Friday, January 30, 2009

Join the Conversation - Harvard Business Publishing Launches Frontline Leadership Forum


I am excited, honored and humbled to have been asked to participate in a project that has just been launched by Harvard Business Publishing. Frontline Leadership is an on-line forum for discussing how the leadership lessons being learned in Iraq and Afghanistan can translate into leadership in the business world and beyond.

Frontline Leadership - "A new generation of leaders is coming of age on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, where various combinations of counterinsurgency, urban combat, and nation building require unprecedented levels of innovation and flexibility. In Frontline Leadership, young veteran leaders and military leadership experts discuss the changing nature of leadership in war and what civilian managers can learn from it.”

I am pleased to introduce the group of commentators that has been assembled, under the leadership of Katherine Bell of Harvard Business Publishing.

Meet the distinguished team of commentators who anchor the Frontline Leadership discussions hosted by Harvard Business Publishing:

Rye Barcott is the president and founder of Carolina For Kibera, an NGO that has fought poverty and promoted ethnic and religious reconciliation in Nairobi, Kenya since 2001. After establishing CFK, Barcott served in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Horn of Africa, and Iraq. He is currently a joint MPA and MBA candidate at Harvard University. Captain Barcott is a member of Harvard University's Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility and Committee on Rights and Responsibilities, and he serves on the UNC NROTC Board of Directors and the World Learning Board of Trustees.

Donovan Campbell is currently a Zone Sales Leader Designate working for Frito-Lay in Dallas, Texas. He returned to Frito in September from a year-long involuntary military recall, during which he helped Special Operations Command Central start its Tribal Engagement Initiative in Afghanistan. After four years as a Marine Corps infantry officer, intelligence officer, and sniper platoon commander, including two tours in Iraq, Campbell graduated from Harvard Business School. His book about his Marine platoon and their 2004 Iraq tour together, Joker One, will be published in 2009.

Al Chase is the founder of White Rhino Partners, an executive search firm specializing in placing entrepreneurial leaders who have had a distinguished military career and/or are service academy graduates and hold MBAs from top-tier business schools.

Nathaniel C. Fick is a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He served as a Marine Corps infantry and reconnaissance officer, including operational assignments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. In 2007, Fick was a civilian instructor at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy in Kabul. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller One Bullet Away. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MPA in international security policy from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

David Gowel graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2002. His military experience includes graduation from the US Army Ranger School, combat leadership as an armor platoon leader in Iraq and his position as Assistant Professor of Military Science at MIT. Currently, he is a US Army Reserve Captain serving as adjunct faculty at MIT, President and CEO of Clearly Creative, a marketing company, and he is earning his Master's Degree in Management from Harvard University.

Colonel Tom Kolditz is Professor and Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. Kolditz has served in an array of military tactical command and technical staff assignments worldwide, commanding through battalion level, and as a leadership and human resources policy analyst in the Pentagon. His most recent book is In Extremis Leadership: Leading as if Your Life Depended on It.

Doug Raymond manages several of Google's advertising product teams and works on the development and testing of new advertising formats in markets around the world. He is a former Army officer and served in the 1st Armored Division and 66th Military Intelligence Group, both based in Germany. He is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Principal of the Truman National Security Project. Doug holds a B.S. from the United States Military Academy and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Scott Snook is currently an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Harvard Business School. He served in the US Army Corps of Engineers for over 22 years, earning the rank of Colonel before retiring in 2002. He has led soldiers in combat. Among his military decorations are the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Master Parachutist badge. He has an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Organizational Behavior. His most recent book is Friendly Fire.

Everett Spain is currently a White House Fellow in Washington, DC, and just returned from Baghdad, where he served as the aide-de-camp to the commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, General David Petraeus. Earlier in his career, he was an assistant professor at West Point, where he taught Leading Organizations through Change and developed the degree granting partnership between West Point and Columbia University. As a US Army Officer, Everett served in Germany, Kosovo, and across the US with various outfits, including the 82d Airborne Division. Everett is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and earned an MBA from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

Maura Sullivan, a former Marine Captain, spent seven months as a logistics officer in Fallujah. She is currently an MBA/MPA candidate at Harvard's Business and Kennedy Schools. Last summer she worked for McKinsey in Singapore; this summer she worked at PepsiCo in New York.

Leonard Wong is a research professor in the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College who focuses on the human and organizational dimensions of the military. He is a retired lieutenant colonel whose career includes teaching leadership at West Point and serving as an analyst for the Chief of Staff of the Army. His research has led him to locations such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Vietnam and has been highlighted in media such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New Yorker, CNN, NPR, PBS, and 60 Minutes. He holds a B.S. from West Point and a Ph.D. from Texas Tech University.

I am deeply grateful to Harvard Business Publishing and to Katherine Bell for their leadership, foresight and initiative in serving as catalyst and host for this project. I encourage you to log onto the site and join in the conversation. Already, in the first few days of dialogue, it is clear that there will be a wide divergence of opinions expressed. Add your voice to ours in exploring the limits of leadership.

FrontLine Leadership Link

Enjoy!

Al

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Finding New Patterns in Familiar Things - Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers"



The thing that I love most about the writing of Malcolm Gladwell is that he enables me to see familiar things in new ways. For that reason, he is one of three writers of “business books” whose works I frequently re-read. The two other writers are Jim Collins (“Good to Great”) and Seth Godin (”Tribes,” “Purple Cow,” etc.) As a result of reading “The Tipping Point,” I no longer look at familiar objects in the same way – graffiti, subway turnstiles, broken windows. In the same vein, after reading “Blink,” when I attend an orchestra concert, I wonder about the process of auditioning prospective musicians behind a curtain to prohibit the jury from being swayed by gender prejudice.

Gladwell’s latest offering, “Outliers,” raises the curtain and reveals hidden patterns in such diverse realms as math learning, blood feuds in Appalachia and plane crashes. It is a fascinating study into the hidden factors – often cultural and anthropological in nature – that explain extraordinary levels of success. In the most simple form, Gladwell’s premise – beautifully told in gripping vignettes and mini-biographies – is that hard work is necessary for success – but more is required. He makes a compelling case by finding the same pattern of cultural antecedents occurring in widely disparate enterprises and parts of the world.



Early in the book, Gladwell talks about the rare longevity and health of the inhabitants of tiny Roseto, Pennsylvania.


“Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that they wouldn’t be able to understand why someone was healthy if all they did was think about an individual’s personal choices or actions in isolation. They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was part of, and who their friends and family were, and what town their families came from. They had to appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.



In Outliers, I want to do for our understanding of success what Stewart Wolf did for our understanding of health.” (Pages 10-11)


And Gladwell succeeds spectacularly in his mission to illuminate the topic of success. Later in the book, as he addresses the patterns of connectivity that have led to the spectacular success of some Jewish lawyers in New York City, he identifies the recipe that makes work satisfying for an individual:


“Those three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us. . . Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning” (Pages 149-150)




This book has great practical value. The cultural component of the communication patterns learned from studying the cockpit recording from plane crashes impacts the way in which one should communicate cross-culturally in a business setting. I am rushing to write this review this morning so that I can race to the airport to hand my copy of the book off to a friend as he prepares to head to Nicaragua for a business trip. I want him to have the advantage of Gladwell’s insights before opening his mouth in his first meeting in Managua tomorrow morning.

I am rushing to Logan Airport; I encourage you to rush to a bookstore or an on-line book source and pick up Gladwell's landmark work Outliers.

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Alan Furst Does It Again – “The Spies of Warsaw”


I was thrilled when I learned that Alan Furst had written a new novel. I soak up everything he writes. In my view, he stands alongside John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum as a master in weaving together tales of espionage in the pre-WWII and post-WWII worlds of intrigue, mystery and danger.


For previous White Rhino Report reviews of other Furst novels, follow this link:


Previous Furst Reviews


Furst paints with a dark palette of words and images, and the worlds and characters that he creates are all the more intriguing because of the chiaroscuro of his world view and descriptions. I marvel at the skill and artistry with which he sets the scene of the building storm clouds of war that were gathering over Poland in the 1930’s. Here are the opening lines to “The Spies of Warsaw”:


“In the dying light of an autumn day in 1937, a certain Herr Edvard Uhl, a secret agent, descended from a first-class railway car in the city of Warsaw. Above the city, the sky was at war; the last of the sun struck blood-red embers off massed black cloud, while the clear horizon to the west was the color of blue ice. Herr Uhl suppressed a shiver; the sharp air of the evening, he told himself. But this was Poland, the border of the Russian steppe, and what had reached him was well beyond the chill of an October twilight.” (Page 3)


The book continues by laying out a masterful saga of how those gathering storm clouds impacted the micro-climate of a small band of Polish, French and Russian characters all trying to find shelter from the coming storm and storm troopers.


May God grant Alan Furst the strength and health and imagination to continue offering these kinds of compelling tales well into the next several decades.


Enjoy!


Al

Mini-Review of "100 Things Red Sox Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" by Nick Cafardo


It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox, and that I read voraciously about them (and about many other topics, as well!) So, Christmas and birthdays often bring gifts of Red Sox-related books. This holiday season was no exception. I was pleased to receive Nick Cafardo's recent book highlighting the 100 top things a Red Sox fan should experience and know about the team.

For me, reading Cafardo's literary confection was a quick and amusing walk down memory lane, remembering the sights, sounds and smells of trips to Fenway in the past, and re-visiting the exploits of players from the past 100 years of Red Sox history.

For the casual fan, this book will provide some new information and interesting insights. For the more ardent fans among Red Sox Nation, the book will serve as a handy guidebook through the museum of personal memories.

I enjoyed the book in part because it helped me to reheat and taste again some of the sweet and sour moments that the Red Sox have dished out in my lifetime of following this wondrous team and franchise.

Enjoy.

Al

Talent Alert for the Boston Area - Project Manager for Quality Throughput

One of my client companies in the Boston area is a software/professional services firm that needs to find someone to handle throughput and workload balancing for the quality assurance team. Best background would be someone who has worked in logistics and project management on a tactical, day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis in a fast-paced and rapidly changing environment. For details, e-mail me at:


achase47@gmail.com


Thanks.


Al

Monday, January 19, 2009

Join Me at Club Passim to Hear Christopher Williams - Wednesday, January 21 at 7:00 PM


I invite all who are able to join me this Wednesday evening at 7:00 at Club Passim in Harvard Square to hear my friend, acclaimed musician Christopher Williams. He will be recording a live album at this performace and the one the following evening.

If you are not yet familiar with Mr. Williams' music, here is a thumbnail sketch:

Christopher Williams is a songwriter and an entertainer, engaging audiences with what the Boston Phoenix calls “lush guitar work, sweet soaring vocals,” and sometimes the added percussive vulnerability of a single djembe hand drum. During the last several years, Williams has opened for, and in some cases accompanied on djembe and vocals, such renowned performers as David Wilcox, the waifs, Peter Himmelman, Patty Larkin, the subdudes, and Arlo Guthrie, in a wide array of venues ranging from Boston’s Sanders Theatre to Nashville’s Bluebird CafĂ© to San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. He’s also brought his music to the main stage at many of the nation’s finest folk festivals, including New York’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Texas’ Kerrville Folk Festival, and Oklahoma’s Woody Guthrie Festival.

In moving to Nashville, Williams gives up a respectable Boston career, including his penchant for repeatedly selling out three-show nights at Cambridge’s famed Club Passim and garnering three Boston Music Award nominations. But, Williams remains confident in trusting the twists and turns his life’s journey brings.

www.christopherw.com


Link to Club Passim

Hope to see you there.

Al

Clint Eastwood's Valedictory Performance – “Gran Torino”


Readers of The White Rhino Report know that I hold in high esteem the thinking and writing of Boston Globe film critic, Ty Burr. As usual, I find myself agreeing in large measure with his assessment of Clink Eastwood latest oeuvre, Gran Torino.

Ty Burr Review of Gran Torino

Yet, I found in this film something that Ty only fleeting alluded to when he talked about “The Last Temptation of Clint.” There is a deep spiritual thread that weaves its way throughout this film – a thread that reached out and grabbed my heart and caused me to reflect at length on the transformation that Walt Kowalski went through as the story progressed to its cathartic climax. As I left the theater, I was haunted by the recollection of a quotation that appeared in the diary of martyred missionary, Jim Elliot, slaughtered in Ecuador by Auca Indians who later came to embrace the faith that Elliot had endeavored to proclaim:

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

In the calculus of Kowalski’s troubled mind, he obviously arrived - albeit following a tortuous path - at a similar conclusion. The crusty racist Korean veteran, suffering from a severe chronic case of “hardening of the categories,” slowly came to arrive at a new and different answer to the biblical question: “Who is my neighbor?”

This film, Gran Torino, has its flaws, but is well worth taking for a spin as a vehicle for understanding that you can teach an old dogmatic new tricks.

Enjoy!

Al

We Are Not in Kansas Any More – Review of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” by M.S. White, Ph.D., J.D.


Dr. Myra White is a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. She is also a gifted story teller. She has very cleverly and very effectively used the well known story of the Wizard of Oz to craft a metaphor for demonstrating how women and men in a wide variety of disciplines have achieved success. Her book, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road – A Harvard Psychologist’s Guide to Becoming a Superstar,” is both practical and delightful. I plan to purchase multiple copies to give to friends and colleagues who are students of achieving excellence.


Using the Yellow Brick Road that Dorothy and her entourage used to make their way to the Emerald City as a template for a journey to success, Dr. White breaks the sojourn into nine discrete steps. She illustrates principles emblematic of each of these stages by relating vignettes from the lives of successful individuals as diverse as Oprah Winfrey, Sam Walton, Lance Armstrong, Margaret Thatcher and Richard Branson, et al.


Here, in a nutshell, are the 9 stages of the journey that Dr. White has extracted from the peregrinations of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion in the Land of Oz.


Step 1 – Know Yourself

  • The key to becoming a superstar lies in understanding our mini-strengths and identifying what we passionately care about in this world.

Step 2 – Know Where You Are Going

  • Superstars know what they want to achieve. To become superstars we must commit ourselves to a mission and then pursue it relentlessly.

Step 3 – Know How to Get There

  • Our ability to become a superstar depends on more than doing a good job. We must also understand how to build power and influence.

Step 4 – Know How to Create Your Personal Success Syndrome

  • To become a superstar we must strategically use the personal powers that we have to acquire more powers.

Step 5 – Know How to Give and Get Help

  • No man or woman is an island. Superstars don’t do it alone. They have lots of help from others and they remember in turn to help others.

Step 6 – Know How to Manage Your Emotions

  • Our emotions can be our biggest stumbling blocks to becoming a superstar. Understanding how to control our fears and anxieties is essential to becoming a superstar.

Step 7 – Know How to Manage Your Performance

  • There are key times when we must deliver our best performances. To do this we must learn techniques that let us perform at our peak when it counts most.

Step 8 – Know How to Deal with Risk and Adversity

  • The journey to become a superstar is never easy. There are always unanticipated roadblocks and periods of deep despair when it seems that we will never succeed. To survive we must learn how to overcome failure and believe in ourselves.

Step 9 – Know How to Have Fun

  • Superstars love what they do. We must choose a path that we find fun and expresses the joy of who we are and what makes us special.


The pages of this book are filled with pithy stories that highlight how superstars who are familiar to us have put these principles into practice. One such story grabbed me, because it showed a superstar, Virgin CEO Richard Branson, in a light I had never seen him in before:


“In 1979, he went to Paris to find someone to set up a French subsidiary for Virgin. There he met Patrick Zelnick at a lunch with the French head of Polygram. Richard immediately saw that Patrick, despite his wild, distracted Woody Allen look, would be a good person to run Virgin’s French subsidiary. After lunch, Patrick couldn’t remember where he had parked his car. Rather than rush off to another meeting, Richard spent four hours helping Patrick search the narrow Paris streets for his car. Before they parted, he suggested that Patrick come and see him the next time that he was in London. A month later, Patrick showed up in London and agreed to run Virgin’s French subsidiary.” (Page 112)


I love this story because it demonstrates what I like to think of as “Servant Leadership” as an irreplaceable ingredient in the recipe for successfully following the Yellow Brick Road to superstardom.


This book comes with my strong recommendation. I am confident that you will enjoy the journey of reading it – and your little dog too!!!


Enjoy!


Al


Amazon.com Link

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"The Corn is Green" - World Class Theater in Boston


Boston's Huntington Theater Company is currently presenting a remarkable production of Emlyn Williams' timeless classic, "The Corn is Green." You may know the story from the two films that were made of it. The 1945 version starred Betty Davis, and the 1979 re-make, directed by George Cukor, starred Katherine Hepburn as Miss Moffatt, the spinster who strives to bring schooling to the young coal miners of Wales.

The current production, playing in Boston through February 8, is a not-to-be-missed event for lovers of theater and of great story telling. Directed by Nicholas Martin, the role of the school teacher is played by Kate Burton, Tony-nominated actress of great repute. There are some wonderful behind-the-scenes dynamics at work in this production. An early version of the play starred a young Welsh actor you may have heard of: Richard Burton. Kate is Richard Burton's daughter. In this production, the role of the young coal miner/prodigy is played by Kate's son, Morgan Ritchie.

Despite the star power of Ms. Burton and son, you should be aware that this play is not just a star vehicle; the ensemble cast is flawless.

The play is the most autobiographical of all of Emlyn Williams' writing. He himself was raised up from the coal mining mountains of Wales and encouraged by a teacher to apply to attend Oxford University. In addition to being a writer, Mr. Williams was a gifted actor. Late in his life, he performed one-man presentations of the lives of Dylan Thomas and Charles Dickens. I was fortunate to see him on two occasions do his recreation of the readings that Dickens' had done as he toured the U.S.

I plan to return to see this production of "The Corn is Green" at least once more before it closes. I hope to see you there.

Enjoy!

Al

Huntington Theater Link

Follow-up to review of "The Mission, the Men, and Me"


A few days ago, I received word of a comment that had been appended to the Blog posting I recently published on Pete Blaber's new book, "The Mission, the Men, and Me."

I find that comment to be so timely and significant, I want to be sure that every reader of The White Rhino Report is aware of what is being said on the front lines. So, I am reproducing the comment below:


Anonymous said...

Al,


This book is more timely today than ever; we just had a commander using the predator to check for uniform violations of his men who were patrolling in the mountains outside Khowst. Pete Blaber's book should be stamped 'need to share' for all current leaders in the fight. No decision should ever get made by a leader over the radio or predator without first asking the question 'what's your recommendation?' to the guy on the ground.


Thanks for recommending it; everyone on my team reads your blog in Afghanistan.

Rich

Friday, January 09, 2009

Some Thoughts on Visiting London – If You are Thinking of Going



"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

Dr. Samuel Johnson


If you are thinking about visiting London, I encourage you to do so. I have just returned from my most recent visit, and fell in love with the lovely and stodgy old city all over again. London has emerged as one of my favorite cities in the world. (After Boston and London, my top 10 at the moment, in alphabetical order, would be Florence, Istanbul, Kiev, Krakow, Lisbon, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague and Singapore.)


London has the reputation for being a very expensive city, but it is possible to stay there and enjoy its delights relatively cheaply if you know how to do it. Here are a few of my thoughts based on dozens of visits to this treasure chest on the Thames.


Accommodations – There are, of course, some of the world class 4 and 5 star classic hotels, but at the other end of the scale, there are dozens of hostels and hundreds of Bed and Breakfasts. I have had great luck using several of the boutique hotels located within a 5-minute walk from Victoria Station or Paddington Station. These lovely old row houses were once private homes, and typically offer 15-20 rooms scattered among 3 or 4 stories. There are no elevators, so be prepared to schlep your luggage up a few flights. Most offer a very edible English breakfast as part of the deal. Current prices are as low as $70-90 dollars/night.


London B&B Link


The Underground – Daily passes are available after 9:30 AM for ₤5.60 that allow unlimited access to all subways within the city (Zones 1 and 2) and all buses. The subway shuts down around midnight, but there are night buses that run all night, and your pass is good until 4:00 AM. Instead of paying for an over-priced guided tour bus, I pick a public bus route, climb to the top floor of the bus, check out the neighborhoods along the route and decide what to come back and visit, or just get off when it fits my fancy.


Walking the City – Like Boston and New York, London is a very walkable city – with each distinct neighborhood offering up its own unique blend of sights, smells, sounds and idiosyncrasies. Over the years, I have availed myself of the incomparable services of the guides provided by the Original London Walks.


London Walks Link


For ₤5 or ₤7 ($8-11), you can participate in a 2-hour group tour of any of dozens of neighborhoods or themed walks. The guides are all certified, and many are actors or professors with the ability to make history come alive. They are, without exception, gifted story tellers who make the city and its secrets accessible and delectable.

Some of the walking tours will guide you through the museums, which I recommend. The Beatles walk is fun, as are the Dickens and Shakespeare walks. More extended walks are available for Greenwich, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Oxford and other outlying places.


Theater – This is often one of the reasons why I stop in London whenever I can on my way back from Europe. There is always something worth seeing. The TKTS booth in Leicester Square is reliable and is the only official source of off-price tickets to musicals and dramas.


London TKTS Link


Be aware of some differences between London theater and Broadway. “The stalls” are the orchestra seats; the “interval” is intermission. Programs are sold and not given out for free. Another big difference is that if you have an interest in talking with the cast members after a show, very few people line up at the stage door. On my most recent trip, I had extended conversations with the stars of Zorro and Carousel. When I asked why more people did not seek out an opportunity to talk with the actors, I was told, simply: “British reserve!”


Food – Because London is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, you can find restaurants representing the cuisines of the entire former British Empire – and well beyond. You don’t have to settle for beef and kidney pie or bangers. I have found a little out-of-the-way fish and chips shop in Soho that is so good I return there every time I am in London. I am usually the only tourist there. Everyone else works or lives in the neighborhood. ₤8 will get you a whole haddock, a plate of chips (fries) and a soda. Amazing. If you plan to go, ask me for directions on how to find the place.


That is just the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Johnson would be pleased with me, for I never tire of London – nor of talking about it.


Enjoy!


Al

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Some Practical Lessons from Delta Force - "The Mission, the Men, and Me" by Pete Blaber


When the dust has finally settled from our involvement in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the engagements that I believe will occupy the time of many prognosticators for generations to come will be "Operation Anaconda" that took place in the Shahi Khot Valley of Afghanistan in the winter of 2002.

Several fine books have already been written describing what happened during those fateful hours in the frigid February and March air high in the mountains near the Pakistan border. Sean Naylor gives a gripping account of his part of the story in "Not a Good Day to Die." (See below for the link to my review from February, 2007.)

Not a Good Day to Die Review

Nate Self's recent book, "Two Wars" (to be reviewed here soon) adds another important perspective on what happened in Afghanistan and beyond.

Pete Blaber, the Delta Force commander who was in charge of the AFO (Advanced Force Operations) involved in Operation Anaconda, has written a compelling book that is a welcome addition to the ongoing dialogue about what we can all learn from the events of those days. Adding valuable insight into this engagement, Blaber's book also takes a broad look at lessons he has learned along the way that are practical and applicable not just to military operations but to any situations that presents leadership challenges.

The title of the book, "Mission, the Men, and Me - Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander ," refers to the three priorities and three questions that Blaber set for himself in making decisions in the heat of battle: "What is best for the Mission; what is best for my men; what is best for me?" Any leader would be well served to adapt these priorities at decisive moments in responding to challenges and opportunities.

Let me share just a few of the nuggets that I found in reading with rapt attention Blaber's thoughts and conclusions. For a more thorough understanding of the depth of his insights, I recommend that you read the book - even if you have no military background or proclivities. This is - above all else - a book about leadership.

"The 3Ms is a guiding principle that I learned early in my career, which had provided direction and context for me ever since. In 1985, when I was a brand-new second lieutenant reporting for duty in Korea, my battalion commander, a soft-spoken Vietnam veteran and Marlboro Man lookalike, called me into his office and asked me if I had ever heard of the 3Ms.

'No-sir,' I replied sheepishly (I was sure it was something I was supposed to have learned during basic officer training). He sauntered over to the chalkboard and drew three capital Ms, one on top of the other in a column. Then he turned to me and explained.

'The 3Ms are the keys to being successful in life. The stand for the mission, the men, and me.' He then drew a line from the top M through the middle M, down to the bottom M. 'They're all connected,' he continued. 'So if you neglect one, you'll screw up the others. The first M stands for the mission; it's the purpose for which you're doing what you're doing. Whether in your personal or professional life, make sure you understand it, and that it makes legal, moral, and ethical sense, then use it to guide all your decisions. The second M stands for the men. Joshua Chamberlain, a Medal of Honor-receiving schoolteacher in the Civil War, once said that "there are two things an officer must do to lead men; he must be careful for his men's welfare, and he must show courage." Welfare of the troops and courage are inextricably linked. When it comes to your men you can't be good at one without being good at the other. Take care of your men's welfare by listening and leading them with sound tactics and techniques that accomplish your mission, and by always having the courage to do the right thing by them. The final M stands for me. Me comes last for a reason. You have to take care of yourself, but you should only do so after you have taken care of the mission, and the men. Never put your own personal well-being, or advancement, ahead of the accomplishment of your mission and taking care of your men . . .'" (Pages 10-11)

Blaber shares his recollection of an incident early in his career within Delta force that tested his commitment to the 3Ms. He chose to countermand the radio order of a commanding general in order to save the lives of his men:

"That simple handshake and the barely audible words of gratitude from a man I completely respected , along with the knowledge that all my men had successfully returned from a dangerous mission, was a defining moment for me that I am proud of as any event in my entire life. Ironically, I didn't do anything other than what I was supposed to do. I didn't lead a charge against an enemy machine-gun nest, nor did I execute some Napoleonic cutting-edge operational maneuver; I simply did the right thing. It was the right thing for the mission, it was the right thing for the men, and it was the right thing for me." (Pages 12-13)

Blaber succinctly summarizes the reason why he labored to write this book and bring it to publication:

"The ultimate goal of this book is to share what I consider to be life-saving and life-changing lessons that I was fortunate enough to learn as a key participant in many of recent history's most impactful events. The single most important lesson I learned, and the plain but powerful foundation that supports the entire book, is that the most effective weapon on any battlefield - whether it be combat, business, or life - is our mind's ability to recognize life's underlying patterns." (Page 14)

One example of recognizing patterns is found in the author's recounting a pivotal conversation with a Delta Force consulting psychologist. Blaber was having trouble sleeping, and was looking for some help:

"You need to understand how the human mind works. The mind has three elementary phases it goes through when it's thinking: saturate, incubate, and illuminate. Although they generally occur in order, all three are continuous processes, so your mind is constantly cycling through all three phases. The saturation phase occurs when the mind if first exposed to something. When you're planning a new mission, you're saturating your mind with facts, assumptions, insights and/or sensory cues - ergo, the saturation phase. the next phase is incubation. This is a critical phase if you ever want to come up with something innovative. The mind needs time to incubate. During this phase the mind subconsciously sorts through all of the inputs and begins to recognize patterns and snap those patterns together to come up with concepts and ideas. This is why you may have heard people say, 'I need to sleep on it' before making a major decision. It's not the sleep per se that they need: it's the time to allow their mind to sort through information and search for patterns. The recognition of patterns that occurs during the incubation phase produces the illumination phase, also known as 'eureka' moments, when your mind begins to translate those patterns and form the into actionable ideas. Saturate, incubate, illuminate - it's how the mind works, and it's probably the main reason why you have last so much sleep over the years. The best thing you can do is to keep a pen and paper by your bed. Writing down your thoughts while you're incubating and illuminating should help to temporarily get the off your mind and back to sleep." (Page 70)

As Blaber continues with his account of the things that happened in the Shahi Khot Valley, one over-arching principle emerges that resonated with me, because I have heard it articulated in many different ways by leaders that I respect: "Always listen to the guy on the ground who is closest to the action." Leaps forward in communication technologies have allowed commanders in the rear echelon to have a false sense of being present in the battle, and making false assumptions that the view that they are seeing "through a straw" has given them enough battlefield awareness to countermand the recommendations of the leaders on the front lines. The last chapters of the book bear strong and impassioned witness to the tragic results of not listening to those on the ground.

I plan to share copies of this book with friends who are leaders in a variety of fields. I strongly recommend that you read it and pass it along.

Al