No Bean Bags Here

Posted by jlubans on May 29, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: SWA’s Ramp Team RDU on a cold and rainy day. Photo by J. Lubans

Two articles, the BBCs “Why ‘cool’ offices don’t always make for a happier workforce” and the Wall Street Journal’s “CEOs Want Their Offices Back: Some bosses pushing back against open floor plan” stirred up a couple memories. The first was my friend Don Riggs’ strong opinion that his beautiful new library building provide for closed spaces for professional staff. I quote from my 2016 blog entry:
“… Don Riggs at Nova Southeastern University, insist(ed) - over the architect’s objections – that all professional staff have private spaces - with doors - in his new building. He intuited, correctly, no one really wanted to be always on display (and never alone) when working.
Supposedly, the Open Office was to lead to better collaboration.
Stop and think. Was there a factual basis for this idea or was it something imagined by an architect based solely on his nostalgia for the sweet camaraderie he experienced with his project team on all-nighters, (most likely barefoot), in architecture school?”
Another memory was that of my first encounter with the perked office: free lunch and free child care and free dry-cleaning and free onsite fitness workouts, etc. This glimpse came during the DotCom boom when I was invited to visit a start-up NYC software company office pitching for Web business.
While all the perks, including a barista!, were there, I was left wondering if they were not masking a particularly grueling and uncertain business. And, based on the DotCom crash, it appears many of these companies were burning through their start-up money at mach speed. The free gourmet lunch (along with an ever lengthening list of Herzberg’s hygiene - non-motivating – factors) was paid for by investor’s money not by real revenue.
My 2016 “Play at Work” essay cited Fred Emery’s solid-as-a-rock guidance on what people want from work:
Adequate elbow room for decision-making
Opportunity to learn at work
Variety in work
Mutual support and respect
A desirable future.
The BBC article is among the first to penetrate past the gimmick aspect of the fun office.
The author asks the serious "So, What?" Question. What does this type of office get you? He concludes: “It’s a false narrative. Happy workplaces don’t need beanbags, barbecue stations and ball pits.”
While nice, like pleasing and comfortable furniture and decor, what people really want is what Emery put forth decades ago.
It is of course easier to put in a ball pit then to assure your organization provides meaningful work and a desirable future for employees. That takes real leadership – thinking and compassion - but then orgs have all too often gone with the superficial, the hygiene factors, like performance appraisal.
I recall a behind the scenes visit with a ramp team at SouthWest Airlines (See my chapters on SWA in Leading from the Middle). No bean bags here.
Yes, there was a Weber grill, on the tarmac, just outside the operations room, but hardly anything to compare with the haute cuisine at the NY software company.
Heck, the ramp team provided the meat and buns and the camaraderie was real. These folks worked together on every incoming plane, often more than one, unloading luggage, provisioning, and then reloading luggage, all as quickly and safely as possible. All the while helping each other.
They were, and I continue to believe are, the best in the business. Take a look at SWA corporate values; the corporate commitment to those values is what makes this company click.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($9.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.99). The print book, pictured, will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Krylov’s “THE ASS and THE NIGHTINGALE

Posted by jlubans on May 25, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Postcard by Stroganova and Alexeev,1969.

“An Ass happened to see a Nightingale, one day, and said to it,
‘Listen, my dear. They say you have a great mastery over song. I have long wished very much to hear you sing, and to judge as to whether your talent is really so great.’
On this the Nightingale began to make manifest its art— whistled in countless ways, sobbed, sustained notes, passed from one song to another; at one time let her voice die away, and echoed the distant murmur of the languishing reed ; at another, poured through the wood a shower of tiny notes. Then all listened to the favorite singer of Aurora. The breezes died away; the feathered choir was hushed; the cattle lay down on the grass. Scarcely breathing, the shepherd reveled in it, and only now and then, as he listened to it, smiled on the shepherdess.
At length the singer ended.
Then the Ass, bending its head towards the ground, observed, ‘It's tolerable. To speak the truth, one can listen to you without being bored. But it's a pity you don't know our Cock. You would sing a great deal better if you were to take a few lessons from him.’
Having heard such a judgment, our poor Nightingale took to its wings and flew far away.”
There’s always some one to disparage your finest effort. Mind them not; they are envious Asses and seek – with their criticism – to do just what the Ass accomplished with the Nightingale. She fled to a friendlier realm, we hope.
It is said that Krylov, the revered Russian fabulist of his time, was once asked by a great person (GP) to read to him his fables.
Doing so, the GP remarked “That is very good; but why don’t you do it like Dmitrief does?”
Thusly inspired, Krylov turned the GP into an Ass and wrote the fable you just read. Let’s hope he dedicated it to the GP.
Better to respond Krylov’s way, than to foolishly flee the judgment of an Ass.
There are always a few so envious they are incapable of anything positive. Laugh and leave ‘em to it.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($9.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.99). The print book, pictured, will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Seeking Solitude

Posted by jlubans on May 23, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption. Tree on my solo, Mt. Baldy Trek.

Smart people tell us that we are too much “on the grid”; that our “hand helds” never release us for “downtime”, those moments of lassitude when we can reflect and ponder*.
Instead, it appears, we must be entertained through any spare moment. We bow our heads in prayer to the silicone god. Look around you? How many people are now saying grace over their smart phones? Biblically, there’s “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills”. In the home office, lift your eyes from the computer screen and wonder.
Of course, technology helps us do some things better, but too much of anything can get to be less than wonderful.
Some suggest the over-teched pull a Walden Pond. Actually, Mr. Thoreau was hardly alone at the Pond and he had regular dinners out with the neighbors, but you get the idea:
Go off by yourself and de-tech.
Then, what? Like a dieter who loses 50 lbs only to put on another 50 lbs post-diet?
My favorite suggestion (and personal practice) for a cure is taking solitary walks, daily. Lots of people praise and practice those walks. Famous people walked regularly.
Rousseau said, “I can only meditate when walking.”
PG Wodehouse took long walks around Remsenburg where he lived for twenty years at the tip of Long Island. On those saunters, he’d figure out the intricate and elaborate ways for Jeeves to extract Bertie Wooster from his latest mess. He knew the power of walking and observing and letting his mind wander into solutions.
Einstein walked regularly.
Darwin took an hour’s walk every day; he’d learned how to walk silently when on scientific explorations, so often startled wildlife on those daily expeditions south of London.
Darwin also, it is claimed, worked in 90 minutes segments for a total of 4.5 hours per day. Does that qualify him as a “slacker”?
Will taking long walks make you famous? some might ask. That kind of illogic reminds me of early library use studies that showed the more books one checked out the higher one's GPA (grade point average). So, if you want to improve your GPA, check out more books. Right!
It seems the internet has too much to do with our inability to be alone, to be lonely in a deliberate way.
Why does that matter?
Well, because when we are mooning at the screens in our lives, or responding to beeps and buzzes, we are distracted. We are “driven to distraction.”
We need quiet time, we need restful time. Many of us probably could do with time away from the maddening crowd. Studies suggest, too much madness in our lives – traffic, noise, crowding - results in spells of “rumination” or self-criticism and depression. Walk in sunny fields, lower the rumination index substantially.
Caption: Not ruminating. My snow sculpture on Mt. Baldy in California.

*Last year, a Google incubator released “Uptime”, a group video messaging app that lets you watch and share videos with your friends in your downtime! Just what you and I need when we are on a solo in the wilds.

Cover: "Fables for Leaders" Pre-print, 203pp. 2017.
N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($9.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Sir Roger L'Estrange’s, “A Stag Drinking”

Posted by jlubans on May 18, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustration by ARTHUR RACKHAM (1912). Available at Gutenberg.

“As a stag was drinking upon the bank of a clear stream, he saw his image in the water, and entered into this contemplation upon’t. Well! says he, if these pityful shanks of mine were but answerable to this branching head, I can but think how I should defy all my enemies. The words were hardly out of his mouth, but he discover’d a pack of dogs coming full-cry towards him. Away he scours cross the fields, casts off the dogs, and gains a wood; but pressing thorough a thicket, the bushes held him by the horns, till the hounds came in, and pluck’d him down. The last thing he said was this. What an unhappy fool was I, to take my friends for my enemies, and my enemies for my friends! I trusted to my head, that has betray’d me, and I found fault with my leggs, that would otherwise have brought me off.”
He that does not thoroughly know himself, may be well allowed to make a false judgment upon other matters that most nearly concern him.”
Specific to the case? Not necessarily. That’s the appeal of fables, they have many levels, not just the literal. So, one may value some personal scintillating attribute at the expense of more homely, take-for-granted qualities like honesty or a resolve to keep promises.
We may, like I suggest in the mister Men blog, “Recruiting the Best”, value in others one quality and diminish a more important one (papers and degrees vs. likeability and attitude). We discover to our dismay, in the Academy, that the newly hired PhD really detests teaching freshmen and shows it, while someone without an advanced degree loves to teach and sparks intellectual curiosity in students. The latter gets outstanding evaluations, while the former gets mediocre. Which one do you think gets to stay?
Alas, the “branching head” usually wins over the “pityful shanks”.

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

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($9.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

The “Vision Thing”

Posted by jlubans on May 15, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Leaders Aiga Vihmane and Inga Veidere standing on side with Armands Kalniņš right of center.

Each semester of my Democratic Workplace class I have students take part in a vision-sharing exercise; it’s called “Mirage”*.
The term Mirage suggests that a shared vision can be illusionary; we may be kidding ourselves that everyone understands the vision and once they do, that they are all on board.
Unfortunately in the world outside the classroom, some followers who understand the vision may resist and seek to undermine it.
Worse, they may pretend to go along, but sabotage is ever on their minds.
If you, the leader, can get the alienated to speak up, you are half way to converting them. If they do not admit and explain their opposition, then you have an enemy in your camp.
Obviously, being able to convince followers of one’s vision is an essential component of effective leadership. When the vision is understood, the better people know how to do their jobs.
It is likely the quintessential thing that leaders do – share their vision so there’s no doubt as to what the challenge is, what the day’s effort is about, what our business is and why it is important to deliver the product or the service. We know what to do.
My usual way of doing Mirage is to select three or four leaders who take turns at explaining the vision.
I show each leader the same image he or she is to communicate to the group at large. Each refers to the image but cannot show it to the group.
Leaders are limited to words and gestures, no drawing. Each leader has four minutes in front of the group to articulate his/her vision. Questions are allowed and encouraged but tend to be few.
Caption: What the leader sees.

The team’s drawing shows whether they can replicate and confirm the leader’s spoken vision.
Easy to do? Try it.
Just like real life, not everyone hears the same thing, nor wants to hear the same thing, nor upon hearing it, can replicate it exactly.
If followers do not ask questions of the leader, then the drawing may be left up to one person who “gets it” but the rest of the team sits by in silent observation.
If they don’t “get it” their drawing of the vision won’t be congruent with the leader’s. How can any team move forward on a leader’s vision if they do not understand it?
In any case, it occurred to me to do the mirage class activity in a different way.
Why not use three leaders – a leadership group?
Three students volunteered: Aiga Vihmane, Inga Veidere, and Armands Kalniņš.
Then, abiding by my mantra of self-organization, I had the three leaders decide how to use their 12 minutes.
I only had one drawing so the trio had literally to share the vision; in other words, they had to know it among themselves.
Each had to check in with the other and could and did make corrections to individual interpretations.
Sure, there is bound to be confusion at the start of the “vision thing” - as a former US president termed it.
At first the trio stayed together. Then they split and consulted with individual teams, all the time referring back to that one piece of paper.
Caption: Inga Veidere, vision in hand, clarifying.

How did they do? All three teams got the vision and probably more accurately than in my former leaders-taking-turns model.
The drawn perspectives were a bit different, e.g. what looks like a teepee was smaller or larger depending on team and leader, but it was the image, the vision as described.
Of course, perspective suggests that even when we have a shared vision each person may view parts as larger or smaller or more important or less so depending on who we are.
Besides the shared leadership, I noted that with this less formal approach, the teams were much more willing to ask questions. And, three concurrent leaders – all on the “same page” could advise the teams, even better. Three knowledgeable and collaborative “heads” may indeed be better than one; after 12 minutes all three teams had the vision.
Pretty effective sharing of a complicated vision!

*Source: More than likely my version of Mirage comes from one of the several Project Adventure playbooks of adventure learning activities.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($9.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. “The Image of Mercury and the Carpenter”*

Posted by jlubans on May 11, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Anonymous illustration from an 1867 edition of Samuel Coxall’s “Aesop”. Coxall lived 1689–1752.

“A VERY POOR MAN, a Carpenter by trade, had a wooden image of Mercury, before which he made offerings day by day, and begged the idol to make him rich, but in spite of his entreaties he became poorer and poorer. At last, being very angry, he took his image down from its pedestal and dashed it against the wall. When its head was knocked off, out came a stream of gold, which the Carpenter quickly picked up and said, 'Well, I think thou art altogether contradictory and unreasonable; for when I paid you honor, I reaped no benefits: but now that I maltreat you I am loaded with an abundance of riches.'”
This fable is also known as “A Man and a Wooden God.” Here is L’Estrange’s moral to his version from 1692:
“Most People, Clergy as well as Laity, accommodate their Religion to their Profit, and reckon that to be the best Church that there’s most to be got by.”
Early Babbitry.
But, our Mercury version offers an alternative. Mercury, according to the Britannica, is “the god of shopkeepers and merchants, … and thieves and tricksters” (emphasis added).
I imagine Mercury having a good laugh at the carpenter as he finally breaks off his routine of making daily obesiance while suffering personal hardship.
The carpenter’s storms, “No more! The hell with this,” and tosses the wooden god on its head. Out pours the treasure!
Is this not Mercury rewarding the carpenter for finally taking action instead of hoping Mercury will? In other words, “The Lord helps those who help themselves."
And, so, it can be O-T-J. When we decide to chuck what’s safe and secure, we may enrich our lives. How many of us, to get a paycheck, put up with a toxic boss?
May you always remember when you said “No more!” and slammed the door on the old and opened a new door to opportunity.

*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.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book ($9.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Recruiting the Best

Posted by jlubans on May 08, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Little Miss Brainy: Talking a pig out of a tree.

A BBC article, Happy Hiring, describes a technique one company uses to recruit staff. Timpson is the featured company. It sums up each recruit by applying the Mr. Men/Little Ms. characters (e.g. Mr. Grumpy, Mr. Chatterbox, Mr. Clever) to the interviewee.
Suzanne Bearne, the BBC writer, told me that “each of the recruiters/managers (at Timpson) has a page of Mr. Men characters in front of them, and they circle which one (or possibly several) the applicant is like.”
I suspect I was drawn to this since I use children’s books to help my students identify types of followers. “Simplistic!” you might mutter. Could be, but using children’s books has proven to be a helpful way for students to learn more about themselves and their colleagues in and out of the workplace.
The BBC article brought Southwest’s Herb Kelleher to mind.
When asked how he finds the right people for his airline, he replied “Hire attitude, train for skills.”
In my profession, we mostly did just the opposite. We hired for skills and gave attitude/personality a pass except in the most egregious cases of jerkitude.
I agree with Mr. Kelleher, you cannot train for attitude, you cannot train for compassion, and you cannot train for emotional intelligence. Of course one should try to sharpen existing levels of all these qualities; but if you excuse a weak attitude/personality at the interview then you will have a full time job repairing poor hiring decisions.
Worse, if after the hire you avoid the now-problem employee, you will soon have a miasmic pool of legacy employees dedicated to undermining every change initiative and improvement, and let’s not forget, chasing off your star employee, your “Mr. Good”, the kind of person that “will always open a door for you.”
I have long thought that the person that makes the feckless decision to hire a “Mr. Grumpy” or a “Mr. Fussy” or a “Little Miss Splendid” should be counseled not to do it again.
In last week’s class on the Democratic Workplace, I talked about various theories of followership, of conflict resolution, of likeability. Each set of theories charts “types” to raise our awareness of the people surrounding us at work. Are we a Sheep, a Star, or a Yes Man? Or, a Survivor?
Do we resolve conflict through collaborating, compromising or by running away?
Mr. Men characters are not exactly The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)! Nor are they like any other of the swarm of personality tests, all promising to separate winners from losers.
But, the testing industry should take notice. Results at Timpson seem mighty good: an innovative organization, strong return on investment, and considerable freedom for each worker.
I’ve taken the MBTI more than once; but I can never recall my “type”. – that alone must indicate a personality flaw!
One friend who swears by the MBTI and can recite the long list of characteristics for each type and who to mix with whom on task forces.
Another friend was able to score the “type” his boss wanted. In other words, he gamed the personality test.
In any case, the MBTI lumbers on. I suspect using the Mr. Men/Ms.Little characters may be quicker and more effective in identifying the people you want to work with.

Caption: Mr. Fussy dusting flowers.

N.B. My new book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in June 2017 as an e-book ($15.00) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($25.00). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017