Pennies on Sully

Dad’s “Sage” Advice for Freshman Success at College – New & Improved

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I’m taking the remainder of the summer off from blogging. In the mean time, please enjoy this “throwback” post from the archives.

Pennies on Sully
Hey Freshman: Granger Smith says “Put a Penny On Sully”

There’s a whole new crop of new freshmen out there, so I thought I’d share the advice I gave to my son when he departed for college four years ago. I’ve adapted it a bit for a wider audience, but it’s basically the same. I’d be very interested in readers’ advice as well!

1. Stay Healthy: Mentally, Physically, Spiritually

  • You’ll get a mental workout at college, and remember that’s what you’re there to do. However, don’t forget to look for ways to learn new things outside the classroom–and make an effort to keep yourself mentally healthy by taking advantage of lecture series, plays, sporting events, etc.
  • Good physical health is crucial to good mental health. Work hard, but make time to exercise, get enough sleep, and eat properly. There won’t be enough gas in the tank for those occasional all-nighters if you don’t take care of the engine.
  • Stick with whatever spiritual practices you’ve grown up with, whether that’s regular worship at your local church/synagogue/mosque or just spending quiet time watching the sun come up. Many college students believe they’re on their own and they don’t have to tend to their spirit, but spiritual health is just as important as your mental and physical health. You’ll do a lot of growing in the next four years, and there will be considerable stress from school, relationships, and life in general so don’t add unnecessary stress to your life by removing the spiritual center you depend on (whether you know it or not!). Do work at an adult understanding of your faith and spirituality, but don’t abandon it. Bottom line here: if you’re using your religious practice as a means of rebellion against your parents or someone else–pick a different rebellion. You’ll only be harming yourself.

2. Make New Friends, Eat Your Lunch, and Drink Your Water.

  • This is the advice my son gave me every day as I left for work when we lived in San Antonio, and since it makes the same good sense for you that it for me did in 1994 I’m loaning it to you.
  • Don’t be a cave dweller.  It’s easy to remain locked away in your dorm room for four years making excellent grades and few friends…resist the urge. “To everything there is a season…” 
  • Make friends who aren’t like you. You don’t have to agree on everything or be the same in order to develop a friendship. Obviously, you should be true to your values and beliefs–never compromise those–but you can and should be friends with people who aren’t like you.
  • Try at least three new things your freshman year: join a club, go to a rally, see a play, go to a football game, take a road trip, enter a contest…don’t let the experience of college life be so big that it overwhelms you.  Challenge the experience to make you a better person.

3. Be Careful What You Choose, You May Get It

  • This warning isn’t a caution against taking chances; I encourage you to take (reasonable) risks.  What it does mean is starting with the end in mind, even visualizing it as a fait d’accompli, is an excellent way to discern if you really want something, or you’re merely dreaming; then make a plan to get there.

4. “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” (h/t RAF)

  • Success usually goes to the one who is prepared and has asked the question, “what can go wrong here?” Plan for and expect success, but don’t be crushed by failure.  The only real failure is quitting; never quit.

5. Guard Your Chastity

  • I know this sounds very old fashioned, but remember you’re there to get an education, not find a mate or a date. You may feel like you’re the last, or only, virgin on campus. Don’t believe the lie!  Do yourself and your future spouse a favor by remaining chaste.  If you do, you’ll then be free to give your spouse what you’ve saved only for her or him. Morals aside, respect the power of sex and leave it for later…there will be plenty of time.
  • If for some reason you are unsuccessful, or if you haven’t remained chaste before, see #1 above.

Learn from other people’s mistakes, you don’t have time to make them all yourself. – G. K. Chesterton

6. Sit In The Front Three Rows, Ask Questions, And See The Prof At Least Once In His Office

7. Have A Regular Schedule

  • The monastic religious orders and the military share a penchant for routine because it’s effective at training your mind to remember things, and to help develop habits of “life-balance” for your mind, spirit, and body.
  • You don’t have to be rigid about it, things come up, but having “reveille” and “taps”, “morning and evening prayer”, “workout time”, meals, and “study time” at regular intervals helps you stay balanced, fresh, and focused.  Also, practically speaking it’s also much easier to deviate from a plan than to attempt to form a new one from scratch at short notice.

8. Ask For Help When You Need It

  • Everybody needs help from time to time. Don’t be bashful about asking for help from Mom & Dad, from your priest, from friends, etc. Filter advice according to the source.
  • What you got you here won’t necessarily make you successful here. College isn’t the 13th grade…there are many more demands on you, and the University and others expect you to fully transition to independent adulthood while you’re here. At 18, you’re no longer a “kid”: you can vote, bear arms for your country, and legally make decisions on your own. You don’t have to do it all at once, so pace yourself.

9. Communicate

  • Keep your family in the loop with your victories and your struggles. As your parents and your family, we are excited to see you thriving on your own but we never stop being your mom and dad. We don’t want to run your life, but we want to continue to be a part of it. Call, Skype, email, text, tweet–whatever–but know you remain in our heart forever.

Why You Need a Coach

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I’m taking the remainder of the summer off from blogging. In the mean time, please enjoy this “throwback” post from the archives.

I need a coach. Anyone can trudge through a task or lesson on their own, but if I truly want to get better I’m in need of a coach. I’ve been an athlete all my life. I started soccer at age 6, baseball at age 8, and I lettered in both football and track in high school. Attending a senior military college and then entering the Air Force afterwards meant intramural sports, physical training and annual physical fitness tests from the age of 18 until my retirement from the service this past June. Of course, we lead active lives in our house as well: hiking, cycling, CrossFit, surfing. Well, you get the idea. I’m not a couch potato.

The reason for that self-absorbed preamble is to establish that at 52 years, I’m not a novice to physical fitness or the gym—and despite all that experience I STILL need a coach!

Successful People are Lifelong Learners

The man in the picture at left is one of my CrossFit coaches, Coach Andrew, of New Braunfels CrossFit. In my last job, my commute and work schedule combined to prevent me from going to a CrossFit “box” (gym), so I worked out on my own. Sure enough, working out with no coaching and no partner to provide some accountability meant I’ve developed many bad habits. That’s where Coach Andrew comes in. He’s there to correct, guide, and encourage—exactly what a coach should be. I can go out and work hard on my own, sweat, and stay in shape. If I want to improve, however, I need a coach.

As I discuss in my book, The Five Be’s, a key part of being healthy and successful is nourishing our minds—and that means being a lifelong learner. Learning requires a teacher, and putting thought into practice requires a coach. You can make a lot of progress watching YouTube videos and practicing on your own, but if you really want to improve then get a coach! One of the defining characteristics of successful people is being in “learning mode” their entire lives. President Bush (43) for example, was a voracious reader who consumed 95 books during his first year as president, and after he left office learned to paint!

What Makes a Great Coach

A great coach has three defining characteristics: (1) Technical Mastery, (2) Ability to Motivate, and (3) Patience. Technical Mastery is essential because a coach must have something to give; we expect our coaches to be experts. Technical Mastery is not enough, however, because the coach must be able to motivate the student and then patiently guide the improvement. There’s many people out there with one or two of these characteristics, great coaches possess all three!

When looking for a coach, whether it’s athletics, speaking, or executive leadership, look for someone whose an expert who can walk with you as you learn. Just as I need a coach to break my bad CrossFit habits, we all need people in our lives who can hold us accountable and make us better. A good coach imparts knowledge, a great coach inspires you to be better.

Be Balanced

To Be Balanced, you must nourish your minds and be a lifelong learner. Desire and hard work will only get you so far, to really improve you’ll need a coach.

Be sure to check out The Five Be’s, available in a few weeks in paperback and hardback!

 


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

 

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Swing Easy

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I’m taking the remainder of the summer off from blogging. In the mean time, please enjoy this “throwback” post from the archives.

I’ve always been a below average golfer. I play just well enough to (mostly) enjoy the game and just poorly enough to avoid telling anyone my score. It’s my swing: I’ve got a terrible slice because, among other things, I have a hard time not gripping the club too tightly. When I can relax and “swing easy” to let the gravity accelerate the club head and properly rotate my wrists, I can hit the ball long and straight. When I “strangle the club” by gripping too tightly, my shot is a slice (or worse).

Like all good sports truisms, “don’t strangle the club” is a great metaphor for leaders.

You Don’t Have to Control Everything

The transition from “first line” leader to “executive” is difficult, and many leaders never make the transition.  I’ve been around many organizations where leaders had to transition from “startup mode” where the leader does everything, to “leading leaders” mode where authority and responsibility get pushed out to other team members. That transition is hard because when one goes from leading a small team to a large one, the leader at the top’s role changes. Some don’t recognize the need for that change, and they can’t stop “strangling the club” by holding onto decisions others should make, or being involved in everything.

Just like holding onto the club too tightly sends the ball careening off the course wildly, so will a leader who is holding on too tightly divert the team from their mission. The more senior the leader, the less one has to be in control over everything. Mid-level and senior leaders should always remember they’re leading other leaders and need to allow those people the chance to do their jobs. Constantly badgering them for information, demanding to be involved in every decision, or requiring them to create reports to “keep me informed” is a recipe for the organization to depart the fairway.

Learn to Coach not Direct

The more senior you get, the more you need to lead with a coaching style. Crisis situations often demand directive leadership, but let’s face it, those situations are few and far between.  A coach’s job is to prepare the team and offer corrections when the team is foundering. The coach doesn’t play the game for the team, and a coach never enters the field of play.

My golf coach spent time with me on the driving range, gently correcting my grip, my stance, and my swing. He’d ask questions and watch me swing to diagnose my problems. But he never swings for me.

The same is true for leaders. Every leader above the first line level, and especially executive leaders, must learn to be a coach. Sometimes that coach can be directive and sometimes that coach can be inspirational, but the coach can never take over unless the circumstances are dire. When leaders step in and push subordinate leaders aside, it not only kills motivation, but it puts doubt into the team. There are times when senior leaders must step in and “rescue” a team whose leader is failing, but a good coach rarely allows the team to get into that much of a fix in the first place. That’s the beauty of a leader who’s coaching rather than directing: they can see trouble brewing long before it happens and avoid disaster.

Be a coach and help your team to swing easy if you want to be successful.

______________________________________________________________________________

Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

Leaders Lead with Shared Purpose

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Why don’t my employees respond to my leadership? Why don’t their values align with the organization’s values? How do I get my organization to perform at the level I know they’re capable?

            Those are questions asked often by leaders in every industry and field. Everyone has walked into an office or production floor where morale was low and productivity was lower. Places where pretty, motivational posters on the wall are a source of quiet ridicule rather than inspiration. Places where everyone wears the company logo, but no one embodies the company values. In organizations like that, the most dangerous place is being between the employees and the door at the end of the day.

            Powerless managers blame the employees, the generational differences, the economy, or a host of popular excuses, when the real problem is likely the leader himself. The truth is that external visuals and artifacts inspire people only when leaders inspire people. Only leaders who understand the relationship between them and their team, and then step up and lead, will ever be able to produce high performance in their organizations.

Leadership is the Foundation of Performance

            There’s an old adage that to build something that lasts, you must start with a solid foundation. I believe the foundation of any excellent organization is an excellent leader or leadership team. Leaders rarely lead teams where they’re the only leaders on the team. A football team has an offensive and defensive captain. Military units and large organizations are often organized into hierarchies with leaders at each level. Even small teams have leaders for various parts of the job: this one is in charge of assembly, or that one is in charge of transportation, and so on. I have been lucky to be given leadership opportunities at an early age. Even from those earliest leadership opportunities, I was leading others who had leadership roles of their own beside me and subordinate to me. In Scouts, there was a hierarchy and defined roles among the boys in my patrol. On sports teams and in business there were other team captains and assistant managers. In the military, there have been peer leaders and as I got promoted, subordinate commanders. Leading those people is what leadership is about.

            Even though I’ve developed my leadership principles primarily in military and sports environments, I can assure you that Leading Leaders principles are universal and can be applied to industry, non-profit, and government. Why? Because good leadership is fundamentally about human interaction, inspiring people to get a job done or overcome obstacles: from combat to craft fairs. Leadership is not a formula or process. There is no product to buy, shirt to wear, or pill to take that can substitute for good leadership, and good leadership requires strength of character from the leader.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Who Do You Want to Be?

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As we raise young people into adulthood, we put a great deal of effort into setting boundaries. In fact, most of what young people hear as they grow is a list of “don’ts.”  When we’re very young, we hear “Don’t throw food on the floor,” “Don’t speak disrespectfully to your elders,” and “Don’t take toys away from your friends.” As we grow, the “don’ts” begin to pile up: don’t play in the street, don’t forget your manners, and don’t use bad language. Even in adulthood, we are inundated with “don’ts” regarding our behavior: don’t say those words, don’t wear those clothes, don’t eat this, and don’t touch that.

All these “don’ts” form the boundaries of acceptable behavior. When reasonably imposed, boundaries are a necessary part of establishing what’s appropriate and acceptable. Manners, after all, are intended to make everyone comfortable, so that each person’s dignity and feelings are safeguarded. All human groupings develop norms for behavior that each group member is expected to adhere to. They vary in complexity and formality, but norms, boundaries, or “don’ts” are common. Of course, we can overdo boundary setting. When there are too many boundaries, then it becomes tyranny. In general, however, boundaries and standards of behavior (“manners”) are necessary to the function of any human society.

What’s generally left unsaid when establishing our group norms is a target to focus on. It’s not sufficient to merely describe the outside boundaries of the target; you also must show people what the bulls-eye looks like. That’s what the Five Be’s book is all about.

Humans Need a Vision of Who They Want to Be

People can function in a world of “do’s” and “don’ts,” but knowing what to do and what not to do only describes external behavior. What people, particularly young people, really need is a vision of who they should want to be. With that vision, people are then empowered to reach for something rather than merely avoiding something.

The Pitch Black Room Analogy

To illustrate that point, imagine the following situation:

You’re in a pitch-black room with the task of finding a door somewhere in the room. What would you do? Most people would find the walls first, feeling their way slowly around the walls until they found the door, then opening the door to exit. But what if the exit was really a trap door set in the floor? Or a staircase in the center of the room? What if the walls gave way with the slightest pressure leaving you groping in the dark? Simply being told there is a door in the room isn’t enough information to find the door. There’s even less of a chance if the walls are unstable.

Giving a person a vision of who we want them to be is like turning on an exit light in that imaginary room. The light will dimly illuminate the way, and give them a direction to walk toward. It could even be bright enough to illuminate the entire room.

What this thought experiment illustrates, is the need for both boundaries and a target: standards of behavior and a positive vision of who we should want to be.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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See, Now You’re Just Making Stuff Up

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This week’s post is what I wrote for my newsletter last week. If you haven’t signed up, you’re missing out on new content every week, a “pick of the week” (usually a new podcast episode I think is worth your time), and a video of the week. You can sign up here.

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

In the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris Bueller fakes being sick to get out of going to school. By the second period, there are “Save Ferris” fundraisers and harrowing stories of Ferris passing out “at the 31 Flavors last night.” All of it caused by people passing on something they’d heard and embellishing a bit. The funny thing was, none of it was true!

Modern social media and even political discourse are not very different.

There once was a time when the British press characterized the late summer as the “Silly Season.”  Fleet Street would run frivolous stories and people out on the last few weeks of summer holiday would seem to want to cram in all the, well, silliness, they could before the end of summer. August, in particular, seems to be especially prone to nuttiness, from the ridiculous to the dangerous. After two Augusts in a row when the international order reeled from the invasion of Kuwait followed the next year with the coup in the Soviet Union, Pres George H. W. Bush even remarked, What is it about August?  

Nowadays, it seems the silly season is not merely confined to August. Between perpetual political campaigns, a Twitter-fueled 24-second news cycle, and effectively unlimited information at our fingertips all the time, every day is now the “Silly Season.” Spend 24 seconds on television or any social media platform if you don’t believe me. This makes it paramount to take our responsibility to both hold our tongues and keyboards, as well as get the actual facts about the social “tornado” de jour. The other day I was on Facebook when I ran across a discussion between two friends about an issue I feel very strongly about. Not only did they espouse the opposite view from my own, but they supported their argument with things are were false on their face at best, and calumny at worst. I was tempted to write something brilliant and snarky, but took a deep breath and changed my mind. After the wave of indignation passed, I logged off Facebook and haven’t been back to that conversation since.

It’s Not You, It’s Your Poor Research

You see, what made me sad was less that my friends held an opposing view – I don’t require my friends to agree with me on anything – but that their “defense” of their position was based on sound bites and talking points. They hadn’t even bothered to attempt to understand their opponents’ position. That makes me very sad. We don’t have to agree, but we ought to at least avoid having conversations that mirror the snark on cable news shows and Twitter. We can do better. We need to use our Information Superhighway for good, not for evil. Always check the links out before posting, and always, always, always go to the source. Hearsay is dangerous. Most importantly, never start with the idea that your ideological opposite is evil. Begin with the idea they’re working in good faith but they’re merely misinformed and be prepared to walk away rather than win an argument at the cost of a relationship. Believe me, you may make your point, but if you break a family or friend to do it, it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

Even Genghis Khan famously left his enemies an avenue of escape – surely we can do the same in our discussions. Andy Taylor had the same idea. As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Integrity Must be our Watchword

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We codify integrity in our organizational values. When we do that, we define what integrity looks like for ourselves and our professional community. Almost every profession has a professional code of ethics, and many firms as well.

Honor Codes

As professionals, we codify integrity in our organizational values. When we do that, we define what integrity looks like for ourselves and our professional community. If you’re an engineer, or a lawyer, or a physician, you have a professional code of ethics. “First, do no harm,” the words of the Hippocratic oath, are the words of the very first codified code of ethics. The National Society of Professional Engineers has a system of ethics, as well. Paraphrasing, it’s: “Serve the public good, to maximize safety, work economically.”

Codes of honor are meant to tell us what the institution values, how the institution defines integrity.The Texas Aggie Code Of Honor is “An Aggie will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” West Point and the Air Force Academy’s codes of honor are very similar. The idea of a codified system of ethics is not confined to the military. Other academic institutions also have honor codes. Princeton, Yale, Virginia Tech, and hundreds of others have honor codes or ethics that are written down for the benefit of both “inside” and “outside” the group.

Clean the Mildew Immediately

What do you do as a leader with a breach in integrity? You have to address it immediately. It’s like mildew, the whole place is going to stink if you don’t address it quickly. Pretty soon a breach of integrity will stink up the place, and believe me, if you think nobody notices, they do.

How does it do that? It’s a breach of trust. If I can’t trust my teammate not to eat my lunch out of the refrigerator, then how can I trust him to have my back when it comes to going into an important meeting, or helping me prepare for a project, or going into combat alongside of him?

Integrity has got to be something that we live and demand of each other, and especially as leaders, you have to set the example. You have to be the model of integrity. I know as we get more senior in rank, both in the military and civilian side, we learn this, and the sooner you learn that you’re always “on parade,” and the more senior you are the more visible you are. Believe me, if you think no one sees you when you “cheat” – you’re mistaken. A “double life” where you’re trying to hide something from your colleagues, your boss, your spouse – whoever – always leads to run. Whatever “it” is, it will come out. Truly, each time I’ve seen anybody suffer a fall from grace, it’s been from a from a breach of integrity, either personal or professional. Their “double life” was met with sunlight with disastrous consequences.

Returning to Reagan

Lastly, remember just like President Reagan said, your integrity is built on the small choices you make each day. Be the same person on Monday morning that you were on Sunday morning.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Cooperate and Graduate

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Cooperation between competitors serves everyone well, since there is usually more than enough business to go around. By adopting a “cooperate and graduate” style, even competitors can become partners. Clearly, there are practical and legal limits to cooperation between industry competitors, but having limits doesn’t imply there should be no cooperation at all.

Take the case of the then-US Air Force’s newest air superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor. Boeing and Lockheed-Martin teamed to develop and then manufacture the advanced aircraft rather than compete amongst themselves. A second team, Northrop-Grumman and McDonnell-Douglass, also teamed up to compete for the contract. Both teams partnered for several reasons, among them that it spread the risk out among many business units, and a team approach also ensured that components could be manufactured and assembled in as many Congressional districts as possible to shore up support on Capitol Hill. A more cutthroat approach would’ve been for a single company to make the pitch to the Air Force, and if they won the contract, they’d have eliminated perhaps several major competitors from the market. However, both teams knew the Air Force was concerned with maintaining the aviation industrial base, and developing new technology is also fraught with risks, so both companies elected to “cooperate and graduate” on the F-22 project so they could minimize their risk and maximize the chance of getting the contract. Now, the Air Force got their fighters, had some confidence that the industry will stay healthy, and both companies in the winning team live to fly another day. Together, the teams of Lockheed-Martin and Boeing were more successful than either would’ve been on their own.

Making it Happen

What’s more, while a multi-billion dollar contract certainly had the top executives involved in setting the agenda, think of the cooperation and teamwork required at the first line supervisor level at both companies. Engineers and program managers had to make hundreds of decisions per day about what information to share and how to achieve their company’s leaders’ vision while not compromising future projects. Lockheed-Martin and Boeing were allies in the F-22 project, but they were still competing in the same market for other contracts. That kind of teamwork at the lowest levels requires both a commitment to supporting the first line leaders (and “foot soldiers”) by headquarters and first line leaders’ commitment to protecting their own company’s interests at the same time. That kind of “tight rope” only works if first-line leaders are given clear guidance and entrusted with the responsibility to get the job done by their leaders. People have to be able to make decisions and not “wait for guidance.” The more complex the situation, the more important first-line leaders are to the success of an enterprise.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

Never miss a post! Subscribe to get the posts delivered to your inbox.

First Line Leaders Get it Done

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders
U.S. Air Force Photo, 2BW/PA

It does no good for the commander to sell a grandiose vision if the sergeants and team leaders aren’t buying. Furthermore, if the first line and mid-level leaders are undermining the commander’s vision, then the ensuing lack of respect for the institution begins to break down the team just as surely as if the leader had a personal breach of integrity. It falls on those same first-line supervisors to implement the commander’s vision and to do it in such a way as to communicate the enthusiasm the commander himself has for the endeavor. The difference between a mediocre organization and an excellent organization is often these first line leaders’ commitment to the company vision. That commitment is measured in how that first line leader can translate the task he or she’s been given with sufficient enthusiasm to get the employees motivated to excellence.

That’s why the military spends so much effort to develop their first line leaders. We depend on sergeants to give the orders that get their soldiers moving. They must understand the commander’s objective so well that they can make it simple for their small group and then improvise on the fly if necessary.

Business is No Different

The same is true in business. The team leaders and assistant managers must understand the boss’ agenda and then sell that to the employees as if it were their own idea. It is counter-productive for the assistant manager to stand up at the beginning of a shift and announce in monotone that “corporate has decided that we’ll….” Employees have already stopped listening. What that assistant manager has to do is tell his team the “what and why” and motivate them to achieve both for their own fulfillment and to achieve the company’s goals.

It’s also incumbent upon leaders at all levels not to merely “sell” the company line but to understand as best as possible the reason their boss came to the decision they did. This is a very important point. First line leaders have the most responsibility to motivate and train the people who actually do the company’s work. “Because I said so” has a finite lifespan and becomes very tiresome when used too often. The company leadership should arm first line leaders with the “why” so they can tell their teams. Employee morale and effectiveness starts at the team leader level; employees who rarely or never learn the “why” will soon believe they are unappreciated. Once the downward spiral of morale begins, it’s difficult for even the most talented leaders to rescue it. Executives owe it to their company leaders to ensure that they not only understand the task but also understand the why. Not every first line leader will agree with decisions made above them, but if she is to pass on the company’s direction successfully, she’ll need to understand why senior leaders made the decision in the first place.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Respect for the Institution and Finding Earth

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

When I write about “respect” there’s an element of the concept that often gets overlooked, and that’s respect for the institution. If you can’t respect the institution, then get another institution. Life is way, way too short to either be stuck someplace that you can’t respect or to be an anchor on the organization or the institution because you’re in the back grousing. You’re not doing yourself or anybody else any good if you’re sticking around like a square peg in a round hole.

We see this kind of disrespect for the institution a lot in organizations that are transforming. Transformation is very difficult for some people, and the turmoil that accompanies transformation generates significant emotion. This is not to say that all change is good, or that everyone should simply smile and accept change without question. Sometimes changes are not good changes. Sometimes change is necessary.  It’s good to fight for change, it’s good to put forward your ideas, even if you’re going against the grain, but at some point we all have to go “Find Earth.” The phrase, “Find Earth” is an idea I borrowed from from my favorite sci-fi TV show, Battlestar Galactica. While I loved the 1978 edition, I’m particularly fond of the 2005 version.

Commander Adama and the School Teacher

If you don’t know the story, Battlestar Galactica is a takes place hundreds of thousands of years in the past. The human race is wiped out by the Cylons, and a small remnant of survivors set off across the stars in a convoy of spaceships led by the sole surviving warship (the Battlestar Galactica) to go find the mythical planet of Earth as their new home. In the pilot, the surviving Secretary of Education now-President of the Colonies Laura Roslin (Mary McDowell) looks at Commander Adama (Edward Olmos), the Galactica’s commander, and asks him what are his intentions. It is a “reality check” discussion for her, but he can’t see it yet. Commander Adama is determined to get back into the fight. He’s at war and most if not all of his comrades and friends are likely dead. He’s going to go down swinging.

Part of the reason Adama is so intent on disregarding the president and so focused on getting back into the fight is he doesn’t respect the institution Roslin now represents. In his mind, Roslin is merely a “school teacher”  and not the president. Neither her orders nor her advice are to be taken seriously. In response, President Roslin straightens her suit and says, “I don’t know why I’m the one that has to keep telling you this, but the war’s over, we lost.” It was only later after her words sunk in that Adama realized that she was right. He also realizes that people need something to live for beyond mere survival – finding the mythical 13th Colony of “Earth.”

Transformation Fatigue

Time and time again in both my work as an Air Force officer and a consultant, I hear about “transformation fatigue.” It’s cited by people up and down an organization that have been through multiple changes in organization and (usually) had that change poorly explained or poorly executed. Sometimes to the people “on the line” some “school teacher” comes along every few years with a good idea, and then everyone’s lives are turned upside down. It’s exhausting. It’s also unnecessary.

Good leaders can drive change by giving people a reason to change, something to live for rather than merely endure. What we have to do is metaphorically go find Earth. We have to live through the change, we have to lead the change we can lead, fight the good fight.

If you’re opposed to a certain change, and the war’s over and you lose, then you must move on and go find earth. That’s what “respect for the institution” means when you’re transforming. It doesn’t mean kowtow, it doesn’t mean compromising your values, it doesn’t mean don’t fiercely advocate for your position. What it does mean is once the decision is made, you have to either lead, follow, or get out of the way.

If you can’t respect the institution for whatever reason, good or bad, then go find another institution. Go find another place where you’re happy, and the institution will be happy and make room for someone else.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

Finding the Sweet Spot

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

It’s hard to over communicate as a leader or project manager.  If you’ve ever suffered through a project or role where key players seemed unable or unwilling to communicate, you know what I mean. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when you’re like me and accustomed to robust communication. Sending emails and text messages into the ether with questions and concerns that are met with silence is a recipe for breeding a lack of confidence. Generating a common picture and integrating the various needs of the Institution, Project, and People is a great way to help build a shared view and shared purpose.

A Leadership Common Operating Picture

If you’ve been around the military for any length of time, you’re likely to hear the term “common operating picture” (COP). A common operating picture is the view of the battle space that is shared with everybody that’s involved in that battle space. It’s called a common operating picture, because it’s common across everybody who’s in there, everybody who needs to see it, and it’s common across what the military now terms “Multi-Domain Operations” (air, space, sea, land, cyber). What’s important about a COP is that information is shared and constantly updated so that everyone has a shared view, and can pursue a shared goal.

We can approach leadership and project management the same way, and it’s the basis for my Sync to Swim Model. Leadership is a team sport. If you’re leading, and you see yourself alone, then you have to wonder why no one is following you. A shared view of the “battlespace” is a good place to start, and to build that shared view, leaders have to answer some fundamental questions.

Answering the Questions

What are the three questions a leader has to answer? First of all, leaders must understand “what are the team members’ personal needs.” As a leader, you deal with human beings. You have to understand what your people need, what feeds them as a human being? What can I give them as a leader? What can the organization give them? What can their teammates give them? Answering these questions helps leaders ensure people are in the right roles, where they can contribute and where they can grow.

The second question is ”what does the organization need?” What do I have to do as a unit, as a group, as a team, to satisfy what the organization needs? Every institution and organization, be it public or private, has policies, goals, and a culture. There are laws and rules we must follow. Our bosses have expectations for our performance. All these things should be on our minds as leaders – after all, we’re hired by an organization to serve the interests of that organizations.

The third question is “what are the requirements of the task?” For engineers and project managers, that’s where we often “live.” We love this part, because we can plug numbers into a spreadsheet, make a flow chart, do a project plan. I can figure things out and produce a piece of paper. Done. Getting the actual work done is an important part of leadership – it does no good to have a boss who likes you and good morale on the team if nothing ever gets done.

The Sweet Spot

We have to figure out when to integrate all of those things, and so the sweet spot is right there in the middle: the task, the needs of the organization, and the needs of the individuals on the teams. If we can integrate all those things, and find that sweet spot, then we’re truly leading people. That sweet spot is where we should live.

Be sure to check out my Sync to Swim Resources page!

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Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

Leading Leaders: Little Things Matter

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In the quote at left, Bell is actually paraphrasing St Luke’s Gospel where Jesus reminds his followers that trustworthiness doesn’t depend on the size of value of the task. This idea that a leader pays attention to details is the core around the concept of “Little Things Matter.”

The task for the leader then, is to figure out which little things matter. As a commander, one of the things I always checked when I entered a new workspace was the bulletin board. If I walked into a shop, or an office, and I looked at the bulletin board. If the notices were sun faded because nobody replaced them, or the chaplain, or the EO counselor’s letter was no longer assigned to the unit ago, or if it hadn’t been updated in a while, then it prompted me to look further.

I ran into this issue as a executive leader as a colonel in the Air Force. When I got to be the Deputy Director for Installations and Mission Support at Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces, I immediately noticed that perhaps attention to detail had slipped a bit. The 1992 PACAF Goals were still hanging in the same place in the Directorate office suite. In 2013.

Somebody, and it’s lots of somebodies, over the course of 21 years, had never taken the 1992 command goals off the wall. If scores of people had walked past this plaque on the wall – right next to the front door by the way – and had not removed them or asked why they were there, what else got missed in that office? Do you think our visitors and customers had confidence in our professionalism and competence? I’m going with “probably not.”

Now, not every little detail matters, you can nickel and dime your organization to death. I once worked for a person with executive experience. She was a wonderful person: very intelligent and kind, but had never been a senior executive position before. This person spent a lot of time sending cover memos back for editing, even though she was the only one who was ever going to see them. So, it would take forever to get things through the office, and work slowed to a crawl. That’s an inappropriate attention to detail.

The goal then for leaders, is to figure out which little things matter, and then pay attention to those little things, and then be willing to adjust to which little things matter, based on the situation. A leader who’s engaged, who pays attention, can create organizational change for the good. You can use your power for good. You can create a team that pays attention too.

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Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Leadership Foundations

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

I use sports metaphors a lot in my books and in my talks because I’m a firm believer in the power of sports to teach life and leadership lessons. I’m not alone in that view. Gen Douglas MacArthur famously said, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” The quote means that the things we learn on the field of play are applicable to life: dealing with adversity, motivating others, perseverance, humility in victory, dignity in defeat.

Football, and Spring Football

Sports is very big in Texas. In Texas, we only have two sports, football and spring football. Ok, that’s a tad bit over the top, but football is probably the most popular sport in Texas. Growing up in Ft. Worth, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys were my hometown team and the men on the team were boyhood heroes. I never missed a game on TV, knew all the names of all the players and most of the coaches, and wore Roger Staubach’s and Drew Pearson’s numbers on my jerseys.

Head Coach Tom Landry remains one of the men I most admire. If you haven’t read his story, I highly encourage it. His book is hard to find, but worth the read. He was a B-17 pilot in World War II, a US Air Force captain who flew combat missions, and then like a lot of veterans came back and resumed his life. He played the New York Giants, and then later as a coach. When the Cowboys franchise began he became the first head coach for nearly 30 years.

Coach Landry on Leadership

A Tom Landry quote I like a lot mirrors my approach to leadership as well. Landry said, “The art of leadership is getting people to do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they want to achieve.” To me, that is the essence of what leadership is about. Many things we’re asked to do as leaders involve things that we don’t want to do. Some things are uncomfortable. We have to work hard, or we have to work late, or they’re tasks that are unpleasant. The art of leadership is to motivate people, and motivate yourself as a leader to inspire people to greatness, despite maybe the unpleasantness of those tasks. Character is built suffering through two-a-day football practice in August in Texas with the knowledge that the sweat and sore muscles now mean success on the field in November.

Mapping Leading Leaders Tenets to Goals of Leadership

In my books Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, I map out the the goals leaders have for understanding their environment with five tenets of leadership. These tenets form the foundation of any leadership approach. It’s these goals and tenets I first learned on the sports field, and honed over three decades in the US Air Force.

TenetsLeadership Goal
IntegrityLittle Things MatterUnderstand that ethics and character contribute to high performing teams
RespectLeaders LeadUnderstand the relationship between the leader and the follower
TeamworkAppreciate the “teams within teams” concept of organizational leadership

When you take those five tenets of leadership, and then you marry those things up with our goals as leaders, as relationship builders, as task doers, that’s where they map out. The first is understanding the ethics and character. This really is the foundation of leadership, right? Because if we don’t have good character, if we don’t start with the foundation of integrity, then we’re going to make decisions later that are going to let other people down, and compromise ourselves.

Respect” and “Leaders Lead,” that’s understanding the relationship between the leader and the follower. It’s that understanding that leading people is about motivating and inspiring people, not merely  accomplishing a task. Sometimes we’re a bit too in love with our spreadsheets. We love to be able to plug numbers in and do math, and get an answer. But we sometimes forget as that our purpose in life is to do things for human beings. That’s what leaders do, leaders take the task that we’re doing, and make it applicable to the human beings that we work and serve, and work for.

The last goal of Teamwork is understanding the idea of “teams within teams”. We had a great chief of staff in General John Jumper a few years ago, and he used to talk about teams within teams, and that’s where I borrowed that phrase. There is room for individual achievement, and we should celebrate that, but we should never forget that we have teammates, and sometimes we have teammates that we don’t realize we have.

On the Fields of Friendly Strife

We can do a lot of leadership and character growth on the sports field – take advantage of the chance to learn those lessons in a benign environment.

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Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Dealing With Difficult People

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

Sometimes it’s not all rainbows and bird-horses

It’s normal for leaders at all levels to come into conflict with other leaders, and sometimes there are impasses that cannot be overcome. Not everyone’s values and thinking aligns, and there will be differences in opinion. Those opinion differences are not, in themselves, a problem since diversity of thought is desired on any team. Groupthink gets people into trouble more often than any other reason, except breaches of integrity. The trouble with differences of opinion happen when those impasses shift from a difference of opinion to real interpersonal conflict. That’s something leaders should avoid to the greatest extent possible.

Interpersonal Conflict Between Leaders Destroys Productivity

When leaders have conflict, so do organizations. It’s nearly impossible for teams to work together when their leaders won’t or can’t. I’ve experienced this first-hand. Once two senior leaders in a matrixed organization where I worked years ago reached an impasse and could not get along. In fact, they simply stopped talking to one another. It put many of us in a very uncomfortable position, because it forced us to choose a “side.” It hamstrung the two teams from sharing information and in many ways damaged the trust between two teams that had to trust each other.

Contain the Emotion

Sometimes another person decides to be difficult, either on purpose or because they’re not a nice person. In those cases it’s best to keep your emotions in check. It’s very normal and very easy for mere mortals to allow emotions to bubble up during difficult conversations. Successful leaders keep their emotions in check most of the time, and extraordinary leaders keep them in check all the time. This can’t be stressed enough.

It reminds me of the movie Bridge of Spies and the captured Soviet KGB Colonel Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance). In the film, Colonel Abel faces death several times, first from his conviction for spying in the United States, and then at the hands of his own government on his return. Each time his lawyer (Tom Hanks) explained the predicament Abel was in, and asked him, “Aren’t you worried?” Abel responded, “Will it help?” Excellent advice.

Remember You’re Not Alone

I received very good advice from a priest once, who recommended I avoid investing emotional energy in relationships that are going nowhere. Leaders should always understand that continuing to invest in a dialogue with an “immovable object” is only harmful to ourselves. Negative emotions are that that way, you know, they only add to our own misery and to those around us.
Leaders have a special responsibility in this regard since our people will feed off our emotions. Senior leaders must be especially careful. It’s very disconcerting to those around us when senior leaders are in foul mood. It’s OK to be human, just recognize those around you will feel your mood as well. When you feel bad or angry, remember Abel’s words, “Will it help?”


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Leaders Need to Know the Truth

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

Holding to consistent ethics and morals is vital for leaders

Truth? What is Truth?

Senior leaders have great responsibility for being able to sort out fact from fiction, and apply those ethics in their decisions. There’s a scene in the the film The Passion of the Christ where Jesus is speaking with Pilate about “truth” that illustrates the point.

When Jesus tells Pilate that He is a “witness to the truth” and Pilate retorts “what is truth?”, we see a leader who us un-moored to objective right and wrong. In the following scene, Pilate debates the subject again with his wife Claudia. When Claudia implores him not to find Jesus guilty just to satisfy the crowd, Pilate asks her whether she can explain to him what “truth” means. She takes his face in his hands and tells him that if can’t see it, no one can explain it to him. Pilate then goes on to explain “his” truth, but what he fails at is having a starting place beyond the consequences of a given decision.

Pilate is unable to see that in condemning an innocent man to death, he is breaching the Truth of right and wrong. Of course the decision is difficult – he was facing another rebellion in a crowded city and Caesar had warned him more than once about controlling the province. But in giving in and “washing his hands” of the death of Jesus, he neither prevented unrest nor showed strength to the citizens of Jerusalem. Instead, he’s remembered as the villain who failed to do what’s right, and lost his own wife in the process.

The central lesson here is that there is such a thing as objective truth, and there is the lived experience of leaders trying to navigate ambiguous situations. Having a good foundation in ethics, morals, and objective truth is very important. Holding to those is even more important

Fact, Opinion, Perspective, Truth

The more senior I went in the Air Force, the more times I was presented with decisions that required separating fact from fiction, opinion from truth, and finding the correct perspective from which to view the decision. Starting from a consistent ethic and moral foundation is the only way to make tough decisions rationally and correctly.

Another film reference to illustrate the point: In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, we see Tevye struggle to apply what he knows is true with the messiness of human existence. He has many conversations with himself weighing the values he holds dear with the needs and wants of his daughters. In the end, he makes the best decisions he can in an imperfect world, while holding true to his faith and his duty as a husband and father. His decisions aren’t perfect, but by starting from a place of certainty -what’s right and what’s wrong – then applying those principles in love and mercy, he does what’s right in the end.

It’s the same with leaders, especially senior ones. We must hold fast to our ethics, and our morals, but we need to remember that real humans are involved. Some of the most difficult decisions I ever made as a leader were between two decisions that were best described as “bad” and “worse.” Making those decisions is crucial for leaders, and ensuring that even when a situation has negative consequences the decision is based on consistent ethics.

There is Such a Thing as Right and Wrong

Objective truth – things that are true no matter the situation – has had a rough run of late. The popular meme of “speaking my truth” rather than “speaking the truth” illustrates an approach where we avoid drawing conclusions about decisions and behavior. In the military, we learned to separate the person from the action, and to base our decisions on a consistent ethic. I sometimes had to visit negative consequences on people who I liked, or who were generally good people. Sometimes good people make horrible and even criminal decisions, and while every offense isn’t a mortal sin, people notice when leaders don’t hold others accountable for their actions. The key is to remember the people you’re dealing with are humans, and to address the behavior rather than engaging in character assassination.

There are things we know in our hearts are always wrong. Intentionally killing an innocent, stealing, cheating, lying, etc. are all objectively wrong. The situation may mitigate the consequences, but there must almost always be consequences for our actions. The classic example is the man who breaks into a pharmacy to get medicine for a dying person in an emergency. A window is broken, but a life is saved. Theft and destruction of others’ property is always wrong, but the consequences for this would be different than the dealer who breaks in to steal drugs he plans to sell illegally.

We Know, We Act

We usually know what’s right and wrong instinctively, and we need hold to that moral core as leaders if we ever intend to inspire others to act morally. As I’ve written in Leading Leaders, a breach of integrity is like mildew, the place gets stinky if you don’t clean it up quickly. When we get that little “twinge” of conscience that something is wrong, we should listen carefully. It’s not wrong to be tempted; it’s only wrong to act on that temptation to violate our integrity.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Spit Out the Seeds

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

Life is about enjoying the sweet stuff and getting rid of stuff you can’t digest.

There is something very “summer” about having a slice of ice cold watermelon on a hot summer day. Seedless watermelons are ok, I guess, but nothing beats a good old Big Stripe watermelon for sweetness. There’s really no way to eat around the seeds, though, or cut them out. In most cases you just have to take a bite and spit out the seeds.

Life is Like That Too

Anyone who tells you they never meet with adversity or have to deal with unpleasantness is either lying or lives in alone and never goes outside. Life is not always fun, and embedded in the sweetness of it all are the seeds of conflict and vice. There are many ways to approach those things: we can avoid the sweetness and live in solitary, or we can start eating lots of “seeds” and embrace life that’s not perfect. A better way to live, I think, is to take a big bite and then spit out the seeds we don’t like.

Life is just too short to miss out on the melon because you can’t stand the seeds. The lie of the modern age is we have to live in a world where everything lines up with our beliefs. Trust me, that ain’t happenin’ this side of Heaven. Our world is full of the seeds of vice, cruelty, and despair. Misery and sin are simply part of the human condition as a consequence of our fallen nature and our human freedom. The question we should be asking ourselves, however, is whether we’re going to let that get us down, or prevent us from being the leaders and the persons we are meant to be.

I Don’t Want to be Around Those People

I have a friend who would never want to live in certain parts of the country because they don’t believe they could handle their neighbors’ views on lifestyle and politics, even though the climate and scenery suited them. In the parlance of my Dad, I think my friend is “cutting off his own nose to spite his face.” In other words, my friend’s decision to isolate themselves from people who he disagrees with is in the end, self defeating.

There is probably no place on earth where one can be surrounded by others who agree with them on everything. Trying to find that place is ultimately isolating and self-defeating. We have to re-learn how to “spit out the seeds.” One of the ironies of the Information Age is it’s far too easy to isolate ourselves and live in an echo chamber of our own biases and beliefs. If we are to truly grow as a human being, and therefore be more effective as a leader, we need to learn how to listen to other points of view. We needn’t abandon any of our principles, but we should understand that none of us is perfect.

There’s Plenty of Melon for Everyone

Too often people present leaders binary choices where the choices are not “either/or” but “both/and.” The more senior we get, the less the choices are binary. Sometimes there simply are no “best” choices, only “bad ones,” and we have to choose between the “worst, less worst, and the “least worst” choice.

It’s the same when dealing with people we disagree with. You can (usually) pick your friends, but you can almost never pick your neighbors or business associates. We don’t have to agree with everything our friends and neighbors do, we can only control our own behavior and how we respond to others. I’ve written about this before (see my post about Andy Taylor) and the gist is this: learn to get along with people you disagree with, even vehemently.

We don’t have to agree with each other on everything; heck, we don’t even have to like each other. But as leaders and adults, we have to learn how to get along and get our work done. Be moral, be ethical, and by all means be lawful, but learn how to talk to people you don’t agree with nicely.

It’s just like that watermelon: there’s plenty for everyone, no need to quarrel over how it’s cut. Just enjoy the melon and spit out the seeds.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Swing Easy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

I’ve always been a below average golfer. I play just well enough to (mostly) enjoy the game and just poorly enough to avoid telling anyone my score. It’s my swing: I’ve got a terrible slice because, among other things, I have a hard time not gripping the club too tightly. When I can relax and “swing easy” to let the gravity accelerate the club head and properly rotate my wrists, I can hit the ball long and straight. When I “strangle the club” by gripping too tightly, my shot is a slice (or worse).

Like all good sports truisms, “don’t strangle the club” is a great metaphor for leaders.

You Don’t Have to Control Everything

The transition from “first line” leader to “executive” is difficult, and many leaders never make the transition.  I’ve been around many organizations where leaders had to transition from “startup mode” where the leader does everything, to “leading leaders” mode where authority and responsibility get pushed out to other team members. That transition is hard because when one goes from leading a small team to a large one, the leader at the top’s role changes. Some don’t recognize the need for that change, and they can’t stop “strangling the club” by holding onto decisions others should make, or being involved in everything.

Just like holding onto the club too tightly sends the ball careening off the course wildly, so will a leader who is holding on too tightly divert the team from their mission. The more senior the leader, the less one has to be in control over everything. Mid-level and senior leaders should always remember they’re leading other leaders and need to allow those people the chance to do their jobs. Constantly badgering them for information, demanding to be involved in every decision, or requiring them to create reports to “keep me informed” is a recipe for the organization to depart the fairway.

Learn to Coach not Direct

The more senior you get, the more you need to lead with a coaching style. Crisis situations often demand directive leadership, but let’s face it, those situations are few and far between.  A coach’s job is to prepare the team and offer corrections when the team is foundering. The coach doesn’t play the game for the team, and a coach never enters the field of play.

My golf coach spent time with me on the driving range, gently correcting my grip, my stance, and my swing. He’d ask questions and watch me swing to diagnose my problems. But he never swings for me.

The same is true for leaders. Every leader above the first line level, and especially executive leaders, must learn to be a coach. Sometimes that coach can be directive and sometimes that coach can be inspirational, but the coach can never take over unless the circumstances are dire. When leaders step in and push subordinate leaders aside, it not only kills motivation, but it puts doubt into the team. There are times when senior leaders must step in and “rescue” a team whose leader is failing, but a good coach rarely allows the team to get into that much of a fix in the first place. That’s the beauty of a leader who’s coaching rather than directing: they can see trouble brewing long before it happens and avoid disaster.

Be a coach and help your team to swing easy if you want to be successful.

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Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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Rage is the Easiest Button

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Social media is poisoning your soul. Universal Human Goods are the antidote.

I recently deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. That likely seems an odd thing to do for someone like me who writes and speaks publicly, but after some reflection I realized those two apps were stealing happiness out of my life. I didn’t completely leave the platforms, mind you, just removed the apps from my phone to prevent the “bored scroll through the feed.” Removing the apps also tames the impulse to overshare that’s inherent in social media. Does anyone really care what I had for lunch today? The links that appeared in my feed on – you name the topic – were most often sensational headlines designed for maximum emotional response. Frankly, though, most of those were eye rollers to me because I rarely take headlines at face value anymore. It is the comments that really get to me.

Social Poison

Honestly, and this is not news to anyone, the things people “say” to each other on social media we’d likely never say in person. I’m not claiming the high ground here – I’m painfully aware of times I have written things I wish I’d written differently. The flaming insults people who are ostensibly “friends” hurl at each other is truly disturbing, and to be honest, mostly recycled talking points from their political point of view. Very few discussions in the comment section cite actual facts; rather, people just fling sound bytes pulled from the “source du jour” without even trying to understand the motives or position of the other. What’s even more disturbing is the trend of truncating or eliminating facts that don’t comport with our positions, not to mention outright lies and setups.

Twitter is even worse, and a word has been coined to describe it: “TwitterMob.” Metaphorical pitchforks raised, the TwitterMob lurches from outrage to outrage in a 240-character attempt to shame, ridicule, and emotionally harm “the other.” Of course there is all sorts of things happening on Twitter and other social media sites, but on balance, I’ve concluded it’s not a productive use of my time and energy.

It’s not to say there’s not good in any social media – clearly it can be inspiring and informative – but the current state of affairs is not good. As an early adopter of social media, I’m saddened that it’s become a virtual town square where friendships end and mud gets spattered.

The Easy Button

When trying to move people to action, we try to elicit an emotion. Paraphrasing Chris Stirewalt, “rage is the easiest button.” It takes a lot less work to generate rage than compassion or happiness or gentleness, so that’s where many content outlets have descended. Everyone says they want to hear “just the facts,” but that’s not the behavior the content-consuming public reinforces with our clicks. In politics, the easiest way to get people motivated is to assert the “other guys” are evil or depraved. Pop culture is not better. Take a look at those magazines at the supermarket check out: feuds between celebs, fights between celeb spouses, or whatever the outrage du jour happens to be apparently sells magazines. Who buys those things anyway?

Universal Human Goods

In The Five Be’s I write very briefly about St Thomas Aquinas’ concept of Universal Human Goods. While there’s no definitive list in Aquinas’ Summa, any list of Human Goods has to include Beauty, Truth, Kindness, and Love. We are finite humans, so when we fill ourselves up on social media outrage and tabloid gossip, we have little room for anything else. It’s no wonder we’re not happy even though we live in the freest, safest, most prosperous time since the beginning of human history.

Imagine how better we’d sleep if we cared a lot less about celeb gossip or our friends voted, and more about being generous and seeking beauty? Wouldn’t our lives be better if we quit comparing ourselves to the latest Instagram model and more seeking Truth and Love? Shouldn’t a relationship with the Divine be life-changing and free us from trashy TV and internet browsing?

I submit we can do better. We shouldn’t do better so we can boast on Facebook about how successful we are – we should do better because it makes us and the world around us happier.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

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Who Do You Want to Be?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

This is the time of year many of us spend energy thinking about goals and resolutions. These things are important – if you don’t have a destination in mind you’ll end up nowhere (or somewhere you’d rather not be). It takes discipline and energy, but it’s worth it to sketch out your goals, make resolutions, etc.

I make goals and resolutions, but for me the most important thing is knowing who I want to be. Defining – or redefining as the case may be – is even more vital than making goals and resolutions. If we do not know ourselves, and have in mind who we want to be, all the goals in the world don’t matter.

Authentic, Realistic

When I start thinking about myself and who I want to be, two words come to mind immediately: authentic and realistic. I want to be the same person on Monday morning that I was on Sunday morning – authentic. Too often we compare ourselves to our friends and to celebrities, and then we translate that comparison into a facade we show the world. That may work in the short term, but it can’t last. Sooner or later an inauthentic person will forget which face they’ve shown to whom. It’s much simpler, and far less stressful, to be the same person all the time.

I also want to be realistic about where I am today and how fast I can get to where I want to be. It does no good for me to dream about conquering Everest if I’ve never even climbed a Fourteener. Addictions and bad habits aren’t conquered overnight, they’re usually acquired over long periods of time, and we can’t expect to turn ourselves around quickly. It’s like football: you don’t need to score a touchdown on every play; just get a first down.

Values are Timeless

There’s a reason why things like Cardinal Virtues, Theological Virtues, Beatitudes, and Universal Human Goods are still relevant: because they’re true. People who try to live their lives in accordance with codes of honor, professional ethics, the Virtues & Beatitudes, and value authentic human goods like Truth, Courage, and Beauty are usually the most healthy among us. These values are timeless because they point to things that are Real, and common to our human experience.

No matter how many times people try to deny “what’s good,” choosing to act on that denial eventually catches up with us. Bad habits become addictions. Poor diet begets poor health. Vice begets broken-ness. Dismissing timeless virtues and goods may feel good at first, but at some point the fun gets old and we can’t hide the bruises and dents to our soul from ourselves.

Just Be the Best Possible Version of Yourself

There isn’t one single solution to being a better you, but the one thing that must be on “Square One” is making an effort to be the best possible version of ourselves. That means being authentic, and embracing the time-honored principles that have worked across cultures and time. No one need compare themselves to some celeb or royal or friend-on-the-“BookFace”-who-appears-perfect. Life is not a competition. Love your family, feed your spirit with good things, and try to be kind. Remember, you don’t have to make a 99 yard TD on every play – just move the chains.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!

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Christmas Blogging Break

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Holidays

As we near the end of Advent and near Christmastime, I’ll be taking a blogging break until after the first of the year.

Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale, and Mele Kalikimaka!

Lead. Inspire. Achieve.

-Mickey


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

Sign up for my mailing list and get Mickey’s Rules for Leaders ebook as a thank you!