Party Hearty (Study Hardly?)

Posted by jlubans on October 29, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


At one university, the unit in which I worked had an Advisory Board of alums.
The board gave us good ideas and were influential in advancing our budgetary needs to the higher-ups.
Some advisors donated cash gifts; all were supportive and encouraging of our efforts aimed at students and faculty.
Advisor motivation varied.
Often, service on a unit's advisory board could be a stepping stone to a more prestigious position including an appointment to the university's Board of Trustees.
While a few board members self-promoted, most loved the institution and generously gave advice and dollars.
On a personal note, a few board members thought I did good work and was worth defending and retaining.
That was tested when a new boss decided I was no longer a good match.
While he ultimately succeeded in my removal, a few friends on the Advisory Board probably extended my run by a couple years and gained for me a decent termination agreement.
Without their backing I?m sure there would have been nothing like a golden parachute.
But, time to party.
Twice a year, our board traveled to campus for two or three days of meetings and wining & dining.
At my table, during one of the formal dinners, was a proud alumna whose daughter was soon to attend the university.
Over copious amounts of wine, a half dozen of us were conversing about the excesses (however ironically) of student drinking and that reform was long past due.
The proud parent would have none of it .
For her, the incoming freshman class was composed of "people I want my daughter to get drunk with".
Pretty shocking? Well, not really.
A quintessential pragmatic, the mother recognized - perhaps from her own undergraduate partying - what many students want when they get to campus: It's party hearty time! (And parenthetically, "study hardly").
Of course, partying with your peers ("future leaders of America", no less) is a good way to make life-long connections.
For mom, it was better the daughter have her benders on campus then in some urban dive.
If the daughter was going to "lie down with dogs" then it was best they be high class dogs.
Needless to say, any reforms of bingeing and underage drinking on campus were still a few years off.

ONLY a click away, Aesopic wisdom for any aspiring Bacchante daughter:

And, my book on democratic workplaces has much to say about ?working hearty? Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright text by John Lubans 2023

Artificial Intelligence: A Ways to Go

Posted by jlubans on October 27, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)


I've been using Bard, a Google AI experiment. Pretty good results and probably with the right topic a senior in high school or a freshman in college might be able to get Bard to write their three-page term paper in five seconds.
I use Bard to get a quick background on a topic.
But, and this is a big but, when I asked Bard about the ethnicity of a football player at the University of Oklahoma (my team!) Bard gave me a 700-word lecture on DEI (for non-Americans this is Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; hyper-wokeness).
Regardless, I did not need the lecture nor did Bard answer my simple question.
The player has an unusual name: Gavin Sawchuk.
He's a stellar player, a running back, and I thought maybe - since he hails from Oklahoma City - he might be of Native American heritage.
(Again for non-Americans, Oklahoma (statehood 1907) was formerly known as Indian Territory and largely populated by tribes forced to move there along the infamous "Trail of Tears". I admire and respect Native Americans and was curious to see if Mr. Sawchuk was of that culture.
When I looked up his last name, Google told me Sawchuk was an Americanized form of Polish Sawczuk or Ukrainian Savchuk.
He does not look Ukrainian or Polish (yeah, yeah, I know). And Sawchuk, when I first heard the name on a tv broadcast, sounded, just maybe, Native American.
All this to show you how far AI has to go.
I did not need the DEI lecture. That was an unnecessary overreaction to my harmless use of the word "ethnicity".
But, it does show a few things about AI. First, the response suggest inherent prejudices - what else is political correctness? - of some of the AI developers.
Second, Bard and all other AI programs only have access to what's on-line.
AI does a good of reformatting available data into a freshman quality paper but it adds nothing new.
That is worth repeating but I won't.

All pre-AI, my Fables for Leaders, is only a click away:

Copyright all text John Lubans 2023

Peter Porcupine, Grammarian

Posted by jlubans on October 22, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Marjorie Bowen* writes eloquently of William Cobbett, (1763-1835), the indefatigable critic of England's elites and champion of the many men, women and children exploited by the ruling classes.
As a soldier, he saw the not uncommon practice of officers stealing soldier food allowances, leading to a half-starved military. Questions were met with floggings and worse.
Another example was the common practice of children working 12 hour days.
When a ten-hour day was proposed the notion was squashed by the government!
So, Peter Porcupine had much to agitate about and he did so relentlessly by authoring, as the quill-throwing Peter Porcupine, hundreds of pamphlets, many books and publishing and editing several newspapers including the immensely popular and easily affordable, "Two-Penny Trash".
In these he expressed his dissatisfaction with England?s industrialization and economic unfairness to the great dismay of those living off the fat of the land.
He was sued, imprisoned and scorned. But he never gave up.
No incipient Marxist-type, he was always a champion for the small, land-owning farmer.
Biographer Bowen explains how a self-declared, uneducated "peasant" could possibly be such a force:
"This literary achievement in so unlikely a person is less
surprising when we consider that it was founded on grammar.
William Cobbett had a great deal to say; he was the born journalist always
ready with eager commentary on what was passing about him, and the
born political writer always willing to rush into a debate or to
accept a challenge, and his native shrewdness told him that if he
was to write effectively he must learn grammar. He had not that
smattering of education which deceives so many into trusting their
own ignorance.
Handicapped by no oddments of ill-digested learning
and humbly conscious of his own lack of knowledge, he set his
strong mind the task of learning grammar as he set his strong hands
the task of planting and sowing, pruning and reaping.
The labour was easily accomplished and gave him vast and lasting
He was an egoist and nothing seems to gratify the
egoist mere than a knowledge of grammar; the pride of the
grammarian seems to exceed all other pride, he is like a man armed
with a stick and everlastingly using it on others, even on those
who may be his superiors in all but this.
So the acquisition of this power gave a great sense of superiority to the self-taught
peasant and deeply pleased his simple vanity; there was hardly
anyone that he met who might not be caught up on some point of
grammar, hardly any book that might be opened which was not
sadly deficient in grammar.
He was able to laugh at those better born, better educated, more powerful than himself because he could detect in their speech or writing slips of grammar.

So, AI now, presumably, arms all of us with the grammarian?s sledgehammer.
Use it wisely.

*Marjorie Bowen

Peter Porcupine: A Study of William Cobbett.
Longman & Co., London, 1935
Available online here.

Check my grammar in my Fables for Leaders, only a click away:

Copyright John Lubans 2023

An Ignorant Man

Posted by jlubans on October 13, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Followers of Leading from the Middle know of my occasional detours from leadership topics into noting the evocative and forceful writing I encounter in my reading of books from olden times.
My most recent instance is the below quote from Marjorie Bowen?s 1935 biography on William Cobbett, a radical conservative (1763?1835) and feared pamphleteer. (So feared, he was jailed and threatened with more jail for his views on the endemic corruption in the British government.)
Always for the little guy, Cobbett?s pseudonym was Peter Porcupine and he did prickle the powers that be whenever he encountered the raw deals handed out to the lower classes. Himself a highly articulate self-taught ?peasant? he differentiated between book learning and those who learned on their own through experience and observation and most importantly through ?doing?.
The notion that only a college education can produce an ?educated man? remains a popular myth. Absent that piece of paper one may be judged to be an ?ignorant?.
While this ?paper ceiling? is showing a few cracks, too many capable people are denied jobs because of an artificial requirement, rather than their demonstrable capacity to think clearly and precisely.
Here?s what Peter Porcupine had to say:
?If the farmer understands well how to conduct the business of his farm, and if, from observation of the seasons and the soil, he knows how to draw from the latter as much profit
as therefrom can be drawn; if the labourer be expert at ploughing, sowing, reaping, mowing, making of ricks, loading the wagon, threshing and winnowing the corn, and bestowing on the cattle the various necessary cares: if this be the case, though neither of them can write or read, I call neither an ignorant man.?

Copyright John Lubans 2023

Sir Roger L'Estrange's APPLES AND HORSE-TURDS* Redux.

Posted by jlubans on October 11, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Rene Magritte's Son of Man, 1946 OR, The Quiet Quitter.

This "horse turds" fable fits some quiet quitters, shirkers and slackers of the egregious variety better than does the harmless fly along for the ride:

Upon a very great Fall of Rain, the Current carried away a huge Heap of Apples, together with a Dunghill that lay in the Watercourse.
They floated a good while together like Brethren and Companions; and as they went thus dancing down in the Stream, the Horse-Turds would be every foot crying out still, "Alack-a-day! How we Apples swim!"
THE MORAL. Every thing would be thought greater in the World than it is; and the Root of it is this, that it first thinks itself so.
Like braggadocious fishing boat fleas claiming as the boat comes into harbor, "We have rowed well!" here we have Horse turds along for the ride.
They?re in the flood with Apples like 'Brethren and Companions" regaling all who will listen, "How we Apples swim!"
So, the moral would have us be mindful of humankind's (yours and mine) impression that we too, while quietly quitting, are pulling our fair share of the load when we are not.
In other words, practice humility, be humble, lest ye look foolish like the Horse-turds.

*Source: Aesop’s Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.
More ?Fables for Leaders? are only a click away:

Copyright John Lubans 2023

Slacker Fable

Posted by jlubans on October 11, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: Slacker Flt Catching a Free Ride. Artist unknown. From a 1590 Aesop.

"What a Dust do I raise! says the Fly upon the Coach-Wheel? and what a rate do I drive at, says the same Fly again upon the Horse's Buttock."
This Fly in the Fable, is every Trifling Arrogant Fop in Nature, by what Name or Title soever Dignify'd, or Distinguish'd.
One of my pithy favorite fables. And brought back in honor of the preceding blog, Deadwood, Quiet Quitters, Lifers, Goldbrickers, Shirkers, Slackers, et al..
While L"Estrange would add on exhaustive commentaries for each fable - often with in-depth philosophical analysis - I know of no one who translates these ancient truths with more vim and vigor.
How many workplace shirkers do you know? I knew a few, they were clever enough to keep their jobs, but their narcissism sure had a negative effect on co-workers. And, they opened their supervisors to criticism since it had to be the supervisor's fault, surely, that enabled for the Fly's selfishness!
*Source: Aesop's Fables translated by Sir Roger L'Estrange, 1692.

Copyright John Lubans 2017 and 2023

Deadwood, Quiet Quitters, Lifers, Goldbrickers, Shirkers, Slackers, et al.

Posted by jlubans on October 10, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)

Caption: "Well, I finally managed to talk the boss into cleaning out a lot of the deadwood around the office, never dreaming, of course, that that would include me." Cartoon by Stan Hunt, September 14, 1957, Saturday Evening Post.

How to deal with deadwood in the workplace? Several years ago, that's the question I was during a teambuilding workshop.
The question was not unusual, since in settled organizations - like the ones I worked in - new hires often land amidst a large number of incumbents who?ve been on the job for decades. And, some incumbents are more "set in their ways" than others!
What is a new manager to do?
I forget my answer at that workshop, but I asked Google's Bard - an AI experiment.
I wanted to test how it (Bard) works and whether it would have a sensible-sounding answer.
Bottom line, it did!
In a better-than-expected version of a freshman term paper, Bard listed out steps leaders can take along with quite a good grasp of the topic and its difficulties:
"In the past, goldbricking and deadwood were more easily identified. Employees who were not working hard would often be seen goofing off, socializing, or simply wasting time. However, in today's modern workplace, it can be more difficult to spot these employees.
One reason for this is that many companies now have more flexible work arrangements. Employees may be working remotely, from home, or on a hybrid schedule.
This makes it harder for managers to track their employees' productivity and engagement.
Another reason is that many companies now have a more diverse workforce.
Employees come from different backgrounds and cultures, and they have different expectations of work.
This can make it more difficult for managers to create a work environment that is motivating and engaging for everyone."

Well, OK. How would Bard fix it?
"Set clear expectations. Make sure the employee knows exactly what is expected of them in terms of their job duties, performance goals, and deadlines.
Provide regular feedback. Let the employee know how they are doing and where they need to improve. Be specific and constructive in your feedback.
Offer training and development opportunities. If the employee is struggling with their job, offer them training and development opportunities to help them improve their skills.
Create a supportive work environment. Make sure the employee feels valued and respected at work. Encourage them to ask for help when they need it.
Give the employee opportunities to contribute. Find ways for the employee to use their skills and talents to make a positive contribution to the team

All sensible ideas and quite in keeping with the current thinking on the topic!
But, there was little of anything of a breakthrough in Bard's prescription and that is, of course, one of AI's limits, since its job, is it not?, is to reformat the published record in response to a particular query.
Yet, Bard's 1200 word essay - produced in under a few seconds - would get a pretty good grade as a freshman writing assignment! So, there's plenty there for my faculty friends to worry about.
While Bard offered pro-active suggestions - with which we all can concur - it did not mention how a manager's behavior toward workers can inhibit or accelerate quiet quitting. Or, even better, to encourage workers to "go the extra mile" in the workplace.
That extra mile was on display on a recent trip:
Early one morning, my wife and I had breakfast in a Boston airport hotel lobby.
My wife was trying to get the last bit of coffee out of the urn on the coffee bar and a man, passing by and observing my wife's efforts, said he?d take care of it, took the urn into the kitchen and returned with a fresh one.
It turns out he was our morning shuttle driver. I doubt that replenishing coffee urns is in his job description!
He was going the extra mile. Why did he do that? Was caring for others in his DNA or had he been given permission and encouragement by the hotel to make that extra effort?
An Harvard Business Review article, "Quiet Quitting Is About Bad Bosses, Not Bad Employees", explores the influence a manager can have on quiet quitters.
The study concludes that "managers who "balance getting results with a concern for others? needs" were more often perceived as effective managers. Those unable to provide that balance were seen as ineffective managers.
According to the HBR study, "(T)he top behavior that helps effective leaders balance results with their concern for team members was trust. When direct reports trusted their leader, they also assumed that the manager cared about them and was concerned about their wellbeing."
And that mutual trust led to a dramatic difference between effective and ineffective managers in the number of quiet quitters in the surveyed organizations: "the least effective managers have three to four times" as many quiet quitters.

ONLY a click away, some shirker and slacker fables for the workplace:

And, my book on democratic workplaces has much to say about trust building and effective leadership: Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

Copyright text by John Lubans 2023

link to Bard

Posted by jlubans on October 02, 2023  •  Leave comment (0)