Monday, October 31, 2011

Penn Museum - Announcements

Penn Museum - Announcements

Talent Without Work Remains Unfulfilled

People often compliment on my writing and speaking ability, acting as if these skills are innate talents requiring no effort on my part.  The fact is, though, what modest ability I have in these areas is a result of study, hard work, practice, and a set of fortunate circumstances.
When I was a child I had problems dealing with people – actually, I hated being around people, preferring to be alone in a corner with a book.  My mother taught me to read when I was four, so when I started school, the first and second grade readers were a day’s work to zip through.  Recognizing that I was bored, in second grade my teacher allowed me to get books from the school library that until that time had only been used by the students in high school.  I was, as they say in east Texas where I come from, in hog heaven.  I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs, Plato, Aristotle, and the Encyclopedia Americana (and read my way through every volume before I reached third grade).  This began for me a lifelong love of the written word, which has also shaped my writing to a large extent.
Because I also didn’t like being around people, I wasn’t a very persuasive speaker as a child.  When I reached high school in 1958 at the age of thirteen in a freshman class with kids two to three years older than me, I pulled into a shell.  My home room teacher wasn’t having any of that, though, and forced me to stand in front of the class and talk.  After a couple weeks of this torture, I discovered that since I read better and knew more than my classmates, as well as the sophomores who shared the room with us, I could easily regale them with stories.  Overnight, my fear of talking to people vanished.
Since then, I have worked hard to polish both skills.  I write at every opportunity, including stints as a newspaper/magazine reporter and tons of free lance writing.  I set myself a goal of at least 1,000 words a day in some form or other, even if only character sketches or impressions.  I never pass up an opportunity to speak publicly; on any subject, to any audience.  I’ve even had a stint in the classroom, teaching subjects from sociology to photography in a variety of schools.
I read books on writing and speaking, trying new things, and constantly striving to improve existing skills.  Maybe, just maybe, there’s some talent inside me.  But, without the study and practice, that talent would likely still be hidden deep inside.
Why am I boring you with this?  In my interactions with young people, I constantly remind them that the circumstances of their birth don’t have to be absolute limiters on what they do in life.  With the desire to achieve, even in dire circumstances, you would be amazed what you can accomplish.  Never let others define and limit you, I tell them.  Set your own goals, and aim high.  The only way to reach the stars is to reach for the stars.  And, even if you never actually get to where you aim to go, you’ll certainly rise above where you are.
(Note:  This article first published at

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Leading From The Middle: A New Paradigm for Leadership in the 21st Century

Not too long ago, in a meeting with some talented high school students in Harare, Zimbabwe, I was asked my leadership preference; leading from the front and pulling people along, or from the rear, pushing them. In my response, I talked about the need for leaders to create vision, build teams, and have consideration for the personal and professional needs of those they lead. I talked about the US Army motto, “Mission first, people always,” and concluded that perhaps my preferred position to lead from is the middle.

It wasn’t meant to be a glib answer; it just sort of worked out that what I usually did was lead from within any organization. Sometimes I push, but I try not to do that too much. At other times, I’m out front and urging others to keep up, but again, I find that is not the most effective really.

Since that meeting, I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I hit on something that I’ve always known, but just never gave a lot of thought to. Where do the most effective leaders lead from? Part of the problem in coming to a conclusion on that is the way we tend to view leadership, and the very words we use. To lead seems to imply either pushing or pulling, and to follow indicates subordination. But, is that really the most effective way to lead? After some months of reflection, I think not.

I’ve said it and written it many times; the best leaders are visionaries. They are people who see the future, and have the ability to communicate that vision to others and inspire them to take the journey. Sometimes they push, and sometimes they pull, but more often than not, they simply encourage. They get people to go along with them; not through bossing them around from behind, or exhorting from the front. They do it as an integral member of the teams they create. They people to go along, as former US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in his autobiography, “An American Journey,” out of curiosity. They do it because you’ve been able to convince them that your vision can become reality, and they want to go along with you to achieve it. The best quarterback, in the game of American football (and I make that distinction because some of my readers think of football as the English game of soccer) lead their teams not from the front or back, but from the middle of the melee.

I’ve been thinking back to my days in the army, when I was taught how to be an effective platoon leader, the first leadership position occupied by most second lieutenants. Even with the US Infantry motto, emblazoned on the base at Fort Benning, Georgia, “Follow Me,” platoon leaders who are most successful in accomplishing their assigned mission do it neither from the rear nor the front, but ‘with’ their men. They share the hardships of their men, letting them know that they will ask nothing of them that they, as leader, are not willing to do. You do that from within, not from in front or behind.

I don’t think I’ve hit on anything new. The most effective leadership is from the middle, from within. Then again, maybe this is something we haven’t thought about enough. I think it’s worth further study, and I fully plan to research it more thoroughly. I hope those of you reading this will be willing and eager to go along with me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

US Army Blackhawk flying over lake near Phoeniz, Arizona

Chinook Helicopter from Singaporean Air Force

A Huey coming in for a landing

HH-60 being refueled by a C-130

Air Force HH-60 and Pararescue specialists

Air Force HH-60 Pavehawk

High Flying Fill Up

High Flying Fill Up

Sunrise Over Dakar

Sunrise Over Dakar

Death of a Dictator: Those Who Live by The Sword Find an Inglorious End

Death of a Dictator: Those Who Live by The Sword Find an Inglorious End

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Web Site Devoted to Helping Our Veterans

A Non-profit 501(c)3 Community Based Organization for

Veterans to achieve Economic Empowerment through

Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship