Friday Fable. Lubans’ The Two Roosters

Posted by jlubans on October 30, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)


Once upon a time, a farmer and his wife were given a rooster, Rex by name. They added him to their brood of egg-laying hens.
Rex ruled the roost with an iron claw and a steel beak, brutalized the hens into submission; he’d strut and swagger around the barnyard, proclaiming with a strident cock-a-doodle-doo, that he was lord of all he surveyed, and ready to take on all comers. Spitefully, he’d take vicious pecks at bare feet and hands – even those that fed him.
Well, as we all know, those who rule by fear are often replaced by someone more ruthless, more ambitious, (petty tyrants take note) than the immediate tyrant.
One day, another rooster, likely fleeing a neighbor’s stew pot, landed, literally, in Rex’s yard. Bolder, younger and feistier, he soon vanquished Rex in combat and banished him to cower in a bush on the barnyard’s periphery.
Left only with dreams of glories past, the lonely Rex looked around for a friendly face. He turned to the farmer and followed him about docilely. Alas, the farmer, while sympathetic with Rex’s plight, knows Rex will soon have to meet his destiny – in the freezer.
What does this have to do with the workplace? Eventually, the office bully, the bad boss will be replaced by a badder boss or a more vicious bully, or, better, if the governing board displays some courage, will be removed for a true leader.
Rule by fear gets only temporary results and, overtime, merely mediocre. While hens may shiver at the tyrant and humans become wary, it’s always at a cost to the organization. Low morale begets low production, low innovation and eventually a failed business, a failed organization, unless and until a supportive and compassionate leader - despising bully tactics - comes to the rescue.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Handshakes as Team Ritual

Posted by jlubans on October 26, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Homer Handshake.

Just prior to winning the 2015 national basketball champion, Duke University published an article, “For Duke, Handshakes an Expression of Togetherness.” It spoke to one of the team rituals that seemingly contributed to the team’s success.
That article links to an explanatory video* about how these handshakes – as frequently as five times during a game - came about and how they helped the team remain cohesive in their run-up to the championship game. Everyone credits Quinn Cook, a senior starter and co-captain, with creating and maintaining the tradition of these unique handshakes, numbering some 200.
Since I evangelize about self-management for individuals as well as teams, it’s worth noting that this ritual originated from the players, the team; none of the coaches were involved. Interestingly, the head coach does not participate in the handshakes. I wonder what it would be like if he did? I imagine Coach K would do better than Homer Simpson does in the illustration.
Are you wondering what this has to do with leadership in the workplace? As readers of this blog know, I look for examples in many domains of team building techniques that could transfer to the workplace or help illustrate the underlying concepts of effective team building.

Caption. Two Board Members Practicing the Bro Hug!

Now, I doubt anyone is going to begin a ritual of hugs and handshakes among the members of a board or at your next (shudder) committee meeting, but there is something to the notion of touching that can make for a lasting connection.
Touching, like that found in a traditional handshake or a touch of the arm, the shoulder, or a pat on the back can strengthen relationships. Touching someone introduces a different, more intimate dynamic in a relationship. It grounds a group's camaraderie, that “we’re in this together” feeling.
What do Mr. Cook’s teammates say? The handshake can be “confusable” as one player said, – talk about a Yogi Berra-ism - but it “reminds me to relax and to have fun”; it’s a “connecting between you and your brother.”
It’s “used to tell the team: “We have each other’s back … we love each other.”
“It’s a lighthearted thing that calms everyone down.”
Caption. Handshake “culprit” - one player's term - Quinn Cook, #2.

As the team’s co-captain, Mr. Cook put the handshake tactic to good use when (in 2014/2015) he had to “take on the task of mentoring 4 freshmen on an eight-man team. He was the rock and stability that Coach K needed during this year.” Often, a sports captaincy – the head of the players - is in name only; under Coach K, the captain is an extension of the coaching staff, a leader who holds teammates accountable on the hardwood.
Mr. Cook elaborates: I “always do the handshake, (even when) yelling at the guy or praising the guy… (it) symbolizes our relationship”
As a leader, “sometimes I can get on a guy, tell them to pick it up and give them a handshake.
How effective was Mr. Cook? Suggestive of Mr. Cook’s standing with the team, he was voted by them as their co-Most Valuable Player along with the freshman (super star) Jahlil Okafor.

*Another brief video can be found here. Set to music, it quickly explains the handshake ritual and provides a dozen examples from Mr. Cook’s repertoire.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE TORTOISE AND THE EAGLE”*

Posted by jlubans on October 23, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: “OK, OK, piece o’cake. Let me go. Let me go-oooo-oo.”

“A Tortoise, discontented with his lowly life, and envious of the birds he saw disporting themselves in the air, begged an Eagle to teach him to fly. The Eagle protested that it was idle for him to try, as nature had not provided him with wings; but the Tortoise pressed him with entreaties and promises of treasure, insisting that it could only be a question of learning the craft of the air. So at length the Eagle consented to do the best he could for him, and picked him up in his talons. Soaring with him to a great height in the sky he then let him go, and the wretched Tortoise fell headlong and was dashed to pieces on a rock.”

Sometimes, when you think you are ready to “disport” yourself in a top-level job, it’s best you don’t. You may not be ready to fly at that level and it is a kindness, not a cruelty, when someone stops you.
Early in my career, I’d wax impatient with rules about tenure or years of experience. It all felt like thwart and stifle, an excuse to deny my ambition simply because of my age. Looking back, I am glad I did not always get my way and in some instances I regret that I did.
So, you may be willing and able but you may not be ready.
One version of this fable gives the eagle an ulterior motive. He drops the turtle from on high onto a pile of rocks and then dines leisurely and sumptuously on the remains. Someone who facilitates your premature ambition may not be doing so in your best interests.

*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.

© John Lubans 2015

Rugby in the Workplace

Posted by jlubans on October 19, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

UPDATE: October 31, 2015 All Blacks win (34-17) the World Cup over the Wallabies of Australia at Twickenham, London, UK. Back to back championships, the first rugby team to do so!

Caption: New Zealand’s revered silver fern appears on the All Blacks, all black, uniform

A friend recently recommended a teamwork book* about New Zealand’s All Blacks, (AB) rugby team. Rugby is just a notch less violent than open warfare; a tough game. Played all out without pads, it’s thrilling to see one team sweeping down the field with lateral passes while the other pushes back, no holds barred. The All Blacks team is among the winning-est sports teams of all time, claiming a 75% win record over a hundred year run.
Naturally, it’s of interest to people like me how that kind of success comes about. What is unique about this team? Why does it win consistently? And, of course, do any of those identified “drivers” for success transfer to non-sport organizations?
The book, published two years ago, is back in the news because the AB team is bulldozing to another Rugby World Cup. Last week it topped the French team, 62-12, and qualified for the semi-finals.**
The book lists out and applies some 15 leadership lessons.
I’ve not read the book, but I’ve read a couple of recent essays
by the book’s author, James Kerr, in which he elaborates on several of the ABs leadership lessons. A few of these appeal to me because they are contrary to what goes on in many sports and organizations these days:
“Sweep the Sheds.”
At game’s end, the senior players clean up the locker room. It’s an act of humility, one of several values in the AB culture and a constant reminder for not believing all the media hype. How would this core value play out in the workplace? Quite well; it’s what servant leadership is all about.
“No Dickheads”***
If you are a jerk you won’t play for the All Blacks. A jerk would undercut the Maori concept of whānau or the “extended family” of the team. There's a Maori saying that sums up the meaning of the whānau for the individual in a team: "My strength does not come from my individuality, my strength comes from many."
Those of us working in established organizations may have to deal with jerks hired before we came along, but we can make a point of not hiring any new jerks. Too often I’ve seen people hired for technical skills not for attitude or people skills. Instead, flip it around, hire attitude, train for skills. “The All Blacks select on character as well as talent, which means some of New Zealand's most promising players never pull on the black jersey …, their inclusion would be detrimental to the whanau.”
“No Team Talk”
The pre-game ritual in the locker room, a time when some coaches seek to emulate the “Win one for the Gipper” speech, is, for the All Blacks, the team’s own. When an organization confronts a challenge, exhortation by the boss is rarely as effective as employees having a say about and a go at the problem.
A “Philosophy of Marginal Gains”
Kerr refers to the “marginal gains” concept when he writes about how the ABs follow the mantra of “Champions Do Extra”. It applies to forever seeking to improve one’s skills in tiny ways. Over time those incremental improvements add up to huge gains. This notion of marginal gains, as practiced by the biking team, Team Sky, (among other organizations) is well worth thinking about when it comes to changing any organization. Wholesale change, from top to bottom, will likely fail; incremental change, building on small wins (even a 1 percent improvement), may well, over time, transform an organization in positive ways.

* James Kerr, Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. 15 Lessons In Leadership (Published by Constable, 2013)
**UP NEXT: Sat Oct 24 2015
Rugby World Cup 2015, Semi Finals, Match 45
Semi Finals
South Africa vs. New Zealand
Twickenham, London, Kick off: 16:00 UK time
***Oxford Dictionaries’ definition of dickhead, noun, vulgar slang: “A stupid, irritating, or ridiculous person, particularly a man.” In other words, a jerk.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Goat and the Ass”*

Posted by jlubans on October 16, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Wanted. Saboteur Goat.

“A MAN once kept a Goat and an Ass. The Goat, envying the Ass on account of his greater abundance of food, said, ‘How shamefully you are treated: at one time grinding in the mill, and at another carrying heavy burdens;’ and he further advised him to pretend to be epileptic and fall into a ditch and so obtain rest. The Ass listened to his words, and falling into a ditch, was very much bruised. His master, sending for a leech (physician), asked his advice. He bade him pour upon the wounds the lungs of a Goat. They at once killed the Goat, and so healed the Ass.”

Goat as saboteur. This fable picks up where Monday’s blog (October 12, 2015) on “silent sabotage” left off, namely, organizational sabotage through “spreading low morale (a “culture of complaint”) among shop and office worker.”
Which is what the envious goat does with the silly ass and wreaks a bit of havoc for the farmyard organization.
But, as sometimes happens our goat suffers a career ending unintended consequence.
So, for all you wannabe saboteurs let this be a cautionary tale.

*Source: 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 the Gutenberg Project.

© John Lubans 2015

Tips for Wrecking an Organization. Free!

Posted by jlubans on October 12, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)


Are you disgruntled at work? Are you gruntled but surrounded by unhappy workers? You might want to leaf through the Strategic Services Field Manual #3, Simple Sabotage. It was developed by the Office of Strategic Services near the end of WWII to teach, depending on what side you were on, how to incur or spot sabotage. The nefarious tips for harassing the enemy ranged from over-flowing toilets on the factory floor to spreading low morale (a “culture of complaint”) among shop and office workers.
Declassified in 2012, the manual made few waves; but last month (September 2015) there arrived a management how-to book based on the manual. There’s even an accompanying film noire video.
In its 200 pages the authors dedicate a chapter each to the eight ways of sabotage listed and explained in the 1944 manual. Apart from a multitude of tips for destroying machinery and wrecking plumbing, electrical, and transportation systems in the field manual, the 2015 book is largely about “a second type of simple sabotage” – the human element. Exploiting that, as stated in the 1944 manual, “requires no destructive tools whatsoever and produces physical damage, if any, by highly indirect means. It is based on universal opportunities to make faulty decisions, to adopt a (sic) uncooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit.
Making a faulty decision may be simply a matter of placing tools in one spot instead of another. A non-cooperative attitude may involve nothing more than creating a (sic) unpleasant situation among one’s fellow workers, engaging in bickerings (sic), or displaying surliness and stupidity."
Here are four chapter headings from the 2015 book followed by quotes from the 1944 manual.

Sabotage by Excessive Caution:
“Advocate ‘caution.’ Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow-conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.”

Sabotage by Re-opening Decisions:
“Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.”

Sabotage by Obedience:
“Insist on doing everything through ‘channels’. Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions."

Sabotage by Committee:
“When possible, refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration.’ Attempt to make the committees as large as possible - never less than five.” And, don’t forget to “haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.”

These bring back nightmarish memories of how in my profession we practiced and rewarded some of these very techniques. They were never called sabotage of course, but rather seen as a wooly-minded type of “best practice” well worth emulating. Indeed some regarded these practices as professional and were convinced that this is how leaders lead!
It was always risky to stop these techniques; doing so carried a considerable chance of punishment by risk-averse peers and higher-ups.
At one of my jobs, it was only after decisive leadership that some (not all) of us abandoned the old ways of “paralysis through analysis”, “death by committee”, and risk avoidance regardless of cost. Doing so, we took on risk but made huge gains in our innovation and productivity. It should be noted – which is what the 2015 book purports - that every organization has a fifth column ever lurking, waiting to re-impose excessive caution and obedience at any opportunity. One manifestation of this, at least in my business, occurs when genuinely successful leaders and followers leave, search committees invariably lean toward hiring more conservative-minded staff.

Copyright © John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE GOAT AND THE VINE”*

Posted by jlubans on October 09, 2015  •  Leave comment (2)

Caption: Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1912.

“A Goat was straying in a vineyard, and began to browse on the tender shoots of a Vine which bore several fine bunches of grapes. ‘What have I done to you,’ said the Vine, ‘that you should harm me thus? Isn’t there grass enough for you to feed on? All the same, even if you eat up every leaf I have, and leave me quite bare, I shall produce wine enough to pour over you when you are led to the altar to be sacrificed.’”

In the vengeful vein of “don’t get mad, get even” the vine gets his own back.
In the office, I like to think, this fable might apply to the boss who is jealous of a star-follower’s achievements – indeed that boss claims those achievements for herself while never publicly recognizing the worker’s innovation and productivity. Turning about, the worker moves on and achieves recognition elsewhere.
And, this fable could apply to the goatish boss who claims responsibility for an organization’s success but blames workers when things go downhill.

*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.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

“Error 404 — Democracy Not Found”

Posted by jlubans on October 05, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)


Democracy is said to derive from the failure among the gods to resolve the complex issues (all of which end in “cide”, as in patricide) among Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Orestes, et al. The gods, throwing up their hands, appointed Athena – reason’s goddess – to come up with a resolution. She appoints a citizen-jury to develop an “arrangement that can set all these contesting demands in some kind of balance that accommodates all sides. In so doing, (Athena) founds democracy.” In Athens, no less.
Which brings us to the “Error 404”. Modern Greeks grimly grin, like tragedians, when asked about democracy in these dark days of loan defaults and peremptory demands from the European Union. Greece is hardly unique in her dismay.
While we may cherish democracy it seems like the world’s 120 or so democracies are always slip-sliding toward the autocrat, the command and control boss, even the despot, elected or self-appointed. Low voter participation contributes. We want democracy but do not seem willing to take the time and effort demanded by real democracy.
Frank M. Bryan*, who researches Vermont’s democratic towns and their annual meetings, defines democracy: “Real democracy occurs only when all eligible citizens of a general purpose government are legislators; that is, called to meet in a deliberative, face-to-face assembly and to bind themselves under laws they fashion themselves.” But, “real does not mean good.”
And that is borne out by our workplace cartoon, with the big-hearted boss giving us permission to make suggestions. At best, our NGO can only be a partial democracy. Although I suspect there are genuine democratic workplaces – with “a deliberative, face-to-face assembly” and everyone having an equal vote and abiding by the outcomes of those votes - but I have not found them. Several come close, but most in my experience, including my own self-managing teams, have been partial.
Still, because of the success of many of these partial democracies - including a few of the ones I worked with - they are worth far more than a passing glance.
Keeping with the Greek motif, it might take a stage comedian, à la Aristophanes, to josh us into understanding what it takes for democracy to work. September’s Southwest airline magazine has an article, “Comedy of Errors”, which lays out the participant’s role in workplace democratic teams.
One of the author’s key points** from her experience as a comedy writer and performer is that you should “Just do it.” No, she’s not shilling for Nike; she explains: Doing it means getting on board and saying “Yes” to the people on your team. “You must show up.” And, you need to come with a good attitude.
Saying Yes to your team – in other words joining in the work of the team – means “respecting the people you are with.” And, listening.
But, just saying yes is not enough; you need to “bring your voice, your point of view and your own unique experience.” If you don’t have one, “shut up and listen until you get one.”
In my experience the best egalitarian teams were made up of people who participated fully – they had ideas or knew a good idea when they heard it. No team member held back information. And everyone was able – as peers “in a deliberative, face-to-face assembly” - to offer up a perspective, to help the group arrive at solutions superior to any autocrat’s idea.
Like the townspeople of Vermont when they pass the town budget and agree to “bind themselves under laws they fashion themselves”, being democratic means knowing the issues, having an informed point of view, being willing to hear contrary ideas and sharing your own ideas. It’s not helpful to be against something without explaining why and offering alternatives. Showing up for the annual town meeting is not enough – even if you have nothing to say, you need to know the issues so that you can cast an informed vote. The same applies to workplace teams as well as my classroom project teams.
Without full participation by all team members the best you’ll get is a lame team. Of course, a team is not a government – that quintessential requirement of all democracies – but a work team can behave like a democracy in letting people have their say and letting them take responsibility for what they say and do. Each team member should be thinking of ways to improve and be willing to share those ideas in order to derive greater value for the organization and its clients.

Leading from the Middle Library of the week: Sonoma County Library, Santa Rosa, CA United States

*Bryan, Frank M. Real Democracy: The New England Town Meeting and How It Works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2004. 320 pp.

**Katie Rich offers up four other points for effective teams:
“Know your role. See the whole picture. Don’t try to fix everything. Goshdarnit, be good to each other.”

© Copyright John Lubans 2015

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Lion and the Three Bulls”*

Posted by jlubans on October 02, 2015  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustration by Milo Winter (1886-1956) from his Aesop for Children, 1919.

“THREE BULLS for a long time pastured together. A Lion lay in ambush in the hope of making them his prey, but was afraid to attack them while they kept together. Having at last by guileful speeches succeeded in separating them, he attacked them without fear as they fed alone, and feasted on them one by one at his own leisure.”
“Union is strength.”

One translation of this fable has the bulls quarreling amongst themselves, breaking apart, and falling prey to Mr. Lion. So, internal conflict – whatever the source can lead to disaster.
At work, I’ve been involved in my share of internecine strife – it’s difficult to resist once you lose sight of the “big picture” and become part of a faction. I remember departments cold shouldering each other and panning ideas for improvement if made by the opposition, however worthy the ideas. We squandered work time and morale on disparaging each other. We gained little through the strife, but our customers came out worse. Internal jealousies that frustrate implementing good ideas and leave foolish policies in place only result in lower levels of customer service.
If you are a new leader/follower in an established and traditional organization (like the ones I’ve worked in) do you try to better understand someone’s alternative view? That kind of openness could be like the sunshine and dispel the miasma of distrust, of disrespect. Or do you aggravate the gloom with the grey clouds of misunderstanding? Do you permit “guileful speeches” to go unchallenged? Do you get sucked into the bad-mouthing?
The only way out of a backstabbing culture is for the organization – initiated by a leader/follower - to practice mutual respect and trustworthiness.

*Source: 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 the Gutenberg Project.

Copyright © John Lubans 2015