Apr 7 2014

16 Leadership Lessons from a Four Star General

1. Leadership is the single biggest reason for success or failure.

So, after a lifetime, what had I learned about leadership? Probably not enough. But I saw enough for me to believe it was the single biggest reason organizations succeeded or failed. It dwarfed numbers, technology, ideology, and historical forces in determining the outcome of events. I used to tell junior leaders that the nine otherwise identical parachute infantry battalions of the 82nd Airborne Division ranged widely in effectiveness, the disparity almost entirely a function of leadership.

“Switch just two people— the battalion commander and command sergeant major—from the best battalion with those of the worst, and within ninety days the relative effectiveness of the battalions will have switched as well,” I’d say. I still believe I was correct.

2. Leadership is difficult to measure.

Yet leadership is difficult to measure and often difficult even to adequately describe. I lack the academic bona fides to provide a scholarly analysis of leadership and human behavior. So I’ll simply relate what, after a lifetime of being led and learning to lead, I’ve concluded.

Leadership is the art of influencing others. It differs from giving a simple order or managing in that it shapes the longer-term attitudes and behavior of individuals and groups. George Washington’s tattered army persisted to ultimate victory. Those troops displayed the kind of effort that can never be ordered— only evoked. Effective leaders stir an intangible but very real desire inside people. That drive can be reflected in extraordinary courage, selfless sacrifice, and commitment.

3. Leadership is neither good nor evil.

We like to equate leaders with values we admire, but the two can be separate and distinct. Self-serving or evil intent motivated some of the most effective leaders I saw, like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In the end, leadership is a skill that can be used like any other, but with far greater effect.

4. Leaders take us to where we’d otherwise not go.

Although Englishmen rushing into the breach behind Henry V is a familiar image, leaders whose personal example or patient persuasion causes dramatic changes in otherwise inertia-bound organizations or societies are far more significant. The teacher who awakens and encourages in students a sense of possibility and responsibility is, to me, the ultimate leader.

5. Success is rarely the work of a single leader.

… leaders work best in partnership with other leaders. In Iraq in 2004, I received specific direction to track Zarqawi and bring him to justice. But it was the collaboration of leaders below me, inside TF 714, that built the teams, relentlessly hunted, and ultimately destroyed his lethal network.

6. Leaders are empathetic.

The best leaders I’ve seen have an uncanny ability to understand, empathize, and communicate with those they lead. They need not agree or share the same background or status in society as their followers, but they understand their hopes, fears, and passions. Great leaders intuitively sense, or simply ask, how people feel and what resonates with them. At their worst, demigods like Adolf Hitler manipulate the passions of frustrated populations into misguided forces. But empathy can be remarkably positive when a Nelson Mandela reshapes and redirects the energy of a movement away from violence and into constructive nation-building.

7. Leadership is not popularity.

For soldiers, the choice between popularity and effectiveness is ultimately no choice at all. Soldiers want to win; their survival depends upon it. They will accept, and even take pride in, the quirks and shortcomings of a leader if they believe he or she can produce success.

8. The best leaders are genuine.

I found soldiers would tolerate my being less of a leader than I hoped to be, but they would not forgive me being less than I claimed to be. Simple honesty matters.

9. Leaders can be found at any rank and at any age.

I often found myself led by soldiers many levels junior to me, and I was the better for it. Deferring to the expertise and skills of the leader best suited to any given situation requires enough self-confidence to subjugate one’s ego, but it signals a strong respect for the people with whom one serves.

10. Charisma is not leadership.

Personal gifts like intellect or charisma help. But neither are required nor enough to be a leader.

Physical appearance, poise, and outward self-confidence can be confused with leadership—for a time. I saw many new lieutenants arrive to battalions and fail to live up to the expectations their handsome, broad-shouldered look generated. Conversely, I saw others overcome the initial doubts created by small stature or a squeaky voice. It took time and enough interaction with followers, but performance usually became more important than the advantages of innate traits.

Later in my career, I encountered some figures who had learned to leverage superficial gifts so effectively that they appeared to be better leaders than they were. It took me some time and interaction —often under the pressure of difficult situations—before I could determine whether they possessed those bedrock skills and qualities that infantry platoons would seek to find and assess in young sergeants and lieutenants. Modern media exacerbate the challenge of sorting reality from orchestrated perception.

11. Leaders walk a fine line between self-confidence and humility.

Soldiers want leaders who are sure of their ability to lead the team to success but humble enough to recognize their limitations. I learned that it was better to admit ignorance or fear than to display false knowledge or bravado. And candidly admitting doubts or difficulties is key to building confidence in your honesty. But expressing doubts and confidence is a delicate balance. When things look their worst, followers look to the leader for reassurance that they can and will succeed.

12. People are born; leaders are made.

I was born the son of a leader with a clear path to a profession of leadership. But whatever leadership I later possessed, I learned from others. I grew up in a household of overt values, many of which hardened in me only as I matured. Although history fascinated me, and mentors surrounded me, the overall direction and key decisions of my life and career were rarely impacted by specific advice, or even a particularly relevant example I’d read or seen. I rarely wondered What would Nelson, Buford, Grant, or my father have done? But as I grew, I was increasingly aware of the guideposts and guardrails that leaders had set for me, often through their examples. The question became What kind of leader have I decided to be? Over time, decisions came easily against that standard, even when the consequences were grave.

13. Leaders are people, and people constantly change.

Even well into my career I was still figuring out what kind of leader I wanted to be. For many years I found myself bouncing between competing models of a hard-bitten taskmaster and a nurturing father figure— sometimes alternating within a relatively short time span. That could be tough on the people I led, and a bit unfair. They looked for and deserved steady, consistent leadership. When I failed to provide that, I gave conflicting messages that produced uncertainty and reduced the effectiveness of the team we were trying to create. As I got older, the swings between leadership styles were less pronounced and frequent as I learned the value of consistency. But even at the end I still wasn’t the leader I believed I should be.

14. Leaders are human.

They get tired, angry, and jealous and carry the same range of emotions and frailties common to mankind. Most leaders periodically display them. The leaders I most admired were totally human but constantly strove to be the best humans they could be.

15. Leaders make mistakes, and they are often costly.

The first reflex is normally to deny the failure to themselves; the second is to hide it from others, because most leaders covet a reputation for infallibility. But it’s a fool’s dream and is inherently dishonest.

16. Leadership is a choice.

Rank, authority, and even responsibility can be inherited or assigned, whether or not an individual desires or deserves them. Even the mantle of leadership occasionally falls to people who haven’t sought it. But actually leading is different. A leader decides to accept responsibility for others in a way that assumes stewardship of their hopes, their dreams, and sometimes their very lives. It can be a crushing burden, but I found it an indescribable honor.

In the end, “there are few secrets to leadership.”

It is mostly just hard work. More than anything else it requires self-discipline. Colorful, charismatic characters often fascinate people, even soldiers. But over time, effectiveness is what counts. Those who lead most successfully do so while looking out for their followers’ welfare. Self-discipline manifests itself in countless ways. In a leader I see it as doing those things that should be done, even when they are unpleasant, inconvenient, or dangerous; and refraining from those that shouldn’t, even when they are pleasant, easy, or safe.

McChrystal’s memoir is entirely worth reading.


Feb 10 2013

Defining Investment

Generally, investment is defined by dictionaries as, transacting to produce income or profit.

There are only three investment groups; ownership, lending and cash equivalents.

Ownership Investment

This class of investment is the most volatile but also the most profitable.  Examples are:

  • Stocks/Shares.  From futures to currency swaps your expectation of profit depends on market valuation.
  • Business.  Entrepreneurship requires more than just ownership and capital.  Creating products, services and sales is risky, but the potential return is large.
  • Real estate.  Considering the 2008 mortgage meltdown it is dangerous to consider your primary residence an investment.
  • Precious Objects.  Gold, Platinum, Art and the like.  Like property there is the risk of depreciation with regard to damage and storage costs.

Lending Investments

A little lower risk but then lower returns.  You become the bank with associated risks.  Examples:

  • Your savings account.  You are lending your capital to the bank with pitiful returns.
  • Bonds.  A category from CDs (Certificate of Deposits) to International Debt Issues.

Cash Equivalents

Any cash investment that can be converted to cash immediately.

  • Money Market Funds.  Although the return is very small it usually is better than your savings account.  It is also very liquid in that you are able to present checks against your balance like an ordinary checking account.

Almost an Investment

Here we could think of our education, a cup of coffee to wake us up for longer working hours or a lawnmower to be more time efficient.  Consumer purchases depreciating over time are not investments.

Bottom Line

There are three types of investments: ownership, lending and cash equivalents.  There is no fourth category of consumer purchases.  Admittedly, it’s a clever piece of advertising that removes some of the guilt from impulse purchasing. The decisive test is whether there is a potential to turn a profit. The operative word here is; “potential” because not every legitimate investment makes money.  Making money through investing requires research and evaluating different investments, not simply knowing what is and is not an investment.  That said, being able to see the difference between an investment and a purchase is an essential first step.


Feb 1 2013

Trying Times; Will It End In Tears?

As the S&P 500 makes a run at its 2007 high, many stocks have already arrived there. Some big name companies have been making all-time highs, and the uptrends are looking very strong. But is this rally sustainable? Recent surges show strong buying interest, but rarely are such aggressive moves sustainable. Here we look at the possible entry points and danger signals in these high flying stocks.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) has had a great start to 2013; starting out the near $70 it closed Jan. 29 at $74.41, up about 6%. The stock recently broke out of a triangle pattern, which began in October, providing a target price of $76. Therefore, the stock looks to have a bit more room to go on the upside in the short term. Volume was quite light on the breakout though, so those looking for a better (lower) price in the coming weeks could get it. There are two old resistance levels that should now provide support on pullbacks – approximately $70 and $68. This is likely to provide a better long-term entry point. Watch the trendline that began in 2011; it currently intersects near $64 and a drop below that indicates further downside is likely.

 


Jul 17 2010

Liberation Theology and Social Justice: Glenn Beck.

Wondering if our friend has seen the light, or is just busy waking up?

Watch These Videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nezQeuHQrHU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qm0h0AFM5Vw&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zejiJl9FCjw&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zTWif_s_c4&feature=related

Glenn beck, I salute you! As you and Bill O’Reilly have pride of place in my day, I have watched you grow in stature to the admirable personality you have become. Now now, you are not there yet!  How beautiful and intense, the dichotomy of becoming less so His truth can become more and I admire your courage and resolve to serve your  truth regardless the consequence. Oh and consequence there will be!

I have seen and experienced the consequence of collective theology for longer than I care to remember. Our identity and character have been demeaned and slandered. Every noble intent ridiculed and labeled; Apartheid. Everything we’ve held dear, in terms of nation hood and culture broken down and spat upon. Used and abused as scapegoats and the reason why the ‘poor’ and ‘downtrodden’ black African is where they are today. Justifying their repugnant lifestyle of plundering and genocidal tendencies on every one, but themselves.

Well my friend, when I listen to your exhortations and appeals for your countrymen’s better judgment, I worry. We have been there. Hopefully you will find what is needed to stem the tide of apathy and avoid spiraling into the consequences of what every South African is part of today. My prayers are with you. But when you have seen and experienced what I have, this world can very suddenly become a very lonely place. Thank God, after allies, there is Him.


Jun 8 2010

AFRICA is giving nothing to anyone — apart from AIDS

This report by K. Myers appeared in an Irish newspaper “The Irish Independent.”

No. It will not do. Even as we see African states refusing to take action to restore something resembling civilisation in Zimbabwe, the begging bowl for Ethiopia is being passed around to us, yet again. It is nearly 25 years since Ethiopia’s (and Bob Geldof’s) famous Feed The World campaign, and in that time Ethiopia’s population has grown from 33.5 million to 78 million today.
So why on earth should I do anything to encourage further catastrophic demographic growth in that country? Where is the logic? There is none. To be sure, there are two things saying that logic doesn’t count.
One is my conscience, and the other is the picture, yet again, of another wide-eyed child, yet again, gazing, yet again, at the camera, which yet again, captures the tragedy of . . .
Sorry. My conscience has toured this territory on foot and financially. Unlike most of you, I have been to Ethiopia; like most of you, I have stumped up the loot to charities to stop starvation there. The wide-eyed boy-child we saved, 20 years or so ago, is now a priapic, Kalashnikov-bearing hearty, siring children whenever the whim takes him.
There is, no doubt a good argument why we should prolong this predatory and dysfunctional economic, social and sexual system; but I do not know what it is. There is, on the other hand, every reason not to write a column like this.
It will win no friends, and will provoke the self-righteous wrath of, well, the self-righteous, hand wringing , letter -writing wrathful individuals, a species which never fails to contaminate almost every debate in Irish life with its sneers and its moral superiority. It will also probably enrage some of the finest men in Irish life, like John O’Shea, of Goal; and the Finucane brothers, men whom I admire enormously. So be it.
But, please, please, you self-righteously wrathful, spare me mention of our own Famine, with this or that lazy analogy. There is no comparison. Within 20 years of the Famine, the Irish population was down by 30pc. Over the
equivalent period, thanks to western food, the Mercedes 10-wheel truck and the Lockheed Hercules, Ethiopia’s has more than doubled.
Alas, that wretched country is not alone in its madness. Somewhere, over the rainbow, lies Somalia, another fine land of violent, Kalashnikov-toting, khat-chewing, girl-circumcising, permanently tumescent layabouts.
Indeed, we now have almost an entire continent of sexually hyperactive, illiterate indigents, with tens of millions of people who only survive because of help from the outside world.
This dependency has not stimulated political prudence or commonsense. Indeed, voodoo idiocy it seems to be in the ascendant, with the next president of South Africa being a firm believer in the efficacy of a little tap water on the post-coital penis as a sure preventative against AIDS infection.
Needless to say, poverty, hunger and societal meltdown have not prevented idiotic wars involving Tigre, Uganda, Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea etcetera.
Broad brush-strokes, to be sure. But broad brush-strokes are often the way that history paints its gaudier, if more decisive, chapters. Japan, China, Russia, Korea, Poland, Germany, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 20th century have endured worse broad brush-strokes than almost any part of Africa.
They are now — one way or another — virtually all giving aid to or investing in Africa, whereas Africa, with its vast savannahs and its lush pastures, is giving almost nothing to anyone, apart from AIDS.
Meanwhile, Africa’s peoples are outstripping their resources, and causing catastrophic ecological degradation. By 2050, the population of Ethiopia will be 177 million: The equivalent of France, Germany and Benelux today, but located on the parched and increasingly protein-free wastelands of the Great Rift Valley.
So, how much sense does it make for us actively to increase the adult population of what is already a vastly over-populated, environmentally devastated and economically dependent country?
How much morality is there in saving an Ethiopian child from starvation today, for it to survive to a life of brutal circumcision, poverty, hunger, violence and sexual abuse, resulting in another half-dozen such wide-eyed children, with comparably jolly little lives ahead of them? Of course, it might make you feel better, which is a prime reason for so much charity! But that is not good enough.
For self-serving generosity has been one of the curses of Africa. It has sustained political systems which would otherwise have collapsed.
It prolonged the Eritrean-Ethiopian war by nearly a decade. It is inspiring Bill Gates’ programme to rid the continent of malaria, when, in the almost complete absence of personal self-discipline, that disease is one of the most efficacious forms of population-control now operating.
If his programme is successful, tens of millions of children who would otherwise have died in infancy will survive to adulthood, he boasts. Oh good: then what? I know. Let them all come here or America. Yes, that’s an idea.