“Stealing People’s Choices Is Wrong.”

Posted by jlubans on May 30, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)


I have a micromanaging friend; let’s call him Sam. He’s a boss and at the top of his field - well regarded by external peers - but I’d say Sam’s organization is working far below capacity. His inability to trust, his lack of confidence in subordinates is all-pervasive. One staffer likens Sam to Kim Jong-Un – the ultimate micromanager.
Over a period of years, many of this organization’s best people have gone elsewhere. Unfazed, Sam pats himself on the back; his people are in demand because of the high quality experience they have gained by working for him!
Perhaps worse, since everything has to go through Sam, a lot is left undone; new outreach programs, new uses of existing resources, remain in suspense.
I pick up on the notion that since he is not ever satisfied, that even competent staff do lackluster work; which of course fulfils Sam’s expectations. Why bother to do your best if whatever you do is always nitpicked to pieces?
I like Sam, he’s a good friend, but then I do not work for him. (By the way, most micromanagers are not likeable because their mistrust foozles relationships. And, some are mean and petty – they enjoy finding fault and taunting; Sam’s not one of those).
Were he to ask me for advice about improving his leadership I’d start the conversation with a valuable bit of democratic work place philosophy from Charles Handy: “Choices, in fact, are our privilege (our right), although they come disguised as problems, and stealing people’s choices is wrong.”
If Sam mulls that over and wants more, I’d recommend Rebecca Knight’s article from August, 2015, “How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team”.
Why is micromanaging harmful? Knight responds: It “displaces the real work of leaders, which is developing and articulating a compelling and strategically relevant vision for your team.”
In my experience, leaders who did this “real work” developed highly productive and successful organizations.
Ms. Knight prescribes several ways by which to bring about a change in how Sam looks at people and what he expects of them. She would ask: “What can you do to give your people the space they need to succeed and learn? How should you prioritize what matters? And how do you get comfortable stepping back?”
She recommends “undertaking a cross-evaluation assessment.” Gather confidential data from your people—or better yet, have a third party do It with a guarantee of anonymity. What Sam hears may be sobering – remember the Kim Jong-Un comment? - “but it’s critical to understanding the broader patterns and reactions and the impact [your micromanaging has] on your team.”
Looking back on my own career, that cross-evaluation assessment would have benefited me, an extreme macromanager, (sometimes, “hands off” is worse than “hands on”!)
And, I could have been a better boss for my direct reports had I asked each of them these questions:
“How can I help you best? Are there things I can do differently? Are our overall objectives clear to you and do you feel you have the support and resources to accomplish them?”
I always assumed that my highflying objectives were clear to others. Bad assumption.
So, there’s a balance to strive for. Obviously the newbie employee needs direction and supervision, the veteran less so. It comes down to knowing when to let go. I do not know if Sam ever will know? Do you?

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE FLEA AND THE MAN”*

Posted by jlubans on May 27, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Charlie tap-dancing; Finnegan, on left, coaching. Moguls looking on.

“A Flea bit a Man, and bit him again, and again, till he could stand it no longer, but made a thorough search for it, and at last succeeded in catching it. Holding it between his finger and thumb, he said—or rather shouted, so angry was he—‘Who are you, pray, you wretched little creature, that you make so free with my person?’ The Flea, terrified, whimpered in a weak little voice, ‘Oh, sir! pray let me go; don't kill me! I am such a little thing that I can't do you much harm.’ But the Man laughed and said, ‘I am going to kill you now, at once: whatever is bad has got to be destroyed, no matter how slight the harm it does.’"
“Do not waste your pity on a scamp.”

The minuscule Charlie, pictured above, another flea in durance vile, takes an alternative path, reinventing himself, as they say in the office, into a performing flea. Managed by the hapless Finnegan in the cartoon, Charlie’s repertoire includes singing and tap dancing. He Looks Like Your Ordinary Flea - Until He Opens His Mouth! You Won’t Believe What you hear!
Remember Jose Cura's “Norma”? Charlie does it better.
Alas, the cartoon ends tragically. The bartender slaps the bar and inadvertently ends Charlie’s Hollywood career. Finnegan, the man, is desolated. His dreams of swimming pools, chauffeur driven limousines, starlets on each arm - the really good life is not to be.

*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 2016

Changing the culture, Pt. 2

Posted by jlubans on May 23, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: KGB Interrogation desk, “House on the Corner”*, Riga, Latvia.

As promised in the “Shining the Boss’s Shoes” blog about changing an organization’s culture, this vignette comes from my recent interviews with Andris Vilks, the director of the National Library of Latvia. It relates how as a young, newly appointed director – under Communist rule – he took steps to change the predominant culture of secrecy and fear at his institution.
While relating to me the influences on his way of leadership, he recalled an incident from his school days. It was 1968, a time when one had to be careful with saying anything other than what was expected of all good citizens of the Soviet Union*.
Andris’ teacher asked the class for the date when Latvia became free. Andris responded, much to the chagrin, I’d imagine, of the teacher, “November 18, 1918” - the date of the proclamation of the Republic of Latvia, its first true Independence.
What he was supposed to parrot was: “November 7: Long Live the Soviet Union, Fortress of Peace and Nations Fraternity!”
Subsequently, he was informed upon by one of his classmates and was hauled up before a board and castigated, just short of expulsion.
“From that moment,” Andris told me, “I was against the Soviet Union and I began a passive resistance to the Soviet way.” While an adolescent, he understood very clearly what had been done to him; dissent – in any form and at any time – was a punishable offense.
Years later, when he was promoted to the directorship of the National Library Andris was aware of the ten or more “informers” – his word - in the library. Informing, including to the KGB, was a common practice during Soviet times, widely accepted, and expected. Informers received intangible and tangible rewards from the ruling/enforcing culture.
So, on his first day as director he told each of the ten to never come to him with gossip or “information”. This action made clear to everyone this practice was over and done with; it was not going to continue under his leadership.
He was able to do this, he believes, because by 1989 he was well respected (protected) in many quarters for his knowledge and work in the profession; and, because these were the last days of the Soviet Union. Latvia regained its second independence on August 21, 1991. Still there was risk; hard-core communists inside Latvia and Russia wanted to crush the independence-seeking rebels. Had the communists prevailed, Andris would have been fast-tracked to Siberia or worse, after a KGB "interview" and secret imprisonment.
Now, many years later, after bringing about the splendid, iconic national library building (the “Castle of Light”) on the banks of Riga’s Daugava River, he still avoids the “whisperers” and people trying to share a secret. “If I feel a negative vibration (at work), I talk directly with the people involved - I do not go around collecting opinions from people - If something is wrong I try to intervene directly or delegate to the person in charge of the involved unit.”
Are you that kind of leader/follower? Someone who “walks his talk” and does not succumb to the easy temptations of office politics? If more organizations adopted Andris’ values of genuine transparency and direct action, the workplace would be far better for it.

*Background: Latvia was made into a Soviet satellite by a secret agreement between the Nazis and the Communists prior to WWII. Inexplicably, the Yalta conference, with America’s ailing President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, England’s Winston Churchill and Russia’s Joseph Stalin, upheld this secret pact and continued the enslavement of several million people in the Baltic countries, not to mention other nations subordinated to the communist way.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Lion, Jupiter, and the Elephant”*

Posted by jlubans on May 20, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)


“THE LION wearied Jupiter with his frequent complaints. ‘It is true, O Jupiter!" he said, ‘that I am gigantic in strength, handsome in shape, and powerful in attack. I have jaws well provided with teeth, and feet furnished with claws, and I lord it over all the beasts of the forest, and what a disgrace it is, that being such as I am, I should be frightened by the crowing of a cock.’ Jupiter replied, ‘Why do you blame me without a cause? I have given you all the attributes which I possess myself, and your courage never fails you except in this one instance.’ On hearing this the Lion groaned and lamented very much and, reproaching himself with his cowardice, wished that he might die. As these thoughts passed through his mind, he met an Elephant and came close to hold a conversation with him. After a time he observed that the Elephant shook his ears very often, and he inquired what was the matter and why his ears moved with such a tremor every now and then. Just at that moment a Gnat settled on the head of the Elephant, and he replied, ‘Do you see that little buzzing insect? If it enters my ear, my fate is sealed. I should die presently.’ The Lion said, ‘Well, since so huge a beast is afraid of a tiny gnat, I will no more complain, nor wish myself dead. I find myself, even as I am, better off than the Elephant.’”

Here’s how another translator ends this fable: “The Lion thereupon took heart again, and determined not to let troubles, which he shared in common with all created things, blind him to what was pleasant in life.” (Aesop. The book of fables: Containing Aesop's fables, complete. N.Y: Hurst. 1880?)

And so it can be at work, when we let anxiety and envy dictate our thoughts instead of enjoying all the good things available to us like close friendships, our team mates, a supportive boss, not to mention employment when many are seeking work. Is not the lion like the executive in fear of being exposed as an incompetent? That anxiety is right up there with "underachieving, appearing too vulnerable, being politically attacked by colleagues, and appearing foolish."

*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 2016

Changing the culture, Pt. 1

Posted by jlubans on May 16, 2016  •  Leave comment (2)


My friend LaVerne Thornton is drafting a new book. It’ll be his third and will relate more life lessons from the work world.
He sent me an excerpt; a chapter of anecdotes about someone he worked with when LaVerne was plant engineer for a manufacturing concern in rural North Carolina. That someone was Burnis Beal, the plant’s janitor.
LaVerne tells of how his boss – the plant manager – would routinely bring in his dress shoes for Burnis to shine even while knowing Burnis, like himself, was a WWII veteran, indeed a decorated one.
While Burnis never complained about it, LaVerne found this to be a demeaning task.
Still, Burnis did all of his work in a quiet unassuming way.
I am going to let LaVerne take over at this point (I have his permission to use his words):
“In a couple of years I was named plant manager. After a few days as plant manager Burnis came in and said, “Hey, boss let me shine your shoes.” I said, “Burnis, I am ashamed that you would ask me to let you shine my shoes. You take that stuff home and never mention it again.”
The next morning I asked Burnis to come to the office with me. I told him to take a seat. He appeared to be wondering, ‘what is this about?’
I asked him to take off his shoes and hand them to me. He seemed to be reluctant to do so but complied. I reached into one of my drawers and took out a bag. I took our some shoe cleaning stuff and some shoe polish. I polished his shoes as he watched. I handed his shoes back and said “My Goodness Burnis, put your shoes on.” I followed up with, “I know you as a man and as a soldier, if I were to ever become close to being the hero that you are, then you can shine my shoes.”
“I did this as an act from my heart but the word spread and I believe it reversed the sour attitude our employees had towards the former plant manager.”
LaVerne was following his heart as illuminated by Jesus: “So, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” He sums it up: “Not bad as a management philosophy.”
My next blog will an excerpt from my lengthy interview with, Andris Vilks, the director of the National Library of Latvia and how as a young, newly appointed director – under Communist rule – took steps to change the predominant culture of fear at his institution.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable: Krylov’s “The Musicians”*

Posted by jlubans on May 13, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Musical critic as bird-in-the-tree.

“THE tricksy monkey, the goat, the ass, and bandy-legged Mishka, the bear, determined to play a quartet. They provided themselves with the necessary instruments — two fiddles, an alto, and a bass. Then they all settled down under a large tree, with the object of dazzling the world by their artistic performance. They fiddled away lustily for some time, but only succeeded in making a noise, and no more.
‘Stop, my friends!’ said the monkey, ‘this will not do; our music does not sound as it ought. It is plain that we are in the wrong positions. You, Mishka, take your bass and face the alto; I will go opposite the second fiddle, Then we shall play altogether differently, so that the very hills and forests will dance.
So they changed places, and began over again. But they produced only discords, as before.
‘Wait a moment!’ exclaimed the ass; ‘I know what the matter is. We must get in a row, and then we shall play in tune.’
The advice was acted upon. The four animals placed themselves in a straight line, and struck up once more.
The quarter was as unmusical as ever. Then they stopped again, and began squabbling and wrangling about the proper positions to be taken. It happened that a nightingale came flying by that way, attracted by their din. They begged the nightingale to solve their difficulty for them.
‘Pray be so kind,’ they said, ‘as to stay a moment, so that we may get our quartet in order. We have music and we have instruments; only tell us how to place ourselves.’
To which the nightingale replied:
‘To be a musician, one must have a better ear and more intelligence than any of you. Place yourselves any way you like; it will make no difference. You will never become musicians.’” (emphasis added)

You may have noted who’s first violin (the erstwhile boss): the monkey!
In my business, we’d go through disruptive episodes; these were termed, euphemistically, “re-organizations”. Unlike the candid nightingale, the participants in these administrative shuffles were reluctant to speak the truth, so we would re-arrange ourselves in hopes of some ineffable improvement in “communication” – our “music”.
The telltale clue in most of these re-groupings was the lack of any objective measures to gauge the improvement. Did we sound better? Did we listen to each other to inform our music? Was our music sweeter post-reorganization? Did we interpret the score the way the composer meant it to be?
If anyone within the organization spoke up like the nightingale they’d be portrayed as overly harsh and too blunt, destroying the group’s esteem and obstructing efforts to improve.
The re-grouping did have one positive aspect: the illusion that something was changing, somehow for the better.
On the other hand, I can say unlike Krylov’s talentless and tone deaf quartet the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra** – which plays famously without a conductor (a nightingale?) - does not hesitate to self-correct. In concert hall rehearsals, one or more musicians will go out into the middle of the hall, listen, and then report back as to the sound and ways to improve. I have long wondered if we in the workplace could not emulate this practice to improve our group efforts.
The nightingale, far from being a heartless critic, is what most organizations (and individuals) desperately need: someone to speak the truth.

*Source: The World’s Wit and Humor, Vol. XIV, Russian, Scandinavian, and Miscellaneous Wit and Humor; The Review of Reviews Company; New York; 1906; pp. 19-21.

**Search this blog for Orpheus and get a dozen or more essays.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Thinking Impractically.

Posted by jlubans on May 09, 2016  •  Leave comment (2)

Caption: NOT thinking impractically!

Keeping to my contrarian ways, there are times when impractical, indirect thinking may be better than following the scientific model of problem solving. The Eureka moment may come from sitting in a bathtub rather than running countless computer simulations.
That’s kind of the premise for a collection of fables for leaders.
My far-flung e-book team of author (NC), designer (Riga), illustrator (NYC), and editor (NC) is making progress. We’re producing an e-book for Fall 2016 based on the Friday Fables from this blog.
We’ve narrowed the fables down to 100 (out of more than 175) and have divided the 100 into five categories: Effective leader, Effective follower, Goals and Strategic Planning, Office Politics, and “Them and Us”. And, we’ve assigned several sub-heads to each category.
The book will open with Aesop’s “THE CRAB AND THE FOX”*
“A Crab once left the sea-shore and went and settled in a meadow some way inland, which looked very nice and green and seemed likely to be a good place to feed in. But a hungry Fox came along and spied the Crab and caught him. Just as he was going to be eaten up, the Crab said, ‘This is just what I deserve; for I had no business to leave my natural home by the sea and settle here as though I belonged to the land.’”
“Be content with your lot.”
My commentary begins: “This disputable moral – aren’t they all?” and goes on from there about just how contented one should be, if at all.
The book's purpose is to re-tell a good story and to inspire the reader to think about how this story and countless others engage us and help us in gaining a greater awareness of self.
Also, the fable e-book will serve as a text for a short class on literature and leadership in early 2017 at the University of Latvia.
Students will gain a new perspective on the world of work, a helpful one that exercises qualitative skills rather than relying excessively on quantitative analysis. This may be an “impractical” notion when compared to the purely practical - but I like to think that it is more than a little relevant to real world situations and helps us understand human behavior and improve one’s social IQ.
Right now, I’m considering the title. Originally, I thought my “Wisdom in a Thimble”* was a slam dunk, what with memories of the family in the kitchen, the children at mother’s knee while she sews and tells stories.
Then a young person asked, “What’s a thimble?”
I’d like for the title to catch the eye and to suggest what the book is about. Here are several brainstormed ideas:
“Fables for Managers: Thinking Impractically.”
“An impractical way of thinking.”
“Another way of thinking.”
“You’re not paid to think!”
“Uncritical thinking.”
“Be practical! Think impractically!”
“Fables for Dummies.”
I’m still looking. While eye-catching is important, more important is the implied suggestion that fables (among other literature) offer us insights into life problems, to our inculcated values. Those insights are not readily visible when one follows a disciplined, step-by-step, allegedly objective and critical approach to problem solving. Often, it’s the indirect path taken that leads to a break through. (Now, that sounds like the moral to a fable!)
The peculiarly worded end note of a translation** of Krylov’s fables is similar:
“Fable stories, readers saw in this book, are different …. Looking as a fiction they may be expanded on real everyday situations. Being supported by verse, stories easier touch our memory showing sometimes a path how to solve problems applying our knowledge and experience.”
That’s sort of what I am trying to get at, the idea that fables, ancient and new, or any kind of literature – stories - can give us insights that we might miss or overlook in our data driven, objectified seeking of solutions.
Be practical! How often have you heard that? The pragmatic beats daydreaming, does it not? Yet, we are directed to “challenge conventional thinking with original ideas”. How does one do that?
Fables are indirect, curvilinear (like life), oblique, off-kilter ways of getting to unexpected resolutions. It is anarchic, unconventional thinking.
It is Taoist. It is the way of the un-boss: “If you want to lead people, You must learn how to follow them.”
It is the idea of “doing by not doing”.
It is the Taoist’s counter to Stephen Covey: “Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.”
I already use literature in my classes - short stories, legends, myths, and fairly tales. They’ve been helpful; certainly a simple story can encompass complex life philosophies: equality, fairness, and kindness, helping others. Where do those notions come from? Why do they matter? Or, do they? I can imagine some would think not. These are core values for most of us. Engage them through simple stories and see where it takes us.

* That was the title of my February 24, 2016 fables workshop at the National Library of Latvia. It had 35 attendees and produced five new fables.

**End note, by David Karpman, “Fables of I.A.Krylov” 2010.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016


Posted by jlubans on May 06, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Caddy in the rough.

“One Day a Caddy sat in the Long Grass near the Ninth Hole and wondered if he had a Soul. His Number was 27, and he almost had forgotten his Real Name.
As he sat and Meditated, two Players passed him. They were going the Long Round, and the Frenzy was upon them.
They followed the Gutta Percha Balls with the intent swiftness of trained Bird Dogs, and each talked feverishly of Brassy Lies, and getting past the Bunker, and Lofting to the Green, and Slicing into the Bramble—each telling his own Game to the Ambient Air, and ignoring what the other Fellow had to say.
As they did the St. Andrews Full Swing for eighty Yards apiece and then Followed Through with the usual Explanations of how it Happened, the Caddy looked at them and Reflected that they were much inferior to his Father.
His Father was too Serious a Man to get out in Mardi Gras Clothes and hammer a Ball from one Red Flag to another.
His Father worked in a Lumber Yard.
He was an Earnest Citizen, who seldom Smiled, and he knew all about the Silver Question and how J. Pierpont Morgan done up a Free People on the Bond Issue.
The Caddy wondered why it was that his Father, a really Great Man, had to shove Lumber all day and could seldom get one Dollar to rub against another, while these superficial Johnnies who played Golf all the Time had Money to Throw at the Birds. The more he Thought the more his Head ached.

Moral: Don't try to Account for Anything.”

I feel this caddy’s pain. As a former caddy – in pre-golf cart days – I’d carry the bag on my shoulder and walk all over usually along with three other caddies in a foursome of players. Sometimes, I’d carry two bags, but the rate did not double – it went up one and half the one-bag rate. I’d usually make about $1.50 or $2.00 per 18-hole game.
Perhaps I was subconsciously feeling what Ade’s caddy is thinking – the unfairness of this arrangement.
My early riser clients – 7AM tee time - often found me mooning around instead of eagle-eyeing their wayward shots into the “rough”. “Why the hell are you not looking at where the ball goes?” was not an infrequent question.
If there was a caddy-master, he never gave me a job description; wasn’t carrying the bags enough?
I remember crawling out of bed on Saturday and Sunday mornings for 7AM tee times. After three or four hours of trucking bags, I’d get paid – reluctantly so when the golfer blamed me for losing the ball he’d shanked into the woods - and then I’d whiz – like a pony heading back to the barn - down the fairway to the city’s movie house in time for a double feature, usually cowboy movies at .50cents, 25% of my income! The rest was dissipated at the candy counter to the benefit of the dental enterprise in my fair city.
On a rare occasion I’d get a .50-cent tip. Tips were far and few for even a good caddy - the caddy shack guys told me there were some folks who tipped big - but most did not. The big tippers had their favorite caddies; the non-tippers took potluck with kids like me.
While my head was mostly full of the movies I was going to see, George Ade’s caddy is thinking deep thoughts. He’s right about his dad being a Great Man. I hope he did not let the inequity of it all – his dad’s circumscribed life vs. “these superficial Johnnies who played Golf all the Time (and) had Money to Throw at the Birds” impede his bright future. Of course, Mr. Ade alludes as well to why some people have it so good while so many do not. We should always bear that in mind the next time we glide past the less than fortunate.

Caption: George Ade looking more like a prescient Sherlock Holmes than humorist.

*George Ade (1866-1944) was a newspaperman from Indiana who made his mark in Chicago writing about the common man. His Fables in Slang (e.g. “The Fable of Why Essie's Tall Friend Got the Fresh Air”) were syndicated across the United States and enjoyed a huge success. Influenced by Mark Twain, he influenced PG Wodehouse and Will Rogers, among others. The latter made more than one movie based on Ade’s writings. Wodehouse recorded Ade’s snappy witticisms in his writer’s notebooks and adapted them to his stories. Wodehouse’s personal library - in the room in which he did his writing - featured a shelf of Ade’s books.
This is the first fable by Mr. Ade in my Friday Fable series. His archives are at his alma mater, Purdue University.

**Source: George Ade. “Fables in Slang.”

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

The Holistic Organization – A look inside the OKC Thunder

Posted by jlubans on May 02, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: AFTER losing in the 2012 NBA finals, 4,000-Plus Thunder Fans cheer the Team’s return.

Up to the day of her death at 92 in 2013, my wife’s mother, LaVerne O. Anspaugh, was a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder. She never missed a televised game. A year before her death, she went to see them play. The Thunder kindly provided center seats (in the sold-out arena) and she and her party were met at the front door and escorted in. Her name was up there in lights on the Jumbotron.
At her memorial service, many in the congregation wore their Thunder T-shirts! She would have approved.
The Thunder have been in OKC less than a decade, arriving in 2008, thirteen long years after the 1995 OKC bombing which killed hundreds and depressed OKC’s economy.
Not that 2008 was a great year to move anywhere; nor did Seattle release this team (then named the Seattle SuperSonics) without a fight.
It was meant to be. From the git-go, the team was welcomed by OKC. It was as if both had something to prove, something to achieve, something to show the world we’ve suffered but we’re not down and out. As usual, some jeered, a basketball team in Oklahoma? It’s “like building an igloo in the desert.”
So much for the experts. Instead of failing, the Thunder has one of the highest winning percentages in major sports. Right now they are in the second round of the NBA playoffs; in 2012 they played in the NBA Finals.
And, in football-worshipping Oklahoma, the Sooner (OU) and Cowboy (OSU) fans put aside their mutual hate and converge as one into “Loud City”.
A story in the Wall Street Journal explores the Thunder’s success, the team’s culture and its place in the community.
Ben Cohen, the writer, credits the organization’s holistic culture for the team’s success. “Team” here means everyone; players, front office, staff, the fans, not just the super stars. There’s a prevalent culture of respect and inclusion, it seems, more so in OKC than in other NBA teams. It’s a realization by everyone that “what happens in the team office is related to what happens on the court.” Or, as lead player Kevin Durant said it:
“When you walk in the building every day and see things running the right way,” … “you go out there and practice the right way and play the right way.”
Of course, it helps to win.
More than a decade ago, I interviewed NASCARs Petty Racing team. They had all the latest fads – a fitness coach for the pit crews, film reviews of every race, and three teams running three separate cars and networking information during each race.
Everything looked great and sounded great. But, they never won. Why?
Micromanagement. One of the driver’s wives perched next to the crew chief during the race! Imagine an NFL quarterback’s wife on the sideline kibitzing the coach.
Un-cooperation. The three teams refused to share information before, during and after the race. Doing so might mean the sharing team’s driver could lose. So, all three lost.
Yes, it does help to win.
So, I am not always convinced that the latest fad (e. g. letting super star Steph Curry eat prohibited peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) or mental health counseling or resiliency training leads to a team’s success. I look to the intangibles that suggest a larger philosophy. An example: The way the team selflessly and concretely ($2 million) helped the community following the tornado disaster in 2013.

Caption: Russell Westbrook and fans “feeling it”.

Another example: Players regularly visit kids in children’s hospitals.
More? When Kevin Durant gave his MVP acceptance speech he mentioned - name-by-name - coaches, players and staff and explained why each mattered and that he loved them all. Not the typical acceptance speech by a MVP.
Does OKC do everything right? Cohen glosses over the firing of the OKC coach, Scott Brooks. I wrote about Mr. Brooks and his effective coaching style, a model for the rest of us in any organization.
Most fans liked “Scotty”. He was instrumental in identifying the team with the city. Of course, when you lose – regardless of explanation - some “fans” and sports pundits cast stones. During a losing streak, they second-guess the coaching (an “unsophisticated offensive scheme!”) or suggest that when a super star has an off night, they’re “not stepping up!” Infamously, the “Oklahoman”, a newspaper, headlined a slumping Kevin Durant, “Mr. Unreliable”.
Apparently Sam Presti, the Thunder’s general manager, was listening to the critics. In a telling note, Cohen mentions that Mr. Presti is an architectural aficionado, keeping glossy architectural mags and bios of mega-architects in his office.
Sure, to build a legacy. I get the metaphor, but some architects or wanna-be architects develop an idée fixe; there’s one way to do this and it’s his or her way. Mr. Brooks describes the hardly holistic split-up: “Sam told me, 'We don't want you back.' I got up, I shook his hand and said thank you. And I walked out.’”*

The new coach, Billy Donovan, is doing well; I’d say he is wisely building on what Brooks accomplished. Indeed, one fan (my wife) told me, that Donovan initially was going to change the offense but now is pretty much using the Brooks design, and winning. I like to think that the players – the people doing the work - have had some influence on Mr. Donovan’s coaching and that he is more a player’s coach than a front office coach.
I am happy for the many Thunder fans, including LaVerne Anspaugh, that Brooks’ leaving has not led to the team’s demise. The Thunder’s continued success says as much about the new coach as it does about the former coach and about the caring Thunder culture for players, staff and fans.

*Brooks, after a year off, has been asked to repeat what he accomplished in OKC, this time in Washington DC. The DC Wizards may well have made the right choice. A player’s coach, a relationship builder, Brooks – if given freedom – just might turn the Wizards into a winning team.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016