Monday, October 31, 2016

The 7 Keys to Effective Leadership

Today, more than any time in our history, we need effective leadership.  Whether it’s in the White House or in a state house, we need leaders who are capable of finding solutions to the astonishing array of problems we face, and the vision to anticipate and mitigate the unknown future problems that await us.
The list of problems facing us in the 21st century is daunting.  From climate change to transnational threats such as pandemics and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to the dislocations and disruptions caused by globalization, humanity’s survival will depend on leadership that can chart a course through an uncertain and turbulent sea of constant change.
We no longer have the luxury to wait for the emergence of a great leader to take the helm.  Each of us must take responsibility for effective leadership in our own little corner of the world.  The aggregate effect of all these little effective corners of transformational leadership can move spaceship earth into a safe trajectory and off the path to chaos and destruction.
The good news in all this is that, with a little effort, we can all be effective leaders.  Remember, a house is built brick by brick or board by board.  By applying the following techniques of effective leadership, we can build a strong and enduring structure.
The 7 keys to effective leadership
-          Put people first.  People are the most important asset of any organization.  The U.S. military’s motto is “Mission first, People always.”  This is an explicit recognition that without people, nothing is accomplished.
-         Encourage risk taking and innovation.  Organizations that stick to the ‘tried and true’ often stagnate.  Progress comes only through moving into uncharted territory and trying new things.  Identify and reward the risk takers and innovators in your organization.
-         Embrace change.  Change is a constant in life; in fact, the only constant.  To be an effective leader, you should not only embrace change, you should promote it.
-         Emphasize honesty and integrity.  The most technically competent people who lack honesty and integrity are little more than charlatans.  If an organization is to prosper and endure, it must exude trust, and the integrity of an organization is a function of the honesty and integrity of every member of that organization.
-         Establish open communications.  Knowledge is the key to power and success.  As a leader, it is essential that you have access to the knowledge of those around you.  An atmosphere of open, candid communication provides you the knowledge to make effective decisions.
-         Foster a learning environment.  Each decade, science and technology increases exponentially.  Learning should be a life-long pursuit.  In addition to continually learning yourself, as a leader, you should encourage your subordinates to constantly upgrade their own skills and knowledge.
-         Be a team builder.  No man is an island.  Except for certain works of art, nothing is created without the effort of a number of individuals working together.  Leverage the diversity and different talents within your organization through the creation of teams.
When building a house, there are a number of ways to put on the finishing touches to make the house unique.  But, whether it’s a skyscraper or a summer cottage, it is essential that it have a strong foundation.  These seven principles form the basic foundation upon which a solid leadership structure can be constructed.
Abrashoff, Captain D. Michael, It’s Your Ship:  Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, New York, Business Plus (Hachette Book Group), 2002
Bennis, Warren, Managing People is Like Herding Cats, Provo, Utah, Executive Excellence Publishing, 1999
Blaber, Pete, The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a former Delta Force Commander, New York, Berkley Caliber, 2008
 Johnson, Spencer, Who Moved My Cheese?, New York, G. P. Putnam, 1998
Oakley, Ed, and Doug Krug, Leadership made Simple:  Practical Solutions to Your Greatest Management Challenges, Centennial, CO, Executive Leadership Solutions, 2006
Ray, Charles, Things I Learned from My Grandmother About Leadership and Life, Baltimore, MD, PublishAmerica, 2008
_______, Taking Charge:  Effective Leadership for the Twenty-first Century, Baltimore, MD, PublishAmerica, 2009
Smith, Perry, Rules & Tools for Leaders:  A Down-to-Earth Guide to Effective Managing, New York, Penguin Books, 1998

Friday, October 28, 2016

The simplicity of Amish life

In today's high-tech age, we can sometimes forget that it's really the simple things in life that matter. A recent visit to an Amish community in Lancaster County, PA reminded me of how, even without a lot of modern amenities, life in the 1950s (if you overlook segregation) wasn't really all that bad. Back then, we learned to rely on ourselves and each other, and not some gadget.

A simple, unadorned room in an Amish house

The Amish aren't in to conspicuous consumption. They don't have electricity, but contrary to myth, they don't eschew ALL modern conveniences. They use battery- and gas-powered machinery and equipment, including refrigerators, they shop at the same stores regular people do, and they make use of modern medicine when they're sick.

Gas-powered range and refrigerator.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Government 101: The Art of Bullying

 Among the many things coming out of the Republican primaries and from the GOP nominee, Donald Trump, was a desire to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Tea Party Republicans have been gnashing their teeth and wailing against this law since before the ink was dry on the legislation on the President’s desk.
Now, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but the outcry against ACA puzzles me. Opponents claim that most Americans don’t want it, despite surveys showing that a majority of Americans in fact do support it. They whine about White House overreach, but fail to mention one salient point; the ACA was passed by both houses of congress, and if I remember my civics and government classes from decades ago, it takes a majority to do that.
So, what you have is a vocal minority determined to overturn the decision of the majority, even going so far as shutting down the government in their protest against it. Some call this democracy. I call it an effort by a fringe group to impose their will on the rest of us, at any cost. It doesn’t matter what the majority of the population wants. They only answer to their base, and their own base instincts. They’re a lot like schoolyard bullies who, when they can’t get their way, kick the toys and hide the ball. They’re not above using bullying tactics to get their way, or punishing those who disagree with them, and they have supporters who aid and abet them in this churlish behavior.

Regardless of your party affiliation, think about this when you go to the voting booth in November.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Trump's plan to ban Muslims won't make us safer

When GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump wildly suggested closing America’s borders to all Muslims (later modified somewhat, but still aimed primarily at Muslims), the subject of radical Islamic terrorism has been the subject of numerous media stories. A lot of people seem to buy into this idea, almost as much as the equally idiotic idea of building a wall on our southern border. I’m willing to bet that most of those who most loudly support the proposal of banning entry to the U.S. to a group of people solely because of their religion, have never even met a Muslim, and know nothing about Islam.
To subscribe to the belief that all Muslims are terrorists is about as rational as saying that every white person from the Deep South is a member of the KKK, or is a Klan sympathizer. Anyone familiar with the Civil Rights movement knows this not to be true. Of course, back in the day, it might have been difficult to convince a young black student being attacked by a police dog or pummeled by a fire hose of this, but there were southerners who were not bigoted, rabid racists. Few had the courage to identify themselves publicly or too vocally, but they had to live in a society that was by and large controlled by those who were racist, and who didn’t take too kindly to anyone who didn’t share their views. Remember Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, two white civil rights activists, who were killed along with James Chaney, a black activist in Philadelphia, MS in 1964. Not all that different from what radical groups like the Islamic State (IS) does to Muslims who don’t toe their hard line these days.
I give that little piece of historical background in order to make a point; be careful about painting everyone with the same brush. Get to know the individual before making such a decision.
During a 30-year career as an American diplomat, I spent time in a number of countries with significant Muslim populations. What I saw and experienced contradicts the belief of many Americans that Islam is a religion of violence, and all Muslims are prone to radical violence.
When I worked in Sierra Leone in the mid-1990s, roughly 40% of the population was Muslim. Christians and Muslims lived in the same villages, intermarried, and basically, got along well. The first democratically elected president of Sierra Leone, a retired UN diplomat, was a Muslim married to a Catholic. One of my closest contacts in the military was a Muslim captain married to a Baptist woman. Such unions were common, as was seeing churches and mosques in close proximity to each other in upcountry villages.
In Thailand from 1988 to 1991, I worked in the north. There was a small Muslim population there, which was totally unlike the radical southern Muslim population. Many of the northern Muslims I knew worked with or for the government, and got along quite well with their Buddhist neighbors. I worked closely with a Muslim doctor who had more Buddhist than Muslim patients.
Fast forward to Cambodia in 2002, one year after the 9/11 attacks. That country has a small Muslim population, less than five percent of the population. The ethnic Cham originally came from Vietnam (where a few still reside). Among the most peaceful people in the country, they’re also among the poorest. After 2001, there were efforts by Jemah Islamiyah (JI), a radical Indonesian Muslim group, to radicalize the Cham. The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh had a modest English scholarship program for Cham students—spending less than a tenth of what the Saudi Wahabbi-funded JI was spending. What was the outcome? A French anthropologist doing research among the Cham found that the U.S. popularity rating among Cham was over 80%. The validity and credibility of that survey has to be respected since the anthropologist in question was somewhat anti-American.
What am I trying to say here? Simple; in any population you will find a diversity of opinions and beliefs. Muslims are no exception. I have no doubt that some Cambodian Muslims dislike America; after all, during the 1969 incursion into Cambodia from Vietnam, Cham villages took the brunt of U.S. bombing raids. Actually, I was surprised that only something under 20% viewed us negatively. In Thailand, I had dinner frequently with my Muslim doctor friend; who was not averse to the occasional cocktail. And, in Sierra Leone, roughly half the people I dealt with on a daily basis were Muslim, and never did I get a sense that they were any more violent or anti-West than the Christians. As a matter of fact, the rebel army that was laying waste to much of the countryside during my time there was mainly Christians, but with Christians and Muslims fighting side by side on both sides of the war.
So, let’s stop the labeling, and try to get to know people as individuals. Going after Muslims just for being Muslims will not make us safer. It will blind us to the dangerous people who are non-Muslim (let’s not forget Timothy McVeigh). And, it’s likely to serve as a handy recruiting tool for the radical terrorist groups.

Some people are violent and some are not, and their religion doesn’t really have that much to do with it.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Trump sinks to a new low

On a soap opera set in 2005, unaware that there was a hot mike nearby and that his remarks were being taped, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump bragged that he could ‘kiss and grope’ women because he was a star, and ‘when you’re a star, they let you do anything.’ Immediately, his minions and apologists have jumped to his defense. His former campaign manager, in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer on October 7, tried to downplay this by saying he’d rather have a president who was ‘gross’ than one who was ‘dishonest,’ conveniently omitting the number of times Trump’s lies have been exposed, often in his own words.
The question that comes to mind for me is, if Trump feels that being a star makes it possible for him to get away with ‘anything,’ what will he think being president would entitle him to? This is a guy that a majority of respondents to a Newsmax poll recently said they’d let babysit their children. What that tells me is that hardcore Trump supporters and hardcore Clinton haters will forgive this guy just about anything, and the country be damned. Maybe Trump was right, he could kill someone on the streets of Manhattan and no one (among those who support him like well-trained house pets) would dislike him.
What’s really frightening is that while I’m sure there are some decent people left in the GOP, I’m still waiting for one of them to step up and condemn him for his remarks, for his behavior. They will no doubt gasp in dismay in private, but in public – silence. In the meantime, those angry people who support him because he is so gross and disgusting will continue to cheer.

We’re no longer in an age of dirty politics. Thanks to Donald Trump, we’ve sunk even lower.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

#PoweredByIndie: My Fascinating Journey in Self-Publishing

 Shy and withdrawn as a child, my only solace was found in books, books that I devoured voraciously from the time I was seven or eight years old. The worlds I found between the pages gave me comfort in ways that human contact did not. By my early teens I’d overcome my shyness, but my love affair with the written word endured.
Transitioning from reading to writing was, perhaps, inevitable. I’m not sure when or how it really began, but by the time I was twelve, I was already writing little short stories, creating worlds like the ones I’d encountered in the books I read—but, only for myself.
When I started high school, not long after my twelfth birthday thanks to a special program that put students in grades based on their test scores not their age, I met Paulyne Evans, my home room teacher and the English teacher in my high school, Booker T. Washington elementary and high school in the small East Texas town where I grew up. She helped me get over my shyness, but she also recognized my love of writing, and encouraged it. When I was thirteen, she talked me into entering a national Sunday school magazine short story contest, and to my surprise—but, she insists, not hers—I won first place. The prize was small, about ten dollars, if I recall, but seeing my byline on a piece of writing in a publication that was circulated throughout the U.S. hooked me forever.
After graduating from high school, and without the resources for college, I joined the army. Over a twenty-year career, I often moon lighted as a writer/photographer/artist for local newspapers near the bases where I was stationed, did freelance articles and art for a number of magazines, and wrote poetry. After retiring from the army, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service, and for most of that thirty-year career, I pretty much put my creative writing on hold, except for the occasional opinion piece, book review, or poem. I didn’t return to fiction, or try my hand at a book-length work until about twelve years ago; eight years before I retired from government service.
After four years of rejection slips, I almost gave up on ever being able to get a book published. Then, eight years ago, I got a bite from what at the time seemed like a reputable publisher for two books on leadership. I won’t, for legal reasons, name the ‘publishers,’ just suffice it to say, it was a rip-off. I got hooked into an eight-year contract, and incessant requests that I buy my own books. They haven’t sold well, although the first one did get a few rave reviews, and does still get the occasional sale. My royalties have been miniscule at best. The experience soured me on publishers, and almost killed my desire to write.
Then, I started seeing articles about self-publishing. I researched it, and discovered that many other writers, including some who already had relationships with traditional publishers, were taking that route. This was, unfortunately, just before indie publishing began to be viewed with a little respect, and I was hesitant. But, I finally decided that if others could do it, so could I.
I dusted off a manuscript that I’d been working on for three years, did some rewriting, enrolled in one of the POD self-publishing programs, and after a year, had my book available for online sales in paperback and e-book format.
Surprisingly, it got a few good reviews, and even a few sales, despite being roughly done. I was just learning that self-publishing involved more than merely writing the darned thing; you had to know formatting, editing, and cover design, and . . . yuck . . . marketing. But having a book out there for all to see, and getting even a few sales was energizing. I then dug out my journal in which I’d written down ideas for other books, and started writing seriously.
Over the past eight years, I’ve managed to create a substantial list of published books, fiction, children’s books, and nonfiction, and get modest, but steady, sales in both paper and electronic versions.
More importantly, with each book, I get better—at least in my own opinion—and, I learn something new. I can now format a book’s interior almost as well as a traditional publishing house, I’ve learned to edit my work as if it was written by someone else—which means cutting, changing, or adding  to that first creative outburst with a reader’s eye. I’ve learned to do covers. Oh, none of them will ever win an award, but they’re technically acceptable, and a few of them aren’t half bad. My experience as a photographer, editorial cartoonist and magazine artist helps there.
Am I ready to make the NYT Bestseller’s List? Not hardly. But, I’ve gotten some good reviews, my books continue to sell, and occasionally I get an email from a reader telling me that they found themselves immersed in my book and loving the characters. I get the occasional review that pans a book. I even learn from them. If the criticism is valid, and not just trolling, I make a note of it, and incorporate it into my next book, or as I did in one case, unpublish, rewrite, and republish the book.
Independent publishing has been for me an exciting journey, one that is just beginning. Along the way, I’ve learned some fascinating things, and met some wonderful people. Indie publishing might not be for everyone. It’s a daring thing to do. But, if you want some excitement in your life, and if you want to write, it’s a combination that will change you forever.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Spilled Blood -- a John Jordan short

Clinton will have no trouble getting under Trump's skin

It’s a sad commentary on the state of American politics when the debates between candidates for the highest office in the land, instead of being heated exchanges about issues of importance sound like spats on an elementary school playground. Of course, when one of those candidates is a thin-skinned misogynistic bully who, when he’s losing or feels that he’s been bested, lashes out like a spoiled brat. While I am disappointed that the Clinton campaign has decided that getting under his skin is the way to deal with Trump, given who and what he is, I understand it.
From his actions since the first debate, that tactic seems to be working. Even before going into the debate, he was classic Trump; threatening to bring up Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities in the debate, or inviting a woman who claims to have had an affair with him when he was governor of Arkansas to sit on the front row. He, of course, did neither, and then after the debate, he and his minions portrayed this as a sign of his greatness and compassion. Hah! His dawn-hour Twitter rant, attacking former Miss Universe Alicia Machado—using language that no civilized gentleperson, much less a presidential candidate, should ever use. I won’t repeat h ere any of the things he tweeted; there’s no sense giving this crap any more air time. I will, however, talk about the author of said crap.
Whenever he’s criticized, or suffers a setback, Trump gets personal and combative, and if the source of his discomfort is a woman, he really dives into the gutter, getting into their sexual behavior—either they’re having too much, or too little. I imagine that even a cloistered nun would be attacked if she were ever to disagree with the Donald. Of course, when doing this, he conveniently ignores his own past somewhat sordid sexual history.
This man has no shame. He’s always right—according to him. And, what really makes this an American tragedy is that he has so many people who aid and abet him in his atrocious behavior. The debate fell short on discussion of issues, and his minions and supporters blame it all on Clinton, without mentioning that he offered nothing in the way of rational policy proposals during the debate, and when he wasn’t sniffling and looking uncomfortable, was interrupting Clinton in an effort (I imagine) to throw her off stride—which he was singularly unsuccessful in doing.
All he’s managed to say throughout the campaign is that America is in shambles, and it’ll stay that way unless he’s elected president, because, you see, he’s so smart and so successful, he’s the only one who can get the job done.
So far, his only concrete proposals, some of which he’s backed off on and picked back up again, have been things that’ll cause more harm than good. You’ve no doubt heard them numerous times, so I won’t dignify them by repeating them—in that, I’m stealing a page from the Trump playbook. Trust me.
Trump has been proven a liar on numerous occasions by his own recorded and video-taped words. Does this change the way his hard core supporters feel? No! Even Ted Cruz, whose wife Trump slammed in a most disgusting way during the primaries, is supporting him now. Same goes for Chris Christie, who was humiliated on national TV and in public appearances by Trump. Want to know how Trump’s legions feel? I recently took a poll on Newsmax, a conservative news site, which asked to compare Trump with Clinton on things like honesty, would you let him babysit your kids, would you trust him with your bank account, etc. By a margin of two to one and more in some cases, Trump was categorized as honest and trustworthy. I’m willing to bet that none of the contractors or workers he’s abused over the years took that poll.

So, while I’m not particularly fond of negative campaigning, I’ll hold my nose and wish Clinton well in her efforts to get under Trump’s skin, and say this, once you’re under there, twist it a few times for good measure.