compassion on it, and taking it up, placed it in his bosom. The Snake was quickly revived by the warmth, and resuming its natural instincts, bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. ‘Oh,’ cried the Farmer with his last breath, ‘I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel.’"

“The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful.”

This fable brings to mind a professional associate with a reptilian reputation. A predator at conventions, he would use his position as the head of a major public library to entice young professionals into “friendships” with promises of employment. Fortunately, his binge drinking usually precluded any reciprocation on the part of whomever he was soliciting. Whenever a newly made “friend” followed up on the job offer with a visit to this director’s office, she or he would be met with a vacant stare and told to submit a resume to the personnel department.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop's fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at Gutenberg.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

“Double in Ourselves”*

Posted by jlubans on May 27, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: HARING, Keith. DOUBLE MAN, Print, 1986

Edward Mendelson’s “The Secret Auden” has set me thinking about the characteristics of the unboss, the unboss as leader.
I have attributed several qualities to the democratic leader, the unboss, among them:

Leads by example
Works alongside
Waits for others to initiate

Takes “risks”
Tolerates mistakes
Defends staff
Shares praise; accepts blame

Is a gentleperson

Mendelson tells of the many kindnesses and courtesies to others – real and substantial - the poet WH Auden provided throughout his life. He “…was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.”
Before I go on to explain why Auden shrank from the limelight of praise, I would tack on “generous and honorable” to the list of unboss qualities.

Auden was reluctant to judge others; he had come to realize that he was the last person to cast blame on someone else. He could have, but chose not to since he believed that he was not much better than the next guy. “Auden preferred to err in the opposite direction, by presenting himself as less than he was.”

While showing personal restraint he knew that it would not take much to slip into rage and over to the dark side, indeed he’d been there. Mendelson quotes Auden writing to his former unfaithful lover: “on account of you, I have been, in intention, and almost in act, a murderer.”

The unboss recognizes, like Montaigne, we are “double in ourselves” (good and bad) and knowing that, she should be the last to act with absolute certitude, that there is only one way, hers! The unboss is not deluded into thinking others need only follow and all will be well. He understands even when he has THE answer, that there are other answers, some even better than his or that his idea can be made better.
Now, “double in ourselves”, is not about being of two minds, waffling. It is rather, as explained above, the unboss being open to other views, always seeking the best solution, not just his, and then acting.
Virginia Woolf, according to Mendelson, when speaking of the imagined, indeed promoted, superiority of writers to their readers anticipated and argued for an egalitarian relationship between the author (leader) and the reader (follower). For her, books “should be the healthy offspring of a close and equal alliance between us.” A close and equal alliance. Shades of the “invisible leader” and other good things that Mary Parker Follett – Woolf’s contemporary - endorsed for leaders and followers!
So these qualities - honor and generosity - eloquently exemplified by Auden’s life, are ones that further help to outline the unboss, the unassuming leader, the leader resisting demagoguery and championing the egalitarian bond between workers and leaders.
OK, then, are being honorable and generous exclusive qualities of the unboss? Of course not! But, the unboss is less likely to act dishonorably or to stint generosity? Why? Because the unboss is more aware of his or her personal limits and has a greater understanding of the internal tension between good and bad. I suppose I have a foot or other body part in the uncertain terrain of ethics. So I may have stepped in it, but I doubt an unboss would knowingly make another person suffer. The regular boss (some more so than others) would be less reluctant if it is a so-called “business decision” that leads to suffering.

*“We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.” ― Michel de Montaigne

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Sick Kite”*

Posted by jlubans on May 23, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

“A KITE, sick unto death, said to his mother: ‘O Mother! do not mourn, but at once invoke the gods that my life may be prolonged.’ She replied, ‘Alas! my son, which of the gods do you think will pity you? Is there one whom you have not outraged by filching from their very altars a part of the sacrifice offered up to them?’”

“We must make friends in prosperity if we would have their help in adversity.”

The moralist appears to misconstrue the fable’s meaning. Well, at least his take is not like mine. Even Aesop may have missed a beat here; the son’s comeback ought to be, “But, mother, you taught me!”
Well, that’s the nice thing about fables; there are as many interpretations as there are readers. I am reminded of my own situation as others are reminded of theirs.
For me, this fable seems more about alienating important people through outrageous behavior than it is about making friends in good times so they’ll not abandon you in bad.
Of course, since kites are scavengers, the son was doing what he was meant to do. Kind of like those humans who believe they are destined to mandate (and more) the rest of us where and how to live.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop's fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at Gutenberg.

Alien reading: Leading from the Middle Library of the week: Eastern New Mexico University at Roswell - Learning Resource Center.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014


Posted by jlubans on May 20, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption. Alone at the shore. Photo by M. Lubans-Othic, @May 2014

The novelist Ruth Thomas recently wrote about the importance of being lonely. She asks, “Is loneliness always a bad thing – or should we cherish our pre-internet memories of ‘vacant and pensive’ moods?
Now, in my eyes, there’s a difference between being lonely and being alone. The forlorn Hank Williams’ hearing “That Lonesome (train)Whistle Blow” is not the same as what Ruth Thomas feels in an isolated cottage 300 miles from home and family and, not inconsiderably, off the grid (OTG). Hers is a “creative loneliness”.
“What I did have, of course, was plenty of time to think – and what I ended up thinking, was:
a) Oh God, I’m really lonely
b) This reminds me of my childhood
c) Will my family ever forgive me?
d) I have to start writing something
e) Oh! I’m beginning to enjoy myself.
I suppose a kind of survival instinct had kicked in at (e); and I could either go quietly mad or use the loneliness I was experiencing and do something with it.”

Jerry Campbell, in his “ride a wild horse” article* speaks of setting time aside weekly, if not daily, for thinking – a deliberate respite away from the distractions of busy-ness (the “mosquitoes” of the voracious ordinary.)

Much of my writing and thinking comes about in solitude; walking in the woods or being in Maine, on a lake I’ve known for 50 years. But, even there the Internet intrudes if I let it. Far better, I believe, to click the off button and welcome the OTG quiet. Can you stand it? What happens when you do nothing, when you are idle?

I’ve advocated that managers should do “solos”. What’s a solo? You go off into the woods, find a quiet spot and stay in place 3 or 4 hours. No sight or sound of human interaction – no phone, no laptop, no watch. Other people are near but you cannot see or hear them. What do you do? Some sleep. Others sit and ache for distraction and action. We think of the next meal, of work or family and create mental to-do lists. Eventually, if we are open to it, that need “to do” fades and wood sounds surround us, the bird’s warble, the bee’s buzz, the rustle and tiny movement of leaves as something passes through. Our focus narrows to a square foot or so, we observe what is happening in that square, we look deeply and we wait, the mind stops its relentless scan for distraction. A calmness descends, time slows or so it seems. I wait, I see the unseen, I hear my heart beat, I stare at my shoelaces, I consider the tiny leaves, the buds, the new growth on a nearby bush, the sky above, the sun and clouds (or rain), the play of light around me, the air, the scent of the earth.
That calm lingers as I re-group with other soloists. We talk little; slowly, maybe reluctantly, we return to not being alone. But, it stays with me; the calm is always there for me to return to.

*Campbell, Jerry D., “Management Style: At Least Once Ride a Wild Horse into the Sun,” North Carolina Libraries, pp. 234-238, Winter, 1989.

For your eyes only, there are now 1,378 holding libraries for e- and print versions of Leading from the Middle. You can get your own print copy for half off from the publisher.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Saturday’s Friday Fable, Aesop’s “The Ass and His Shadow”*

Posted by jlubans on May 17, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Ass absconding with shadow.

“A TRAVELER hired an Ass to convey him to a distant place. The day being intensely hot, and the sun shining in its strength, the Traveler stopped to rest, and sought shelter from the heat under the Shadow of the Ass. As this afforded only protection for one, and as the Traveler and the owner of the Ass both claimed it, a violent dispute arose between them as to which of them had the right to the Shadow. The owner maintained that he had let the Ass only, and not his Shadow. The Traveler asserted that he had, with the hire of the Ass, hired his Shadow also. The quarrel proceeded from words to blows, and while the men fought, the Ass galloped off.”

“In quarreling about the shadow we often lose the substance.”

Speaking of shadows, a colleague of mine had an unhappy experience in an administrative shadow-land. The “shadow” in her situation was an unqualified internal candidate (Joan) who had been chosen as a department head (long before my colleague was on site). This was done, my colleague later surmised, to avoid conflict with and to “reward” the long serving and loyal, Joan. Joan agreed, in writing, to relinquish the position after serving three years. Five years later, Joan was still the department head and appeared to have forgotten the tacit, albeit written, agreement. What to do? The dealmakers showed my newly hired friend the letter of agreement. She was to tell Joan to step down. My friend did so. Joan was outraged and stormed out of my colleague’s office, never to speak to her again and to forever term my friend a “cowardly worm.” Strangely, Joan never blamed the dealmakers – all three of whom were still in residence.

“Open books” are one of the many advantages of a democratic work place. Shadowy deals are eschewed; conflict is dealt with in an honest and open way. Delay, subterfuge and procrastination are not options.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES By Aesop Translated by George Fyler Townsend (probably from this edition): “Three hundred and fifty Aesop's fables”. Chicago, Belford, Clarke & Co., 1886.
Available at Gutenberg.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: Dowling College Library
Oakdale, NY United States
As a side note, there are now 1,378 holding libraries for e- and print versions of Leading from the Middle. You can get your own print copy for half off from the publisher.

@John Lubans 2014

Reasons NOT to Free up the Workplace

Posted by jlubans on May 15, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: A different kind of change.

*The hierarchy is not broken; there’s no need to fix it.
*Lacking urgency for change, any method of organization is OK.
*You may “self-manage” yourself out of a job.
*If you succeed in introducing freedom you’ll agitate the naysayers. If you fail, you’ll hear no end of “I told you so’s”.
*You believe that most people need direction and you’re the one to provide it!
*Terms like democracy, freedom and self-management are relative, like the light from a dimmer switch, from pale to bright. Most change initiatives achieve the former, all too few the latter.
*An intergenerational organization (any group together for more than 25 years) may be like the proverbial old dog.
*Some managers believe they have been called to fulfill a mission; no other is as capable or as resourceful as she. Indeed, he is irreplaceable until replaced.
*Democracy in the workplace is just another way to load more work on an overworked and underpaid staff; it’s a new composition of an old, deceptive, tune: “Work smarter, not harder.”
*If your clients (stakeholders) are of an autocratic mind, they’ll side with the passive/aggressive group opposed to freedom.
*Your leadership group believes it is only natural that a few are meant to lead and many to follow.
*Some managers depend on maintaining, indeed increasing, inefficiency.
*You believe that maintaining – aye, preserving – the status quo is a leader’s supreme accomplishment.
*“They got my carpet dirty.” (What one boss said after adopting an open-door policy.)

A daunting list, BUT, if you still yearn for freedom (along with greater productivity and happier clients) and are ready to battle all these reasons not to, then go for it.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Good deal on book continues.

Posted by jlubans on May 13, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

There's a half off deal at ABC-Clio. In time for beach reading!
I am traveling and will post my usual Tuesday blog later this week. The topic:
Reasons NOT to adopt democratic concepts or 50 Ways to Leave Your Latest Organizational FAD.
Part of my travel is to finish up a pilot questionnaire on librarian attitudes toward freedom at work. I am working on this with my colleague Robert Farrell at Lehman College in NYC.

Friday Fable: Aesop’s “THE LARK AND THE FARMER”*

Posted by jlubans on May 09, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: "The Lark and Her Young Ones" card advertising Sauer's Flavoring Extracts ca. 1908.

“A Lark nested in a field of corn, and was rearing her brood under cover of the ripening grain. One day, before the young were fully fledged, the Farmer came to look at the crop, and, finding it yellowing fast, he said, ‘I must send round word to my neighbours to come and help me reap this field.’ One of the young Larks overheard him, and was very much frightened, and asked her mother whether they hadn't better move house at once. ‘There's no hurry,’ replied she; ‘a man who looks to his friends for help will take his time about a thing.’ In a few days the Farmer came by again, and saw that the grain was overripe and falling out of the ears upon the ground. ‘I must put it off no longer,’ he said; ‘This very day I'll hire the men and set them to work at once.’ The Lark heard him and said to her young, ‘Come, my children, we must be off: he talks no more of his friends now, but is going to take things in hand himself.’"
“Self-help is the best help.”

At work, I could always count on a few people who helped promptly and some others who sort of helped. Most staff, regardless if there was a crisis demanding “all hands on deck”, were always too busy to pitch in. It was not until we paid for the extra hours that we saw interest in helping. Perhaps I should have demonstrated more urgency as to why the work needed to be done. When the mother lark spoke, the chicks knew it was time to go – the urgency was real. Some leaders cry wolf, exaggerate , or even lie. You might get away with it once like Aesop’s boy, but, if you depend on cooperation and collaboration to confront a crisis, you’ll be the loser.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

Half off SALE: Order your library a copy of Leading from the Middle right here!

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

“Democracy he has to learn.”

Posted by jlubans on May 06, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

What is the best way to lead and organize the workplace?
Seventy-five years ago, the distinguished researcher Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) responded with some preliminary answers to this fundamental question. Working at the University of Iowa, he and his research group filmed how several young boys groups interacted with three types of leaders: democratic, autocratic and laissez-faire. The film’s “production values” are woeful but the lessons are profound.
The clubs had names like “Dick Tracy” and “Secret Agents No.52” and were composed of a half dozen or more, 10 or 11-year-old boys each. They met 1 hour per week with an adult leader.
Each club was exposed to three types of leaders and the researchers noted the effects of each type of adult leader on each group.

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Caption: Screen capture, the democratic leader (center) leading a vote.
The democratic model featured group planning with adult cooperation. As explained in the film, children were free to choose with whom to work and what to do. Planning was done cooperatively with majority decision. (In the film, the boy working on the left was asked to take part in the vote.)

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Caption: The autocratic leader directing.

The autocratic leader dominated the group. He decided what to do and when to do it. There was no long range planning; rather, the boys were instructed step by step in each activity in a “friendly, but determined manner.”
The laissez-faire adult leader allowed the boys individualistic behavior with minimal adult participation.

Here are some of the results:

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Caption: Individual differences (horseplay or individual expression) were pronounced in democracy and negligible under autocracy. Lewin and his researchers conclude something all of us have observed in rigid hierarchies or totalitarian regimes: “Autocracy kills individuality.”

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Caption: Time on work
This screen "grab" displays the time the boys spent working with the leader present (in) and with the leader absent (out). The most time spent on task was (as expected) under the autocratic model when the leader was directing the work. However, as we would expect, when the boss leaves, goofing-off begins - far more than what happens when the democrat leaves the room. It should be noted that when the autocratic leader supervises, “the work proceeds as intensely as in the democratic. But, the product frequently shows a poorer quality.” The lower quality of what is produced and that the work disintegrates when the boss leaves, suggest that the democratic way may well be more productive. As Reid* summed it up, “there was more originality, group-mindedness and friendliness in democratic groups. In contrast, there was more aggression, hostility, scapegoating and discontent in laissez-faire and autocratic groups.”
Why then are there not more democratic work places? Well, Lewin suggests that hierarchy takes less time: “Autocracy is imposed upon the individual. Democracy he has to learn.” Perhaps it is as simple as that, in the short term imposing autocracy is easier and more cost effective than asking workers to learn democratic ways. When I led an initiative for self-managing teams, we confronted a steep learning curve. Several of the teams thrived but some never made it up the curve; they were pseudo-teams, pretending to be independent and productive when in fact nothing changed. Becoming proficient with democratic ways takes work; and, the learning, Lewin claimed would only come through “a process of voluntary and responsible participation.” Voluntary implies a desire for the democratic. Lacking that desire, we choose the usual arrangement, however inferior.

* Reid, K. E. (1981) From Character Building to Social Treatment. The history of the use of groups in social work, Westpoint, Conn.: Greenwood Press. P.115.

Of Note:
The fifth edition (2013) of the management classic, Reframing organizations…. by Lee G. Bolman & Terrence E. Deal cites my 2001 basketball team research study, now revised and updated as Chapter 8: “More Than a Game: A Season with a Women’s Basketball Team” in Leading from the Middle.

50% Off Sale: Now’s the time to order your copy of Leading from the Middle!

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE ASS IN THE LION'S SKIN”*

Posted by jlubans on May 02, 2014  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The Ass Found-out.

“An Ass found a Lion's Skin, and dressed himself up in it. Then he went about frightening every one he met, for they all took him to be a lion, men and beasts alike, and took to their heels when they saw him coming. Elated by the success of his trick, he loudly brayed in triumph. The Fox heard him, and recognised him at once for the Ass he was, and said to him, ‘Oho, my friend, it's you, is it? I, too, should have been afraid if I hadn't heard your voice.’”

(Moral from the Milo Winter Aesop: “A fool may deceive by his dress and appearance, but his words will soon show what he really is.”)

In 1906, Maurice Switzer offered up a relevant adage in “Mrs. Goose, Her Book”: “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”
I have to agree. I never could soap up my speechifying to make it slip and slide across, so when asked to elaborate on some topic, my tendency was to wander and backtrack rather than to zero in with pithy zingers. Some regarded this as ineptitude; a few would listen and ask a question or two to get to the crux. One colleague set himself up to “translate” what I was saying, a kindly gesture that had the unintended effect akin to a parent’s correcting a backward child.

*Source: AESOP'S FABLES A NEW TRANSLATION BY V. S. VERNON JONES WITH AN INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR RACKHAM (Publisher: London: W. Heinemann; New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1912). Available at Gutenberg.

Half off SALE: Order your library a copy of Leading from the Middle right here!

@Copyright John Lubans 2014