When Disaster Strikes, Some Take Action

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

Caption: Helping in the great Louisiana Flood, 2016.

The following post, “The Cajun Navy, Part Two” first appeared on November 14, 2012.
In light of the Cajun Navy’s recent resurgence in Louisiana’s floods, I am posting it again. The Cajun Navy’s been revived, joined by the Cajun Army, no less, helping Louisiana flood victims. It is being done, as the Wall Street Journal opined*, in the finest sense of democracy; people helping each other, a need so urgent one does not wait for the government or other agency to come to the rescue: “Somewhere Alexis de Tocqueville is smiling. In “Democracy in America,” the Frenchman famously pointed to the American genius for coming together in voluntary common purpose as perhaps our nation’s greatest strength.”
Read the WSJs editorial* and then read the comments, some 125. Most point with obvious pride to this latest example of how people are instinctively motivated to help each other – doing as necessary and using existing resources – rescuing 30,000 (yes, thirty thousand) flood victims.
My blog post from 2012 follows. The question at the end of that 2012 post remains valid. Why do some of us wait for help or “let George do it” while others take direct action?

In a previous story about team development
I mentioned the spontaneous teams that came together for a week during the aftermath of the New Orleans flood and hurricane Katrina: the Cajun Navy. I used them to illustrate the positive side of disasters; that the challenge is immediate, it is tangible, and it calls out for humans to help other humans (along with dogs, cats and parakeets!) Sometimes we regular folks reject the status quo and take action.
Jefferson Hennessy’s story, “The Cajun Navy: Heroic Louisiana Volunteers Saved Thousands of Hurricane Katrina Evacuees”, describes how an array of organizers (leaders) and a myriad of volunteers (followers) came together to help a city in desperate need during a time when the city, state and federal leaders and governments - with the notable exception of the US Coast Guard, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement (DWFE) and a few state politicians and other official agencies - seemed incapacitated, unable to do much more than to wait for help, for permission, for the starting bell, for someone to shout DO IT! The volunteers did not wait - no hand wringing for them!
When the volunteers rolled into New Orleans there was considerable uncertainty among even helpful agencies on what to do with them. Hennessey’s account includes examples of how the hundreds of volunteers with their hundreds of boats circumvented officials who were opposed to the amateur rescuers or who were so disorganized and ill-equipped they saw the volunteers as problems not helpers. For example:
At 6:00AM Wednesday, August 30, 2005, Gautreaux (who was mentioned in my first blog) and his citizen flotilla volunteers arrived in New Orleans. They were told to wait. Ryan Mathers, a citizen flotilla volunteer from Maurice, Louisiana recalled, "We sat and waited for about four hours." (The high that day was 98.2F!) Mathers struck out on his own to find a DWFE agent who would give him a mission; he was directed by a DWFE agent to follow him and a group of 15 Cajun Navy volunteer boats to various staging areas throughout the 9th Ward, perhaps the hardest hit of all of the N.O. neighborhoods.
In volunteer Deacon Leger's case, his group of volunteers also tired of waiting outside the city for an official green light and decided to find their own way into the city. Once in, they were told by a Louisiana State Police officer, "We don't need you." Some volunteers turned around and left, but Leger and those who stayed were adamant about completing their mission. They found a sympathetic City of New Orleans police officer that guided Leger and 40 boat owners across the breeched Industrial Canal levee into St. Bernard Parish to launch their boats and rescue efforts into the poisonous water. Leger and many other volunteers defied the “No Pets” policy of the N.O. Police. They believed that after what these victims had endured – hunger, fear, hopelessness – the last thing to do was to abandon their pets
Another major organizer, leader, in the Cajun Navy was Ronnie Lovett . (He, one source says, spent $200,000 of his own money on the rescue operation). Lovett’s initiative and compassion are illustrated in how he helped evacuate a chaplain's two elderly and frail hospital patients in need of immediate medical attention. They would die if left to wait along the road in the blazing sun and soggy heat. Lovett jumped off his boat, went up on the highway and flagged down a military vehicle. The Navy personnel listened to Ronnie and agreed to take the two patients to a functioning medical facility in Baton Rouge.
These stories of humans reaching out to the afflicted further confirm for me our potential for heroic action. I have a few wonderful friends who would do what the Cajun Navy did. What is it that makes them – those friends - so ready to help - even when opposed by officialdom - while some of us stand by and leave it to the “agencies”?

*“The Great Cajun Navy: A voluntary private flotilla comes through in flooded Louisiana

Friday Fable. Sir Roger L'Estrange’s “AN ASTROLOGER AND A TRAVELER”*

Posted by jlubans on August 26, 2016  •  Leave comment (3)

Caption: Illustration by Grandville for La Fontaine's retelling of Aesop’s fables (1855).

“A certain Star-gazer had the Fortune, in the very height of his celestial Observations, to stumble into a Ditch; a sober fellow passing by, gave him a piece of wholesome Counsel. Friend, says he, make a right Use of your present Misfortunes; and pray, for the future, let the Stars go on quietly in their Courses, and do you look a little better to the Ditches.”

LaFontaine offered this moral:
To an astrologer who fell
Plump to the bottom of a well,
'Poor blockhead!' cried a passer-by,
'Not see your feet, and read the sky?'

Perhaps aware that gazing into the future might be hazardous to one’s well-being, most contemporary prognosticators make predictions well beyond their estimated death dates!
I recall the part time "wizards" in my profession who offered much expensive advice to solve my workplace’s problems.
When I inquired what they were doing at their own “shop”, it turned out they rarely followed their own advice, or if they were, the results were hardly impressive.
Pontificate they could, but bring about productive change they could not.
I found it far better to locate on my own “best practice” institutions and then ask the people who were doing it to show me how they did it. More often than not the secret was to let the people doing the work figure out how to best do it. That took a hands-off leadership, a way of leading the wizards would never credit.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

On the Road

Posted by jlubans on August 19, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: In Idaho, Craters of the Moon Monument.

I am on the road, literally, from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast, 3000 miles, 4828 kilometers.
The blog resumes, Friday, August 26.
John Lubans

Exemplary Follower: Olympian Lilly King

Posted by jlubans on August 15, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Lilly King Wins

I often write about followers. After all, leading from the middle is as much about being a good follower as it is about effective leadership. So, I took notice when a 19-year-old swimmer went public with her disgust of athletes who dope to gain unfair advantage (and, indirectly, her disgust with the governing agencies failure to firmly discipline for doping).
Way back when, the East Germans were the most blatant dopers; women transmogrifying into men from steroid use. And, now an investigation reveals that Russian athletes, just like during the old USSR, have been doping for years, doing whatever it takes chemically to make the “Bear” rampant over all.
Lilly King was motivated to speak out when a previously banned athlete, Yulia Efimova, was permitted to compete in the 100-meter breaststroke event. Ms. King, a participant, understood better than most what that decision meant: a deserving “clean” athlete would be excluded from the Games. She explained her decision: “I’m not this sweet little girl, that’s not who I am. If I do need to stir it up to put a little fire under my butt, or anybody else, that’s what I’m going to do.”
No “Yes, man” or a Sheep, she’s an effective follower.
But, as you may know, Robert Kelley, the premier researcher of followership, found that followers who make a difference get taken to the woodshed 50% of the time for being impolitic by speaking the truth.
I suspect the Olympic agencies that suppress anti doping sanctions will find a way to punish her. For the moment, she’s raised valid questions and is riding tall. Her winning the gold medal helps keep the “Make No Waves” mob at bay. May her reform banner keep waving on high!
Lilly demonstrates all the characteristics of an effective follower: a mind of her own, high personal values with fairness paramount, an action orientation to righting wrongs, and fearless in dealing with consequences.
I can well imagine her bosses pleading with her - if she asked for permission – to say nothing. Diplomacy will prevail, the cheaters will be punished, eventually. If not, then karma will catch up with them. In any case, the individual cheater will be guilt-ridden. Really?
A doper feels no guilt, everyone else is doing it, so why not she or he? As many ethically challenged politicians will tell you, the end (staying in office) justifies the means.
Ms. King’s stand against doping exposes how traditional organizations - is there any group more traditional or more bureaucratic than the Olympics? – can drift away from fairness into wrongdoing. Despite the loftiest of ideals, Olympic agencies succumb to media dollars, to state demands for medals, and to just plain corruption, X dollars for Y results.
No wonder they prefer to shove talk of doping under the rug, to emulate the “best” political obfuscation, to ameliorate, to lie, diplomatically of course.
Does Ms. King’s calling out Ms. Efimova make her a Russophobe? Hardly. “Do I think people who have been caught should be on the (USA) team?” King asked. “They shouldn’t. It’s unfortunate we have to see that.” Justin Gatlin, the U.S. Olympic sprinter, take note.
Ira Chaleff in his book “The Courageous Follower” states that a “good follower is able to ‘stand up for and stand up to’ the leader. What that means is supporting the leader when he or she is on the right path, and having the courage to let the leader know when she or he is making a mistake, doing something unethical, or potentially harming the group or organization.”

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Belloc’s “Franklin Hyde, Who caroused in the Dirt and was corrected by His Uncle.”*

Posted by jlubans on August 12, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Uncle about to lay into Franklin, by BTB, 1907

“His Uncle came on Franklin Hyde
Carousing in the Dirt.
He Shook him hard from Side to Side
Hit him till it Hurt,
Exclaiming, with a Final Thud,
‘Take that! Abandoned Boy!
For Playing with Disgusting Mud
As though it were a Toy!’”
From Franklin Hyde’s adventure, learn
To pass your Leisure Time
In Cleanly Merriment, and turn
From Mud and Ooze and Slime
And every form of Nastiness—
But, on the other Hand,
Children in ordinary Dress
May always play with Sand.”

The abusive Uncle – someone call Child Protective Services, please - is like the punctilious boss; all work and no play.
But, Uncle makes exceptions for the fastidious few – like himself - who, “in ordinary Dress, May always play with Sand,” i. e. Mediocrity.
For me, Franklin is about creativity and its messiness (“Carousing in the Dirt”) abhorred by Uncle-type bosses. Appearance and tradition matter more than changing and improving every day.
So, limit your horizons, don’t get your hands dirty, and don’t color outside the lines. “Final thud!”

*Source: “Cautionary Tales for Children” by Hilaire Belloc, illustrated by Basil Temple Blackwood, 1907.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

“One more.”

Posted by jlubans on August 08, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Bosses have made much of a quote attributed to the hockey phenom, Wayne Gretzky: “I skate to where the puck is going to be.”
It pops up when leaders speak mystically of anticipating change. Using that quote, the boss implies he might have some idea of where the “puck” is going to be.
Or, maybe the boss has no more of a clue than anyone else and is simply exhorting subordinates to “Be like Mike!” (I mean Wayne).
I might want to be like Mike and dunk a basketball from 15 feet out, but it’s more likely I will trip and fall on my face near the free throw line.
Ditto for anyone being like Wayne. The experts say that Gretzky had an uncanny ability to read plays. In other words, he had a special gift, kind of like the card player who memorizes all the dealt cards and figures out the mathematical probabilities of what card is next.
Now, as a NHL coach, Mr. Gretzky surely must have admonished his team, the Phoenix Coyotes, to anticipate where the puck was going to be. But his hectoring did not quite have the anticipated effect. Coach Gretzky lost more games (49%) than he won (44%) with 24 ties.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “A Coach’s Influence Off the Field: Sports instructors teach how to manage emotions: perseverance, resilience, conquering fear,” reminded me of the overused Gretzky and Mike exhortations, and, more meaningfully, of several coaches early in my life whose simple words and actions changed me.
If you read the article you’ll note that a coach’s advice is brief; it is succinct and it is specific to something the coach sees that you do not, either in your technique or in your personality. The coach helps you adjust and, most importantly, to challenge yourself to do more, to improve. He or she assesses how ready you are to make that extra effort. An example from the article is a fencing coach’s insightful comment for a fencer in tears over losing: “Were you fencing to fence or were you fencing to win?
Because if you’re fencing to win you never will.”
I recall a PE instructor in middle school. One day, he had the class doing several calisthenics, sit-ups, squats, pushups, etc. Each of us had to do so many to get a passing grade for the class. I could do most of these events, but the chin-up bar was a challenge. I could do maybe five or six. The PE instructor, standing nearby as I dangled from the bar, encouraged me, “One more, do 7”. That “one more” put things into perspective. I gave it a mighty effort, wriggled up and, gasp, did the 7th chin-up!
Small stuff, sure, but BIG stuff to me. I remember that coach and that moment from 65 years ago.
Another of my coaches was “Pop” Toolin. He was the cross-country and track and field coach at Braintree High School. He was also the chemistry teacher. While I did well under his tutelage and training, (and got an undeserved passing grade in chemistry) most of what I did was on my own – I loved to run; I was highly motivated and did extra training, including weight lifting, an early version of cross training. He let me do stuff that other coaches probably would not have permitted and I just really liked the guy. I suspect nowadays Pop, an un-boss, would be seen as far too laissez-faire, but if he was, I benefitted.
Following high school I had another running coach: gruff and fixated on winning. Now, I have to admit I ran faster under that coach than I did under Pop. My relay team won a championship at the prestigious Penn Relays; I was the fifth man and was called up at the last minute to replace an injured teammate. I had the second fastest time, I believe, of the four. So, yes, I ran faster under this coach but I have no recollection of anything he said that made me run faster. I do believe that his techniques and training regimen helped me improve stamina and speed. Talk was not necessary nor did I doubt that he knew his stuff.
How is it that coaches can have these impressive effects on one’s life? Why is it that a coach’s advice or persona may make a greater impression than do many of the other people trying to help us?
For one thing, the article points out, “Most people participate in a sport voluntarily, so they are open to learning. There is emotional intimacy and trust in a good coach-student relationship. And, perhaps most important, the lessons are simple and immediately reinforced.”
That certainly happened for me when the PE instructor calmly encouraged me to do “One more.”

© Copyright John Lubans 2016


Posted by jlubans on August 05, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. MANUFACTURING SUBURB by Clyde J. Newman, 1900.

“The Subject of this Fable started out in Life as a Town Cut-Up. He had a keen Appreciation of Fun, and was always playing Jokes. If he wanted a few Gum-Drops he would go into the Candy Store and get them, and then ask the Man if he was willing to take Stamps.
If the Man said he was, then the Boy would stamp a couple of times, which meant that the Laugh was on the Man. It was considered a Great Sell in Those Parts.
Or else he would go into a Grocery with another tricky Tad and get some Article of Value, and they would pretend to Quarrel as to which should Pay for it. One would ask the Proprietor if he cared who paid for it, and if he said he did not, they would up and tell him to Pay for it Himself. This one was so Cute that they had a little Piece in the Paper about it.
Or they would go and Purchase a Watermelon to be paid for as soon as a Bet was decided, and afterward it would Develop that the Bet was whether the Saw-Mill would fall to the East or the West, in case the Wind blew it over.
It was Common Talk that the Boy was Sharp as a Tack and Keen as a Brier and a Natural-Born Humorist.
Once he sold a Calf to the Butcher, several Hours after the Calf had been struck by Lightning.
As for ordering Goods and having them charged to his Father, that was one of the Slickest Things he ever did.
About the time the Joker was old enough to leave Home, he traveled out through the Country selling Bulgarian Oats to the Farmers. When the Contract for the Seed Oats got around to the Bank, it proved to be an iron-clad and double-riveted Promissory Note. The Farmer always tried to get out of Paying it, but when the Case came to Trial and the Jurors heard how the Agent palavered the Hay-Seed they had to Snicker right out in Court. They always gave Judgment for the Practical Joker, who would take them out and buy Cigars for them, and they would hit him on the Back and tell him he was a Case.
One Day the Joker had an Inspiration, and he had to tell it to a Friend, who also was something of a Wag.
They bought a Cat-Tail Swamp remote from Civilization and divided it into Building Lots. The Marsh was Advertised as a Manufacturing Suburb, and they had side-splitting Circulars showing the Opera House, the Drill Factory, Public Library, and the Congregational Church. Lots were sold on the Installment Plan to Widows, Cash-Boys, and Shirt-Factory Girls who wanted to get Rich in from fifteen to twenty Minutes.
The Joker had a Lump of Bills in every Pocket. If asked how he made his Roll, he would start to Tell, and then he would Choke Up, he was so full of Laugh. He certainly had a Sunny Disposition.
Finally he went to the State of Montana. He believed he could have a Season of Merriment by depositing some Valuable Ore in a Deserted Mine, and then selling the Mine to Eastern Speculators. While he was Salting the Mine, pausing once in a while to Control his Mirth, a few Natives came along, and were Interested. They were a slow and uncouth Lot, with an atrophied Sense of Humor, and the Prank did not Appeal to them. They asked the Joker to Explain, and before he could make it Clear to them or consult his Attorney they had him Suspended from a Derrick. He did not Hang straight enough to suit, so they brought a Keg of Nails and tied to his Feet, and then stood off and Shot at the Buttons on the Back of his Coat."
“MORAL: Don't Carry a Joke too far, and never Carry it into Montana.”

Sometimes, the rubes the Wise Guys cheat catch on. Someone (other than PT Barnum) said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but, on occasion the stork drops a non-sucker babe down the chimney, mostly in Frontier territory. So, if you aspire to be a “Joker”, a Grifter or a tax-subsidized so-called Servant of the People limit yourself to sucker country, namely the East and West coasts.

One of my previous essays has more information about George Ade.

Gender in the Workplace: Getting to Effective Teamwork

Posted by jlubans on August 01, 2016  •  Leave comment (2)

Well, we’ve heard about Factor C, “collective intelligence” and how an abundance of it leads to team success and its absence contributes to failure.
C’s crucial elements: participant emotional or social IQ; the number of engaged participants; and the number of women on the team. Here’s an explanatory quote about effective teams:
“First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.
Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states …
Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men."
The last is quite a finding: women participants tend to influence teams for the better and men less so. It gets worse, if that’s the phrase. When we think of the office jerk, what’s the gender? If you are like me, jerkiness is invariably a male quality. Women can behave despicably toward others, (Ken Kesey’s Nurse Ratched comes to mind) but not in the blunt, anti-social, and rude ways of a jerk. I doubt if the people you want to avoid at work are more one gender than another; I happen to think some women’s unpleasant qualities are simply more refined (masked) than men’s.
Which is all by way of a lead in to a BBC report entitled
Boys 'twice as likely to fall behind girls' in early years”.
It draws me because of what I have personally experienced in life and that I have often admired and wondered why many girls excel in school - apparently more now than ever - than do many boys, myself included.
Hannah Richardson, BBCs education reporter, describes a study that compared girls' and boys' scores in early language and communication skills. An “Early Years” test in England measures children’s’ ability “to listen and express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners' needs.”
Specifically, “they should be able to listen to simple instructions and answer "how" and "why" questions.”
The findings are not good for boys: 25% of boys were unable to meet these requirements, compared with 14% of girls. And for kids from disadvantaged homes, “the difference was more stark, with 38% of boys not meeting the standard compared with 23% of girls.”
There have been other studies and allusions that show how in America, college girls get better grades and perform better overall than do boys.
OK, why? “The report said it was not clear whether this early gender gap was the result of biological differences and rate of development, or social processes.”
I’d guess it is a combination of all three, gender difference, developmental rates and sociability. I’d add another, the educational “construct”, where and how students are taught.
Girls, for whatever reason, do better in class than do boys. Stereotypically, boys act out vs. girls control themselves and are able to focus. When is the “class clown” a girl?
The report suggests girls “develop the behaviour and attributes, such as persistence, independence and flexible thinking, that enable them to learn.” Why is that?
Another BBC report discusses the value of outdoor education – an often marginalized concept much like recess* is treated in American schools nowadays.
Advocates describe five outcomes from regular lessons in natural environments. Of the five themes, three goals relate directly to the notion of C or Collective Intelligence for group work:
*A sociable, confident person
*A self-directed and creative learner
*An effective contributor

Might not an outdoor classroom be far more suitable for many boys than the schoolhouse? No, I am not suggesting that the forest or desert somehow imbues a person with wisdom. Wandering à la John Muir in fields and forests, without guidance, will not make you more empathetic, considerate and communicative – more likely it will lead to hypothermia. Even with a guide, you have to be open and engaged. One of the most frustrating aspects of my leading workshops that involve experiential learning is how some participants expect to be entertained – they bring nothing to the experience and balk mightily when expected to explore concepts, to make transitions from the experience to the workplace. A few suggest there’s no validity in experiential learning or, more directly, that I was a crappy instructor. Many derive a positive experience, make ready transfers to the work place and thank me for the opportunity.
Boys like Peter Pan, (and no, I do not subscribe to the Peter Pan psychosis) might prefer the outdoors to the schoolroom, hence they might have a greater inclination to learn, to absorb.
Regardless of our levels of “C” we boys are expected to grow up and go to work, we are expected to lead and get worked over. I have a minority opinion about the so-called glass ceiling for women. It exists but not because all guys conspire to keep the gals out of the executive tree house. While some men do not want women to boss them, lots of men like female leaders (for reasons of C!) but cannot convince women to accept the top job(s) – maybe women know better, I would venture).
Have I upset you, the reader, with these cerebral doodles on gender? That’s not my intent.
No, I am frankly worried that many boys are not doing well in school or in society. Sure, there are many who make it big or muddle through and get the breaks, etc.
While some men and women stand out - they are genuine leaders, true contributors - some men do not. An educational system that claims it is overwhelmed and accepts a success rate of 80% as good enough, suggests another problem in the construct. I gather that since there are different levels of achievement among tested groups of boys, that indeed there are influences, tangible and otherwise, why some boys do better than other boys; can we not focus on those and see the effect?

Perhaps outdoor education – a process that allows for physical activity in groups along with action teaching and group discussion might help boys, and girls, who lag behind in the traditional classroom and eventually in life’s classroom.
Boys seem saddled with some genetic afflictions that do interfere in learning; I can refer you to a Robert Graves poem about one such driving force.
Perhaps we should look at ways to help boys rather than squeezing them into a construct that seems far more effective for girls (due to their genetics) than it is for boys. The positive societal outcomes might be well worth the effort.

*Take a look at a New Zealand school’s “No Rules” playground and twice a day 40 minutes recesses (after “forced food breaks”!) American tort lawyers would love it! No such frivolous lawsuits permitted in New Zealand.

PS. Robert Macfarlane’s "magnificent meditation on the words we have for describing the natural world" offers up another dismal picture for boys (and girls) out of doors: a survey that shows "that the area in which British children were allowed to play on their own had shrunk by 90%. Their “roaming radius” was down to house, yard, pavement and, one might add, parking lot. They just don’t get out much."

© Copyright John Lubans 2016