A Tale of Two Covers: Designing Fables for Leaders

Posted by jlubans on November 28, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Because of America's 2016 presidential election we opted not to use this cover; the elephant is symbolic of one of the political parties

One of the benefits of indie publishing is the author’s having more say in a book's design.
I recall early in my writing career authors were not consulted about the cover design or how the book would look.
One of my first books, “Educating the Library User” was a fairly large success for an academic book (over 6000 copies were purchased) but I had no input about the book jacket design. I liked it, but I would not have picked the art work the publisher used.
Yet, I do like the mauve (pink trying to be purple) fabric binding!
More recently, my "Leading from the Middle" book, was moving full speed ahead in production with no word to me about the cover.
When I inquired, I was shown the most prosaic, functional cover imaginable. A flat dull color for the background and the title along with my name in nondescript type. As dull as any dissertation!
Nothing to pull the reader in, nothing to entice the eye, everything to suggest to the prospective reader, “Why would I want to read this dull and boring book?”.
I persisted and the publisher sent me a half dozen cover suggestions.
All but one was a variation on the soporific.
I opted for the geometrically imaginative one and I am sure that design had much to do with the success of that book.
So, as an indie publisher, I had a lot to say about the cover for Fables for Leaders. And to my good fortune, I was working with the renowned artist
Béatrice Coron and ALISE ŠNĒBAHA as the book’s illustrator and designer. Between the two of them I had a variety of covers and illustrations to choose from.
The final cover itself had 27 iterations of color and placement of text. Yes, 27!
Caption: Two early versions of cover. One with real people and their totems. And, the other with animals in a meeting room led by (who else?) Leo, the Lion!
The final version (see the masthead for this blog) fired Leo and replaced him with Ozols, the bear drawn from my fable in the book, "The Bear in the Tree".
When I look back over my several books, Fables for Leaders is the one worth collecting as an example of how design and illustration contribute to the purpose of the book.
A visually appealing book, with the right heft, draws the reader in. And, keeping the implied promise, (“You can judge a book by its cover!”) the content adds to the enjoyment of the book.
Order your copy before the holiday postal stampede!
Find Fables at any number of Internet vendors, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Powell’s Books.
The behemoth Amazon is linked here.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Lubans’ “Tom the Turkey’s Tale”

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

Caption: Tom’s mates no more.

Once in winter, a flock of wild turkeys made its circuitous way across farmlands and through forests. There were two dozen, young and old.
One of the older turkeys, Tom by name, somehow mangled his foot and could not keep up.
He called to the flock and asked them to slow down, but no one responded. When the group stopped to graze, Tom caught up, only to be shunned, now a persona non grata.
Several of the healthy turkeys ganged up, surrounding Tom – wings outspread - and sought to peck him to death. Saying as it were, "You are weak, we are strong, you must die."
Tom escaped by flying into the branches of a sheltering tree.
A kindly Farmer saw this and put out corn and water.
Whenever the flock returned – eating up all of Tom’s food - Tom would drop down from the tree and limp over to the flock, only to be viciously pecked at.
Thanks to the Farmer and time (and the sheltering tree), Tom’s foot got better; he limped less. Then, one day, he disappeared.

Moral for the workplace: When you see happening what happened to Tom do you participate in the shunning or are you like the Farmer? Are you a sheltering tree?
When a workmate is ostracized do you lend a helping hand or look the other way?
UPDATE Christmas, 2017: Ants seem to have more of whatever it is that passes for compassion among humans and is absent among turkeys. A PBS article from springtime "No Ant Left Behind: Warrior Ants Carry Injured Comrades Home" offers us a counterspective to wild turkey inhumanity. Inhumanity? These are turkeys, not people. How can they be inhumane? Good question. How can humane people be inhumane to others? Pretty easily, it seems.
Fables for Leaders would be a perfect Christmas gift for the thoughtful leader and/or the thoughtful follower. Beautifully illustrated and designed. Several vendors offer the book. Click on the cover image above to link to Amazon.

Black Friday special only on BookBaby. 15% off, Code:JD9VQK

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Feudin’, fussin’ and a-fightin’

Posted by jlubans on November 21, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

I’ve been in a few feuds – not like how the 1948 hillbilly movie poster has it, but close.
Mine were office feuds that simmered and impeded, got in the way of progress, stymieing the best use of resources.
So, a BBC article about “feud consultants” or “peacemakers” - those who intervene in office feuds - reminded me of several that did not work out in a satisfactory way.
I could have done better.
Had there been a third party – a feud buster - a resolution might have happened.
What would I do differently?
Would it be better to follow an extreme solution like that suggested in the Wall Street Journal to “forget mediation, the silent treatment or even an awkward office shouting match.” And skip group hugs! Instead, put up your dukes and get in the boxing ring!
Or, more recently, the WSJ advises us of another conflict resolution strategy: “Forget trust falls. Indoor ax throwing has become the latest way to bond with colleagues.” Intriguing! Compete alongside your office “enemies” in tossing dangerous objects into a wooden target!
Fun, maybe but not for me.
I know that team building activites do work - however indirectly - but some situations demand direct action to address and resolve personal conflict.
In my case, I wish someone (me!) had said, “Look this is not going anywhere, it is bad for the organization, we have got to clear the air. Would you (the other aggrieved party) be willing to work with me to resolve our differences?”
(Conflict resolvers say the key phrase in this statement is "would you be willing?")
But before asking that of the other person, I need to answer some questions about my role in the conflict.
Why do I see that other person as an enemy, as someone who seeks to undermine me?
Why does the other side think of me the same way?
Why do I believe this other person is working to frustrate what I hope to achieve?
Why does the other side think that of me?
You can appreciate just how difficult this conversation could be!
So, a third party intervention makes good sense. But, finding that third party is not easy.
Most Human Resources (HR) specialists are not really neutral. I have met only two who commanded respect as being fair and effective in resolving disputes.
Those two had an internal strength or internal compass that helped overcome long-term personality clashes without their getting sucked into the conflict.
Those two were Solomon-like in how they perceived and dealt with differences.
In my line of work, conflict is rarely addressed openly. Avoidance and accommodation are the preferred methods – as in many other industries - of dealing with conflict, so little changes.
Compromise is celebrated as an achievement! Yea, we won a little!
You get a little, they get a little and the problem is half resolved.
We kid ourselves into believing we have achieved all we can achieve.
If people remain closed, then the win-win of open collaboration (good ideas competing and melding into one best solution) is beyond reach.
Instead, we “compromise” and we settle for something less.
In my experience, my “problem people” – and there were several - were often self-centered, only looking out for themselves, none for all. If they were on a team, guess who had to be the captain?
For them, everything came down to “Me, first”, or so I thought.
I wonder what they thought of me?
Really, as I look back, a feud buster would have been a plus, for no other reason than to get me talking with the “enemy”.
Instead, each of us was articulate in blaming, sotto voce, the other for the sorry situation.
Funny, in a bitter way. I knew I had to have a frank talk with the other person but I did not; I went off and did things, kept busy.
I avoided, ignored, for years and then it was too late. I went on doing stuff and now, well I am here and they are there.
No, I am not going to call them on the phone and tell them I love them anyway!
No, having that talk would have made all the difference. Not having that talk has made all the difference.
Fables for Leaders would be a perfect Christmas gift for the thoughtful leader and/or the thoughtful follower. Beautifully illustrated and designed. Several vendors offer the book. Click on the cover image above to link to Amazon.

Black Friday special only on BookBaby. 15% off, Code:JD9VQK

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Odo of Cheriton’s “THE BIRD OF SAINT MARTIN”

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

Caption: Winter Wren

“AMONG the Birds there is one known as the Bird of Saint Martin, which is no larger than a Wren, and whose legs are long and slender like reeds.
It happened once at the festival of Saint Martin, when the sun was shining brightly, that the little Bird of Saint Martin flung itself down upon the ground beside a tree and rolling over kicked its legs high in the air exclaiming:
‘There, if the Heavens should fall I could hold them up with my legs!’
Just then a single leaf fell from a branch of the tree and fluttered down upon the Bird.
The latter sprang up, half dead with fear, and flew away crying shrilly, ‘Oh, Saint Martin, Saint Martin, save your little Bird!’
There are many like this Bird of Saint Martin, whose faith is strong in times of safety, but weak in times of danger.”

And so it can be in the workplace when a bold executive trumpets – at a happy hour with like-minded co-workers - that he will fix tomorrow what’s wrong with the organization today.
Nodding, they each order another, and dream of wrongs to be righted.
Comes the dawn, our hero meets an entrenched and resistant workforce. Its cri de coeur: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” echoes through the land. Last night’s champion, like the Bird of St. Martin, quickly quails and retreats in haste.
Little wonder the wise old birds sit in silence, gazing into the horizon.

*Source: Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

For more fables, old and new, and their applications to organizational life, see my new book:
Fables for Leaders, with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron and designed by ALISE ŠNĒBAHA, 2017 ($19.99).
Ezis Press
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783

© Copyright 2017 John Lubans

Not-to-do Lists and Anti-goals

Posted by jlubans on November 14, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Since I have made a career out of being contrarian, I was drawn to a BBC story on “Owning Your Time” in which several experts turn productivity advice topsy-turvy.
The productivity industry – which is not an insignificant profit center of the self-help industry – has long favored making to-do lists and setting goals. The to-do list organizes one’s day and firm and fixed goals provide direction and stability.
Well, now, some productivity experts are saying to turn these concepts inside out, into not-to-do lists and anti-goals.
Here’s how it works:
Imagine your most miserable day. What does it look like? Endlessly rambling meetings? Meetings with people you do not like or trust? A packed day with never a spare moment to think about your goals and dreams?
Then, consider what you can change about this worst day ever.
Obviously if you don’t like or trust your boss, there’s not much you can do about eliminating the dreaded weekly meeting.
But, what about all those monthly meetings with your subordinates?
Put your calendar on a diet.
Can’t those self-perpetuating meetings be streamlined into something less formal and more satisfying?
Maybe even eliminated?
What about the overall structure of your day?
Block out time for working alone.
Maybe, never meet in the morning.
Create buffers around that toxic boss meeting. Before and after that meeting, schedule an hour or two Out Of Office. In other words, take a walk in the park.
Of course, you are doing creative work all the while. Let your boss know that these OOO rambles are highly productive and enable you to consider ways to improve your work – which they do.
Obviously, not-doing or anti-goals do not preclude those highly difficult times for a good leader. Like having that heart to heart disciplinary meeting with a recalcitrant worker, but, when you have a choice, choose to get rid of what makes you miserable.
You may have other ways to cope. In any case, don’t be a slave to a schedule you actually control. When I was 9-5, I could have done more to change the daily, weekly, and monthly routine.
I wrote about those days – and what I would change - in a recent blog, “Best Practice Meetings”.


Fables for Leaders, with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron and designed by ALISE ŠNĒBAHA, launched September 30, 2017 ($19.99- NEW PRICE pending).
Ezis Press
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783

© Copyright 2017 John Lubans

Friday Fable. Aesop’s “The Raging Lion and the Goat”*

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

Caption: Lion enraged

“When she saw the lion in a rage, the she-goat said, ‘O the wretched and unhappy lives of animals, if we have to cope with lions in a rage, when we know their savageness to be unbearable even when they are sound in mind and thought.’”
And so it can be in a toxic workplace. The bully boss is already feared enough without throwing chairs or spewing verbal abuse to further harass staff.
It’s been proven over and over, the kick-em-in-the-ass type boss gets short-term results and courts long-term failure.
Why would anyone verbally or physically abused contribute more than barely enough to keep a despised job?
A corporate culture of fear, aggravated by an ill-tempered boss, only weakens the organization.
When you subjugate a worker’s freedom you occlude her creativity, her ability to think in productive ways for the organization.

*Source: Translated by Laura Gibbs. 2017. Original in Isop, Joachim Camerarius, and Jean de Tournes. Fabulae Aesopicae, …. Lugduni [Lió]: Apud Ioan. Tornaesium, 1579.

Fables for Leaders, with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron and designed by ALISE ŠNĒBAHA, launched September 30, 2017 ($19.99).
Ezis Press
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
Available at Amazon

© Copyright 2017 John Lubans

The Ezis Press: Indie Publisher

Posted by jlubans on November 07, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: The Ezis Logos

The Ezis (rhymes with basis) Press is the publishing arm of this blog, Leading from the Middle. Ezis Press, as the logos clearly displays is named after the beloved Latvian hedgehog, ezis. Hedgehog Press was already taken, so I went with Ezis. It fits my hedgehog style, prickly but loveable.
The Press’ first book is “Fables for Leaders” and a second book is in the works. No. 2 will deal with freedom at work, drawing from the many blogs I have published since 2010 and from my teaching of the Democratic Workplace.
I prefer the term “indie publisher” not “self publisher”.
Self-publisher - unlike many respected “unaffiliated” indie movies, indie bands, and indie bookstores - still suffers from a clinging disdain left over from the pre-Internet days of “vanity presses”.
In olden days, an author, for a fee, could always turn to a so-called vanity press to get published.
Some vanity presses were unethical, (publishing wretched poetry in purple limp leather bindings), others were and are perfectly reputable and deliver good value for every dollar spent. E-books and print on demand (POD) have also greatly altered the economics of self-publishing. With POD, there is no need to guess at how many copies to publish in a first edition; that’s a huge cost savings.
One factor remains unchanged: reviews will make or break a book – whether independently published or from a giant aggregator. There is fierce competition for book reviews and it is in this area in which the indie publisher may struggle the most.
Fiammetta Rocco, the Economist magazine’s culture editor, to whom I sent a review copy of “Fables for Leaders”, told me there would be "800 books a day coming out in October alone"!
It’s easier for many review editors to divert the self-published volumes to the resale store and to only focus on the allegedly pre-vetted books issued by the traditional publisher. Less risk.
Indeed, in my business, several allegedly highly influential blogs (self published no less!) sneer at self-published work.
These self-declared bastions of intellectual freedom look down their collective long noses at anything not vetted by a traditional publisher.
In any case, Ezis Press came to be because of what I have long observed about this day and age:
“Never have so many written so much to be read by so few, for free.”
Above all, authors want to be read, so being the 2 millionth blog under the “long tail” of the blogosphere, is probably not the best place to be if you want to get your message out.
Since I do not aspire to be an eyeball grabbing “island of bigotry in a sea of prejudice”, my eyeball count is negligible.
So, I’ve concluded that putting out a nicely done traditional book or two is a better way to reach new readers and to increase traffic to the blog.
But, as the Economist anecdote suggests, we are still in fierce competition with the traditional publishers. And, while social media can be an effective way to get the word out about one’s book, there is an ever-growing gaming of that system, the Internet.
Take a gander at the very sophisticated social media postings to sow dissent during the 2016 election. Those posts were put out for millions to see – if they bothered to look at them – for mils an eyeball.
What is not mentioned is the labor cost behind those postings. These posters from a foreign power speak better English than most Americans. Their language is perfectly colloquial – no weird juxtapositions and disagreements between verbs and nouns, etc. Maybe the perps have been watching American TV all their lives.
In any case the social media advertising is cheap but the labor is not.
So again we have a choice. You can send your book with cover letter and press release to dozens of magazines, print and online or you can take the deceptive route and pay for likes and clicks and reviews. Yes, reviews. Kirkus, the once famous review magazine, now charges hefty fees – in the hundreds - to review a book.
Somehow, this is seen as OK. The youngish author of a recent “New Yorker” essay was sputtering mad about the re-editing of a Kirkus review. He made no mention that the review was bought and paid for.
So, not a pretty picture, but it is not stopping me from publishing. I wanted a beautiful book in Fables for Leaders and I got it. We’ll see how many reviews it gets. (BTW, one unpaid review declares Fables a “Treasure” – I hope you will think so, too.)
Obviously, going the indie route still has costs. Will I sell enough copies to recover the costs? That will factor into a decision for a second book, but it will have no effect on “Fables for Leaders”, I am quite content in having produced a fine book and to have worked with a splendid team of editor, designer and illustrator.


Fables for Leaders, with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron and designed by ALISE ŠNĒBAHA, launched September 30, 2017 ($19.99- NEW PRICE pending).
Ezis Press
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
BOOKBABY’s BOOKSHOP! The BookBaby listing features a “See Inside” the book.
NEW PRICE at BookBaby: $19.99

© Copyright 2017 John Lubans

Friday Fable. Lubans’ The Proud Blackberry*

Posted by jlubans on November 03, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Béatrice Coron’s original paper cut for Fables for Leaders, 2016

One day a fox made much, in French, over July’s first ripe blackberry.
As usual, the berry was at the tip of the cluster, out ahead of all the others yet green.
The blackberry basked in Reynard’s praise and remarked how proud he was to be the first, and such a magnificent first, shiny black, super
sweet and juicy.
The fox nodded and in a flash gobbled up the blackberry.
The fox remarked, “Mon chérie, why do you take such pride in being the first?
Have you not heard the tale of the tall poppy?**
For all his eminence, he’s the first to be cut.”
Therefore, don’t be like the candle that brags on its flame
only to see it put out.
A contrarian moral: On hearing the fox , a voice gurgled
deep inside: “Au contraire, mon ami, my destiny is to be eaten
and I have the honor to be the first of my brethren. You, Monsieur
Reynard, are a mere vehicle, a bus d’auto.
Next, when you hear the call of nature, I will fall onto the earth and soon
reappear as a new cane to snag your raggedy tail with my thorns.”

*This fable appears on p. 40 of “Fables for Leaders”. I include it to whet your appetite to see more of Béatrice Coron’s enchanting illustrations and Alise Šnēbaha’s inspired book design.
** An Australian term, it refers to an Australian’s tendency to keep a low
profile, to not stand out, because the tall poppy’s the first to be taken.

Caption: Fables for Leaders gains a Five Star Review by Readers’ Favorite:

Reviewed by Angie Gallion Lovell for Readers' Favorite
… “While Fables for Leaders is beautifully rendered and aesthetically pleasing, the real treasure is found in the hints of wisdom John Lubans reminds us of. We’ve all heard the tale of The Grasshopper and The Ant, certainly, where one saves for the winter and is prepared when bad weather comes, and the other who does not save for winter finds himself in dire straits because of it.
What Lubans does, masterfully, is take the cliche and make it relevant for today, and readily applicable for persons in leadership roles. There is great wisdom within these pages and the amazing thing is that we all know it, but Lubans provides us with the next step to take this intrinsic knowledge, this long forgotten wisdom, and retool it for our current lives. He opens the door to us and explains how the fables we learned at our mother’s knee were training us to live a most productive life.
I want John Lubans' book, Fables for Leaders, for my own personal collection, and I want it printed on parchment.”
See the full review here.

Fables for Leaders, with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron and designed by ALISE ŠNĒBAHA, launched September 30, 2017 ($19.99- NEW PRICE pending).
Ezis Press
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
BOOKBABY’s BOOKSHOP! The BookBaby listing features a “See Inside” the book.
NEW PRICE at BookBaby: $19.99

© Copyright 2017 John Lubans