Finding the Sweet Spot

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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 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!

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 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!

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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 seven 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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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 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!

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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 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!

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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 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!

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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 seven 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!

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?

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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.

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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!

New Video: The Five Be’s

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Speaking, The Five Be's

Honored to have presented to the Ft Worth Downtown Rotary last month, and so appreciative for the Fort Worth Municipal Channel for the webcast!

This is the abbreviated version of my Five Be’s talk – hope you enjoy!


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!

The Cool Kids Usually Aren’t, But You Are

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When I was in high school I desperately wanted to be one of the cool kids. I was decidedly not “cool.”

The Cool Kids Usually Aren’t

My parents worked hard to provide for us, and we lived a good life with everything we needed including a Catholic education K-12. However, my classmates wore (then) $60 Nikes and I wore $20 Traxx from KMart. The cool kids wore Izod polos, mine were Montgomery Ward button downs. There was nothing wrong with my clothes, our car, our home, or any other outward measurement of social worth, but I was not “in” with the cool kids. I was too immature at 17 to understand that being “cool” wasn’t a be all and end all. It wasn’t even important.

Wish I’d learned that sooner because I wasted a lot of time on things that prevented me from friendships and personal growth. I know that now.

Cool Kids Are Usually Trying Too Hard

You see, the “cool kids” were often doing things that weren’t good for them or the people around them. Things we think are “cool” when we’re 16 or 17, are decidedly not with the benefit of a little hindsight and maturity. In fact, looking back, I’m glad I wasn’t one of the cool kids. My lack of social cooth and status likely protected me from some bad decisions.  Not that I didn’t make bad decisions with the uncool kids – but to be honest, those were mostly because I was trying to be something I’m not.

Be Yourself, You’re the Only You You’ve Got

Over and over again, it’s become apparent to me that absent a solid foundation in personal dignity and core values, people will often make the worst possible choices. One of the things continually surprised about as an adult is the propensity of large numbers of people to do things, wear things, and go places because someone in the entertainment industry or public life did it, wore it, or went there. When I see the magazines at the grocery store checkout, I’m amazed that these publications are in business. Honestly, I just don’t care that Princess So-And-So wore that thing, or Mr. Actor did such and such, or Mrs Socialite said whatever. Everyone is welcome to their own politics and opinions, and people in public life are no exceptions, but just because someone in a magazine or on TV is doing it is not sufficient reason for us to follow. People whose life is different than yours can be inspirational if they are virtuous or doing good works, but their life is just their life. Like eating watermelon, you have to eat the sweet stuff and metaphotically spit out the seeds.

Core Values

This is where guiding principles come into play. If we have a set of guiding principles for our life, we won’t be swayed because a pretty face decides to wear something or buy something. They have their lives, but their lives are not ours and vice versa. We can certainly admire someone’s work without feeling the need to agree with their politics or personal taste in clothes or cologne. Ultimately, when we have our core values and align our decisions with them, the “world” can do whatever “they” want without really affecting the quality of our lives. I can enjoy an actor’s work without feeling the need to agree with their politics, and just as importantly, not feel the need to judge them if we disagree. As I’ve written often, Mickey’s Rule #7 holds here, The other team is not the enemy.

Be authentically free, ya’ll.


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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Virtue is not a Scary Word

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When someone uses the word virtue, we immediately form a mental picture of a saint or an unattainable standard, but that need not be so. Virtue is not necessarily the sole domain of religion or any moral philosophy, nor should its association with religion create a barrier to adopting virtue as a “Be.”

The Critiques of the Idea of Virtue

It’s helpful to examine the common critiques up front. Critics of the idea of virtue as a realistic, achievable standard of behavior dismiss the idea that humans have the innate ability to live virtuous lives. It would be naive to ignore the terrible offenses people commit against others and society, but the opposite is also true. There are just as many stories of valor, love, self-sacrifice, and generosity in the world as well. People are capable of great evil, but we are also capable of great virtue.

We know, from observing the world, that both are true, that evil and good coexist within humanity, so it makes sense that an admirable goal is to cultivate the good and weed out the bad in ourselves. When we nurture the goodness in ourselves and others, we call that goodness “virtue.”

“Ethics” and “Core Values” are Virtues Codified

Every culture, community, and religion has its own idea of what virtue means. For example, in the U.S. Air Force, we define virtue as adhering to the Core Values: “Integrity first,” Service before self,” and “Excellence in all we do.”  As an institution, the Air Force considers an Airman virtuous if he lives by the Core Values,

We can trace our modern concept of virtue back to the classical Greek civilization of in the 4th Century BC and the famous philosopher, Aristotle. He defined the classical ideal and what has become known as the “Cardinal Virtues.”  The word cardinal refers to the “principle” or “main” virtues, much like north, south, east, and west are the cardinal directions on a compass.

Aristotle’s idea was that the highest calling was living a virtuous life, which perfected a person in the eyes of the gods as well as in the eyes of his fellow man. These ideas became so central to Western culture, that years later, when Christianity became dominant in political and philosophical thought in the Roman Empire, other philosophers like Augustine and Aquinas “baptized” the ideal of Classical Virtue and then added their own Christian-specific virtues called the “Theological Virtues.”

Universal Human Goods

The Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato both agreed that virtue begins with the understanding of what the medieval philosopher Aquinas later called “first principles.”  First principles are the “universal human goods” that all humans aspire to and recognize as admirable. Aristotle’s list included Life, Beauty, Love, Truth, Creativity, Religion, And Sociability. The virtuous person protects and seeks to increase these universal human goods, while the imprudent person squanders them. While we probably rarely use the words virtuous and vice in everyday speech, we have all seen people whose choices we questioned. Social media and the paparazzi thrive on highlighting behavior that makes us wonder, “What were they thinking?” 

When someone gets in trouble or makes choices that harm their reputation, or others, those choices are usually a direct result of someone not exercising a virtue. In fact, we don’t need a specific belief system or code of ethics to understand what’s right or wrong–although they certainly help as guides–those Universal Human Goods are written into our hearts.


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.

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The Beginning of the Be’s

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's, Uncategorized

 

I get asked occasionally where I got the idea for my most popular talk and book, The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life, and so I thought I’d make room here to talk about it.

It All Started with a Talk

The genesis of the book is a speech I wrote for young Airmen, fresh from Basic Military Training and arriving at their first base. I wanted to inspire them to live healthy and even virtuous lives. It’s not the vision they get from modern culture. Also, because I’d be speaking to people from varied backgrounds and beliefs, I needed to find non-sectarian ways to talk about virtue and healthy living without preaching.

What’s been interesting is the talk, and now the book, that I originally wrote for 19-year-olds resonates with people of all ages. I wanted to give them more than boundaries, I wanted them to have a vision of what a healthy person looks like; a clear idea of the kind of person I expected them to BE. The first time I was asked to give the Five Be’s talk to a conference of mostly older professionals, I reminded them that talk was really written for younger people. They responded, “we want the Five Be’s.” It was well received, and ever since then, it’s become my most requested talk.

Boundaries Are Not Enough

What I discovered a few years ago was that we spend a lot of time telling people what not to do, giving them boundaries. People need more than that.

We say “don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t act this way, don’t say those or eat that, or shop at the shop.” Boundaries are fine, we all need boundaries, but we can’t live with boundaries alone. For example, there are rules for driving and like stop lights and speed limits, etc., and all those things are fine. But if you don’t give a humans a vision of who we want them to be, a positive vision well then they are likely just to bounce back and forth, you know in the lane from boundary to boundary.

It’s not just important for young people, but for everybody starting out in life or a new chapter in their life. Think to yourself: what kind of person do I want to be ? When I tried to answer that question for myself, that’s when I came up with these Five Be’s. It’s sort of a macro formula for how to live a healthy and successful life.

You Are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

The first “BE” is “Be Proud of Who You Are.” You know everybody has something to be proud of no matter how humble you are and everybody has the same dignity and value no matter who you are. Your human dignity doesn’t depend on your age, the color of your skin, your gender, or your religion. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, doesn’t matter what rank you have on your on your sleeve, it doesn’t matter how good-looking you are – none of that matters to how you should be treated.

I think we have to remind ourselves sometimes because especially you know we can be our own worst enemy. Authentic pride isn’t cheerleading. It’s not being “Stuart Smalley” from Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.” It’s enough that we understand that each of us is a unique creation with inherent dignity.

Authentic Pride: The First BE

There are two kinds of pride; “authentic pride” and “counterfeit pride.” Authentic pride means thinking of your own self-worth and value, like pride in your family or accomplishments. It’s perfectly OK to be proud of working hard and achieving something, or of the contributions of your team, family, ethnic group, country, etc. You get the idea. Authentic pride is about tangible contributions, accomplishments, or victories. It builds people up.

Counterfeit pride is something much different. Counterfeit pride tears others down. It’s judgmental, exclusive, snobby, angry, and nasty. Counterfeit pride isn’t real because it’s not about victories, it’s about power.

Be Like the A’Ama Crab

The illustration for pride I always use, even for Mainland audiences, is a saying about Hawaiian crabs in a bucket. I read it in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser some several ago and I went thought to myself, “that’s perfect.” The saying goes something like this, “Be like the a’ama crab, not the alamihi crab.” If you put a load of alamihi crabs in a bucket, and one of them tries to crawl out, the other crabs will pull it back in. If you put a’ama crabs into the bucket, they will make a ladder and pull each other out. And so you know that’s the difference of counterfeit pride and authentic pride. Authentic pride is always trying to rip somebody down, counterfeit pride is always trying to rip somebody down, authentic pride is always trying to trip somebody up.

Be the good kind of crab. 


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Can We Talk About Virtue for a Moment?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

There’s loads of talk in the media and online about “polarization,” and I think it’s the right time to bring up virtue.

Many of us have been trained to think of “virtue” as the opposite of “vice.” That’s an imperfect comparison because, in reality, virtue lies between the extremes of vice on either end of the spectrum. Aristotle and later, St Thomas Aquinas, called this idea “The Golden Mean.” I think the idea illustrates the need for mature thinking and restraint – don’t let the pendulum pull you to vice.

Virtue Isn’t Inaccessible

Some often think of “virtue” as some sort of antiquated and inaccessible ideal – not applicable to the “real world” or only applicable to someone else. But virtue is not merely for saints and firefighters. All of us benefit from a society that embraces virtue with people who try their best to be virtuous. The Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude seem like they’re difficult or even from another time – but these are things we do every day.

When we make smart decisions about money or choose to hold our tongues instead of saying something mean, or even something as mundane as choosing the apple slices instead of fried potatoes at Chik-Fil-A, we’re using Prudence. Athletes and students exercise Temperance all the time when they choose to study or work out instead of sit on the couch and watch TV. Justice happens when we repay a debt or give someone credit for a job well done. Fortitude is when we show moral or physical courage in the face of adversity. Good people and even not-so-good people do these things all the time.

Back to the Golden Mean

In an age of extremism as an attempt to get attention for ourselves and our causes, we need to re-learn the value of the Golden Mean. Virtue lies between twin vices, not at the opposite end of them.

For example, “Courage” lies between the extremes of “Reckless Abandon” and “Cowardice.” It’s equally wrong to have complete disregard for your own safety and the safety of others, as it is to cower in safety while others are in need of your assistance. It’s not virtuous to take unneccessary chances, or refuse to risk yourself to save others, but it is virtuous to act when others need you.

The Middle Isn’t Moderate

We love to contrast the “Moderates” with the “Extremists,”  but I say a pox on both their houses. “Moderates,” at least the ones who seem to bend to the winds of society, stand for nothing. Their “True North” is whatever is popular at the moment. “Extremists” are grown up children clamoring for attention by banging on doors and attempting to shout people down. Neither of these examples strikes me as a particularly virtuous.

A virtuous person attempts to find common ground with others, but never compromises their core values. They don’t fall for the twin temptations at each end of the spectrum. It’s perfectly acceptable to advocate passionately for things we believe in. Where we cross the line is when we descend into vice in the service of our positions. That’s a line we cross at our own peril. Compromise and working together is virtuous, but we must never sacrifice principle on the altar of compromise.

Paraphrasing Aquinas, when we do Good and reject Evil we elevate ourselves and those around us. Truth and Good are objective realities – such things are not subject to opinion polls or how many “Likes” we get on our tweet.

Until we recover the idea of Virtue with a Capital V, we can never hope to live in a just civilization. For Aristotle, “Virtue” was the way mature, well-formed humans lived in harmony with others. Aquinas added a Christian view to that idea, living in harmony with others and God, but the idea is the same: grown-ups need to act like, well, grown-ups.

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Why No One is Listening to You

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules
Mom’s advice is still true

I have a little rule that I rarely break: never read the comments. In general, I find online discussions and online reviews of products and services routinely devolve into ugly comments and hyperbole. In a world where everyone can broadcast to the planet, many of us believe we have to exaggerate to be heard. I’m here to tell you that’s a false premise.  If you feel like no one is listening to you, I’ll tell you why I think that’s the case.

When I first began blogging, there were no social media platforms. Then came Plurk, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumbler, Instagram, Pinterest, Yelp, and on and on. Naively, I signed up for many platforms and participated in many discussions online. The problem, of course, is obvious. If you write online or participate in discussions online, sooner or later you’re going to make someone upset. Maturity has given me some perspective on how to constructively engage online, and one of the key lessons I learned is to avoid hyperbole.

Clickbait and Fake News

I know I don’t have to tell you that headlines and ads constantly use misleading or even salacious headlines to get your attention online. We’re at the point now where people don’t trust websites that don’t already tell them what they “know” is true. During the 2016 election cycle, we learned about “fake news” –  websites produced by pranksters, political hacks, nutjobs, and foreign agents designed to appear like legitimate news outlets. The term has become entangled with “propaganda” – which uses hyperbole extensively – but true “fake news” isn’t reporting or editorial slants we don’t like, it’s fiction or at least mostly fiction.

It’s important to separate editorial approach and truth. Just ‘cause a given news story, or blog post, conflicts with your view of the world doesn’t make it factually incorrect.  More importantly, I hope we’ve also learned to research a little before re-sharing something on social media.

Tribal Communication

One of the interesting things I’ve become aware of is how hermetically sealed almost everyone is in their own echo chambers. When people do venture away from their tribes, the language others use is so foreign to them, it’s difficult to have a discussion. When we can’t agree on the definitions of basic terms, like ‘person’ and ‘crime’, then arriving at any sort of mutual agreement is ne’r impossible. I have many examples, but here’s a benign (non-political) one.

Years ago and fresh from my master’s program in national resource strategy, I was steeped in the language of policymaking and economics. When someone was decrying fiscal policy of the then Administration and cited some incorrect facts, I thought I’d provide some help by dropping some economic knowledge on them. I used the term, “economic shock” which is a technical term for a, well, shock to the economy, in this case, the Great Recession of 2008. A person in the conversation was incensed that I would use such a “mild” term to describe something that was so devastating to her personally. I was speaking with my own “tribal language” with a blind spot on how others might hear it.

The same can be true with in-person discussions. It’s obvious when we see people from opposite political views talk to each other – they seem to be speaking completely different languages sometimes. When we make a word mean what we want it to mean rather than using the common or dictionary definition, then we’re only speaking to our own tribe. Go read the comments about news stories about almost anything and you’ll see what I mean.

Primary Sources, Please

It’s certainly not 100% successful, but choosing to use primary sources to educate yourself on the facts can help dial the emotion down a bit, and increase your chances of making your point. People are much more likely to listen when you start a sentence with, “The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported…” or “according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis…” rather than, “Actually, the answer is…”, or worse, “You’re an idiot…”.

Most often, a 5-second internet search is sufficient to prove/disprove a given assertion. Interestingly, the perspective of spending 5 minutes skimming a couple of articles (don’t forget: primary sources) is enough to move the argument to a discussion.

Be Prepared to “Disagree Agreeably”

Look, there are some people who you will never win over to your cause. You can improve your chances by being respectful, supporting your assertions with facts from reputable sources, and making a compelling case. However, there are some who will never find your case convincing. That’s OK, let it be. If you believe strongly about something, then support organizations that advocate for your issue. Educate yourself about the issues and opposing views. And for Pete’s sake exercise your freedom to vote. But when you can’t win someone over, let it be. Bringing drama or anger into yours or someone else’s life is only going to make yours worse.

For 34 years I wore the uniform of my country, and for 30 of those years I served alongside some of the finest people I will ever know. We did that job because we love our country. Honestly, I never cared much about who my fellow Airmen voted for, what they looked like, or whether or not they went to church, or who they dated. All that mattered, in the end, was our shared mission. I wish the rest of my countrymen could share the same view. If you’d like people to listen to you, then be the kind of person others are willing to listen to. The bottom line is this: if you love your country, then at least try to love Americans, too.

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Crimes are Not OK. Ever.

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders, Practical Leadership

In last week’s post I discussed an example of an “honest mistake” using an example from an HBO dramatization of the Apollo Moon program in the 1960s. Today, we discuss crimes. Unlike mistakes, where we learn without (hopefully) causing any real harm, a crime always causes harm. It’s the leader’s job to hold people accountable and minimize that harm.

Today I bring you another excerpt from my book Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams where I discuss the difference and how leaders should react. While I discuss the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State below, the lessons can apply to the Church or any organization of any size. 

How many teams have been rendered ineffective because of the boorish (and perhaps illegal) behavior of one person? There have been a number of high profile scandals in the last ten years, where leaders failed to act on information that criminal acts were taking place in their organization.
The 2012 Penn State scandal is instructive because, as these sorts of scandals go, it has a lot in common with the many other scandals in large organizations. Look at the personal and institutional wreckage caused by the systemic failure of a handful of people to report the criminal abuse of minors by Jerry Sandusky. For decades while at Penn State, Mr. Sandusky preyed on young boys, and at some point his co-workers and leadership began to believe something was amiss. However, instead of leaders forcefully and directly addressing the situation by asking some basic questions (or better, reporting the matter to the authorities), it appears that Sandusky’s behavior was swept under the rug.

Former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky is escorted by police. (Photo: The Wrap)

Even when Sandusky was caught in the act of abusing a boy in the locker room by a coach, and the matter was reported up the chain of command, the Administration took no action other than telling Sandusky not to bring children to the Penn State locker rooms anymore. That wasn’t the only time someone observed Sandusky’s behavior during the 15 years the grand jury investigated. According to the grand jury investigation, at least 21 people in leadership positions, some of them executive leadership positions, had first-hand knowledge of the abuse and didn’t act. The institution suffered far more damage than it would have had the leaders had the fortitude and integrity to confront Sandusky and contact the authorities. More tragically, their failure to swiftly address the situation to the proper authorities not only tarnished the reputation of the institution but enabled a serial abuser to continue his destruction of young lives far longer than he should have. The victims and their families will have a long road to recovery, and the personal wreckage is tragic beyond words.


Leaders have to do the hard work of holding to personal, professional, and legal standards. To do otherwise doesn’t merely endanger personal reputation of the offender; it endangers the entire enterprise. It will be years, perhaps even decades, before Penn State recovers its reputation and self-respect. For the foreseeable future, the thousands of current students, faculty, and alumni will have to live with the stain caused by a very small number of people. They will also have to live with the permanent damage done to the victims by someone the University had celebrated as a hero and role model.

I think the response by student body and alumni should give leaders pause when they believe they’re protecting an institution by hiding wrong-doing. After the initial shock wore off, the students and alumni demanded accountability. They petitioned for the resignation (or removal) of the University president and demanded that the statue of former head football coach Joe Paterno be removed. They raised money for the victims of sexual abuse to the tune of $574,000. In the end, after all the emotion and grief over the scandal, the majority of the students and alumni accepted the punishments meted out by the authorities and sought to do their best to reclaim their honor. It was the best they could do to salvage a horrible situation, but it was a failure of integrity by leaders that made a horrible situation much, much worse.

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Honest Mistakes Are OK, But Crimes Are Not

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, Practical Leadership

Recently, the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church many of us thought was behind us has been thrust back into the spotlight. According to what I’ve read, it was brought about largely because men in positions of authority either lacked the moral courage to act or worse, condoned the behavior of men committing crimes against minors as well as adults (e.g. seminarians). As a Catholic, I’m appalled by this behavior – frankly, I expected much better from the bishops. It’s not just a problem with Catholic bishops, however. This problem of a lack of moral courage is endemic in our society today.

We begin this discussion about moral courage with the idea that honest mistakes are OK, and are very different than crimes.

Promo poster from Tom Hanks’ From the Earth to the Moon: Episode 5, “Spider” (HBO)

Today I bring you an excerpt from my book Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams where we talk about a story from a dramatization about the Apollo Moon program.

A culture of trust and respect means that people need to be allowed an honest mistake from time to time. “Allowed an honest mistake” doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for making that mistake; it means that there is a difference between a mistake and a crime. The main difference, of course, between the consequences of a mistake and a crime is that the boss often has a choice over how hard to “come down” on someone for a mistake. A crime is a different matter and must always be dealt with by the law enforcement authorities. No one should get a pass for a crime.

There’s a scene in one of my favorite mini-series, Tom Hanks’ From the Earth to the Moon, that I think illustrates the difference between accepting mistakes and crimes. During testing, Grumman engineers were trying in vain to understand why the legs of the moon landing ship kept buckling. It turns out that an engineer had made a math error in his initial calculations for the leg design that had carried through the rest of his work. The project fell months behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. After spending all night working to discover the error, the young engineer in charge of the leg design sheepishly approached his CEO the next morning and confessed the error was his. Believing he was to be fired, he offered to go home.

Instead, his boss scolded him gently for having made the mistake and then thanked him for bringing the matter to him. The CEO then told his depressed and exhausted engineer to get some rest because he had a lot of work to do to get the project back on schedule. The engineer was held responsible for his failure, but the boss also realized that the work his team was engaged in required innovation and risk taking. No one had been injured, and although the company had expended considerable resources, it was not a total loss. More importantly, if every error were a “mortal sin,” then the chilling effect on the rest of the team would stifle creativity and reduce the chance for successfully landing a man on the moon. He had to create and maintain an environment where the individual team members knew they were valued and respected not only for their contributions but because they were valued as people.

Of course, the United States landed men on the moon and returned them safely to the Earth using the vehicle designed by that same Grumman engineer who made the initial mistake. That success was made possible because the climate of respect among teammates was strong enough that an employee could approach his boss and confess a mistake, even expecting to lose his job, without fear of being mistreated. An institutional climate where people know they are valued because they are creates an atmosphere that breeds excellence.

Next week: Crimes, Penn State and Sandusky.

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