Friday Fable. Lubans’ The Rude Old Man

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

Caption: Mr. Rude by Roger Hargreaves (1935 – 1988).*

There once lived a grumpy old man, known and avoided by large and small.
Neither troll nor ogre, just plain rude.
On the village bus, if he spotted a small child sitting in a seat for the elderly, he’d churlishly order her, with a jerk of his thumb, out of the seat.
Technically in the “right”, he’d growl and grimace instead of smiling and kindly stating what he wanted.
If a dog ogled him and wagged its tail in hopes of a treat, Fido would be disappointed with what he got: a boot to the butt.
Jupiter, high on Mt. Olympus, saw all this and smiled. The rude old man was more than fair game.
From now on every rude act would be reciprocated with rudeness. We’ll see how he likes it!
After punting a small child off the walking path into the bushes, the old man found himself sprawled on the ground, bumped into the dirt by a speeding bicyclist.
The kid he'd kicked into the shrubs chortled gleefully.
On his way to catch the bus, he slammed the building’s front door in a neighbor’s face, making her put down a child and a shopping bag in order to get out her key.
Just as our churl reached the bus, it pulled away. – the driver grinned in the mirror and flipped him the bird.
At the library, he drove the clerk to tears with his unreasonable demands to take for himself a book reserved for another reader.
Then, flustered at the grocery store, the staff blew off his inquiry as to the location of something he needed. It was as if he were invisible.
Until, a young woman appeared out of nowhere and asked in a kind voice, “Can I help you?” She smiled like an angel and said, “I know this market, tell me what you are looking for.”
Bemused and bewildered by her kindness, he told her and she led him right to the item's unlikely location.
Normally, he would have cursed the store manager for egregious (a favorite word) stupidity, instead he turned to thank his guide, but she was nowhere to be found; as she had appeared so she disappeared.
Hmmm, he thought long and hard.
On the bus home, he gave up his seat to a young mother and child, our preux chevalier!

Moral. Kindness may not always beget kindness but rudeness will get you a Jovian kick in the pants.

*Mr. Hargreaves elaborates: “Mr. Rude always wears a black hat.
He has said some very mean things in the past.
Once he did make dinner for Mr. Happy, and they are now friends.”

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($2.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($27.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

The One Tune Manager

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

Caption: Yes, Just Play One Tune More.

Once I was a manager of several branches of an organization. One of the branches was less dependent on the central organization than were the others. It – let’s call it the “Lone Branch” - had its own personnel budget but did depend on “Central” for some services.
In any case, I included the Lone Branch in my “dossier”, if one were supercilious enough to call it that.
It was my custom to visit each branch monthly. These meetings were scheduled and usually lasted an hour.
Initially, everyone seemed to like the idea. As a branch it was easy to feel isolated; my showing up on a regular basis was a link to Central, a reminder that they were not alone. After a few years most of these meetings began to feel routine, like a drill. They’d evolved into a duty, like visiting an uncongenial aunt in a far away town just because you’re passing through.
So, one day when my boss and I were talking he remarked how the head of the Lone Branch really liked my monthly visits! He had told my boss, that I “played him like a fine violin” – he was giving me credit for being respectful, diplomatic and insightful without being intrusive, without trying to impose Central’s controls on his bailiwick.
My boss was impressed since the head of the Lone Branch was a long time personal and professional friend.
But, that pat on the back gave me pause. Why? Because it dawned on me I was a one-tune manager. I did not adjust my style, my manner, and my approach to any of these half dozen or so personalities. I’d arrive, we’d talk and then I would depart. If there were issues for me to address, I would get on it. Usually there was not much more to do.
Dare I say it? These meetings were boring. I began to wonder Why meet? The meetings had become fairly one-sided (the branch head telling me what was happening) and never asking me for advice or ideas.
Of course, I accept some of the blame, at least half.
Still, I had productive and satisfying scheduled meetings with some department heads? Upon reflection, those successful meetings were a matter of personality and like-mindedness – we all agreed upon and wanted change and were willing to do more than our share. And, we trusted each other. Trust.
Yes, I should have done something. I could have asked myself: Why is this meeting so dull? Why is this person telling me things he/she thinks I want to hear? Why is she not including me in idea generation? Why is he not asking me for my ideas?
I could have included the branch head in these reflections. I could have changed the tone of those meetings, but did not know enough on how to do that.
Alas, a one-tune manager.
How then to improve one’s repertoire?
When I interviewed the head coach of a women’s basketball team – a team that would become one of the best in the nation – she told me (confirmed by the players) she tailored her coaching to each of the players. A few needed more encouragement, needed more advice, needed more direction, needed to be reminded about sharing the ball more; a few needed discipline. Of course, these players thrived on this feedback, they wanted it. I mention this since without reciprocated interest, it becomes all the more difficult to have an honest back and forth.
Well you get the idea, or do you?
My coming in and listening attentively was only part of the good meeting equation.
I should have been much clearer about what I wanted from these meetings. If I resented being treated like a visiting dignitary, I should have said so.
When in college in Pennsylvania I had a summer job in the Officers’ Club on a nearby military base. At least once each summer the supervising general came for an inspection – always announced, never a surprise. A few days ahead, the base binged on cleaning, painting, sprucing-up and repairing.
Any signs and evidence of slackness, unpreparedness were remedied or swept under the rug.
I recall hauling to an off-base freezer the technically illegal “aged steak” sides of beef from the Officers’ Club. Since many of the officers relished old steak, the club manager made sure it was out of sight. Once the general left, we’d haul back the sides of beef.
Maybe a few of my direct reports were hiding the “aged steak” whenever I came to visit. Then again, maybe there was nothing to hide.
Meetings (one-on-one or groups) are work, hard work. The more we engage the HOW, the quality of our meetings, the better they’ll be.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($3.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). The print book will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Wolf And The Lamb”*

Posted by jlubans on June 22, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Illustrations by Richard Heighway, 1894

“WOLF, meeting with a Lamb astray from the fold, resolved not to lay violent hands on him, but to find some plea to justify to the Lamb the Wolf’s right to eat him.
He thus addressed him: ‘Sirrah, last year you grossly insulted me.’ ‘Indeed,’ bleated the Lamb in a mournful tone of voice, ‘I was not then born.’
Then said the Wolf, ‘You feed in my pasture.’ ‘No, good sir,’ replied the Lamb, ‘I have not yet tasted grass.’
Again said the Wolf, ‘You drink of my well.’ ‘No,’ exclaimed the Lamb, ‘I never yet drank water, for as yet my mother’s milk is both food and drink to me.’
Upon which the Wolf seized him and ate him up, saying, ‘Well! I won’t remain supperless, even though you refute every one of my imputations.’”

“The tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny.”
Or as another moralist has it more aptly for humans, “If you have made up your mind to hang your dog, any rope will do for the purpose.”
When you have “strayed from the flock”, as any good independent thinking follower will do from time to time, the fuss budget boss will see a justification to foreclose on your career.
It is not for nothing the research shows that really good workers – creative, pro-active, independent-minded – are punished about half of the time.
So, stray not from your flock?
No, stray away but be aware that your independence (and good ideas and good performance) will bring envy as often as praise. Be prepared to leave; have a packed suitcase under the bed.
Alas, our little lamb had no recourse.
In the workplace we often get second chances elsewhere; don’t forgo them.

*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 2017

Friday Fable. Krylov’s “THE CUCKOO AND THE COCK”*

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

Caption: Soviet Postcard (1956) for Krylov fable.

“’HOW proudly and sonorously you sing, my dear
‘But you, dear Cuckoo, my light, how smoothly flows
your long-drawn-out note! There is no such singer in all
the rest of our forest.’
‘To you, my dear gossip, I could listen for ever.’
‘And as for you, my beauty, I swear that, when you are
silent, I scarcely know how to wait till you begin again.
Where do you get such a voice from? so clear, so soft, and
so high ! But no doubt you were always like that; not
very large in stature, but in song a regular nightingale.’
‘Thanks, gossip. As for you, I declare, on my conscience,
you sing better than the birds in the garden of Eden. For
a proof of this, I appeal to public opinion.’
At this moment a Sparrow, which had overheard their
conversation, said to them,
‘You may go on praising one another till you are hoarse,
my friends; but your music is utterly worthless.’

Why was it that, not being afraid to sin, the Cuckoo
praised the Cock? Simply because the Cock praised the
Beware the Mutual Admiration Society. Avoid its close cousin, Group-Think.
Similarly, associate not with those who despise each other, who have no respect for nor can hear what the other is saying; they only hear themselves.
And, always, protect the Sparrow, the endangered Speaker of Truth.

*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 ($8.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). 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


Posted by jlubans on June 12, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Mr. Burns, the quintessential Theory X Leader, preparing to motivate Mr. Simpson.

There’s a freebie question on the final exam for my class, The Democratic Workplace:
“UNLESS I AM CLOSELY SUPERVISED I WILL work less and/or make less effort.”
True False
Of course, there is no correct answer.
Some need to be supervised to do a good job. Others may not; he or she may be hindered by and resentful towards close supervision.
If the student really believes he or she needs minimal supervision, then does this self-motivation apply to other people or is the student somehow unique, an outlier?
Since the final is a team exam (BTW, the group scores were 99, 97, 92 and 87) each group had to answer this. All answered False to this question. Good. I say that because it had to be a group decision, so the individual saw that he was not unique in wanting freedom at work.
I find this relevant to a recent BBC article on motivation,
The right and wrong ways to motivate your colleagues.
It features several bromides and admonitions: “Do you use the carrot or the stick? Using threats and fear to motivate workers is often a recipe for disaster”
The article also uses a straw argument or two. For one, there’s GE’s “rank and yank“ performance evaluation system that purged the bottom 10% of each annual ranking.
While widely condemned, that system may have been instrumental in increasing the value of GE stock by billions of dollars. Perhaps fear was used to trim the organization and from there it could do a better job. Faults aside, the BBC story provides interesting insights into motivation and how it is viewed currently in organizations. For example, here is a research reference which suggests my taking a group approach to finals may not be a total crackpot idea: “One study found workers who believed they were completing a task as part of a team solved more problems, had more recall of what they learned, and worked 48% longer.” Why the difference vs. going solo?
Of course I have been known to mutter about motivation, like I did in “Born or Made?” and in “Motivation; An Eternal Question.
Here’s a relevant note from my 2013 essay: “When teaching library management in the USA I give students a one page, ten question, self-test on theory X and theory Y. (In brief, theory X managers supervise closely, while theory Y managers are more hands-off.)
Each student takes this test twice, once for how he supervises (or would supervise) and once again for how the student wants to be supervised. After scoring the two tests, the students arrange themselves around the room by their scores. There’s usually a wide distribution from extreme X to extreme Y but more often then not the Xs have it.
Then, I ask the students to rearrange themselves by the score for how they want to be supervised. There’s usually a total shift to the theory Y side of the room. Those with a strong theory X inclination in supervising others find themselves wondering, “Why am I the boss that I would not want?” Emphasis added. The BBC article echoes this:
“Become a role model by understanding how you want to be managed,” he says. “Once you understand how you want to be managed, you can apply it to others.”
My major take-away from the BBC article: “You don’t become a leader because of your position, …. You become a leader because people want to follow you.” The title on the door only goes so far. Eventually, if you are to be an effective leader, you must align workers with what you and your organizations wants and what values it professes, what challenges it wants addressed.
The more correlation between leader and followers the better the organization will be and the better the leadership.
How do you do that? Not by memo. You have to explain and model the vision and why it matters. And, then you have to explain it again until everyone understands it (including yourself!). Once internalized, self-motivation can kick in and external efforts at motivation become irrelevant.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($8.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). 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


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

Caption: The Professor Aloft. Illustration by CLYDE J. NEWMAN, 1899

“NOW it happens that in America a man who goes up hanging to a Balloon is a Professor.
One day a Professor, preparing to make a Grand Ascension, was sorely pestered by Spectators of the Yellow-Hammer Variety, who fell over the Stay-Ropes or crowded up close to the Balloon to ask Fool Questions. They wanted to know how fur up he Calkilated to go and was he Afeerd and how often had he did it. The Professor answered them in the Surly Manner peculiar to Showmen accustomed to meet a Web-Foot
On the Q. T. the Prof. had Troubles of his own. He was expected to drop in at a Bank on the following Day and take up a Note for 100 Plunks. The Ascension meant 50 to him, but how to Corral the other 50? That was the Hard One.
This question was in his Mind as he took hold of the Trapeze Bar and signaled the Farm Hands to let go. As he trailed Skyward beneath the buoyant silken Bag he hung by his Knees and waved a glad Adieu to the Mob of Inquisitive Yeomen. A Sense of Relief came to him as he saw the Crowd sink away in the Distance.
Hanging by one Toe, and with his right Palm pressed to his Eyes, he said: ‘Now that I am Alone, let me Think, let me Think.’
There in the Vast Silence He Thought.
Presently he gave a sigh of Relief.
‘I will go to my Wife's Brother and make a Quick Touch,’ he said. ‘If he refuses to Unbelt I will threaten to tell his Wife of the bracelet he bought in Louisville.’
Having reached this Happy Conclusion, he loosened the Parachute and quickly descended to the Earth.”
MORAL: Avoid Crowds.
Yet another benefit of Solitude of which we have been hearing so much. Indeed those not so inclined have mounted a retaliatory assault on that State of Being (any state away from the silicone screen) which they consider Boredom.
So, yes, let’s ogle the screen and flicker, fidget, instagram, twitter and pinter our friends or our “general public” if it be Seemly and fitting or Not.
Our professor, a rapscallion of the third Masonic order, uses his break from the maddening crowd to think Devious – not what Thoreau had in mind for Solitude, or maybe he did when he was cadging those free Din-Dins at Walden Pond.
In any case, another fable from Mr. Ade – an America’s humorist par excellence.
For more Info on George Ade (1866-1944) see my note at a previous blog.

Source: *Source: George Ade. “Fables in Slang, 1901.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as an e-book ($8.99) and a soft cover print-on-demand book, ($26.99). 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

The World's Information Desk: Redux

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

Caption: A radial tire made to look like a bias ply tire!

Back in 1991, Microsoft’s Bill Gates worried about radial tires. Why?
He discerned what happens when a new technology takes over an industry. Radial tires were replacing bias-ply tires because radials lasted approximately 4 times longer.
Mr. Gates, as a leader, was able to make the transfer from the grungy garage floor to his spotless tech labs that unless people began to drive more, the tire industry was in serious trouble. Fewer tires sold each year translated into fewer jobs and less money for tire companies, even if radial tires cost a bit more.
What, you may be asking, does this have to do with technology or for that matter with all the ancillary businesses to technology, like libraries?
My laptop dates from 2013. I see little reason to replace it, to upgrade it. It runs fast and does everything I need.
In previous years I might have replaced my laptop in 2 or 3 years. So, multiply that difference across all owners of technology and you might correctly surmise that the market for upgrading tech hardware is shrinking.
So, if Bill Gates was worried about radial tires in 1991, why were libraries not worried in the mid-90s about losing anywhere from 30%-50% of market share to Yahoo/Google, etc. To date much of our response to that precipitous dip has been similar to that of the bias-ply companies that went out of business.
I blogged about that two years ago. Maybe this allusion to Mr. Gates and radial tires will pique your curiosity again about the relationship of leaders to change.
Here is my 2015 essay, The World’s Information Desk.
Back in 2000, Google’s co-founder, Sergy Brin had some lofty aspirations: “In five years I hope (search engines) will be able to return answers, not just documents.” “… Google will be your interface to all the world’s knowledge – not just web pages.”
Among the hallmarks of a good leader is the ability to read visible trends and to share a vision with followers. Looking back from today, Mr. Brin does appear, by one measure*, to have attained about 75% of his target to become the World’s Information Desk.
Why am I writing about this? One reason is to consider just how long organizations take to change, even when action is urgently needed. I was among a few in my field of work in the late 90s to declare that the Internet was changing us irrevocably. My field was academic libraries, large research libraries. At the time we were still pretty smug about our dominant role in information provision. After all, for many years libraries were the only show in town. Often, we held a region’s unique copy of a book - only accessible through our card catalog - and if you needed help even with simple informational questions you came to or phoned the library. Librarians were genuine intermediaries or gatekeepers. An even more literal image comes from the days of closed stacks, a library staff member either approved or denied you physical access to the books.
With the introduction of e-resources libraries began to lose their monopoly on information.
Preceded by the World Wide Web experimentation of Mosaic, Yahoo and Google soon made information (and sometimes, answers) readily available to anyone with an Internet connection. One student observed back in 1998, “(The Internet’s) moved library resources to my desktop.”
So, how did libraries respond to this erosion of what was clearly the bread and butter of their business?
Well, we return to leadership or non-leadership. A colleague told me: “It seems like all we did (at her library) was to re-act to whatever came our way.” My colleague was yearning for action, not reaction.
Leaders are presumed to have a vision for their enterprise. Actions are to flow from that vision. The best leaders are blessed with an inner compass, a sense of true north, which guides them through uncertainty. I have met a few visionary leaders who demonstrate this capacity. When confronted with a situation needing resolution, they do not delay. Convinced, they act. A few might be accused of foolhardy haste, but at least they are taking action not standing on the sidelines. They step into the fray without waiting to be asked, without seeking permission, or being prodded. If their efforts stumble and fail, they and their organizations learn and are better for the experience.
So, how did leaders respond? Initially there was denial. As I said earlier I was one of a few who observed that the long lines at the reference desk were no more. Even though there had to be fewer questions along with less demand for our services, we continued to staff the desk as if nothing had changed. When I did a simple calculation showing that the costs in answering those decreasing questions were now increasing, that still did not garner much support.
Or, maybe our denial was attributable to simply not knowing what to do, either at the service level or in the executive suite. In any case, I got the feeling back then that this was a taboo topic, only to be aired at some personal risk.
Apparently, it no longer is a taboo. Perhaps the dark clouds have passed and beams of sunshine play upon calm waters and bluebirds of happiness again flutter in the book stacks. A recent report suggests that our denial was of several years duration. While I observed voluminous drop offs as early as 1992, some libraries were still claiming their reference desks were unaffected by the user’s new found independence, “The top five (research libraries in 1995) handled over 500,000 questions each.” The writer appears to share my incredulity: “I’m sure in those early days there were some interesting approaches to collecting the data as well as different interpretations of a reference query.”
Let’s be clear again. I am not hyperbolizing the Internet’s role in information finding and using. It’s swell, up to a point. But, to test googling’s limits, type in a complex question. Unless you intend to always keep life simple, you will not get instant answers to your questions. There’s an avuncular bit of advice passed on by bright college seniors to college freshmen: “befriend a librarian.” That’s still a very good idea whether you are on or off campus. If libraries have lost the bread and butter piece of their business, they still have the main course – the meaty part. That’s the ability to help users navigate and find answers to complex questions.

*If in 1995 research libraries answered 20 million questions vs. 5 million in 2014, the difference might be ascribed to independent information seeking and finding outside of the library.

© Copyright John Lubans 2015 & 2017

Friday Fable, Aesop’s “THE SICK STAG”*

Posted by jlubans on June 01, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Like a scene out of Moliere’s, “The Imaginary Invalid.”
Illustration by the French caricaturist J. J. Grandville (1803 – 1847).

“A Stag had fallen sick. He had just strength enough to gather some food and find a quiet clearing in the woods, where he lay down to wait until his strength should return. The Animals heard about the Stag's illness and came to ask after his health. Of course, they were all hungry, and helped themselves freely to the Stag's food; and as you would expect, the Stag soon starved to death.”

“Good will is worth nothing unless it is accompanied by good acts.”
The moral spikes it. Doing something beats mouthing platitudes (and your host’s larder).
There’s a darker aspect to this fable in its telling of the oblivious guests using up the stag’s resources (his stored “good will”?)
Are the moochers really that clueless or does a hidden malevolence impel – like in the illustration – depriving the stag?
And so it can be in the workplace. Consider the time when you find yourself on the outs with the boss – indeed there are hints you may soon be shown the door.
So, you consult your colleagues for support and advice.
What do you get? The cold shoulder.
Any stored good will has somehow dissipated.
Que lastima! A pity, they all say, but don’t expect any actions on your behalf.
Some say the stag’s wake was one of the liveliest ever.

*Source: Aesop for Children (translator not identified). Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956). Chicago: 
Rand McNally & Company, 1919. Available at Project Gutenberg.

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