Sunday, February 24, 2013

Leadership Lessons of a Navy Seal Sniper

While the murder of Chris Kyle, the most lethal, Navy Seal sniper in U.S. history tragic loss for his family, friends and for the country, there are striking leadership incites to be garnered in the pages of Kyle’s memoir American Sniper, new in paperback.

Among the stories of Kyle’s training and testing to become a Navy Seal and the tales of his heroic actions in Iraq, I could help but be struck by a comment he made about the mindset of some in military leadership.
The paragraph reads as follows:
“Our top command wanted us to achieve 100 percent success, and to do it with 0 casualties. That may sound admirable—who doesn’t want to succeed, and who wants anyone to get hurt? But in war those are incompatible and unrealistic. If 100 percent success, 0 casualties is your goal, you’re going to conduct very few operations. You will never take any risks, realistic or otherwise.”
While taking risks may have some downsides, it is the upsides, the gains, the growth, the success; that leaders need to focus on. Risk averse leadership is oxymoronic; real leaders take risks. While most risk taking leaders aren’t facing loss of life or serious injury like those in the military, if you want to be truly successful you have to be willing to take some level of risk.
Leadership is the ability to carefully measure and balance the risk to the reward. Chris Kyle understood that balance and was successful because of that knowledge. May he rest in peace knowing he imparted that knowledge.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Smart Talk – Lisa B. Marshall (MacMillan Audiobooks)

I know you have seen this; you’re walking in the mall or you’re in a restaurant, heck you could be in just about any social setting and you see two, three, even four people all clinging to their seemingly life-giving smart phones tapping away texting, posting or tweeting like their life depended on it. You got to wonder if they aren’t communicating to one of the people sitting or walking right next to them. It also has to make you wonder if we will continue down this path to the point where verbal communication will become extinct!

If we are to avoid this fate, I get the feeling that the value of Lisa B. Marshall’s words will surely increase with time. Her latest effort, Smart Talk: The Public Speaker’s Guide to Success in Every Situation is an invaluable tool for not only those who are uncomfortable speaking a variety of public settings, but also expand the repertoire of those who can yack it up with the best of them.

Clear and concise, Marshall walks you through a variety of both professional and personal settings and gives you tools that will work in any setting. If you’ve ever been caught short, have rumbled, bumbled or stumbled through an answer that you knew cold, but couldn’t deliver, Smart Talk will provide you not only the strategy, but easy to use action steps that work.

If you have a friend or family member that is more comfortable with a screen in front of their face than they communicating the old fashioned way, face to face, then slip them a copy of Smart Talk. Tell them they don’t have to read or listen to right away, but at some point I can guarantee it will come in handy and they will thank you for it.

The Book of GIMP: A Complete Guide to Nearly Everything - Olivier Lecarme & Karine Delvare (No Starch Press)

The GNU Image Manipulation Program, better known as GIMP, is a free, open source alternative to image editing programs like Photoshop. While the title of The Book Of Gimp to be A Complete Guide to Nearly Everything, from a beginners perspective, it’s hard to imagine the authors missed much.

This exhaustive collection makes for a great resource to help both the experienced user and the beginner get the most out of the capabilities of this handy program.

Authors Oliver Lecarme and Karine Delvare do a nice job of not only walking you through the step by step process of a wide variety of image manipulations, but utilize screen shots to illustrate each step of the process from beginning to completion.

While the price tag can be an attraction to open source programs, often times the documentation on executing those program can be a drawback to maximizing the usefulness of the program. The Book of GIMP is a vital tool to help you advance from the programs basics to master status.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

My Share of the Task: A Memoir – General Stanley McChrystal (Portfolio)

If you are looking for a book filled with bitterness at the Obama administration in response to General Stanley McChrystal dismissal, then this is not your book. If you’re looking for a book that responds to the Rolling Stone Magazine piece or the follow up book, The Operators, both penned by the smarmy little weasel, Michael Hastings, then this is not your book.

If you are looking for an interesting memoir full of insight not only into the McChrystal’s long, successful military career, but also a story laced with leadership with a local and global worldview, then this is your book. McChyrstal’s career in an interesting mix of classroom, fellowship training and boots on the ground action. This is not the tale of cooridors of  power, perfumed prince, that is more a product of the Pentagon than the battlefield.


In My Share of the Task McChystal delivers intimate details of the strategy and the on the ground execution of the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terror leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. McChrystal cut his teeth in special forces, so he was not risk averse to strapping it on and spending a night in the ruts. You can feel the regret in the passages that describe a just missed attempt to take out Zarqawi.

The book takes it’s title from the Army Ranger’s creed which reads in part; I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some. That creed rings true in the pages of the book which are long on spreading the credit to colleagues and underlings in place of the, I, me, my approach that’s so typical of these kinds of books.

Along the way McChrystal provides a guide post to leadership of a large, complex organization.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lead With A Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince and Inspire – Paul Smith (Amacom)

U.S. companies spend hundreds billions of dollars annually on advertising. They spend over ten billion more on public relations efforts. All of these dollars are spent in an effort to tell their story; the story of their product, their service, their message. Even with all of that spending, the question often remains; have they effectively told their story?

In Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince and Inspire, Paul Smith, whose day job is Director of Consumer & Communications Research for Proctor & Gamble, lays out the strong case for companies to focus on not only developing, but delivering a strong business narrative. Smith details not only the development of your message but the effective delivery.

I would make the case that there is a need to focus on the venue and method of that delivery. I recently spent months working with a C-suite team developing an annual public board presentation, strategically crafting not only review of the prior year’s initiatives and significant successes, but also the plan for moving forward with development and growth in service lines. The story was well crafted and the supporting materials perfectly reinforced the case that was made.

The best laid plans derailed when a young, inexperienced reporter was assigned to cover the session. While we crafted a broad spectrum story, the reporter locked in on one element of the plan for the future. So instead of big picture story, we ended up with one piece of a much larger pie. Looking back, was the story we told ineffective? While hindsight is 20/20, the fact is the story was well crafted and the case well made, it was the final method of delivery that missed the mark.

In the end it was a strong reinforcement that no one is better qualified to tell your story and that of your business than you. It was a light bulb moment that lead to the development of a series of C-suite editorials that will finish the job of telling our story, the way we want it to be told.

Smith details a broad based approach to the impact of storytelling at multiple levels of business. Storytelling can and should go beyond just the leadership team. It should be a focus for both internal and external audiences. To be truly impactful the message must hit the mark at all levels and the impact doesn’t happen by accident; it takes thought, planning and development.