Photo Credit: Shandi-lee via Compfight cc

I recently read a book called The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane. She’s an executive coach who trains people on developing powerful social skills to influence and connect with others.

I thought she brought up some really interested ideas about charisma: specifically that it’s a skill not an innate quality, and that it’s the confluence of three elements: power, warmth and presence.

One of my goals in 2012 2013 is to develop different forms of media, so I’ve put together a slide deck with some of the key highlights from the book. You can see it below, or click here to view the deck directly. You can find the book on here (referral link).

I’m reading the book WAR by Sebastian Junger, who also wrote The Perfect Storm. It’s an intense look at the lives of the soldiers fighting in the most brutal and dangerous areas of Afghanistan, as told by a journalist who spent months in the bunks with these guys. I’ll do a full write up some day, but just wanted to quote sections because much of Junger’s writing can just stand on its own.

On the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan

Captain Dan Kearney, the commander of Battle Company, drove down to Aliabad in a Humvee to help evacuate the casualties and remembers turning a corner in the road and hitting a wall of Taliban firepower. “I was blown away by the insurgent’s ability to continue fighting despite everything America had to throw at them,” Kearney told me later. “from that point on I knew it was – number one – a different enemy than I fought in Iraq and that – number two – the terrain offered some kind of advantage that I’d never seen or read or heard about in my entire life.” pg 19

On which team is taking the most heat in Afghanistan

I ask him [Capt. Kearney] who is pushed the farthest out into the valley and he doesn’t hesitate. “Second Platoon”, he says. “They’re the tip of the spear. They’re the main effort for the company, and the company is the main effort for the battalion, and the battalion is the main effort for the brigade. I put them down there against the enemy because  I know they;re going to get out there and they’re not going to be afraid.” I tell Kearney those are the guys I want to be with. p 26-7

On the strange group dynamics of Second Platoon.

In Second Platoon you got beat on your birthday, you got beat before you left the platoon – on leave, say – and you got beat when you came back. The only way to leave Second Platoon without a beating was to get shot. No other platoons did this; the men called it “blood in, blood out.” after a movie one of them had seen, and officers were not exempted. I watched Gillespie get held down and beaten, and Pops got pounded so hard his legs were bruised for days. pg23

On the psychological buffer smoking affords

The fact was that the men got an enormous amount of psychiatric oversight from the battalion shrink – as well as periodic “vacations” at Camp Blessing or Firebase Michigan – but combat still took a toll. It was unrealistic to think it wouldn’t. Anderson sat on an ammo crate and gave me one of those awkward grins that sometimes precede a confession. “I’ve only been here four months and I can’t believe how messed up I already am,” he said, “I went to the counselor and he asked if I smoked cigarettes and I told him no and he said, ‘Well, you may want to think about starting.’”
He lit a cigarette and inhaled.
“I hate these fuckin’ things, he said. pg 40

On medics and how they can inspire a team

The combat medic’s first job is to get to the wounded as fast as possible, which often means running through gunfire while everyone else is taking cover. Medics are renowned for their bravery, but the ones I knew described it more as a terror of failing to save the lives of their friends.

When Second Platoon arrived in the valley, their medic was Juan Restrepo. He was extremely well liked because he was brave under fire and absolutely committed to the men. If you got sick he would take your guard shift; if you were depressed he’d come to your hooch and play guitar.

On the afternoon of July 22 a foot patrol left Firebase Phoenix and moved south to the Village of Aliabad under a light rain

Restrepo was the only man hit. He took two rounds to the face and fell to the ground, bleeding heavily. THere was so much fire coming from so many different directions that at first on one even dared to run out and get him. When they finally pulled him to safety they didnt know what to do with such a bad wound, and he struggled to tell them how to save his life. Within minutes thre HUmvees roared out of KOP and a MEDEVAC flight lifted off from the airbase in Asabad, twenty miles away.

The radio call came in three hours later. [O’Bryne] and Mac were in the Second Platoon tent cleaning the blood off Restrepo’s gear. They had to use baby wipes because the blood had combined with diret to sement into the cracks of his M4. They were almost done when a sergeant neamed Rentas stepped into the tent and grabbed O’Byrne by the shoulders. ‘He didn’t make it, man,’ Rentas said. O’Byrne almost punched him for lying.
“For a long time I haded God.” O’Byrne told me. “Second Platoon fought like animals after that.”

On how war makes young men feel more useful than almost anywhere

For some reason there is a profound and mysterious gratification to the reciprocal agreement to protect another person with your life, and combat is virtually the only situation in which that happens regularly. These hillsides of loose shale and holly trees are where the men feel not most alive – that you can get skydiving – but most utilized. The most necessary. The most clear and certain and purposeful. If young men could get that feeling at home, no one would ever want to go to war again, but they can’t.

I’m reading the book Winning Decisions: Getting It Right the First Time and I’ll be laying out the framework that it outlines over the next few blog posts. They correctly make the point that most managers need to make more decisions than ever, but never spend time training to make better decisions. The cost is simply too great to not do so. I’m bad about this personally and tend to have quite erratic means of making decisions – so its definitely a skill I’m looking to develop.

The basic outline is

  • Initial Assesement
  • Framing
  • Intelligence Gathering
  • Coming to Conclusions
  • Learning Lessons

In this post I’ll take a look at the questions they pose for the initial assesement.

Top 2 questions

1) What’s the crux or primary difficulty in this issue? Which of the four stages in the decision process will be most important?

2) In general, how should decisions like this one be made (eg alone or in  grous, intuitively or analytically, etc) Where do my own strengths and weaknesses lie? Where do I need help? (be honest)

Other questions

3) Must this decision be made at all? Can I delegate?

4) How much time have decisions like this taken in the past? How long should this one take? Are there deadlines? Can we negotiate them?

5) Can I proceed sequentially from framing to gathering intelligence to concluding or will I have to go back and forth?

6) Where should I concentrate my time and resources? Which stage will be most important?

7) Can I draw on feedback from related decisions and experiences I have faced to make this decision better?

8) What are my own skills, biases, and limitations in dealing with an issue like this? Do I need to bring in other points of view? Which view points would help?

9) How would a more experienced decision-maker, who I admire, handle this issue?

10) Does this deciision greatly affect other decisions? If so, what are the cross-impacts?

Overachievement : The New Science of Working Less to Accomplish More (Paperback)
by John Eliot

Synopsis: By entering into a “trusting mindset”, working smart, being seriously confident and chasing a big dream, you can achieve exceptional results.

Summary: Eliot says that most of the things you’ve been told about performance is wrong.  Things like get a handle on your stress, don’t keep all your eggs in one basket, minimizing risk, working hard, and learning from your mistakes.

Eliot says instead that peak performers use stress to enhance their performance, that they are totally commited, they know risks equal reward, they work smart and they never look back.

He makes an analogy to throwing keys.  When you toss a pair of keys to your friends, it is smooth, easy, and almost always accurate.  You are in the trusting mindset. But if there was a contest to win a million dollars with the best key toss, everyone who start overanalyzing their tosses, entering the training mindset.

Although you do need to train and evaluate yourself, you can’t be doing it when you are asked to step up and perform.

Jeffery Sachs is a man with a plan. He wrote the book “The End of Pover ty” which I am going to buy today on Amazon. He is also the director of the Earth Institute in Columbia University and is a special advisor to Kofi Anan. You can read his wikipedia entry. Incredibly, there is no wikipedia entry for Sachs, so I started a short one. I’ll have to send you to his organization instead.

Anyways, the reason I am talking about him is because I stumbled upon a website supporting Sachs for President of the United States. One of their resources is an awesome pdf called A Simple Plan to Save the World. It was written for Esquire Magazine, by Sachs himself. It’s informative, clear, and slightly liberal. But most importantly it is optimistic.

This whole saving the world business can get you down. I’d be the first to tell you. But reading this article made me feel hopeful and motivated to make a change more than ever. So check it out.