In Praise of Micromanagers

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


I mean they mean well, don’t they?
Like when a micromanager reviews all your work (decisions and correspondence) before you send it on, isn’t that Quality Control?
Or, when a micromanager reminds you of former mistakes, doesn’t that help?
Hardly, you say.
What about the long list of “What ifs” the micromanager made for your project. Wasn’t that helpful?
You say all those negatives diverted and stopped the project?
Few admit to being a micromanager. How often have you heard the refrain, “I'm not a micromanager...” all the while looking over your shoulder or creeping up on you to see what you are doing?
Surely, they must do some good?
Attention to detail. Yes, that is important. But, bogging down in the wrong details can make a mess of things.
Like the micromanager who waits at the door for the tardy.
Or when she monitors your personal use of phones and computers.
Hmm, this is not going well.
So, what do micromanagers want?
They want to be macromanagers. They want to let go.
They want an independent and innovative workforce.
They want you free to create, to explore other ways of working.
They want you to think for yourself and to behave in ways best for the organization.
But – and this is a big but - none of that can happen - they will tell you - until you (the worker being micromanaged) become responsible and show you can manage yourself.
Until then, the micromanager has no choice but to make decisions for you and to shepherd you through the workday.
You’re just not ready yet to be on your own.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

The Stranger Hen: A Story for Humans

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


Caption: Henny alone in her new digs.

I’ve written of roosters and wild turkeys to illustrate human behavior, especially in the workplace. While humans display compassion more than most other subjects in the animal kingdom, there are times when we are less than compassionate in how we treat the less able or the strange.
I have another story.
This one is about how a stranger hen is treated by an established flock of chickens and their rooster.
Let’s call her Henny, like in Henny Penny,
A couple months ago, a friend dropped Henny off at my daughter’s farm.
The friend had too many chickens and was downsizing; the options were the freezer or a new home. The friend chose the latter much to Henny’s delight.
Since coming to her new home, I have seen a distinct disdain among the flock to welcoming Henny.
Indeed, the hostile behavior – if Henny gets close, one hen or another will rush at her - continues to this day.
The rooster is aloof, neither showing support or hostility. But, his passive behavior may actually be moderating the flock's behavior, which could be much worse.
Somehow Henny manages.
Henny is most often alone, out back of the farm buildings, scratching for food.
As you see from the photo she is neither henpecked nor malnourished, and I do not see her moping. She is clear-eyed and minds her own business. Yet, I wonder.
In the last few days I have seen something like a rapprochement, détente, or a peace treaty in the works. Maybe a thaw in the relationship. Henny's gotten within a foot of some hens without a flare up.
We’ll see.
Like the new kid in school, unless someone reaches out and befriends him or her, the new kid may get the cold shoulder or worse from classmates. Ditto for the workplace. Someone different may not be welcomed and unless a leader offers tacit or explicit support, those that dislike the stranger might make life miserable for that person.
Of course, there are leaders who want the newbie to show his/her mettle in dealing with unpleasant people. “Don’t come crying to me!” Is this leader’s unstated norm when bullying behaviors occur. Deal with it!
Henny is.
An effective leader’s role, like that of the rooster, may be to control the most negative behavior until a firmer relationship can be built; until strangeness becomes familiar.
In the meantime, I toss Henny a few scraps every day, out of sight of the other chickens.
Maybe a little human kindness will help.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Breaking It

Posted by jlubans on June 19, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

As I advanced in my administrative career, I soon learned that the expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was the rallying call (in my business) among those who abhorred change.
For these traditionalists, if a process took 6 week to complete, then that was good enough. Why try to cut it to 2 weeks or best of all, to one-day?
Besides, without more money for staff and equipment it was not possible. (With that attitude, why would anyone increase their budget?)
What was unstated was their willingness to settle for the mediocre and their unwillingness to exert effort to change for the better.
So, when I was tasked with major reforms in one organization, I rephrased it – earning the eternal enmity of many of my colleagues – to “If it ain’t broke, break it.”
What I was saying was that many of our routines were weighed down through incremental decisions; dragging us down. Starting over would help us eliminate the bottlenecks and backlogs.
I knew that the systems were interrelated so that poor performance in one area harmed performance in another.
Few saw it my way, but those who did, made sweeping changes that turned the organization around.
I probably should have used a different phrase. Like the one I saw in a recent obituary: “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.”
The obituary was for Ella Brennan, the culinary doyenne of Commander’s Palace Restaurant in New Orleans. She was never a chef, (although she knew very well what tasted good) but she hired up-and-coming chefs like Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse, who made her restaurant a destination for locals and visitors.
Her phrase may have been a better way to communicate to staff than my abrupt and scary (for traditionalists) proposal to break things.
In either case, the phrases gave permission and encouragement to make things better, to improve, to push an idea and process further toward doing it the best way we could.
How can it work better? That’s what I was saying with my “break it” comment.
It is not sufficient to just leave something alone and regard it as “good enough”.
In Russia they have a phrase for this attitude: “Так Cойдёт!” In American English, it’s the equivalent of, “OK, that’s close enough for government work” and implies that shoddy is not all that bad. If a newly installed floor tilts, but all the boards fit together, then OK.
In other words, “It is more or less OK” so let’s go with it. It's passable, middling, not bad, or adequate! Not exactly what you want to hear if you are trying to promote a culture of daily improvement.
You can improve anything but perfection and we don’t, any of us, have to worry about that.
My point is there’s always room for improvement. And Ms. Brennan’s highlighting through weekly brainstorming sessions with staff and expecting improvement from everyone surely helped her business stay among the top five in NOLA.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018


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


Caption: Happy Days

An ancient dame a firkin sees,
In which the rich Falernian lees
Send from the nobly tinctured shell
A rare and most delicious smell!
There when a season she had clung
With greedy nostrils to the bung,
“O spirit exquisitely sweet!”
She cried, “how perfectly complete
Were you of old, and at the best,
When ev’n your dregs have such a zest!”

They’ll see the drift of this my rhyme,
Who knew the author in his prime.
To appreciate – even savor -
this fable, maybe you have to be of an age. One moralist has it as “The memory of a good deed lives”, but I would say this is more about memories of good times not long gone.
For whatever reason, health or money, the good old days are gone. No more partying for our “ancient dame.”
And our rhyme setter makes a personal allusion, as to being quite the party animal when “in his prime.”
So, for me this is about aging but not yet “quite over the hill”.

The Comedies of Terence. And the Fables of Phædrus. Literally translated into English prose with notes, by Henry Thomas Riley. To which is added a metrical translation of Phædrus, by Christopher Smart. London: George Bell & Sons. 1887.
Like these weekly fables? Read more in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018

Power washing and the Book business

Posted by jlubans on June 06, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Worth a million views?

Power washing gone viral? Aye, hard to believe but the news has it that watching someone power wash is all the rage on social media.
A million people have watched a man cleaning mildewed lawn chairs!
Viewers say, “There aren’t many things in life that you can start and finish and get that feeling of accomplishment.”
Strangely, the viral video reminded me of a conversation with an acquisitions editor about compiling a book of essays from this blog.
The book would explore freedom at work, the democratic workplace, teams and team building and more.
The book editor - who was kind enough to speak with me - said the blog displayed good writing but it was highly unlikely her firm would publish my book.
You see, she told me, only practical books are selling.
From that disappointing conversation I took away that my proposed book was not a practical one.
Alas, it would be as abstract as freedom and as nebulous as an invisible leader.
So, abstract writing is unlike power washing where the results are manifest – deep dirt vs. dirt gone. And, with someone else doing the hard part – the work.
The viewer does not have to think; and after all a really practical book is like a road map; the offered advice rarely ends with more questions than answers.
There’s little need to think through a problem – the author’s done it for you.
For example, in my business, a seminar on how to fill out a performance appraisal form was far more popular than a seminar on “Why performance appraisal?”
The latter is corporate sabotage and impractical! Many assume – with no evidence - that performance evaluation is universally good. Just show me how to do it.
Why don’t we YouTube performance appraisals. Like power washing videos, that might be almost as good as being there.
The case for the impractical book.
Maybe, with social media taking so much of our time, there’s too much emphasis on the entertaining or the “practical” and too little on engaging in ideas and asking questions, like those moments of insight when one puts the book down to consider for herself the relevant meaning of another’s writing or is inspired by an author to try something different?
Buy a peck of Aesopic impracticality“Fables for Leaders” at Amazon. Or, be thrifty and get your library to order a copy!

© Copyright John Lubans 2018


Posted by jlubans on June 01, 2018  •  Leave comment (0)

A Man having sacrificed a young boar to the god Hercules, to whom he owed performance of a vow made for the preservation of his health, ordered the remains of the barley to be set for the Ass.
But he refused to touch it, and said: “I would most willingly accept your food, if he who had been fed upon it had not had his throat cut.”
Warned by the significance of this Fable, I have always been careful to avoid the gain that exposed to hazard.
“But,” say you, “those who have got riches by rapine, are still in possession of them.”
Come, then, let us enumerate those, who, being detected, have come to a bad end; you will find that those so punished constitute a great majority.
Rashness brings luck to a few, misfortune to most.”
I suppose when Mr. Putin allegedly “takes out” an exiled Russian oligarch, we might say this is one of those in the fable who “got richness by rapine” coming “to a bad end”.
But then say you, what of Mr. Putin? Good question. Phaedrus last line suggests just deserts may lurking around the corner.
And, so it is in the work world. Those who have harmed others, stepping on the fingers and heads of those scrambling up the ladder of success may yet get their comeuppance.

The Comedies of Terence. And the Fables of Phædrus. Literally translated into English prose with notes, by Henry Thomas Riley. To which is added a metrical translation of Phædrus, by Christopher Smart. London: George Bell & Sons. 1887.

Like these weekly fables? Buy and read more in Lubans’ book “Fables for Leaders” at Amazon.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018