Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Helping Veterans Close To Home - Pitching In At HBS

My friend, Jon Redmond, reminded me of the following special event happening right now at Harvard Business School:

Harvard Business School Students Experience Life On the Streets in Support of the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans

WHAT: Fundraiser in support of New England’s homeless veterans.

WHEN: 12 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, 2006 through 2 p.m. Thursday, March 30, 2006.

WHERE: Spangler Lawn on the Harvard Business School Campus

Boston, MA

Members of Harvard Business School’s (HBS) Armed Forces Alumni Association (AFAA) are spending 50 hours this week in a two-person tent to raise money and awareness for the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans.

On any given night, 275,000 veterans - men and women who served as early as World War II and as late as last year -- are homeless in America. One out of three homeless males has worn a uniform and served our country in the U.S. military. More than two-thirds of homeless vets served for at least three years, and more than a third were stationed in war zones.

The New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans in downtown Boston, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) substance-free facility, is dedicated to creating a one-stop service center to empower veterans to address the issues leading to their homelessness and unemployment.

Federal and statewide budget cuts, increasing energy prices and high levels of homelessness have recently pushed the Shelter to the limits of its capacity. With few reserves and mounting utility bills, the staff is forced to rely on charitable events such as this one to continue providing essential services. “We are grateful to the Armed Forces Alumni Association at Harvard Business School for their community spirit in recognizing the value of America's veterans and raising awareness about the plight of those who are now homeless," said a New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans spokesperson.

“Spending a few days living in a tent outside HBS may seem a bit strange to some people, but compared to the difficulties faced by homeless veterans each day and the massive challenges faced by the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans in serving them, it’s the least we can do,” said Jon Redmond, a current AFAA member and fundraiser organizer. “There are 25 veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, or both currently studying at HBS. We were fortunate; when we got home we had great opportunities as we transferred into civilian life. The vets living in the shelter didn’t have the opportunities we did.”

Last year, Harvard’s AFAA raised more than $7,000 for the Shelter by remaining in a tent for several days. The money was used by the shelter for educational programs and occupational retraining at the Shelter, a critical need after Federal budget cuts cost them over $700,000 in grant money. This year, the AFAA has set a goal of $10,000.


The Armed Forces Alumni Association is an independent organization comprised of professional business graduate students, and dedicated to providing information, networking opportunities, and career support activities to its members. The members of the association have either served in or are still active in the armed forces of the United States or foreign countries.

* * * *

I plan to stop by the HBS campus this afternoon to make a donation. If you are local to Boston, I encourage you to do the same. If you are not able to stop by, I am confident that Jon Redmond would be happy to expedite your donation by mail.

Jon Redmond - 857 998-9418 or jredmond@mba2006.hbs.edu

Al

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part VI: “Teamwork” by John Byington

Chapter Six of Kelly Perdew’s “Take Command” is “Teamwork: There Is No ‘I’ In Team.” Kelly is able to write authoritatively about this issue because he has been a member and leader of many different types of teams - all the way from Little League to the big leagues of business with “Team Trump”! Early in this chapter, Kelly quotes that great philosopher in pinstripes, Yogi Berra: “When you’re part of a team, you stand up for teammates. Your loyalty is to them. You protect them through good and bad, because they’d do the same for you.” (Page 108)

Several weeks ago, as I thought about the ten individuals who would write articles for this series on transition from the military to business leadership, John Byington was the first person I asked to participate. If you were to know John only by his resume, you might conclude: “This guy is too good to be true!” John attended the Naval Academy, and serves as the Vice-President of the Class of 1990. While still working to complete his undergraduate degree in Engineering from Annapolis, he completed a Masters in National Security from Georgetown University. John earned his wings and served as a Search & Rescue helicopter pilot and Mission Commander during deployments to the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Persian Gulf. He returned to Annapolis to teach political science, and was nominated for the Academy’s “Leadership and Excellence in Teaching Award.” Along the way, he also managed to graduate as #1 in his class of 284 handpicked naval officers at the U.S. Naval War College. When I first met John, he was pursuing his MBA at Harvard Business School, where he served as President of the Armed Forces Alumni Association. Since leaving HBS, John has held leadership roles with GE Medical Systems IT and ACCESS Medical in Chicago. On paper, John Byington is quite imposing; in the flesh, he is even more impressive. The best thing I can say about John is that in the four years I have known John, he has become one of my closest friends and trusted advisors. I also know John as a devoted husband to Cara and loving father to Nate and Zach. He epitomizes loyalty, and I am proud to have him on my team. I can’t think of anyone better to tackle writing about the issue of teamwork for this series.


Teamwork Lessons from Naval Aviation
By John Byington

This may come as shock, but most of what you know about naval aviation from watching "Top Gun," isn’t true. That scene where Tom Cruise’s character, Maverick, buzzes the tower (or Island as we call it) and the Air Boss spills coffee all over himself – that would definitely never happen. Well, it could happen once, but then “Boss” would have your wings and you would have a new, far less glamorous career.

Naval aviation isn’t about the Mavericks of the world. In its ultimate expression – the fulfillment of the mission – naval aviation is a hymn to teamwork. In the business world, inflated egos and competing agendas among team members can kill a team’s dynamic and cost you money, time, clients, promotions and respect. In the world of naval aviation, rampant egos and competing agendas can kill a team, literally.

Good teamwork is like the win-win situation that people always talk about, but seldom see. But if you have ever been on a winning team, either in sports, the military or business, you know the sense of accomplishment that comes from working together to achieve a common goal. Business schools and libraries are full of books on the subject of teams and how to get the most out of them, but I’ll just hit four points that have served me well as both a team member and leader.

The Ritual of the Team

In the four years I spent at Annapolis, I had my head shaved so many times (because of the gung-ho summer programs I volunteered for), I was afraid that eventually it would just stop growing back. But beneath the incessant buzz of the barbers’ clippers was a lesson in teamwork that took me years to appreciate. The best teams are built not only on shared goals, but shared experience as well. Whether it’s the ritual of head shaving (which I don’t recommend for your next sales retreat) or the Tuesday morning team meeting, shared experience binds team members together and builds commitment to the team and its goals. Look for opportunities to create shared experience (sometimes called “team building”) and to articulate a team goal that everyone understands and is committed to.

The old saw that “there is no 'I' in team” isn’t original, but it is important. Commitment to the team includes dedication to the goal, loyalty to other members and a level of selflessness. It means playing your role, even if it isn’t your favorite, or even if it doesn’t necessarily take you down the path to immediate individual glory. A good team player delivers what they alone can uniquely contribute, but also pitches in on other roles and supports other team members in service to the shared team goal. That could be in a night search and rescue mission over the Mediterranean Sea or increasing your company’s operational efficiency by 45 percent.

Your team is part of a bigger team

As a helicopter mission commander, I knew that my co-pilot, the air crewmen flying with us and I were all part of something bigger. On an aircraft carrier, helicopters are the first to launch and the last to land. The search and rescue capabilities of our aircraft were required for flight operations to begin. If the helicopter team didn’t fly, the strike package composed of other teams of aircraft wouldn’t be allowed to launch. A failure of teamwork on our part would threaten the entire mission of the aircraft carrier, and potentially US national interests.

It’s the same in the business world. Teams are mutually dependent across an organization. It’s important to keep your eye on the larger goals of the company. If the sales team doesn’t get the job done, revenues are lost. If the customer service team falls victim to in-fighting and dysfunctional team dynamics, the company loses clients. In both cases, profits suffer. Be alert to the ways your team fits within the organization. Look for opportunities to improve not only performance within the team, but also within the team’s relationship to the other parts of the organization.

Teamwork isn’t just about execution

As a former naval officer, I encounter misconceptions about the military all the time. One of my favorites is when people think military command is all about giving orders, following orders and saluting. One of the great strengths of the American military has always been the ability of people within it to respond quickly to changing demands. An unthinking, “aye, aye, sir” mentality rarely gets the job done in the military or business.

Because you serve a role bigger than yourself as a member of a team, you can’t be too narrow and simply “wait for orders.” For things to work optimally, you need to do more. You need to look at everything through the prism of the team’s goal. You need to understand its mission in a larger context and be pro-actively poised to serve it. Because no management article is complete without a reference to either the military or baseball, I will insert my baseball analogy here. In baseball, the goal is to score more runs than the other team and win the game. In service to that goal, every member of the team is alert to ways they can help cover the bases. They don’t wait for orders.

If the first baseman is pulled off the bag to field the ball, the pitcher often covers for him. Can you imagine the highlight on SportsCenter if the pitcher decided that he just didn’t feel like running over to first base because it wasn’t his usual position? Or worse, can you imagine the hissy fit George Steinbrenner would have if the pitcher didn’t act when he saw an opportunity because he was waiting for orders from the home office? It wouldn’t matter if the pitcher had thrown wonderful pitches, the team could still fail because of his unwillingness to do more than execute one highly proscribed role.

Role of the team leader (See “No 'I' in Team”)

The team leader must create the conditions that lead to success. One key to leading a team well is knowing the strengths, weaknesses and working styles of every member of the team, including yourself as the leader. Recognize that you will have to manage personalities as much as projects. Recognize that different situations will call for different responses. Sometimes decisions will be made unilaterally; sometimes decisions must be reached by consensus. There are an infinite number of management styles to address an infinite number of challenges, but a few things remain constant. A good leader always sets clear expectations and creates a working climate where team members can raise issues, both good and bad. If your team is afraid to give you bad news, then you will be the last to know when things start to go off track.

Another of the biggest stumbling blocks to a healthy team can be communication. In writing about engineering and nanotechnology in the early 1990s, K. Eric Drexler noted that, if “the finished parts are going to work together, they must be developed by groups that share a common picture of what each part must accomplish…the challenge of management and team-building is to make that communication happen.”

The challenge of every team is to accomplish their goal. But the truly extraordinary teams have a kind of energy that can transform organizations. From the controlled chaos of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck to the teams laboring over software startups in someone’s garage, good teamwork doesn’t always mean success, but poor teamwork invariably leads to failure.

* * * *

Thank you, John

This series will continue next week with . . . .

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part VII: “Loyalty” by Dr. Phil Anderson

Al

Publishing Remotely For The Next Week

I will be in Virginia visiting family from March 30 through April 7. During that time, I plan to publish Blog articles remotely. I will not, however, be able to send e-mail alerts while I am away from my office. So, I encourage you to check in every few days for new postings, or add The White Rhino Report to your RSS reader.

Al

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Still In Rescue Mode – David Broyles and His Mission to Help Disabled Veterans

My friend, Shawn Powers, is an Army Aviator who commanded Pegasus Troop, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Shawn recently made me aware of the activities of David Broyles, a former U. S. Air Force Pararescueman. Broyles is seeking to call attention to the plight of disabled veterans by swimming the Strait of Gibraltar.

Here is how Shawn described his response to the project:

Many of you have served and understand what this guy is talking about first hand. It is a great read and even greater cause. A friend forwarded me the email and after reading it I want to swim this thing with them. Powerful and moving.

Enjoy,

Shawn

* * * *

My name is David Broyles and I am training to swim from Spain to Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar, a distance of roughly 12.5 miles, in July. Less people have officially swum this crossing than have climbed Mount Everest. I’ll be swimming to raise $100,000 for The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes (saluteheroes.org), a charity that assists disabled veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

I am a former Air Force Pararescueman and veteran of both locations, and my teammate in this endeavor, Rush Vann, is an infantry officer in the Army. Regardless of opinion concerning the war in which they served, our nation’s newest disabled veterans need our unified support. Large numbers of these severely injured service members have overwhelmed the capabilities of traditional government assistance agencies to provide for their needs. Through generous donations, The Coalition ensures no disabled veteran is left behind; offering job training and placement, affordable and specialized housing, counseling, medical care and many other flexible programs designed to assist our disabled veterans’ readjustment to civilian life and beyond. Because, in the end, it’s not about politics; it’s about them.


Different levels of sponsorship are available to support our fundraising efforts for this cause. Through planned publicity for this event, which will include articles, press releases, websites, and merchandise, sponsors can expect to increase their exposure to the military community and wounded veterans, as well as to the general public. Sponsors will also be listed on the event website and event merchandise.We are wholly committed to honoring the service and sacrifice of our nation's disabled veterans. By undertaking this difficult endurance swim, we hope to raise both awareness and funds for their cause.

Please join us.

For more information, visit the event website at: swimthestrait06.com.

To discuss sponsorship, I can be contacted by phone at 307-690-8276 or by email at wdbroyles@hotmail.com.

* * * *
Shawn Power’s e-mail also contained excerpts from an article that originally appeared in Texas Monthly magazine. The article, written by Broyles about his training and combat experience, gives a hint as to the character of this man who is seeking to raise over $100,00 to help disabled veterans of our incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq.

No Direction Home
by David Broyles

WHEN I WAS IN IRAQ, I couldn't wait to leave. Now, driving home to Texas, I wish I'd never left. Earlier today, I stuffed my car full of green military-issue duffel bags; the past four years of my life fit inside six of them. Then I changed out of my uniform and passed through the gates of Moody Air Force Base, in Georgia, for the last time.

The boots I threw in my trunk have desert and dirt stuck in the treads, pieces of Afghanistan and Iraq mixed with Georgia swamp. My favorite pair is stained with helicopter hydraulic fluid from flying over Baghdad with my feet hanging out the door, and next to those are my wet-suit booties, which still have mud from a canal near Fallujah, where we dived for bodies. I kept some others too. I did a lot of things wearing all those boots; I did a lot of things I never would have done before.

On September 10, 2001, a few months after graduating from college, I went to sleep not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. The next morning, I woke up and I did. I signed up for the hardest job in the military I could find: Air Force pararescue. Navy Seals with stethoscopes, as they've been called, their job is to save lives, not take them. Their motto is as apolitical and unambiguous as their mission: "That Others May Live." Pararescuemen, or PJs, live and sometimes die by those words.

The two-year PJ qualification program is famously difficult: Nine out of ten don't make it through. After basic training, I was there, and I was in over my head. During a tough pool session a few weeks in, the guy in front of me nearly drowned. Already hypoxic, he had had to swim fifty meters underwater, recite the pararescue mission between gasps, and then try to swim fifty more. Halfway, he'd spasmed and sunk. As they pulled his limp body from the water and worked to revive him, I relaxed. No way we'd keep going.

"Broyles!" the instructor yelled. "You're up! Go!" It was the first time I pushed the bubbling fear down, swallowed my own vomit, and did the thing that needed doing.

After the instructors put the trainee on oxygen, he came back to life, and before he'd stopped coughing up water, he'd quit. In two hours, six more were gone. One of them, a star athlete, lost it and started whimpering like an animal, and they carried him away. We never saw him again.

"Look at that sun, men!" barked our instructor at the end of the day.

"While you were crying about how hard training was, two of your PJ brothers died today doing the real thing."

He shifted and the sun blinded me.

"Enjoy this sunset," he said, "because they can't. Now, drop!"

We fell into the push-up position and knocked out the usual fifty, plus two more in honor of Ridout and McDaniel, the PJs who'd been killed. In a few weeks, we added another for Cunningham; he was shot through the abdomen during a rescue but saved ten lives before bleeding to death. Then there were two for Maltz and Plite; they died on a mission to save two Afghan children. I wondered if I'd be able to make the same sacrifice. I wondered if anyone would do push-ups for me.

Back on Interstate 10, I pull over on the shoulder somewhere between Alabama and Louisiana. Suddenly I don't feel like driving. I study the backs of my hands on the wheel and listen to the rush of passing traffic. Maybe if I never get where I'm going, I can still go back to where I've been.

On my first mission in Iraq, a soldier was trapped underneath an overturned Humvee near Kirkuk. And my main concern, beyond his survival, didn't have anything to do with insurgents: Jesus, I thought, please don't let my boots come off in this mud, not in front of this guy we're supposed to rescue, not in front of his buddies waiting for us to savehim.

Slipping and struggling to move, with their eyes on me, I felt like an impostor. My biggest contribution was grabbing a backboard and throwing it down in front of us. When we stood on it, our boots didn't sink into the mud anymore.I was disappointed in myself, but it didn't last. In Iraq the desert sand scoured away all the bullshit, and what was left was what mattered. The heat melted the big ideas and the bluster of the talking heads back home but not the guy next to me; he just kept sweating. The bullets and mortars uncluttered the view, and I saw the world in sharp relief. I saw it as it truly was. Sometimes, in those rare moments, I saw myself too.

In a war now so lacking in clarity, clarity is what I found.

On the highway, that bright awareness fades. The politicians and pundits and proud citizens are chattering on the car radio; they're on the bumpers of Buicks and the truck-stop televisions. The closer I get to home, the louder their voices become and the farther away I feel.

In high school and college I had friends. In the military I had brothers. I didn't always know their hometowns or what their parents did for a living, but I knew that Tommy wished he were taller and that he would break his back for you if you asked. I knew that when Wes was pissed, he smiled only halfway and talked with an even slower surfer'sdrawl. I knew that Zach got moody away from his wife but that Copenhagen and shooting helped.We had to know each other. On a moonless night over the Atlantic, with parachutes on our backs and fins on our feet, there couldn't be any questions between us.

The first man out of the plane had to pull his rip cord after five seconds, the second man after three, and the rest immediately. If someone didn't, there'd be a collision, and we'd burn into the water. Under canopy, it was all black and the sea flowed into the sky and you couldn't see the guy flying in front of you. You had to listen for the flapping of his chute and trust he wouldn't slam into you and drop you both like rocks. After we'd splash down and swim free of our lines, we knew who'd chase down the rescue package, who'd inflate the boat, and who'd prep the engine. We knew none of us would panic and sink under the swells or choke on the rotor wash of the helicopter when it came. And after it was all over, we knew which guys liked Heineken and which liked Shiner.

As I pass through Beaumont, I glance at the empty seat by my side. For the first time in four years, I'm on my own. The smell of oil blows through the vents, and I wonder if I'm driving away from those guys for good.

I tell myself that this is what I wanted. All those times I was tired, cold, and afraid, I wanted to go home. But at three in the morning, when I pull into my driveway in Austin, the garden seems strange. The door looks different. Was the mailbox always that color? I don't know this place.

A few days before I'd left Iraq, after my third and final deployment, we had one last mission: A Marine patrol had been hit by an IED. This time, I was team leader, and this time, I did my job and did it well. I finally felt like a PJ. Now I'm growing my hair out. I haven't shaved. I'm lounging on the sofa in pajama pants and flipping through seven hundred channels of cable television. There's nowhere to go, no one to impress, and nothing to do. I feel comfortable, I feel safe, and I feel like the bones have been ripped from my body.

In four years of service, I learned more than I ever did in college. When it was over, I didn't get a diploma, and there was no commencement speech. I packed up and drove away. I put my boots in storage.

They don't fit anymore.

The Office Chart That Really Counts

David Teten of Nitron Advisors is a steady and reliable source of useful information.

http://www.circleofexperts.com/blog

In his "BrainFood" e-mail yesterday, David offered a link to this fascinating article from BusinessWeek On-Line that describes the mapping of social networks, persons of influence and decision makers within organizations.

The Office Chart That Really Counts:
Mapping informal relationships at a company is revealing -- and useful

The Office Chart That Really Counts

Monday, March 27, 2006

“Generation Kill” by Evan Wright – A Window Into The Soul of Our Marines in Iraq

Much like David Lipsky, his colleague from Rolling Stone Magazine, Evan Wright managed to overcome all the inherent obstacles that face an embedded reporter so that he was able to tell a story that radiates authenticity, understanding and insight. David Lipsky accomplished similar success a couple of years ago in writing the book, “Absolutely American,” after embedding himself for four years with West Point’s Class of 2002. Wright, author of “Generation Kill,” made himself the eyes, ears and mouth of the U.S. Marines Corps First Recon Battalion as they fought and slogged their way from Camp Mathilda in Kuwait to Baghdad and beyond to Baqubah. In the course of becoming the eyes, ears and mouth for First Recon, Wright also managed to open a window into the soul of the unit and its very brave and very human dramatis personae. The skills and strength of character that allowed him to win the confidence of a group of Marines who did not initially welcome his intrusive presence into their fraternity are the same traits that allow him to gain the confidence of open-minded readers of his book.

As I was reading this extraordinarily well-written volume, I began to fantasize about Robert Altman buying the movie rights, and making a film from this book and its companion piece, “One Bullet Away,” by Nate Fick. Both books recount essentially the same story about the same people. “One Bullet Away” tells the story through the eyes of a Marine Corps officer with an Ivy League degree in Classics; Wright's book tells a similar story from the vantage point of the grunts – the enlisted Marines who are the heart and soul of any Marine Corps unit. The result of reading both books is a composite picture that recounts a tale told on two levels – much like Altman’s movie, “Gosford Park.” In “Gosford Park,” the Lord of the manor, his family and guests represent one population, while the resident staff of this country estate constitute the “downstairs” inhabitants. The two worlds often intertwine, but remain essential isolated and segregated from each other. The divergent worldviews of the two groups could not be more different.

The parallel holds in comparing these two recent books about First Recon. While Fick takes us through an honest, reasoned, strategic level tour of First Recon’s pilgrimage, with plenty of stories about the enlisted troops and their heroics, it remains essentially an officer’s view of the war and of the world. Wright drags use through an equally honest trek through the mud and dust as he limns a picture that accurately projects the more limited and foreshortened view the grunts have of the war – and of the world – from their vantage point looking over the edge of the “Ranger graves” they dig as their sleeping quarters each night out in the dessert.

As seen through Wright’s lens and pen, the early days of the war in Iraq included a lot of “hurry up and wait,” tactical confusion, and officers making questionable decisions that placed their troops in needless jeopardy. When I asked Nate Fick what to expect in reading “Generation Kill,” his response was to say that Evan Wright had done an excellent job portraying the way the war must have looked to the grunts in First Recon. “From the limited perspective of the troops, it must have often felt like the senior officers were trying hard to get them killed.”

Most regular readers of The White Rhino Report are aware that I am not a military veteran - much less a veteran of combat, so I do not have first-hand knowledge of what it means to be on the battlefield. Through Wright’s attention to detail and his ability to paint realistic and vivid pictures, I could almost smell the putrifaction of decaying bodies, and was able to imagine hearing the sounds and feeling the concussion of shells exploding as First Recon made their way north in fits and starts through the empty barrenness of the countryside and the sprinking of hamlets that dotted the Iraqi desert and the Fertile Crescent that lies between the Tigris and Euphrates River.

I will let Wright speak for himself as he draws us into the world that First Recon inhabited in Iraq:

“When they about this shooting later, the Marines have mixed reactions. Graves is devastated. ‘This is the event that is going to get to me when I get home,’ he says. Prior to this shooting, when his team had passed by all those shot-up corpses on the road, Graves says, ‘I felt good about it, like, “Yeah, Marines have been fucking shit up!”’ He adds, ‘I cruised into this war thinking my buddy’s going to take a bullet, and I’m hoping to be the fucking hero pulling him out of harm’s way. Instead, I end up pulling out this little girl we shot, hiding in the backseat of her dad’s car.’”

“Graves’s buddy, twenty-two year-old Corporal Ryan Jeschke, who was with him at the car, says, ‘War is either glamorized – like we kick their ass – of the opposite – look how horrible, we kill all those civilians. None of these people know what it’s like the be there holding that weapon. After Graves and I went up to that dead girl, I was surprised, because honestly, I was indifferent. It’s kind of disturbed me. Now, sometimes, I think, “Am I a bad person for feeling nothing?” (Page 219)

Wright does a remarkable job capturing the inherent internal conflict of the warrior in battle:

“He sounds tired. I think this war has lost its allure for him. It’s not that he can’t take it. During the past hour or so of shooting, he still seemed excited by the action. But I think after morning the loss of his friend Horsehead, trying to care for dehydrated, sick babies among the refugees the other day, the shot-up kids by the airfield before that, and having seen so many civilians blown apart, he’s connected the dots between the pleasure he takes in participating in this invasion and its consequences. He hasn’t turned against the aims of the war; he still supports the idea of regime change. But the side of him that loves war – his inner warrior – keeps bumping up against the part of him that is basically a decent, average suburban guy who likes bad eighties music and Barry Manilow and believes in the American Way.”
(Pages 294-295)

In the final excerpt I will share, Wright is able to bring us inside the transformation that occurs in each man as he faces the real possibility of death on the battlefield:

“When Fick passes the word that the men in Second Platoon are to remain in place, Espera turns to his men in the next Humvee over from ours and says, ’Stand by to die, gents.’”

“The twenty-two Marines in the platoon sit in their vehicles, engines running, as per their orders, while blasts shake the ground beneath them. Everyone watches the sky. A mortar lands ten meters from Espera’s open-top Humvee, blowing a four-foot-wide hole in the ground. It’s so close, I see the column of black smoke jetting up from the blast area before I hear the boom. I look out and see Espera hunched over his weapon, his eyes darting beneath the brim of his helmet, watching for the next hit. His men appear frozen in the vehicle as the smoke rises beside them.”

“Before leaving on this mission, many of the men in Colbert’s platoon had said good-bye to one another by shaking hands or even by hugging. The formal farewells seemed odd considering that everyone was going to be shoulder-to-shoulder in the cramped Humvees. The good-byes almost seemed an acknowledgement of the transformations that take place in combat. Friends who lolled around together during free time talking about bands, stupid Marines Corps rules and girlfriends’ fine asses aren’t really the same people anymore once they enter the battlefield.

“In combat, the change seems physical at first. Adrenaline begins to flood your system the moment the first bullet is fired. . . In time, your body seems to burn out from it . . . you begin to lose your capacity for fear. Explosions go off. You cease to jump or flinch. In this moment now, everyone sits still, numbly watching the mortars thump down nearby. The only things moving are the pupils of their eyes.”

“This is not to say that terror goes away. It simply moves out from the twitching muscles and nerves in your body and takes up residence in your mind. If you feed it with morbid thoughts of all the terrible ways you could be maimed or die, it gets worse. It also gets worse of you think about pleasant things. Good memories or plans for the future only remind you how much you don’t want to die or get hurt. It’s best to shut down, to block everything out. But to reach that state, you have to almost give up being yourself. This is why, I believe, everyone said good-bye to each other yesterday before leaving on this mission. They would still be together, but they wouldn’t really be seeing one another for awhile, since each man would, in his own way, be sort of gone.”
(Pages 300-301)

As my list of friends continues to grow of those who have served as Marines or are current members of the USMC, my esteem for The Corps and its men and women continues to swell. Evan Wright’s latest offering only adds to that sense of awe and wonder I feel for those who have chosen to serve under duress and hardship to be able to be called “The few – The proud – The Marines.”

I consider this book another “must read” for anyone wanting to gain some insight into what our nation has asked members of “Generation Kills” to do and to be when they have chosen to put on the uniform.

Al

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

In Bill We Trust; In Theo We Trust!

No, Chicken Little, the sky is not falling! The world is not ending. We will survive the exodus from the Boston sports scene of Johnny Damon, Bronson Arroyo, Adam Vinatieri, Willie McGinest, Troy Brown and David Givens.

Will we miss them and all of the thrills they have given to New England fans over the past few years? Of course! Is it disappointing that the world of professional sports has devolved to the point where loyalty – in either direction – is a rare commodity, and dispassionate “business decisions” drive the thinking of owners and players alike? No question! Part of me longs for the days when a player like Ted Williams or Yaz or Larry Bird or Bobby Orr would spend an entire career wearing a Boston uniform. For the most part, those days have gone the way of the nickel vanilla Coke at the corner drug store. Do I join my fellow sport fans in regretting the process by which sports heroes have been turned into mercenary Hessians willing to take up arms for whatever team will write them the biggest check? Absolutely!

Having said all of that, I have a choice to make when it comes to looking at the state of professional sports today. I can walk away in disgust – as some have done – and invest my sports passions in amateur athletics, or I can choose to adjust to the world as it now is. Having chosen to try to adjust – since my “cursing the darkness” of the current state of affairs would not change a thing, I try to look with a rational eye at the world to which Red Sox and Patriots fans have awoken this morning. (I admit that “rational” does not fit with the notion of being a fanatical fan of either team, but bear with me!) The evidence is there that those who make personnel decisions for the Patriots – Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli and the Krafts, and for the Red Sox – chiefly Theo and his band of Merry Men, have settled on a formula that enables their organizations to field a competitive and exciting team each season. This is a rare accomplishment in the NFL and in MLB.

Boston sports radio and most of our newspaper columnists are in high dudgeon this morning over the latest round of departures of our beloved sports heroes. I understand the emotion, but choose to reject it. Bill and Theo and their support staffs have earned my trust in their ability to evaluate talent and the relative value of that talent in the context of the marketplace. They have consistently shown (with some errors along the way – Jeremy Giambi and Edgar Renteria as two painful cases in point) the ability to put together teams that make the playoffs each season. I would love to have all of my sports heroes play out their last days with the hometown team, but the price of that nostalgia would be the team fading into mediocrity and irrelevance. After the glories of their 1986 NBA title, the Celtics made the mistake of holding onto the aging core of their team until it was too late. Twenty years later, the apathy of Boston fans towards the Celtics and the empty seats at the new Garden are the legacy of that failed personnel policy.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t demand that our teams remain competitive and at the same time demand we not lose any of the heroes that have thrilled us with their past performances.

Until they prove that their teams can no longer compete . . .

In Bill I trust! Go Pats!

In Theo I trust! Go Sox!

Kelly Perdew Is Back On TV

Kelly Perdew e-mailed me this morning to remind me of the upcoming launch of his new show on the Military Channel, which is part of the Discovery Network. The content of the World Premier episode of “GI Factory” is described below:

MIL — GI Factory

Episode 1

Kelly Perdew visits a General Dynamics factory in Lima, Ohio, where Abrams tanks get the latest M1A2 overhaul. In Tempe to the ArmorWorks facility, the latest body armor is created. At the Beretta pistol factory, see the M-9 in action.

http://military.discovery.com/tvlistings/episode.jsp?episode=1&cpi=114829&gid=0&channel=MIL

The show will air at 8:00 PM (EST) and 11:00 PM (EST) on Friday, March 24, and again at 3:00 AM (EST) on Saturday, March 25.

Enjoy the show, and send me your feedback.

If you have not yet taken the time to read Kelly’s book, “Take Command,” I suggest you consider doing so. I continue to gain inspiration from this book for the 10-part Leadership Series currently running in The White Rhino Report.

Congratulations, Kelly, on your latest endeavor!

Al

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part V: “Planning” by Chris Crane

Kelly Perdew dedicated the fifth chapter of his book, “Take Command,” to the task of Planning. He called the chapter, “Planning: Fail to Plan; Plan to Fail.” He leads off the chapter with these recollections:

“Some people who meet me might think initially I’m a little rigid. Some of my teammates on The Apprentice certainly did! I took a lot of heat during the filming of the show for being so ‘absorbed’ on the laptop. Hey, I like to plan! What can I say? From the age of sixteen, when I started thinking about college, I learned that it’s never too early to start planning, especially when you goals are high ones – like getting into West Point. And after getting into West Point, I learned even more about the necessity of planning.

West Point intentionally overloaded cadets with so many responsibilities that there was no way we could ever complete them all in the time available. So we learned to prioritize. The better you become at planning and prioritizing, the more efficient you become, and the more you’re able to accomplish. No person has unlimited resources; you have to learn how to best expend your effort.”
(Page 91)

With that introduction to the topic of Planning, it seemed only right that I should ask a West Point graduate to share his experiences with Planning. Chris Crane graduated from the U.S. Military Academy with a degree in Environmental Engineering. After earning his Ranger Tab and serving with the 82nd Airborne Division and a Combat Engineering Company, Chris attended Harvard Business School. He recently returned to Boston along with his family to assume a senior operations role with Bank of America.

* * * * * *

PLANNING

by Chris Crane

“Don’t forget nothing!” – The first of 19 Standing Orders, issued by Major Robert Rogers to his Rangers in 1759.

I selected this as the introductory line for my contribution because I believe that it very succinctly summarizes the intent of “planning;” think ahead about the many possible external forces acting on you and prioritize your responses based on the magnitude of their impacts.

· Is it going to be cold in two days? Then pack a parka.
· Do your sectors of fire intersect with adjacent units? Then coordinate to prevent fratricide.
· What if our data server fails? Then install a reliable back-up.
· Can you competitors unexpectedly drop their prices? Then know your margins now, and manage your suppliers.

To former military leaders, the ability to apply sequential and logical detail to future action is truly a differentiator that has become second nature to us at this point. For the military officer with any exposure to “operations,” (last I checked, this means all of us) this is our proverbial bread-and-butter. I break the broad attribute of planning down into four specific, actionable competencies relevant to the military and business communities alike.

1. Translate the strategic vision into the tactical plan.

Simply stated, this is turning concept into reality. Effective military officers are adept at taking the big picture goals, objectives, commander’s intent, or guidance, and developing actions to make them happen. The light-bulb first went off for me as a new light engineer platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division. During an often-repeated training exercise called a “48-hour defense,” I would spend the first 16 hours serving as the engineer subject matter expert to an infantry battalion commander and his staff. During that time, he’d make broad sweeping hand gestures to indicate “turning the enemy here, or stopping them at a choke point in a valley.” From those vague generalities, it was my responsibility to quickly analyze and define the specific actions needed on the ground to make it happen. The solution may have been series of minefields in one location, or a wire obstacle cover by indirect fire at another. In the end, it was up to me to spend the balance of that 48 hours on the ground, walking the terrain, coordinating with the infantry and artillery units, sitting in the mud to site in obstacles, and turning his concept into reality. I have applied the same methodology in my previous work for a small crisis management consulting firm where roles were often undefined. The CEO would merely say “we need a marketing plan to target industry ABC,” or “we should consider the value of going in-house, acquiring, or sub-contracting a particular skill set,” and it would be my job as Director of Operations, to develop the tactical plan with action to make it happen.

2. Execute.

If I could add an 11th characteristic to Kelly’s list, I’d add “execute.” Successful plans are for naught without the ability to act on them. Within my first four weeks in a new role at a large commercial bank, an associate brought up my name in a meeting and said “we’d like to thank you for making such-and-such happen. You really don’t know how many people are already benefiting from this.” In my best attempt at being humble, I said “Well, it wasn’t really my idea, I just acted on it.” To which he responded, “That’s the point. So much time gets spent throwing ideas around here that no one takes the time to act on them.” In this case, I really didn’t know any better. I wasn’t established enough in a new position to guide policy, but I knew how to act. I believe this concept carries forward even when we are in a position to set and develop the policies or strategies; military leaders recognize how to get things done.

3. Identify and assemble critical resources.

Whether people or supplies, technological capabilities or transportation needs, the military teaches its leaders to think methodically about getting the most out of the resources they have, prioritizing the shortfalls, and planning for contingencies. I know the Army makes it a critical piece of every operations plan to request and allocate additional support or supplies ahead of time, forcing the leader to plan in advance. The most relevant example for me is a post-military experience, that in the end, probably sounds more like a military exercise than a business venture. While at a risk management firm, I was responsible for a three-week search-and-rescue operation, turned search-and-recovery, in Nicaragua. People were missing on an island in the jungle, and I had to find them. While I didn’t have an S-4 / G-4 (Logistics Capability) to provide support, fortunately, I had a satellite phone and a supply of cash in hand. Within a span of 48 hours, I moved six former military special operators and a translator from the US, assembled 60 local farmers, integrated with a company from the Nicaraguan Army, liaised with the police, contracted for local communications, and rented out an entire hostel to feed and house my team. All the while, utilizing every possible combination of airplane, helicopter, boat, SUV, and banana truck to pull these resources together. While not every moving piece of this assembly venture went off as “planned,” I had a methodology in place for collecting resources and allocating them towards the goal.

4. Delegate and Supervise (when appropriate).

Despite the best of plans, a good leader cannot do it all himself or herself. The military teaches its leaders to identify and develop capable subordinate leaders to delegate and assist in managing operations as part of the plan. However, the military also teaches its leaders, before they are even leaders, to be good followers. To me, this means not being afraid to roll-up ones sleeves, dig into the details, and make a direct impact. Critical to our success, in my opinion, is our ability to readily identify the tipping point – “When can I hand this off completely? When can I delegate and periodically supervise? And, when do I need to be involved in every detail or just do it myself?” Certainly there are multiple factors that go into delegation planning (familiarity, complexity, tenure, scope, personality, etc.) but I’d argue that military leaders are very good at quickly sizing up this requirement. (I do not mean to imply that leaders without military experience are not capable in this regard, by any stretch). For me, the best examples occurred when I assumed the role of an engineer company commander and again when I took over a contract security firm. In each case, I had a group of five direct reports, platoon leaders and account managers respectively, who each had similar backgrounds and responsibilities. However, each required a different degree of supervision based on their personalities and the specific tasks they were periodically assigned. Sometimes, I erred on over-supervising up front until I was comfortable with their capabilities. Other times, I gave them the rope to run (and hang themselves if appropriate). In either case, they never let me down.

I truly believe that the military, much more so than business school or any post-military job taught me to smoothly transition from concept to reality by developing a plan. While at times, it appears deliberate, it is more often an automatic, subconscious process. In summary, I’d like to offer a few final thoughts on “planning,” and how military experience in planning can benefit you in the business world.

· Having thought through a plan and choosing one course of action over another, you are more adept at thinking quickly and responding “on your feet” to a dynamic situation. Don’t be afraid to change the plan as you go.
· We go with what we know, apply the 80% solution, trust your gut, and avoid “analysis-paralysis.” You’ve been forced to make a plan based on imperfect information in the past, so what are you waiting for to act now?
· Always ask yourself “what next?” and “what if?”

As a footnote: Though Roger’s quote used to kick-off this article is succinct and memorable, it is actually believed to be an abbreviated colloquialism, written in1936 by Kenneth Roberts to be used in his novel ‘Northwest Passage.’ It appears as a folksy version of the rules during a conversation between one of the characters and a new Ranger recruit. The actual text of Roger’s first Standing Order is something along the lines of: “All Rangers are to be subject to the rules and articles of war; to appear at roll- call every evening, on their own parade, equipped, each with a firelock, sixty rounds of powder and ball, and a hatchet, at which time an officer from each company is to inspect the same, to see they are in order, so as to be ready on any emergency to march at a minute's warning; and before they are dismissed, the necessary guards are to be draughted and scouts for the next day appointed.”

I think we’d all agree that “Don’t forget nothing!” is easier to remember.

* * * * * *

Thank you, Chris.

This series will continue next week with . . . .

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part VI: “Teamwork” by John Byington

I encourage you to share this series with others you feel would benefit from the insights of these leaders.

Al

Monday, March 20, 2006

Two Wolves! Food For Thought

My former recruiting colleague, Joen Elliott, sent out an e-mail this morning that contained a wonderful tale that I want to share with the readers of The White Rhino Report. I had never heard the story before, but it contains such profound and simple wisdom, the I knew most readers would want to be made aware of it. Like most timeless wisdom, it speaks to the child in all of us and carries the lessons of countless generations and cultures.

Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a debate that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between 2 'wolves' inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

* * * *

Food for thought!

Thank you, Joen!

Al

Mini-Review: “Just One Look” by Harlan Coben

A few weeks ago, I rhapsodized about Harlan Coben’s “No Second Chance.” Well, I wanted a second chance to be taken on a gut-wrenching Cobenesque literary trek, so I picked up and quickly devoured his latest novel: “Just One Look.” He continues to defend his title as a champion storyteller. Dan Brown, no stranger to weaving taut tales of terror himself, calls Coben “the modern master of the hook-and-twist – luring you in on the first page only to shock you on the last.”

In this latest offering, Coben focuses on a fictional “Boston Massacre” – not the one where Crispus Attucks fell to the Redcoats, but a deadly stampede at a rock concert in the old Boston Garden that was triggered by gunfire. Coben guides us through a serpentine series of plot twists, introducing us along the way to a fascinating menagerie of characters – Jack, Grace, Cram, Sandy, Rocky, et al. Throw in a soupcon of double identity, add a dash of kidnapping, fortify with a meaty organized crime figure with a soft spot in his heart for one of the protagonists – and you have a tasty bouillabaisse of a pot-boiler fit for the taste buds of any discriminating reader of the crime genre of novel.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Understanding The Age of Terror - A Review of "The Pentagon's New Map" by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Ph.D.

I few weeks ago, I was up in New Hampshire visiting with my friends, Christine and Mike Mikkelsen. Mike is an avid reader, and we often discuss books we have read in common. As our conversation progressed, Mike handed me a book and said: “In light of your interest in the military and all the friends you have who are serving and who have served, this book is a ‘must read’ for you.” With that introduction, Mike lent me his copy of Thomas P. M. Barnett’s landmark work, “The Pentagon’s New Map – War And Peace In The Twenty-First Century.”

Barnett and his controversial analyses and prognostications have been the talk of the Pentagon for several years. He serves as a strategic researcher and professor at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. Barnett earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard, and has held a number of research positions within the Department of Defense.

As is often the case with profound insights, on the surface they appear so simple as to be almost laughable. So it is with Barnett’s revolutionary ideas of how the world works in the post-9/11 Age of Terror. Simply put, Barnett posits a theory that the world can be divided and mapped quite neatly into two primary categories: The Functioning Core on the one hand, and the Non-Integrating Gap on the other hand. The measuring rod for deciding where a nation fits within this binary rubric is the degree of “connectedness” the citizens of that nation enjoy with the rest of the world.

“Yet a pattern did emerge with each American crisis response in the 1990s. These deployments turned out to be overwhelmingly concentrated in the regions on the world that were effectively excluded from globalization’s Functioning Core – namely, the Caribbean Rim, Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia. These regions constitute globalization’s ‘ozone hole,’ or what I call its Non-Integrating Gap, where connectivity remains thin or absent. Simply put, if a country was losing out to globalization or rejecting much of its cultural content flows, there was a far greater chance that the United States would end up sending troops there at some point in the 1990s.” (Page 4)

As I read Barnett’s explanations with rapt attention, they made a lot of sense to me. But, being neither a veteran of military service nor a veteran of the Pentagon's labyrinthine decision-making processes, I doubted my ability to make informed judgments about Barnett’s ideas and assertions. So, it was a welcome event when an e-mail arrived this morning from my friend, Stan Genega, a retired U.S. Army Major General. Over breakfast, I had recommended Barnett’s book to Stan, and he was reporting back to me on his reactions: “Last night, I finished Tom Barnett’s book 'The Pentagon's New Map'- great read! His descriptions of how the Pentagon and the services work are spot on. Would love to discuss sometime.”

With that affirmation in hand from someone who knows the ins and outs of the arcane world of defense policy-making, I feel more confident in sharing my thoughts on Barnett’s ideas.

While Barnett comes from a very different world than that of Frans Johansson, author of “The Medici Effect,” I find that they both espouse and champion the notion of “horizontal thinking.” Here are Barnett’s comments about this approach to viewing the world:

“During my eight years in Washington, Hank Gaffney and I did a lot of research together and coauthored a number of significant reports, and most of the big ideas I have hatched over my career either began in or were intimately shaped by my time with him. But what Hank really taught me was how to think horizontally. By that I mean thinking broadly across subject matters versus drilling down deep into a particular subject, which I call vertical thinking. In both the Pentagon and Washington in general, the system awards points almost exclusively to those who think vertically, because intense subject-matter expertise allows you to poke holes in everyone else’s thinking. Inside the Beltway, vertical thinkers are expert at telling why something will never succeed, and little else. Horizontal thinkers tend to be the exact opposite. They often argue by analogy and are quick to borrow concepts from other fields. They are usually synergists, meaning they combine disparate concepts in new and unusual combinations. For example, in my Ph.D. dissertation I borrowed from the field of interpersonal psychology to explain how the relative ‘weakling’ Romania stood up to Soviet bullying tactics within the Warsaw Treaty Organization, ultimately achieving a certain degree of foreign policy independence.” (Page 112)

Barnett goes on to explain that “connected” nations are those that have learned and agreed to abide by the commonly accepted rule sets of the Functioning Core.

“Admittedly, I am an economic determinist, but I’m darned proud to be one. My credentials are nearly impeccable: I once taught Marxism at Harvard. From those nefarious beginnings though, I found rehabilitation at the hands of my Wall Street mentors, Bud Flanagan and his longtime collaborator Philip Ginsberg, a true Renaissance man who probably would have had a brilliant teaching career if he hadn’t been so focused on the practical applications of his degrees in economics. What these guys taught me over the years and through the several workshops we codesigned and conducted was that security and economics were two sides of the same coin, both built around the principles of connectivity and rule sets. With security, you deal mostly with the disconnected and the rule breakers, but conquering that challenge is what yields the economic opportunities associated with growing connectivity and adherence to rule sets.

To Bud and Phil, it was all about knowing what the rules were and either playing by them or accepting the consequences of non-adherence. Phil once explained to me why Cantor [Fitzgerald] didn’t dive into Russia in the early 1990s, when plenty of firms were rushing in with their investments.
‘Those guys simply weren’t playing by the rules we believe are essential to making markets work . . . If they don’t want to play nicely, we simply stay home. No rules, no money.’” (Pages 198-199)

After laying out what he calls his Decalogue – a Ten Commandments for Globalization (Pages 199-205), Barnett neatly summarizes the historical context we now find ourselves facing. He also wraps up one of his main arguments – that in the 21st Century, our military leaders need to learn to think about warfare “in the context of everything else.”

“Understanding globalization’s most crucial strands of connectivity (the flows of people, energy, money, security) helps us understand the nature of the grand historical struggle we now face. It puts this war on terrorism within the context of everything else. It helps us understand why our loved ones won’t be coming home anytime soon. It helps us realize the balance of life all around us and why America’s continued role as security Leviathan across the Gap is necessary not only for keeping the violence over there, but for making sure that globalization makes it over there.

If you want a happy ending to this story, you will find it here. These flows speak of how we make globalization truly global. They form the outline of the future worth creating."
(Page 205)

Barnett envisions a future American military that will be bifurcated into two very different structures and will play two very different roles – a strike force for dealing quickly and violently with the world’s rule breakers, and a “system administrator” cadre for long-term nation-building and winning-the-peace responsibilities.

“America’s task is not perpetual war, nor the extension of the empire. It is merely to serve as globalization’s bodyguard wherever and whenever needed throughout the Gap. This is a boundable problem with a foreseeable finish line. Moreover, if properly reconfigured, our military currently possesses all the skill sets needed to play both Leviathan across the Gap and ‘system administrator’ to the Core’s ever-deepening security community. It is not a question of ‘paying any price’ but rather being far more explicit – both with ourselves and our allies – about what America seeks to achieve through application of military force in this global war on terrorism. In short, we need to make it clear to all – but especially to ourselves – that the American way of war serves a purpose far higher than merely assuring the country’s security or imposing its justice upon others. To achieve this lofty aim requires nothing less than recasting the very structure of the U.S. military.” (Page 298)

I will finish my excerpting from Barnett with his insightful revelation about what makes our military so special – and indeed, unique:

“You want to know what makes our military so scary to the rest of the world? Our noncommissioned officers wield more decision-making power on the battlefield than basically every other nation’s admirals and generals. When you fight Americans, you face the worst of all enemies: disciplined creativity.” (Page 332)

This is precisely the point that Nate Fick, author of “One Bullet Away,” makes when he describes to U.S. Marine Corps’ concept of the “strategic corporal.”

This is a significant book that treats an issue of vital national interest. You may not agree with all that Barnett has to say in this book, but I can guarantee that you will find it insightful, informative, challenging and a good investment of your time and synapses!

Al

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

10 Things A Janitor Can Teach You About Leadership – By Col. James Moschgat, Through The Kindness Of Jim Savard

Jim Savard, graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, often serves as a source for thought-provoking and challenging information. As soon as I read his e-mail this morning, I knew that I had to share it with readers of The White Rhino Report. Chills up and down my spine and tears in my eyes while reading are usually a pretty reliable indication that something has touched me deeply! I trust this story will touch and inspire you, as well, to look at the “Mr. Crawfords” in your life through different eyes.

* * * *

This is a long one but a must read. It is a true story of a very special man who once worked at my school, the Air Force Academy. There are ten leadership values listed at the end, and they can serve you well as you journey through life, both in and out of the military. Thanks to all the Mr. Crawfords and all the "difference makers" in our lives and thanks to COL Moschgat for reminding us of them.

10 Things a Janitor Can Teach You about Leadership

By - Col. James Moschgat, 12th Operations Group Commander
Graduate United States Air Force Academy - Class of 1977

William Bill Crawford certainly was an unimpressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Mr. Crawford, as most of us referred to him back in the late 1970s, was our squadron janitor.

While we cadets busied ourselves preparing for academic exams, athletic events, Saturday morning parades and room inspections, or never-ending leadership classes, Bill quietly moved about the squadron mopping and buffing floors, emptying trash cans, cleaning toilets, or just tidying up the mess 100 college-age kids can leave in a dormitory.

Sadly, and for many years, few of us gave him much notice, rendering little more than a passing nod or throwing a curt, “G’morning!” in his direction as we hurried off to our daily duties. Why? Perhaps it was because of the way he did his job-he always kept the squadron area spotlessly clean, even the toilets and showers gleamed. Frankly, he did his job so well, none of us had to notice or get involved. After all, cleaning toilets was his job, not ours.

Maybe it was his physical appearance that made him disappear into the background. Bill didn't move very quickly and, in fact, you could say he even shuffled a bit, as if he suffered from some sort of injury. His gray hair and wrinkled face made him appear ancient to a group of young cadets.

And his crooked smile, well, it looked a little funny. Face it, Bill was an old man working in a young person's world. What did he have to offer us on a personal level?

Finally, maybe it was Mr. Crawford's personality that rendered him almost invisible to the young people around him. Bill was shy, almost painfully so. He seldom spoke to a cadet unless they addressed him first, and that didn't happen very often. Our janitor always buried himself in his work, moving about with stooped shoulders, a quiet gait, and an averted gaze. If he noticed the hustle and bustle of cadet life around him, it was hard to tell. So, for whatever reason, Bill blended into the woodwork and became just another fixture around the squadron. The Academy, one of our nation's premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from dawn till dusk.

And Mr. Crawford...well, he was just a janitor.

That changed one fall Saturday afternoon in 1976. I was reading a book about World War II and the tough Allied ground campaign in Italy, when I stumbled across an incredible story. On Sept. 13, 1943, a Private William Crawford from Colorado, assigned to the 36th Infantry Division, had been involved in some bloody fighting on Hill 424 near Altavilla, Italy. The words on the page leapt out at me: in the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire ... with no regard for personal safety on his own initiative, Private Crawford single-handedly attacked fortified enemy positions. It continued, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, the President of the United States ... "Holy cow," I said to my roommate, "you're not going to believe this, but I think our janitor is a Medal of Honor winner."

We all knew Mr. Crawford was a WWII Army vet, but that didn't keep my friend from looking at me as if I was some sort of alien being. Nonetheless, we couldn't wait to ask Bill about the story on Monday. We met Mr. Crawford bright and early Monday and showed him the page in question from the book, anticipation and doubt on our faces.

He stared at it for a few silent moments and then quietly uttered something like, Yep, that's me. Mouths agape, my roommate and I looked at one another, then at the book, and quickly back at our janitor. Almost at once we both stuttered, "Why didn't you ever tell us about it?" He slowly replied after some thought, "That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago." I guess we were all at a loss for words after that. We had to hurry off to class and Bill, well, he had chores to attend to.

However, after that brief exchange, things were never again the same around our squadron. Word spread like wildfire among the cadets that we had a hero in our midst - Mr. Crawford, our janitor, had won the Medal! Cadets who had once passed by Bill with hardly a glance, now greeted him with a smile and a respectful, Good morning, Mr. Crawford.

Those who had before left a mess for the janitor to clean up started taking it upon themselves to put things in order. Most cadets routinely stopped to talk to Bill throughout the day and we even began inviting him to our formal squadron functions. He'd show up dressed in a conservative dark suit and quietly talk to those who approached him, the only sign of his heroics being a simple blue, star-spangled lapel pin.

Almost overnight, Bill went from being a simple fixture in our squadron to one of our teammates. Mr. Crawford changed too, but you had to look closely to notice the difference. After that fall day in 1976, he seemed to move with more purpose, his shoulders didn't seem to be as stooped, he met our greetings with a direct gaze and a stronger good morning in return, and he flashed his crooked smile more often. The squadron gleamed as always, but everyone now seemed to notice it more. Bill even got to know most of us by our first names, something that didn't happen often at the Academy.

While no one ever formally acknowledged the change, I think we became Bill's cadets and his squadron. As often happens in life, events sweep us away from those in our past. The last time I saw Bill was on graduation day in June 1977. As I walked out of the squadron for the last time, he shook my hand and simply said, "Good luck, young man."

With that, I embarked on a career that has been truly lucky and blessed. Mr. Crawford continued to work at the Academy and eventually retired in his native Colorado where he resides today, one of four Medal of Honor winners living in a small town.

A wise person once said, "It's not life that's important, but those you meet along the way that make the difference." Bill was one who made a difference for me. While I haven't seen Mr. Crawford in over twenty years, he'd probably be surprised to know I think of him often. Bill Crawford, our janitor, taught me many valuable, unforgettable leadership lessons. Here are ten I'd like to share with you.

1. Be Cautious of Labels.

Labels you place on people may define your relationship to them and bound their potential. Sadly, and for a long time, we labeled Bill as just a janitor, but he was so much more. Therefore, be cautious of a leader who callously says, "Hey, he's just an Airman." Likewise, don't tolerate the O-1, who says, "I can't do that, I'm just a lieutenant."

2. Everyone Deserves Respect.

Because we hung the janitor label on Mr. Crawford, we often wrongly treated him with less respect than others around us. He deserved much more, and not just because he was a Medal of Honor winner. Bill deserved respect because he was a janitor, walked among us, and was a part of our team.

3. Courtesy Makes a Difference.

Be courteous to all around you, regardless of rank or position. Military customs, as well as common courtesies, help bond a team. When our daily words to Mr. Crawford turned from perfunctory hellos to heartfelt greetings, his demeanor and personality outwardly changed. It made a difference for all of us.

4. Take Time to Know Your People.

Life in the military is hectic, but that's no excuse for not knowing the people you work for and with. For years a hero walked among us at the Academy and we never knew it. Who are the heroes that walk in your midst?

5. Anyone Can Be a Hero.

Mr. Crawford certainly didn't fit anyone's standard definition of a hero. Moreover, he was just a private on the day he won his Medal. Don't sell your people short, for any one of them may be the hero who rises to the occasion when duty calls. On the other hand, its easy to turn to your proven performers when the chips are down, but don't ignore the rest of the team. Today's rookie could and should be tomorrow's superstar.

6. Leaders Should Be Humble.

Most modern day heroes and some leaders are anything but humble, especially if you calibrate your hero meter on today's athletic fields. End zone celebrations and self-aggrandizement are what we've come to expect from sports greats. Not Mr. Crawford --- he was too busy working to celebrate his past heroics. Leaders would be well served to do the same.

7. Life Won't Always Hand You What You Think You Deserve.

We in the military work hard and, dang it, we deserve recognition, right? However, sometimes you just have to persevere, even when accolades don't come your way. Perhaps you weren't nominated for junior officer or airman of the quarter as you thought you should - don't let that stop you.

8. Don't Pursue Glory; Pursue Excellence.

Private Bill Crawford didn't pursue glory; he did his duty and then swept floors for a living. No matter what task life hands you, do it well. Mr. Crawford modeled that philosophy and helped make our dormitory area a home.

9. No Job is Beneath a Leader.

If Bill Crawford, a Medal of Honor winner, could clean latrines and smile, is there a job beneath your dignity? Think about it.

10. Life is a Leadership Laboratory.

All too often we look to some school or PME class to teach us about leadership when, in fact, life is a leadership laboratory. Those you meet everyday will teach you enduring lessons if you just take time to stop, look and listen. I spent four years at the Air Force Academy, took dozens of classes, read hundreds of books, and met thousands of great people. I gleaned leadership skills from all of them, but one of the people I remember most is Mr. Bill Crawford and the lessons he unknowingly taught. Don't miss your opportunity to learn. Bill Crawford was a janitor. However, he was also a teacher, friend, role model and one great American hero.

Thanks, Mr. Crawford, for some valuable leadership lessons.

*****************************************

And now, for the rest of the story.........

Pvt. William John Crawford was a platoon scout for 3rd Platoon of Company L 142nd Regiment 36th Division (Texas National Guard) and won the Medal of Honor for his actions on Hill 424, just 4 days after the invasion at Salerno. You can read his citation at www.army.mil/cmh-pg/mohiia1.htm.

On Hill 424, Pvt. Crawford took out 3 enemy machine guns before darkness fell, halting the platoons advance. Pvt. Crawford could not be found and was assumed dead. The request for his MOH was quickly approved. MG Terry Allen presented the posthumous MOH to Bill Crawford's father, George, on 11 May 1944 in Camp (now Fort) Carson, near Pueblo. Nearly two months after that, it was learned that Pvt. Crawford was alive in a POW camp in Germany. During his captivity, a German guard clubbed him with his rifle. Bill overpowered him, took the rifle away, and beat the guard unconscious. A German doctor's testimony saved him from severe punishment, perhaps death. To stay ahead of the advancing Russian army, the prisoners were marched 500 miles in 52 days in the middle of the German winter, subsisting on one potato a day. An allied tank column liberated the camp in the spring of 1945, and Pvt. Crawford took his first hot shower in 18 months on VE Day. Pvt. Crawford stayed in the army before retiring as a MSG and becoming a janitor.

"There are more men enabled by study than by nature." - Cicero

* * * *
Thank, Jim Savard, for sharing this story.

I challenge each person who just read about Mr. Crawford to find one "invisible individual" in your life and find a way today to say "thank you."

Al

Monday, March 13, 2006

Iraq War Doctor: On Call in Hell - A Must Read!

When Newsweek begins an article with a quotation from the Bible, I know it is not just another day at the office!

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here I am. Send me!"Isaiah 7:8

In an article that my colleague, Richard Rhodes, just pointed out to me on MSN.com, Newsweek chronicles the amazing story of combat surgeon, Dr. Richard Jadick. The story recounts all that Dr. Jadick did to earn the first Bronze Star with a Combat V awarded a Navy medical officer since the Viet Nam War.

It is a story of courage, innovation, valor, and pathos. This story will move you.

Al

Iraq War Doctor: On Call in Hell - Newsweek: International Editions - MSNBC.com

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part IV: “Perseverance” by Chris Squier

Chapter Four of Kelly Perdew’s book, “Take Command,” is entitled “Perseverance: It’s Not The Size of the Dog in the Fight; It’s the Size of the Fight in the Dog.” Perdew calls this attribute the one quality that any entrepreneur must have in order to succeed. He quotes liberally on perseverance from the likes of Napoleon, Samuel Johnson, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Edison and Ross Perot.

Last week’s installment on “Passion” was written by my friend, Scott St. Germain. As I was getting to know Scott during his graduate student days at Harvard Business School, Scott said to me one day: “There is someone I want you to meet. Chris Squier and I were together at West Point, and we are here at HBS together.” Thanks to Scott’s kind introduction, I have come to know and respect Chris Squier as a man of intelligence, integrity, passion, humor – and yes – perseverance! Those of you who have been around West Point in the past 10-15 years may be aware of the tradition of the “Corn Chowder shout” that occasionally echoes through the Mess Hall and reverberates down the line of sally ports and out onto The Plain. It can now be revealed that Chris Squier was the original “Corn Chowder Man”! (The story will be given reverent treatment in my upcoming novel – but that is a story for another time!)

When I asked Chris Squier if he would be willing to participate in this project on transition from the military to the business world, he wisely chose to offer his views on Perseverance. I am pleased to share them with you today.

* * * *

Perseverance

Chris Squier

If you’re looking for inspiration, read no further. This installment is all about perseverance. Making it through. Keeping on. Sucking it up. Sucking it down.

Some of this lack-of-inspiration will come from the fact that given the honorable, esteemed experiences of so many of you actual war veterans, my military stories from a safe, five-year stint between middle-east conflicts would be pretty dull. Rotations to the National Training Center and hours spent in the motor pool don’t inspire much, so you won’t hear about those here.

But, what I am a veteran of is the transition out of the military. I left Army Intelligence in October 2000 with “expertise” in map reading and Russian army tactics, at least that’s how the civilian marketplace viewed it, and headed to Atlanta to be “master of my own destiny.” I resolved to pursue my dream of--get this--building a modern city from the ground up. By November, I was in a new town with a mortgage, a family to feed, and no job to enable making December’s house payment. Mr. Master-of-my-own-destiny became Mr. Doesn’t-have-a-pot-to-piss-in. I remember it was my birthday, and my broke butt was raking leaves in my new (possibly soon to be the bank’s) little yard and thinking, “
God, what have I done!?” and “how can I let down my family like this?” My wife and son were depending on me; I had to find a way to make it through.

So, I figured my best option in terms of jobs was to fall back, temporarily, on my civil engineering degree and build my resume. I found an interesting but unfulfilling and low-paying job with a defense contractor, and during that time I checked my options. I set my sights on a city planning degree at a graduate school in Atlanta. I got the “ex-military have no real-life skills” treatment from the faculty, and discovered that being a planner on a city staff wasn’t actually going to allow me to “build cities” after all. So I changed direction once again (with the advice of some friends) and went to business school to be a real estate developer.

Another move. No pay. Another baby. Two years of class all day, study all night where my wife basically became a single parent (wives of military guys have to persevere too!). I spent every 3-day weekend flying from Boston back to Atlanta looking for a job, and every week-long break driving the 18 ½ hours to save a few bucks on plane fare. While my fellow students were landing real internships at real companies, I was so determined to do real estate development that I did my own job search with no help from campus recruiting since real estate in the Southeast US wasn’t popular at the time. As a result, all I could scrape together was an internship with the federal government building courthouses where I mostly was paid through a grant from my school. We moved for the summer to a dump of an apartment complex and lived underneath a temporary living quarters for illegal immigrants.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but basically, I refused to let go of my desire to build cities, even when the job market, the resources available to me, and just plain common sense said I should move on to something else. Eventually, the whims of job searchers had changed to where everyone wanted to get into real estate development. At my age level, there weren’t too many folks, myself included, who had much real estate experience. But, unlike most of my competitors, I at least suffered through a summer internship actually doing development, and because I’d done probably over 30 interviews, I’d learned quite a bit along the way from developers across the Southeast, or at least a little bit more than my competition. So, I got my foot in the door at Trammell Crow in Charlotte, but in a general management position. Still, I kept up on the real estate market, and continued to send emails to my “network” of past interviewers just to let them know where I’d landed. After a year, I received a totally unexpected job offer from a developer in Charlotte I’d spoken to years before. And now, I’m working for that development company, building mixed-use Town Centers; in other words, building cities! I made it, and I couldn’t be happier now that I’m here.

In retrospect, I learned a few things about myself. First among those is that perseverance is not an end, it is the means. Whether on the battlefield or in the job market, I’m sure all of you have had to ask these questions: What is the ‘harder right’ instead of the ‘easier wrong’ I should be doing right now? Should I soldier on in one direction or should I have the guts to change course? Both are hard, but which one ultimately gets me to where I should be? No one, of course, knows the answer; we can only operate on the best information we have at the time. I can tell you, though, that uninformed, head-down, plodding forward is not the answer. Remember land navigation? Pick a point on the next hilltop, and then trudge through the briars and swamps as you cut a path to your point. But when you get there, check your compass and your map to set yourself in the right direction toward your final destination. Check, move forward. Check, move sideways or backwards to get back on course. Check, move forward again. Again and again and again. That’s perseverance. Charging forward mindlessly is called being stubborn, or lost, or both. Generals Pickett and Custer saw perseverance as an end; Sherman and MacArthur saw perseverance as the means to an end.

Perseverance also exists in relation to some of the other leadership values written about in this series. If you truly have passion for something, you’ll persevere towards that goal. And when passion fades, those with a strong sense of duty persevere still. True perseverance, true survival and sticking it out to the end, also requires an incredible amount of flexibility, which, as I alluded to earlier, is where perseverance is most understood. The modern military understands this, at least in theory, by emphasizing the Mission. It’s up to the individual leader to accomplish the Mission in the best manner, not necessarily the fastest or most direct. When you’re under fire, accomplishing the Mission, and surviving, is often best done through the most indirect route.

Another interesting thing is that perseverance encourages planning. Despite what greeting cards and motivational posters might say, once you’ve persevered down a few bad roads you realize that it’s not always all about the “journey”; sometimes it really is about the destination. Trust me, taking four years to transition out of the military into a new career is not about the journey. Driving 18 ½ hours from Boston to Atlanta with two screaming kids and a smelly dog is not about the journey! After a few bad experiences, you start to figure out that better planning and preparedness beats toughing it out any day. Experienced military guys have figured out that bringing your rain gear, an MRE and an extra pair of socks sure beats persevering through the night while you’re cold, wet, tired, and hungry. In the civilian work force, the same principal applies. Instead of deciding to lazily sleep in and wing it at a presentation to a client, only to persevere through showing up late and embarrassingly answering
“I’ll get back to you on that” to every question, those who’ve persevered once or twice figure out it’s much easier to get up early, rehearse, and confidently execute.

As you read through these ramblings, many of you are probably thinking,
“yeah, that sucks, but I’ve had to persevere through worse.” And you know what, you’re right! Another interesting characteristic that service people have is the ability to recognize that everything is relative: I’m cold right now, but I’ve been colder; I’ve eaten a scrambled-egg MRE three times this week, but I remember the time I didn’t eat for three days, and when my grandfather was in WWII he sometimes didn’t eat for a week, so this ain’t so bad. I sometimes “persevere” through late nights at the office knowing my kids will be in bed when I get home, but unlike when I was in the Army and unlike those currently serving overseas, at least I’ll see my kids this day/month/year. Persevere through this (fill in the blank) situation? I’ve dealt with worse, and my brothers still serving are persevering through more than I can imagine, so this is nothing.

The last thing about perseverance I’ve learned is that it’s a whole lot easier if someone does it with you. For most folks, the role of a confidant and trusted advisor goes to the only one in their lives they can trust, and that’s a spouse. But as military guys and gals know, making tough career decisions that might impact your family in the short term in order to improve their lives for the long run is tough business, it’s even tougher for your spouse if halfway through the journey you “whip out the map” to check your course, worse yet abandon your destination. In my case, I’ve always had the opportunity to call one of my Army buddies just to help me play out scenarios, double-check my intuition, or simply be there to help carry the load, literally sometimes given all the moves I’ve had to ask for help on. Yes, perseverance is relative, and we learn from it how to be flexible and focus on the prize, and we’re better prepared for it as time goes on, and the military helped me with all this. But more than teaching me how to persevere, how to bear the load, the military introduced me to a circle of friends who make the load a lot more bearable.

Soldier on.

* * * *

PERSEVERANCE

Thank you, Chris.

(This series will continue next week with . . . .

10 Leaders Share Their Views On Leadership – Part V: “Planning” by Chris Crane)

I encourage you to share this series with others you feel would benefit from the insights of these leaders.

Al

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Book That Is Hard To Categorize – Mini-Review of “Lamb” by Christopher Moore

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of going to see Les Miserables on stage (see Blog posting for February 27 -
http://whiterhinoreport.blogspot.com/2006/02/les-miserables-transcendent-experience.html),
Jason Henrichs and his fiancĂ©e, Inga, hosted a gathering of about a dozen friends. During that evening, I led and facilitated a discussion of the spiritual underpinnings of the Les Miserables story. At the end of the evening, Inga and Jason surprised and delighted me with the gift of a book – a book I had never heard of before. The gift that he and Inga proffered was “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” by Christopher Moore.

I am not often at a loss for words, but I had to struggle to figure out how best to describe this novel. So, here we go . . .

Take one part “Life of Brian,” one part “Confederacy of Dunces,” one part Tom Robbins’ zany “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” throw in a dash of “Portnoy’ s Complaint,” and you might just began to imagine the zesty flavor of this “Lamb.” I have never read Moore before now, but it is clear that he is a master of the outrageous, hilarious imaginative and profane. I am quite certain that most of my theologically conservative friends would find this book offensive because of the language that Moore places in the mouths of his characters. In my very subjective opinion, he often teeters on the edge of the precipice of blasphemy without ever plunging into that abyss. This tongue-in-cheek romp through the life of Jesus – as told through the eyes of his fictional best boyhood friend, Levi (“Call me Biff”) is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, it is outrageous, sacrilegious, and ribald. On the other hand, it is strangely respectful, awe-filled, poignant and sweet.

Moore gives strong hints at what was fueling his desire to write such a book – in his epigraphs, Author’s Blessing and Afterword.

“God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh.” Voltaire

Author’s Blessing

If you have come to these pages for laughter, may you find it.
If you are here to be offended, may your ire rise and your blood boil.
If you seek an adventure, may this story sing you away to blissful escape.
If you need to test or confirm your beliefs, may you reach comfortable conclusions.
All books reveal perfection, by what they are or what they are not.
May you find that which you seek, in these pages or outside them.
May you find perfection, and know it by name.

And these revealing words from the Afterward:

“Theologically, I made certain assumptions about who Jesus was, mainly that he was who the Gospels say he was.” (Page 441)

For me, the real revelation of this novel was that it forced me to confront a story that I grew up with – the story of Jesus' life and death, and to think about it in a whole new light. It forced me out of the “Sunday School mentality” that many of us bring to envisioning the life of Christ – a sanitized, Ozzie and Harriet, Partridge Family view of life in first century Galilee. This recasting and retelling of the story had the effect of making me want to go back and re-read the Gospels through grittier and earthier lenses. If the reading of “Lamb” leads others to read the Gospels – again or for the first time – then it will have served a very useful purpose.

“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

Thank you, Christopher Moore, for making me laugh and think

Thank you, Inga and Jason, for your thoughtful gift.

Enjoy.

Al

"Change This" - An Amazing Resource

I first became aware of "Change This" a few weeks ago when my friend, Bob Allard, submitted his paper on "The Care and Feeding of Your Network" for potential inclusion as a "Change This Manifesto." A draft of the paper was printed in this Blog on December 5, and many readers of The White Rhino Report voted for the paper to be designated a permanent "Manifesto." Congratulations to Bob and his co-author, Richard Banfield. Their paper was accepted as one of the most recent additions to "Change This."

The best way that I can describe "Change This" would be to call it a forum where thought leaders from a variety of fields have an opportunity to write at length about an issue that they are passionate about, and which is often given short shrift in the traditional media. The founders of the site give credit to Seth Godin for proposing the idea.

To read Bob and Richard's Manifesto, click on the Link below:

THE LINK: http://www.changethis.com/21.CareFeedingOfNetwork

* * * *

In the course of logging onto "Change This" to read the Networking Manifest, I happened across another recent addition. The familiar name of the author grabbed my attention: Tom Peters. I first became aware of Tom through his book "In Search of Excellence."

In this article, taken from a recent speech he gave to GE executives, Peters reminds us of some tried and true principles of selling. You can skim through it in a few minutes, but the food for thought will "stick to your ribs."

111 RIDICULOUSLY OBVIOUS THOUGHTS ON SELLING

by Tom Peters

"In his singular fashion, Tom Peters will jump-start your sales passions with this masterly list of tips."

THE LINK: http://changethis.com/21.01.111ThoughtsOnSelling

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An Eloquent Description Of A Bi-Cultural Life

I am a huge fan of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri. This Indian-American woman has written with great passion and eloquence in the March 6 edition of Newsweek - an issue devoted to India's emerging role of influence in the world.

In her collection of short stories, "Interpreter of Maladies," and in her novel, "Namesake," she examines the Indian-America experience through a variety of lenses. In the Newsweek essay, she takes us inside her own journey of growing up "hyphenated."

It is a thoughtful and evocative piece.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11569225/site/newsweek/

Les Miz Follow-up - Commenting On Film Versions

In commenting on my recent Blog posting about Les Miserables, my son, Scott, posted the following remarks:

I wonder how many of the several FILM versions of the book you have seen, and what your opinion, compared to the stage production, is of each of them.

I won’t write extensively in response to Scott’s question, but I do want to make some brief observations.

I do not consider myself an expert on this topic. I saw the most recent version, Bille August’s 1998 release starring Liam Neeson as Valjean. I found the film to be satisfying at many levels, but as is often the case with many film adaptations of complex novels, it got lost in telling the literal story and missed much of the spiritual underpinnings of Hugo’s profound book. I had the same problem with the most recent film adaptaiton of John Irving's book, "A Prayer for Owen Meany." The film version, "Simon Birch," completely missed the point of Irving's book and was a hollow shell. But, I digress!

In my opinion, nothing comes close to the stage version in fully capturing the many dimensions of Hugo’s tale. Perhaps it is the addition of music that for me adds to the experience of watching the story unfold on stage, but when I watch the stage version, I find myself being moved to respond at several levels at once – cognitive, spiritual, emotional, philosophical. I cannot say the same for the film version – as good as it was.

In the course of thinking about Scott’s question, I found the following link in which brief reviews are offered for all of the film versions that have been made to date of Les Miserables.

http://www.geocities.com/stuartfernie/Misfilms.htm

Al