Gone fishing!

Posted by jlubans on January 24, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

No, not really. The mountain streams are still frozen over.
I am on a push to complete the "Fables for Leaders" book in time for an early March release.
The text is done, as is much of the design work. I've begun proofreading and a few other items remain to be done, along with choosing a platform for the e-book and print-on demand-versions.
Did you know each format takes a separate design? The e-book requires a simple one and the latter can be much more like what one can do on paper. From the start I have wanted a beautiful book - in appearance and content - and that is how this book is shaping up.
I may continue with the Friday Fables part of this blog but only if we are making good progress toward the March deadline.
We have a name for the publisher: Labi! Labi! Press. It derives from the Latvian expression one overhears on Riga streets: Good! Good! or OK! OK!
More than a bit of the fable project derives from and makes mention of Latvia so the name feels just right.
And, the mailing address will be Gopher Valley Road; how appropriate for a book of fables.
So, labi!, labi!

The Unfinished Work*

Posted by jlubans on January 20, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Interestingly enough on the day before this eventful Friday in which the USA government transfers leadership, I got my copy of a book in which I have a chapter about democracy: “The Unfinished Work”: Organizational Democracy.
The chapter is one of several in this brand new book: “International Librarianship: Developing Professional, Intercultural, and Educational Leadership”.
My chapter describes the “Democratic Workplace” class I have been teaching at the University of Latvia in Riga since 2012. This Spring I will teach the 6th iteration of the class.
Aimed at librarian practitioners and graduate students, the class introduces democratic concepts to how people (not just librarians) organize to pursue their cooperative mission.
I discuss how the class came into being, its goals, and provide a brief discussion of content and methodology. The latter may be of interest to anyone engaged in training initiatives because my approach is more of the “flipped” pedagogy than the lecture/textbook variety. I rely heavily on the students teaching themselves and their peers – if you will, I expect the students to “coach” each other and to take responsibility for their learning. In other words, it models democracy in action.
So, have a gander. The Amazon listing permits a peek.

*Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, November 19, 1863 spoke of the “unfinished work” (democracy); that it was up to us to confront this “great task”, ensuring “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Overdue Book Notice

Posted by jlubans on January 17, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: East Lake County Library, Florida: Crime Scene

Like something out of Carl Hiaasen’s Everglades comes a tale of librarians gone rogue.
No, nothing to do with Medicare, the story tells of three staffers who invented a phony patron with a library card (Chuck Finley*, by name) and used the bogus card to check out thousands of books. Why?
To save, they claim, unused books from the trash bin. Supposedly, little used books - "How to Make Your Doll's House Special," "The Duct Tape Book", "Pugs for Dummies" and, Steinbeck’s classic, Cannery Row - were targeted by an automated weeding process – with little or no human interaction – and trashed, indiscriminately.
The perps say they intervened to “save the books” and, resourcefully, to save the library money from having to re-purchase the books fingered by this robotic inventory app.
A man bites dog story, it’s been re-cast and written about dozens of times. Most suggest the library staff are more to be sympathized with than to be condemned.
Some even see this as a Luddite reaction to dataism: “Is datification ruining the American library?” Hyperventilating, an article suggests, “it’s the blind adherence to data over human judgment, the use of data as a shackle rather than a tool.”
I’ve rarely heard such a positive assessment of human judgment. I thought, according to the latest elite thinking, we were mostly irrational creatures and would benefit greatly from robotic nudges now and then.
Back to East Lake. With little evidence, we are asked to believe there is rampant, unchecked decision-making by machines, decisions best left to humans.
Others see the shenanigans as the little guy (Ned Ludd type) getting one back against the brutal anonymity of the bureaucracy.
I’ve seen similar monkey business – much more duplicitous than pumping up borrowing statistics - when Google began to siphon off thousands of questions from libraries, their bread and butter, so to speak.
As I explain in “Google, the World’s Information Desk”,
only a few libraries, at the beginning of the decline, confronted and capitalized on the amplified need – due to un-vetted sources on the Internet (fake news is hardly new) - for robust information seeking and finding skills.
Mysteriously, after a marked drop off, the tallies of questions continued to rise.
Looking back, libraries lost about 40% of market share to Google.
The lost opportunity cost had to be staggering, but this is nothing new. Too many of us resist change until we are exposed, laughed at, and finally asked to justify what we are doing.
Ethically, the skullduggery in the East Lake Library is seen as good guys trying to beat the bad, King Data. What’s the harm, these forgiving types ask, the pettifoggers were not in it for personal gain?
Well, how different is this, apart from scale, from the flimflam of Wells Fargo workers opening up unwanted banking accounts for customers? No harm done.
How different is this monkey business from automaker VW surreptitiously installed software to defeat emission checks? No harm done?
Or, is it all A-OK as long as others are doing it? The lead perp at East Lake claims that many libraries use dummy cards. That is probably true but those cards are not used to falsify library statistics but for work arounds to expedite service.
At least I hope so.
From a leadership aspect, I have to ask, “Why, if it mattered so much, did the culprits not talk with the head of the system and demonstrate that indeed little used valuable books were being sent to Siberia only to soon be back in demand?”
What was in the way of that open discussion?
A bad boss? Bad followers? Hard to say. Like the Hiaasen character trying to stuff a live roach into a partially opened Pepsi in vain hopes of a big legal payday, what a waste of human effort, of human ingenuity, of human communication.

*A baseball player (pitcher) of some renown, but more likely an appropriation (what else?) of a character’s alias in Miami’s "Burn Notice" TV spy show.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “THE THIEVES AND THE COCK”*

Posted by jlubans on January 13, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Sauntering thieves; 17th century woodcut.

“Some Thieves broke into a house, and found nothing worth taking except a Cock, which they seized and carried off with them.
When they were preparing their supper, one of them caught up the Cock, and was about to wring his neck, when he cried out for mercy and said, "Pray do not kill me: you will find me a most useful bird, for I rouse honest men to their work in the morning by my crowing.
‘But the Thief replied with some heat, "Yes, I know you do, making it still harder for us to get a livelihood. Into the pot you go!’"
One moralist has it: “The safeguards of virtue are hateful to those with evil intentions.”
If you’ve been woken at dawn, after a late night carouse, by a neighbor’s rooster cock-a-doodling, that might be reason enough to throw a shoe in its general direction. But, that’s unlikely if you live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. If you live in Sheridan, Oregon, on Gopher Valley Road, that’s pretty much the daily drill.
For the workplace, this fable illustrates how declaring against the boss’ agenda, albeit for good reasons – often results in reproach, not praise. Kelley’s study on leadership (and my personal experience) finds that the odds are even that a star follower will be punished for speaking the truth. Half the time it will be a KITA (kick in the ass) or a POTB (pat on the back.)
Like the thief, the bad boss (insecure, petty, jealous, etc - take your pick) will find a reason to punish you for questioning her actions and intentions.
With those 50-50 odds, it’s understandable why workplace “survivors” never speak up. Good leaders seek the painful truth and deal with it; bad leaders do not.

*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 2017

Leadership vs. Gizmos, Gimmicks & Gadgets

Posted by jlubans on January 10, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)


A recent story, “Why Time Management Is Ruining Our Lives”elaborates on apps and ideas to help workers be more efficient. It surveys what’s been done before, including Taylor’s classic time and motion studies.
The author, Oliver Burkeman, explains that Taylor was the first scientific manager to devise ways to improve individual production and to get more effort and product - for the same cost - out of a “goldbricking” workforce.
While that is the usual academic, unbalanced view of Taylor, I get the author’s point.
Since Taylorism’s heyday, computers have only furthered the notion of somehow getting more out of an over-worked and over-stressed work force – or in some eyes, applying a well-placed kick to the smug posterior of an unmotivated workforce.
Some believe that improving work “tools”, can improve how we work and how we feel about our work.
Taylor streamlined many tools and processes to help workers be more productive and to be paid more money for their work. Unfortunately, in Taylor’s world the worker was seen as less a thinking, contributing being, but more of a machine to be tinkered with.
Similarly, if one is inundated by e-mail, then there’s an app to manage the avalanche. Too many meetings, ditto. Too much paperwork, ditto. .
Some suggest these apps have helped. Others say nothing has changed or things have gotten worse. Harkening back to Stakhanovism, the more productive you are, the more is expected. If you have a good idea and double your work output through working “smarter”, then, says the Taylor-channeling manager, “let’s double it again”. And so it goes.
This is the difference between using an app to manage your work and working in an organization that, through its leadership, recognizes individual workloads and helps individuals and teams come to terms with getting the job done.
The end is not every individual working to capacity, but for the overall organization to be productive and to have a free flow of ideas to help the organization improve daily.
Burkeman, to his credit, includes the conclusions of a management consultant: “The best companies I visited, all through the years, were never very hurried, … Because you don’t get creativity for free. You need people to be able to sit back, put their feet up, and think…. good ideas do not emerge more rapidly when people feel under the gun – if anything, the good ideas dry up.”
So, slackerism has some virtue after all!
Good leaders know that workers need more than an app to improve their work. They know workers need time away from routine and a work environment in which to consider how they work; they need time to think about the Why of their work and how it can be improved for the organization.
Dale Carnegie Training just released the results of its Global Leadership Study. (Yes, this is the organization that furthers the work of the “How to Win Friends and Influence People” man). The study polled 3,100 workers at all levels in 13 countries.
U.S. employees identified the top five motivating and inspiring attributes of supervisors:
“Encouraging improvement (79 percent)
Giving praise and appreciation (74 percent)
Recognizing performance improvement (72 percent)
Admitting (supervisor) shortfalls before criticizing (68 percent)
… These leadership qualities also have a positive effect on employee retention and satisfaction.”
The report suggests the leaders need to close the perceived gap between what the worker wants from the boss and what he sees the boss doing. For example, workers value “Truly listening to Employees” at 88%, but the behavior, as practiced by bosses is observed at 60%, leaving a gap of 28%.
Valuing an employee's contribution” comes in at 86% importance for the worker, but it is observed 60% of the time among supervisors.
Sincere appreciation” is valued at 87%, but displayed among supervisors 61%.
“In the most striking example, 84 percent of U.S. employees said it is important for supervisors to admit mistakes, but according to these same employees only 51 percent of supervisors exhibit this behavior often – a gap of 33 percent.”
The Wall Street Journal’s conclusive look at this study: “Attention, supervisors: You may be the reason your staffers want to leave.”
So, I would argue that effective leadership and followership have more to do with job satisfaction and performance than any performance-improving gizmo or gadget. While an app may boost individual performance, real job satisfaction and real lasting improvement come from a work environment that promotes the best leadership and followership.

UPDATE: An item from NPR with a stopwatch illustration, no less, discusses personal productivity. A cerebral take on the matter. Different from mine. Predates my essay by about three or four hours. Great minds, you know.

© Copyright 2017 John Lubans


Posted by jlubans on January 06, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: No way, José!

“There is an animal whose name in English is 'beaver' (although those garrulous Greeks -- so proud of their endless supply of words! -- call him castor, which is also the name of a god). It is said that when the beaver is being chased by dogs and realizes that he cannot outrun them, he bites off his testicles, since he knows that this is what he is hunted for. I suppose there is some kind of superhuman understanding that prompts the beaver to act this way, for as soon as the hunter lays his hands on that magical medicine, he abandons the chase and calls off his dogs.”

“If only people would take the same approach and agree to be deprived of their possessions in order to live lives free from danger; no one, after all, would set a trap for someone already stripped to the skin.”


Ouch! Does one abandon the “family jewels” – the future – for self-preservation or does one figure out another way? Among the neutered followers in the workplace, this is the Sheep and the Yes-Man (and Woman). Accommodating, rather than rocking the boat. Agreeing with the boss’ folly even as the organization fails.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.
N.B. Laura Gibbs - the eminent classicist, has most generously provided a dozen new translations of fables for my forthcoming (early 2017) book: Fables for Leaders.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Red, Yellow or Green? Making the Most of the Plus/Delta

Posted by jlubans on January 03, 2017  •  Leave comment (1)

Caption: Patagonia Crucible Team.

I’ve found the plus/delta – the quick debrief of a group’s work - to be quite helpful in my teaching. I’ve blogged on it several times, most recently here.
Were I in charge of work teams again, I would do some things differently. One of those would be to do a plus/delta after every meeting to help get at things unsaid needing to be said. I’d want to find ways to assess the health of the team. Are we on target? Are we together?
Red, Yellow or Green? Stop, Idle, or Go?
And, I would try to find out team member commitment to the group’s goal and what we are doing to achieve it. Now, in group development theory, all this “buy-in” is to happen in the “Storming “ phase. Yes, in theory; in practice, hardly ever, at least in the workplace where we select teams based on expertise or turf or agenda; genuine Storming is dodged.
My son-in-law, Clay, recently of the US Army’s Special Forces, is active in veteran activities. Some of those are about helping vets adjust to civilian life. An event of a different kind, in which he was a participant, was a mix of military and business leaders, the “Patagonia Crucible”, a several day trek across a glacier in Patagonia.
The expedition had several objectives, including providing raw insights into teamwork, leading and following.
Whenever I used adventure learning - “days in the woods” - to build teams and self-reliance among team members, I would get considerable static. It rarely came from the volunteer participants, but almost always from those who chose not to participate.
Imagine the yowl if I announced to a department: “Listen up, everyone. We’re going to Patagonia. Bring crampons. We’ll have a great time on the glacier!”
Well, moving beyond that fantasy, you can see Clay and his team in a 25-minute documentary. Beautifully filmed, I can recommend it to you for far more than its production values.
No, they were not met at day’s end with martinis and steak dinners. Every item: clothing, food, bedding, was carried by the team, each member with an equal load. (Remember one of the principles of highly effective teams: Every one does an equal amount of real work? Here it’s for all to see.)
The Patagonia group took daily turns at leading. The leader for the day was in charge of the daily debrief – the group assessment of how the day went, what issues there might be, what was needed. Akin to the plus/delta, this process is termed the AAR, “After Action Review”.
I am thinking of using a modified version of this for the individual project teams in my Democratic Workplace class; the AAR offers more guidance to the debrief than does the plus/delta and it may be better at guiding novice teams to more openness and honesty.
The Patagonia team made use of another quick go-around to assess everyone’s commitment level: Red, Yellow or Green? The day this was asked was probably the hardest one of the trek on the glacier’s ice, a day of being tethered together at 15-foot intervals, on crampons, in windy and cold conditions.
While everyone was fatigued, some nursing injuries, all in need of Aleve - each responded, one by one, “Green”. The explicit individual commitment made by being there was maintained.
Clay told me, had a “Red” come up, there’d be an immediate exploration as to the obstacle and then a determination, by the team, of what needed doing.
Redistribute the load among the team? Maybe. Or, maybe just recognition of someone’s distress. That alone – admitting “weakness” – would be a major concession and expansion of boundaries for some leaders.
As for the all green response, unlike the workplace, everyone knew what he had signed on for. The Patagonia team was screened (no toxic trekkers) and selected for wanting success (positivity not negativity) with the understanding that there would be real hardship.
That’s the plus of adventure learning – even if your team does not develop, you as an individual certainly can. It became for me the real reason to offer those Days in the Woods, to help individuals challenge his or her limits. The metaphor of hardships met and overcome outdoors was not lost on participants on their return to the workplace.
One of the major obstacles in effective group work occurs when the group goes silent; when individuals begin to look inward, and despair seeps in. Challenges loom, false ridges multiply. That applies to the workplace just as much as it may on an icy, sleepless, windy trek.
The learning is in what team members do to help each other. Being self-reliant is not just looking out for number 1. Being self-reliant includes looking out for team members. You keep your head up so you can see how others are doing. It is what good leaders and followers do. It is not what bad leaders and followers do.
In one instance in Patagonia, the day’s leader was faltering; it was probably the hardest day of the expedition and this leader was the least physically fit. Clay told me, “his head was down, his steps were slowing – he was withdrawing into himself.” At a break, one of the team stood by him and recited the Ranger Creed, rallying the leader
back to his individual commitment to the quest. After hearing a few phrases, his head came up. He later said: “That poured so much energy into (me) — just what (I) needed to hear at that exact moment.”
What’s your Ranger Creed? For me it’s often been the 23rd Psalm. Does your organization/profession have core values that inspire you to keep on undaunted? Can you recite them?

© Copyright John Lubans 2017