Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Novel of Survival in the Hindu Kush: "The Mullah's Storm" by Thomas W. Young

Whenever I see that my friend, Nate Fick, has recommended a book, I know that it will be a worthwhile read. Nate, bestselling author of "One Bullet Away," is much too busy these days running the Center for a New American Security to waste his time on books that do not make a difference. "The Mullah's Storm" makes a strong impact. Written by Thomas W. Young as a novel, the action arises from Young's experience as a combat pilot. The tone of the book screams of someone who has been there and has heard the sounds, felt the chills and experienced the metallic taste of fear.

The action of the book - which proceeds at supersonic speed - centers of the shoot down of a U.S. plane, a Hercules C-130, carrying a "High Value Target" out of Afghanistan for interrogation. The mullah in question has lots of information that the military and intelligence community are eager to extract. The Taliban are adamant that this must not happen, so the plane is shot from the Afghani skies by a missile. Only three persons survive the crash and the subsequent attack by the Taliban - Major Michael Parson, the plane's navigator, Master Seargent Gold, an interpreter assigned to accompany the Mullah, and the ancient Mullah himself. Because of a lingering "100 year storm," rescue helicopters are unable to scramble from Bagram Air Force Base to mount a rescue operation. So Maj. Parson and Sgt. Gold are responsible for keeping the Mullah in custody and alive until they can be rescued. Sgt. Gold brings to bear her training in Pashto and the cultures of Afghanistan as she helps Maj. Parson to communicate with the Mullah and to understand the mindset of the enemy Taliban forces who are stalking them and trying to free their spiritual leader.

Young has woven a tale of terror and hardship in a very effective literary style. Allow me to share two excerpts that will give you a sense of his narrative voice. In the first excerpt, Maj. Parson has "lost it" after finding the decapitated body of one of the crew members of their downed plane. Enraged over this atrocity committed by the Taliban, Parson reacts by grabbing the prisoner by the throat, prepared to make the Mullah pay for the sins of his followers. Sgt. Gold intervenes and stops the madness before it goes too far. In this passage, Maj. Parson is reflecting on what happened to him:

"Flakes fell large and thick, spiraled down like dying mayflies. The mullah's breath came in labored wheezing, and the pack grew heavy across Parson's shoulders. Parson glanced at Gold, who wore an aggrieved expression. She had more than enough reason to look frightened or worried, but this was something else. More like deep sorrow or profound disappointment. Well, I gave her reason to be disappointed in me, Parson thought. She kept looking back at the mullah. Was she disappointed in him, too? What the hell did she expect? A squadron of cliff swallows darted by, five or six little brown birds crisscrossing each other, their rapid wingbeats taking them through the storm. Parson wished he could take flight and join their formation. But he could only place one foot in front of the other, in an old track, if possible, wandering like a pilgrim on a quest for enlightenment, carrying the burden of all his sins." (Page 76)

Later in the narrative, the author gives the reader further insight into the thought process and emotional upheaval that the war and this grueling rescue operation have had on Maj. Parson, whose prior experience in the war zone has been largely confined to the comforts of the flight deck or the Air Force bases where his Hercules aircraft were housed.

"Parson recalled when Marwan's men had done to Nunez, what they'd nearly done to him and Gold. The just-missed chance for payback. He wanted to shout, stab, soot. Now he could only watch and wait. And take another three steps. He wished he has some sort of emotional circuit protection, like the breakers in the airplane that tripped when the load got too high. But he had no such thing, and the wiring of his mind could only burn." (Page 216)

Our soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen fighting in Afghanistan continue to pay a heavy price for carrying out the orders that flow down the chain of command to them from the Pentagon. This novel eloquently reminds us of that cost. This is a book well worth reading.



Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Telling Stories of How Great It Is on the Other Side - Seth Godin and West Point Intersect

I had a flash of pattern recognition yesterday as I was processing some of the information I was reading. Seth Godin and West Point intersected. Let me explain.

The West Point Association of Graduates publishes a periodic newsletter entitled "Gray Matter." Yesterday's article was about the annual March Back from Camp Buckner for the plebe Class of 2014. It has become a tradition for graduates of the United States Military Academy - members of "The Long Gray Line" - to join the plebes as they march back to the main campus to be incorporated into the rest of the Corps of Cadets.

"This year, 160 signed up for the full 11.8 mile trek from Camp Buckner while 29 opted for the two-mile final march down Washington Road. The oldest graduate was COL Dick Williams ’45, who completed his eighth full march back; the younger COL Roger Conover ’48 completed his ninth full march back. The youngest graduate, LT Andrew McKinley ’08, recently returned from Iraq, marched with his mother Teesa ’81, sister Kathryn ’11, and brother Chris ’14.

Grad marchers assembled at the Class of ’48 Ski Lodge for refreshments and war stories, joined there by those marching only the last two miles. After all of the new cadet companies had arrived, the grads formed up for a group photo and then marched to a position just inside Washington Gate. The new cadets then formed, the Cadet Spirit Band played, green smoke was set off, and the Class of 2014 marched through Washington Gate, past the cheering graduate marchers. Even two Army mules joined, and the road soon was lined with families from post as well as families and friends of the new cadets, wishing them well and cheering them on. Most held homemade signs of congratulations.

Finally, the new cadets reached the end of their march back, passed in review for the Superintendent, Commandant and Dean in front of Quarters 100, and began the frenzied activity known as Reorganization Week. The Superintendent congratulated them all, noted the presence of the Hyde family, and congratulated the oldest and youngest graduate marchers. The 50-Year Affiliation Class of 1964, in turn, presented him with a walking stick commemorating the march back. For the Class of 2014, however, their 47-month West Point experience was just over two months along. As Churchill said in November 1942, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Gray Matter Article

Shortly after reading this West Point article, I browsed through Seth Godin's daily Blog offering. There are always nuggets in his concise postings. Yesterday's topic was entitled:

How big is your red zone?

Seth's main point is that "Every activity worth doing has a learning curve." He presented three graphs (shown above) that progressively show the disconnect between joy experienced in mastering a new experience and the hassle encountered in getting over the tough first awkward experiments.

Seth explains the graphs:

"The second graph shows the hassle of that same activity. Riding a bike, for example, is horrible at first. Skinned knees, bruised egos. Twitter is really easy to use the first few times, so not so much red ink there.

The third graph is just the two overlaid. That zone on the left, the red zone, is the gap between the initial hassle and the initial joy. My contention is that the only reason we ever get through that gap is that someone on the other side (the little green circle) is rooting us on, or telling us stories of how great it is on the other side.

The bigger your red zone, the louder your green dot needs to be. Every successful product or passion is either easy to get started on or comes with a built-in motivator to keep you moving until you're in."

Seth Godin Blog

There is a huge "Red Zone" when you are a plebe at West Point - lots of skinned knees and bruised egos. 1,375 cadets reported on "R Day" on 28 May 2010. In the intervening weeks, the class experienced 51 losses (those for whom the Red Zone was too daunting) plus 13 on medical leave. 1,311 new cadets remained to join the graduates for the March Back. The graduates that joined the March and the parents and family members who lined the march route,, and the three upper classes that greeted the new cadets all represent the "Little Green Circle." By their presence, there were loudly and eloquently representing . . .

. . .that someone on the other side (the little green circle) is rooting us on, or telling us stories of how great it is on the other side.

As an institution, West Point has learned the importance of making that Green Circle as large and as loud as possible to invite the neophytes to push themselves through the discomfort of the Red Zone to be able to finally experience the joy that awaits them when they have mastered their new skills and identities. Leaders in business and in families could learn a great deal about the importance of creating traditions that expand the Green Circle.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Defining White Rhino Partners: Executive Search, Executive Coaching and More

In the past several weeks, I have had a “Ground Hog Day” experience in several of my conversations. The same phrase keeps popping up. At some point in my conversations with clients, candidates and new acquaintances, the other person has said something like: “You are not a typical recruiter! You are a lot more than an executive recruiter; you should not limit yourself by labeling yourself as just a ‘head hunter.’”

With that impetus, I realize that it would be helpful to give the readers of The White Rhino Report a thumbnail sketch of all of the kinds of services that I do offer under the umbrella of White Rhino Partners. I will lead with the newest emphasis – Executive Coaching/Career Coaching

· Executive Coaching/Career Coaching – The overarching goal in my coaching practice is to work closely with leaders who are already functioning at a high level of success and effectiveness, and to encourage them to move from being an “A player” to becoming an “A+ player” in terms of experiencing both a sense of success and of significance in their career and in life.

I serve as a client’s private coach, confidant and mentor. I help the client to address the ongoing challenges of being a leader. I also work with the client to help develop greater emotional intelligence, fine-tune his/her ability to develop their team, and accelerate passion and leadership fire.

Each coaching relationship is customized to fit the needs of the client and the organization that he/she leads. Some of the topics that are commonly addressed include:

  • Personal and career development and goal setting
  • Hiring and development of key team members
  • Coaching or terminating non-performing and under-performing employees
  • Communicating with stakeholders
  • Conflict resolution
  • Employing the power of narrative to inspire and challenge
  • Developing a healthy relationship with your board
  • Conducting and delivering 360-feedback
  • Making important strategic and operational decisions
  • Succession planning
  • Fine tuning written and verbal communication skills
  • Work/life balance
  • Creating a high performance team
  • Developing a corporate culture of accountability and innovation
  • Becoming a better motivator, listener and transforming leader
  • Clarifying personal and corporate mission and vision statements
  • Enhancing your creativity and intuition

Each coaching relationship is unique, but most include face-to-face sessions, telephone consultation, reading and writing assignments, 360 degree evaluations of your effectiveness as a leader, self-evaluation tools and reflective feedback, accountability and benchmarking. The scope of the work, the length of the relationship and the cost of the coaching are negotiated on an individual basis depending on the client’s needs.

Let me offer a few vignettes that briefly describe a few of the leaders I have been able to help:

· A Fortune 100 Financial Services company Division President who knew that it was time to move on from his current company to explore new options, but was not quite sure what approach to take in exploring those options.

· A software company executive who needed to find a way to deal with cutting expenses, bonuses and headcount during the recession without destroying the morale of his team.

· A serial entrepreneur who was running a maturing company while bootstrapping a start-up who needed help in ordering priorities for the best use of his time and resources.

·A leader in a major foundation who felt that it was time to move back into the private sector and needed help in narrowing down the possibilities.

·A leader in a think tank who needed help in exploring whether a move into consulting, private equity or the corporate world offered the best chance to use his knowledge and skills.

· A founding CEO who needed to find a more compelling way to tell the story of his firm’s products and services.

· An executive whose staff relationships were sub-optimal and who desired to improve his ability to communicate with and develop his support team.

· A founder whose business had grown faster than the infrastructure could support who needed help in prioritizing staffing and use of space issues, as well as helping staff deal with the tensions caused by the rapid growth.

· A biomedical executive whose approach to sales and marketing was at odds with other members of the senior leadership team.

· Executive Search - Client companies look to me - not just as a recruiter - but as a trusted advisor. I specialize in placing senior executives who are "Renaissance Men and Women," and who are entrepreneurial leaders - many of whom have had a distinguished military career and/or are service academy graduates and hold MBA's from a top-tier business school.

I have conducted searches in a wide variety of industries, including Homeland Security, Finance, Professional Services, Software Development, IT, Telecom, Bio-tech, Medical Devices, Nanotechnology, Aerospace, Manufacturing, e-Commerce, as well as the Food & Beverage, Entertainment and Theme Park industries. The scope of my practice is nationwide in the U.S. and includes working with companies doing business in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

My goal is to serve my clients as a trusted advisor and to add value to the hiring and job search process by carefully matching the intangibles that make or break a good "marriage" between an A-level candidate and a "best practices" company.

· Boards of Directors - I work closely with a variety of companies, as well as with Private Equity and VC firms in finding outside board members for their portfolio companies. A growing number of senior leaders, including a significant number of retired generals and admirals, have asked me to advise them in finding the best fit for them as board members in companies where they can make a strategic contribution.

· Succession Planning – With most members of the Baby Boom generation reaching retirement, many companies are facing the challenge of identifying and developing a new generation of leaders. Because I have had an opportunity to build strong relationships with the best and the brightest of this next generation of leaders, companies recognize that I am in a position to help them with their succession planning. Young leaders with whom I work closely include women and men who have seen significant leadership experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have access to outstanding pools of candidates in a wide range of nations, including senior military leaders, Rhodes Scholars, former White House Fellows, and thought leaders in a variety of industries.

If you and your company find yourself in need of any of those services outlined above, I would welcome an opportunity to talk about how I may be able to help you and your team to attain the next level of success, significance and profitability.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Mini-Review of "The First Assassin" by John J.Miller

Historical fiction is hard to write well, but John J. Miller has pulled it off. I tore through the pages of this book, wondering how the many threads of the narrative would finally weave together. The action is set in the first few months of the Lincoln administration in the days leading up to the Civil War. Washington, D.C. is a morass of fear and conspiracy, Ft. Sumter has just fallen and the fragile fabric of the nation is beginning to unravel. In the midst of this chaos, a group of Southern secessionists conspire to hire a mysterious figure who calls himself Mazorca to find a way to kill the President. A diminutive runaway slave by the name of Portia holds the key to warning Lincoln about the danger that he is in. Col. Rook is at odds with General Winfield Scott over how many resources to deploy in guarding the President. From the plantations of South Carolina to Charlston to Baltimore and D.C., the action ricochets back and forth. Miller has researched the period well, and he tells a gripping story that is plausible in every regard. An early reviewer called this book: "'The Day of the Jackal' set in 1861 Washington." I echo those sentiments. I loved this book.



Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mini-Review of “Follow the Money" (A Collection of Interconnected Short Stories) By Ross Cavins

Ross Cavins is a first-time author who has put together a rollicking collection of short stories that are all cleverly interconnected. The central thread that runs through the ten stories is a stash of three million dollars with which a variety of characters play a game of “hot potato.” If I had to choose a biblical principle that encapsulates this redneck romp, it would be: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Cavins has created a motley crew of ne’er-do-wells, con artists, and Carolina trailer trash that are both hilarious and pitiable. If this book were to be illustrated, it would have to be done with snapshots from “The People of Wal-Mart”! Beginning with the kidnapping of the teenage daughter of a televangelist, the ransom money passes from person to person and from story to story in a pattern of schemes gone wrong and idiotic actions that could lead to nominations for “The Darwin Award.”

While many of the characters are admittedly a bit cartoonish and over the top, I recognized each one as a prototype of real people I have met in line at the Krispy Kreme or at the buffet steam table at Shoney’s. Cavins, using rapier wit and a sardonic sense of the ironic, serves up a platter that includes a good portion of most of the seven deadly sins. I laughed out loud at several of the shenanigans. This is a fun read and one that will have you looking a people differently the next time you are traveling through the south. Or, if you are living in Dixie, you may see people through a different lens the next time you patronize a 7-11 or Dollar General.



Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“Half Time – Moving from Success to Significance” by Bob Buford

Some books are nice to read; others are life-changing. Bob Buford’s seminal work, “Half Time,” is just such a life-altering book. It is significant to note that both Peter Drucker and Jim Collins took the time to craft Forewords to this classic, first published in 1994 and recently revised and updated.

Starting with the story of his own life and career as a successful media executive, Buford gently lays down the gauntlet and challenges the reader to assess how to move from a focus on success to a focus of significance during the second half of one’s working life. He issues a call to begin to think about the legacy we want to leave behind. The book - and Buford’s organization that stands in support of the book’s principles, – likens a life of work to a football game. Half time is an opportunity to take a breath, assess the pros and cons of the first half, and make the necessary adjustment to have an even more effective and satisfying end of the game.

Buford’s own journey has been influences by many great thinkers and practitioners who have lived lives of significance. He quotes liberally from these mentors. I love this quotation from George Bernard Shaw:

“This is the true joy in life – the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got ahold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” (Pages 37-38)


Buford offers some very concise and helpful questions that someone approaching “halftime” should be asking herself:

“Halftime is more than putting your feet up and meditating. It’s more than time away to think, pray, and play. A successful halftime needs some structure. Set an agenda that will help you ‘walk’ through the important issues. Such an agenda will indeed include time to pray and listen, to read the Scriptures, and to think. But it should also include some deliberate questions. The following list may help you get started:

• Am I missing anything in my life right now that’s important to me?
• What am I passionate about?
• Who am I?
• What do I value?
• What do I want to do in ten years? In twenty?
• What gifts has God given me that have been perfected over time?
• What gifts has he given me that I am unable to use?
• What would I be willing to die for?
• What is it about my job that makes me feel trapped?
• What realistic changes can I make in my employment?
• Would I be willing to take a less stressful (and lower-paying) job to be happier – to be closer to my true self?
• What steps do I need to take tomorrow to have a second half that is better than my first half?

(Pages 70-71)

Buford approaches these issues from the framework of his own Christian faith, yet the book and its principles are applicable to a reader of any faith or lack of faith.

Another wonderful Shavian quotation that spices up this book for me is the following:

“There are two sources of unhappiness in life. One is not getting what you want; the other is getting it.” (Page 83)

This quotation opens the chapter entitled “From Success to Significance.” Buford shares the stories of several individuals who have used halftime to take stock of their lives and of their careers. I found the vignettes to be challenging and inspiring. Bob Buford has had a close working relationship with Peter Ducker and Frances Hesselbein, both individuals who have excelled in using a long second half of life to make significant contribution in the fields of leadership in the service sector and in the business world as well as in the realm of mentoring military leaders. Buford serves on the Boards of two organizations that Drucker touched: Leader to Leader Institute, now headed by Ms. Hesselbein, and The Drucker Institute.

Near the end of the book, in a discussion about creating a mindset of lifelong learning, Buford makes an observation about team learning that I found to be very significant:

“Best selling author and MIT professor Peter Senge says: ‘Teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning units in modern organizations.’ God seems to have built a governor against arrogance into the design of human beings. We are as interdependent in learning as we are in other arenas. After I have thought about some problems by myself for awhile, I always find it necessary to enter a give-and-take dialogue with others. It’s a way to find the other pieces of the whole puzzle.” (Pages 146-147)

The keystone of this book and the halftime principles is the issue of asking the question about the kind of legacy we want to leave behind:

“Peter [Drucker] once said to me, ‘The beginning of adult life is when you ask the question, “What do I want to be remembered for?”’ Essentially, this is the question of halftime. It speaks of legacy more than accomplishments and gets at the heart of significance.” (Page 201)

I plan to order several dozen copies of this book to give away to friends, clients, and candidates who are at a place in their lives where this kind of reflection would be helpful. This is a book of significance about significance. Whether you are in the first half of your life, at halftime, or still playing in overtime, you will find value in this book. It comes with my strongest recommendation.



Friday, August 06, 2010

Mini-Review of “China Star” by Bartle Bull

I first became aware of the writing of Bartle Bull when a friend of the author told me that Bull had written a novel entitled: “The White Rhino Hotel”! How could I not read a book with a title like that?

Blog review of "The White Rhino Hotel"

I have become hooked on Bartle Bull’s erudite wit and elegant writing style. “China Star” continues following the adventures of some of the characters first introduced in “The White Rhino Hotel” and “A Café on the Nile.” In “China Star,” the reader is taken on a rollicking adventure that follows the exploits of White Russian émigrés who are fleeing the wrath of the victorious Bolsheviks. We dive deeply into the ex-patriot communities of Paris, Cairo, Sri Lanka and Shanghai. Count Alexander Karlov is the epicenter for the seismic action that seems to follow him. Based on Bull’s personal travels and in depth research, the book is a compendium of delightful prose, exotic places and fascinating personages. One reviewer calls this book an “exotic swashbuckler.” I would have to agree, but I would add that I enjoyed it as an “exotic and esoteric swashbuckler.”

If you like intelligent adventure fiction, Bartle Bull and his Count Karlov are your men.



Thursday, August 05, 2010

Opening Night for “Othello” – a Tale of Two Bostons

Two types of dramas played themselves out last night at opposite ends of Boston’s storied Boylston Street, and John Henry was a key player at both venues and events. Down near The Fens, a Greek tragedy unfolded as Henry’s baseball team, the Red Sox, succumbed to the last place Cleveland Indians. The score was an embarrassing 9-1 shellacking. Sox fans in the stands last evening must have felt that they had “loved not wisely, but too well.”

At the other end of the thoroughfare and the opposite end of the spectrum of artistic achievement, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company was celebrating Opening Night for their 2010 offering “Othello.” Boston’s glitterati were there in force. Before the metaphorical curtain rose over the stage at the Parkman Bandstand in historic Boston Common, we heard speeches by Gov. Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas Menino, CSC Founding Artistic Director, Steven Maler, et al. John Henry and his wife were introduced, the John W. Henry Family Foundation having provided a generous donation to underwrite this summer’s production.

The play – in five acts – sped by. The pacing was exactly what was called for. Steven Maler’s direction of an extraordinary cast was flawless. The simple yet effective set with revolving stone wall panels, and multiple levels added to the overall impression of professionalism and non-stop action. Among a uniformly excellent ensemble cast, Seth Gilliam as Othello, James Waterston as Iago, Marianna Bassham as Desdemona and Adrianne Krstansky as the maid, Emilia, stood out. A friend who attended with me said: “I will never again be able to see this play without picturing Iago as played by Waterston; he has set the standard for me.”

With Shakespeare, making the Elizabethan language comprehensible and relevant to a modern audience is always a challenge. I knew that the CSC had succeeded in this regard when a 20-something audience member sitting next to me asked: “Did Shakespeare really write that line? It sounds like something I would say to my friends!”

Shakespeare, when done correctly, is indeed timeless. But, time is of the essence if you want to see this praise-worthy production of “Othello.” It will run until Sunday, August 15. Performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00, Sunday, August 8 at 2:00 and 7:00, and Sunday, August 15 at 7:00. Admission is free, with donations asked for to support the work of the CSC. Bring a blanket, chairs, a picnic supper. There are rental chairs available at the venue.

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company website



Medical Device Account Managers - Unusual Opportunity for the Right Persons

Unusual Opportunity – Account Managers for Innovative Medical Device Company

Several positions in the Northeast

Potential opportunity:

We are looking for men and women with rare skill sets to continue driving the growth of this medical device company that has developed an exciting disruptive technology. The typical medical device sales person will not succeed in this job – you need to bring off-the-chart, out-of-the-box thinking, boldness, extraordinary communication skills and personal relational skills.

The right person will be . . .

  • Training users of disruptive technology in a surgical environment to an independent level (no industry support needed)
  • Coaching administrative leadership through executing marketing initiatives supporting program vision
  • Remotely quarterbacking technical challenges after independence achieved


  • Inspirational and highly persuasive; leads without positional authority
  • Ability to coordinate action, sequence, and timing during a complex procedure (similar to combat aviation)
  • Naturally separates requirements into core knowledge and context
    • Similar to chess, calls on pattern recognition to chunk moves he/she has played before; utilizing pattern recognition in order to:

1. Achieve reproducible results

2. Create solutions for problems before or as they arise; executes to anticipate and solve them immediately


MBA, Combat Aviation or Special Forces background

If you bring clinical experience, that would be a plus, as long as you are not tied to traditional biomedical and medical device sales methodologies and paradigms. We need bold, assertive and innovative leaders.


Starting base of $85K plus 100% bonus at plan.

Qualified candidates only – send MS-Word resume and cover letter, which ties your experience to specific requirements listed in this job description.

Send to: