SOAR above the Problem, Don’t SWOT It

Like many other leaders and students of leadership, I learned and use the SWOT model to help analyze during change. For those who have never heard of SWOT, it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You can read more about it in my December 2018 post https://saintcyrtraining.com/2018/12/27/strategic-planning-for-2019/. The Model is great to help organizations identify things that are wrong. However, the SOAR model helps leaders and organizations identify what is right. Using SOAR allows leaders to understand things that do not need fixing and should be preserved.

SOAR model can be used instead of or as a complement to SWOT as you and your organization plan future changes.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

SOAR is the model that helps leaders identify Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results (Moore, C. 2021). The model builds upon the idea of leading from strength discussed in the book Strengths Based Leadership by Rath and Conchie. As a result, leaders find themselves focusing on the important things to keep. It is equally important to know what works in order to keep it as it is to know what is broken in order to fix or replace it.

The SOAR model is based on a method called appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry revolves around a series of questions pertaining to a particular topic such as organizational governance, or product and service line.  Examples sound like, “What is something that excites you about this widget?”, or “How does our current structure encourage creativity?” The purpose is to identify those things to save and bring forward as change happens.

Aspects of appreciative inquiry are described as a series of Ds depending on the source. Positive Psychology describes them as discovery, dream, design, and delivery (Moore, 2021). Forbes uses five Ds; define, discover, dream, discover, and deploy(Spavell,2021). 

Like SWOT, SOAR begins by examining strengths. In this model however you ask a series of questions that reveal strengths. Two examples of strength finding questions appear above. This process provides different points of view on those things that are strong. Those strengths allow us to lead from those points.

Opportunities is also a common point between SOAR and SWOT. How and what questions help leaders identify opportunities such as, “What does the future look like given current trends?”, and “How can we use our strengths to meet our clients’ future needs?” Opportunities give those in the SOAR model to see the future and develop possibilities.

Aspirations allow inquiries about things we as individuals, leaders, and organizations hope to be at our best. This step requires imagination. The conversation may begin with a prompt like, “In three years, our group is operating like a well oiled machine. Employees are excited to come to work. Peace and harmony reign. How did we achieve these ideals?” Of course, the answers to these type of prompts offer possible solutions to move from the good work you now do to great work you could be doing!

Results are important. Ken Blanchard said in his book The Secret, he proposes that both relationships and results are important. You may not always need others to achieve things, but you do if you are a leader. Ask other things like when they felt their talents were best used or what ways help you work better.

The SOAR model based on the appreciative inquiry process is different. Use opened ended questions to encourage others to respond with narrative answers. Create space for people to answer the questions by remaining silent(Miller etal, 2004). I have a professional coach who warned me at our first meeting that after she asked a question, she would not speak again until after I answered her question. She said it took a long time to get used to silence but learned important insights are born in silence. Crafting quality appreciative inquiry questions may seem difficult. Fortunately, there is help in the form of books and websites that offer examples. 

Appreciative inquiry is frequently used in groups. I found it a helpful tool in one-on-one situations. When I am trying to collect feedback about my performance as a leader from my boss, peers, or employees, using appreciative questions prompts people to provide better information. Remember that if you are asking questions, you need to accept the answers. Record them so you can later reflect on them and make changes as necessary, and of course identify things to keep with you. When you ask questions of others in an appreciative way, it inspires confidence in them as change happens.

Problems and change are difficult. As a leader, you can SWOT them or SOAR over them. Both models have advantages. When used together, there is an even greater potential for break through successes. Identify your strengths, find your opportunities. Dream of your aspirations, achieve results. When you use the appreciative inquiry process in the SOAR model, you find the good stuff to keep with you as you make changes. Don’t SWOT your problems; SOAR above them!

References 

Miller, C, Aguilar C, Maslowski, L. McDaniel, D. and Mantel, M. ((2004) The nonprofits’ guide to the power of appreciative inquiry. Community Development Institute. Denver, CO.

Moore, C. (6/5/2021). What is appreciative inquiry? A brief history & real life examples. PositivePsycology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/appreciative-inquiry/ retrieved 6/16/21

Sparvell, M. (1/25/2021). Appreciative inquiry: Getting more of the good stuff. Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2021/01/25/appreciative-inquiry-getting-more-of-the-good-stuff/?sh=19f8d9856fd9 retrieved 7/16/21

Planning Is Everything; It is How Men Walked on the Moon

Author’s Note: For the last several years I have posted about setting goals and teaching people how to set goals as a leader. My current series about the importance of good management happens to include the pillar of planning. Given that the planning process establishes the directions to achieve goals, personal and organizational, it seems like this week is the ideal time to issue this post. For those who have read my blog for a few years, you will recognize familiar content on developing goals and steps for execution. That should come as not surprise. A word about this post’s length…like the post that started this series, planning is a very detailed process. Planning could take several posts to cover in great detail. This post is about twice as long as my goal of 1,000 words. It could easily be longer and perhaps that will be the next series. Leadership is a verb, so after reading this, plan a project for the New Year.

Planning is an important leadership action. While the finished plan may not survive the first step of execution, the process of planning is essential in order to allow others to solve problems with less leadership involvement to improve responsiveness and outcomes.
D. D. Eisenhower, Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In war, combat leaders know regardless of how well they plan the battle, the enemy always has a vote about how the battle will be fought. As a result, many people find it easy to ignore planning given the completed plan will not likely be executed as originally envisioned. However, executing without a plan is like going on vacation with no idea where you are going, who is going with you, the mode of transportation you will use, or what activities (laying on the beach is an activity if not an active activity) you want to do. You may end up someplace, somehow, doing something with someone, but it may not be what you wanted. You may plan a cross-country trip by air only to find your flight is canceled because of weather but because you have a basic plan, you can adjust it and still arrive at your destination. Plans allow leaders to see the future and develop courses of action for potential eventualities. The process of planning allows leaders to think through ideas and identify potential problems before execution begins which allows the leader the opportunity to develop controls to mitigate those risks and ensure resources are available to take advantage of opportunities; no, to recognize a first that a situation is an opportunity. A good plan includes the following elements:

  • A vision of the finished state or product
  • Thought out task steps to complete the plan
  • Metrics to measure performance and effectiveness
  • Periodic check-ins to assess progress
  • Acquisition of resources
  • Timeline for completion of each step and the total project
  • Ensures people required to complete the work are present, trained and have the tools necessary to execute their work.

The Vision

Vision is one of those things that separates leaders from managers. Leaders see the future. They identify the difference between what is and what could be. They possess the ability to communicate their vision with others in a way that inspires them to complete the work and join the journey. The vision provides people with a specific description of what the end state looks like, provides general measures of success, creates the impression that the vision is attainable, shows how the change is relevant to the organization and others, and the time it will be completed.

In the last year, both SpaceX and Virgin Galactic made large strides to make private space travel a reality. This vision was not something Elon Musk nor Richard Branson embarked on lightly. Each developed a vision just after the turn of the century to reach for the moon and the stars. Each has experienced progress and also set backs. Elon Musk admitted he missed his 2018 goal to send a private mission to the Moon. However, he did not quit. Rather he adjusted his plan and pressed forward after evaluating the lessons he and his team learned along the way. His updated plan is to send a private mission to the moon in 2023.

Creating a vision allows the whole organization to see where it is going and to engage in behaviors to move closer to the end. Establishing that vision is one task a leader cannot delegate.
Photo from pxhere.com – CC0 license

Both Branson and Musk understand an important vision principal. Like a bucket of water, it needs to be refilled from time-to-time or it will evaporate. The more people who understand the vision the more help the leader has to help keep the bucket full. People like Beth Moses and Michael Colglazier share Branson’s vision of private space tourism and travel. While selling your vision is important, often you make more progress with the support of others. People like to hear the music of the band rather than a continuous solo concert.

Task Steps

As with any journey, one needs directions. Task steps are a set of directions to complete the plan. They are the leader’s best guess of what needs to be done to complete the task. Not all task steps are created equal. The first few task steps provide details later task steps lack. The reason is that the organization, situation, and people change during the history of the project. As a result the later task step details may need to change to meeting the current operating environment.

Ensure the details of the task steps provide the doers with the details they need to provide completed products to continue the project. However, do not provide so much detail in how to do something that you strangle the creativity of those doing the work. Many times people will provide a superior product given a little direction and a firm understanding of the overall vision. The leader needs to provide the vision and a few details and let the experts do the work.

Metrics

In this step, the leader specifies measurements of performance and effectiveness. Performance measurements measure how well the team is sticking to processes identified in the task steps. It does not matter if the process is developed at the team level or higher. Measuring performance is important because it allows leaders to know whether successes and failures in the effectiveness measurement are because the plan was not right, or if it was because of how well people followed the process.

Developing performance measures are easy. They provide answer to questions like,

  • How many widgets were produced?
  • How long does it take to type three pages of text?
  • How much did it cost to complete a task step with that process?

Effectiveness measurements are harder to develop. Measures of effectiveness tell the story about how well the plan is solving the problem and meeting the vision. Effectiveness is a strategic issue. Effectiveness measures tell leaders if they are creating the actual change the intended and creating the future they envisioned at the start of the planning process. These metrics are generally developed at the leadership level.

Effectiveness measures require leaders to have that clear vision of the future. They tell the story of that progress. Effectiveness measures provide answers to questions like,

  • As a result of this plan how are people’s lives better?
  • Has this plan resulted in an improved working environment?
  • Are the parts of the plan creating a product that looks like what the leader envisioned?

To compare and contrast the differences in measures of performance and effectiveness lets look at a real project. In 1501, the Florence Cathedral commissioned Michelangelo to complete a statue of David for their buttress. They hired two artists before Michelangelo but neither had the skill required to finish the statue. Of course Michelangelo did and is credited with creating a true masterpiece during the Renaissance.

If we look at the performance measures, the other artists chips away stone and started to create important features of a person depicted in the sculpture. They were executing the correct processes to make a great figure in stone but not achieving the desired outcomes. Michelangelo understood what was necessary to create the statue desired by the Florence Cathedral. He had developed the skill and ability to carve stone, combined it with his artistic vision and created an object still viewed six centuries later as a masterpiece. That is a measure of effectiveness.

Periodic Reviews

It is important to periodically check progress to insure the plan is moving in the desired direction. Turning back to the David Statue, notice that Michelangelo started with an in-progress work. Those who wanted the statue were not pleased with the progress of others who had been hired to work on the project. They evaluated the situation and adjusted processes by hiring new people to complete the work. Things change over the course of a project. Leaders need to periodically check progress to ensure the project is still relevant, moving along as expecting, and still promises to effectively fulfill the leader’s vision and effectively solve their problem.

Resourcing

Resourcing is an important leadership and management function. While there will be a paper later dedicated to greater details of resourcing, discussing resources while developing a plan is necessary here. If you have read any biography of any great or even good military commander you will notice that they rarely worry about whether their troops will successfully maneuver to close with and destroy their enemies. Smart military leaders worry about whether they can sustain their soldiers ability to fight by continuing to provide the fuel, water, ammunition, and food to keep men, women, and machines moving. Planning to ensure you have the necessary resources on hand to begin a project and a viable supply chain to account for resupply needs is required for teams to successfully implement the overall plan.

Timelines

Creating timelines for task steps ensures tasks are completed in time to support follow-on actions.
– Photo from pxhere.com CC0

Timelines are necessary to keep people focused. Timelines are not always set in stone and frequently can be changed. However, some projects lose relevance if not completed by a particular time. These are some of the things that need to be evaluated during periodic reviews. Timelines establish goals for completion of required steps. Timelines should be synchronized to ensure parallel tasks are completed as necessary to move on to the next steps.

I was a leader in a military school house. Course managers had checklists to complete tasks by certain times to ensure that instructors were qualified to teach, had resources available, and students in seats for every course. Course managers had to advertise the course in the military education system to ensure they would have students. They trained instructors to ensure they were qualified to teach others. They ordered educational material, meals, and housing based on the projected student body. If the course manager missed a step, the school would have problems executing the course to military standards and waste food, money, time, and other resources. Having a time based checklist ensured course managers succeeded.

People

All but the smallest of organizations have some sort of human resource program. If people are resources, why not cover this topic in the resources section? I have a separate section because people are a special kind of resource. Unlike standardized repair parts for machines, and toner cartridges for printers, people are not standardized. It is not easy to sway Betty and Bill. Leaders need to make sure they have qualified people in place to execute their plan. Sometimes that means outsourcing some work especially if the project is a one-time thing. It is important to ensure you pay your people well for what they do. More than half of people in a recent survey stated they felt they needed to change employers to receive a pay increase because they would not likely receive it from their current employer. Likewise, it is necessary to train your people well. You do not deserve to expect quality results unless you train your people. There is an old saying to the effect, “What happens if we train people and they leave? What happens if we don’t train people and they stay?” Leaders are measured by the number of leaders they make. Train your people and pay them well.

Planning is an important leadership function. It requires thoughtfulness to ensure the organization achieves the leader’s vision. Man did not walk on the moon for the first time just because President Kennedy said he would. Kennedy’s dream of a man walking on the moon before 1970 was his vision, the first step in planning. Leaders at NASA and other organizations put together detailed plans to ensure that men went to the moon, landed, and returned safely. Those leaders took the President’s vision and created task steps and metrics to succeed. They assessed their progress and adjusted course. They acquired necessary resources and developed timelines. Finally they ensured they had well paid, well trained people to build and fly the machines that allowed man to walk on the moon. Little progressed in NASA’s original plan for the first moonshot so it is easy to say they should just wing it. However, it was because of the plan they were able to assess their mistakes, make corrections, and finally allow people to walk on the moon. The plan itself may have little importance in the success of a project but having good people who know how to plan ensures leader visions will be fulfilled.

References

Academia.org (n.d.) Michelangelo’s David, https://www.accademia.org/explore-museum/artworks/michelangelos-david/. Retrieved 12/30/20

Davies, P. Hofrichter, F. Jacobs, J. Roberts, A. & Simon D. (2009). Janson’s basic history of western art. 8th Ed. Pearson Prentice Hill, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Eisenhower, D.D. (n.d.) Dwight D. Eisenhower quotes. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/dwight_d_eisenhower_149111. Retrieved 12/31/29

McFarland, M. (May 2, 2019). Elon Musk sets bold goals. But has he delivered?. https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/02/tech/elon-musk-predictions/index.html. Retrieved 12/28/20

Ryan, L. (December 29, 2020). Unnamed survey. LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/posts/lizryan_this-is-a-sad-commentary-but-one-we-all-activity-6749735513466531840-wwVe. Retrieved 12/31/20

Wattles, J (November 6, 2020). Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson wants to be the first ‘space billionaire’ to actually travel to space. https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/06/tech/richard-branson-virgin-galactic-space-scn/index.html. Retrieved 12/28/20

Veteran’s Day 2018

I was honored to be the guest speaker for the Woodsville, NH Veteran’s Day Ceremony this year.  I spent a part of my military life learning the basic art of artillery there and was humbled when asked to address the crowds knowing those who I looked up to years ago would be listening to what I had to offer.  This is what I said.

poppies-pxhere.jpg

Thank you. Commander, fellow veterans and guests:

I was asked to speak today about what it means to be a Veteran, and I will. However, given that at 11:00 am Paris time 100 years ago today, the final shot of the Great War, the War to End All Wars, was fired, I must recognize that event. WWI began in August 1914 as a result of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in Serbia. Before long, the nations in central Europe were at war, dragging their allies with them. In the four years of fighting around the world, 8.5 million Soldiers lost their lives and more than 21 million were injured. These numbers exclude civilian casualties. Even though the United States was involved in the war about a year, we lost 116 thousand Soldiers, 53 thousand to combat and 63 thousand to non-battle deaths such as disease and accidents.. Four point seven million troops served in the US armed forces during WWI, nearly 5% of the population. Today only 0.5% serve in our armed forces.

During this war, the world saw the first widespread use of submarine warfare with attacks on civilian passenger ships. The first widespread gas attacks caused panic on unprotected, unsuspecting troops. Before long both side were gassing the other. Commanders ordered waves of human, online attacks previously used to mass offensive firepower. The problem with the tactic in this war was a crew of three to five men armed with a new machine gun had the firepower of a division and mowed down line after line of troops. Artillery grew larger and projected shells farther than cannon crews could see. Forward observers called in corrections over great distances against enemy positions. Planes, invented in the previous decade, took to the sky to observe enemy movements. Before long they were armed and pilots were dueling each other for control of the skies. Pilots learned to drop bombs in trenches, the basics of dog fighting, and ground crews learned how to control the firing of machine guns in order to avoid shooting off propellers. Before long, large armored beasts crossed no mans land crossing trenches and brought another new weapon onto the battlefield.

In the last months of the war, a new killer emerged. Influenza cropped up in the winter of 1917-18. It followed troop movements around the world but was a nuisance rather than a threat. However, as the little germ found new hosts, it, like the other battlefield warriors, adapted and became increasing lethal targeting those of fighting age. In August, outbreaks began in several small pockets knocking out whole units and military posts. As infected Soldiers moved around the world, the new, more lethal virus moved with them causing even more death. Before this battle ended it was estimated 1/3rd of the world’s population became infected and at least 500 million people died from the flu.

However, Trumans-Battry_SM_Dominic-DAndrea.pngon the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of 1918, the 11th Field Artillery Regiment of the US Army fired the last round of the war. This day has become a day to honor all those who served in our Nation’s armed forces. Today we recognize the sacrifices those individuals make to protect us all and keep us free.

What is it like to be a Veteran, the topic I was asked to discuss? I can only speak with any knowledge about what it is like for me to be a veteran. Every veteran has their own experiences and stories. They are all unique to each individual. Even Soldiers who fought in the same battle on the same day only yards apart have different perceptions about what happened. An example is April 9, 2004. I along with about 100 other Soldiers of which about 50 were from our company, were engaged in what some claimed was the largest attack on a fixed Army position since the Viet Nam War. I do not know if that is true, only what I was told.

Most of the things the other Solders tell me seem to make sense and match what I remember. I talk to others who were only a few feet away, and their stories about the same events sound like they happened in a different place and time. Still there are enough commonalities between those who served that with one or two words I can raise a response from other veterans. Those few words tell a whole story to them. The Army PT belt, drill sergeants, and basic training. Words that tell stories with those I severed with include, the rocket room, 40mm sponge, thee dumpster, and “light ‘em up” all have meaning. In my second deployment, I forbid my platoon to use the phrase “light ‘em up” because the near disastrous consequences from the term.

We were tasked to interdict mortar crew in The Projects that had just fired at our position. When we arrived we found lots of civilians out after curfew, but no obvious insurgents. It was dark and I wanted to see better so I instructed the squad leader to bring the HUMVEEs around and like them up. He refused and I repeated my order. He insisted that he was not going to shoot unarmed, innocent civilians. Silence. As I realized what he said and what I meant my heart stopped. He did shine the HUMVEE lights on the civilians after I clarified my order. It is funny now, but wasn’t then.

There are other things that have meaning in my career. Service members during the Cold War had their problems. Units stationed along the Iron Curtain lived with the fear of the Soviets racing through the Fulda Gap with divisions of tanks to invade western Europe. Decades later, I found myself in an airport in Leipzig Germany. TCheckpoint Charlie-USG.pnghere was a map on the wall showing where we were. I said to the young Soldier beside something like, “Holy cow, we are in East Germany!” The young Solider responded, “You mean eastern Germany Sergeant.” He did not know about East and West Germany nor of the Berlin Wall. His experience in that airport was different from mine even though we stood in almost the exact same spot.

Some veterans spend a career and never see combat. Others see much combat in a few years. Some come home and go on with life like they just went off to college. Others struggle from the unseen scars left by their experiences. 

Some of the veterans standing beside you out there returned home after defending freedom and democracy to be booed, jeered, and spit upon by protesters. They do not know the elation of the welcome home parades received by veterans of WWI, WWII and those from the Gulf War and GWOT era. Their experiences were different than mine.

Because of these commonalities and differences two things seem to hold true. Some veterans learn ways to deal the events from their military service and lead productive lives. Some veterans never figure out how to deal with those experiences. Those who learn to deal with those events seem to find strength by associating with other veterans. Those who do not isolate themselves thinking they are they only ones feeling what they feel and die at their own hand. Suicide is too common an experience for too many veterans. The VA reports on average 22 veterans commit suicide every day. There is help for those struggling. Find VeteransCrisisLineLogo.pngout the numbers for the Veteran’s Crisis Line ((800) 237-TALK (8255)). Put it in your phone. You may never need it, but someone you know might.

I’ve been fortunate to been able to serve my nation at the State of New Hampshire for over 36 years. Like many, I planned on doing 20 and getting out. Every time my end of enlistment neared I found new challenges to conquer and I extended. I’ve met and worked with some really great people I never would have met here in New Hampshire, across the nation, and around the world. I have seen and done things others only dream about doing. What is it like to be a veteran? For me, it has been great!

 


Photo Credits

Poppy field from PXhere.com

Truman’s Battery by Dominic D’Andrea, a US Government work

Checkpoint Charlie from US Government collection

Veterans Crisis Line from https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

 

The Wall, A Powerful Memorial

On May 17, 1969, CPT David R. Crocker Jr. was killed in action in Viet Nam. His widow Ruth recounts her life with CPT Crocker in her book Those Who Remain. She details attending a reunion of her husband’s unit years later when she is invited to visit the JuneMarie-VNMW-flickrViet Nam War Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. with the Soldiers he led in battle. As she approaches and walks along The Wall, she relates memories of her David in various assignments and contrasts them with how she thinks combat veterans she is there with think about their memories of the war, each other, and their beloved commander.

I made a trip to The Wall a few weeks before reading Ruth’s account of her first time to the memorial. Unlike Ruth, it was not my first trip. As I walked along the increasingly tall black stones, the first thing that struck me is how rude some people can be. After suggesting to a younger man that his cell phone argument should be completed elsewhere, I returned my attention to those engraved slabs. MarionOSullivan-VNMW-flickr.jpgI found myself contemplating each name that caught my eye. I wondered how my brain selected some names to look at while skipping over others. My thoughts wandered to my own combat experiences. I mentally compared my experiences to those who fought in Viet Nam and eventually to every other war.

By now I found I completed enough steps so the stones were over my head. I noticed the reflection of my battle buddy on the surface of the stone, himself a combat vet in a different place and time from me or those whose names appeared before us. Like me, he would focus on some names and skip others. Unlike me, he remembered his childhood neighbor heading off to Viet Nam. He never returned. Today he searched for his neighbor’s name. As I remembered this visit and my other visits to The Wall, I conversed with my friend about his experiences at The Wall. After reading and considering Ruth’s description I started to realize why The Wall is such a powerful memorial.

There are several war memorials on the nation’s Mall. There are even more in the D.C. area. Many are large signifying the importance those wars play in history. Others are smaller, almost unseen and forgotten like many of our nation’s conflicts. While it is true these smaller wars and monuments are less known, they are no less important for those who served and those who died in those conflicts. Yet the Viet Nam Memorial is a most powerful monument to our fallen heroes.

The Wall is a powerful memorial because it allows people to project their own thoughts, feelings, and memories about war, their loved ones, and their experiences. JuneMarie-Etch-VNMW-Flickr.jpgThat is why a Gold Star Wife can accompany a veteran wearing a Combat Infantry Badge and feel connected. Each brings their own stuff, projects it on the tall, cold, black stone and The Wall, like a black hole, absorbs it all. Visitors do need not know any one person of the 56 thousand inscribed on those black shiny panels to project their stuff on to it. The Wall accepts everything just as the service members whose names appear on The Wall.

Other monuments and memorials of war are different. They have more conventional shapes. Each is a different size. Their materials and colors change across each individual monument, yet seem to copy from each other. Each of these attributes deflect projection. I cannot see my battle buddy’s reflection living or dead in those other memorials. Those memorials are about their war only. Thoughts, memories, and other reflections ricochet off their surface the same as a 5.56 does on hard surfaces. The Wall accepts them all.

The purpose of memorials are to allow people to remember the past, and make a connection with those who came before them. War memorials are more so by remembering the selfless sacrifice of those who served our country, defending freedom and liberty. In order to connect, one must develop an understanding of how those memorialized events affect their lives today no matter how long ago they occurred. Laura-VNMW-Flickr.jpgThe Wall, even with all those names carved into the otherwise flawless surface is a blank slate, enabling all to search for meaning. Like the classroom blackboard each person can write the story of how events years ago changed the world and their place in the world. Each finds meaning.

The meaning they find may have nothing to do with those on The Wall. It may have not relate to Viet Nam or any survivors. Their meaning found in those dark slabs is unique to each individual. Meaning not only about the terrible cost of war, but also how death of loved ones hurt no matter the cause. They may achieve an answer to a random act of violence. They may develop a reason for suffering PTSD. The Wall accepts it all reflecting back each individual’s reality.

The other monuments are what they are. WWII.JPGIt is hard to make the colossal statue of Lincoln something else. The size of the World War II Memorial is like the war, massive, so massive it is hard to take in all of it and understand, even after the passing of time. person-people-monument-statue-army-sculpture-1026122-pxhere.com.jpgThe Soldiers marching at the Korean War Memorial are always on patrol, frozen in time, with little room for any other interpretation. Only The Wall absorbs our feelings and casts back what we need to develop understanding.

I’ve learned that sometimes the most important thing to understand is war is war and things sometimes happen for no reason. Tim O’Brien said often people expect a war story to end with a moral, but war stories are just war stories. Like war, they are what they are. Few end with a moral and fewer end happily ever after. Every war story is important to the teller. The teller may never know why, but something in that story changed their lives. Lots of things happen in combat. Only a few are remembered. The Wall captures each story, every memory. In time visitors may gain understanding of recollections from The Wall.

For those who experience war, detail of stories fade as time marches on. They never go away. This essay is about war and remembering war. In school we learn every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. War stories definitely have a beginning, though the beginning may vary by the teller. War stories have a middle, the part where the action occurs. The end however can be tricky because there is always something that happens next. Maybe that is why few war stories have morals, they never really end. That is why we need memorials like The Wall, to help make sense of the senseless, and maybe that is why The Wall is such a powerful memorial. The Wall allows everyone to find their own sense in the confusion.JasonBrookman-VNMW-flickr.jpg

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Photo Credits

June Marie – flickr.com — Creative Commons Attiribution.

Marion O’Sullivan – flickr.com — Creative Commons Attiribution.

June Marie, ibid

Laura — flickr.com — Creative Commons Attiribution.

Author — Creative Commons Attiribution.

pxhere.com — Creative Commons Zero

Jason Brookman — flickr.com — Creative Commons Attiribution.

Continue reading

Remembering

Memorial Day is upon us again. It is a day to remember those military members who died in service to their country. Often there memorials are led by veterans who find themselves the objects of other people’s gratitude. The result is many a vet and the person are confused about what to do next. Next time you feel an urge to spontaneously thank a man or woman in uniform, try a different approach.

After thanking the veteran ask if they have some time to tell you about a friend they served with, or a time they like to remember. Ask questions as time permits. Both the veteran and you will walk away with a better understanding about why you are thankful for the service of those who died in the military.

Of Veterans and Veteran’s Families

SoldierFlagOn Memorial Day, we take time to remember those who died in combat. We should. There are two groups who we should also remember; the family members of those who died, and those who later die by their own hand because of internal injuries sustained on the battlefield no one can see.

Veteran suicide has been in the news over the last several years and yet remains an unsolved problem. The problem in not new, but rather dates back probably to the first war between humans. War requires otherwise good people to do terrible things to survive. Most sort out the internal conflict and lead productive lives. Others suffer for years as they try to work out their turmoil. Too many find they cannot contend with the pain any longer and end their lives.

Some of the veterans who choose to end their suffering through suicide can be helped. It only takes one person to reach out and offer help like the rescue ring on a ship. If you know a combat vet who seems to be struggling with life, toss them a line. Ask them if they are thinking of killing themselves. Care enough to help them find help. Escort them to a place they will be safe. DO NOT leave him or her alone! Stay until help arrives. The ACE program (Ask, Care, Escort) is taught to every Soldier in the Army. It has helped many survive, buy someone, you, have to start by asking the question.

Family members of the dead also suffer from invisible war wounds. The military’s response to the families of fallen heroes changes with each conflict. At times, little more than a written condolence was offered. Other times assistance teams provide families a guiding hand dealing with the red tape.

Unfortunately, the families are also shunned and forgotten in their communities. They move on with their lives covering the pain in public, suffering with it in private. The gold stars they wear go unnoticed by those who do not understand the meaning. Time passes. Like combat vets, some heal well while others suffer long periods of pain.

Both combat veterans and families of fallen heroes deal with many of the same issues. On Memorial Day they remember the true cost of war, human life. They know the pain, but do not always understand why. Reaching out to a veteran or family member shows you care. Sometimes a little caring restores hope and brings comfort. Today, don’t let your Memorial Day activities end with the parade, reach out to one touched by war and care.

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Vet Centers help Veterans and their families deal with a variety of issues.  Find out how you can help a Vet or his family get the help they need and deserve at no cost.  General Information:  http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/    Bereavement Counseling:  http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/bereavement_counseling.asp

Remember the over 625,513 War Dead

The poor fellows think they are safe! They think that the war is over! Only the dead have seen the end of war. George Santayanna 1924 from Tipperary.

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By the time the Forgotten Fifty loaded the C-17 at the airfield at LSA Anaconda for the beginning of their trip home, their world had changed more than any of them realized. The 50 that loaded the plane were not the same as those who first came to provide peace and stability in a foreign land. Some of the faces had changed. Some who arrived left early due to visible and not-so-visible wounds. One of their company, Alan Burgess, returned in a flag-draped box several months earlier.

We all thought we were done with war, and some upon returning home completed their enlistment after years of honorable service. Others continued their career thinking the wars were winding down and that the possibility of returning to combat was slim. They were wrong.

In the last 100 years, the beginning of WWI, The Great War, The War to End All Wars, the war Santayanna talks about in Tipperary, over 625,513 Americans have died in over 30 conflicts around the world. Most of us know little about those 30 conflicts. Many Americans do not even know one member of the military. Even fewer knew one who died defending liberty. Unfortunately you can be sure more will die in the next 100 years. Remembering all those who died in the small conflicts and large are equally important.

During this weekend of remembrance, take a few moments to learn about some of the forgotten conflicts our nation has participated in during our history. Identify a Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman or Coast Guardsman who has fallen protecting liberty. Find out something about that person’s life and death. Share what you learned at your community’s commemoration event.

The Forgotten Fifty did make it home to the Land of the Free to be counted amongst the Brave. They can tell their tales at the next VFW meeting with those who also returned. You can bet they will never forget those who were not able to come home, or did so under their Nation’s flag. On this Memorial Day lets remember all our service members who died defending our freedom in conflicts large and small and provide comfort to the loved ones they left behind.


Photo Credits

 From Flickr.com under Creative Commons Attribution License.

Modified from U.S. Army OneSource poster at https://www.flickr.com/photos/familymwr/5765118424/in/photolist-9J8ceV-9Jb3AU-9J8c4P-9MrJRw-5PankT-5QJQKB-5LutiT-5SsGK8-9Jb3s7-9NYdK5-4Yd6Zi-ntJe8u-nL3jnY-nL3fmS-nLdEUc-nLbafA-ntJbrh-ntJwti-ntJdUd-nL3fPW-nLbdwW-nLbcFN-nL3iDo-nJbbnQ-ntHYCX-nJbbzd-ntJvxa-nLb9tA-ntHVTZ-nLdBkP-ntHZj6-nKVCAp-nL3jNh-nN15zk-nL3gLA-ntHWE8-nLbdg5-nLb9rS-nLdFKk-nL3ehY-ntHXYa-ntJ8As-nJb9xC-ntHZiV-nKVyZg-nKVyHK-ntJwgK-ntJ6yj-ntJ1Bf-nJb8ks

Easter Sunday

It is Easter morning. I wake to the sound of praying. The voice is familiar. The voice reminds all within hearing distance that today is a holy day. That day I learned the power of prayer.

The previous days had been filled with challenges. Routine things like a trip to the post office, shopping at the store and driving around had become difficult around the city. As a result of some of the problems facing the city, my team and I found ourselves working extra hours, long hours, with little sleep that was often disturbed. We had lost sight of the fact that it was Holy Week and the approach of Easter

It is always hard to be away from family and loved ones during holidays, but during this Easter I found myself surrounded by great people. I had not yet learned how courageous, caring and professional many of them were, but in the coming weeks and months I was to learn all that and lots more about many of them. If I could not be home for Easter, this people were the people I am glad to have been with.

I have noticed since that Easter Sunday, I go to church a little less often, but find I pray more, quietly when others won’t notice. I’ve learned to be grateful for everyday I can get out of bed on my own. There are still times when things happen that cause me to feel angry or sad. Even then I try to remember that no one has tried to kill me today. When I share that sentiment, people look at me like there should be a punch line. There isn’t.P1000179

On that Easter Sunday I woke to prayer. Yes the voice was familiar, but the words were not. Five times each day this Imam prayed. On this Easter Sunday we prayed for peace. Since then I may act a little grumpy from time-to-time, I may not always share with those I love how much they mean to me; since then, I pray more, and am grateful for the blessings God has granted me. On this day our prayers were answered.

Thanks

I received a message from WordPress this week congratulating me on my second anniversary as a public blogger. I was a bit surprised as I didn’t remember starting my blog until early summer. I looked back to see what I first wrote. My memory was correct, however I did open my account weeks before I made that first click to post.

I remembering that over the next several weeks my body of work seemed so slim compared to others. It still is, however based on those who follow my writing and many of the conversations I have had with readers on LinkedIn, here, in person with those I know, and by email that what I am saying is well received.

In the last few months I have lacked the time to write for my blog because of other professional writing assignments. I have noticed however that people still come to the sight to read what I have all ready written. For that I am truly grateful. I am sure that some of my visitors have communicated with my followers who report kindly. I appreciate that of everything on the internet you can use you time for, you choose to continue to follow my posts.

I have been using some breaks in my work and studies to bang out a few words for a new post. I was hoping to have it completed before the end of February, but I doubt that is going to happen. Keep checking back because if things go well there will be something new next week.

If you have not all ready done so, check out the presentations I have posted on SlideShare. Several were developed to complement my blog work (http://www.slideshare.net/ChrisStCyr1/presentations). Drop me an email if your organization is looking for some training on ethics, or instructor or leadership development (infor@saintcyrtraining.com).

To Honor and Remember…

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Veterans recognize that all service members gave some, some gave all. As Memorial Day approaches I think about not only those who died honorably on the field of battle, but also those whose death was sealed in battle but occurred years later. We should remember the these warriors during our ceremonies and activities.

It is important for citizens to honor those who died establishing and defending freedom. Those who die on the battlefield are treated like the heroes they are. They receive honor guards, special memorial services and words of appreciation for their sacrifice. Their names on our monuments and honor rolls are set apart by stars. Their families proudly display gold star banners. Recognizing the contributions of those who died in battle is appropriate. It is equally appropriate to remember delayed combat deaths and value those warriors as those who died on the battlefield.MemorialDay2014

Our attention is frequently focused on the current crop of casualties and veterans from current conflicts. We neglect the heroics and service of those who die later from service connected afflictions. They receive no Purple Heart. Their families receive no gold stars. Their names not set apart on our monuments, but their deaths are combat deaths. However former GIs dying from cancer from exposure to toxic chemicals during battle or by his own hand years later because of untreated post-traumatic stress deserves the same remembrance and honor as those who died charging Redoubts 9 & 10 in Yorktown, attempting to block the British attack in New Orleans, had the courage to fight against his brother in our Civil War, stepped on a land mine in Korea, ambushed in Vietnam, or died fighting any of the little known conflicts fought during American history.

Remembering is important. Many professionals providing care for veterans of past wars know only of what they learned in a history class. Young people entering the health care system as providers in the next several years will have been born after the instigating events for our current conflict in Afghanistan or are so young they have no independent memories of planes crashing into buildings. Teaching providers about health issues related to military service will be important to ensure care received will address the sources of the issues and not just the symptoms. Additionally, many of these former GIs may qualify for VA care and to have their ailments service connected permitting them to access VA’s health care (which, regardless of current allegations, is high quality). Without an understanding of Agent Orange, asbestos, mental health issues, embedded fragments of shrapnel, and other combat related mechanisms of injuries dooms veterans in both the civilian and VA health systems to potential inadequate care.

During your remembrances this Memorial Day, take time to remember all those who died as a result of armed conflict with our nation’s enemies. Remember those who died on the battlefield, and those who died later from hidden wounds. Honor their memories by not only thanking a veteran for his or her service but by also taking the time to listen to their stories of the great deeds of the fallen. You can never remember what you never knew. Adopt a family of a fallen warrior. Their stories are equally compelling. Veterans will tell you families have the toughest job in war. During your freedom celebration, establish a quiet moment for all to quietly reflect on their blessings as a result of others standing before evil.


Photo by author

 

Leaders Training Future Leaders

ImageAll trainers are leaders because they influence people in their organizations to accomplish the mission. The flip side to that thought is that all leaders are trainers. In too many organizations however leaders are selected based upon their ability to accomplish tasks more than their ability to influence others and too many organizations fail to train their highest performers to become leaders. Possession of influence is more important to a leader than possessing an ability to complete a task skillfully. Learning how to engage others to influence them to perform is more important skill for leaders than the task to be performed. Teaching the leaders to teach becomes that challenge for the middle and senior leaders of organizations, one that is poorly executed. Consistent leader training and development is critical to any organization’s long term success. Four simple, repeatable steps separate are the foundation of an enduring leadership training program. Those steps are telling, demonstrating, practicing and correcting.

Telling. The quickest way to transfer information is to tell the other person. When sending a message you want the receiver to remember ensure the receiver has a method of recording the information, whether it is a notebook, a voice recorder or a note on their device. Unrecorded information is sure to be forgotten. When someone writes, they remember better in the future and create a record for future reference when the teacher is absent. During the review of the lesson, the teach can have the student read back the notes ensuring all important details were discussed.

Demonstrating. You demonstrate the task. In this blog, demonstration is listed as the second step, but in practice, it is the first. When others work for you, you demonstrate leadership for them daily. When you take time to counsel the new leader, you demonstrate the importance of counseling. Your methods become the lesson as the techniques and practices you expect them to employ in their leadership role. Counseling is just one area, but the example crosses many such topical areas.

Practicing. At first you may be inclined to linger. This may not always work well. For the same reasons it may not be practical for your trainee to sit in on a counseling session with a fellow employee with a family problem, it probably is just as likely you should not sit in on similar situations unless you are invited. The senior leader has other duties. If she spends all her time overseeing one new supervisor, she ignores other areas of responsibility. It is not unreasonable to follow up by asking to see documentation of a process or to check progress of employees. This lets both the employee and their supervisor know you are paying attention to important aspects of their work and lives.

Correcting. Do this as close as possible to the performance of the activity. Often in performance oriented training we ofter students feedback in the form of an after action review within a few minutes of completing the activity. There is no reason to not apply the same practice. If you are invited to observe a process improvement meeting, plan on five or ten minutes after the meeting to review the supervisor’s performance.

When you have completed all the steps, repeat them until the leader performs them nearly perfectly. As they improve, you allow them to tell you how they can improve their performance instead of providing feed back from you. As you do so, you prepare them for increasing levels of leadership and improve the organization.

Good leaders are also trainers. They set the standard by telling, They live the standard through demonstration. They allow others to try to practice and correct mistakes so success is achieved. These steps train and develop leaders follows the same model. Tell them what the expectations are, demonstrate the way you expect them to behave, allow them to perform, make corrections and repeat. Leaders who practice these steps increase their sphere of influence, allow others to see he uses power to make the organization better, has concern for the future of the group and its people and is willing to e what he knows. Observers recognize the spark and passion of the leader doing the training and the overall success of the organization. Take the first step today with your young leaders.

Photo Credit:  tanakawho from flickr.com creative commons license