Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Where Is Our Sense of Outrage? - The Scandal of Veterans' Health Care

This week’s edition of Newsweek magazine offers as its cover story an in-depth discussion of the crisis in healthcare for our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The article seems to be balanced, well-researched – and deeply disturbing.

I have some personal knowledge of the woes of veterans struggling to receive adequate and timely service from the Veteran’s Administration. My brother retired from the U.S. Navy as a Senior Chief, and ever since is retirement has been battling a chronic and debilitating cocktail of symptoms that are clearly service-related. I have heard the stories of his battles with the bureaucracy of the VA and its dysfunctional web of hospitals scattered across the landscape.

I have heard too many first-hand and second-hand accounts of men and women returning from deployments overseas, only to run into a brick wall when it comes time to receive their benefits and appropriate healthcare. It is a national scandal that has somehow remained beneath the radar of most citizens. I applaud Newsweek for waving the bloody flag. The state of healthcare for our veterans should become a pivotal issue in the upcoming presidential election, but it will only become that if a grassroots groundswell emerges that forces each candidate to articulate a plan for radically restructuring both the bureaucracy and philosophy behind the current debacle.

In his introduction to the cover article, Newsweek editor, Jon Meacham, makes a very poignant point in quoting Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. The great speech, which contains the familiar cadences: ”with malice toward none, with charity for all,” also contains these lesser-known phrases: “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nations wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”

Meacham calls this a sacred American text that clearly articulates a sacred American duty. He could not be more right! It has been said that a society’s moral health can be judged by how it treats those who are helpless and defenseless. This is no less true for those who have defended our way of life, were wounded in the course of serving their country, and are now defenseless against the inertia of a healthcare system that is not ready to - in the words of Aldonza in “Man of La Mancha,” - "to minister to their wounds.”

The cynic in me must ask the rhetorical question: “Would the plight of our veterans be more in the public eye if they were living in Darfur?” I do not begrudge the outpouring of concern for those poor people. I have devoted part of my life to improving the lot of those living and dying in impoverished and war-torn nations, so I am a huge proponent of our doing our part to help those outside the U.S. who need our resources. But that does not justify turning a blind eye to those at home who have served, and who are being ill-served by the less-than-benign neglect of a healthcare system that is overburdened and underfunded. This is not a zero sum game. A nation that has expended many billions on the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan must be just as willing to pay the price of rehabilitating the lives of our children whom we have sent to war.

There is a pragmatic consideration in this whole struggle. Our military is an all-volunteer force. How long will we be able to sustain ourselves and attract new generations of volunteers if all they see in the eyes of those who have already served is the hurt that comes from disappointment and the rage that comes from betrayal.

We must act. If you are someone who is inclined to write your Senators and Congressman, I urge you to do so. We must hold our current leaders accountable for actually leading in this regard. In New England, with the upcoming presidential race, we will have plenty of opportunity to make sure the candidates are ware that we are watching how they develop a plan to fix this mess and cure this national malaise. We must use the town meetings and candidates coffees to raise the issue and keep it in the forefront of their minds.

We must bring to this crisis the same sense of urgency that caused President Kennedy to announce that within the decade we would put a man on the moon. If we can muster the will and the wherewithal to conquer space, we can launch a new initiative to leave the gravitational bonds of apathy and complacency and live up to the covenant we have made with those who have volunteered to fight for this great nation. And failure is not an option!


Another Boston Hidden Treasure - Rush Seats at the Boston Symphony

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has long been considered one of the world’s leading orchestras, and it is revered here in the Bay State as a valued cultural icon. Most performances during the orchestra’s season are sold out, as are performances at the BSO’s summer home at Tanglewood in the Berkshires. These are exciting times for the BSO. Musical Director, James Levine, has people buzzing. Some of the Boston’s Brahmins, grandes dames and “ladies who lunch” are apoplectic over his choice to add so many modern works to the BSO repertoire, but he is also attracting a new generation of listeners.

A little-known secret is that there is an endowed program that sets aside a certain number of seats for selected performances, and those seats are made available as “Rush Tickets” at a greatly reduced price. Rush seats are available for Tuesday evening, Thursday evening and Friday afternoon performances. For Rush Tickets, the ticket window inside Symphony Hall on the corner of Massachusetts and Huntington Avenues opens at 5:00 PM for evening performances, and 9:00 for afternoon concerts. The tickets are $8 per person, and must be paid in cash. Only one ticket per person will be sold.

I have taken advantage of this opportunity several times in the past few months, and have experiences some wonderful music – Mozart, Haydn, Sibelius, Debussy. It is my observation that not all the rush seats are used for each concert, so I am not afraid that by sharing this information I will be killing the goose that lays the golden egg! Prior to each concert, ticket holders are invited to attend a free pre-concert lecture that describes in detail the upcoming musical program.

Check out the BSO Website for upcoming concerts.

I look forward to seeing you in the Rush Ticket line for a future concert!


Monday, February 26, 2007

Review of “Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class” by Ross Gregory Douthat

The timing of my reading this book was fortuitous. I finished the book within a few days of my very moving experience of being at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for the tribute to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That event, in my opinion, represented Harvard at its best. Ross Gregory Douthat’s moving memoir of his four years as an undergraduate student at the Ivy League’s flagship institution paints a more complex and ambivalent picture of the university. There can be no doubt that Douthat loves his alma mater, but it clearly has been a tempestuous affair. I view this book as a love letter written by Douthat to a paramour who has not always been faithful, but to whom the author will nevertheless remain in lifelong thrall, despite his keen awareness of her failings.

As I read this very balanced and insightful glimpse inside the kimono of Dame Harvard, I was reminded of Senator James Webb and of Winston Churchill! After he graduated from the United States Naval Academy, Jim Webb wrote “A Sense of Honor,” a novel that was a thinly-veiled rendering of his four years as a midshipman – revealing the good, the bad and the ugly about life at Annapolis. The book was, in a phrase that Webb used in explaining to me his view of his controversial book, “A Valentine to a flawed lover.”

Churchill, in a 1947 reflection on the post-war state of the world and of the institution of democracy, made this memorable quotation: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Churchill's sardonic observation seems to capture perfectly Douthat’s ultimate message: Harvard is the worst possible liberal arts environment – except for all the rest!

I found his writing style to be compelling and vividly descriptive. I almost felt as if he had mounted a literary Web cam on his shoulder and allowed me to see the nooks and crannies of Harvard through his eyes. He is unblinking in his self-criticism and self-observation. I felt his ambivalence when he was simultaneously repulsed by the notion of auditioning to join of the prestige “final clubs” and disappointed when he did not make the final cut. These anachronistic societies continue to exert a strong gravitational pull on what passes for social life on campus. His personal anecdotes of the dating scene among the students at Harvard were revealing and fascinating – the sexual revolution demythologized and deconstructed.

The saga of Winston, the homeless man who squatted in Douthat’s dormitory for most of the school year, serves as a wonderful microcosm for taking a fresh look at the traditional “town vs. gown” tensions that are part of the fabric of most university towns. The juxtaposition of the disenfranchised camping out with the ruling class is rife with irony and pathos.

The author makes a strong case for the need for reform of the Harvard Core Curriculum and grading system. He points out with wonderful specificity the folly of focusing on arcane minutia within an academic discipline, while failing to give students a broad grounding in the basics of that discipline.

The struggle by students to help the university’s custodial staff earn a living wage serves as a center of Douthat’s consideration of the perennial tensions between the street liberals and the armchair liberals. As a conservative – a rare breed in the People’s Republic of Cambridge – Douthat casts an outsider’s bemused eye at his left-leaning compatriots and their internecine warfare.

As one who has walked most of Harvard’s vast campus and who spends time with many friends who are Harvard alumni, I found this book to be a valuable read. I recommend enthusiastically. Douthat currently works as an editor at the Atlantic Monthly.



Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Leadership Lessons from the Front Lines: Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School Veterans Share Their Stories from Iraq & Afghanistan

I was privileged to be in the audience last evening for a remarkable event, hosted by the Harvard's Kennedy School of Government Institute of Politics. The purpose of the gathering was to pay tribute to those who have served our nation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to learn leadership lessons from their deployments there. Attending on the campus of Harvard University an event that began with the Presentation of the Colors and the singing of the National Anthem was for me a surreal event. This is the same university that, during the height of the controversies over the Viet Nam War, expelled ROTC from the campus.

The evening began with opening statements by the Dean of the Kennedy School and by David Gergen, Director of KSG’s Center for Public Leadership and former Editor-at-Large for U.S. News & World Report and White House advisor to four presidents. Gergen moderated the panel, along with Lt. Col. Frederick P. Wellman, a current Kennedy School candidate for the Master in Public Administration degree and 1987 graduate of West Point.

The focus of the evening was to educe lessons on leadership from experiences the panelists encountered while deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The audience was an interesting mix of active duty military personnel in uniform, former military, current students at KSG and HBS, university undergraduate students, members of the press and community residents. The room, named in honor of John F. Kennedy, Jr., was packed to overflowing with this eclectic gathering of individuals who had come to hear first hand about life on the front lines.

Panelist Lt. Col Oscar Hall talked about leadership by example. “You have to show your troops what ‘right’ looks like by going with them on patrol and leading by example.” Hall talked about the principle that the leader must be willing to expose himself to danger by not remaining safely ensconced in the Operations Center. Clearly, Hall put those principles into action every day of his deployments, leading 387 combat patrols. Lt. Col. Hall also talked about the multiplicity of demands placed upon today’s military leaders: “It is important that we train to develop proficiency along a wide variety of competencies – medical skills, diplomacy, negotiations, cross-cultural understanding.”

A common theme that kept being repeated and developed in numerous variations throughout the evening was the theme that these soldiers and Marines continued to serve and to do the right thing under dire circumstances because of their commitment to their fellow combatants – those “to the left and right of you.”

United States Marines Corps Reserve Captain, Maura Sullivan, a current MPA candidate at the Kennedy School, reiterated the importance of leadership by example, and added “selflessness and commitment” as two other key components to successful leadership on the battlefield. She talked about a Marines Corps officer for whom she developed the highest level of respect, because he would consistently place himself in danger in order to better protect his Marines. Capt. Sullivan talked about one of her most difficult moments in Iraq – a leadership challenge that involved ordering a Marine to go on an arduous assignment, one on which she herself would not be able to accompany the Marine. An explosion had occurred nearby the Operations Center, and a Marine had been killed and another grievously wounded. Sullivan recounted the experience of assigning the task of going to collect the dead Marine and bring back the wounded comrade: “I was scared, but as a leader, I had to convey confidence that this Marine would be successful in undertaking this difficult assignment. As I gave the order for him to proceed to the site of the explosion, he was struggling to mask the slight trembling of his right hand.” It is this kind of granular detail of life under duress that we noncombatants seldom get to hear about, and which begins to paint a clearer picture of the challenges of combat.

Major Joseph Ewers is a current MBA candidate at HBS, and upon completion of his degree, will return to his alma mater, West Point, to teach leadership. He responded in the following way to the question: “How do you continue to lead in the field when you are aware that political and popular support back home for the war is crumbling?” Ewers replied: “Well, you continuously communicate the mission to your soldiers. You point out successes. You point out the ways in which you are making a positive difference in the lives of the Iraqis in your sector. And, ultimately, it all comes down to each other. You continue to stress the commitment to those on your left and on your right.”

Ewers spoke passionately about what it has been like for him to leave combat for a position at a prestigious school like HBS. “There is an enormous sense of guilt in coming to a place like HBS, and not doing what my comrades are doing in Iraq.”

USMC Reserve officer, Lt Col. Dan Wagner, a 1991 graduate of Annapolis and KSG MPA from the class of 2002, gave his own take on leading by example, and being aware that as a leader, you are constantly being observed for your reactions and attitudes: “How do you react when one of your soldiers is killed? How do you respond when you learn that your unit is being extended and not going home as expected? How do you act when you make a mistake and everyone in the unit knows that you have made a mistake?”

Wagner was wounded while serving in Ramadi. He discussed the fact that a good leader is always preparing his troops for the eventuality that the leader may be removed at a moment’s notice, and each member if the unit must be prepared to continue with the mission at hand. While Wagner did not use this term, he seemed to be talking about the Marines Corps’ concept of “the strategic corporal” - the notion that each Marine, enlisted and officer alike, must have a comprehensive enough view of the mission to be able to make instant strategic level decisions on the battlefield, decisions that in previous wars would only have made by senior officers operating behind the front lines. Lt. Col. Wagner also discussed his observation that the most effective leaders were those who were adaptive and are able to look at problems form a variety of angles.

In responding to a question about what keeps a leader going under duress, he talked about a sense of duty. “You have to be able and willing to do the right thing under the worst of circumstances and under duress. You have to be radically honest – with yourself and with your Marines. This job demands a sense of calling – a sense of vocation. You have to have a keen awareness of what you bring to the table that perhaps someone else might not bring.”

Towards the end of the evening, microphones on the floor were opened to allow questions from the audience. One military spouse spoke about the behind the scenes work done by the wives and husbands of those sent into combat. “Just as the ‘green suiters’ develop a sense of family, those of us left behind do the same thing. I spent much of my time handling a flood of communication- e-mails, phone calls and visits to those in need of support back home.” In response, Lt. Col. Hall offered this comment: “These ladies are the unsung heroes – they are the epitome of selfless service.”

One of the most riveting moments of the evening for me occurred near the end of the Q&A session. An “insurgent” approached the floor microphone. OK - he identified himself as a reporter from The Boston Globe! He lobbed towards the panelists a verbal IED – a question about why the U.S. Department of Defense had not yet entered the 21st century and integrated gays openly into the military. The question was totally out of sync with the tone and content of the rest of the evening, and it was clear that he had chosen to be present because he had an ax to grind. The panel members were deft and very moving in disarming this potential bombshell. After Lt. Col. Wellman pointed out the obvious fact that this kind of policy was set at levels far above the ranks held by the panelists, Capt. Sullivan added her own response, which I will paraphrase: “If the time comes when the policy changes and we are told to welcome gays into our ranks, I will not look at those who join us as gay or straight, male or female; I will welcome them as Marines, and I will stand and serve proudly with them.” The audience erupted in spontaneous applause. David Gergen capped off the discussion of this issue when he said: “And when that times comes, perhaps Harvard will then welcome back to campus the ROTC program.”

I was moved and inspired by the evening. I did a quick survey of those I know who have served. As the proceedings were wrapping up, I turned to a friend who was sitting behind me – a current HBS student who served with distinction in Afghanistan. His initial reaction was: “I wish it had not been so focused on Iraq, and I wish there had been more talk about the humility needed to serve as an effective leader. I did not hear a lot of talk about humility tonight.”

A few minues ago, I received an e-mail from the friend who had invited me to attend last evening’s event. He is a West Point graduate who made the following observation: “[It]
made me feel guilty that I'm a civilian and not serving any more.”

All in all, it was a memorable evening. The icing on the cake was that all current KSG and HBS students who served n the military were honored guests at a dinner at the Charles Hotel. Kudos to the Kennedy School and HBS for leading the way in doing the right thing in honoring the men and women who have served, and for offering a forum for reflecting on the lessons of leadership they have learned the hard way.


Monday, February 19, 2007

My Heart Still Beats for Haiti – A Review of “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer

I must warn you that this Blog posting will be more than the usual review of a book. Pulitzer Prize winner, Tracy Kidder, has done a remarkable job of writing a book, Mountains Beyond Mountains,” that tells the compelling story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Boston-based physician whose real home is Haiti - and other places in the world where infectious diseases still await eradication.

Reading Mountains Beyond Mountains brought back to me the sights, sounds, smells and symphony of problems that is the Republic of Haiti. Haiti was my home for 11 months in 1974-75. I served during that period of time as the administrator of a tiny village hospital in Fermathe, an hour’s drive into the mountains above Port au Prince. I left Haiti to return to the U.S. and graduate school, but Haiti has never left me. I still speak the language, Kreol, and whenever possible, I look for opportunities to taste the scrumptious Haitian dishes I grew to love - like Cabrit Kreol (roast goat meat), rice and red beans and pumpkin soup! Kidder’s book resonated with me so strongly that it reignited my desire to get back to Haiti as soon as possible, and find ways to join in the fight that Dr. Farmer and Partners in Health continues to wage against staggering odds.

I do not yet know Paul Farmer personally, but for years I have been hearing about his pioneering work in the village of Cange in the parched Cul de Sac, a sun-baked section in the interior of Haiti accessible only across a lunar landscape masquerading as a road, the infamous Highway 3. In that forsaken and impoverished (even by Haiti’s egregious standards of poverty!) area, Dr. Farmer and his colleagues have managed to construct a modern hospital and create an innovative approach to public health that has dramatically improved the chances for survival of those afflicted with TB, AIDS and other infectious diseases that are rampant in this Caribbean nation.

Kidder is a participant observer in this saga of one man refusing to accept the status quo in Haiti – and eventually in other neglected places, like the prisons of Russia. Kidder traveled with Dr. Farmer to Haiti, Cuba, Russia and countless other spots around the globe. The picture that he paints of Paul Farmer is a complex one of a man who is both larger than life and also very human in his idiosyncrasies and refusal to play by the accepted rules of medicine and public health. While revolutionizing the delivery of medical care to one of Haiti’s most deprived areas, Dr. Farmer has managed to rattle a few cages and ruffle a few feathers. How could it be otherwise?

I cannot begin to claim objectivity in responding to Mountains Beyond Mountains.” There probably are not many other readers of this book whose life experiences so closely parallel those of Dr. Farmer in so many dimensions: we both live in Boston, speak Kreol, have run a hospital in rural Haiti and have worked in Russian prisons! Needless to say, I can’t wait to meet Paul Farmer face-to-face and share war stories.

As I read through this stunning book, I found myself smiling knowingly about the way that things work – or don’t work – in Haiti. Tires blown out by the sharp rocks in the road, roads impassable after a rain shower, catching a ride into the capital city shoehorned into a tap-tap full of peasants bringing baskets of chickens to market. I found myself weeping when I read of a young patient died of cancer despite the extraordinary length that Dr. Farmer’s team went to try to save his life. It reminded me of many I had known in Haiti who dies young - cut down needlessly by diseases the rest of the world had long ago forgotten about. I found myself getting angry all over again at the results of decades of economic mismanagement, political corruption and ill-conceived development projects that have kept Haiti mired in its perennial role as the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation.

Given my knowledge of the extraordinary challenges that face anyone who desires to accomplish anything in Haiti – fighting bureaucracy, despair, disease, poverty, climate, corruption and a total absence of infrastructure – I am in awe of what Dr. Farmer and his team has been able to accomplish in Haiti. His superhuman commitment to do whatever it takes to bring modern medicine to the people of Haiti is both inspiring and intimidating. How can one man manage to do so much? Yet, the truth is that despite this one man’s Herculean individual efforts, he has also managed to raise up and inspire a growing team of men and women who join with him and Partners in Health to expand the work in Haiti and in other parts of the world where an enlightened approach to public healthy is sorely needed.

Kidder’s balanced presentation of Dr. Farmer and his work has inspired me to learn more about the needs that Partners in Health is trying to meet. Given my personal knowledge of Haiti’s overwhelming needs and problems, I am committed to exploring with Dr. Farmer and his team ways that I may be able to leverage my network on behalf of the work of Partners in Health. As that process of exploration moves forward, I will keep readers of the White Rhino Report informed.

This book is a “must read.” One need not have an interest in Haiti to find value in this book. Even if reading the book does not inspire you to do something to help Haiti or Partners in Health, I guarantee that it will make you question whether you are doing enough to make a difference in contributing to the causes that you do care about.

On several occasions in the book, Tracy Kidder describes accompanying Dr. Farmer as he made the long trek up one mountain and down the next valley – up and down all day long – to reach the hut of a patient in need of care. It was a grueling hike that was both exhausting and inspiring for Kidder to see Dr. Farmer’s dedication and the response of his isolated patients. Those treks through Haiti’s “mountains beyond mountains” serve as a fitting metaphor for the journey that many readers will have in walking through the pages of this book. There will be many highs and lows along the way, and it will be a journey that will test your limits. But the end result is well worth the effort.

For more information about the work of Partners in Health, I urge you to visit their Website:


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Review of “Not A Good Day To Die” by Sean Naylor

Several of my friends have told me that if I want to begin to understand the role of Special Forces and Special Operations, I must read “Not A Good Day To Die.” I finished reading this book several weeks ago, and am able now to take the time to share with readers of The White Rhino Report some of my thoughts. The subtitle of this book is “The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda.” Sean Naylor, winner of the prestigious Edgar A. Poe Award, does a masterful job of bringing the reader into the chaos that enveloped the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan’s Shahikot Valley.

The primary take-way for me, as I reflected on what happened during Operation Anaconda in 2002, was that the pattern seemed all too familiar – a pattern of systemic miscommunication and flawed decisions made far from the battle field. Many of these decisions and orders placed in grave jeopardy the lives of those fighting on the ground and in the air. Throughout my reading of Naylor’s descriptions and analysis, I was reminded of the landmark study by my friend, Dr. Scott Snook of the Harvard business School faculty. Dr. Snook, a decorated combat veteran and expert in organizational behavior, wrote the book, Friendly Fire: The Accidental Shootdown of U.S. Black Hawks over Northern Iraq, an analysis of an incident that occurred at the end of the first Gulf War. Dr. Snook not only highlights the systemic failures that led to the needless shootdown of two Black Hawks, but points out that similar dysfunction can be identified in any organization.

Naylor summarizes concisely the chaos that developed in the Shahikot Valley:

“The small, enclosed battlefield meant the calls for fire often outnumbered the number of airplanes that could safely be flying bombing runs over the valley simultaneously; the icy relationship between Mikolashek and Mosley, who should have been working hand in glove, trickled down to their staffs; the Mountain staff’s failure to anticipate the likelihood of ferocious resistance on the enemy’s part meant they had given only cursory attention to close air support issues; and the Combined Air Operations Center staff had grown used to controlling air strikes from their base in Saudi Arabia, rather than yielding authority to the ground commander, as called for in joint doctrine. As ever in combat, it was left to captains and sergeants to bear the consequences of mistakes made by generals.” (Page 272)

The author continues his observations and conclusions with these thoughts:

“But the lack of clear guidance about who was in charge of the recce missions being launched from Gardez now began to reap disastrous results . . . This critical moment in Operation Anaconda was to be no exception. Just 1,000 meters away at the safe hose, helping to coordinate the preparations for Operation Payback (not scheduled to launch until 2:20 a.m.), was Peter Blaber, a man whose entire career had prepared him to make the kind of decision Hyder now faced, a decision upon which would hang the fates not just of Hyder’s men, but of others as well. Blaber had spent weeks immersing himself in the tactical situations that confronted recce teams in the Shahikot. He was also still – officially - the officer commanding the reconnaissance effort in the valley. But Hyder chose to ignore him and instead seek guidance from the Blue TOC, which was almost 100 miles away and staffed with Navy personnel who had never been anywhere near the Shahikot." (Pages 308-9)

I closed the book after reading the last pages and found myself balancing competing emotions. On the one hand, I was proud of the men who had fought bravely in carrying out their assignments as part of the complex Operation anaconda. On the other hand, I was angry at the seemingly chronic failure of senior leadership to exercise proper command and control. Perhaps this kind of confusion, chaos and mismanagement is an unavoidable consequence of the “fog of war,” but it seems that our men and women who put their lives on the line deserve better support.

The book is a tribute to our fighting forces, as well as a cautionary tale. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the complexities of fighting battles under extreme duress and in the most inhospitable of landscapes – both topographical and bureaucratic!


A Call for Iraqi Government Legitimacy - Not More Troops - by Lt. Col. Gian Gentile

I am blessed to know quite a few men and women serving overseas, as well as many more who have served in recent years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and beyond. So, I often hear first-hand accounts of what our forces on the ground are seeing as they face the challenges inherent in fighting a protracted war halfway around the globe. I am also hearing a variety of opinions about what is working and is not working – what we should be doing and should not be doing to bring the present conflict to a satisfactory conclusion.

Captain Michael Cooper, a graduate of the West Point Class of 2002, has served two tours of duty in Iraq, winning the Bronze Star for valor. Mike is nearing the completion of his commitment to the U.S. Army, and currently serves under the direction of Squadron Commander, Lt. Colonel Gian Gentile. A few days ago, Mike was kind enough to share with me a thoughtful article that Lt. Col. Gentile had written. He asked me not to share it until it had been published in the Washington Post. The article ran in this past Sunday’s edition, so I now have the permission of the author to share his thoughts with the readers of The White Rhino Report.

* * * * * * *

by Lieutenant Colonel Gian P. Gentile

Legitimacy of the Government of Iraq as seen through the eyes of all Iraqis--Sunnis, Shia, Kurds--is the necessary pre-condition for peace based on reconciliation in
Iraq. My experience on the ground over the past year as a tactical battalion commander in Baghdads Sunni Ameriyah district showed that the prospect of Government legitimacy was exponentially more important than the amount of Coalition and Iraqi Army forces patrolling the streets, the number of Coalition Force advisors with Iraqi Army and Police units, and money spent improving essential services for the local population.

In Ameriyah we were neither winning nor loosing, we were in stasis. More troops, more advisors, more money spent would not break the deadlock, only the perception of a legitimate government that sought to protect equally and fairly the interests of all Iraqis would do it. In fact for about a recent five month period between August and November 2006, through concentration, I increased substantially the number of American and Iraqi Army combined patrols in Ameriyah and the capacity of the American advisor team that worked with a local Iraqi Army battalion. Still, the deadlock in Ameriyah--or tipping point between loosing and winning
did not break.

Ameriyah is one of the few districts in
Baghdad that is almost completely Sunni; probably close to 98 percent. It has been predominantly Sunni since it was first built in the early 1970s as a residential area for lawyers, doctors, engineers, educators, and elite Baathists. When the Sadam regime fell in 2003 affluent Ameriyah residents had the most to loose. As the Sunni insurgency grew after the regimes fall, and because of its long standing tribal ties to Anbar province, Ameriyah became Baghdads Sunni insurgent headquarters.

Ameriyah has seen the brutal face of sectarian war. In the spring of 2003 Sunnis were about 85 percent of the population with the remainder mostly Shia. But through the process of sectarian killing by Sunni against Shia since the Samara shrine bombing in February Sunnis now make up about 98 percent of the population in Ameriyah. It has become relatively safe and secure for Sunnis but lethal for the few remaining Shia.

So the
enemy to peace in Ameriyah, much like in the rest of Baghdad, was and is a hybrid one. The enemy is a still an un-defeated Sunni insurgency that attacks Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces. The enemy is also a vicious and brutal sectarian war that is carried out now not only by Sunni and Shia extremists groups but sometimes by neighbor against neighbor. The sectarian war is a war of the people in the district of Ameriyah.

As violence increased significantly in Baghdad over the summer we confronted this hybrid enemy head-on for a one-week period in early August in Ameriyah with a surge of almost four-fold the number of American and Iraqi troops. We also did things that were extra-ordinary and non-sustainable for and extended period like shutting down all vehicular traffic in the district.

The stated purpose for our efforts during this one-week period was to provide
space and time for the Government of Iraq, or breathing room, or more simply a break in the violence to get on its feet and demonstrate that it was a government of unity. In this sense we cleared Ameriyah and we were successful; there were no violent acts during this one week period. Yet the four-fold increase in American and Iraqi troops in Ameriyah was not sustainable over time.

In the weeks and months that followed our one-week operation in early August American forces did not leave or abandon Ameriyah. We held it with nearly double the number of American and Iraqi Army troops that habitually had operated there. My basic and most fundamental mission was to protect the people. I used Colonel H.R. McMaster
s brilliant operations in TalAfar and my own Brigade commanders successful operations in the nearby Sunni district of Dorra as my models. I also used the American Armys new counterinsurgency doctrine as my operational guide. We spent millions of dollars on rebuilding schools and cleaning up garbage from the streets. We continued to capture and kill Sunni insurgents and Shia militia who attempted to attack Ameriyah from outlying areas. We established a new-found trust between the Sunni population and us and improved their views of the local Iraqi army battalion. Ameriyah in fact became one of the most secure districts in Baghdad for
its Sunni residents.

But the violence continued. Why? Because the people of Ameriyah did not see the government as legitimate. So Sunnis kill Shia because of sectarian hatred, because of retaliation for what they see the Shia government doing to them, and because of fear that any Shia remaining in their district would act as a conduit for more oppressive government actions against them. And Sunni insurgents continue to attack the government and its associated security forces that they see as illegitimate.

In Ameriyah could more American troops eliminate the Sunni insurgency? No because to crush the insurgency the people must be willing to separate themselves from the insurgents. And the people of Ameriyah are not willing to do that because they still see the Sunni insurgents as their final force for protection when they are left with what they see as an illegitimate Shia-sectarian government out to crush them.

In Ameriyah could more American troops stop the sectarian violence? Possibly if this sectarian war was still being carried out only by Shia and Sunni extremist groups. But it is now a sectarian war of the people. What numbers of American soldiers would it take on the ground in Ameriyah to stop neighbor from killing neighbor?

When I was on the ground in Ameriyah, when I spoke to the people there from shop keepers, to professionals, to mosque imams, to a person they said that the solution to ending the violence
--both insurgent attacks and sectarian killings-was an Iraqi government that was legitimate in their eyes.

More American troops, more Iraqi troops, more American advisors will not produce a legitimate government; only the Iraqis can do that. To be sure there is a minimum amount of military power needed in a place like Ameriyah to maintain a semblance of security and order. Those forces are in place now and should remain to provide a baseline of security for the Iraqi government to demonstrate to all Iraqis that it is a force for reconciliation and fairness, not division.

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Thanks to the author, Lt. Colonel Gentile and to Capt. Michael Cooper for making these insights available to us.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Iconography of the White Rhino Partners Logo

When I began to think about launching White Rhino Partners, I wanted to create a logo that would exemplify all the elements that I have been told make me unique as an executive recruiter. I also wanted the logo to be a conversation starter when people first encountered it on the back of my business card. I immediately turned to my good friend and protégé, Mark Chamberlain. At the time, Mark was in LA working for Saatchi and Saatchi, designing the new Website for Toyota Camry. So, clearly Mark is someone who as been recognized as an extraordinarily talented and creative graphic artist. Mark and I brainstormed on the telephone, and together we came up with the design you see to the right of this article - a design that we hope captures the feel of a family coat of arms, a military escutcheon, and the whimsical spirit of the White Rhino name.

For those who want to know what the elements signify, here are the basics:

The Legend of The White Rhino

For most of my adult life, close friends have called me by the nickname “The White Rhino.” I was christened with that name during my time living in St. Paul, Minnesota. My first job out of college was running a social service agency in the inner city of St. Paul. In those days, Selby-Dale was a very racially segregated neighborhood, and I would often be the only white person around. My friends said to me, early in my tenure in St. Paul: “Chase, you can’t live and work among us here in this neighborhood and not know how to play ‘ghetto basketball,’ so we are going to teach you to play a basketball game we call ‘Scramble.’

Back in those days, I weighed a few pounds less than I do now, but I was quite competitive and feisty. What I lacked in athleticism, I made up for with aggression on the court. So, it became a matter of habit for me to dribble towards the basketball, and bodies would start flying in all directions. My friends would yell to each other: “Watch out, here comes the White Rhino.” And the nickname stuck.

These days, I don’t play much basketball, but I am still active on the tennis court as often as possible. I still bring to all my athletic pursuits that same sense of subtlety and grace that earned me the sobriquet White Rhino so many years ago!

As I prepared to launch my own executive search firm, it occurred to me that my nickname was also an appropriate symbol for the new company - to stand as a emblem for those things that, as a recruiter, make me a “rare breed”: tenacity, steadfastness, uniqueness, stability. I strive to live up to all of the positive ramifications of the name.

The Shield

Since there is a strong element to my executive search practice of placing within my client companies leaders who have served as military officers, I chose a shield to set a military tone. The implication is that in my approach to recruiting and executive search – I am a shield for my client companies against unethical and slipshod practices and against a flood of unqualified candidates. I am also a shield for my candidates against being made to feel dehumanized or devalued as they go through the process of working with me to find the right company where they can make the most positive impact as the next step in their career paths.

The Cross

The cross that separates the shield into four fields is emblematic of my faith as the basis for why I choose to operate as I do as a recruiter and as a businessman. I am unashamedly a follower of Jesus Christ; that is my faith. I feel a strong sense of responsibility for my faith to serve as an ethical foundation for my business practices, but for it not to serve as a divisive force that would prevent me from working harmoniously and productively with those who embrace a different faith – or no faith at all.

The Quill

Many of the candidates who find their way to me would call themselves Renaissance Men and Women. Many of the client companies that engage me to help them to find new members of their staff are led by executives who are Renaissance Men and Women. The quill is emblematic of the scholarship, learning and commitment to excellence of those with whom I choose to work as clients and as candidates.

The Links

I have been blessed to be accepted as a member of many different groups of extraordinary individuals and to live in many different fascinating worlds. It is my access to these disparate links in my networks that allows me to function effectively on behalf of client companies to find the most talented candidates – wherever they may be living and working.

The Globe

Since I first had the opportunity to travel internationally as a young college student, I have seen myself as a citizen of the world. I am proud to be an American, but I also take pride in traveling and building bridges of trust and understanding with those who live in each of the continents. My global reach is beneficial both to my client companies and to my candidates.

The Sword

Since many of my candidates have served with distinction in the military, the sword is a symbol of that element of my practice. Many of those who trust me to guide them in choosing the right job at the right company have served as officers. A significant number are graduates of Service Academies and have gone on to earn graduate degrees from some of the world’s top business schools.

The Motto – Esse Quam Videri

The best translation for the phrase “Esse Quam Videri” would be “To Be, Rather Than To Seem.” There is a dual message inherent in this phrase. As a recruiter, I take pride in being someone who engenders trust in clients and candidates by living up to promises and exceeding expectations. So, it is my desire for the phrase to apply to me and my practices. The phrase applies equally well to the candidates that I present to client companies. They are men and women of integrity who are in practice what they purport to be on their resumes.

We look forward to serving your needs and living up to the high standards implied by the White Rhino Partners logo.

Chief of Staff White Paper - Back by Popular Demand

In recent weeks, the launching of White Rhino Partners has triggered several conversations about the role of Chief of Staff in support of a CEO or Chairman of the Board. One of my areas of specialization as I grow White Rhino Partners will be to help companies to develop this role as a force multiplier, and fill the role with men and women uniquely qualified to increase the productivity of the C-level executive they will be supporting. As a result of these recent conversations, several people have asked me to re-publish a White Paper that I wrote last year on the role of the Chief of Staff. I am pleased to comply with those requests and present the paper in this space.

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Chief of Staff: A Force Multiplier


Dr. Al Chase
Founder, White Rhino Partners

A couple of years ago, I attended a symposium sponsored by the Boston University School of Management. The two keynote speakers were Lee Iacocca and James Quigley, former CEO of Deloitte & Touche. In preparation for hearing Mr. Quigley speak, I read his bio printed in the conference program. What jumped out at me immediately was the fact that early in his career with D&T Quigley has served in the role of Chief of Staff in the Office of the Chairman.

I had already begun to be intrigued with the role of Chief of Staff – a role I am convinced is under-utilized in the business world. Since many of the candidates I place are military veterans, through learning of their careers, I have become familiar with the military functional role of the XO – Executive Officer. The Navy’s Command Leadership School in Newport, RI devotes an entire course to training XO’s to function in their role as “Second in Command.” A friend of mine, a West Point graduate and Desert Storm combat veteran, recently spent several years as Chief of Staff supporting the Chairman of the Board of a Fortune 100 Company. My friend calls the role of the Chief of Staff a “force multiplier.” Properly deployed, a good Chief of Staff can magnify the effective of the C-level executive he or she is supporting. Yet I find that it is the rare company that employees a Chief of Staff. Even rarer is the corporation that has a Chief of Staff and utilizes that person and that role to full effect.

During the course of the BU Symposium, I had several opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with Mr. Quigley, and to query him on his background as a former Chief of Staff. In answer to my question about his retrospective look at his early role as Chief of Staff, the gist of his answer could best be summarized as follows:

“I am not sure I would be where I am today if I had not been given that extraordinary opportunity early in my career. I was rubbing shoulders on a daily basis with all of the strategic decision makers in the company. I was exposed to ideas, challenges, responsibilities and opportunities that most people at my age and at my stage of career never dreaming about. In addition, I was mentored, coached and stretched by visual leaders who gave me opportunities to prove what I was capable of doing.”

I was interested in testing out whether, in his current role as CEO at Deloitte & Touche, Quigley still held as high a view of the role of Chief of Staff as he had early in his career. In my last meeting with him that day, I asked: “Do you currently have someone serving in the capacity of Chief of Staff in support of you?”

Quigley answered: “No; I have three different persons in that role, each one providing invaluable support in a specific area of supportive strategic initiatives.”

There is the proof of the pudding!

Part II – Functional Roles of a Chief of Staff

In this section, I would like to examine some of the specific functional roles a good Chief of Staff should be able to perform on behalf of the C-level being supported. My observations are based upon a composite of several Fortune 500 companies with whom I have discussed Chief of Staff roles over the course of the past few months. These companies include leaders in Consumer Packaged Goods, Electronic Trading, Consulting and Telecommunications. For the purpose of describing these functional roles, we will assume that the Chief of Staff is serving in support of a CEO or Chairman of the Board.
• The Chief of Staff Role does not replace the role of a good Executive Assistant. The COS and the EA work hand-in-hand to ensure that the CEO’s time is planned and expended with maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

• The COS is best used in tracking strategic initiatives by monitoring progress towards meeting goals and achieving benchmarks, analyzing data, ensuring follow-through on the part of key players, and sustaining momentum needed to drive these initiatives.

• The COS reviews action items decided upon at each strategic meeting. He/she prepares a written summary, checks with each attendee to get sign-off on agreed-upon dates of completion and confirms the party responsible for following up on each action item.

• Between meetings, the COS stays connected with members of the committee, collecting data, alerting the CEO to progress or problems in carrying out the initiatives agreed upon.

• The COS creates and operates a reporting system that allows for a timely flow of necessary data into the office of the CEO from all relevant departments and direct reports.

• The COS assists the CEO in developing communication between committee meetings, setting agendas, creating initial drafts of communications to key strategic team members, helping to prioritize plans for addressing issues that are impacting progress towards initiative benchmarks.

• The COS serves as a first alert system – an extra set of eyes and ears – keeping the CEO aware of unanticipated problems to be addressed or opportunities to be considered.

• The COS develops and oversees a process for capturing, cataloging, analyzing and disseminating key lessons to be learned from initiatives, with a view towards helping the CEO propagate best practices throughout the enterprise.

• The COS functions in the role of “ambassador” for the CEO, buffering communication with other members of the strategic team in cases where there are sensitive issues to be addressed.

Here is an example of this role in practice:

COS calls Brand Manager for Brand XYZ:

“Tony, this is Sharon. We agreed that next Tuesday you would meet with Bob to report on progress in changing the packaging. You mentioned in your weekly report that your design team is three weeks behind in agreeing upon a new package. I know that Bob is very concerned that if we can’t deliver the next packaging on schedule, we are going to lose more market share. I know your meeting next Tuesday will go well if you come with a specific plan for how to get this project back on track before the next Board meeting. See you Tuesday at 9:00."

It would take a pretty extraordinary individual to be able to juggle all of these balls, satisfy all of the key stake holders, massage sensitive egos and do it all with efficiency and grace. Such an individual would have to have developed a robust set of hard skills and soft skills. In the next section, we will take a look at these specific skills and intangible traits needed to be an outstanding Chief of Staff.

Part III –Specific Skills Needed to Succeed As Chief of Staff

We now turn our attention to examining the professional characteristics, functional skills and personal traits that are required of a stellar Chief of Staff.

A Chief of Staff must possess in abundance a well-balanced arsenal of what are often called “hard skills” and “soft skills.”


• Project management – Each strategic initiative being tracked on behalf of the CEO whom the Chief of Staff supports is a project to be managed. Inherent in the oversight of these initiatives are the sub-skills of:

o Multi-tasking
o Time management
o Prioritization
o Benchmarking
o Trouble shooting
o Reporting

• Information gathering and analysis – The COS needs to be able to create and to utilize systems (both formal and informal) for gathering on behalf of his/her boss reliable information on what is happening throughout the enterprise with regard to the strategic initiatives being tracked.

o This aspect of the job can be a challenge, since those charged with providing timely updates are not direct reports to the COS. This aspect of the job requires a high level of sophistication in communications, interpersonal relations and diplomacy on the part of the COS. (See soft skills below)

• A keen mind and multi-focal intelligence – The COS will be juggling many balls in support of the boss. She/he must have a quick but thorough grasp of the salient issues and details of each initiative to be able to make evaluations and recommendations to the CEO. This is tantamount to being a “jack of all trades” and “master of all”!

• Poise and grace under pressure – The pressure to perform at the highest level will be relentless, since by definition, each strategic initiative is mission-critical and crucial to the well being of the organization. No unimportant matters float up to the CEO to be addressed.

• Finely honed communication skills – The COS will need to be able to communicate in writing and verbally with great precision and effectiveness:

o Upwards to the CEO
o Laterally to others on the executive team
o Downwards throughout the organizational chart


• Unimpeachable integrity – By reputation and by consistent performance, the COS must be viewed by the C-level executive as utterly trustworthy. Each stakeholder must also be confident that the COS is operating on a solid ethical foundation of personal values that are transparent.

• Selflessness – The COS must gain satisfaction from serving in a support role, and not feel the need to be in the limelight or receive public acclaim for victories and successes.

• Emotional stability and resilience– Because of the high stakes attached to each strategic initiative that is being tracked, and by virtue of the high level of accountability that is expected of each player, the atmosphere in which the COS works is one of high pressure and high expectations. Thin-skinned and easily bruised egos need not apply!

• The ability to give and receive constructive criticism – Human nature and the nature of organizational behavior almost guarantee that the COS will often be operating in an environment when one or more initiatives are off-track, over-budget and behind-schedule. Supporting the boss in holding individuals accountable, coaching and correcting their performance is a crucial skill.

• Diplomacy skills – The COS will often be expected to represent the boss in dealing with individuals whose teams may have missed deadlines or benchmarks. Careers, bonuses and promotions may be on the line, so the COS often operates in a volatile environment in which the wrong word or the wrong tone of voice could derail a delicate situation.

• Keen judgment – The COS must often make instantaneous choices about:

o What to bring to the attention of the boss and what to shield her/him from;
o When to speak and when to remain silent;
o When to intervene and when to let things run their course;
o What information is reliable and what needs to be questioned and challenged;
o How to respond to unanticipated developments;
o How to best keep the boss focused on the top priorities;
o How to help the boss see clearly through the “fog of war.”

Wow! We just described Superman or Wonder Woman. Do such paragons of virtue exist in the real world? We will address this crucial issue in our next section.

Part IV –Finding the Right Person to Serve As Chief of Staff

The kind of person who meets all of the requirements described above is rare indeed. And such an extraordinarily gifted individual would also have to be content and fulfilled serving in a “support role.” Where would one find such an individual?

My friend, John Byington, reminded me the other day of a terrific and apt quotation. The line comes from the Korean War era film, “The Bridges of Toko Ri” and has been oft repeated: "Where do we find such men [and women]?"

From my experience as an executive recruiter, I can point to three primary sources where I have been able to discover individuals who possess the panoply of skills, traits and characteristics that are the hallmark of a great Chief of Staff:

1) Military officers who have retired after a full career
2) Junior military officers who have 5-10 years of leadership experience leavened with a top-tier MBA to add business sense and analytical tools to their arsenal.
3) Mature veterans of the “corporate battlefield” who have amassed knowledge, judgment, diplomacy and project management skills over the course of a broad-based business career.

Before describing in detail these three pools of potential Chiefs of Staff, let me offer the observation that the role of COS can be structured in two primary ways:

a) As a role that the candidate would fill on a long-term basis – 5-10 years or more. In this scenario, the COS sees himself/herself as a “Career XO” – a person who is content to remain in a strategically important behind the scenes role in support of a C-level executive.

b) As a transitional role that is part of an overall approach to succession planning. In this scenario, the COS serves for 2-3 years in a strategic support role with the understanding that at the end of that term of service, she/he will be given a general management role with P&L responsibility – Division President, Brand Manager, etc. During the final year in the COS role, there would be a period of overlap – selecting, training and transitioning in a new COS to carry on seamlessly the support functions.

Now, back to the three pools of candidates . . .

1) Military officers who have retired after a full career

This type of candidate fits best in the long term COS role. For many men and women who have served our nation for 20 years or more, they still desire to make a contribution and build a fulfilling second career that will leverage the depth of experiences and breadth of skills they have acquired in leading troops and running programs. For the officer who is temperamentally fitted for the COS role, fancy job titles and an opportunity for climbing up the corporate ladder are not priorities. Having succeeded in being promoted consistently over the course of a distinguished military career, this candidate possess finely honed project management skills, communication skills, sophisticated diplomatic sensibilities and the ability to fully utilize to the company’s advantage both the formal and the informal power structures.

2) Junior military officers who have 5-10 years of leadership experience leavened with a top-tier MBA to add business sense and analytical tools to their arsenal. Let me offer a composite description of a typical candidate in this category. This person is best-suited for the transition role – serving 2-3 years as COS before ascending to a GM role:

• Graduate of United State Naval Academy, US Marine Corps military intelligence officer whose assignments included a stint supporting Gen. Wesley Clark in his role as Commander of NATO and US forces in Europe. MBA from MIT Sloan School of business, summer internship and two-year stint as a strategy consultant in the Boston office of Bain & Co.

This “young Turk” is just the kind of leader that a visionary company would want to attract, develop and “fast track” into a senior position. This extraordinarily gifted and precocious top-achiever will not be attracted to or sufficiently challenged by most rotational training programs designed to groom future leaders, but would thrive in a properly conceived COS role in support of a mentoring C-level executive.

3) Mature veterans of the “corporate battlefield” who have amassed knowledge, judgment, diplomacy and project management skills over the course of a broad-based business career.

Once again, let me offer a description of a composite candidate from this pool:

BA from Columbia, MBA or continuing education programs from Stern School of Business at NYU. Over the years, functional roles have includes Director of Sales and Marketing, Director of Business development, Program Manager/Project Manager for mission-critical initiatives, Managing Director Client services.

Because of lifestyle choices, family situation, travel restrictions, etc., this gifted administrator and manager is happy to climb off of the treadmill leading to the top of the organizational chart, and spend the next 10+ years of her/his career leveraging a wealth of experience in support of a CEO, COB, CIO, COO, etc.

In the final section dedicated to the role of the Chief of Staff, we will add some final thoughts and nuances, sum up salient points, and make recommendations on ways to implement the creation of this role.

Part V - Final Thoughts

USN Captain Mike Abrashoff (Ret.), former skipper of the USS Benfold, a.k.a. “The Best Damn Ship in the Navy,” has written an insightful first book that is relevant to our examination of the role of the Chief of Staff. His book is entitled: “It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.” Early in his career, Abrashoff served as an Admiral’s aide in Subic Bay, Philippines. One of his statements from page 22 jumped out at me:

“I was twenty-five years old at the time, and most twenty-five-year-olds don’t get the opportunity to see how the organization runs at a senior level. It was good training, which businesses could give their up-and-coming young people by making them executive assistants to the top officers.”

Capt. Abrashoff uses the term “executive assistants,” but in context, it is clear that he is really talking about the Chief of Staff role as we have discussed in this paper. His comments almost exactly echo the words of James Quigley, CEO of Deloitte & Touche – words that I quoted above:

“I am not sure I would be where I am today if I had not been given that extraordinary opportunity early in my career. I was rubbing shoulders on a daily basis with all of the strategic decision makers in the company. I was exposed to ideas, challenges, responsibilities and opportunities that most people at my age and at my stage of career never dreaming about. In addition, I was mentored, coached and stretched by visual leaders who gave me opportunities to prove what I was capable of doing.”

The message is pretty clear. A number of young leaders with extraordinary leadership potential have been encouraged in the development and deployment of these leadership gifts by being given the opportunity to function in the role of Chief of Staff, XO, or whatever term that organization may choose to put on a role that services as a ”force multiplier” in support of a C-level executive. When structured correctly, a Chief of Staff role provides a triple win:

• The CEO wins because he is freed up to be able to concentrate his time, effort and priorities of strategic initiatives. He is empowered to “keep the main thing the main thing”!
• The organization wins because its leader is leading more effectively and the COS role is adding to succession planning by attracting, grooming and retaining an unusually gifted up-and-coming leader.
• The Chief of Staff wins because his/her career trajectory is raised and he/she is able to make a major contribution while being mentored and groomed by a seasoned leader.

Ed Cusati, a corporate consultant specializing in improving the effective of Board of Directors, has been kind enough to share with me a flow diagram, which, unfortunately, I am not able to replicate at the moment. Ed’s diagram points out the complex interactions among all of the stakeholders that must be taken into consideration in creating within an organization a Chief of Staff role. The CEO, potential Chief of Staff, and Direct Reports must all – from their own vantage point - wrestle with the potential objections and benefits of creating a Chief of Staff role.

Through the amazing network of relationship I have been blessed to develop with some extraordinary men and women, I have access to an unmatched pool of potential Chiefs of Staff. It occurs to me that because of this rare access to a unique talent pool, and because of my awareness of the effectiveness of a properly deployed Chief of Staff, the role of evangelist for the COS role has been thrust upon me.

So, how can we help each other to move things forward?

I would welcome an opportunity to enter into conversations with companies that you know could use a Chief of Staff. In the situation in which the role has already been utilized in the company, I would like to be in a position to help that company to identify and to hire the next person to fill the role. In the case of a company that is just beginning to consider creating such a role, I would welcome a chance to come in and consult with the strategic leaders to define then role, and then to help the company to fill that role with their first COS.

I would appreciate your efforts in joining me to evangelize for the expansion of the role of the COS within corporate America.

I look forward to hearing from you on this topic.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bringing Home the Troops – How We Can Help in Their Transition

As Operation Enduring Freedom winds down to some sort of a conclusion, many of our troops are coming home. And many of them are finishing up their military commitments and looking to transition to the civilian sector of our economy. This situation presents both an opportunity and a challenge.

Let me address first the challenge. For many of these soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - whose work experience has been primarily in the military – finding the first job in the private sector can be a daunting task. Many civilian employers often have a difficult time understanding how the skills these men and women honed as military leaders would translate to the skills required to succeed in the business world. From the vantage point of the men or women preparing to leave the military, they may have a limited understanding of the opportunities that are available to them, and little real understanding of what a “Brand Manager” does, or the kind of career path open to someone who answers a ad for the position of “Inside Sales Rep.”

That leads me to consider the opportunity. For those of us who are looking for concrete ways to support our troops, there are some very specific steps we can choose to take. We can educate the companies where we are working to reach out proactively to those who have been deployed and are now finishing their military service. We can offer to spend time with men and women in transition to make them aware of the opportunities available to them and the most effective paths to follow in pursuing those opportunities. We can help them to prepare a credible resume, and help them to prepare for interviews. We can introduce them to our network of contacts.

As I launch White Rhino Partners, my primary focus will continue to be to help client companies to find and hire gifted leaders at the senior executive level. But because I have a pipeline of relationships with many extraordinarily talented young men and women who have served as junior military officers, I am also going to establish a secondary practice of helping companies to identify gifted future leaders and get these young leaders hired and established on a career path that will eventually lead to senior executive level responsibilities.

Think about what a goldmine American businesses are now able to tap into – if they have the wisdom to know how to find the best nuggets. We have returning to our shores thousands of young officers who have been tested and purufued in the refiner’s fire. They have had life and death responsibilities; they have learned to make snap decisions based on the best available information and intelligence. They have learned to build teams and motivate those teams under trying circumstances. They have learned to execute orders, devise plans, leads troops under adverse conditions and rapidly changing environments, and they have learned to accept responsibility for their actions and the actions of those they lead. What company that is being led by visionary leaders would not value the opportunity to hire this kind of talent – young people who have developed maturity and responsibility far beyond their chronological age.

Keep in mind that the young leaders who are returning home are not a monolithic group – they are individuals with widely diversified skill sets and aspirations. Some are destined to go to graduate school. Some will make great sales professionals. Others will be able to use their logistics experience to help a company with its supply chain and manufacturing challenges. Others will find careers in banking, marketing, consulting. A few who are wired as entrepreneurs will strike out on their own and start their own businesses.

Many individuals have asked me: “What can I do to help?” Here is a short list:

1) If your company is looking to hire mature, young men and women who are teachable and responsible, create a way to tap into the pool of those who are returning. I would be happy to explore with your company how to identify specific kinds of talent. I am in conversation with some remarkable young men and women – many of whom are West Point or Annapolis graduates – who are ready to begin their careers in the business world. I would love to be able to introduce your company to some of these talented and eager leaders.

2) Use this time to think about succession planning, and use the timely availability of this uniquely qualified talent pool to build a bench of future leaders for your company – leaders who will be ready, willing and able to replace retiring Baby Boomers.

3) Make sure that your company is welcoming back and reaching out to those who have served in the National Guard and the Reserves. For many, they are returning to find that their jobs have disappeared while they were deployed and serving our nation. Justice and fairness demands that we welcome them home with jobs that offer appropriate levels of responsibility and opportunity.

I look forward to hearing from you as we work together to deploy these valuable resources in ways that will continue to benefit our nation.


American Idol – The White Rhino Connection!

Seriously, there is a White Rhino connection to this year’s edition of the Fox Network show, American Idol. My friend, Tom Lowe, who auditioned in Seattle, has been chosen to be among the 40 semi-finalists who will compete in Hollywood beginning next Tuesday, February 13. We will find out a week from tonight if Tom has been chosen among the final 24 contestants. For a view of Tom’s American Idol audition before Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, click on the You Tube link below.

This second clip is of Tom singing the National Anthem before a Red Sox game at Fenway Park last fall. I was there, and can honestly say the crowd was spell-bound – something that does not often happen when the Star Spangled Banner is sung before a sporting event.

There will be more to come in the next few weeks with behind-the scenes reports from Tom on the American Idol competition.