Graduate Schools of Business, Public Policy and Military Heritage

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

This past week I joined the occasional and informal gathering of the Vets Club at Duke University. Attendees included Marines, Rangers, Medics, Artillery, a couple of Destroyer sailors- including yours truly – and a Hungarian sky-diver.

I don’t write much here about my position as the President of the local Naval Academy Alumni Association even though my military affiliation has become an important factor in my life even these many years after my own service. My participation renewed once my elder son joined the Naval ROTC at his college and flowered as I met a variety of military types who live, work and pass through our region. Because of the university population here, i.e. UNC, Duke and NC State, I meet a fair number of the more accomplished junior officers who earn billets here. An element of my personal goals within the Alumni Assoc. is to encourage and to help these JOs remain in the area. Several of these young men and women have become among my favorite people and most wished for social partners. I hope that they feel this way about me. On the other hand, as they search for work and expand their families, I am reminded vividly that I am many moons past their stage of life. In an uncertain economic time, with its shadow of organizational mistrust amidst a whiff of desperation, I am invigorated and motivated by their company. Plus, they make me laugh with their candid assessments of circumstance and insights into human foible.

Two threads of conversations with the Vets, over beers, caused me to post. As we discussed their post-graduation plans which range from Fellowships in St. Petersburg, Russia to financial management with JP Morgan Chase (the Army infantry sergeant) to non-profit work in Colorado, we wondered how our training and their combat experiences would translate to the current civilian sector. We agreed that one challenge of military transition is that the armed services are entities consumed by focus on mission. Civilian employment survives by process measurement of profit and loss statements. So, military types have to adjust and rightly so, but you have to know why you belong or affiliate with a revenue-focused entity or else we get what we have, namely, too-busy people running in circles feeling that someone else needs to solve ‘this problem.’ The second thread of conversation addressed management styles. Of course, amongst this well and roundly educated tablet, no one contended that the command and control style of the military makes sense in the civilian sector – even though there are the wannabees. After a round or so, we agreed that one aspect of military management would make a positive impact in the civilian sector. When is the last time, the first time, the any time that your manager asked you what the Marines, particularly, make evident from day one of training: “Do you know what you have to do? Do you have what you need to get it done?” These phrases won’t be found in any handbook of leadership and they are the essence of mission accomplishment. One cannot always know and one does not always have all that one needs. However, without addressing or asking these two questions, the mission cannot be accomplished because it lacks collective understanding and agreement.

Here’s to the young, the brave and the future.

Impressions of Leadership

Friday, March 27th, 2009

I read three newspapers each morning. This habit, near fetish or fix, began after serving in the Navy in the 1970s. For news aboard ship, the officers would pass-around a clipboard of news captions received in the radio room. Sometimes we received only half of the transmission.

As a consequence of my time out of the popular culture mainstream and periodically when we’re in front of the television or at a dinner, someone will mention a tv program or even song from that period. While my fellow viewers and dinner partners express related opinions and associations, I react as though I just landed here from afar. Now I’m used to saying, “that must have been in the seventies.”

One of my Navy roommates tried to enjoy investing in the stock market. During port calls in the Pacific, he’d receive a pile of Wall Street Journals. He pore through the stack exclaiming and cursing the performance of his investments as their 2 and 3 week histories were compressed into a 2 tand 3 hour interval for him. Speaking of the Journal: I’ve been a diligent reader and loyal subscriber for nearly 30 years. Under the newly formed News Corp. / Murdoch administration, I’m finding the paper predictable in its point of view and shallow in the depth of its reporting. The editors may be interested to know that my wife, a publications designer, approves of the new trim size. At this rate, I’ll drop the Journal and spend more time with the Times.

Which leads me to the topic of leadership because the unwritten news headlines are furious cries for a TARP-like program of leadership. Aren’t we all just looking for a little bit of it here and there?! What are its elements? Can it be taught? Do we only know it when we see it? Is it valued and encouraged?

I work for a technology company in a college town populated by medical professionals which offers a rewarding mixture of possibility, energy and achievement. My favorite discussions are when we compare the mechanics of our worlds. Yesterday, I spoke with a military officer about the organization of a bbq at an April sporting event. In this discussion, she exhibited the same traits of leadership skill that I attribute to others whom I admire in medicine, technology and in education: foremost, their intent is to get something done; they are unfailing polite while being candid; they work hard in the achievement of mission and are eager to acknowledge the contributions of others; they do not lay blame and do not tolerate incompetence, willful or unintended; they solicit genuine feedback about their performance.

What do leaders do? Leaders create environments where people can belong to something larger than themselves. They inspire confidence that the group will succeed in its purpose even as individual members rotate in and out. Great sports teams are the epitome of this. After all, why do some teams become programs that always play well; some never play well; and most played well so long as so&so was there.

Of course, the essence of leadership is courage. What is that and can that be taught?

Dutch Honkballers defeat Republic of Baseball, 2x

Friday, March 13th, 2009

I don’t care how my or your stock portfolio did this week but this is an event that gives our individual and collective weakest and dimmest hopes a jolt of optimism.Dutch HonkballersThis upset in the World Baseball Classic, the true World Series, exceeds in incredible achievement Joe Namath’s-led victory over the Baltimore Colts, the Japanese Navy’s annihilation of the Russian Navy at Tsushima in 1905 and the 1-in-120,526,770 odds of winning the 6 ball USA Powerball Lottery. One victory over the superior Dominican Republic baseball players is astounding; another victory 3 days later turns the sports world nearly upside down. Please note that the Dutch won the second game, played in Puerto Rico, in the bottom of the 11th inning and down by one run! Imagine12dutch190 if the best kid on the local high school tennis team defeated Raphael Nadel in 3 straight sets on one day and then Roger Federer in 3 straight sets a couple of days later. In a world too consumed by sports, stadiums and athletes, this is proof positive of why we watch despite ourselves. I guess it’s because we’re allowed to appreciate the accomplishments of the superior while rooting for the improbable achievement of the underdog.

And if we’d like a lesson in fortitude and stickin’ with it, check-out last night’s 6 overtime NCAA basketball victory by #20 Syracuse over #1 Connecticut. Maybe I won’t give up on my stock portfolio after all.