Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Military strategies and leadership styles

Another read a few months back was Blue Ocean Strategy, by Kim and Mauborgne, which I enjoyed as I was brushing off some dust on my strategy-type training from back in my MBA days.

As I read it though, I made a note to myself- I need to comment on folks' misperceptions about military strategy, and then while I'm at it, throw in some bonus comments about people's misperceptions about military leadership styles.

1. Military strategies- there are a great number of texts out there, both classical and more modern- a couple of classical ones that come to mind- anything by Clausewitz, and of course, Sun Tzu, more modern military strategy, which right now for me revolves around counter-insurgency approaches, for example, Galula and Kilcullen.  The primary point I want to make here is that I've never seen a military strategy that advocates a full frontal assault without some compelling circumstances. Some may say, why of course they wouldn't do that! But I have read many times where people refer to military strategy in this way- and it is clear they really haven't thought deeply about the subject.

While there are some strategies which use blunt force, and some strategies which treat military personnel as expendable and sacrifice them in large numbers, my experience and observations of great military leaders is that they recognize the substantial variety of approaches to be taken and balance out the many conditions and work very hard to adopt the strategy and tactics that are most appropriate for the situation.  At the most basic, they ask questions about what are we looking at in terms of mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time. They think carefully about the resources at their disposal, just what they are trying to achieve, and the lives of the men and women that they will put in harm's way. I've been amazed at how we've asked our military leaders to conduct our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with an almost zero tolerance policy for casualties.  Each death is tragic. I personally mourn the loss of friends in the process. That being said, when one looks at the casualty rates in previous conflicts compared to the current conflicts, we are clearly in a new era.

2. Military leadership styles: One of the "benefits" of my being called up during my last semester of my MBA program a while back was that I got to create 2 or 3 self-designed reading courses as I was not going to be bale to attend that last semester. One of the reading courses I created involved a set of texts on leadership.  I chose as one of the texts the Army's field manual on leadership, in military parlance, FM 22-100. 

I tire of those who consistently portray military leadership as "autocratic". While there is clearly a hiearchical facet of life in the military, again, the best leaders I've observed demonstrate all of the best of what Lominger likes to refer to as "learning agility", including those aspects most clearly tied to leadership. Lowe's has also invested in Blanchard's situational leadership models, and again, I'd suggest that the "effective" examples of leadership in the military that I have seen take such principles and go much further with them. Quite a while ago, I thoroughly enjoyed getting coached and corrected by a basic training battalion commander who did a better job using the socratic method than any professor I've ever witnessed. I had to stifle a grin and giggle as my third person self would watch my interactions with this lieutenant colonel. It would have been inappropriate to tell him at the time, "Dude- awesome execution of socratic method!". I've seen great military leaders model some of Marshall Goldsmith's feedback, that many times, the best leadership approach is to resist the temptation to "add value" by putting their voice and stamp on some work that their subordinates have created. 

In any case, the comments about military leadership are intended to convey my argument that those who characterize military leadership as autocratic, or vice versa, have missed something. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another book read- some related military thoughts

Over the past few days read through a book that had been on my shelf for a good while:

The Looming Tower, Al-Qaeda's road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright.

After working through it, I note that the book is a winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. So I'll just add my endorsement to that one. Lawrence Wright continues to cover the topic in his work for the New Yorker.

I've read a large number of books trying to understand some of the culture, background, etc of the situation I was working through during my year in Iraq, but had never carefully studied bin Laden and/or Afghanistan. I'll soon be "covering down" on a rear detachment command for a unit that is deploying to Afghanistan in the near future, one of two battalions within our brigade, so I have wanted to get a better sense of the big picture of what they are moving into- not that the text would give me any insight into what their day to day activities would look like (one engineer battalion, one MP battalion).

In any case, I was impressed with the level of detail in the text, and it felt very consistent with my experiences during my year in Iraq in trying to understand the motivations and cultural practices, expectations, etc of those with whom I worked or those that were trying to kill me and others like me.

I had one thought repeatedly come to me as I read and contemplated our engagements in Afghanistan to date. We really seem to be taking a broad and blunt instrument approach when it appears to me that the most effective approach would be more targeted and surgical. I can't profess to fully understand our mission and strategy right now, so it may be that the approach is completely aligned with the mission and strategy, in which case I'd suggest that we need to do a better job of communicating the mission and strategy to the general public.

In any case, a great book if you'd like to study the "how did it get to this?" question, and get some insight into the backgrounds of bin Laden and Zawahiri. Additionally, some interesting profiles of the U.S. folks that were trying to get in front of them, their ignored warnings and failed attempts to work through the bureaucratic infighting between CIA and FBI.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More books read recently

Punching in, the unauthorized adventures of a front-line employee, Alex Frankel.

Thoroughly enjoyed it. Always amusing to read something where someone tries to be someone else, in this case a journalist role-playing the blue-collar or retail worker position. Some funny things and some reality checks.

Stumbling on happiness, Daniel Gilbert

Also thoroughly enjoyed. Not as much about happiness as it is a running commentary about findings in research that we don't accurately predict the future very well, and a variety of other predictable and common errors people make in thinking about the future, their emotional states, etc. People are funny, and I enjoy people watching. This text  to me, just as Punching In, is a great people watching kind of book.

Lowe's taking care of the troops; Christmas for our military

I've had to adjust to negotiating my military service with a corporate entity this year, something that I did not have to sweat in my previous world of academia- summers were "free" in that world. From the perspective of the corporate world I can see how it is a challenge to appreciate all the benefits of reservists and guardsmen in your workforce with the interruptions service brings. We try to sell all the other benefits which come from the skill sets and experiences we bring to balance out the absences.

That being said, I'd like to give some public credit to my employer for being ranked in the top 50 (#34 this year!) of military friendly employers and also for another recent grand gesture.

Home for the Holidays

 Lowe’s has donated $25,000 to help bring more than 200 soldiers from South Carolina home for the Christmas holiday.

Last week, the Family Readiness Group made a plea to the community asking for help to raise the $35,000 needed to help bring the Army Reservists home before the men and women head to Afghanistan in January. Since then, the group has received $10,000 from local Carolinians and $25,000 from Lowe’s.
The soldiers will arrive on Dec. 23. More than 100 members of the 1222nd South Carolina Army National Guard are scheduled to arrive at Lowe’s 2442 in Ft. Mill, S.C., between 8 and 9 a.m.
Meanwhile, more than 100 members of the 174 MAC (Mobile Augmentation Company) will arrive at Lowe’s 2595 in Spartanburg, S.C.

The Army reservists, from York, Lancaster and Chester counties, are currently in Wisconsin training.
For those Guardsmen, you could not have offered a better gift for their holiday season then to help them return to be with their families prior to their deployment:
For my brothers and sisters in arms during this holiday season, you are in our prayers and are not forgotten, despite the lack of news coverage. It may feel like our country is more concerned about other things, but there is a strong core of people, beyond just family and friends, who won't forget you.

Recent books read

Recommended: Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

Not so recommended: Lies About Learning, Larry Israelite

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day 2009

Already Facebooked it, but thanks, Applebee's for the free dinner- I'm not a homeless vet, but I still appreciate saving money. Steak, mashed potatoes and broccoli. Mmmm. Steak.

It was nice to share some Veteran's Day recognition with a few fellow veterans at work. A little bit of a brotherhood there.

And as I think of my friends who have deployed, are deployed and who are preparing to deploy, thanks for your service and stay safe.

Ft. Hood last week- wrong in so many ways, and for those of you who are keeping track, no, I did not know the shooter during my time at USUHS.
Lastly, RIP J.J., Hurstie, and Umran.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Diversity Inc. - don't hurt the feelings of U.S. veterans

A few months ago, Diversity Inc. posted an entry titled "6 things you should NEVER say to a veteran coworker"

First, as we approach veteran's day, thank you veterans. A bit of a self-serving comment, given my return from the sandbox about 1.5 years ago, but I've gotten to know many more veterans in my time back, including a large and accomplished group of veterans at my new company. They all have served well and faithfully in many varied roles and contexts.

Second, to restate one of my favorite military quotes, “The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” (MacArthur). This one was recently brought back to mind as I reviewed an LDS DVD produced for LDS servicemembers back in 2005 (Let not your heart be troubled) in preparation for a presentation I made to an LDS seminary class. For those who are bearing the wounds and scars of war, whether physical or otherwise, thoughts and prayers for you. Recovery and growth may not be easy, and you may meet with varied levels of support as you seek health services through military, government and other means.

Now, back to the Diversity, Inc. posting, it was interesting to see a post which addressed a military topic in this way- I most often note their messages about their perceptions of the military's failures in diversity, most particularly related to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

I've been accused (rightly, I might add) of being either insensitive or ignorant about people's feelings.  So my opinion comes with that caveat. If/when people say those things to me (I've heard all of them except "Are you a lesbian?"), I have the choice to either engage in that discussion or not. Yes, some of the questions can seem insensitive or inappropriate, but most people have no idea about what they are getting into with that veteran, and I don't expect them to be super sensitive about it. They just don't know. Sometimes I'm willing to get into those discussions and correct misperceptions or let them know the impact of their simply asking those questions. Other times I simply let them know those are things I'd rather not get into.

What bothers me about the post, though, is simply the idea that one should NEVER ask the questions, or make the statements.  It feels to me like political correctness run amok. To take one of the more innocuous statements as a case in point:  "You're too rigid to deal with sudden changes." Now, since I've been back into the corporate life, I've been told that one of my strengths is that adapability to change- which is good, having worked for 4 managers in the past year due to a variety of organizational changes and my recently accepting a new role. That being said, if it was true that I was too rigid to deal with sudden changes, that is useful and important feedback- something I would need to work on.  And introspectively, I probably do need to be less rigid in my personal life. It would only be inappropriate if you were to make that statement to a veteran simply because they are a veteran, as opposed to basing the comment on observations about their behaviors in response to changes.

But that applies to pretty much any stereotype and prejudice, veteran status or no. You shouldn't say it if it isn't true.

And of course, just because something is true doesn't mean that it needs to be said. It always helps to pay attention to context- time and place for different things to share or not share. I didn't find it offensive to hear people tell me they support me, but not the war in which I was engaged. It doesn't make sense to me from a logical standpoint, but I don't find it offensive. It would be more offensive if that opinion was pushed on me out of context- someone I don't know, or coming from out of the blue as opposed to within a stream of conversation about the merits of our country's foreign policy and activities.

In sum, yes, some of those things, or even all of them, probably don't need to be said, but I feel like I should give the person saying those things a bit of a break and lighten up on my expectations of them just as I'd hope we can be more understanding of veterans facing challenges.  Can't we all get along?

In worst case situations where the person is completely insensitive and offensive- it reflects on them. I can dismiss their ignorance. It is easy enough to simply "break contact" with them or "slip away" to use some military jargon. If they resist and keep coming at me, it is frankly pretty easy to bring them to heel with a few well-aimed comments. That has happened only rarely however, and such people are likely to have never read anything akin to the Diversity, Inc. "careful what you say to veterans" posting.

Going commercial- a sell out- turned to the dark side.

Signed up for Google Ad Sense to earn a few pennies on ads when a sufficient number of readers click on ads through the page or through the search engine I've built into the page.

Of course, not having posted in so long (and not even having exciting content when I was posting), I don't know that my 3 or 4 readers are going to get me very far....

In any case, click away, baby needs some new shoes!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Links to various stuff sent to me, a few odd thoughts

These past few months have been in some ways great- for example, I continue to have a job with a stable company, no one is trying to kill me like they were a year ago, and spring has arrived.

But I have been having various challenges and thus the lack of blogging. During that time, I've accumulated various oddities that I thought I should post, but never got around to it.

Here's to a little housecleaning.

A. A million points of light, or rather, lights as representative of world air traffic over a 24 hour period. Cool.

B. Business versions of April Fools jokes:

Flying penguins rock.

C. A different kind of minimalism.

D. Things blowing up in space.

E. Back during the nominations for Obama's cabinet and other positions:

In different economic times, Geithner's confirmation might have been derailed by the news that he only recently paid more than $48,000 in delinquent taxes and interest for his earnings while working at the IMF. Geithner paid some of the taxes in 2006 after an IRS audit discovered the discrepancy for the years 2003 and 2004.

Secretary of the Treasury.
"The Secretary of the Treasury is the principal economic advisor to the President and plays a critical role in policy-making by bringing an economic and government financial policy perspective to issues facing the government. The Secretary is responsible for formulating and recommending domestic and international financial, economic, and tax policy, participating in the formulation of broad fiscal policies that have general significance for the economy, and managing the public debt. The Secretary oversees the activities of the Department in carrying out its major law enforcement responsibilities; in serving as the financial agent for the United States Government; and in manufacturing coins and currency.

Anybody see anything wrong with a Treasury Secretary that either unknowingly or dishonestly doesn't pay his taxes? And then later he actually puts out information that he's going to aggressively go after tax evaders? Ummm....? Do his authorities extend to prosecuting himself?

AP/MSNBC on Tom Daschle
Former Sen. Tom Daschle, picked by President Barack Obama to lead his health reform efforts, recently filed amended tax returns to report $128,203 in unpaid taxes and $11,964 in interest, according to a Senate document obtained by The Associated Press. OK, health and human services- just poor integrity, but not particularly relevant to the post in terms of job skills...and he did drop out after that. Good call.

F. Biggest news event that really didn't even register during the Super Bowl weekend? Iraqi elections. This country is getting it together and we're paying next to no attention. I'm still hoping for my "Welcome Home Warrior Citizen" award- a Reserves recognition program that in my case has not quite panned out. I reach one year back in country later this month. No worry that I will be overindulging in being worshipped as a conquering hero- still trying to get my standard "everyone gets it" award. Even now, with our economy tanking and everything, I feel more worry and concern about the people in Iraq than I feel for most of my fellow citizens- a poor American is much better off than the vast majority of Iraqis. We just don't appreciate (even including myself often) just how great we've got it.

G. Had to switch to the North Carolina National Guard to get a unit that didn't require me to travel extended distances to reach. First drill weekend earlier this month gave me some almost PTSD like symptoms, even though I don't think I had any PTSD-inducing events during my deployment. First, the armory where we met was by the airport- and the frequent air traffic reminded me a lot of Baghdad- when there, my sleeping quarters were right under the flight path to the main U.S. military hospital there in the capital- MEDEVAC flights constantly overhead, punctuated occasionally by the sounds of indirect fire alarms and indirect fire impacts. And we got to go through the Army-wide safety stand-down training for suicide prevention. Not the most upbeat topic on my first drill back. Training quality, well..... perhaps a psychologist and university professor is too critical. Of course, given the topic, not sure one can be too critical when looking at ways to improve the training.

H. An article that I just came across today.

Not quite sure why they'd headline that as pirates foiled and/or captured. Catch and release is not going to stop any attacks. Let's walk through that- the pirates are captured, weapons taken, and then they are released. Given the high payoff to successful attacks, why would they stop?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Insults and cat-like reflexes

True, this news is a bit dated, but I'm just now getting to throwing my two cents in on the blog that matters only to me.

One of the better entries I came across in reaction to the Iraqi reporter throwing his shoes at our Commander in Chief:

Classic line was "whereas in other cultures or religions, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of honor and respect..." tongue fully in cheek.

My first thought in reaction to viewing the clip of the "assault" was that our Chief has great reflexes- almost a Keanu Reeves/Matrix-like bending out of the path of the oncoming projectile.

And our Chief couldn't resist commenting something like "I know that he has a great soul (sole?)". You may disagree with his policies and or decisions, but I think in many ways he has a great sense of humor.

I half-expected him to call out with a taunting "missed me!" after the second try. But he exercised his better judgment there.

The article I cite above correctly notes: "... in a previous age, the perpetrator would be facing a summary, and probably agonising, death if he had dared confront Saddam Hussein's regime in such a way."

So some progress anyway. Shoe-throwing, as insulting as it may be in Arabic culture, at least in this case, did not lead to bloodshed.