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.