Saturday, July 28, 2007

Renaissance Men and Women in the Corner Office – What CEO’s Keep in Their Libraries

My friend, David Gebben, a graduate student in Michigan, was kind enough to make me aware of an article that he knew I would appreciate – along with readers of The White Rhino Report. Harriet Rubin wrote a piece that appeared in the July 21 editions of The New York Times: “C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success.”

I have always been of the opinion that the best leaders are also the best readers, and this article buttresses that argument. One of the most gratifying questions anyone can ask me is: “Can you recommend some books that I should be reading?” I have had several individuals about to deploy to Iraq ask me that question, as well as a number of people who have finished with their formal school but wish to maintain a stance of life-long learning.

A couple of years ago I reviewed a book written by a well-known author. Subsequent to my reviewing his book, he was planning on being in Boston, so we scheduled a day to meet face-to-face for the first time. In the interval between my publishing the review of his book and the author’s trip to Boston, he took the time to read several other reviews that I had posted on The White Rhino Report. His opening statement when we met was something like: “I have been reading your Blog. I need to be reading the kinds of books you are reading and reviewing. Would you mind sharing with me your reading list?”

If I want a quick “read” on a person I have just met, I frequently will ask them: “Tell me what you are reading right now for pleasure. What books – fiction and non-fiction – have had the greatest impact on who you are as a human being?” I know of no better way to plumb the depths of a person’s thought processes, decision-making processes and value system than by carefully listening to them respond to these queries. If you are someone who does a lot of interviewing, I challenge you to depart from the usual interview script and interject questions along these lines. It is a far more effective way to reveal "strengths and weaknesses" than resorting to the old chestnut: "Tell me about your greatest strength and your greatest weakness" - a question that everyone has "rehearsed" answering. Whether or not the candidate is currently reading for pleasure and the insight they offer in talking about what they have read and why allows you to discern strengths and weaknesses in real time. Do you really want to hire someone who does not read?

Here are some quotations from Ms. Rubin’s article that grabbed me. A link follows to the entire article.

“If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: ‘Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,’ suggests David Leach, chief executive of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division. Mr. Leach has stocked his cabin in the woods of North Carolina with the collected works of Aristotle.”

“Poetry speaks to many C.E.O.’s. ‘I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as managers,’ says Sidney Harman, founder of Harman Industries, a $3 billion producer of sound systems for luxury cars, theaters and airports. Mr. Harman maintains a library in each of his three homes, in Washington, Los Angeles and Aspen, Colo. ‘Poets are our original systems thinkers,’ he said. ‘They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.’



Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Keeping Up the Pressure to Do the Right Thing in Addressing the Malaise of Veterans’ Health Care

This article in yesterday’s Boston Globe caught my eye, in that it drew my attention back to the chronic condition that plagues our veterans’ healthcare system.

If the following quote does not cause your blood pressure to spike, then something is wrong:

“Today, the VA's backlog of disability payments is between 400,000 and 600,000, with delays of up to 177 days to process an initial claim and an average of 657 days to process an appeal. Several congressional committees and a presidential commission are now studying ways to improve care.”

We send our sons and daughters to the far ends of the earth to project our policies, subject them to deprivation and the death of their comrades in arms, and then subject them to the most outrageous delays and bureaucratic snafus imaginable when they ask for help in returning to some semblance of normal life. This is a moral outrage.

Which Presidential candidates are talking about this scandal and lack of faith with our young warriors and those who fought in prior conflicts? Where is the pressure on Congress and the administration to clean up this mess?

If you are as disgusted as I am, please do something – make a call, write a letter.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Feel Good Story from the Red Sox Major League Team – Jon Lester Returns to the Starting Rotation Tonight

There will not be many dry eyes amongst Red Sox Nation tonight when Jon Lester steps on the mound at Cleveland’s Jacobs’ Field. As even the most casual baseball fan is aware, this gifted and courageous young left-hander has overcome cancer to battle back to join a club that can boast the most wins – 59 – in this 2007 MLB race that is nearing the clubhouse turn. The Red Sox and Lester’s medical team have been cautious about easing him back to the major league roster. We are all hoping for a great performance that will be reflected in the box score, but in the minds of most fans, Jon Lester has already proven he is a winner.

Ironically, his 2007 season and road back began this spring while playing for Gabe Kapler’s Single A Greenville Drive! (See preceding Blog posting).

Dan Shaughnessy, in this morning’s Boston Globe, has written a fine column that outlines the story of Lester’s illness and his comeback.

Our prayers and best wishes are with the Lester and his family – tonight and throughout what promises to be a brilliant career.

A Feel Good Story from the Red Sox Minor Leagues – The Strength of Gabe Kapler

When he was on the roster of the Boston Red Sox, Gabe Kapler made his presence felt – on the field, on the bench, in the clubhouse and in the community. Over the past several years, I have had several opportunities to have conversations with Gabe Kapler. I find him to be among the most thoughtful and articulate athletes I have met. So I was delighted to read in this Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine, this beautifully written article about Gabe’s new gig as a fledgling manager in the Red Sox minor league system – leading the Single A affiliate, the Greenville Drive.

In this insightful article, Charles P. Pierce of the Boston Globe has captured the essence of the man and the essence of minor league baseball in the 21st century. Ever the teacher and student of baseball – and of life – Gabe Kapler emerges in this profile as someone as passionate about stopping domestic violence - teaching young men not to "hit and run" in their relationships with women - as he is about teaching his young charges to executive the hit and run on the baseball diamond.

I am not alone in predicting that one day this thoughtful and driven man will be sitting in the manger’s seat on the bench of a major league club.


“Duty, Honor … Reelection?” - A Veteran of Iraq Speaks Out About Congress and the Call for Immediate Withdrawal

Alex Gallo is my friend. He is also a very thoughtful and well-informed veteran of Iraq, a graduate of West Point, and a current student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In an Op-Ed piece in the National Review Online, entitledDuty, Honor … Reelection? Conduct unbecoming senators,” he speaks forcefully and persuasively in challenging members of Congress to think through the strategic and moral implications of their call for the immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq.

No matter where you stand on the war and the issue of a timetable for withdrawal, Mr. Gallo’s words are worth reading and heeding.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Deeply Troubling Catch-22 in Iraq - Another Abu Ghraib Casualty

In the June 26 edition of The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh offers a thoroughly researched and scathing account of the vilification of a hero – Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. The article is entitled: The General’s Report - How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties.

You may read the article in its entirety by following the link at the end of this posting. I am grateful to my friend, Luke, for making me aware of this article.

The article chronicles the response the Maj. Gen. Taguba has received as a result of the report that he wrote concerning the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison. The allegations outlined by Hersh are deeply troubling on many levels – painting a picture of a conspiracy of silence and plausible deniability leading all the way to the office of the Secretary of Defense. Having been tasked to write a report on the scandal, limited in scope to investigating only the Military Police who were operating Abu Ghraib, but not their superior officers, Taguba still managed to offend and alienate senior military and civilian Department of Defense officials, up to Rumsfeld himself.

A culture of plausible deniability has existed in Washington since I have been paying attention to national affairs. – and most probably for many generations before I came along! Watergate and Iran Contra are two examples that come immediately to mind in which the phrase: “What did he know and when did he know it?” became an oft repeated mantra.

Sadly, I must admit that the revelations in Hersh’s article and the testimony of Taguba did not come as a surprise to me. I have the benefit of prior awareness of the Pentagon’s conflicted and ambivalent response to the Abu Ghraib affair.

I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who is a retired military officer. He has earned enormous respect in the military community, academic world and private sector. He was asked by the Pentagon to conduct a thorough investigation of the Abu Ghraib fiasco. He accepted the assignment, but when he began digging for answers, he was met with stonewalling tactics on every front – from the very people who purported to want to know what had happened. Shades of Jack Nicholson’s character, Col. Jessep in “A Few Good Men”: “You can’t handle the truth!” Knowing that he could not, with integrity, produce a report without unrestricted access to the full story, he walked away from the assignment. And our nation is poorer as a result of this cover-up.

It is axiomatic that war is hell and abuses and atrocities have occurred throughout the history of warfare. I have come to see that in this flawed and broken world, war is probably a necessary evil. And as long as war is inevitable, as a nation we need to prepare for the possibility of war by training our best young people to fight in defense of freedom. I have close personal relationships with many of these professional warriors. And I have the highest respect for them and their willingness to serve and to sacrifice. As an American, it troubles me to the depth of my soul that we would ask our sons and daughters to turn themselves into fighting machines, and then set them up to become scapegoats when abuses occur. The conduct of Secretary Rumsfeld and some of his chief aides in this affair is not consistent with my understanding of honor or of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Shame on them - and shame on us for letting them get away with it.

When we stoop to justifying and condoning abuse, and then vilify those who would hold us accountable, we start the long slide down the slippery slope that led to the horrific acts that were eventually revealed at Nuremburg. I don’t have any easy answers, but I thank the likes of Maj. Gen. Taguba, Seymour Hersh and others for having the courage to help us to ask the right questions.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Coal from Wales Turns into a Diamond – A Remarkable Voice and a Thrilling Story

If you could use a “feel good” story today – this is it!

I was at Fenway Park last night helping the Red Sox to kick off the second half of the season on the right foot. Joining me were my friends, Bob Allard and Dan O’Sullivan. In the course of our free-flowing conversation that spanned the nine innings, Bob happened to mention: “Did you get a chance to hear the remarkable singer who emerged on Simon Cowell’s show, 'Britain’s Got Talent'”?

What Bob told me about this individual was so intriguing that I came into the office early this morning to search out the footage on UTube. What I saw and heard moved me to tears. The story reads like a Charles Dickens script, with a touch of the film “Billy Elliott.” In short, a self-effacing, awkward working class Brit with a broken tooth – who has toiled as a mobile phone salesman – emerges as the unlikely winner of Britain’s talent search show – similar to “American Idol.”

I have copied links to several segments that I could not get enough of. They are, in order:

1) Paul Potts’ first audition, singing the very difficult Puccini aria, “Nessun Dorma” from the opera, Turandot;

2) His winning performance of “Time to Say Good-bye”

3) The awards show announcement of his victory

4) A virtual duet with Pavarotti

5) His appearance on “The Today Show”

6) Interview on British TV

7) Interview on British TV

What comes across loud and clear as I watch this progression of performances and interviews is the genuineness of this humble man who has been unexpectedly tapped for certain greatness as a performer. What I have just experienced in plunging headlong into the Paul Potts phenomenon is exhilarating, challenging and humbling.

As you watch this story emerge through watching these clips, I challenge you to process what you are seeing, hearing and feeling on several levels.

Ask yourself: “Is there a Paul Potts inside of me waiting to be let out? If there is, what’s holding me back?”

Then ask yourself: “Is there a potential Paul Potts somewhere in my life – in my family, in my neighborhood, among my colleagues at work? What can I do to encourage him/her to let the genie out of the bottle?”

The final line from the aria that has become Paul Potts’ signature piece is the strident, moving, ascending repetition of the line: Vincera, vincera, vincera!

I shall conquer!

How fitting!



Thursday, July 12, 2007

Air on the GI String – Art Emerges from the War Zone in Iraq

One of the old chestnuts of the violin repertoire in J.S. Bach’s “Air” from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major – usually referred to as “Air on the G String.” A U.S. GI – a medic serving a deployment in Iraq - has emerged as a master craftsman in building instruments fit to play Bach’s Air and anything else from the great composers who wrote for the violin.

My radar is always tuned to hear of men and women operating in “Renaissance Mode,” so this Newsweek article about Sgt. Geoffrey Allison caught my eye – and my ear. I left a comment on the Newsweek Website commending this Renaissance Man for his achievements:

“I commend you for highlighting the story of a warrior who is also clearly a Renaissance Man. For a medic to also be a master violin maker means that Sgt. Allison is instrumental in using his hands to offer two kinds of healing - one for the body and the other for the soul!”

I commend to the readers of The White Rhino Report this fascinating article.

Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast,

To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.

William Congreve