They made a movie out of the book, and Mel Gibson played Hal. The movie was called “We Were Soldiers.”
We met through a friend, and Hal said, “I want to write a book about leadership.” So we began this book project. Over the next year, I interviewed Hal with a tape recorder for hours and hours. Midway through the project, Hal got an offer to write a sequel to his book and I was offered The Onion job. But during our time together, he taught me a lot about how you manage people and what you owe the people you manage.
Q. What are the top three or five lessons?
A. In no particular order? He taught me that you never, ever do anything to deprive a human being of their dignity in work, in life. Always praise in public and criticize in private. You might be tempted, for example, when you’re letting someone go, to say something that would diminish the value of their work. Don’t ever do that.
And he taught me that when you’re faced with something that’s really difficult and you think you’re at the end of your tether, there’s always one more thing you can do to influence the outcome of this situation. And then after that there’s one more thing. The number or possible options is only limited by your imagination. Hal often said, “Imagination is enormously important, enormously important.”
I once had a student in an undergrad journalism class who disrupted every class, with only 13 students, with his immaturity and inanities. I asked the dean what was going on and was told the kid was just generally disliked for this behavior.
I finally grabbed him after class and demanded he explain his habit. We talked for an hour and it turned out the kid had no plan B, which explained, in his case, his weirdly frenzied behavior: he was terrified of failing — funny thing how he was thereby engineering it — and simply had no idea what he would do if he did not get The Job He Wanted So Badly.
Journalism is a sad little game of musical chairs. There are never enough. I’ve watched fantastic jobs, jobs I’m well qualified for and have salivated over for years, go to other people time and time and time again. You can marinate in the stew of your bitterness — or suck it up and move on.
I told Disruptive Boy this and urged him to come up with a Plan B, preferably through the letter K or S.
In this terrible recession, millions of us have been sliced away from jobs and careers we loved and skills we thought we’d use forever.
I have a grab bag of skills, some formally learned, some self-taught, from excellent photography to fluent French, decent Spanish to the ability to design a physical space. I’m still writing for now, but the money, certainly within journalism and much of book publishing, is low and getting worse every year. Will I ever even get another “real” job? Who knows. But it doesn’t scare me that badly because I’ve always had Plans B-Z.
I saw an ad in today’s New York Post that intrigued me, seeking salespeople to sell Harley Davidson, Chrysler and Ford vehicles to American military personnel overseas — in Japan, Korea and Guam. They’ll train. What an adventure. Even it turned out to be horrible, seems like a lot more fun than the ad in the same paper for a “casting call” to work for Burger King.
Over the next few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Millennials will graduate from institutions of higher learning. They will celebrate for several days, perhaps several weeks. Then they will enter a labor force that neither wants nor needs them. They will enter an economy where roughly 17% of people aged 20 through 24 do not have a job, and where two million college graduates are unemployed. They will enter a world where they will compete tooth and nail for jobs as waitresses, pizza delivery men, file clerks, bouncers, trainee busboys, assistant baristas, interns at bodegas.
They will console themselves with the thought that all this is but a speed bump on the road to success, that their inability to find work in a field that is even vaguely related to the discipline they trained in is only a fleeting setback.
What about you?
What’s your Plan B (or beyond)? Have you had to pull the parachute?
How did it turn out?