Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bastille Day 2010

Got to enjoy  Bastille Day in Carcassonne way back in 1991 during my LDS mission. The fireworks on La Cite were spectacular. I put "do this again with my wife" on the bucket list. Still haven't got it done yet. Good to have those goals still out in front of me. Maybe next year?

3 years ago I also lost 2 friends, contractors who worked at the training center I was directing out in southern Iraq. JJ & Hurstie, RIP.

Sports stuff- Carell makes me laugh

I actually watched more of this than I did of "The Decision", which I actually didn't watch at all- had some other things going on. But I did watch at least 30 seconds of it on video.

Carell is taking his appetite...

I laughed out loud.

I'm glad LeBron's headed to Miami personally, Wade is a human highlight film, and it only looks to get better down there with them together.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Jerome E. Singer, Professor and Chairman

A memorial service was held for Dr. Singer on June 16 at USUHS in Bethesda, MD and I was able to make the long drive up to DC. Spent the night before at Bubba Ross's and then a morning session at the DC temple. Psychology students may recognize his name as he is the "Singer" in the Schachter-Singer 2 factor theory of emotion.

The memorial service was nicely done, and lots of folks shared positive experiences and feelings about a wonderful man. I like memorial services and other related events because they tend to bring out the best memories and positive comments. People generally behave themselves better than they otherwise would. I was able to reconnect with various friends and faculty during what was perhaps my first trip back to campus since I completed my work there back in 2002.

I didn't know his family well, but they participated fully in the service and I was able to send them a letter afterwards sharing some of my best memories of Dr. Singer, from his time as one of my instructors, as a member of my dissertation committee, and as the chair for the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology at USUHS.

A comment that I've made frequently is that I enjoy spending time and working with smart people and good people. If I have to choose between those two groups, I'll pick the good people, but the best is when I get to work with people who are both good and smart. Jerry, you are one of those and I appreciate the opportunity I had to know you and learn from you. It was an honor.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Road Warriors

I know there are many people who face long commutes to work on a regular basis. I have been blessed to be able to find work and school settings where I have not had to travel great distances, with the one exception often being my Army Reserve duties, as I've been assigned to units that aren't necessarily very close to the rest of my life. Typically, I was facing about 60-90 minutes to get to my Reserve duty, whether that be in Maryland, Utah, or even Hawaii- small island, but small roads...

So when I planned out my next steps with the move to North Carolina, I also planned to find a unit as close as possible to home. I just don't like commuting much. Found a large HQ unit in Charlotte, NC, about 40 minute drive, but it was chock full 'o Majors, and didn't have space for one more. So I checked in with the National Guard, and they indicated they had a couple of military police major slots at a Brigade HQ in Charlotte. "Perfect!", I thought. And so I started the process of separating from the Reserves and joining the National Guard. An easier task at more junior ranks, but a bit more involved for a "field grade" officer.  Eventually, I got through the process and began my role as the plans officer. I don't know if I did it very well, very poorly, or just had the right occupational specialty, but after only 8 months or so, they reassigned me to be rear detachment commander for a military police battalion that has units and detachments scattered all over the western part of the state. Great units, beautiful country, but so long, 40 minute drive!

So I go from having one of my shortest ever military duty commutes to easily my longest (outside of my 8 "one weekend a months" of ILE 6 hour drives to Fort Belvoir, which I'm also doing right now). To some degree it is a part of the process as you become more senior in the guard and reserve systems.  You have to go where the positions are, and there are understandably fewer positions.

What also helps me get over myself with the travel is to recognize that I'm not alone. In fact, many of my brothers and sisters in arms have it just as bad in terms of how far they have to go to get to their drill weekend locations. Even many of the full-timers- either AGR or on ADOS or other status- have such a long commute that they just stay at the units during the week and go home only on weekends. So in that sense, I'm not alone.

It does make me feel more and more like this is a young man's game, though. I try to profit from the long drives by using the quiet time to reflect on family, work, church, etc, and also enjoy listening to General Conference sessions on CD.

So, to those of you, my military friends who go the extra mile (or few hundred miles) to get to your duty location, I salute you! Keep your vehicles in working order, get as much rest as possible, and get to your work and home settings safely!

God's Country

Last weekend I was playing Army out in western North Carolina, visiting units in a few locations, stops included Franklin, Hickory, and East Flat Rock.

Spring has arrived in western North Carolina, and it made the drive over the eastern continental divide prior to Asheville, and throughout the area, a spectacular experience. I had to keep my eyes on the road, but when I could look around, it was one beautiful view after another of green mountainsides and valley and blue skies with the perfect mix of bright clouds for contrast.

I had in an earlier visit to a unit in Franklin fussed a bit about the drive and wondered aloud to the local commander why folks would live all the way out there, away from the conveniences and accoutrements of larger population centers. I quickly realized my silliness- not only would I sometimes like to live "in the middle of nowhere" myself, but he had the ready answer, "Sir, why would anyone want to live anywhere else? This is God's country!" His smile let me know he meant it, and it has helped take the edge off of the 4 hour drive each time I head out there. It is beautiful, so I can enjoy both the destination and the journey.  I know I can also look forward to the scenery in the fall, as the leaves turn color. Should be great.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Aaaaaarmy Humor!

CENTCOM Commander General Petraeus, who stopped by my Numaniyah National Police Training Center for a celebratory graduation ceremony a couple of years ago when he was MNF-I commander, recently visited another of my earlier training centers, Brigham Young University.

I remember all the prework we did with his staff to get ready for his visit back in Jan 2008. It was a bit humorous in fact, as they had a list of all of their people and who they'd like to connect with on our end, our security lead, our IT specialist, our food service, etc. As we worked through the list, I would tell them who they could reach out to in preparation- either myself, or my NCO, MSG M. The person I was talking to on the secure line paused after a few names as he realized... "they only have 2 guys down there....".

His staff did a great job preparing for his BYU visit as well.  They came up with this:

General Petraeus: Top 10 reasons BYU grads make great soldiers

Very funny, I highly recommend it.

And of course, BYU does have great Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC programs (full disclosure, my commissioning source was BYU Army ROTC, and later I served my Reserve duty as an Assistant Professor of Military Science at BYU, so a bit biased).

Saturday, April 03, 2010

War vets can be thoughtful, and help their fellow veterans out

Mike Scotti got an opinion piece posted on CNN. 

I very much understand his thoughts about finding the return to civilian life a bit disorienting- feeling a bit like an alien that doesn't fit in, and in some ways feeling alone. He mentioned feeling out of place at a wedding.

For me it was hearing emotional discussions about the high price of gas. I kept thinking, "Really? The price of gas is what you're getting excited about?  We are at war, people are getting blown up and countries are going through wrenching changes, there are violent extremists who would like to end our way of life, and you're getting exercised about gas prices?"

And I'm not even going to go into the issue of the relationship between gas prices and our involvement in the middle East.

A salute to Mike Scotti for his work, both in the opinion piece, and more broadly for his service since then to help veterans. Well done.

This is a fatwa I can get excited about

About a month ago, a piece hit the news about an Islamic cleric declaring that terrorists, and most specifically suicide bombers, were not the most faithful and believing of muslims, but rather misguided hell-bound "unbelievers".

Now there can be plenty of debate about exactly how influential Sheikh Tahir ul-Qadri really is. Islam is incredibly diverse with no true centralized governance, so he may only be preaching to the choir. There are other issues to worry about and criticize as well, but on the whole, I can only look at this declaration as a positive event.

My experience in the Iraq and thought and study before and after than convinces me that the ultimate end to the extremists' violent and frankly evil behaviors will need to be achieved by Muslims, not those of us who address the problem essentially from the outside. I'm aware that many believe that all of Islam has as a core tenet the desire to eradicate all other belief systems and impose Sharia law universally, but I don't buy it. It is a small fraction of the Muslim population that is causing all the heartache. I think there are, if you will, "moderate" Muslims who don't espouse violence and tyranny as the will of Allah. Declarations such as ul-Qadri's support my assertion. I have seen and heard declarations such as his before and hope to see that drumbeat from within grow louder and more frequent. 

I was glad to read the article. Truly good news.

It's Your Ship, D. Michael Abrashoff

It's Your Ship, D. Michael Abrashoff

This book and related coaching and training were rolled out to Lowe's leadership at our most recent International Sales Meeting.

Not wanting to be too far out of the loop (I'm doing career models, not leadership development right now, but I like to keep up on all things "talent management"), I figured I better read it so I have a sense of what it says, and what implications that might have for what store leadership is thinking and doing. The Lowe's organization is fascinating in how such a message or other themes will quickly permeate and you will hear key phrases of the message used in various communications and become a part of how employees think and work. So we'll see how far "It's Your Store" goes this year.

My reaction in reading it was similar to the Semper Fi book I just commented on. Some good leadership principles with some interesting stories- a bit more specific and quantifiable anecdotes, but still anecdotes and single-N experiences nonetheless, putting it into the same category of "managerial cotton candy."  I've spent too much time in social science training where I've built up an appetite for empirically-oriented approaches to problem solving, and the leadership and management books I like the most tend to satiate that appetite much more than these cotton-candy type books do.

There were some other off-putting characteristics of the book, such as Abrashoff's constant self-promotion (it was very clear to me that he'd never been on the enlisted side) and odd denigration of the Navy that provided him the opportunity to have the leadership experience that he has since leveraged into his leadership training consulting business. Much of what he presented as new or innovative ideas that he or his team had had.... well... the idea that leadership has to know and care about the people they lead... not so new. Eating with the troops, asking them for ideas about how you or they can improve work processes... etc. All good, just not exactly innovation. The idea that a military leader can't effectively lead using autocratic styles (here referred, inappropriately in my mind, as command and control)... well, yes, I've never seen great management and leadership outcomes from people who take such an approach- good leadership I've seen in the military doesn't rely on "the stick", and never has.

Broadly speaking, though, good techniques and ideas- when done with the right spirit, a lot of good can be done in using these approaches. So, a quick and easy read, and getting past some of the issues I noted in the last paragraph, it may be a worthy read for you, if you would like to gather insight into management techniques that might be used in both military and business settings.

Semper Fi, by Dan Carrison & Rod Walsh- recent book read

Semper Fi, Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way

I have a problem with a reading appetite that is a bit out of control, so I end up collecting books that I need to read. Got this one off the shelf recently after reading It's Your Ship, by D. Michael Abrashoff. Wanted to follow the "transfer military leadership to the business world" theme.

To sum up my thoughts on the book, it is of the genre of many business management texts: basic leadership principles interspersed with examples and anecdotes. I think of these types of books as business management cotton candy. Nice, but not likely to change anyone's life. I am proud to count myself as a service member, and see much value in what was said.

There are also principles that I believe probably won't transfer as well for a number of reasons. I think a quote from one of the reviewers is spot on- "Business can seem like war. But war really is war,....." Just as I cringe when people use war and military metaphors to describe sports, there is a part of me that thinks in a similar way, when trying to make business seem like war. Maybe it is like war when you are doing business in a mafia-style environment, or working with drug cartels, but when you are doing home-improvement retail it is a competition, not a war. It is a competition that you could lose, and jobs can be lost, etc. But that is a very different proposition from what it is like to go through war.

In fact, there are some strong arguments to be made for the value of having a strong competitor to help your business outcomes. Coke vs Pepsi, Nike vs Reebok, Lowe's vs Home Depot, Citi vs Bank of America (maybe that last one isn't useful given recent financial issues...).  Business rivalries push each participant to deliver to the best of their abilities- in this sense, comparing sports to business may be a better approach than comparing either to war.

In any case, there are many management practices within the military that can be applied in business environments, and many of them are discussed in Carrison and Walsh's book. If you'd like to learn a bit more about the Marine culture in the context of how it might transfer to improving your business management approach, this is a great book for you.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Peter Cappelli on executive compensation

I did a book review on a Cappelli's "Talent On Demand" that got published last year in an HR journal (thanks, Timmy G. for the opportunity, there!). Ever since starting work on that I've tuned in more to Cappelli's comments and frequent contributions to discourse in the HR world.

Invariably, I find his comments of great interest, even if, in some rare instances I might disagree with him.

One area where my thoughts clearly align with his is the topic of executive compensation (Cappelli comments on executive compensation: HR Executive Online). I've had the opportunity to inspect, with varying degrees of detail, compensation practices in the academic world, in the military, and in corporate environments. Each of them has their interesting points.

I had a discussion with a colleague who has worked quite a bit in the compensation world, and her comments also aligned with some of Cappelli's words. What she noted was that when times get tough, executives she worked with were more than willing to allocate that pain in a fairly self-serving way (observations on a company with which I am unaffiliated).  They shed crocodile tears about having to lay off employees and passing their work on to other employees who were already feeling overworked on one side, while accepting increasing bonuses and base pay raises on the other. When she pointed out to them that they could avoid the layoffs by reducing their payouts- not drastically, not putting wealthy lifestyles at risk, but being willing to defer some of their larger gains to preserve those jobs, it fell on deaf ears.  Her comments remind me of the satire at, perhaps the Achievement poster.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Organization Development Network Brief gets me thinking about the fall of the Berlin Wall

Peter Norlin, Executive Director of the OD Network wrote a piece back in October 2009 (as you can tell by my flurry of posts, I'm clearing out my "to blog" box with this first weekend of relative calm in quite a while).

While it had a larger focus of the walls that OD practitioners put up, I sidetracked on the introductory piece which I paste here:

OD Network Briefs, October 2009

News from the Organization Development Network

Snarling, stinking, snapping his fore-fangs,
out of the woods, wild waste beyond woods,
comes beast, comes brute, carnivorous, ravenous,
but before him--and oh, we were saved--rose our wall.

Violent, fearsome, with invulnerable helmet and shield,
Comes antagonist, foe, furious, pitiless, lethal,
axe-men behind him chanting their cuneiform curse,
but before him--and oh, saved again--loomed our wall.

So we raised ever more walls, even walls
that might fail: Jericho shucked from its ramparts,
men, women, old, young, all slaughtered.
What did it matter? We believed still in our wall.

Then the inspiration to build walls facing in!
Reservation, concentration camp, ghetto,
finally whole countries walled in, and saved were we
from traitors who'd dare wish to flee our within.

That such walls fail, too, fall, too? No matter.
Only raise more. That all walls, facing out or in,
fail, fall, leaving fossils of lives in numb rubble?
No matter. Raise more. Only raise more.

C.K. Williams, "Wall."

Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-, National Book Award-winning poet, wrote this chilling verse to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, an event whose images and implications reverberated quickly around the world. In Willams's short review of the history of human wall-building, however, it's clear that he doesn't believe that, as a familiar solution to terror, hubris, or xenophobia, we're probably done with walls. Consider, as an example, our own trust in the wall we've been erecting on the U.S./Mexican border, designed to discourage illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

While I have nothing other than my increasingly-unreliable memory of world history as support, the poet's position--that we've obviously never learned any lessons about walls--seems persuasive. Despite a long, comprehensive documentation of their failure, it seems that we somehow believe--no, we know--that our best defense in this difficult situation would clearly be . . . a wall! Such a choice sadly, certainly exposes our inability to think systemically. Clearly, we're drawn to walls intuitively, even though they don't work, because we believe they should work. So what a dramatic symbol of the aspirations and limitations of the human mind walls turn out to be.

I didn't really have any deeper thoughts than those offered by the poet or the executive director. I thought at a more personal level about where I was and what I was doing when the Berlin Wall fell. I was living in France serving as a missionary. I actually didn't even learn about the wall fall until a few weeks after it happened when we caught glimpses of it on the news at someone's house. The work in which I was engaged, and the conditions we imposed on ourselves to increase our effectiveness were walls to my even hearing about the event and its implications. It reminds me a bit now of the pleasant isolation I enjoyed while we were living in Hawaii as I filled a visiting faculty position at BYU-Hawaii. News events did not really have to be very timely in some respect- whether things happening on the mainland happened a week ago or yesterday had little impact in our day to day life- completely disconnected. Walls of focused work, blocking out the outside, or walls of geography, separation by distance.
In any case, a bit of an interesting exercise to think of the walls erected of various kinds, and their implications for us at work, home, etc.

Currahee- a wounded soldier in recovery

Buzzword bingo

Back in the MBA student days, we enjoyed either listening to faculty or students bluster their way through an explanation by resorting to buzz speak. One faculty member even made a game of it in his class, calling it out when he heard the language creeping into a student's comments- gently, though, not harshly. There's amusement to be found in seeing how little one can say while speaking so much

Given those fond memories, I thought I'd leverage this value-added post in order to continue to grow my blog business which I recently monetized by adding Google's ad system, a nimble and robust solution.

Getting emotional about being in the military

There is an ebb and flow to my participation in the military- some of the high demand periods come from roles that get offered or assigned (such as a recent assignment to command a rear detachment of an MP battalion) or from the occasional officer education assignment (such as a recent and ongoing program that is referred to generically as "Intermediate Level Education", an expected experience prior to promotion to Lieutenant Colonel).

So I've had a good bit of military "in my face" recently, easily the most since my return from the Iraq deployment back in April '08.

But I typically have had a bit of separation between those experiences and the personal or family life- I, like many guys, have the "compartmentalization" thing where when I put the green on, I'm somehow able to focus fairly well on that. Conversely, when I'm not wearing green, it is a challenge to think in the military world beyond discussions with inquisitive non-military types.

I didn't participate in any real public ceremonies from the redeployment, haven't marched in any 4th of July parades, etc. Really, I've only had 2 experiences since I redeployed where my two worlds came together, and one of them was this past week.

The first experience was probably over a year or so ago when I was asked to speak at my son's scout group's court of honor close to either Veteran's Day or Memorial Day. I spoke briefly about their need to recognize that they need to prepare themselves to serve- family, church, community, country.  It was good for me to think about it- probably much more meaningful to me than any of the young men who participated in the event.

This past week, I got a call from a church friend, he asked me to participate in a flag dedication ceremony at a local middle school. I was there along with a Marine gunny sergeant and a Navy chief (both in dress uniforms) and a retired Air Force sergeant, and a number of local fire and police officers.  I haven't worn a dress uniform in years, and it would be quite the undertaking to try and put one together at this point... figure out what ribbons I have and where they go.... make sure I get the polish right on buckles and leather....

Anway, I was there in my digital camouflage- feeling a bit like a "rag bag", a little self-conscious given that I wasn't in dress uniform as the senior officer in the group (but not self-conscious enough to fix my uniform, apparently...). As the ceremony proceeded, it became apparent that part of the ceremony was to honor the Marine gunny, as he had built a bit of a track record with the middle school providing service and mentorship to the students, as well as participating actively in the community as a member of the police force, including SWAT work, so I'm guessing he's Guard or Reserve. They played a quick powerpoint video with music- the "I'm proud to be an American" folksy type music, showing photos of his couple of tours in Iraq and other law enforcement and military type images and photos.

I almost started crying as I stood there at parade rest.  I was proud of him, proud of myself, proud of these kids showing the respect that they did to the flag, their country and their gunny sgt. I was sad as I thought of those we left behind, of the many lives destroyed in horrific ways. Just an overwhelming emotional wave as I stood there and as we listened to the words, the music, as we saluted the flag.

I've had a number of times that emotional reaction has happened to me since the deployment- a tribute to troops at a fireside event at a scout camp, a musician performing on stage at UNC-Charlotte dedicating a song to military personnel, watching a show about the USO supporters at a Maine airport and the dedication they show in greeting redeployed troops and wishing departing troops well. It even happens from time to time as someone sends me an e-mail with a video or even just a few words of reflection and gratitude for military service.

It exhausts me every time it happens. I worry about being too emotional on one side, and on the other,  I worry about forgetting or becoming so desensitized that it stops meaning so much to me.

There's a bit of a paradox in trying to put it all behind me, but not wanting to forget the ways it has changed me for good. I still struggle to find the balance.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lowe's 10% Military Discount now year round....

And another post with praise to a company supporting the military- my current employer, Lowe's.

Lowe's recently announced expanding their 10% military discount to year round.....

That's nice.

H&R Block supporting the military

Worked through the annual tax filing preparation recently, and I have to say it has been getting consistently easier. Even though our finances get more complicated each year, electronic filing has just made things less painful.

I wanted to proclaim a loud THANK YOU! to H&R Block for their continued support of the military. For a number of years, they have offered their software/online tax preparation services (basic level) to Active, Reserve and National Guard members for free. I have enjoyed this benefit over the years, and appreciate it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Continental Airlines and Houston- The Quick Turn!

So I had a flight from Charlotte to Sacramento yesterday, connection in Houston. Little tiny Embraer jet on ExpressJet for the first leg- flight attendant confirmed my suspicion that they had height restrictions for them (5'9" in heels) given the low overhead.

That really isn't noteworthy and you're sorry you're even reading this at this point, but that is the glory of a blog that is my journal- more for me than you!

What was interesting to me was the connection in Houston.

Back in the 1st year of the MBA we did a case study on Southwestern Airlines. We studied their different strategic approach- away from spoke and hub system, using cheaper airports, competing for travelers more broadly, including bus and car, versus only air travel by focusing on low cost, and their HR approach, knowing exactly what they were looking for in their employees regarding a fun spirit, customer focus, etc.

Among the different things we covered was some of their operational excellence features, including the ability to turn a plane considerably faster than any other airline.  This ties in to the simple economic fact that airlines make money by having butts in seats and flying them. Similar to turning tables in restaurants, the quicker you can get a customer serviced- either transported on a flight or fed at a table, the sooner you can free up that airplane for another flight, or that table for another meal/customer. The plane that is empty and not flying makes no money, just as an empty table at a restaurant brings in no revenue.

So this brings me to my experience at Houston.

I don't recall ever going through this Continental hub before, or if I did, it predated my MBA training and sensitivity to the cues in the environment. What I saw was an amusing interpretation of how an airline can minimize the amount of time their airplanes are on the ground.

What Continental has done, either intentionally or unintentionally, is transfer the sense of urgency from their employees to their passengers. I would estimate between one third to one half of the passengers trying to make connecting flights were actually jogging or running to make sure they didn't miss a connection. My own connection was pretty tight, I think I had about 20 minutes from getting off one plane to the departure time for the next one. Had the flight left on time  I might not have made it (even though the information boards showed it as "on time" the doors on the plane did not close by the departure time listed- I've found "on time" stats on airplanes rival attendance stats at sports events for their self-serving accuracy). I did have to go from one end of the airport to the other to get my connection.  But I wasn't going to run, I figured if I didn't make it, I'd challenge Continental to fix the problem they created by booking connections too tightly.

Anyway, it was funny to me to watch so many people running to catch their flights. God bless Continental. I wonder if they've even noticed what they're doing to their customers on this, and if they have, how the decision making conversation on the tight connections went......

"Hey, you know, we've booked all the connections so tight at Houston that 1/3 of our passengers are having to run from one flight to another."

"Hmmm. Are they missing their flights?"


"Are they complaining?"

"Well, I guess they probably would complain more, but usually they're expressing breathless relief as they arrive at their departing gate... 'Whew! We made it!'"

"Sounds like a win-win! Can we tighten the schedule a bit more? From what you're telling me, between 50-70% of our passengers have too much time between their flights!"