Friday Fable. Aesop’s The Widow and Her Little Maidens*

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

Caption. Illustration by Walter Crane, in his “Baby’s Own Aesop”. 1887, page 16.

“A WIDOW who was fond of cleaning had two little maidens to wait on her. She was in the habit of waking them early in the morning, at cockcrow. The maidens, aggravated by such excessive labor, resolved to kill the cock who roused their mistress so early. When they had done this, they found that they had only prepared for themselves greater troubles, for their mistress, no longer hearing the hour from the cock, woke them up to their work in the middle of the night.”
What’s the Moral? Just in time for the making of New Year's resolutions, Crane's is “Laziness is its own punishment.”
Sometimes when we exchange the predictable for the uncertain we can complicate our otherwise simple lives.
At work, we may stop doing some procedure –which is inconvenient and boring - but once absent we see our mistake. Without that procedure, we accomplish less and satisfy fewer customers.
So, maybe the lazy maids should have thought through what could happen once the source of their misery was gone; had they, they might have spared the rooster.
That said; do not hesitate to eliminate redundant checking of other people’s work (in some ways what the mistress does to the maids). Nothing is gained by it – no real work gets done, time is lost and workers are infantilized.

*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

Friday Fable. Book Update.

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

Illustration by Béatrice Coron for the forthcoming book, early 2017. One of several original images.

This illustration is for a new fable, “The Fox Gets Left Behind”.
It was co-authored by Evita Stankeviča; Lana Augule; Inga Vovčenko; Tamāra Černišova; Ilona Vēliņa-Švilpe; Ieva Krūmiņa; Viktorija Moskina at the "Wisdom in the Thimble: Managers and Fables" discussion I led at the National Library of Latvia in Riga, February 24, 2016.
The book will be both print on demand (6x9 softcover) and in electronic format. A team effort, it is being edited by Sheryl Anspaugh and designed by Alise Šnēbaha. Drawn from the over 200 Friday Fables in this blog, the book will have about half.
From the book’s introduction:
“Consider this collection of fables and commentary an anti-textbook. Fables for Leaders has no acronyms to memorize, no lists of habits to acquire and certainly - for a management book - no quadrants and axes to retain.
Instead, these stories come from Aesop, 550 BC; Odo of Cheriton, 1200’s; Laurentius Abstemius, early 1500s; LaFontaine, 1670’s; and Sir Roger L’Estrange, 1690’s; more recently, the Russian fabulist, Krylov, ca. 1810. I have written my own fables since 2011 and several are in this collection.
Fables for Leaders includes 100+ short stories of talking animals and trees…. and my ruminations on each. I emphasize the philosophical and ethical aspects in these stories – from across the centuries - to my own on-the-job experiences, - successes and failures - and relate them to our contemporary behavior and decision-making.
We relate to stories, we remember stories, and these fable stories may help in thinking through and solving in untraditional ways, problems on the job.”

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Compassion Vs. Empathy

Posted by jlubans on December 20, 2016  •  Leave comment (1)


Stop the e-presses!
Well, maybe not that big a deal, but our seeking leaders/followers with beaucoup empathy (as I wrote recently in “Bibliotherapy for (Recovering) Jerks”) may not be precisely what we want!
How can that be?
Maybe a quibble, but the word empathy is understood by some as “the ability to relate to another person’s pain vicariously, as if one has experienced that pain themselves.”
According to an essay in the WSJ, “The Perils of Empathy,”
“In politics and policy, trying to feel the pain of others is a bad idea. Empathy distorts our reasoning and makes us biased, tribal and often cruel”
In clinical trials, as they say, it was found that
“Empathy was difficult and unpleasant—it wore people out.
This is consistent with other findings suggesting that vicarious suffering not only leads to bad decision-making but also causes burnout and withdrawal.”
Interesting or a bizarre semantic quibble?*
Do we not use the terms interchangeably? Surely when we feel empathy for someone in the workplace we want to say we’ve walked in their shoes and understand where they are coming from and what they are going through. And, implicitly, we want to do more than simply listen to the complaint; we will do something about it.
The author, a psychology professor, recommends we reduce empathy and increase compassion. Compassion is better because it “does not mean sharing the suffering of the other: rather, it is characterized by feelings of warmth, concern and care for the other, as well as a strong motivation to improve the other’s well-being. Compassion is feeling for and not feeling with the other.”
Among lexicographers, “Compassion is the broader word: it refers to both an understanding of another’s pain and the desire to somehow mitigate that pain.”
I suppose more than a few sermons have been preached about the difference between these two words. So, I will leave the theological and ethical aspects to others.
What I like about compassion is the word’s implicit desire to alleviate someone’s suffering. In other words, it promotes doing something about it, not sitting there prattling self-serving phrases like “I feel your pain.” Imagine how much that is about the speaker rather than the afflicted.
Compassion may be the better term in the workplace because it means that you understand (not, like empathy vicariously experience someone’s frustration, pain, anger, hatred, illness, etc.).
You understand what is happening, and the difference maker for me, is that compassionate people have an instinctive desire to take action to help. Empathy – as used in the clinical sense – carries no intended action with it. “I can feel your pain”, someone said. And, I can well understand why the phrase is now ridiculed.
Feeling someone’s pain is not the same as doing something about it.
Sometimes getting stuck in empathy is circumstantial. I am reminded of a department with a difficult-to-fix customer service problem. While I could empathize with clients, my hands were tied, sort of. A toxic employee, a weak department leader, and an organization reluctant to take down jerktiude made change difficult; a confounding situation with me stuck in the middle.

*The semantics remind me of a puzzling event from my career.
Not long after starting my first professional job I was buttonholed by a young instructor – probably a PhD candidate.
I think the conversation was pretty mundane about some library procedure. But, when I used the phrase, “of course” – my interlocutor saw red. Registering annoyance, he admonished me never to use that phrase.
Looking back, I suspect he’d just been put through the wringer by his dissertation committee and told to remove all the “of courses” in his first two chapters.
His vehemence puzzled me, but we continued the conversation. Unintentionally I let an “of course” slip out. The instructor’s bugged eyes and perspiration on his mottled forehead suggested violence was next.
So, I hastily invented a reason to depart and did so with alacrity.
I never did figure out his outrage, but like empathy/compassion we can go overboard parsing meanings.
Use either term; just don’t say you feel someone’s pain but take no action.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Lubans’ “Izzy: An Incomplete Life”*

Posted by jlubans on December 16, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)


Izzy, a Classmate of mine at Braintree High School, dropped out after the 11th grade, went to Work, bought a Car, Dated high school Girls. He was one Popular guy – just not with any of the College Bound.
He took up barbering as a full time job.
His brother, Ike, went to college on a football scholarship. Got his MBA. Went to work in a Boston corporation. Ascended.
Izzy kept on barbering and enjoying his time off. No one walked by the barbershop on Main Street that he did not wave to. When Barbering went down hill in the Hairy Hippy era; the owner sold his business to Izzy. Izzy kept it Going with steady Return Customers and Low Prices and friendly chatter.
Izzy covered the walls with pictures of family and friends. He took time to read newspapers, sports, and history books; he liked to talk sports and politics with customers amidst clipping hair.
Izzy married one of the Driesdale sisters (three beauties from my H.S.) and they had a couple kids.
Ike was promoted to the Corner Office, maximizing profits for shareholders (and himself). Ike hardly Ever talked to Izzy or his parents. But, Ike did serve on the Museum of Art’s board of directors and such. Lived in a Penthouse in Boston overlooking the Harbour.
Both Izzy and Ike – like many of their era - divorced.
Ike re-married. An Eyeful, his 29-year-old Secretary.
Izzy dated Some but spent more time with his two kids and with his aging Parents.
He re-married a Comfortable Someone he’d dated way back when. They took road trips to far away places like Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.
Ike traveled to Europe in business class and stayed in five star hotels while Izzy stayed at state parks in a comfy little Pick-up Truck camper, the kind with the sticker on the door, “If we’re rockin, don’t come knockin.”
Izzy had season tickets to the New England Patriots football team. He and his new wife were regulars in the end zone seats, rain or shine. Once, when Coach Bill Belichick was in town he got a haircut at Izzy’s. Izzy framed the photo for all to see, the only celebrity on the wall.
When Ike’s company was taken over, he leveraged a Golden Parachute and retired to Florida where the Daily routine was play Golf and have late afternoon Cocktails at one or more of the gated community’s parties.
Izzy, still trimming hair, brought in a young partner and then, once he knew it was a good match; transferred the business to the partner. Izzy went part time and barbered only when he felt like it.
Izzy’s idea of a vacation was to take the kids to Disneyworld and drive all the way down the Interstate to Orlando.
Ike climbed Mt. Everest out of boredom (and $45,000).
Izzy was a Salvation Army Santa every Christmas.
Ike was out of town when their father died. He was not able to make it back in time for the funeral.
Ike’s college named a Dormitory after him in Recognition of his Athletic Career and his Generous Support for the College, declaring him a Complete Success in Sports, Business and Life! The $5 million he Gave was not specifically Mentioned

Moral: Success Ain’t Always Complete.

*In the style of George Ade.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

De-toxing the Workplace

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

Good question.
When I last wrote about the toxic workplace, I suggested I’d be back with some more ideas on how to deal with a poisoned work atmosphere.
In the last week, the BBC posted a review article,
How should firms deal with a 'toxic employee'?”
and defined toxicity as “everything from selfishness, bullying, rudeness, being overly-domineering, or even just being constantly too loud and opinionated...”
The article includes ideas for how a leader should cope with this prevalent problem. It also includes the obvious free advice, “Don’t hire them.” OK, we won’t.
Many of us who work in traditional organizations – the kind with HR departments and its rules and regs, org charts, personnel files, labor lawyers, middle managers, unions, etc – often find ourselves inheriting problem employees, the organization’s tar babies.
Everyone knows who the toxic people are but no one has been able to do anything with them. But there are reasons for that, not just dereliction of duty by a supervisor.
For the youngsters out there, one of the first tests you will have as a new manager will be the toxic employee. How will you deal with the negative comment, the negative posture, and the nay saying, often in public? Will you postpone to another day or will you enjoin and stop it? Will you pass or fail?
I’ve reflected on my own career and the toxic people I had to deal with – believe me it’s a long list. (I should mention that the list includes some people I did not “like” but that does not qualify them as toxic. If someone questions a program I am promoting, that does not make that person toxic.)
It’s not been a happy reflection. More of “Why did I not do what I should have done?” than nostalgic war stories of how I single handedly de-toxed an organization. “Why did I not do what I should have done?” applies as well to the competent, non-toxic colleagues with whom I had differences.
No one could surpass my discovering, promoting and working with star employees. I was the best boss ever. But, I have to admit; I was less than the best when it came to stemming jerkitude.
Why was this and what would I do differently?
It comes down to conflict resolution. Do we constructively confront conflict or do we avoid, accommodate, or compromise? Or, worse, do we, ourselves, respond in toxic ways and counter gossip and rumor with gossip and rumor and build cliques to off set the enemy cliques? Do we stop talking to a toxic person, giving her the cold shoulder in hopes she will take the hint and leave?
One of the BBC article’s key points is that the supervisor has to give feedback to the toxic person. She has to have a sit down, face-to-face talk about the behaviors to "make the behaviour explicit, and break it down, monitor and measure it, and offer course-corrected feedback".
I have seen this work. No, it was not a miraculous turn around from problem staffer to star staffer. Nothing like that. What mattered was that the staff in that department saw that the behavior was no longer tolerated, that the worker was being held accountable and that there were consequences for bad behavior. The supervisor’s taking disciplinary (and fair) action raised the department’s morale and minimized the influence of the problem staffer. Staff were no longer interrupted and made to listen to monologues on how awful and unfair the workplace was, etc. The department’s productivity improved.
That new supervisor modeled a method to de-tox a long-term negative situation. It took courage and confidence and it took support from higher ups. It took understanding the problem employee’s job and making clear what was expected and attainable. And, it took time, a lot of it, to monitor progress. This sort of work is among the most difficult and most important we do as managers.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016


Posted by jlubans on December 09, 2016  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Preparing the report. Illustration by CLYDE J. NEWMAN, 1899

“At a Bazaar, the purpose of which was to Hold Up the Public for the Benefit of a Worthy Cause, there were many Schemes to induce Visitors to let go of their Assets. One of the most likely Grafts perpetrated by the astute Management was a Voting Contest to Determine who was the Most Beautiful and Popular Young Lady in the City. It cost Ten Cents to cast one Vote. The Winner of the Contest was to receive a beautiful Vase, with Roses on it.
A prominent Young Lawyer, who was Eloquent, Good Looking, and a Leader in Society, had been selected to make the Presentation Speech after the Votes had been counted.
In a little while the Contest had narrowed down until it was Evident that either the Brewer's Daughter or the Contractor's Daughter was the Most Beautiful and Popular Young Lady in the City. The Brewer and his Friends pushed Ten Dollar Bills into the Ballot Box, while the Contractor, just before the Polls closed, slipped in a Check for One Hundred Dollars.
When the Votes were counted, the Management of the Bazaar was pleased to learn that the Sixty-Cent Vase had Netted over Seven Hundred Dollars. It was Announced that the Contractor's Daughter was exactly Nine Dollars and Twenty Cents more Beautiful and Popular than the Brewer's Daughter.
Thereupon the Committee requested that the Eloquent Young Lawyer step to the Rostrum and make the Presentation Speech. There was no Response; the Young Lawyer had Disappeared.
One of the Members of the Committee started on a Search for him, and found him in a dusky Corner of the Japanese Tea Garden, under the Paper Lanterns, making a Proposal of Marriage to a Poor Girl who had not received one Vote.”

“Moral: Never believe a Relative.”

Our ricochet moral may help explain why Mr. Ade never married. Like our elusive lawyer, George knew when to make himself scarce, frustrating any matchmakers seeking to link - in perpetuity and wedded bliss - this “Eloquent, Good Looking, … Leader in Society” with the “Most Beautiful and Popular Young Lady in the City”.
Or, maybe the off-stage, proposed-to “Poor Girl” is none other that “the one that got away”, leaving George lovelorn. Ade often claimed, it is said, that he was a lifelong bachelor because "another man married my girl."
Let’s hope the Contractor’s check did not bounce.

*Source: George Ade. “Fables in Slang”, 1901.
For more about George Ade, see one of my first posts of his fables here.

© Copyright John Lubans 2016

Friday Fable. Sir Roger L'Estrange’s “JUPITER AND MODESTY”

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

Caption: Office modesty.

“Man was made in such a Hurry (according to the Old Fable) that Jupiter had forgotten to put Modesty into his Composition, among his other Affections; and finding that there was no way of Introducing it afterwards, Man by Man, he proposed the turning of it Loose among the Multitude: Modesty took her self at first to be a little hardly Dealt withal, but in the end, came over to Agree to't, upon Condition that Carnal Love might not be suffer'd to come into the same Company; for where-ever that comes, says she, I'm gone.”

“THE MORAL. Sensual Love knows neither Bars nor Bounds. We are all Naturally Impudent; only by Custom, and Fig-leaves, we have been taught to Disguise the Matter, and look Demurely; and that's it which we call Modesty.”


Another selection for the tots from the Everyman’s Library Children’s Classics! I can see the parent struggling with this one.
The children's classic even has an illustration of a damsel au naturel, limbs coyly positioned so as to stay within the bounds of propriety.
“We are all Naturally Impudent,” the moral claims. Hence the rise of modesty panels for desks. Reminds me of the kinky “Ketchup Man” in an unnamed Potterish Reading Room, who’d slide up silently on his knees to a damsel engrossed in underlining her text (shoes off) and fill a dainty shoe with ketchup. Never caught in-the-act or revealed, he – presumably a he – lives on in library lore. Others, more impudent, were exposed as perverts and hustled off by the literary police. Maybe it's all due to Jupiter's slip-up.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2016