Posted by jlubans on February 20, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Laughing Horse by Neil Seager

A PEASANT was sowing oats one day. Seeing that, a young Horse began to reason about it, grumbling to itself.
"A pretty piece of work this, for which he brings such a lot of oats here! And yet they say men are wiser than we are.
Can anything possibly be more foolish or ridiculous than to plough up a whole field like this, in order to scatter one's oats over it afterwards to no purpose?
Had he given them to me, or to the bay here, or had he even thought fit to fling them to the fowls, it would have all been more like business.
Or even if he had hoarded them up, I should have recognised avarice in that.
But to fling them uselessly away! No; that is sheer stupidity."
Meanwhile time passed; and in the autumn the oats were garnered, and the Peasant fed this very Horse on them.
Reader, there can be no doubt that you do not approve of the Horse's opinions. But, from the oldest times to our own days, has not man been equally audacious in criticising the designs of Providence, although, in his blind folly, he sees nothing of its means or ends?
Long before the internet
, Krylov gave us this fable about humankind’s “blind folly” in gainsaying not only Providence, but each other.
The braying ass of a horse’s diatribe reminds me of much of the daily parade of commentary on so-called** social media: ignorant, one-sided, negative, absolutely certain,
ill-humored, repetitive (think “meme” and “sharing”) and unforgiving.
I won’t go on but I (and you) could.
Will the silly donkey offer an apology to the sower? Will he offer thanks to him as he munches on the harvest of winter oats?

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

**A misnomer if there ever was one. The clunky phrase, social media, is just the pathological opposite. More apt: Anti-Social Media which daily rails against the notion of solidarity, the idea that most of us mean well, we have kind hearts, and want to help each other even when we make poor decisions.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Laura Gibbs’ The Fool Carries the Plow*

Posted by jlubans on February 14, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Homer thinks the weekly meeting is the GOAT!

There was a peasant who had been plowing all day. By day's end both the peasant and his donkey were exhausted.
The peasant was a good-hearted fellow, so when he saw how tired his donkey was, he took pity on the poor beast. "I need you to carry me home, dear donkey," said the peasant, "but I don't want you to have to carry the plow too."
So, the good-hearted fool picked up the heavy plow, put it on his shoulders, and then mounted the donkey.
"I'll carry the plow," he said to the donkey, "and you can carry me."
The 1692 version’s Moral: “Some Brute Animals, have more understanding then some Men.”
Surely this bit of jumbled thinking was a joke but it serves as a lesson to all who seek to alleviate what they believe is someone’s suffering by aggravating their misery.
For example, I worked in an organization in which many (not all) employees complained of too many meetings – they, the complainers, hated giving up time – they wanted that time back to do their work – something they enjoyed and believed to be important to the organizational mission.
One of the least productive meetings was a mandatory weekly get together. It was largely information sharing rather than decision making.
Usually from start to finish the meeting, attended by 45 people, lasted for 75 minutes. In other words, the organization spent close to 60 hours in non-work in that one gathering!
The executives who ran the meeting – often giving self-congratulatory reports on organizational achievements in their bailiwicks - came up with the solution: donuts, bagels and coffee!
Instead of hearing how many employees considered meetings as unproductive and leading the way to shutting down the most wasteful, they kept the status quo but did add donuts.
And, instead of letting everyone know that meetings were to be used sparingly and only with a real purpose that resulted in something substantial – an improvement! - the executives added bagels with three types of cream cheese.
Now, besides wasting their most productive employees’ time they were adding to their caloric intake, many of whom were tending - from all that sitting - toward the pleasingly plump.

*Source: A Laura Gibbs’ 100-Word microfable. This is her rendition of “A Man that Carried his Plough to Ease his Oxen”, one of the Fables found in “Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists with Morals and Reflections by Roger L'Estrange”, 1692.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Letting Go to Win

Posted by jlubans on February 12, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption Tom Brady, Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. WSJ e-portrait 2021.

You’ll have to indulge me one more time.
I’m going to use sports again to trigger some deep thinking about leadership.
Last week in America we had the 55th (or pretentiously in Roman numerals, LV!) Super Bowl for the National Football League. It’s a long road to the NFL championship game with multiple hazards. While the games are played weekly over several months in all kinds of weather, this year the virus took its unique toll of games and players.
At the end of the season in January, two teams were standing: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs*.
The game featured Tom Brady, new to Tampa, but who had won several Super Bowls with another team.
On the Chiefs’ side was young Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback (play caller) and the leader of last year’s Super Bowl winner.
Sports writers made much of Tom’s 43 years, either insinuating that he was over-the-hill or that he was some sort of super being.
Regardless of age, both these quarterbacks are exceptional athletes.
But, of most interest to me was how some writers – it must be part of the job description - tried to stir up controversy about why Tom “abandoned” his old team of 20 years for the new one at Tampa. (One writer consulted a panel of marriage counselors for coping tips for the forsaken.)
I’ll ignore most of those stories since they are largely gossip and stick with actual quotes made by coaches and players.
Did Brady’s former team have a more formal organizational culture? Rob Gronkowski (who played with Tom on the former team and came out of retirement to play with him at Tampa) said:
“Around the locker room (Tom’s) been crackin’ a little bit more jokes than usual, which is cool to see.” Gronk, as he is known to fans, went on to say that the biggest difference between his playing under head coach Bruce Arians (new team) and Bill Belichick (old team) is now he has “the freedom of just being himself.”
So, maybe Gronk offers some insights into two different team cultures: one a bit looser, perhaps more trusting of players than the other. Maybe Tampa is more Theory Y than Theory X?
Incidentally, one writer makes a case for Tampa’s commitment to diversity; at least the outcome is diverse. There’s not a quota system - the Tampa assistant coaches are all considered to be among the best in the business – but since pro football is pretty much of a good old boys’ club, Tampa’s hiring the best people regardless of gender, race or ethnicity is somewhat iconoclastic.
Tampa’s coach, Bruce Arians, explains why he sees “diversity” – as defined by him – as helpful to winning: “… to hear voices in a staff meeting that are not the same, don’t look alike, but they all have input, you get better output. For the players, the same thing. Not hearing the same thing over and over, to hear from different people, from different ages, from 27 to 82 and every kind of ethnic group there is, and male and female. I know our players learn from that, I know I do, and so does our staff.”
Arians would be the first to assure you that he did not go looking for race or gender, it just worked out that the best came from several directions and he was not afraid to hire people who might be passed over by a more traditional team.
“Bruce Arians Says He Lets Tom Brady Do Something The Patriots Didn’t” – that was the click-bait headline.
The story seeks to explain why a top player like Brady would leave a team with whom he’s played and won for 20 years for another team, an entirely new challenge. How big a challenge? Tampa had not made the postseason game since 2007–08.
There’s a clue in a quote from the Tampa coach about Brady’s leadership: “(He) has been (the leader) all year. (He’s) got the air of confidence that permeates through our team every day. I allow him to be himself. Like, (the former team) didn’t allow him to coach. I allow him to coach. I just sit back sometimes and watch.”
Here you’ve got a boss unafraid to let someone else lead.
The boss is able to let go for the good of the organization. He knows he does not have a monopoly on the best ideas; it’s a function of good leaders to let others lead when those others have the greater ability specific to a task at hand.
Arians marvels at how Brady handles younger players. “He’s another coach. He really is. I mean, the athletic stuff (he does) is shocking for a guy 43, but the way he handles young guys and old guys, he’s coaching non-stop.”
“It always pisses me off. I’ll say something to a player, and they’ll look at me, and (then Brady) says it, and they go, ‘Okay Tom, I’ll do it.'”
It’s rare for a boss to say this so honestly. Remember, in most organizations there’s always some smart-ass to ask, “Well then why do we need all these coaches? Tom can do it!”
Given Arians’ deliberate hands-off style, I doubt the “It really pisses me off” comment is aimed at Tom. More likely he is referring to his own frustration with the player who ignores him and listens to Tom.
He’d like to know why that happens. Wouldn’t you?
In the meantime, he chalks it up to an age difference; he’s 68. Tom’s 43. The player’s 22.
Or, that Tom and the 22-year-old are both players and that Tom may indeed have a unique insight into what the younger player is experiencing.
Unlike Arians, I know a few bosses who would be more that “pissed off”; they’d undermine the star subordinate.
Early on I gave my star followers (who shared a similar mind-set and work ethic to mine) free reign over their areas of responsibility. I was criticized by some for doing that - even though we were setting productivity records: I was not doing my job or that somehow my “letting go” imperiled the enterprise.
If my departments were not producing, I’d listen to the criticism.
But, since we were doing more and better, I knew that was only jealousy.
Of course, the risk is that others in the organization see “letting go” as a personal threat to their - often feckless - way of leading. Under a change in circumstances – for example, a new traditionalist CEO - those “clingers” to a top-down hierarchy will not forget and do their all to send you out the door.
Better to leave before that happens.
*In case you a
re interested and were not one of the 100,000,000 to see the game, Final score for Super Bowl LV: 31 Tampa, 9 Kansas City.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Getting to Urgent

Posted by jlubans on February 06, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Impromptu vaccine clinic Highway 199 near Hayes Hill, Oregon, USA elevation 1640 feet or 500 meters.

The news last week had a “feel-good” story featuring 20 Oregon health workers stalled on a highway in a snow storm.
Returning from a vaccine clinic on January 26, they found themselves with 6 doses of vaccine about to expire, what to do?
They make a snap decision, jump out of their vehicles, team up, and start asking stuck drivers if they would like a covid vaccination.
Some drivers laughed and said no thanks, but 6 folks said, “You bet!”.
In my eyes, these health workers displayed an abundance of urgency. How did that happen?
What was there in this team that encouraged this improvisation and creativity?
One of the 20, Josephine County Public Health Director Mike Weber, said:
“Our No. 1 rule right now is nothing gets wasted.”
If that’s part of the organizational culture then that might have promoted the resourcefulness. “Nothing gets wasted” is easy to remember and to apply. It’s neither vague or boiler plate.
Besides this being a feel-good story, I think it presents us with an example of what in sports is called “stepping up”- a substitute player rises to the occasion when replacing an injured starter.
Perhaps there are clues in this snow storm event for those having to administer millions of vaccinations?
How did the idea to use up the 6 doses come about?
Was it a spontaneous decision or did one person bring it up and then everyone joined in? Did anyone have to be convinced that this was a good idea?
Was a vote taken or was it based on a majority nodding in agreement?
Obviously, it would have been easier to stay in the van and write off the 6 shots; nothing we could do, etc.
And, list out all the bureaucratic excuses for wasting the 6 doses.
What the Josephine story shows is a group clear about their mission, ready to adapt, break the guidelines, if you will, maybe even break the rules.
It’s even more relevant as we hear of “faltering state vaccination rollouts and scientists debating new tactics”.
The urgency displayed by this team of twenty links back to one of my recent blogs, The Bottom Line.
Here’s the last paragraph of that blog.
How do organizations achieve (a) level of urgency?
Do they even want urgency anywhere near them? Well, is that not something we should want in every organization? An inculcated desire to be the best every day.
What is the bottom line for you? For your organization? What’s the ball you strive toward?
Not just in football, how do you get each worker (or most workers) to play to the bottom line? In an epidemic, what does that look like in state government? Is it possible to generate such a mind set in a bureaucracy?
Yes, if you have courageous leadership and a team with a majority of willing and capable followers.”
That’s what I think happened on that snowy Oregon highway.

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021