Tag Archives: Lawrence Wright

Three Crucial Leadership Lessons from the U.S. Navy SEALs

Twice recently, I have presented my synopsis of Leadership Lessons of the U.S. Navy SEALS : Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results by Jeff Cannon and Lieutenant Commander Jon Cannon.  I was struck with how practical, how timely, and how needed these lessons are.

We have a new and deeper appreciation for the folks who make up those Navy SEAL teams, after the successful mission that took out Osama bin Laden.  That success was no accident.  They prepared, drilled, trained, rehearsed …  the preparation was literally decades in the making!  This book helps us understand just why they succeed.

The entire book is worth a careful look.  But here are three lessons to take seriously for any current or aspiring leader.

Lesson #1 – care for your people.  Really, care for your people.  If people are cared for, and feel cared for, they will trust, follow, and stay with their leader.  People go to where they feel cared for.  From the book:

If passion for the big mission is not enough, then maybe commitment for the success of (the life of) your team members will keep you focused.  In other words, because you care for the people you work with, you work responsibly, professionally, sacrificially…

Lesson #2 – Plan well.  Plan thoroughly. Plan some more.  Because the more you plan, the more you know exactly what to do  — and, the more prepared you will be when you have to adjust the plan on the spot.  From the book:

Do you think you are spending too much time on planning?  Spend some more…  Success in the boardroom or on the battlefield does not require everything to go perfectly.  It requires you to be ready when things go wrong.  Set specific goals and establish identifiable paths to reach them… 
Time after time, organizations fail to do this. 

Lesson #3 – Maintain your rituals, because this plants and sustains a deep appreciation and commitment to the systems that work.  Systems matter.  Get the wrong systems, and the whole enterprise can come crashing down.  Get the right systems, and the whole enterprise has a much better chance at success.  From the book:

Sweat the small rituals…  By maintaining its rituals, an organization is communicating the idea that a system or culture is in place. 
By adhering to its rituals, you are confirming that you belong to the organization.  If you buck the system, you are not simply rebelling against formal suits and orthodox memos; you are questioning the organization, strategies, and processes they represent.  You are questioning the company you work for. 

This book is filled with other, valuable lessons – here’s just a sampling:

build boundaries to prevent infighting and cannibalism;
the vast majority of the time, you know what you should do;
if you think no one else can replace you, you’re an egotistical S.O.B. who’s failed;
 there is no “I” in “Shut up and do the work”;
let them be angry when they have a right to be;
tell them when the ship is sinking;
you’re the one who can make it work, and that’s often thanks enough;
cowboys and cogs don’t have job security, team members do; 
your own people are your best recruiters;
identify your lead dogs, feed them well, and build a pack around them;
let it be known that you’ll get rid of people who just shouldn’t be part of the team – even the nice people;
practice (“if you need to scream, you need to practice”);
make a decision!

These are just a few more of the many valuable lessons of the U.S. Navy SEALs.  I’m glad they have learned their lessons so well.


You can purchase my synopsis (with handout + audio) of Leadership Lessons of the US. Navy SEALs, which comes with an introductory section about Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, with brief excerpts from Inside the Kingdom by Carmen bin Laden and The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright (this book won the Pulitzer Prize), from our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – A Big Book

Our mattresses were made
of corn shucks
and soft gray Spanish moss
that hung from the trees….
From the swamps
we got soup turtles
and baby alligators
And from the woods
we got raccoon,
rabbit and possum.
• Mahalia Jackson, Movin’ On Up

Richard Wright, the bard of the Great Migration, defected to the receiving station of Chicago, via Memphis, in December, 1927, to feel as he put it, “the warmth of other suns.” 

I’ve been thinking about Big books vs. small books.

I’m not talking about the size of the book — although, a big book is usually bigger — i.e., more pages.  But not always:  consider Big Think Strategy:  How to leverage bold ideas and leave small thinking behind by Bernd H. Schmitt.  This is a big book with fewer than 200 pages.

I’m talking about the ideas, the sweep of the book.  And I am a big fan of big books.  Books that tie things together over a long haul.  Books that point me to connections that are important, connections that I have not thought of.  Recently, at the First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis of Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson.  This is a big book, with a massive sweep.  Other titles come to mind:  Collapse by Jared Diamond; The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright.

(Click on the book cover for a better look at the photographs)

Well, here’s my new “current favorite big book” — The Warmth of Other Suns:  The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.  Wilkerson is a Pultizer Prize winner (in 1994:  the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer in journalism) from her reporting days with the New York Times, and in this massive sweep of a book she tells the epic story of the Great Migration, the years from 1915 to 1970, when over six million African Americans left the American South for the North and West.  It is a terrific read, overflowing with insight into people, this country, prejudices, hopes, dreams…  I would like to suggest that you add it to your “serious non-fiction book” stack.  You will not be disappointed.

Here is a description from the New York Times review by David Oshinsky:

Wilkerson follows the journey of three Southern blacks, each representing a different decade of the Great Migration as well as a different destination. It’s a shrewd storytelling device, because it allows her to highlight two issues often overlooked: first, that the exodus was a continuous phenomenon spanning six decades of American life; second, that it consisted of not one, but rather three geographical streams, the patterns determined by the train routes available to those bold enough to leave.

People from Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi boarded the Illinois Central to Midwestern cities like Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit; those from Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia rode the Seaboard Air Line up the East Coast to Washington, Philadelphia and New York; those in Louisiana and Texas took the Union Pacific to Los Angeles, Oakland and other parts of the West Coast. Wilkerson is superb at minding the bends and detours along the way. She notes, for example, that some migrants, unfamiliar with the conductor’s Northern accent, would mistakenly get off at the cry of “Penn Station, Newark,” the stop just before Penn Station, New York. Many decided to stay put, she adds, giving Newark “a good portion of its black population.”

A segregated railroad depot waiting room in Jacksonville, Fla., 1921. (State Archives of Florida)

Here is just one paragraph – such a great excerpt:

The actions of the people in this book were both universal and distinctly American.  Their migration was a response to an economic and social structure not of their making.  They did what humans have done for centuries when life became untenable – what the pilgrims did under the tyranny of British rule, what the Scotch-Irish did in Oklahoma when the land turned to dust, what the Irish did when there was nothing to eat, what the European Jews did during the spread of Nazism, what the landless in Russia, Italy, China and elsewhere did when something better across the ocean called to them.  What binds their stories together was the back-against-the-wall, reluctant yet hopeful search for something better, any place but where they were.  They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done.
They left. 

Wilkerson spent fourteen years researching this book (you can tell!), and interviewed over 1000 people.  The poignant moments in this book are too numerous to mention.  The description of the photograph of her own mother taken in the New World will leave a lump in your throat at the sheer symbolism of this new world “passport.”  This is the kind of reading that I wish I had more time to do.

I hope you have your stack of serious, sweeping, big book books to read.  They are rich indeed.  Add this one to your stack – you will not be disappointed.


Honoring our Military with a special Book Synopsis Presentation/Gathering – The Leadership Secrets of the Navy SEALs

The business world has increasingly become a world of individuals.  Corporate teams that once banded together to push forward are now like mercenary gangs…  Corporate culture has often become little more than a sea of managerial nomads, loyal to no one and motivated overwhelmingly by salary, convenience, and the size of the corporate gym…
This has been a disaster for managers and leaders who want to create values and get results.  It’s difficult to lead workers who have been abandoned to senior management.  It’s tough to make unpopular choices when senior management won’t back you up.  It’s hard to stay on course when subordinates can go around you. 
Enough…  It’s time to run your organization like a team again, and in a manner that is principally designed to produce results. 
Jeff Cannon, and Lieutenant Commander Jon Cannon:  Leadership Lessons of the U.S. Navy SEALS : Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results


You are invited…

As we ponder the remarkable accomplishment of Navy SEAL Team 6, we will host a special Bonus Program Book Synopsis, focusing on the book  Leadership Lessons of the U.S. Navy SEALS : Battle-Tested Strategies for Creating Successful Organizations and Inspiring Extraordinary Results by Jeff Cannon and Lieutenant Commander Jon Cannon.

I presented my synopsis of this book at the special request of a client company, and it is both a good book, and worth a new look after the recent accomplishment of this remarkable group of professionals in Pakistan.

I will begin will begin with a few reflections from the book The Looming Tower:  Al-Queda and The Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2007), and then present the full synopsis of the Navy SEALs book.

Proceeds will be donated to Fisher House (Helping Military Families).  Fisher House is rated 4 stars by Charity Navigator, their highest rating..

Date:  May 23
Time:  7:30 am (we will begin serving breakfast at 7:00 am)
Place:  Park City Club, in the Park Cities/Dallas (near the corner of Northwest Highway and the Tollway)
Cost:  $30.00.

Please let us know if you plan to attend.  We will not offer on-line registration.  Either send me a direct e-mail (click here to send me that e-mail), or call Karl Krayer at 972-601-1537 to reserve your spot.  You can pay at the door with either check, cash, or credit or debit card.

Thank you.

A Reading List – Post 9/11 (A Good List to check out After the Death of Bin Laden)

I have oft quoted, on this blog, and in countless presentations, from The Looming Tower:  Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright (winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2007).  And Inside the Kingdom by Carmen Bin Laden.

Here is s link to a reading list, all books that were highlighted on PBS, with links to interviews with the authors:  A Reading List for the Post-9/11 Eraposted by Molly Finnegan , May 3, 2011.  From the intro:

The NewsHour has featured conversations with many writers over the past decade on books that address, directly and indirectly, how 9/11, bin Laden and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have influenced how we live today. After the jump, find a sampling of some of these featured titles with links to the full conversations.

The list is a good one, and, yes, it includes The Looming Tower.  Here is the quote lifted from the full interview (link on the page) with Wright on the book list page:

From the conversation:
“Humiliation is one of the most common words in bin Laden’s vocabulary. Certainly there have been many Muslim men who have been physically humiliated, especially Arabs and Egyptians in those prisons. For instance, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two guy in al-Qaida, experienced three years of torture in Egyptian prisons, as was true of many people who are in al-Qaida today. I think that accounts for the appetite for bloodshed that’s so characteristic of al-Qaida and so unusual in many respects for a terrorist movement, which is normally just interested in theater….When he uses that term, it resonates with many Muslims who feel that Islam has been in retreat for hundreds of years and been displaced from his proper place in the world.”


“The Security of Justice” – Thoughts on the Death of Bin Laden

Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington D.C., August 28, 1963:

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Carmen Bin Laden (Inside the Kingdom):

No one will ever be able to take an airplane again without a sense of apprehension.
Osama Bin Laden and those like him didn’t spring, fully formed, from the desert sand.  They were made.  They were fashioned by the workings of an opaque and intolerant medieval society that is closed to the outside world.
When Osama dies, I fear there will be a thousand men to take his place.
Our defense is the defense of truth.

President Barrack Obama, May 1, 2011:

We were also united in our resolve to protect our nation and to bring those who committed this vicious attack to justice.
Justice has been done.
Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower (from The New Yorker):

…the fact that he was able to evade justice since 1998, when he authorized the bombings of the two American embassies in East Africa, emboldened terrorists all over the globe.
The recent bombing in Marrakesh and the arrests in Germany demonstrate that Al Qaeda continues to have enthusiastic, entrepreneurial operatives that are eager to make their own mark on history.
But bin Laden’s death comes at a time when Al Qaeda has been sidelined by the democratic surge that has unsettled the Arab world.
Democracy and civil society are the cure for the chronic misery of Muslim countries that has fed the rise of Islamic extremism. The death of the most notorious terrorist the world has ever seen, whose mission was to create a clash of civilizations, will allow the door to open more widely to the tolerance, modernism, and pragmatism that is so badly needed and so long awaited in a part of the world where despair, corruption, brutality, and fanaticism have laid waste to so many generations.


Osama Bin Laden is dead.  I am glad.  Joy is not the right word.  (A friend of mine tweeted last night that she felt no joy in such a killing).  But I am glad.  “Justice has been done,” said President Obama.  Yes, it has.

Dr. King spoke of the “security of justice,” justice that had too often withheld from the people he led.  But that phrase is so powerful.  Our security is in the idea, the promise, of justice.

There is a terrific reminder of the purity of justice in a courtroom scene at the end of The Verdict (Paul Newman).  Here is part of his speech:

I mean there is no justice. The rich win; the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time we become dead, a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims — and we become victims. We become weak; we doubt ourselves; we doubt our beliefs; we doubt our institutions; and we doubt the law.
But today you are the law. You are the law, not some book, not the lawyers, not a marble statue, or the trappings of the court. See, those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are, in fact, a prayer, I mean a fervent and a frightened prayer.
In my religion, they say, “Act as if you had faith; faith will be given to you.”
If we are to have faith in justice we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice. See, I believe there is justice in our hearts.

I believe the decision by President Obama was a pure decision, on the side of justice.  I do not rejoice.  Too many died, and Bin Laden’s death brings back that sadness…  But it was right, and we are glad.  Justice has been done.

The Muslim Brotherhood – The Hostility Goes Way Back (with insight from The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright)

Here’s some serious background reading to recommend.

Shortly after it came out, I read the book The Looming Tower:  Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. He won the Pulitzer Prize for this book (for General Nonfiction – 2007).

Sayyid Qutb

As the Egypt situation unfolds, this might be a good book to put in your reading stack.  We hear a lot about the Muslim Brotherhood.  Here is a little background from the book about Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood (there is much more in the book).

The year was 1949.  Sayyid Qutb, (who later had an enormous influence on Osama bin Laden), was in Washington D.C. studying English.  He had his tonsils removed at the George Washington University hospital, where he has deeply offended by the conversations, and the “look,” of an American nurse.

“News came of the assassination of Hasan al-Banna, the Supreme Guide for the Society of the Muslim Brothers, on February 12, in Cairo.  “Today, the enemy of Christianity in the East was killed,” he says the doctors told him.  “Today, Hasan al-Banna was murdered…”

Banna’s voice was stilled just as Qutb’s book Social Justice in Islam was being published – the book that would make his reputation as an important Islamic thinker…

Shortly after, Qutb was offered a fee of ten thousand dollars for the rights to translate his new book into English, “a fantastic sum for such an obscure book.”  Qutb refused.  He later speculated that James Heyworth-Dunne (the man who offered the fee) was attempting to recruit him to the CIA.  “I decided to enter the Brotherhood even before I left the house.”

The book is filled with insight into the thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood (“It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law in all nations, and to extend its power to the entire planet,” wrote Hasan al-Banna).

Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, in 1928

And the book is filled with details about the treatment of its followers in Egyptian prisons.

In 1955, some of the imprisoned Brothers staged a strike and refused to leave their cells.  They were gunned down.  Twenty-three members were killed and forty-six injured.  Qutb was in the prison hospital when the wounded men were brought in.  Shaken and terrified, Qutb wondered how fellow Muslims could treat each other in such a way.

In this week of protest erupting into violence in Egypt, it might help to read some background. As Lawrence Wright captured, everything is connected, and goes back quite a ways.

And, by the way, learning about Sayyid Qutb is a good/important addition to your learning plan.

• (for a quick read about Qutb, read this article from American Public Media. Scroll down into the article).