Rain on the River

Posted by jlubans on May 29, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: Illustration by A. Frederics from the 1889 edition of Three Men in a Boat

If you've ever been in an open boat in pouring rain you will appreciate Jerome K. Jerome's comedic writing in his 1889 book, “Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog)”.
I’ve come to realize - from many attempts to make up funny stories - just what separates the best comedy writers from the rest of us: the ability to sustain the story, to keep it moving, to keep it freshly amusing beyond the first few pages.
We might have a ripsnorter of a punch line or an absurd situation (like what if Prince Harry married Angela Merkel instead of Ms. Markle?)
But if we can’t take it beyond that, it matters little. You can get the attention of the reader, but then you have to keep it.
Here is Jerome moving us from the pure pleasure of a sunlit river to the dismality of rain on the river:
“The river—with the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding gold the grey-green beech-trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood paths, chasing shadows o’er the shallows, flinging diamonds from the mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, … —is a golden fairy stream.
But the river—chill and weary, with the ceaseless rain-drops falling on its brown and sluggish waters, … while the woods, all dark and silent, shrouded in their mists of vapour, stand … like the ghosts of evil actions, like the ghosts of friends neglected—is a spirit-haunted water through the land of vain regrets…”
And here is how three men respond:
“We said we could not expect to have it all sunshine, nor should we wish it. We told each other that Nature was beautiful, even in her tears.
Indeed, Harris (one of the three) and I were quite enthusiastic about the business, for the first few hours. And we sang a song about a gipsy’s life, …—and how he enjoyed the rain, and what a lot of good it did him; and how he laughed at people who didn’t like it.”
"… I cannot honestly say that we had a merry evening. The rain poured down with quiet persistency. Everything in the boat was damp and clammy. Supper was not a success.
Cold veal pie, when you don’t feel hungry, is apt to cloy. I felt I wanted whitebait and a cutlet; Harris babbled of soles and white-sauce, and passed the remains of his pie to Montmorency (the dog), who declined it, and, apparently insulted by the offer, went and sat over at the other end of the boat by himself.”
Jerome’s wry writing transported me to those many days spent in the rain and cold of adventure learning.
I too would try to make the most of the adversity, saying to one and all the best learning comes from misery.
We learn nothing from a sunny day, but in a wet and driving rain, with uprooted tents flying hither and yon, with fires unlit and matches wet, with soaked sleeping bags, aye, that’s where the learning is.
So I said.
The three men decide to leave the river and abandon the boat, having the good sense to avoid hypothermia get into a hotel and a hot meal with good wine and dry clothes.
Still, I could go on about the “sweet uses of adversity” as we all stand around shivering in damp clothing under a leaky canopy. Perhaps the good comes later, knowing to have endured the bad and enjoyed the good.

To show your support for the millions of writers (comedic or not) under the long and bushy tail of the Internet, buy Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
Or, for the frugal, get your library to ante up for a copy.
© Copyright John Lubans 2018


Posted by jlubans on May 24, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)


AN Inquisitive Man was one day met by a friend who cordially hailed him:
"Good morning, my good fellow! And where do you come from?"
"From the Museum of Natural History, where I have just spent three hours.
I saw everything there was to see and examined it carefully.
It was all so astonishing that honestly I am not clever enough to describe the half of it.
Nature is certainly wonderful in her rich variety!
There are more birds and beasts than I ever dreamed of—not to mention the butterflies dragonflies and beetles—some green as emeralds and others as red as coral!
And there were tiny little gnats too—why, really, some of them are smaller than the head of a pin!"
"And of course you saw the elephant? What did you think of him? I'll wager you felt as though you were looking at a mountain!"
"Elephant? Are you quite sure that they have an elephant?"
"Quite sure."
"Well, old man, don't tell anybody—but the fact is that I didn't notice the elephant!"
Now you know
from whence comes the business cliché about the “elephant in the room.”
I doubt that was Krylov’s intent. Instead I would say he is simply showing how even the best of us can miss the obvious.
It is said that a Russian royal (yes like the Brit royals on display this last week!) claimed that each of the “three great fabulists, La Fontaine, Khemnitser, and Dmitrief, bore the name of Ivan”.
For a royal to miss mentioning Russia’s greatest fabulist, Ivan Krylov, is hardly earthshaking and probably, if true, made Krylov laugh.
What else could one expect from an inbred, wooly headed aristocrat?
In any case, the critics say Krylov made up this fable to ridicule a Royal slight.
This is hardly in keeping with Krylov’s unconcern in being a celebrity or someone singled out for honors. More likely, this take is a myopic attempt to explain the real meaning behind the “inquisitive man” seeing gnats but not an elephant.
I suspect that all too often in the workplace we address tiny problems while avoiding what’s eating our lunch, like allowing coffee in the library, vs. the loss of a third or more of our market share to Google!
My example stems from libraries, but it applies to dozens of other businesses. Myopically, we swat at mosquitoes while the dragon plunders the kingdom.

*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869.
In solidarity with the millions of writers under the long, long tail of the Internet, buy Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, for the frugal, get your library to ante up for a copy. If you ask, they will buy it.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Mr. Clippy: The Irrepressible Do-Gooder

Posted by jlubans on May 22, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Mr. Clippy ever-ready to advise.

Do you, if you are of an age, remember the talking paper clip –a Bill Gates look-alike- that would appear, uninvited, on your laptop as you typed in the word, dear?
"It looks like you're writing a letter. Would you like help?"
No question - we are assured even by geeky denizens of Silicone Valley – maddened more people back in the heady days of Microsoft 97.
Unbidden, he would default on your screen when least expected. And, to top it off, there were no workarounds to get rid of the ever helpful Clippy.
In other words, what Mr. Clippy really was saying:
“It looks like you're writing a letter, and I'm going to help you with that. Whether you like it, or not.”
In 2001 Mr. Clippy ceased being a default.
But, while Mr. Clippy may be gone, the underlying reason for Mr. Clippy is not.
It is identical to the inner belief possessed by a certain kind of micromanager: I know better.
Therefore, follow my lead, if you know what is good for you.
The micromanager masks this control behavior by claiming he or she is simply being helpful – aiding the less intelligent or the less able – and certainly finds it difficult to understand why people find this kind of “free” help egregiously arrogant, insulting, belittling, disdainful, an indignity, and deprecatory.
(All of these terms appeared frequently in posts about Mr. Clippy).
I have always aligned Clippy with Mr. Bill and other unexpected micromanagers, like Ms. Docker, the protagonist in Patrick White’s play “A Cheery Soul”
I recall her on a Sydney stage as a do-gooder who itched – it was her Christian duty, she’d say - to correct those in error, albeit with a gleeful vengeance and catastrophic result.
And, then there a department head peer who was tingling to tell me just how ineffective I was; all she needed was my permission.
Why do we dislike micromanagers?
It’s a fairly simple answer. The micromanager gets more out of giving advice than we do. He has us under his thumb, so to speak, and we have to listen.
We cannot turn Mr. Clippy off and he knows it, aggravating even further our disdain for being told what to do instead of being left alone to figure it out.
The latter is how people learn and the effective teacher knows when to offer advice and when to stay silent, letting “trial and error” lead the way to a better understanding.
I have found myself more and more content with bouncing around a problem, even when I know I could probably arrange an orderly agenda. I am not really multi-tasking even while jumping from task to task.
I am sure my approach would inspire all micro-managers and do-gooders to tell me how wrong I have got it.
But, you know what?
Maybe it’s the Wrong that I am content with; maybe knowing that I can get to what needs doing IN MY OWN WAY is just fine.
Or, is this an onset of early dementia or creeping curmedgery?
In solidarity with the millions stuck under the long, long tail of the Internet, buy Lubans’ new book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, for the frugal, get your library to ante up for a copy.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018


Posted by jlubans on May 18, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)


Caption: The expiring pike as Admiral, by E. M. Rayev, 1961

A CONCEITED Pike took it into its head to exercise the functions of a cat. I do not know whether the Evil One had plagued it with envy, or whether, perhaps, it had grown tired of fishy fare ; but, at all events, it thought fit to ask the Cat to take it out to the chase, with the intention of catching a few mice in the warehouse.
But, my dear friend," Vaska (the cat) says to the Pike, " do you understand that kind of work? Take care, gossip, that you don't incur disgrace. It isn't without reason that they say, 'The work ought to be in the master's power.' "
"Why really, gossip, what a tremendous affair it is!
Mice, indeed ! Why, I have been in the habit of catching perches! "
" Oh, very well. Come along!"
They went; they lay each in ambush.
The Cat thoroughly enjoyed itself; made a hearty meal; then went to look after its comrade.
Alas! the Pike, almost destitute of life, lay there gasping, its tail nibbled away by the mice.
So the Cat, seeing that its comrade had undertaken a task quite beyond its strength, dragged it back, half dead, to its pond.
The Pike, we are told, represents Admiral Tchichakof, who was inexplicably put in charge of army troops to prevent Napoleon’s escape from Russia. Tchichakof, a fish out of water so to speak, was surprised by the French soldiers and Napoleon eluded capture.
Sometimes, not always, the people who know what they are doing should be left alone to do their job.
But, then there are those times when the experts are stuck like so many sticks in the mud and an outsider can make things happen.
That happy outcome depends fully on the outsider’s getting the full support of the troops, of the staff doing the work. In Krylov’s fable, Tchichakof being a prickly sort with British mannerisms was not one to rally the troops.
So he goes down in history as a failure.
But, I have to return to one of my most frequent questions when faced with a failed employee.
Who hired him? Does not that person or committee share the blame?

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Second chances

Posted by jlubans on May 15, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Image from Dave’s Killer Bread

I’ve been thinking about second chances.
If a plumber does a bad job on fixing a leaky toilet, do you give him a second chance on repairing a drippy showerhead?
If a newbie employee declares his job “boring”, do you keep him on and tacitly hope he will come around?
If a senior administrator is out-of-sync with a new leader, does the new leader give that person a second chance or does she tell him he no longer has a role in the organization?
Most of us support giving people a second chance. It’s an American value. It’s also Christian to do so, to forgive and to move on.
When someone fails to forgive – nurses a grievance - there may be more harm to the unforgiving than to the one in need of a second chance.
Whatever the source or influence, second chances are an accepted part of organizational life.
But, those second chances can go wrong when, for example, we do not explain to the employee why this is a second chance and what needs changing, spelling out the perceived shortcomings and necessary improvements.
Ignoring an employee’s mistakes is not giving someone a second chance.
Keeping silent about performance issues is not giving a person the opportunity to change for the better.
I sometimes use case studies in my workshops. One approach I take is for small groups to read and discuss the basis of a disciplinary hearing between an employee and employer.
The boss has over time lost confidence in the employee through her constant whining and complaining.
However the explanation for his loss of confidence is not made clear until the hearing. The employee professes shock at the boss’ perception. Invariably, my workshop participants take the side of the employee; the boss has clearly failed to guide and counsel the employee.
Indeed, every workshop participant professes he or she would have taken the employee aside for a heart-to-heart talk.
Well, I hope so.
That said, does the negative employee get a second chance? The workshoppers say resoundingly Aye!
But, there’s less sympathy for the boss! He’s obviously at fault, etc.
I say that because one feature of American organizational life is our avoidance of uncomfortable conversations.
Many of us - not all - will accommodate, avoid and, at most, silently compromise rather than to address problematic behavior clearly and directly.
That complicates the giving of second chances.

To support the blog, buy Lubans’ new book“Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, be frugal and get a copy at your library.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018


Posted by jlubans on May 11, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)


Two laden Mules were on the road—

A charge of money was bestowed
Upon the one, the other bore
Some sacks of barley. He before.
Proud of his freight, begun to swell,
Stretch’d out his neck, and shook his bell.
The poor one, with an easy pace,
Came on behind a little space,
When on a sudden, from the wood
A gang of thieves before them stood;
And, while the muleteers engage,
Wound the poor creature in their rage
Eager they seize the golden prize,
But the vile barley-bags despise.
The plunder’d mule was all forlorn,
The other thank’d them for their scorn:
“’Tis now my turn the head to toss,
Sustaining neither wound nor loss.”
The low estate’s from peril clear,
But wealthy men have much to fear.

And so it can be in the workplace where one, when plucked from mediocrity and thrown onto a throne might celebrate, but then there are those envious and fearful few who will their damndest to frustrate and depose you.
Are you tough enough?
Do you have a network of supporters?
Does your boss like you?
More importantly, does your boss’ boss like you!?
Would you rather be fishing?
Be “mindful”, as they say, of what you want and how you plan to achieve and keep it.

*Source: The Fables of Phaedrus Translated into English Verse. Phaedrus. Christopher Smart, A. M. London. G. Bell and Sons, Ltd. 1913

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Reminiscences of Letting Go

Posted by jlubans on May 08, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

A sports storyDo coaches matter?” recalls my letting go efforts when I
was heading up a large group of staff and managers.
As the story has it: “Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors broke one of the NBA’s most inviolable laws of coaching. He relinquished his dry-erase board—to a player.”
That this was deemed newsworthy by the Wall Street Journal suggests just how unusual letting go is in the highly ritualized world of basketball. How formal? Some teams have an assistant designated to provide a chair for the coach when in a huddle. Another assistant hands him/her the dry erase board for charting plays.
Frankly, I have to wonder why it’s taken so long for a coach to turn over some of the decision making to talented players.
No, I am not suggesting that each and every team can do this. As I learned from my own experience there are groups and there are individuals, who, when turned lose, deliver. On others, the new freedom is lost.
Had I to do it over again, I'd be less egalitarian and not think everyone should welcome being set free to think.
Instead, I would focus on only those direct reports who had the capacity to think on their own, who were willing to do so, and, importantly, who had the knowledge and skill to see beyond themselves. Working with this small cadre I became a better leader and the organization benefited from these new perspectives and insights.
And, timing matters. In the Steve Kerr story, one commentator notes that the coach steps aside only when the team is leading by 30 or 40 points.
So, one might ask, just how committed is the coach to letting go?
What if the game is tied and five seconds remain on the clock? Does Coach Kerr stand aside while the players huddle and decide on the “win or lose” play?
If your group is “winning” - at work or play - it may not matter that now and then the boss lets the workers make decisions.
However, once the group begins to struggle or skids into a “rough patch” then letting go may not be tolerated by higher ups.
Again, that’s a reason to be selective in who gets to lead. Some people need more guidance to lead while others simply do not want to. It’s not in their job description they’ll tell you.
My peers were shocked when I began to free up some of the best people in my organization. I was for some, a traitor to the administrative class.
The results, however, were excellent, especially in the areas in need of the most de-congestion and innovation.
Regardless, those remarkable successes did not encourage my peers to hand over, so to speak, their dry-erase boards to subordinates.
Instead, the muted response was that our success was a fluke; the boss always had to maintain control: in other words no sharing the dry-erase board, "It's mine!".
My “Leading from the Middle” book elaborates on my adventures in letting go. For example, the chapters on the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra explore the difficulties of letting workers make decisions. Only about a quarter of the orchestra wants to take on a leadership role by heading up the “core” decision-making group. Every player does offer up his or her opinion on how things are going but when the decision has to be made - and it cannot be made spontaneously, emanating from group deliberation - then it appears only a few are willing to take on that role. Interestingly, one or two then begin to boss others like the worst totalitarian conductor!

To support the blog, buy Lubans’ new book“Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, be frugal and get your library to order a copy!

© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Blog Improvement

Posted by jlubans on May 04, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)


For eight years the current design of the blog has done yeoman duty; it has served thee and me well.
But, with marketing my new book, Fables for Leaders, has come awareness that some major revision is needed.
The blog’s purpose continues:
Explore leadership and democracy at work and the use of literature in teaching leadership concepts. However there’s an added emphasis to
Enlarge readership and sell my two books.
Doing so will encourage me to work on a third or fourth book derived from the many years of this blog.
So, I would love to have your suggestions on how to improve the blog.
As regular readers know, until recently, I have written twice a week an original essay on a leadership topic and provided readers with a fable along with my commentary.
Alas, lately, in transition from a tri-coastal way of life (Latvia, North Carolina and Oregon!) I have not been as regular. I’d like to return to a twice a week posting.
I’ve been developing a “scope of work”, a sort of job description, for someone here in Salem, OR to help do the following:
1. Streamline. Un-complicate.
2. When sharing a new essay link show first title of new essay followed by the name of the blog not the other way around.
3. Provide “buy buttons” for the two books, “Leading from the Middle” and “Fables”.
4. Make a link to sample pages from Fables for Leaders.
5. Block access to archive from 2010-2017. As one of the habitués under the long, long tail of the Web, I no longer want to provide free content – along with millions of others - to enrich Google or Facebook.
The most recent year’s postings should suffice.
6. Evaluate effectiveness of sharing blog posts on social media. Is social media really the best way to get the word out?
7. Look at options for “most popular” blog items from past, now a side bar.
8. Feature book reviews of Fables for Leaders with a “teaser line” and link to full review.
9. Keep the same blog platform – the software behind the blog - unless there are persuasive reasons for a new platform. Bear in mind the costs of transferring and maintaining an archive of previous posts.
10. Get rid of that extraterrestrial squiggle at the very top of each blog title!

So, if you have an idea to improve the blog, please leave a comment.
To support the blog, buy Lubans’ new book“Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, be frugal and get your library to order a copy! Just tell them to do it!.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018