Saturday, January 22, 2011

To Know Thyself

"There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self. " - Benjamin Franklin

"This above all; to thine own self be true." - William Shakespeare

"Friendship with one’s self is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world." - Eleanor Roosevelt

"If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self." - Napoleon Hill

"Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom... The power to choose, to respond, to change." - Stephen Covey

What do all these great quotes have in common? They all acknowledge the importance of knowing yourself. I have recognized the importance of knowing myself for a long time, and I am sure that throughout my childhood it was imparted upon me in one way or another. In fact a big reason I started blogging was to truly challenge my beliefs and to reflect upon where I am and more importantly who I am.

The other day I took a Myers-Briggs Test Workshop for Choosing and Changing Careers. The premise of the workshop was to learn more about your personality preferences and to leverage that enhanced knowledge of yourself to find a career you truly love. Although the workshop had a career slant I think going through such a workshop is just as applicable to many other facets of life as well.

Here are a few things I took away from the workshop:

1. I went into the workshop with a fairly good self awareness. That was reassuring. I think the combination of my team sports background, military background, and conscious attempts (blogging, reading, starting a non-profit company etc.) to get to know myself better have paid off. That being said we all are constantly growing and changing so the journey to understand yourself is just that; a journey, not a destination.

2. Your personality is a profile of preferences in the way you respond to outside events. If you are extrovert you can still be introverted in various situations. Being an extrovert simply means that your preference is to respond to different life events as an extrovert does. There is a sliding scale of how strongly you identify with a certain preference.

3. Your personality profile can and does change in different situations. Although my "personal" and "work" self were largely aligned there are some scenarios where my preferences change. For instance, I am more laid back and have a go with the flow attitude in my personal life whereas I appreciate a more solid schedule and organized work environment.

4. Improving your own self awareness allows you to better recognize other peoples personality types and allows you to more effectively interact with different types of people.I couldn't help but analyze where my wife would shake out on the Myers Briggs test. It was pretty enlightening to see that the source of some of our minor disagreements may not be a lack of desire to resolve those disagreements but two differing preferences on how to respond to outside events. A simple example is cleaning the kitchen. My wife notices every crumb where I take more of a holistic view of how the kitchen ties in with the rest of the home's appearance. These are not coincidences. They are living examples of our differing personality profiles. My awareness of this subtle distinction in our preferences will surely make me more sensitive to how she lives her life....and may even improve my counter-wiping ability. Although this is an oversimplified example, it can be applied to relationship management in any scenario.

5. There are a few different facets that would make up my “dream job” that are consistent with my personality profile. I must be in a creative, team environment that is very collaborative in nature. Not surprisingly this ties in very nicely with things I have been passionate about in my life. Whether it was growing up playing hockey, starting Checking For Charity Corporation, or leading a team of contracting professionals in Iraq I have always thrived and enjoyed these types of environments. My future career should be no different.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: Stones Into Schools

Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson: I was finishing up Three Cups of Tea as I headed into Iraq for my six month deployment. I gave the book a very positive review by stating that I think it should be a mandatory read for politicians, the military members, and the children in our school systems. I made that bold statement because I felt I learned more in the book about the region we have been at war with for the past decade than I have anywhere else. More specifically I stated, "I learned more about Islam and the countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan than I did in all my time in the military. The book taught me more about the real issues in that area of the world than any news article I have ever read. I am kind of ashamed to admit that, but it is what it is."

So it is quite fitting that I started Greg Mortenson's second book as I began to transition out of Iraq. A girl that was in my wife's sorority in college happened to come across my review of Three Cups of Tea and she also happens to work for Penguin Publishing who released both works under their name. In a very touching sign of appreciation for what I was contributing to overseas, she sent me the sequel along with a few other Penguin releases. I thought that was pretty cool on her part and the part of her employer.

Mortenson’s best-seller, Three Cups of Tea (2009), introduced his commitment to peace through education and became a book-club phenomenon. He now continues the story of how the Central Asia Institute (CAI) built schools in northern Afghanistan. Descriptions of the harsh geography and more than one near-death experience impress readers as new faces join Mortenson’s loyal “Dirty Dozen” as they carefully plot a course of school-building through the Badakshan province and Wakhan corridor. Mortenson also shares his friendships with U.S. military personnel, including Admiral Mike Mullen, and the warm reception his work has found among the officer corps. The careful line CAI threads between former mujahideen commanders, ex-Taliban and village elders, and the American soldiers stationed in their midst is poetic in its political complexity and compassionate consideration. Using schools not bombs to promote peace is a goal that even the most hard-hearted can admire, but to blandly call this book inspiring would be dismissive of all the hard work that has gone into the mission in Afghanistan as well as the efforts to fund it. Mortenson writes of nothing less than saving the future, and his adventure is light years beyond most attempts. Mortenson did not reach the summit of K2, but oh, the heights he has achieved. --Colleen Mondor of Booklist

Mrs. Mondor's review of the piece is dead on. But what I found particularly intriguing was the progress that was made since the first book was published. Stopping at the accomplishments detailed within Three Cups of Tea would be enough for Greg and his CAI counterparts to feel that have lived a worthy life of positive contribution to this world. However, to see how Three Cups of Tea has inspired people across the world while unifying people with seemingly incompatible views and beliefs is truly inspiring. I think the book speaks volumes in showing that a good idea founded on honorable principles can truly change the world even if it is one small step at a time.

I also really enjoyed the praise that Greg Mortenson gives the US troops. Not just because I am a military member, but because I think the work that our servicemen and women are doing often gets lost beneath the ever-present political banter of the major media outlets. Greg showcases how it was the military that first began embracing the Three Cups of Tea "education not bombs" strategy of eradicating extremism. And it wasn't the high profile Generals either. It was the everyday leaders of our nation's fighting force. A grass roots movement so to speak that has undoubtedly helped shape the strategy of our efforts overseas.

The book optimistically ends detailing that although there is a long way to go in that part of the world immense progress has been made with regard to education opportunities, especially for young girls. During a time where it is difficult to be anything but pessimistic about our politician's assessments of our nation's two wars it is good to see that some tangible gains have been made with regard to human progress. I highly recommend both books and offer my notes from Stones Into Schools below.

Forward by Khaled Hosseini:
- 8 years into war Afghanistan is considered a failing state but there are success stories as well and most meaningful is education
- 1/2 million children attending school and 40% are girls
- "If you educate a boy you educate an individual, but if you educate a girl you educate a community."

- Tells of Masreen, a Pakistani women, and her struggles to pursue education
- "When it comes down to it, I am nothing more than a fellow who took a wrong turn in the mountains and never quite managed to find his way home" - Greg Mortenson
- He has made more than 680 appearances in more than 270 cities in the last three years
- "When you hand this money over to the folks over there on the other side of the world," said one local businessman, who had tears in his eyes as he spoke, "just tell them that it comes from a little town in the mountains of Colorado so that their daughters can go to school."
- 1 year of education in primary school can result in an increase in income of 10-20% for women later in life
- Simply put, young woman are the single biggest potential agents of change in the developing world. A phenomenon that is sometimes referred to as the girl effect.
- In Muslim societies a person who has been manipulated into believing in extremist violence or terrorism often seeks the permission of his mother before he may join a militant jihad, and educated women as a rule tend to withhold their blessing.
- Taliban targets regions for recruitment where female literacy is low
- It is important to be clear about the fact that the aim of the Central Asia Institute is not indoctrination. We have no agenda other than assisting rural women with their two most frequent requests: "We don't want our babies to die, and we want our children to go to school."
- "In the end, the thing I care about, the flame that burns at the center of my work, the heat around which I cup my hands, are their stories." - Greg Mortenson
- "The first cup of tea you share with us, you are a stranger. The second cup, you are a friend. But with the third cup, you become family - and for our families we are willing to do anything, even die." - Haji Ali

Part I: The Premise:

- "The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all." - Aung San Suu Kyi

The People At The End Of The Road:
- "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve." - Albert Schweitzer
- They start at the end of the road and work their way back. Serve the most remote areas overlooked by other NGOs
- When ordinary human beings perform extraordinary acts of generosity, endurance, or compassion we are all made richer by their example
- Works alliances with anyone including Taliban and hires inexperienced based on gut instinct
- He learned it from his father who had done the same in Africa with a hospital

The Man With The Broken Hand:
- "Mountains can never reach each other despite their bigness. But humans can." - Afghan proverb
- Sarfraz Khan has a tough but incredible background
- Like everywhere else in Afghanistan, geography is far less important than relationships
- When you comprehend the dynamics of power, everything else falls into place
- "And so it was that our conversation on that snowy evening in Zuudkhan marked the beginning of the greatest friendship of my life." - Greg Mortenson
- "For me, a hard life is no problem. But for our children, this life is no good. We have little food, poor houses, and no school. We know you have been building schools in Pakistan, so will you come and build the same for us in Afghanistan? We will donate the land, the stones, the labor, everything that you ask. Come now and stay with us for the winter as our guest. We will take tea together. We will butcher our biggest sheep. We will discuss matters properly and we will plan a school." - Roshan Khan a Kirghiz rider
- Greg promises to build the Kirghiz a school way up in the Wakhan

The Zero Year:
- Of the many ways in which the Taliban perverted and brutalized the tenets of Islam, however, nothing quite matched the crimes that they visited upon their sisters, daughters, mothers, and wives
- Within the first week of taking Kabul the Taliban stripped away these privileges and summarily rendered the female population silent and invisible
- Winter 2002 = zero year in Afghanistan
- After 9/11 $680M in aide money promised by President Bush had been "redirected" to build runways and bulk up supply depots in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar for the upcoming invasion of Iraq. Afghanistan was now receiving less than a third of the per-capita assistance that had been plowed into reconstruction efforts in Bosnia, East Timor, or Rwanda, and of that less than half was going to long term development projects such as education.

The Sound Of Peace:
- Sarfraz delivered the hand recorded census of the Kirghiz and Greg appointed him the "most remote area project manager."
- "Look here. Look at these hills. There has been far too much dying in these hills. Every rock, every boulder that you see before you is one of my mujahadeen, shahids, martyrs, who sacrificed their lives fighting the Russians and the Taliban. Now we must make their sacrifice worthwhile. We must turn these stones into schools." - Sadhar Khan
- "You may be a veteran but you are not a warrior because you have never fought in battle. Sitting here watching the water rush past is the only way that I can justify having gone to war. The reason I fought the Soviets and then the Taliban was for moments such as the one we're having right now. Unless you have been inside the fire of a battle, this is something that you will never understand." - Sadhar Khan

Style Is Everything:
- "War has forced us to starve not only our bodies but also our minds. This should never again happen to my people." - Sadhar Khan
- The pleading was always polite but the needs were endless
- Official paperwork was always a challenge due to the (lack of) Afghanistan's functioning government

The Seal Of The Kirghiz Khan:
- "But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, you can see the stars." - Martin Luther King Jr.
- In the 90's drug trade flourished to fund the mujahadeens war efforts. Eventually it began to infiltrate peasants and remote villages
- Up to 1/4 of the adult population were addicts
- Karzai made promises to Abdul Rashid Khan but didnt follow through
- The desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo had the entire region enraged. Proof that we are growing increasingly interconnected in this world
- Elders stopped the rioting and ransacking of the CAI school in Baharak. The elders claimed it as their school. They had ownership.

Qayamat (The Apocalypse) Part II:
A Dark and Distant Roar:
- Pakistan earthquake occurred on 8 Oct 2005
- In the past 50 years Pakistan has suffered through 4 wars, two political coups, floods, political assassinations, and other disruptions but never anything like the earthquake. 7.6 magnitude that triggered 2,252 landslides. Over 86,000 deaths making it the 12th most destructive earthquake of all time. A quarter of those deaths were children in school. Over 3,794 schools in Kashmir and 2,159 schools in the Northwest frontier were destroyed.

No Idea What To Do:
- CAI went to Kashmir to give aid after the quake
- US Chinook helicopters were helping the relief effort. "Sarfraz talked to some of the pilots and learned that those who had served in Iraq could not believe that the people of Pakistan actually liked them. In the coming years, many of these pilots and their crew members would look back upon those weeks as the highlight of their military careers."
- Islamic extremists were often better at aid than the various NGOs
- Combining aid with ideology was a highly effective strategy. "I have always been dismayed by the West's failure, or unwillingness, to recognize that establishing secular schools that offer children a balanced and non extremist form of education is probably the cheapest and most effective way of combating this kind of indoctrination." - Greg Mortenson

Farzana's Desks:
- "When you take the time to actually listen, with humility, to what people have to say, it's amazing what you can learn. Especially if the people who are doing the talking also happen to be children." - Greg Mortenson
- Greg's daughter tells him to start putting playgrounds in the schoolyards. He is amazed he hasn't thought of it.
- Taliban sympathizers even get a kick out of the playgrounds

Sarfraz's Promise:
- Sarfraz got an infection and had surgery
- Recruited Chinese to start building earthquake proof schools
- He was following in his father's footsteps without ever really intending to

The Chance That Must Be Taken:
- "History is a race between education and catastrophe." - H.G. Wells
- CAI started sponsoring girls for advanced education
- Often family and community object
- With the success of the first book Greg was travelling and fundraising nonstop. He crashed and had to return to home to rest. He became the fundraiser and sacrificed his trips to the schools, the thing he loved most.

Part III: The School On The Roof Of The World:
An Email From An American Colonel:

- "Education is the long term solution to fanaticism." - Colonel Christopher Kolenda
- "People in that part of the world are used to death and violence. And if you tell them 'We're sorry your father died, but he died a martyr so that Afghanistan could be free,' and if you offer them compensation and honor their sacrifice, I think that people will support us even now. But the worst thing you can do is what we're doing--ignoring the victims by calling them collateral damage and not even trying to count the numbers of the dead. Because to ignore them is to deny they ever existed, and there is no greater insult in the Islamic world. For that, we will not be forgiven." - Greg Mortenson
- "I'm no military expert and these figures might not be exactly right. But as best I can tell, we've launched 114 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan so far. Now take the cost of one of those missiles, tipped with a Raytheon guidance system, which I think is about $840,000. For that much money, you could build dozens of schools that could provide tens of thousands of students with a balanced non extremist education over the course of a generation. Which do you think will make us more secure?" - Greg Mortenson
- It was the American military officers who felt the US strategy needed to be revamped in both wars
- "We can't kill our way to victory." - Admiral Mike Mullen
- The military embraced Greg and Three Cups of Tea
- "More than almost any other profession I have encountered, members of the military seem willing to acknowledge their failures and mistakes and to recognize that this is the first step towards learning and growth." - Greg Mortenson

The Man From The Jalozai Refugee Camp:
- Locals went against the Taliban and had girls attend school
- Unknowingly the schools they built in Afghanistan formed an arc that pointed to the birthplace of the Taliban

Barnstorming Through Badakshan:
- Finally certified as an NGO in Afghanistan
- Honored by Musharraf of Pakistan. Ironic they have better relations with Pakistan than our own government
- Musharraf is impeached
- They met with Musharraf for more than 4 hours. "Most high level delegations, they only get very short meetings with Musharraf. The President of China --maybe 30 minutes. George Bush, maximum 15 minutes!" - Nazir
- "The contrast between my activities and those of most of my staff seemed to underscore an even larger problem: the extent to which I have been forced to pull away from the aspects of my work that I find personally and spiritually fulfilling in order to attend to what is generally referred to as 'the big picture.'" I have similar feelings with my own charity as I have been forced geographically to tend to the bigger picture without being heavily involved in the gratifying groundwork.

A Meeting Of Two Warriors:
- "The Muslim community is a subtle world we don't fully--and don't always-- attempt to understand. Only through a shared appreciation of people's culture, needs, and hopes for the future can we hope ourselves to supplant the extremist narrative. We cannot capture hears and minds. We must engage them; we must listen to them, one heart and one mind at a time." - Admiral Mike Mullen
- Started neighborhood literacy centers for older women and it exploded
- "Wakil quickly realized that this enthusiasm was the byproduct of taking a group of women who had been forced to lead restricted and sequestered lives, putting them into the same room, and simply giving them the license to dream."
- Admiral Mullen inaugurated one of the CAI schools

The Point Of Return:
- Back in the Kirghiz but can't figure out how to get supplies in
- "How do you build a school on the Roof of the World when transporting the construction materials from any direction is virtually impossible?"
- Greg slipped into an intense fever and is forced to return home short of the Kirghiz village

The Last Best School:
-Abdul Rashid Khan the leader of the Kirghiz fell ill. Greg broke his promise and asked the US military for help. It made its way all the way up to Gen Patraeus and McChrystal
- The mission was too close to China and too risky based on fuel
- "This was no the outcome I had hoped for, but as I read the General's message I also understood that it was the correct decision. Although the assessment team's calculus may have sounded somewhat cold, it underscored the most important question to ask: Would it be right to place the lives of two American helicopter crews on the line while risking international incident on behalf of a patient who was probably beyond help? In my heart, I knew that the answer was no." - Greg Mortenson

- "We live at the edge of the world, and since no help is going to arrive, we have no choice but to do this ourselves. This school is our priority. At this point, we have almost no resources left. But starting from this moment, everything that we have will be focused on one goal. Inshallah, we are going to finish what we have started." - Abdul Rashid Khan
- Nearly a decade after Greg's initial promise to the Kirghiz the school was finally finished
- "Like it or not, you see, my reasons for wanting to get a first hand glimpse of that gem of a school in the High Pamir are probably not compatible with the role that I played in its completion. Because when it really comes down to it, aside from the service that I performed as a kind of one man yak train that faithfully transported the donations of ordinary Americans to the far side of the world, what was accomplished at Bozai Gumbaz had nothing whatsoever to do with me. A fact that for a time, I must now admit, was not easy for me to accept." - Greg Mortenson
- "By succeeding at an endeavor in which a government, an army, and an NGO had failed, a band of impoverished nomads were able to construct, on the loftiest and most distant corner of their republic, something even greater than a school. They had raised a beacon of hope that called out not only to the Kirghiz themselves, but also to every village and town in Afghanistan where children yearn for education, and where fathers and mothers dream of building a school whose doors will open not only to their sons but also to their daughters. Including, and perhaps especially, those places that are surrounded by a ring of men with Kalashnikovs who help to sustain the grotesque lie that flinging battery acid into the face of a girl who longs to study arithmetic is somehow in keeping with the teachings of the Koran." - Greg Mortenson

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Thoughts On "Why Are All Our Best Officers Leaving The MIlitary"

There is an article that was recently published in The Atlantic magazine that is surely stirring up some controversy. The article is bluntly called, "Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving The Military."

I must start with a disclaimer of sorts. I am transitioning out of the military this summer. With my pending transition the title of the article definitely caught my eye, as it surely was designed to do. However, it wasn't because I consider myself the "best." I am a pretty humble guy so by nature it is hard to view myself as one of the best officers. I was more curious than anything else. With that being said, I certainly do not think that ALL of our nation's best officers are leaving the military. I have served with some unbelievably talented officers and leaders that are making the military a career and like any other organization the leaders will be a representation of our nation as a whole with the good, the bad, and the ugly making up our leadership ranks.

With my personal disclaimer out of the way, I must say that I think the article most definitely holds some validity and that many of the problems identified in throughout author's article are real.

Why are so many of the most talented officers now abandoning military life for the private sector? An exclusive survey of West Point graduates shows that it’s not just money. Increasingly, the military is creating a command structure that rewards conformism and ignores merit. As a result, it’s losing its vaunted ability to cultivate entrepreneurs in uniform.

What I really liked about the article is that it wasn't just some naive opinion piece with a catchy title. The writing was backed with real life studies and surveys that have been researched over the years. As I began to read the findings that came from the aforementioned surveys and studies I was amazed at how closely they matched my own reasons for separating. Not only my own reasons but the frustrations I have discussed with my peers over the course of my military career.

A widely circulated 2010 report from the Strategic Studies Institute of the Army War College said: “Since the late 1980s … prospects for the Officer Corps’ future have been darkened by … plummeting company-grade officer retention rates. Significantly, this leakage includes a large share of high-performing officers.” Similar alarms have been sounded for decades, starting long before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan made the exit rate of good officers an acute crisis. When General Peter Schoomaker served as Army chief of staff from 2003 to 2007, he emphasized a “culture of innovation” up and down the ranks to shift the Army away from its Cold War focus on big, conventional battles and toward new threats. In many respects (weapons, tactics, logistics, training), the Army did transform. But the talent crisis persisted for a simple reason: the problem isn’t cultural. The military’s problem is a deeply anti-entrepreneurial personnel structure. From officer evaluations to promotions to job assignments, all branches of the military operate more like a government bureaucracy with a unionized workforce than like a cutting-edge meritocracy.

And that is when it hit me. When I read the final word of the passage. The word 'meritocracy' instantly took me back to something I did while deployed to Iraq. While deployed, at the request of my Commander, I completed a voluntary and informal "exit survey." The survey was created by my Commander, when she learned I was separating from the Air Force, to track trends of departing Company Grade Officers from the Contracting career field. Her genuine desire to address the problems in our military/career field coupled with her care for her people not only made me feel obligated to complete the survey, it made me feel honored to provide brutally honest feedback that may in some small way make the Air Force a bit better for the people behind me.

I opened my 'exit survey' for the first time since submitting it to my Commander in Iraq and I went to one of the first sections. The section asked me to describe my top five reasons for separating. Under reason number four I had listed "Meritocracy." Below is an excerpt of my response:

Meritocracy: I have always been very intrinsically motivated. I enjoy giving my best and do so without many external incentives. However, I have found that working in the government setting can be frustrating at times. I think that being in a career field that is heavily populated with civilians and contractors as well as military has made it even more frustrating. It is hard to work in [the] contracting [career field] and not notice that there are plenty of workers who do in fact very little working. Not only is it frustrating to watch as a fellow teammate but it is typically compounded by the fact that many of these people make more money than me and get more time away from the office than me. Not that money is everything to me. Not even close. I think that as an officer [in the military] the money and benefits are more than sufficient for my lifestyle and I am appreciative of how I have been able to set myself up quite nicely for the future given the paycheck I receive. However, I do have a problem working in an environment where the external incentives seem completely misaligned with the amount of responsibility and contributions to the team. I hate to generalize my civilian counterparts because I have worked with some great ones, but over time I have noticed a trend that many civilians want all the benefits of being in the military without any of the sacrifice that comes with it. I am not na├»ve enough to think that my transition to the corporate world with solve all my frustrations and that everything will be “fair”. However, I am looking for an environment where I can differentiate myself through performance and be compensated both internally and externally based on my merits.

As I continued through the article, I was amazed at the findings from the respondents in the survey and how closely they matched many of my peers sentiments and experiences. Below are some of the results that really stood out to me.

Among active- duty respondents, 82 percent believed that half or more of the best are leaving. Only 30 percent of the full panel agreed that the military personnel system “does a good job promoting the right officers to General,” and a mere 7 percent agreed that it “does a good job retaining the best leaders.”

Is this so terrible? One can argue that every system has flaws and that the military should be judged on its ultimate mission: maintaining national security and winning wars. But that’s exactly the point: 65 percent of the graduates agreed that the exit rate of the best officers leads to a less competent general-officer corps. Seventy-eight percent agreed that it harms national security.

The shame of this loss of talent is that the U.S. military does such a good job attracting and training great leaders. The men and women who volunteer as military officers learn to remain calm and think quickly under intense pressure. They are comfortable making command decisions, working in teams, and motivating people. Such skills translate powerfully to the private sector, particularly business: male military officers are almost three times as likely as other American men to become CEOs, according to a 2006 Korn/Ferry International study.
I too believe that the military does an excellent job attracting and training leaders. In fact one of the sections of my exit survey asked what I thought the Air Force does well. Below is my response:

What do you think the Air Force does exceptionally well?

Developing professional critical thinking leaders: I look back at all the unique challenges, experiences, and educational opportunities I have been given while in the Air Force and I start to think that the Air Force has given me much more than I ever gave in return. Sure the sacrifices are difficult; however I feel that the 9 years I spent in the military lifestyle have set me up for success in any endeavor I choose to pursue.

I think the Air Force has developed a culture, especially amongst its officers, that is founded on professional character based leadership. This is not an easy culture to establish en masse, but the further I go along in my career the more I realize how successful the Air Force has been at providing me a foundation for leadership success.

I think that based on the statistics above, Corporate America is finding value in folks with military leadership experience. The fact that men with military experience are three times as likely to become CEO as compared to their civilian counterparts is a statistic that shows the transitional success is not a mere coincidence. So why does the military have a hard time retaining great leaders when they do such a great job crafting them? That is a question author Tim Kane also sought to answer through his research.
Why is the military so bad at retaining these people? It’s convenient to believe that top officers simply have more- lucrative opportunities in the private sector, and that their departures are inevitable. But the reason overwhelmingly cited by veterans and active-duty officers alike is that the military personnel system—every aspect of it—is nearly blind to merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day— regardless of an officer’s competence—so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next.

The Pentagon’s response to such complaints has traditionally been to throw money at the problem, in the form of millions of dollars in talent-blind retention bonuses. More often than not, such bonuses go to any officer in the “critical” career fields of the moment, regardless of performance evaluations. This only ensures that the services retain the most risk-averse, and leads to long-term mediocrity.

When I asked veterans for the reasons they left the military, the top response was “frustration with military bureaucracy”—cited by 82 percent of respondents (with 50 percent agreeing strongly). In contrast, the conventional explanation for talent bleed—the high frequency of deployments—was cited by only 63 percent of respondents, and was the fifth-most-common reason. According to 9 out of 10 respondents, many of the best officers would stay if the military was more of a meritocracy.
Ironically deployments was the fifth reason out of five on my exit questionnaire as well. Although these generalizations are not true for all members of the military I think that there are many that do feel aligned with the concerns cited above. Most of my best friends in the military are competitors. Many spent years competing at the highest levels of sports, academics, etc. and the most frustrating environment you could possibly put them in is one where they feel constrained and held back. I am a firm believer that over time people rise and fall to where they deserve to be based on their merits. However, when driven people are given the choice to enter an environment that more efficiently rewards overachievers and winners inevitably some will make the jump.

Another facet of the current military struggle is differing outlooks on the status quo. For better or for worse many within the younger generations look at the status quo differently than their upper leadership. It is not that the younger leaders of the military do not buy into a culture that promotes integrity, honor, service and excellence, as that is definitely a cultural norm that they believe in. What the youth of the military struggles with is the status quo line of thinking. The youth of our country has been brought up to embrace their differences, to stand out, and to become their own unique person. One has to look no further than the trends of our information age to see the demand for individualization thriving. Anyone can start a blog, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, a Twitter account, and much more. People are creating their own individual identities and virtual thought profiles online from a very young age. In a sense the new currency is ideas and the marketplace is rewarding people for their ideas. Anyone who has served in the military knows that is not always the case in the military environment. Often the individualized personas and unique beliefs that are embraced in the new world are seen as 'risky' in the military world.

In a 2007 essay in the Armed Forces Journal, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling offered a compelling explanation for this risk-averse tendency. A veteran of three tours in Iraq, Yingling articulated a common frustration among the troops: that a failure of generalship was losing the war. His critique focused not on failures of strategy but on the failures of the general-officer corps making the strategy, and of the anti-entrepreneurial career ladder that produced them: “It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to institutional expectations will emerge as an innovator in his late forties.”

In America today, capitalism is entrepreneurial: our economy is defined by individuals failing or succeeding on the strength of their ideas. Crucially, the military has not recognized this shift. And the Army, in particular, has not changed from its “inefficient industrial era practices,” as a report by the Strategic Studies Institute put it last year. It still treats each employee as an interchangeable commodity rather than as a unique individual with skills that can be optimized.

That last line really hits it on the head for me. How can the military take the unique individuals that serve as the core of its make up and skillfully utilize those assets to make the organization better than it was? That is the ultimate goal. Of course it is easier said than done in one of the largest organizations in the world but the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.

I love the military and what it stands for. Any organization that is consistently recognized as one of America's most trusted institutions while simultaneously navigating some of the most critical and challenging missions on the planet is doing a lot of things right. I decided to write this post because I believe in our military and I want it to continue to be the world's best for my friends that stay in, for my country, and for the next generation. I truly believe that by consistently striving to improve and by continually addressing the evolving challenges like the ones outlined in this article, our nation's fighting force will continue its tradition of success long after I am gone.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

BadskiBlog Top 10 Of 2010!

2010 was a challenging year. Between adapting to new job/city, going into hibernation for 2-3 months studying for the GMAT, running Checking For Charity from afar, and a six month deployment to Iraq away from my lovely wife and dog it is easy to see why it has been a challenging year and why BadskiBlog has taken a hit as far as quantity of content goes. With that being said, I can honestly say that I have been much more conscious of churning out quality verses quantity this past year. As I get “better” at blogging I find myself struggling more and more to ensure I have worthy topics to write about. I don’t want to write posts that don’t get my adrenaline going a bit. I want to post topics that challenge me and continue my goal of exploration and growth. Here are my 'self proclaimed' best posts of 2010 in no particular order. Thanks to everyone who has been part of this blog in one way, shape, or form.

1. Full Circle - Lessons From One Sandbox To Another: A group of life and leadership lessons that were learned as a child yet helped me while I was deployed to Iraq.

2. Optimist Optimized: A post detailing how my deployment experience changed my perspective on my life stateside. The greatest gift I was given was the ability to see just how blessed my life stateside is.

3. What You Can Learn From A Group Of Has Been Metalheads - Anvil: The Story Of Anvil: A movie review of "Anvil: The Story of Anvil." The movie is an unbelievable feel good movie that made huge waves in the independent movie scene. It is not just about playing loud with these guys, it is about living a fulfilling life. Plenty of life lessons to be learned from these unlikely wise men.

4. Practice, Preparation, and Paralleling Reality: Thoughts on optimizing your habits, practice and preparation to successfully accomplish your goals.

5. Warren Buffett On Integrity: An awesome video from a humble, wise, and honorable business leader on the importance of integrity. I love how Warren Buffett makes the most simple statements seem like the most insightful statements in the world. Often we get so bogged down in complex theories and practices that we forget the powerful and truly timeless themes for success that are overarching in a myriad of pursuits.

6. Humility & Hubris - Learning From A Punch In The Mouth: This passage explores different scenarios where getting a dose of humility can be a good thing and how you can approach adversity and come out the other side a better person.

7. A Combat Landing - Welcome To Your New World: Initial thoughts and observations of my journey in Baghdad, Iraq. A combination narrative and introspective exploration of the deployed world.

8. Mental Balance And A Growing Trend: A couple articles on the unique skills and experiences that Junior Military Officers (JMOs) are bringing to Corporate America. The post also has interesting statistics showing the changing value placed on JMOs by Corporate America over time and of course some of my own thoughts on the subject.

9. The Deployment Mirror - Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV: Narratives detailing my daily life in Iraq. The posts mostly spawned from requests of family and friends to share my experiences in a manner similar to the Combat Landing post above. I must say that as a kid I did want to be a "creative writer" when I grew up so these posts were a welcome departure from my normal blogging.

10. Goodbye Baghdad!: Quick thoughts from Al Udeid, Qatar just a few short hours after I had departed Baghdad for home.