Archive for February, 2011

Resilience and Leadership: Bob Castrignano

Resilience and Leadership: Bob Castrignano

“If you’ve been given a fair amount, you owe something back.”

This was one of the first things Bob said to me over lunch as we discussed what motivated him to jump back into Wall Street after 9/11.

In the spring of 2001, Bob Castignano had retired from a very successful career at Goldman Sachs.  He was thinking he’d put out feelers to do some teaching.  “I thought I’d call Fr. Kelley at Fairfield (University) and use my battlefield MBA.  I thought I would teach international finance”

But, he said, “I never had the opportunity to have that conversation” with Fr. Kelley.  Shortly after 9/11, Bob got a call from a friend and colleague from his days at Goldman, Anthony Scaramucci.  Anthony told Bob about a firm called Sandler O’Neill and Partners (S.O.P.) that had been ravaged by the collapse of the South Tower.

Anthony knew Jimmy Dunne, Sandler ONeill’s only surviving Senior Managing Principal.  Anthony was feeling the sting of the loss of his close friend, Chris Quackenbush, who died on 9/11 and was also a Managing Principal at Sandler O’Neill.   He knew that Jimmy, who was also a close friend of Chris’, needed help re-populating the firm that had lost most of its staff that terrible day.  “He (Anthony) called me and asked if I’d like to volunteer.”  It was not what Bob had been planning for his life.

Hoping to be of help at a critical time, Bob had dinner with Jimmy.  It was the first time they had ever met.  Bob got the harrowing overview of the situation from Jimmy.  He decided then to come on board as a volunteer to reconstruct the devastated Equities Division for S.O.P.   I asked him how did he go from being retired, to a volunteer at Sandler O’Neill and Partners to a Managing Principal for Equities?

“I think leaders…look at a situation you’re presented with and then say, ‘OK, can I make an impact here.’  Not a contribution, an impact.  There’s a big difference.  Somebody knows what to do and they do it.  I started thinking.  For whatever reason, I’ve been presented with the following data set.”

He then went on to describe a firm that had lost 66 people, 24 of them were the entire Equities Division.

“We had no building, no technology, no records, no accounts…”  He asked himself, “Do you think you can make an impact?   I thought this is something I need to do.  I thought I could make an impact.  So, I said ‘yes.'”

What was striking in Bob’s speech was how clear thinking and resolute he was.  There was no dwelling on emotional distractions that would sway him from a course of having the greatest possible impact for the greatest number of people.

I’ve written about how survival emotions like fear and anger have debilitating effects on our judgment.  They can then either paralyze our will, as when we are in a Weakened Identity,  or misdirect it toward divisive and conflictual styles of relating to others, as when we are in a Rigid Identity.   Understanding how crisis affects our judgment, will and our ability to work with others is critical if we want our best resilient potential to flourish.  This understanding is especially critical for a leader.

Cultivating the skill to quiet our instinctual survival emotions of anger and fear and the bias they create is key to sound judgment and applying our will in a productive way.   We can then direct our judgment and will with resolution to focus on serving the greatest good.  At Sandler O’Neill and in our conversation, Bob perfectly demonstrated these abilities.

I asked him what was going on in his gut during that time.  There was no building, no records, no staff support, no technical infrastructure, not even a list of clients!  How did he deal with the emotion of it all?  Wasn’t it all overwhelming?

The Resolve of David in the Moment Before He Confronts Goliath

“I think the feeling was one of resolve that it wasn’t going to be a sprint.  It was going to be a marathon.  I knew what to do.  Where to look for friends on the street to recruit help…   The idea that I would be overwhelmed honestly never reached my conscious mind.  Never there.  I never doubted it would work.”

This capacity to keep one’s eye on the goal without being diverted by instinctual survival emotions sets leaders like Bob apart from the crowd. Some, like Bob, by  temperament as well as by disciplined practice, have a handle on the emotions that could overwhelm their thinking.  As a result, their will is more focused.  They have a sense of moral resolve to accomplish their goal.

As we work together in a family, a school, community or business. we have a notion of who our community is.  Our judgment is used for the service of a community.  Our will is directed to fulfill the needs of that community.

But, this is not enough to be an ethical leader. What community will we serve?  A community of one?  Will we be interested only in our own ethnic, racial or religious group?

After all, Hitler had a focused resolve.  He certainly did not have a handle on his anger, to put it mildly.  As a result and most importantly, the community he was resolved to serve was very rigid and exclusive.  Everyone outside of that group was expendable.  This is how the Rigid Identity warps our ethical reasoning.  It creates a highly emotionally charged “us” versus “them” mentality that leads to conflict.

Hitler’s actions are rightly regarded as evil as a result of the exclusive rigid community he chose to serve.  This is where we must be careful of the affects of trauma and loss on our lives.  If we do not manage our grief and the resultant fear and anger well, we are prone to falling into the ethical distortions of a Weakened or Rigid Identity and the conflictual relationships that follow.

Loss can lead to three kinds of identity structures that either dilute our sense of belonging (the Weakened Identity), make our identification rigid and exclusive (the Rigid Identity) or we can make a choice to see the humanity we all share and the suffering that is a part of the human condition.  This links us in compassion to others (the Compassionate Identity).

As it was with his clear judgment and focused resolve, Bob never questioned that he was doing this work for others.  It went without saying.  The goal was the welfare of others.  In his quiet way, Bob operates from a Compassionate Identity.  Clarity in these three areas: judgment, will and an inclusive transcendent goal are essential for an ethical leader.

There is an important lesson here about resilience, personal fulfillment and leadership that we will explore more in later posts and the upcoming book.

Bob Castrignano

Bob went on to focus on the qualities of the group at Sandler O’Neill,  “It was a really really resolute group.  There was no doubt!…  People were just coming in really intent on what was going to be done.  There was an incredible level of concentration and attention to detail.”

“You had to compartmentalize your feelings so that there was a task at hand…. Very mundane stuff.  Interview the right people, find the account list.  The people who would join had to have a sense from you that this was going to work.  They had to believe they are betting on the right team.  I wanted to be overly protective of the fact that if there is any doubt in your mind don’t do this because there is no doubt in my mind…  People will respond positively to you if you engender somebody that’s worth following.”

This same clarity of judgment, resolute focus and commitment to the larger community were also present in Jimmy Dunne and others at Sandler O’Neill.  Otherwise, it is hard to imagine how the crippled firm could have survived.

After such a devastating loss it is important to keep in mind that while natural grief is a healthy thing, one has to keep an eye on the extremes of certain emotions that can persist after a loss.  This is especially an important goal when unskillful emotional habits are distorting one’s judgment or crippling one’s will power.  Devastating losses like those sustained on 9/11 stir up just the survival emotions that can lead to these negative effects.

It is at those times when, instead of dwelling on strong survival feelings like fear and anger, it is important to find a larger goal that serves to energize healthier emotions  and focus our resolve.  Feelings like compassion, empathy and grief that link us to others need to be allowed a wide and open field of play.  Survival emotions that pit us against others like fear and anger constrain our judgment and distort our will when we need them most.

Bob got this instinctually.  So did Jimmy Dunne who talked in a previous post about “small” emotions like anger and vindictiveness that bring out the worst in people and stir conflict.  Yet, he grieved openly and honestly about the loss of his friends.  In times of crisis, certain emotions are helpful to bind us to others in a moral resolve to do great things.  Other emotions sap the strength of our resolve, distort our judgment and fan the flames of conflict.

For Bob, it was all about working toward a worthy goal and bringing his experience and talents to bear in order to have a wide impact.  It wasn’t about his personal needs.  He avoided all of the traps that unchecked instinctual emotions set.

“Look, it’s only one business but it is a paradigm.   An example of what people can do when you put a business goal or a focus on an end game than on what it specifically means to you. That’s the answer.”

I had the chance to speak with several people about Bob.  To a person they mentioned his always being there for others.  Unasked, they would talk about his generosity of spirit.  Many on Wall Street give lip service to providing service to customers when their real interest is in the advantage they can gain over intermediaries in leveraged deals.  Everyone said Bob was different.  He demonstrated time and again thoughout his career, and often times to his detriment, that he really was more concerned about serving others.

Anthony Scaramucci was emphatic on this point.  He wanted to be sure this aspect of Bob’s character and leadership did not go unnoticed and even scheduled a meeting in his office with me to be sure I got it.  Bob is called  “the Coach” by a generation on Wall Street whom he helped get started.  To them, he is nearly venerated.  Anthony mentions him at length in his courageous look at Wall Street, Goodbye Gordon Gekko.

In the long run, it’s about how big your circle of inclusion is.  Who is in, and who is out?  Our suffering and loss have a way of making that circle small and rigid.  It is our job in life to resist this pull.  Our happiness ultimately depends on living life for the greatest good, the Compassionate Identity.  This identity keeps our judgment sound, our will resolute and our relations healthy.

We can teach these skills to kids.  They can refine their judgment and not allow it to be distorted by fear and anger.  They can strengthen their will to aspire to noble ends that serve the widest possible circle.  In fact, we need to get busy helping the next generation acquire these skills.

The world is getting more complex and perilous.  The next generation has to know how to manage this peril without falling prey to fear and anger and the distortions of judgment, will and connection to humanity they engender.  This is what the Unity Project’s initiative ReachUP! USA is all about.  It is a way to develop these skills in a new generation of leaders using service to others through a national movement of youth empowerment.

Fountain Dedicated to St. Joseph in Vatican City

When I think about Bob Castignano, I think of  the metaphor of a fountain.   When the pipes are clean, the water can flow through them.  The perpetual giving allows the water to return, to recirculate.  If you are not thinking about yourself, if fear and anger are quelled and you focus your will on the larger goal, the best can flow from you.  Opportunity, connection to others and prosperity come back to you.  You can have the greatest possible impact.

In one of the greatest mysteries of life, we say most loudly who we are when we are most focused on something greater than ourselves.

In an interesting twist where the metaphorical and literal meet, I learned that Bob has recently  been quietly involved in providing the means to construct a fountain in Vatican City in honor of St. Joseph.   How fitting.

Related Posts:

ReachUP! USA for the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.

Resilience and Leadership: Jimmy Dunne.

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ReachUP! 2021 for the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

ReachUP! 2021 for the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

WHAT: In anticipation of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, young people across the country will demonstrate through service to others that they want  to live in a world of compassion and cooperation where the best of each person is brought out.  They are seizing the initiative to create the world they want to live in.  They want no part of the fear and extremism that have defined the last ten years.   Instead, they are acting to make real a vision of a united and compassionate world in 2021.

In the process, a new generation of leaders will be strengthened to learn self-reliance, personal responsibility and develop the resolve to make a positive impact in the global community.

Through the service they perform, and the Unity Project’s Transformation Exercises, they will be learning valuable lessons about their hidden strengths.  They will learn how to identify needs in their community.  Together, these will ignite a vision of what they are capable of and provide the motivation to finish school and pursue a career or trade.  They will forge friendships and working partnerships with their peers all over the world to knit a fabric of peace and stability out of the broken cords of despair and conflict they see around them.

They did not create the climate of fear and extremism they are growing up in.  They don’t want these negative themes to govern their lives.  They have a say in what they will do about it.   They want the next decade to be about compassion and cooperation, not fear and extremism.  Working together toward that vision of 2021, in thousands of places around the world, act by act, they are building that world.  This Unity Project initiative is called, “ReachUP! 2021.”

WHY: The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is an opportunity for this generation of young people to say that the lesson of 9/11 is not that we should fear each other or label each other as enemies.  We recognize that we have another choice.  We choose compassion and cooperation instead of fear and anger.  We want this choice to be demonstrated in countless acts of cooperative service throughout the country.

In this way, as media attention turns to the anniversary, we will be ready with dynamic positive examples of the future we are building now.   Young people will be role models for a positive future and set the tone for the national dialogue for the next decade.

HOW: The Unity Project will provide its service based resilience building training and programming to any community-based organization that wants to participate in ReachUP! USA.  These services will raise the caliber of skills of our partners so they can better help the kids they serve.

The Unity Project methods empower kids to identify and fix problems that affect their lives.   Since these problems are things the kids feel strongly about, they are committed to finding a solution and seeing it through.

At the same time, they elevate the culture of their schools and communities and learn problem solving and group cooperation skills guided by the highly innovative and effective Unity Project Transformation Process.  Kids develop a vision for their future, a sense of hope in a stronger community and the skills they need to have the confidence to move their lives forward in a positive way.  The more kids develop these core strengths, the less pull they feel to dysfunctional behaviors that cripple a young person’s growth.

We intend to highlight in the media specific youth projects across the country from now until the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  In this way, we intend to uplift the tone of the discussion in the country about the meaning of the anniversary and where we are going as a nation in the next decade.

WHEN: Trainings for participating community-based organizations in New York City began in November, 2010 and are continuing nationally since then.  Youth service activities were launched after January 1, 2011 and will continue through 9-11-2011.  There will be culminating events around the anniversary of 9/11.

After 9/11, the work will continue into the next phase of youth capacity building as project “2021” to raise the culture in schools and communities, improve high-school graduation rates and college matriculation as well as prepare graduates for the workforce.

WHO: The Unity Project (a 501(c)3 corporation) will host these activities.  Any community-based organization, school or after-school program across the country is eligible to participate.  The Department of Youth and Community Development of the City of New York and some of its contractees are among the first participants in this effort.

“Like” us on Facebook:  “Reach UP! 2021”

CONTACT: at (203) 241-5525.

DONATE: By PayPal at

Please make checks payable to: “The Unity Project” sent to:

4 Still Hill Rd.

Sandy Hook, CT  06470

Related Posts:

Service as the Beginning, Middle and End of Self-Discovery and Learning.

Mobilizing the Dignity of a 16 Year Old.

Fantastic Coffee and My Shocking Experience with Islam.

Fantastic Coffee and My Shocking Experience with Islam.

Opatija, Croatia.

This morning, I was treated to a good cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts.   Good coffee always reminds me of my friend.  We called him “Effendi.” He and I used to drink endless cups of amazingly good coffee together, the best I have ever had, when I lived in Opatija, Croatia.

It makes sense.  Due to its location at the northern end of the Adriatic, at one time or another, Opatija (pronouced o-pot-i-ya) has been ruled by Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.  Blend these with the local Slavic influence and you’ve got way more than your typical cup of joe.

While I lived there, it was less than an hour drive to Trieste, Italy (most of that going through 2 border crossings)  and right around two hours to Venice.  The architecture in Opatija shows the blend of these great cultures.  So does the food, and especially the fantastic coffee.  I have never had a macchiato (here’s a recipe) anything  like those I had in Opatija.

The Balkans is one of the world’s great melting pots of culture. Slavic culture’s western-most reach ends here in Serbia.  Austro-Hungarian culture dips into Croatia.  Ottoman influence is still alive in Bosnia.

Over the centuries, the human exchange between these three major cultures has led to both a flourishing social climate, and on occasion, tragically explosive and lethal politics.

Click on the map a few times to see Opatija is under the “j” in Rijeka on the right.

For the year I lived there, I ran a refugee relief program funded by USAID.  The war in the Balkans had just ended after the worst part of the Rigid Identities of the politicians of the area played up fear and extremism between these rich cultures instead of building on the amazing strengths they offer each other.  If you’re old enough, you surely remember the genocidal results that followed in the horrific war that raged in the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s near the heart of central Europe.

My main work was to develop trauma response programs to help Croatians who had been forced from their homes to find a way back home.  I had the even more difficult task of helping the far larger number of Bosnians return to their homes across the border.  (Here’s a map of the region.)

Work for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, pictured here at the Hague, and USAID led to my doing this refugee work.

These were people forced from their homes at gun-point.  Women, children and men alike were all raped and brutalized, the men often killed  in the process to try to break the spirits of the population so that they would never want to return.  These cruel methods went along with a brutal military offensive to drive Bosnian Muslims and Croatians from their homes so that ethnic Serbs could claim land they felt was theirs.  The result was a horrific genocide.

In our meetings, Effendi and I would drink endless cups of coffee together.  It only dawned on me months after I arrived that the reason I never seemed to get any sleep was because business in the region is conducted over  coffee.  When I went to someone’s office, coffee was served, many cups.  Or, as is the custom, we would meet in cafes to do business and drink more.  By the end of the typical day, I would have had 12-15 cups of coffee.  I usually can’t sleep after 2.

So, Effendi, who was the recognized leader of the Bosnian Muslim refugee community, and I would meet often to try to figure out how to help the tens of thousands of people forced from their homes  to return to Bosnia.  We usually met over coffee and chivapchichi (here’s the recipe).

“Chivap” or chivapchichi is the Balkan version of hamburger.

I loved this man, but the endless, (and delicious) coffee and “chivap” were killing me.

Effendi and I puzzled over how to send people back to homes they had been forced from at gun-point.  One day, while we met at the refugee community center, a ramshackle building the refugees rented, I put the question to Effendi.  “How do we send people home without rekindling conflict all over again?  Some will want to seek revenge.  How do we prevent the people in the houses from getting violent?  What can we do to make a difference?”

“Are you free Saturday morning?”  Effendi asked.


“Then, come here at 7:00 for the children’s class.  I want to show you something.”

A few days later, I arrived bright and early with Neli, my translator, to see what Effendi had in store for me.  We climbed the stairs of the old building to the large public room that held about 200 kids.  They were all threadbare having lost everything in the war, but immaculate and well pressed.  They were sitting on the floor in neat rows facing Effendi who was already well into that week’s lesson to help prepare the children to return to their homes in Bosnia.

I was greeted with great respect and formality by the kids.  Neli and I took our places.  Effendi continued,

“Children, what is the first obligation of a Muslim when we return to our homes in Bosnia?”

In unison 200 strong, the children replied, “The first obligation of a Muslim, when we return to our homes in Bosnia, is to forgive the people living in our houses.”

“Children, what is the second obligation of a Muslim when we return to our homes in Bosnia?”

“The second obligation of a Muslim, when we return to our homes in Bosnia, is to ask the people living in our houses if we can help them.”

Shocked, and knowing full well what these kids had been through, I asked Neli to confirm what we had just heard.  “Yes, that’s what he said.”

So, it was possible to return to Bosnia without violence.  Effendi knew it could work.  It wouldn’t be accomplished by a top-down administrative plan.  This was the way.  It would be done by many people making a very personal choice.

In fact, there has been no violence to speak of in Bosnia since the war ended.

Here is an example of the best of Islam and the power it can exert for peace. We need to reinforce these examples in a time of religious extremism of every sort. We are all prey to the worst in human nature. The best in every religion is capable of protecting us from the worst in us.

I think of Effendi, those kids and my choices every time I think I am entitled to be angry or hurt.   Or, when I have a good cup of coffee.

Related Posts:

The Compassionate Identity: The Prize and the Price.

Post-Partisan America: First Things First: The Choice We Make”

“Lessons from 9/11 for Tucson”

“A Compassionate Identity:  “What Sue Remembers”

Please share this with your friends on Facebook or your own blog.  I’d love to hear your comments below.

All Rights Reserved, John Woodall, MD, copyright, 2011.

Compassion, the Prize and the Price

Compassion, the Prize and the Price

With Martin Luther King Day upon us, this piece on his college room-mate’s study of his non-violent methods of social change will be something to uplift your spirits. Enjoy.

I really like Chuck Willie.  You would too.

Chuck and Martin before they became “Dr. Willie” and “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Chuck was Martin Luther King’s classmate at Morehouse College.  You know what became of Dr. King.  Dr. Willie has his own  illustrious record.

I met Chuck when he was the Chair of the Board of the Judge Baker Children’s Center at Harvard University.  I was on the faculty at Judge Baker at the time.  A more approachable man than Chuck is hard to imagine.  With his many remarkable achievements, his combination of humble affability and excellence in achievement make him a gem of a man whom I highly value and simply love to talk to.

Chuck participated in the interfaculty working group I put together at Harvard after 9/11 on “Resilient Responses to Social Crisis.”  We were looking at what the absolute best responses might be to that horrible event and ones like it.  We were particularly interested in how to do this on a large scale.  That’s where Chuck has special insights.

One of his many areas of expertise is how to create effective grassroots social action.   Like Dr. King, this was the burning question before all Morehouse students of his generation and even now.  Chuck came to study the methods of his former classmate, Dr. King, and offered our group his insights.

It was after one of our working group meetings that Chuck came up to me to give me a synopsis of Dr. King’s methods.  He told me how the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 was a perfect example of how to mobilize a group of people to be their best. (Check out this tune by the Neville Brothers in honor of Rosa Parks.)

“Every Monday night, people from every part of Montgomery would come together at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. King was pastor.”  Chuck said.  “They would basically be involved in two actitivites.  On the one hand, they would listen to sermons and speeches about the “Beloved Community.”  They would talk among themselves, read the Bible, study from other sources, all of this to get a clear idea of what “The Prize” was they were after.”

“You see, they needed to have a crystal clear vision of what it was they were being asked to do.  In this case, it wasn’t only their own liberation from the oppression of Segregation and Jim Crow.  They wanted much more than that.  They were going to liberate their oppressors from the shackles of their prejudice and hatred.  In that way everyone could be free.  Their goal was the ‘Beloved Community.'”

“So, on the one hand, they needed to have this goal, this Prize, clearly fixed in their minds with all of its benefits and moral value.”

“On the other hand, in order to make a mature ethical choice, they had to understand in the depths of their souls what the cost would be, what “The Price” was to pay for that “Prize.”

Their families could be harrassed or harmed, crosses burned on their property, fire hoses turned on them, attack dogs set loose on them.  They could be beaten with clubs.  They could be killed.”

“They had to look these costs straight in the face and decide for themselves if that Prize was worth paying that Price.”

Rosa Parks

“Over the course of time, by going over the Prize and the Price in every possible way, turning their options over and over in their minds and weighing in their hearts what this all meant, every one of those people was able to make a deep personal commitment to that Prize and accept the Price they would pay to get it.  This allowed them to make a deeply personal ethical choice that rested at the core of their being.

After nearly 13 months of this, it was as though there were thousands of Dr. Kings.  If he had been killed then, that boycott still would have gone on and succeeded due to the deep clear-eyed personal commitment of all involved.”

Rosa Parks after her arrest.

To make the important decisions in our life, we need to get clear on the Prize we are after and the Price we pay for it. A lot of parenting, especially of a teenager, is all about this.  Of course, the Price is not only what we might have to sacrifice for our Prize, but also the price we pay for failing to choose.  Difficult times give us the motivation to look for the best of what we can be.

A Rigid or Weakened Identity prevent us from seeing the best of that Prize.  They dim our vision of the Prize and rob us of the confidence to choose.  Or worse, they tragically energize us to make mean spirited or “small” choices as Jimmy Dunne described in another post.

A Compassionate Identity opens up the horizon of possibilities for us.  We can begin to see the best of what we can be.  Our choice can then be better informed.  If from a Compasionate Identity, we lay out that Prize to someone who is in a difficult situation, we offer them a way to hope, a way to the best in themselves.  If we also lay out the Price that will have to be paid to reach that Prize, we give them the chance to make the best choice to make that hope real.  We fire their determination to achieve something higher.

This is the goal of the Unity Project, the ReachUP! USA initiative and this blog.

Related posts:

If you missed the first post on the Compassionate Identity, click here.

Susan Dunne and “What Sue Remembers

A wonderful story from the Balkans:  “Compassion, Fantastic Coffee and My Shock

All Rights Reserved, Copyright, John Woodall, MD, 2011

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