Continue the Mission: The First 30 Days

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When things go wrong in your command, start wading for the reason in increasing larger concentric circles around your own desk. – General Bruce D. Clark

Standing on the platform in front of troops and family for the fourth time to take command, this time of a Mission Support Group, I was following a popular and successful commander. I’d be leading a very talented unit of 2,600 Airmen, civil service personnel, and contractors. They had a tremendous reputation for excellence.

In the previous three months, I’d prepared as best I could and now it was “go” time. Under the big Colorado sky on a stunningly beautiful summer day, thoughts about both the mission and people I was now responsible for leading circled my mind. All my previous leadership experience, all my networking, all my preparation had come to this moment. When it was my turn to speak, I stepped up to the mike and began my command.

In this series, I’ve written about how to exit gracefully and how to your prep for your new “command.” This month we take a look at what it takes to be the “New Guy” and we’ll focus in on the first crucial 30 days in “command.”

Before You Arrive

Changes in leadership like the assumption of command I described above are often planned and announced in advance. Retirements, promotions, and the like create openings in leadership positions in all organizations. Even when someone gets the sack, there’s usually time for some limited preparation. That time is important because every team is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that works. Even experienced leaders will need to make adjustments to their own style to suit the new team and mission.

If you have a good transition, your predecessor will have sent you plenty of information and planned a Left Seat-Right Seat time. If the transition is short or unplanned, your prep time is limited. No matter how long you have, spend it learning as much as you can before you arrive. Mission statements, public financial records, customer reviews, press releases, and anything available on the personnel. You’ll get two opportunities to speak to the team, once in public and once to your senior staff. Plan those talks carefully: first impressions really matter and it will be obvious if you haven’t done your homework.

At the “Change of Command”

The military conducts a change of command ceremony where the outgoing and incoming commanders exchange the unit’s flag as a symbol of passing the leadership of the unit. Those ceremonies and their civilian equivalents are all about the farewell for outgoing leader. As the new guy, your job is to thank everyone, give a brief version of your priorities, and get off the stage. Give your predecessor the room to bask in the adulation of the team one last time; it’s your team now and you’ll have plenty of time with them in the coming months and years.

During your speech, be gracious to the outgoing leader–even if he/she doesn’t deserve it. No matter what the circumstances that required a change in leadership, it’s not your place to pile on or take issue with the outgoing guy’s style or achievements. They know him–they don’t know you–so being gracious will make a good impression. It’s just good manners. I assure you no one will remember the “bumper stickers” you talk about at the ceremony, but they will remember if you’re snarky, rude, or go long. Get up, say your piece, and get off the stage.

The First Month

On your first day in the seat, you’ve got only two things to do: meet with your senior staff one and one and as a group. Use that time to get to know them better, get a sense of their professionalism and proficiency, and lay out your strategy and priorities. If you have an office or administrative staff, give them your expectations on how you expect work to flow. They’ll want to know how you like to organize your day and about any pet peeves you might have regarding the logistics of running the office.

Once you’ve met with your senior team–we call it a “command team” in the Air Force, it’s time to meet with the larger senior staff as a group. Plan to spend about an hour, and lay out your priorities and guiding principles, your expectations, and let them know where you’ll be focusing your attention. A few Powerpoint slides or a handout is a good idea since it allows them to listen better rather than taking notes. Allow them all time they need to ask questions–few of them will take you up on it anyway–and then give them a preview of what you plan to publish to the entire team. This is the first step to gaining their trust and getting them on board for where you’re planning to lead them. Set some achievable goals for the first 100 days and ensure your new team is on board.

During the first month, commit to spending time looking around and listening to your new team. As a rule of thumb, and unless something is badly broken, dangerous, or illegal, don’t make any changes for the first 30 days. This gives your team some breathing room to get used to you, and more importantly, time for you to understand why things are the way they are in the first place. Rare is the case where a leader or an organization is completely incompetent. Understand the context of your predecessors’ decisions before you begin making changes. Doing so will help avoid unwanted second and third order effects, and it will give you a better chance of finding root causes of problems rather than just symptoms.

Make time in the first few days to have an “all hands meeting” and address the entire team. If your team is geographically separated, then record your session and make that recording available to them. During that all hands meeting, lay out your priorities and principles Boil down your priorities and principles into 2-4 easy to remember phrases. You want your “slogan” to be memorable and easy to repeat–you’ll be repeating it often. Give the broad strokes to the whole organization, and spend some time with the senior staff to be sure they understand clearly who you are and where you intend to go.

Lastly, get a thorough orientation to your new organization unit by unit. Resist the temptation to spend that entire orientation in a conference room reading PowerPoint slides. Whenever I take over a new organization I spend that first week or so walking through each unit and learning as much as I can from the people doing the actual work. You can read slides on your own–you need to see where people are working and let them tell you what they’re doing. Believe me, you can tell a lot about an organization by asking questions and observing the work environment. The morale will be self-evident and you’ll gain important insight into what needs to be changed on day 31.

Originally posted on General Leadership


Mickey 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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Monday Motivation: Optimism

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Mickey 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Monday Motivation: Throw Strikes!

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Mickey 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Monday Motivation: Leave the Harbor!

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Mickey 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Your First 100 Days – Achieving Your Goals

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Achieving Goals, Practical Leadership

Every four years or so we grade our leaders on their “First 100 Days,” but other than watching pundits debate on TV what does that mean for us? It’s an opportunity for us to take a look at our own progress toward our goals. We’re certainly not going to have Bret Baier talking about our performance on his TV show, but the “100 day” marker is a good reminder to for us self-evaluate.

Why re-evaluate?

Well, for the same reason we follow our progress on a map during a road trip–to know how close to the destination we’re getting. Knowing where you’re headed is important, of course, but if you don’t know where you are, you’ll have no idea whether or not you’re actually getting there. Do we need to have started a new job or something in order to grade ourselves on our own “First 100 Days”? Nope! We can do it at any time, and 100 days is a fabulous reminder and a convenient period of time. Not too long to let things get out of control, and just long enough to show some real progress.

So, how do we do a self evaluation?

Easy–just compare where you are to where you expected to be at the same time. The key here is to be honest with yourself! The worst feedback I’ve ever gotten is, “Don’t change a thing, Mickey, you’re doing great!” That’s flattering, but it really doesn’t help me get better. Don’t do that to yourself! Look in the mirror, face your flaws, and resolve to achieve by making a plan to get from where you are to where you’re going. When ever I’m evaluating my progress I start with some essential questions:

  1. What was my actual goal? I know this sounds basic, but it’s easy to get off track and forget why you started your journey in the first place. That’s why I always recommend writing your goal down! Goals should be specific and actionable. If you resolved to “get in shape” or “advance in your career”, what does that actually look like? A better goal is “Lose 10 pounds” or “get a promotion to senior manager”–specific targets are always best.
  2. Have I reached the goal? Be honest with yourself. If you wanted the promotion and you didn’t get it, that’s easy to judge. Fitness goals can be a bit more “fuzzy”, as are relationship goals. If you’re “there”, you should be able to track measurable progress. On the other hand, if you find yourself making excuses–well, you’re likely not there.
  3. What are the steps I need to take to get back on course or stay on course? This step is a bit more difficult, of course, but if you were honest with yourself in the previous step, this one is manageable. Visualize your goal, and write down the concrete steps you plan to take to get there in the next 100 days. You don’t have to get there in a single “step”–some goals take a lot of work–but by setting smaller intermediate goals the bigger goals become reachable.

Need some additional help? Check out the Resources Page for downloadable worksheets and links to helpful sites.

Be Your Own Scarlet

If you’re on track, then great! Celebrate a little. If you’ve fallen a little short, don’t get down because you’re starting the next 100 days and that’s a chance to improve. As Scarlet O’Hara famously quipped, “Tomorrah is anothah day!”

Remember, the only real failure is quitting–never quit!


Mickey 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Monday Motivation: Tracy on Teamwork

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Mickey 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Continue the Mission: How to Exit Gracefully (and Why You Should)

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Leadership to me means duty, honor, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time. -George W. Bush

This month, I continue my series on successful leadership transition. If you missed the first part, you can go back and read it here. When we accept a leadership position we accept two things: (1) stewardship of the people and organization we’re leading, and (2) the understanding that we’ll be replaced some day. Regardless of the reason we may be handing off the reins to a successor–good or bad–how we manage that transition says a great deal about us as people and leaders.

Leadership transition is far more than just “exchanging salutes” and reporting to your new office. A successful transition of leadership depends on a servant leadership mentality and maturity. The principles below are my guide for a smooth transition of leadership. As I wrote last month, good transition planning begins well in advance of the actual day. In fact, successful transitions occur because of the prep work done well before the “new guy” shows up.

Five Principles for Success

Below principles to keep in mind for the outgoing leader. Adhering to them is the best way to prepare the team and the organization for success under the incoming leader.

  • Prepare the Team for the New Guy’s Style. You may be the best leader ever, but when you hand over the reins of command to another leader, his style is the most important one. Give your staff the benefit of helping them understand the “new guy’s” style and if you can make adjustments to accommodate him or her before you leave, so much the better. Your goal should be to make a difficult time as smooth as possible. Be sure to spend some energy with the senior staff to prepare them for the change.
  • Leave a Trail of Breadcrumbs on Your Decisions. While any leader should be prepared for their decisions to be reversed by their successor, we can maximize the chances good decisions remain in place by documenting our decisions well. That’s what I mean by “leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.” If your successor understands the context of your decisions, and has access to much the same information, it makes it more likely good decisions remain. If there must be a change, then there’s enough data to make solid adjustments. Many a time I’ve avoided a bad decision by understanding why what I wanted to change was done in the first place–you owe that to your successor.
  • Plan for Overlap “Right Seat-Left Seat” Time. For any transition, planning for a few days of overlap is crucial to success. Use that time where the incoming leader (“Right Seat”) shadows the departing leader to learn the staff and see how things are run (“Left Seat”). When the incoming leader moves to the “Left Seat” she’ll be thoroughly prepared and will know what adjustments she needs to make.
  • Don’t Bad Mouth the “New Guy” or the Old Company. I can’t understate how important this principle is to a successful transition. If you and the incoming leader get along famously, great! If not, keep it to yourself. You’ll do great harm to everyone–including your reputation–by disparaging the “new guy.” Believe me, no matter whether he’s a “saint” or “sinner”, your people will make up their own minds about the new leader soon enough. They don’t need your help. When you’ve moved on to other things, keep your words positive. What you say about the guy who replaced you or the company says more about you than them. Even if you’re the only one, be the adult in the room.
  • Say Your Goodbyes and Then Take Your Leave. Once you’ve moved out of the proverbial “Left Seat”, then get going. Hanging around makes it awkward on everyone. This requires a little planning, you really don’t want to be walking back into the building the day after those tearful goodbyes to return your security badge.

Mature Leaders Do Transition Well

Remember leadership is never about you. Leadership is always about those you lead and serve. Leaders who understand that principle first will be the ones who leave a place better than they found it. That’s a successful leadership transition.

Originally posted on General Leadership


Mickey 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Monday Motivation: Teamwork Builds Trust

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Mickey 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Life as a Mission, Best Life Ever, and The 5 Be’s

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Podcast

Do you ever feel like your life is “stuck” in neutral? Well, do I have a real “dynamic duo” of women who can help you put your life in 5th gear! I had the honor and pleasure of being a guest on the Best Life Ever podcast, hosted by Kimi Morton and Pua Pakele & Cabot. Kimi and Pua are two Success Coaches, Authors, and “Work+Life Integration Ninjas” on a mission to help you create your Best Life Ever. They’re two of the most positive, motivated women I’ve ever met!

We met at a Project Management Institute meeting here in Honolulu, and their positive message of intentional living really resonated with me. Their talk was fun, engaging, and positive–exactly the kind of thing everyone needs to hear in a world where the 24-hour news cycle dominates our thinking. Kimi and Pua were kind enough to give me a copy of their Best Life Ever Weekly Planner, and my daughter loved it! I particularly liked the idea of the weekly plan review and creating the “big vision.” As I’ve written before, leaders have to know where they’re headed.

The 5 Be’s

We talked about living intentionally and how my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, fit in with their mission. It actually began as a talk for our newest Airmen, but I’ve been very pleased at how the message hasWant to know more? Click here! resonated with more “seasoned” audiences. It is by far my most requested talk! The message of The 5 Be’s is simple:

  • Be Proud of Who You Are – everyone has something to contribute
  • Be Authentically Free – don’t be bound by your appetites and whims
  • Be Virtuous – Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude (H/T to Aristotle)
  • Be Balanced – Integrate and feed your Mind, Body, and Spirit
  • Be Courageous – Both physical and moral courage are keys to being successful; especially moral courage.

Boundaries are Fine, But People Need a Positive Vision

Ever feel like all you ever hear from your boss, your parents, authorities, etc., are lists of “no’s” and “don’ts?” So did I. As I matured into leading larger, and often younger, groups of people I came to learn that boundaries simply is not enough. Here’s what I wrote in The 5 Be’s:

All of these “don’ts” form the boundaries of acceptable behavior. When reasonably imposed, boundaries are a necessary part of establishing appropriate and acceptable behavior. 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, it becomes a tyranny. In general, 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 have to show people what the bull’s-eye looks like. That’s what this book is all about.

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 we want them to be. With that vision, people are then empowered to reach for something rather than avoiding something.

If you want to lead–know where you’re going!

How to Listen

Links to the podcast are below, and I hope you listen in to our conversation as well as their other podcasts. We talked about my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, and how it is similar it is to their message. There’s even a Yoda impression and I reveal when I wear my “jammies,” so it’s not dull! Kimi and Pua are two great women on a mission to make the world better, and it was fun chatting with them! Be sure to also check out the Podcast page for more podcasts!

Listen online

Listen on iTunes

Listen on Stitcher


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Monday Motivation: Caterpillars Become Butterflies

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Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 29 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Overcoming Barriers to Change

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in How To Change

One of the highest barriers to effecting change is getting enough people to change their thinking from “the way it is now” to the way you want to operate. In fact, many people are very resistant to change–I call that resistance “institutional inertia.” The most successful companies are able to help their teams and their stakeholders make the transition in thinking, and it’s absolutely crucial to innovation and transformation. How do they do it?

Knowing Where You Want to Go

Obviously, you have to know where you’re going or you’ll never get anywhere, so that’s the first step. Senior leadership teams need to spend some time thinking clearly about where you want to move the organization well before engaging the rank and file. A solid vision statement is a must, and not one of those flowery ones full of meaningless buzzwords. A clear vision of where you want to move the organization must also be congruent with your existing mission statement. If it’s not, you’ll either need to change your vision or revise your mission. It does no good to change one and not the other!

Knowing The Barriers to Change

There are all sorts of barriers to change, both internal and external. Understanding what those barriers are and making a plan to overcome them is the next step in effecting transformation and innovation. In large organizations internal barriers to transformation will be:

  • Threats to positional power
  • Uncertainty in accomplishing the organizational mission
  • Threats to personal careers

Take time to identify the key players and list the threats to your transformational plan, then make a concrete plan to mitigate each. For example, if people are concerned with losing their jobs you can mitigate that with assurances you don’t plan staff reductions. If organizational reorganizations will change certain persons’ positional power, you can mitigate those by engaging those people directly and ensure you have a plan to either move them into a commensurate position or offer compensation to take away the sting.

There’s also external barriers as well:

  • Resistance from functional communities
  • Resistance from key stakeholders
  • Resistance from customers

Like the internal barriers, making specific plans to reduce the resistance to the planned transformation is key to success. Overcoming these barriers is where senior leaders really earn their pay! Getting functional communities on board, for example, will likely mean lots of time discussing planned changes with key functional leaders and getting their buy in. Of course, even the most gifted negotiators sometimes can’t get everyone on board. In those cases, it’s necessary to build a stable of allies that can help you exert political influence on decision makers and stakeholders to make the change happen. For small companies, those functional leaders will often be industry associations and government oversight staffs. For larger organizations, it could be “higher headquarters” or even key C-suite or board members leaders in the company. Assemble the team, make the case, and build consensus among those who can stop the transformation. Be prepared to use influence and power to knock down barriers if necessary!

Knowing When to Engage the Entire Team

As the senior leadership team, you’ll have consider when to bring more people into your planning process. In complex change efforts, keeping the team as small as possible initially will prevent “paralysis by argument.” Again, you’ll need to clearly articulate where you’re headed and why it’s beneficial to all involved. Get as many people as possible involved in creating the transformation plan, careful not to overdo it with too many! Ideally, the more people invested in effecting the change, the more successful you’ll be in making it happen. However, don’t grow the team too fast, and don’t allow the team to take over the transformation from the senior leadership team!

Make it Happen

To effect any transformation, you’ll need to (1) Know Where You’re Headed, (2) Know Your Barriers, and (3) Know Who to Involve. Follow this three-step process and you’ll be able to lead your teams through change!


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Monday Motivation: Specialization is For Insects

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Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 29 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

A Man, a Ledge, and a Plan

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

In an effort to have a little fun this week, I thought I’d share a humorous little story from my childhood (you saw my #MondayMotivation Chalk Talk post on Tues, right?). This story is printed in a fun little book I did with my brother in 2015 called “Patio Wisdom,” which is full of humor and quite a bit of wisdom. My brother, aka The Patio King, was fearless. Fortunately for my Dad, he also appears to be both lucky and apparently indestructible! Enjoy this little diversion from the day’s seriousness and have a laugh on me.

Each year, Mom and Dad would pile us all into our blue 1972 Plymouth Satellite wagon and head for Colorado to escape the August Texas heat.

The trip began at “o-dark thirty” with Dad loading my brother and I onto a bed made for us in the back seat. We would drive all day, stopping at a small town on the border of Texas and New Mexico like Texline or Dumas, for a short overnight before the push into southern Colorado. We explored the Rocky Mountains, bouncing from KOA campground to National Forest campground in our Coleman Ticonderoga pop-up trailer.

There were plenty of adventures for young boys to have: exploring ghost towns, abandoned gold mines, tourist trap roadside curio shops, and even the occasional Native American pueblo or village. We panned for gold, rode horses, hiked remote mountain trails, and swam in icy mountain streams.

It was on one of those trips that I almost killed the Patio King before he could grow up, and it involved a granite cliff and a narrow trail. Well, it wasn’t entirely my fault, though I certainly had a hand in it—and not exactly a trail, either. It was kind of a ledge. Actually, it was more of a narrow crack in the rock. To me, however, it was a mountain trail heading up the cliff face for an easy climb.

There we were, on the rocky bank in a narrow ravine with a crystal clear mountain stream somewhere in the wilds of central Colorado: me, Tony, and Dad. We’d gone down to the stream to wash our hair and relax. Dad made sure each of us bathed in the icy water (hey, it was the Seventies, who knew?), and after we were clean he set about washing his own hair. In the few minutes that his eyes were closed and his hair full of baby shampoo, I spotted a crack in the rock wall opposite me and decided to see how far up I could climb. It looked like it went all the way to the top.

I told my brother to “wait here” and then started my ascent. It was easy at first and I was thirty feet in the air before I realized that the crack didn’t go all the way to the top. When I turned around to go back, there was Tony about fifteen feet or so below me, blocking my return. Just as I was about to ask Dad to get Tony to turn around, he saw us. As a father, I can now appreciate the thoughts going through his mind, but at the time I was thinking, “What’s he so bent out of shape about? I got this.”

Sure I did. Three stories above sharp granite rockfall, perched on a narrow 8 inch ledge, and unable to do anything but keep going up, we were in far more danger than we realized. You see, Tony refused to turn around, and the ledge/crack/trail was the only way down. I tried to get over the top, but couldn’t get a grip on the sandy edge. Dad kept his cool though, told us to wait, and hanging onto a pine branch to steady himself at the precipice, pulled us one after the other over the top and to safety.

It was a quiet walk back to camp. After he caught his breath, the only thing he could get out was, “Don’t tell your mother.”

We didn’t.

 


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Monday Motivation: Don’t Forget to Have a Sense of Humor

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Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 29 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Transitioning Leadership – When You’re the New Guy and a Repairman

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It was the second time I’d been sent to fix a broken unit, only this time the unit didn’t know they were broken. The team had all the externals of a high performing team, but only on the surface.

Below the surface, they were dysfunctional and broken. The organizational chart bore little resemblance to the actual power structure within the unit. Senior non-commissioned officers who were supposed be leading at the first line exercised little actual leadership. Relationships with the customers of the unit were frayed because my predecessor had mystified the process to the point where “yes” seemed an impossible dream. Readiness indicators were at the lowest possible levels, disciplinary actions were severe and routine for everything from multiple DUIs to a wave of failing fitness tests.

As the unit’s leadership team looked at me, they really didn’t expect much from me. I was coming from The Pentagon and everything they’d heard from my predecessor was that I was an uptight headquarters “weenie” who knew nothing about the “real” Air Force. On top of that, several members of the command staff were not only uninterested in working with me, they were actually hostile to what they perceived of my agenda.

So began my first 100 days in command.

Being the Repairman

Last week, I wrote about taking the reins of leadership and the do’s and don’ts for the new guy. This week’s post is all about taking over a failing organization. There’s many variations on the theme of fixing something that’s broken, but it really boils down to two: (1) they’re broken and they know it, and (2) they’re broken and they don’t. The second one is the hardest.

If a team is broken and they know they’re broken, there’s some hope you’ll be able to get the team working together toward repair during the first 100 days. If you’ve had a good transition, your new team will be looking at you hopefully. Your task as the new leader is to have a plan or make one quickly. If your new team knew how to get themselves out of the mess they’re in, they’d have done it already. However, just because they don’t have a plan doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s wrong. Even if they’re looking to you as their savior, simply dropping out of the sky and imposing a get-well plan on them will guarantee resistance. You have to have a plan, but you have to get their assent.

If the team is broken and they don’t know it, you’re in for a hard slog because before you can even make or present a plan you’ll have to convince them they’ve got a problem. Again, you can’t just drop out of the sky and force something on the team. No matter how good your plan or how dysfunctional the team, they need to believe they’re sick before you can lead them anywhere. You may have had a good transition, but you will lose any good will you might have if you launch on a recovery plan prematurely

The Method

There’s no “checklist” or single solution to leading a broken team to high performance, but there is a method. This method has been successful many times, but you’ll have to take into account the personalities and team dynamics.

Lay Out Your Priorities and Principles Immediately. As soon as you assume the mantle of leadership, you need to lay out who you are and what you’re about. Your new team will have heard all about you, and much of their “intel” will likely be superficial at best. Even if their intel is correct, your approach may be very different than with a previous team because of the situation. For example, you might be easy going with a previous team–what the military calls “low maintenance”–but the new team may require a firmer hand. Boil down your priorities and principles into 2-4 easy to remember phrases. You want to be memorable, and easy to repeat–you’ll be repeating them often. Something like Readiness-Responsiveness-Resiliency or Sustainability & Responsibility works well; use alliteration and rhyme to make it easy to remember. Give the broad strokes to the whole organization, and spend some time with the senior staff to be sure they understand clearly who you are and where you intend to go.

Look and Listen. Regardless whether they know they’re failing or not. you’ll need to listen to your team to find out what they know and look around to make an assessment of the operation. Commit to your team to make no changes in the first 30 days unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your senior staff especially will be anxious and perhaps even defensive about making changes no matter how necessary. The 30 day buffer gives you a chance to listen to your team and find out what they think is important. It also enables you to discern who will be you ally, and where the landmines are buried.

Make a Plan with your Team. Be as Collaborative as You Can. In a perfect world, you and your team would sit down over the course of a few weeks and assemble a plan to fix their problems. No matter how hostile the team is to your strategy, leaders have to at least try to work with the team and get them on board. Even when you know exactly what’s broken and how to fix it, you’ll need to give your team some ownership and a stake. Do that by spending time planning with your team. Use as many of their ideas as you can, and then give them a stake and a role in implementation. Make them partners and stakeholders in the successful implementation of the plan. If collaboration just isn’t possible, then you’ll have to go it alone, In that case, be sure your boss is on board then give your orders and follow through.

Inspire and Lead.

In all cases, your people will need you to inspire them and lead them. Any change of leadership is difficult, but it’s impossible if the leader doesn’t take his job as “Chief Cheerleader” seriously. Even when most of the team isn’t even aware they’re broken they’ll want to know you’re rooting for them.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Monday Motivation: Live Simply, Love Generously, Speak Kindly

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Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 29 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Transitioning Leadership – The Exchange of Flags

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The military change of command ceremony is rooted in centuries of tradition back to the time of Frederick the Great. In the days before radio communications, the unit’s commander used his flag as a symbol of command and to signal movements on the battlefield. Leaders would physically hand the unit’s organizational flag from the outgoing to the incoming leader to symbolize the transfer of authority. Civilian companies have their own way of transferring authority, but the effect should be the same: a visible transfer of authority from “old guy” to “new guy.” Unless there’s compelling reason not to have a ceremony, like the previous leader was removed or left unexpectedly, doing a “change of command” ceremony is an important tool to keep a unit moving forward during what can be a disruptive time.

In a previous post, I wrote about what to do as the outgoing executive leader. This week we’re talking about the “new guy” at the executive level.

The Ceremony

The basic structure of a change of command ceremony is unchanged for centuries. The two leaders–outgoing and incoming–come out together led by the leader at the next echelon above. The organizational flag is passed from one to the other, then both make brief remarks. For the outgoing commander, this is a time for farewells and the ceremony is predominately for the outgoing leader and the team to make a formal break. For the incoming commander, it’s time to briefly introduce command philosophy–and get off the stage. There will be plenty of time for more later.

In non-military organizations and especially for executive leaders we often separate the two events–a retirement or farewell for the outgoing leader and some sort of welcome for the incoming–but there’s real value in the team seeing the transfer of authority from old to new. In a handshake, the passing of an “artifact” like a pen or even a coffee mug can be a powerful symbol of the transfer of allegiance. Making that transfer public and tangible goes a long way to enabling the organization to go on successfully under the new leader.

The First 30 Days

The first 30 days are a critical time for new leaders because first impressions are lasting ones. Use that time when you’re still the “new guy” to learn as much as you can about the team, the organization, and the processes.

During your first day on the job, meet one-on-one with key senior direct reports, administrative assistants, and the team as a whole. Help them understand your guiding principles and your priorities for your time at the helm. Your administrative staff, if you have one, will be keenly interested in your likes and dislikes for running the office, keeping your schedule, and passing information. Your key direct reports will want to get to know you, and you them, as well as understand what changes you intend to make.

Once you’ve met with your senior direct reports–we call it a “command team” in the Air Force–it’s time to meet with the entire staff as a group. Spend about an hour, and lay out your priorities, guiding principles, and your expectations. I always included few PowerPoint slides or a handout so they could listen better rather than taking notes. Be sure to allow them all time they need to ask questions–few of them will take you up on it anyway. Lastly give them a preview of what you intend to deliver to the entire organization during your upcoming “all hands call” and seek their feedback. Again, you’re not likely to get any feedback, but people appreciate being asked and any feedback you get tells you something about the people you’re working with.

Make time in the first few days to have an “all hands meeting” and address the entire team. I always tried to do that in the first week, the first day is best. If your team is spread out over many locations, then record your session and make that recording available to them. Like in the meeting with your senior staff, lay out your priorities and principles and make it memorable. You want your “slogan” to be memorable and easy to repeat–you’ll be repeating it often. This is your real first impression–make it count.

As a rule of thumb, and unless it’s absolutely necessary, avoid making any changes for the first 30 days. Understand your predecessors’ decisions before you begin making changes; this will help you avoid unwanted second and third order effects, and it will give you a better chance of finding root causes of problems rather than just symptoms.

Finally, during the first month make a deliberate effort to get around to as many work centers and offices as humanly possible. Avoid spending that entire time in conference rooms–you can read on your own time–you’re there to meet the people and see where they work. Whenever I take over a new organization I spend that first week or so walking through each unit and learning as much as I can from the people doing the actual work. You can tell a lot about an organization by asking questions and observing the work environment, and that sort of listening and personal contact means a great deal to your people.

Day 31

Once you reach your 31st day, you’ll be ready to begin moving the organization forward on the path you choose. What’s more, if you do these first few weeks well, you’ll have a team ready to move with you. Of course, not every situation can wait 30 days. Sometimes an organization is broken and stakeholders want action now. Take as much time as you can; time spent preparing the team to accept you as the new leader and to accept your agenda is like money in the bank waiting on you to cash the check. A smooth transition will make Day 31 possible.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Monday Motivation: Teamwork

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Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 29 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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


FEATURED PRODUCT

Need some #MondayMotivation “Hawaiian Style”? Check out my new 2017 Hawaii #MondayMotivation Calendar!  It’s full of some of my most beautiful photos from Hawaii, and inspiring quotes from my books. This calendar is a superb way to keep the “aloha”all year long!

 

Continuing the Mission – Leadership Drives Culture During Transition

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A change in leadership is not a change in mission. -Military maxim

The focus of January is the transition of leadership in the White House, so it’s a good time to talk about how successful leaders transition. I believe we do leadership transition well in the military, so there’s some lessons there for others. Every two to three years, commanders swap out, so being able to make that transition smoothly while continuing the mission is crucial.

Always Teaching Others

A good transition begins with a good culture—and the military culture is a learning culture. Because we work in a dangerous business with a highly mobile workforce, we’re always teaching someone else to do our jobs, and we’re culturally primed to think about how to hand off our work to our successor. For the military servicemember, the mission and the team are always more important than any single individual.

The military learning culture depends on three key factors:

Clearly defined processes: When work processes are clearly defined, and documented, the people are able to pass their knowledge on to others. In the military, we often maintain a “continuity book” with checklists, contact rosters, and applicable regulations/resources we used to do our jobs. The theory is if someone isn’t there, another person can step in and do the work. Leaders are no different, and all of us in command and leadership positions have a collection of briefs, memos, and rosters. This idea has applicability to any organization—no private or public team can afford to have a single point of failure. If the organization fails because “Sam” is the only person on the team who knows how to do a certain task, it’s not just Sam’s fault for not ensuring he had a backup. It’s the fault of his teammates for not looking out for him, and the leader for not ensuring there was no single point of failure. Leadership magnifies that responsibility.

Training is valued and resourced: Constant training is integral to the military culture. We dedicate time and money to ensure people remain proficient at their assigned duties. Spending time and money on training returns dividends in the forms of increased proficiency and team effectiveness. When training is done in groups, there are additional intangible benefits of encouraging learning, cross-functional knowledge, and team cohesion. The bottom line here is when the boss believes something is important, so will the team members.

Leaders encourage and model cross-functional expertise: Leaders must set the example when it comes to establishing and maintaining a learning culture. In addition to resourcing training, leaders should know how the organization functions and how the various pieces fit together to produce the whole. This means leaders must be visible and engaged. In small teams, leaders should be able to step in and perform some if not all jobs on the team. In larger teams, leaders clearly there’s not enough mental bandwidth to know every job—but leaders surely ought to know what the various business units do to accomplish the mission of the team.

The Mission is More Important than Me

Of course, at the most basic level the linchpin of a good transition is servant leadership. When leaders understand their teams and their mission are more important than their personal desires, every transition becomes much smoother. This means leaders must be as concerned with their successor as with their own desires and agenda. Six months is about the right time to begin thinking about transitioning to the new leader. There’s no need to get the staff energized at that point, but a servant leader should begin organizing notes and background information the incoming leader will need to know. What you really want to avoid is a rush at the last minute because you want to pass along as much knowledge as possible to the “new guy.”

Once a successor is named, the real work begins. Reach out to the incoming leader and ask them about what they’re thinking and what they need. Prepare the staff as best as you can on who the new leader is and what they’re agenda might be like.  Model the desire to help the new leader be successful to the team. For example, as an outgoing leader I avoided making long-term decisions that weren’t absolutely necessary. When possible, consult with the new leader—particularly on personnel decisions the “new guy” must live with. Clearly, there’s only one leader at a time, but you can ensure the organization you’ve invested yourself in and the people you’ve dedicated yourself to leading will be successful by putting energy into the transition. Lead the team all the way to the moment you hand over the reins to the new leader, and encourage your team members to be prepared for the new agenda.

One final note: never, ever, bad-mouth the incoming or outgoing leader. If you’ve got nothing good to say, then don’t say anything at all. Being negative doesn’t help anyone, least of all your team, and only reflects on you.

Mission. People. Success.

Adopting a servant leader mindset, you can ensure a smooth transition that leaves you free to move on to other things, and your team prepared to continue their success.

Originally posted on GeneralLeadership.com


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Monday Motivation: Plan Ahead

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Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 29 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 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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


FEATURED PRODUCT

Need some #MondayMotivation “Hawaiian Style”? Check out my new 2017 Hawaii #MondayMotivation Calendar!  It’s full of some of my most beautiful photos from Hawaii, and inspiring quotes from my books. This calendar is a superb way to keep the “aloha”all year long!