The Disconsolate Winner

Posted by jlubans on October 28, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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“Weird” “Disappointing” “Ugly”
Those are the words used to describe a football team’s* undefeated winning season.
Why is that?
Is not a win a win? Not for everyone.
Given a roster of 100 elite athletes and a dozen highly expert coaches, sports writers and rabid fans expect much more than winning close scoring games.
“Blow-outs” are to be the norm.
Opponents are to be crushed, dominated, humiliated, etc. Anything short is almost a loss, except it’s not.
If you asked the fans and the media, they’d opine this team is “not meeting expectations” (one of the ubiquitous grades on annual corporate performance appraisals, and you, if you've been paying attention know what I think of that ineffectual tool).
Even the coaches get caught up in the grousing. Coming back from 21 points down to win a game is somehow less than a win.
“We should not have given up those early points.”
“Our defense was porous.”
“Too many missed tackles!” “Too few sacks, too few tackles-for-loss (TFLs), too few pass interceptions, too few fumble recoveries.”
Yet the team won.
Like in our workplaces – as you might expect I see similarities between work and sports - mistakes are made and one hopes lessons are learned and we all get better. Sports give us glimpses, highly personal ones, into team dynamics and these are transferable to the workplace.
For example, how will the airline, Southwest, come back after its cancellation of a thousand flights over recent weekends?
Much depends on the quality of management feedback – is it fair, is it timely, is it balanced, is it respectful? Is it honest?
The coaches, remarkably for any supervisor, say they have to coach better. Now, I admire their willingness to accept some of the responsibility, but they should not accept all of it.
If there’s an observable “flatness” to the play, how is that considered?
Does taking a day off from practice (given the long slog of a season from September to January) result in flatness?
Some writers imply that the change in weekly routine caused a letdown leading to mistakes on game day.
If the players are not fulminating on the sideline, what does that indicate? If players are not emotional – usually presented as aggressive – what does that mean?
What can a coach, or any leader, do to instill a desire to excel, to feel the urgency he, and fans and writers think players should be feeling?
Is this even a reasonable expectation?
The coaches’ mea culpas (“I need to do a better job”), if genuine, remind me of the advice a mother gave her basketball coach daughter (Gail Goestenkors):
The mother “asked her, 'Have you ever had one loss … as a coach that you didn't take responsibility for?' "No, never" responded Gail.
Her mom then said, 'Well, do you take responsibility for all the wins?'
Gail said, 'No.'
Gail concluded: “(My mother) helped me a lot to see that I wasn't really seeing the big picture.”
For the most part, this American football team’s head coach (Lincoln Riley) has been able to see some sunshine in those storm clouds.
He sees the errors but understands these are all correctible; they are mistakes made by trying too hard; they are slipups made by young players filling in for an injured veteran.
While disappointed, yet calm, the coach sees, in balance, plenty of good plays, good athleticism, and that a little bit of extra effort will result in elite play.
The four elected player-captains (team leaders) motivate by example and by honest talk.
Last week, one captain fumbled the ball, giving it to the other team. Then a few plays later he scored a touchdown.
His ability to overcome adversity showed other players that mistakes can be made by anyone – even a boss - and that success may be just around the corner.
IOW, don’t dwell on errors, work hard and it will happen. The captain was confirming the mantra of FIDO (Forget it, Drive on).
If all 100 players or workers cannot be on the same page, then how do you as a leader induce urgency? You must communicate it, but some or many will not get your message.
In large organizations, like a team of 100 players, a leader needs help in communicating urgency: captains, team leaders, star players all have translate the urgency.
In my own case, I valued our spark plugs (star performers).
They, like effective team captains, were quintessential to my leadership. Their encouraging others – who may be down, may be emotionally flat, may be unsure – helped our organization achieve great things.
ADDENDUM: Make that 9 wins to 0 losses. The team wins big on October 30, 52-21. All agree, a complete game.

*The University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, USA

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

World’s Shortest Fable: The Flea and the Elephant*

Posted by jlubans on October 25, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

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Caption: Thrutching flea on elephant

Passing into the ark together, said the flea to its big brother: "Now, then, mister! no thrutching!"
Moral: Insignificance has often its full share of self-importance.'
____________
From 1896 comes reportedly
the shortest fable on record. The word thrutching – salacious imagery, akin to “twerking”, aside – contributes to the flea’s contemptuous familiarity and self-importance.
For more of the flea’s world view see
flea and camel,
fly upon a wheel.
and, the fox gets left behind

*Source:
FABLES AND FABULISTS: ANCIENT AND MODERN.
BY THOMAS NEWBIGGING, LONDON:1896.
“(This) is the shortest fable on record; its humour is as conspicuous as its brevity, and it hails from … Lancashire (North West England).”

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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

Woodson’s Fable: The Farmer and the Mule*

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

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Caption: oil, attributed to Herman G. Simon (American, 1846-1895) The Stubborn Mule.

A farmer leads his mule to a stream, “and the stream is 3 feet high, moving at 20 miles an hour.” The farmer “forces the mule in, and they both get swept a mile down the stream.” A year later, the farmer and the mule return. The river has receded to 6 inches. “But the mule refuses to go in, because the mule has good memory but poor judgment.”
___________
Like Mark Twain’s cat,
“We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it and stop there lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again and that is well but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”
Often it is tempting to remain a victim, to continue in our fear that the stream is as high as ever, or will soon be, and that the water (at 6 inches) remains a formidable crossing.
Back in July, I wrote about how in my native land of Latvia some cling to their victimhood and fail to go on with their lives or, even if going on, it is a circumscribed life, far from its potential.
This following quote from that July blog is relevant to the workplace:
“In my career in libraries, I’ve encountered staff who, like victims, ‘believe they have no control over the way events unfold, they don't feel a sense of responsibility for them.” Instead of “Can Do!” it’s “No Can Do”.
When outside consultants came in and listed out changes, these were rejected by the entrenched staff – they’d say the consultants did not understand the work and that the recommendations were foolish.
All that was needed was more money for increased staff and resources.
That money was not forthcoming, and the aggrieved staff simply grew more so.
It became a several years-long stalemate which was not broken until a new leader appeared. With the full backing of his boss, he dismissed the pessimism of the past.
Perhaps amazingly, without any additional funding and the smart use of existing resources we made great strides toward becoming a ‘best practices’ workplace.”

*Source: THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Robert Woodson by Jason Willick Oct. 15, 2021 5:17 pm ET. WSJ.
Mr. Woodson is optimistic about our ability to move past grievance: “America is thirsty to reward grace and virtue. There’s going to be a revival coming soon.”


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© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

“You Built It”. October 2021

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

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Caption: Southwest Airline Engine (and plane) over Rocky Mountains, west of Denver, CO, USA. January 9 2021

What with Southwest’s meltdown in recent days with hundreds of canceled and delayed flights I thought it a good idea to recycle my most recent Southwest story, “You Built It”. It appears below under the bar.
How did this latest fiasco happen?
Some say it was the weather and flight control, the FAA.
Others, that it was a shortage of staff from flight crews to ramp teams to reservation agents.
A bold few suggest it is an informal work stoppage due to SWAs compulsory covid vaccinations, no exceptions even for those with immunity and those with sincere religious objections.
Many vehemently respond, “Not so and don’t you dare say it!”
I’ve written and taught about Southwest; they are one of my most go-to examples of an outstanding, democratized organization. Their customer service is legend, or at least it was until this past week.
There is a mystery.
Why did Southwest promote early retirement and long leaves during the plague, reducing staff by hundreds if not thousands? Southwest took in millions from the government’s Payroll Protection Plan which was designed for keeping people ready to roll once the epidemic diminished.
And, why did SWA expand its footprint and add destinations during the epidemic?
All summer SWAs leadership team has been playing musical chairs. That uncertainty of who is in charge and for how long may contribute to the breakdowns.
Herb Kelleher, co-founder and Southwest’s CEO for decades, told me, no worries, “It’s in the DNA” when I asked him what would happen to Southwest’s vaunted reputation when his leadership ended.
Herb died in early 2019. Colleen C. Barrett, his right-hand woman, continues as President Emeritus but is no longer working her usual long hours.
Is Herb Keller spinning in his grave or maybe, just maybe, it’s Southwest’s maverick tradition that’s rearing up among its pilots and other workers against a compulsory vaccine, a last straw leading to a "Let's go Brandon" moment.
I wonder.
UPDATE: Southwest pilots' union asks court to delay vaccine mandate.
______________
Here starts my essay, You Built It from January 2021:
Early in January of this new year I was waiting for my return flight from Denver, Colorado to Portland, Oregon.
I sat across from my departure gate – just waiting and looking at the passers-by of which there were surprisingly many streaming past, all masked.
I was on a SWA dedicated concourse – full of arriving and departing SWA travelers and crews - so it was not unusual that there was a SWA flight crew sitting nearby. I was by myself having a take-away glass of wine (thank you virus!) .
One of the flight crew, a man, asked me if I was going to Spokane, the destination at the next gate and the one his crew were working. That got the conversation rolling.
I asked him about the last president of the airline, Colleen Barret, if she was still working several hours a week in spite of her retirement. He said no, she was less and less involved.
Then I mentioned my meeting Herb Kelleher (1931-2019), the co-founder of the airline and how welcomed I felt sitting in his office. From the first second, it was like visiting with an old friend.
This was in Dallas, Texas, which is where SWA is headquartered.
I mentioned my asking Herb – there was nothing of the “Mister” about him – about SWA’s culture of excellent customer service. I asked if the underlying values would change on his retirement.
“No”, he said, “it’s in the DNA.”
I related that story to the flight attendant, “He said that, did he?” he queried.
“He sure did.”
Hearing that, he pulled out his phone and said he had a picture to show me.
It was one of him in ramp agent* gear sitting next to Herb – in a suit - chatting away.
In other words, that’s the CEO hobnobbing with one of the workers.
He told Herb - the CEO - how appreciative he, the ramp agent, was of the “empire” Herb had built – the Southwest Airlines empire, the company.
Herb responded, “I didn’t build it, you did.”
So, here we have one of the workers with a picture of the CEO on his phone. How many workers do you know who carry around a picture of their CEO?
Just think about it.
And think about Herb’s perspective about who’s in charge, who’s responsible for SWAs success, about who should get the credit.
*We know what flight attendants do.
The lesser known “Ramp Agents” guide the plane in to and out of the gate, help get passengers off and on the plane, and unload luggage and cargo and make sure the luggage gets to the right person. They also re-provision the plane – water, snacks, drinks, paper goods.
And, on January 9th they de-iced my plane before we took off for Oregon.
Some ramp teamers, like the flight attendant I met in Denver, aspire to become flight attendants.
See my “No Bean Bags Here” essay.
Also there are chapters on Southwest leadership and culture in my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle (see below).

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© Copyright photo and text John Lubans 2021

The Freedom to Excel. 2021

Posted by jlubans on October 07, 2021  •  Leave comment (0)

20130731-Stakhanov work.jpg
Caption: Work like Stakhanov! (While Nazis had better tailors, Communist propaganda was equal to that of the Fascists).

My essay on Stakhanovism from July 31, 2013 re-appears below under the bar.
Stalin claimed this “Hero of Socialist Labour” would engender “a new wave of Socialist emulation”. In other words, recognizing and celebrating Stakhanov, the Herculean coal miner, would boost production by all his wannabes.
After all, who wouldn’t want a smart apartment (with a bathroom) in Moscow along with multiple photo-ops with Uncle Joe?
No doubt Stakhanov was an innovative and prodigious worker, but using him as an example probably did little to boost Soviet innovation or productivity regardless of the endless propaganda and fake claims made by the Soviets and the media here and abroad.
Collectivism, with a few exceptions, did not work and its products were often of abysmal quality.
Back in the USA, America’s Taylorism (aka Scientific Management) did lead to huge production gains and to improved pay for workers. Unions had a helpful role in this happening.
Henry Ford’s production lines also lead to significant economic and societal gains.
The jury remains out on a new concept, dubbed “Bezosism” which is practiced at Amazon warehouses.
Workers are not only time-and-motion studied, they are surveilled every minute and production goals are monitored. Warehouse workers partner with robots and, like the latter, are highly regimented and controlled.
Pay is good, but the repetitive work standing in one place is exhausting and uninspiring or so some claim.
___________
Here starts my “blast from the past” from 2013:
Next month will record another anniversary of the Stakhanovism movement. In 1935 a Ukrainian miner (in the Soviet) hewed 102 tons of coal in a single shift, 14 times the norm. His name was Aleksei G. Stakhanov. Stakhanovism was communism’s answer to capitalism’s piece-rate. Soon after, at Dictator Stalin’s merciless prodding, other industries followed suit with exemplary workers being heralded and rewarded – and elaborate claims put forth of how socialism was outstripping capitalism.
But resentment set in, as it often does when management exploits a worker’s exceeding productivity norms. If a Stakhanovite can produce three times the norm, well, they autocratically rule, that will be everyone’s new quota!
There was an expected jealousy over the rewards (a car, travel, visits with Mr. Stalin, lingerie and perfume) for the Heroes of Labor, but the new quotas profoundly embittered workers. In the Soviet, protesting the new norms would get you a trip to a labor camp or a bullet in the head.
There’s a bitter, if comical, ballad* by Vladimir Vysotsky, about a worker who hates the new quotas foisted on him by his mine’s Stakhanovite.
The Hero is trapped in a cave-in. As the rescue team descends into the mine, the unhappy worker sings to his fellow miners:
“Our grief, everyone’s grief, is one
and the same.
If we dig him out, again he’ll start filling three quotas,
Again, he’ll start giving the nation coal and giving it to
Us, too.
So, brothers, in order not to work too hard, let’s take it
Easy now – one for all all for one.”

As you can tell, Stakhanovites or America’s “rate-busters” have earned a considerable enmity among their fellow workers.
Well, doing a great job should not result in loathing. You should have the freedom to excel.
I recall one very effective library worker who greatly exceeded established norms. Instead of inflicting her productivity on everyone else, we looked at how she managed to do so much more.
The Soviets could have done likewise when Stakhanov set his record. He was a hard worker but what enabled him to produce so much more was that he was a very smart worker.
The Soviets should have celebrated the teamwork that resulted in Stakhanov’s record setting. Instead of drilling and shoring up as he went along all by himself, Stakhanov drilled while three other workers followed and shored up the mine – that was how he did so much more.
My point is that some of us are naturally quicker, brighter, and more able to discern, to distinguish, and to do certain kinds of work faster than the rest of the population. Few of us can run a 100 yards or meters in under ten seconds. Those that can have some capacity that the rest of us do not.
I’ll never run that fast, but I can learn and improve my speed from the faster person’s achievement. Their speed is probably more than just the snazzy spikes and kangaroo skin uppers!
I can look at the sprinter’s stride, her stance at the start, how he finishes, how she trains, and what he does just before the starter's gun goes off.
When others develop new ways of doing a job we should be free to use those ideas. Freedom at work includes the option to be a rate buster with impunity.
Getting back to my effective worker – our library’s Stakhanov – we did look at what she was doing and made those ideas generally available.
It never occurred to us to even imply new quotas. We trusted that people who were doing similar work would want to improve. Many applied her ideas and we got good results. Word got out about our productivity and I offered to share the ideas.
My impression was that some mangers at other libraries were doing the Soviet thing: If X can do this faster, then you WILL, too.
They missed the point. If you give people freedom to invent and to innovate, you then must share the results without inducing fear.
The higher production – if it is to be had - will follow. This is when managers need to “let go,” quit hammering the obvious message, and trust that good people will do what is right. Most workers want to do a good job.

*SOURCE: “In Soviet, Eager Beaver's Legend Works Overtime,”
By SERGE SCHMEMANN Special to The New York Times
New York Times, Aug 31, 1985; pg. 2.

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Inflation buster! 20% off Through December 31 2021
No supply-chain issues here!
My books are printed and shipped in the USA, so when you buy my latest book of workplace fables you can expect speedy delivery. Something to keep in mind as the gift giving season looms.
And, of course, there's no memory chip shortages for printed books!

And, don’t forget my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright all text by John Lubans 2013 & 2021