Posted by jlubans on April 28, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: What's left of a Temple of Jupiter in Lebanon.

A Thief lighted his Lamp at the altar of Jupiter, and then plundered it by the help of its own light.
Just as he was taking his departure, laden with the results of his sacrilege, the Holy Place suddenly sent forth these words: “Although these were the gifts of the wicked, and to me abominable, so much so that I care not to be spoiled of them, still, profane man, thou shalt pay the penalty with thy life, when hereafter, the day of punishment, appointed by fate, arrives.
But, that our fire, by means of which piety worships the awful Gods, may not afford its light to crime, I forbid that henceforth there shall be any such interchange of light.”
Accordingly, to this day, it is neither lawful for a lamp to be lighted at the fire of the Gods, nor yet a sacrifice kindled from a lamp.
No other than he who invented this Fable, could explain how many useful lessons it affords.
In the first place, it teaches that those whom you yourself have brought up, may often be found the most hostile to you: then again, it shows that crimes are punished not through the wrath of the Gods, but at the time appointed by the Fates: lastly, it warns the good to use nothing in common with the wicked.
However labored,
the point is made. Don’t filch from the church.
Remember what happened to Bernie Madoff? That’s the Fates at work for his theft from St. Mary’s poor box when a wee lad.
But, there’s more.
The temple says good riddance to “the gifts of the wicked” yet in real life we know that some institutions are glad to accept tainted money.
When exposed, the response is “'taint enough!”
A gift of stolen money may well do good and/or it may act as a salve to a guilty conscience. Yet, unable to resist temptation, the beneficiary may mis-use the gift.
Finally, to whom is Phaedrus alluding when he says “those whom you yourself have brought up, may often be found the most hostile to you.”



© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Of Hand washing, Cleaning up after Fido, Distancing and Organizational Change

Posted by jlubans on April 24, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)


What do these tiny tasks have to do with large or small organizational change?
As we know, new behavior can be coerced externally through the threat of punishment, in other words, a kick in the ass (KITA).
That kind of change is rarely permanent unless you live in a police state with an ever-vigilant police and compliant population.
The best change is internalized as a regular habit, one that we no longer rail or bristle at. We willingly wash our hands and we willingly pick up after our dogs. We willingly, if dolefully, shelter in place. We understand why we are
doing so, not just because we are told to do so.
But how do we get to that happier state?
Two recent articles suggest the challenges inherent in any behavioral change.
One of the two is about hand washing:
The reason why some people don't wash their hands: There are millions of non-hand-washers hiding among us. Why won’t they adopt this simple hygiene habit – and how can we change their minds?
The article suggests a multitude of reasons as to why people do not practice good hygiene. And, it suggests a variety of approaches that might encourage hand washing. The most favored are posters in toilets featuring feces on a bread roll!
In other words, using disgust to encourage hygiene. Is this not ye olde, ineffective external KITA wrapped up in a glossy ad?
Much like autopsy photos on European cigarette packs, the intent is to induce revulsion and to make us refrain from a particularly nasty habit.
But, do these methods work?
The proponents aver so, but there’s little evidence beyond wishful thinking.
The other article suggests a formula for successful change, large and small:
How to Change Anyone’s Mind: People instinctively resist being forced to do things differently. Instead of pushing, try removing the barriers that stand in their way.”
A change expert, Jonah Berger, offers five strategies:
Reduce Reactance
Ease Endowment
Shrink Distance
Alleviate uncertainty
Find Corroborating evidence.
I have written about one change effort here in Oregon – “Dog Poop and Problem Solving” - to influence dog owners to pick up after their dogs while out on walks in Oregon forests.
The foresters probably used every one of Berger’s five strategies and achieved improved trail conditions.
How lasting this improvement was I do not know, but I was taken with how well thought out the effort was and how it likely made a lasting difference for many regular users (human and canine) of the forest trails.
What is reactance and how it may result in our refusing to change a behavior?
Reactance theory has it that when people are restricted in some way – with few options - they feel a strong need to resist and fight back to gain their fundamental freedom.
In short, people who are told not to do something often feel an urge to do the very thing they're denied.
I posted a humorous item on this, “Getting Someone To Do What He Should Not Do
I see reactance playing out currently with the protests against state mandated shelter-in-place policies. While some see these protests as selfish and harmful to public health, those protesting are angry about what they believe is governmental overreach.
Most of them get the distancing notion but they are maddened by incongruity: if I can buy a can of paint in my city in Oregon why should not a citizen of a small town in Michigan be allowed to do so?
These are less protests about being cooped up forever; but more about irrational and inexplicable policies from leaders who do not listen.
In any case, there is a gap of understanding – all the noise aside – between what the protesters want and what the government wants. Berger’s steps “Ease Endowment”, “Shrink Distance”, and “Alleviate uncertainty” all could fill in that gap.
If the government were to offer corroborating evidence then some of the protesters would cease and desist. Without that evidence the gap remains.
It reminds me of a long ago time when food and drink were prohibited in academic libraries. Most students from past generations would never – out of learned respect - eat or drink in the library. That changed with the onset of the coffee culture and other evolving social norms.
Students now wanted to eat and drink while studying. Some bookstores were already featuring full size cafes with lattes to sip and sweets and savories to munch.
Offended librarians said “No way!” And offered highly unconvincing reasons why not, e. g. insects and other vermin were literally eating the books! Annually they’d mount an exhibit of the one library book half eaten by silver fish, (but maybe it was helped along by a borrower’s dog, we’re not sure).
Bizarrely, of course, when a student borrowed a book from the library for dorm use they could read it while munching a meatball sandwich, smoking a joint, or playing beer pong.
The librarians were wrong and wasted thousands of hours in enforcing unpopular rules, not to mention – but I will – gaining much ill will and reinforcing the fuddy-duddy stereotype of the librarian.
Years later, libraries surrendered to what people wanted and began to introduce coffee shops – very successfully - and stopped trying to control people’s study habits. There are far more books eaten by man’s best friend at home, than by cockroaches in the rare book room.
Still, we are left with the age-old question of how best to get people to do what is good for them?
In my career, a frequent blunder was failing to include the client in confirming a change was desired, a change that the client would regard as positive. Instead we knew best – like some in government – and proceeded with the change only to have it fail.
Had we consulted our constituents we’d have found whether the change was even necessary or if another idea would work better. Another plus, the client’s involvement would help the clients and their peers internalize the positive behavior.
ONLY a click away:

And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on April 18, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Engraving by Marcus Gheeraerts (1521–1636) done in 1567 or ,more likely, 1617

A SOCIABLE Nightingale found among the other songsters of the grove plenty of birds who envied her, but not a single friend.
"Perhaps," thought she, "I may find a friend in some other branch of the bird family," and accordingly flew confidingly to the home of the Peacock.
"Beautiful Peacock! how much I admire you!" she said.
"No less than I admire you, lovely Nightingale," returned the Peacock.
"Then let us be friends," declared the Nightingale, "for we need never be envious of each other.
You are as pleasing to the eye as I am to the ear."
Accordingly the Nightingale and the Peacock became fast friends.

The fable suggests we can be fond of people with whom we have differences, as long as those differences do not detract from who we are.
In other words, it may be that a beautiful someone (a screeching peacock) will accommodate someone with a melodious voice (a drab nightingale).
The nightingale, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) tells us, has no friends. He does not explain why.
Is the nightingale’s voice envied by one and all of the “songsters of the grove” to the exclusion of friendship?
And the peacock, other fables tell us, is often too much of a strutter and preener.
Yet, the nightingale says, “let us be friends” and, voila,
the two form a mutual admiration society.
I am reminded of a real life couple; the woman is a renowned soprano of considerable beauty and the husband is a maestro orchestral conductor.

*Source: Lessing, Fables, Translated by G. Moir Bussey in 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.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Posted by jlubans on April 18, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

“Wake up, leader!”

Posted by jlubans on April 15, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Two Latvian icons: The poets Ojārs Vācietis (L) and Imants Ziedoņis

Recently I came across a tantalizing mention of Ojārs Vācietis (1933-1983), an acclaimed Soviet-era Latvian poet. The note referred to the daringly iconoclastic magazine Avots. In 1987, it published
Vācietis banned poem “The Resurrection of the Leader”.
Written in 1967 in five parts with numerous stanzas, it imitated, grotesquely, a faux-impassioned Stalinist monologue. The monologue invites the “father and leader” to rise up and rescue the world.
In doing so Vācietis named and ridiculed he-who-shall-not-be-named nor blamed.
Consider the time when he wrote the poem: 1967. While Stalin was dead many years, there were many Stalinists treading the Kremlin (there still are!)
At the time, the Soviet Union was locked in a cold war with the West; the Soviets were keen to show communism superior to capitalism.
Of course, there was no private property; no freedoms of travel or of assembly or of speech but if that’s’ what it took to defeat capitalism and consummate a Workers Paradise, we’re all in. As the poem goes:
"Wake up, leader,
I am born a slave,
and there is nothing more terrible for me
than (to) live without you.
With me (do) whatever can be done,
I can be led, where wanted,
But I -
Have to be led!”*
Publishing the poem was indisputably a courageous act but one which cost him dearly. No longer a celebrated literary figure among the Soviet ruling elite, he’d now be shunned and his poetry suppressed. Bear in mind, that Baltic poets in Soviet times published in editions of 30,000 or more!
Vācietis had turned, like George Orwell, against Stalinism and other manifestations of totalitarianism: He declared, “Down with those who / lost a father with Stalin’s death / And feel like orphans!”
Khrushchev’s secret speech, (February 25, 1956), - a four hour long expose and diatribe against Stalin - was given in a closed session of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Later that same year, Khrushchev demonstrated a ruthlessness equal to Stalin: his bloody suppression of the Hungarian uprising in the fall of 1956**
So, the risks for anyone challenging communism were still very real. Khrushchev’s rule ended in 1964.
Then Leonid Brezhnev ran the Soviet Union until his death in 1982.
Gorbachev and his perestroika and glasnost were still years away.
I plan to use the poem in my class this fall on Leadership & Literature at the University of Latvia as an illustration of followership/leadership (good and bad) and how literature can inform our understanding.
I’ll ask the students to consider what type of follower is Vācietis?
He certainly is not a sheep, nor a yes man, nor a go-along survivor, nor an alienated follower.
The poet is the very opposite of the poem’s cringing flatterer who yearns for the good old days of gulags and executions and resents any loosening of communism’s shackles:
“Raise up, leader!
(The) ones to be lead scream for you.
Sadists scream for enjoyment,
Abusers scream for power,
Careerists for a position,
And cowards for reckoning.”
And, the monologist would offer a chilling assistance to Stalin’s corpse to punish those who removed it from Lenin's Mausoleum:
“I have a little notebook,
And there are from place
Words, words and words -
Who carried,
Who tugged,
Who laughed,
Who said
And also all who did not say.
With all children,
And relatives, and relatives' relatives.”
I hope my students will find personal and historical insights into this courageous follower, Ojārs Vācietis. What would they do were they in the poet's shoes? Is the poem a foolish artistic suicide? Why don't followers of bad leaders speak out?
Khrushchev worked with Stalin, yet never spoke out. Why? Presumably, had he gone against Stalin, he'd have earned a bullet in the brain. To survive, why then wait until 1956 (three years) to tear the mask off?

*English translations provided by my cousin, Dace Lubane.
**I remember buying and reading a special editions of the USAs LIFE Magazine with dozens of photographs of the uprising and the Soviet reprisal. America was no longer confused about communism.

© Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on April 10, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Advertising poster (1870-1900) for spool cotton.

As soon as a crafty man has fallen into danger, he seeks to make his escape by the sacrifice of another.

A Fox, through inadvertence, having fallen into a well, and being closed in by the sides which were too high for her, a Goat parched with thirst came to the same spot, and asked whether the water was good, and in plenty.
The other, devising a stratagem, replied: “Come down, my friend: such is the goodness of the water, that my pleasure in drinking cannot be satisfied.”
Longbeard descended; then the Fox, mounting on his high horns, escaped from the well, and left the Goat to stick fast in the enclosed mud.

Is it ever OK to abandon someone who has helped you? Is it OK to scramble up over a colleague at work and leave him or her far behind?
The Wall is a timed activity rarely used in corporate team building – too many risks.
But, back in the day, the Outward Bound schools made good use of it.
My team of 12 had to get itself up and over the 11-foot tall smooth-faced wall. Much too high for one person, the challenge forced us to cooperate (or not).
After brainstorming a plan, we built a human ladder and most people scrambled up and over, the ones at the top grasping and lifting those on the way up.
Eventually, only one or two were left on the ground. How to get these folks up?
Cooperation is something largely unique to mankind. Unlike the fox, we often do help each other.
But, every now and then there's a fox among us who "seeks to make his escape by the sacrifice of another."
Another version of this fable has the fox taunting the goat: "If you had half as much brains as you have beard, you would have looked before you leaped."

Caption: Another ad using the fable. 1924. Typhoo means Doctor in Chinese

© Copyright John Lubans 2020

Mediocre Teams

Posted by jlubans on April 08, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

An obituary set me thinking about work teams I’ve known and why some thrived while some dithered.
The death notice was for Psychologist Susan Wheelan who studied work teams and extended Tuckman’s research on the evolutionary phases of teamwork, form, storm, norm, perform.
Feudin’, fussin’ and a-fightin’
In my experience,” storming” is the most problematic phase for any team. Wheelan offered ways to get through this fevered state into something healthful and productive.
Her guidance was pragmatic. She said in a 2000 interview: “When I go into a company I’m often asked, ’You’re not one of those touchy-feely types, are you?’”
“‘No,’ I say. ‘Here’s my data. This is how it works.’”
She knew well that all too many teams never get past the storming or trust building phase, forever stuck in a purgatory of pretending to be effective when all their work and effort show otherwise.
Yet, it seems few can break through the chronic impasse.
Unlike most of us who prefer to avoid conflict, Dr. Wheelan saw it as necessary for working through differences and establishing a climate in which members feel free to express disagreements.
Patience, she espoused, is a must.
Unless one is lucky, no team hits the road running. As I learned over several decades of team management - and Wheelan confirms - a team will need at least six months to become highly effective and then only if it can break through the storming phase.
Of course, if it never gets past storming, the team will be forever mediocre.
There is help out there for those of us who do not want to settle for mediocre. Several techniques offer ways for teams to get to good performance.
And, instead of pushing, I’d be more patient. Most important, I’d call more timeouts to check in with the team and how it is doing: What’s working? What’s not?
Quorum response.
Choose the right team players!
Red, Yellow or Green? Stop, Idle, or Go?
AAR, “After Action Review”.
Team Wellbeing Test
Our friend the honey bee suggests techniques for reaching agreement without wasting time: As I wrote, “a quorum response is an antidote to endless debate. Once a threshold number is reached among bees for where to nest, that is a quorum and those bees that have yet to be persuaded, now stop advertising and sign on to the chosen nest. In faculty decisions, ones requiring a unanimous vote like for granting tenure, Dr. Seeley - the bee researcher and a department head - takes periodic anonymous straw polls. He finds that once 80% of the professors agree with a decision, the others concede.”
When choosing team players, include women, experts, and expert generalists. All should share interests and provide mutual respect. Let no one individual dominate the team discussion and abide by explicit team norms. (What does it mean to be a team participant?)
Here are a few variations on ye olde Plus/Delta (a rapid listing of what’s working? and what is not?)
The plus/delta is helpful in my teaching; I do one early in each class and then one after the in-class final - the anonymouss "Slam/Dunk" version - to find useful information for the next semester.
Also, I ask each student project team to do a plus/delta and to hand it in to me. I've been impresses with the team's honesty and candour about team dynamics.
A team leader could do a rapid-fire plus/delta after every meeting to get at things unsaid and needing to be said.
In the plus/delta genre there’s the traffic light approach to taking team mood. Are members overly cautious, hesitant (yellow), fiercely opposed (red) or feeling groovy (green)? What are the underlying issues for those team members who choose yellow or red lights? How will you find out?
Then there’s the AAR, “After Action Review”, a process for group assessment of how things are going, what learnings there might be, and what is missing/needed.
The AAR – if guided well - may be better for novice teams seeking openness and honesty.
I once used my one page Team Well Being Test with a Nascar racing team’s three pit crews, each in competition with the other.
Here are several of the questions I asked each pit crew member to rate on a five point scale from weak to strong:
Inclusion (Am I in or am I out?)
Elbow room (I’m easy or I’m crowded)
Discussion (Is it free or is it guarded?)
Level of conflict (Is it low and tolerable or high?)
Handling of conflict (Do we work on it or avoid it?)
Support (Each to all or self only?)
Not a single member responded! They were not about to reveal personal and team weaknesses.
Two decades later the team remains mired in mediocrity and down to one pit crew and driver and seemingly satisfied with finishing anywhere from 15th-25th place in a 40 car field.
I’d venture they are still stuck in the “storming” phase of team development. The stock car team owner should have sent a SOS to Dr. Wheelan!

© Copyright John Lubans 2020


Posted by jlubans on April 03, 2020  •  Leave comment (0)

A DOG and a Horse, who both belonged to the same farmer, began, one day, to dispute as to which had given the more valuable services.
"You have done nothing to boast of!" said the Dog, "I shouldn't be surprised to see you driven off the farm altogether!
A noble career, indeed, to slave all day dragging a plough or a cart.
Yet I never heard of your doing anything finer!
How can you possibly think yourself my equal?
I never rest day or night.
All day long I watch the cattle in the meadow; and throughout the night I guard the house."
“I don't deny it," replied the Horse, "All that you say is quite true. Only, please remember that if it were not for my ploughing there would be nothing at all for you to guard."

And so it can be at work when one group disparages the work of others. In my career, this was a consistent, seemingly inevitable, behavior, one that led to infighting, debilitating resentment and wasted effort.
Instead of innovation we battled against change efforts, unwilling to cede any “turf”.
Instead of productivity we spent time gossiping about how one group’s work was less important than another’s.
Instead of presenting a “whole-organization” face to the outside world, we curried favor among clients at the detriment of others.
Has crisis led to some resolution, to a more holistic view? I don't know. It’s been a long time since I left the profession..
As a leader I could have been less like Krylov’s dog. Indeed, I should have been more like this fable's horse and recognized how all of us had an important role and were reliant on each other.

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

© Copyright John Lubans 2020