Crimes are Not OK. Ever.

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, 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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Leaders Create a Culture of Respect

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

The second brick in the foundation of leadership that’s necessary when leading leaders is respect. The leader must model respect and demand it of their teams.

Respect must go both ways, up as well as down, and most of the burden falls on the leader’s shoulders. Respect is both inherent, and it is earned.  It is earned by the way we do our jobs, the way we treat others, and how we carry ourselves. Just as important, respect for the organization is a necessary component.  Respect is also inherent in each person as a matter of simple human dignity.

Leaders Set the Tone

It is very important for a leader to explicitly outline his or her expectations in this regard. Everyone should expect their co-workers and their leaders to follow the law, that’s a given. Our attitudes about the people we work with should convey that our hearts as well as our heads demonstrate our respect. The leader must also pledge that they will show respect to their team. A person who shows respect to others will create a “bubble of trust” around them. People will want to work with them and for them. Customers will want to do business with them. The more people in an organization that have built their reputations on mutual respect, the bigger that “bubble of trust” grows. When people know they’re respected by their teammates and leaders, they feel safe to perform, to take risks, and to be themselves.

A person who shows respect to others will create a “bubble of trust” around them.

Whenever I took command of a new unit, I made it very clear that we were to respect each other as Airmen and as persons. For us, that meant we used proper military customs and courtesies, we didn’t use foul language, and we respected each others’ dignity whether or not we agreed with our teammates’ choices or beliefs. Each person has a multitude of ways to describe them: sex, race, eye color, religion or no religion, national origin, etc. We are required by law to treat people equally in all things and not to treat someone differently because they are different from us. It’s not necessary for me to agree with everything another person thinks or believes, but it is necessary for me to treat them with the respect they deserve as a fellow human being.

Beyond mere adherence to the law, respect is recognizing that another human being has the same value as I do because they are.

Not Just for the Military

In the private sector, this is no different. Like the public sector, there are institutional policies and public law that require certain personal and institutional behaviors, but respect is not a legal requirement. Respect is much more than that. Beyond mere adherence to the law, respect is recognizing that another human being has the same value as I do because they are, not because of what they do, how much money they make, or what clothes they wear. Now, I can certainly perform rote behaviors and parrot legal scripts when dealing with others, but to truly show respect, that has to come from the heart. Again, I don’t have to condone behavior or agree with beliefs that don’t match my own; but the skilled leader, the effective leader, separates behavior from personhood and can show respect to anyone regardless of differences. This type of respect engenders respect in return.

Over the course of my career, I’ve led and worked with a number of people who were very different from me. Because we lived and worked in an environment where respect was the expected behavior, teams and friendships usually form quickly, even among very dissimilar people. We became friends with people we might never have even met, let alone socialized with, because the climate our leaders created and maintained required that we respect each other. When you start with respect for another person, most times the differences don’t really matter all that much.

Crimes are not Mistakes – Know the Difference

Of course, there are some things in the “just don’t do it” category, for example: sexual harassment, alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, racism, etc. These are inherently self-destructive behaviors that leaders cannot tolerate under any circumstances and go well beyond mere “philosophical differences.” In professions like heavy industry, construction, the military, police, or fire service, these sorts of self-destructive behaviors can have life or death consequences. In business, it can end careers and destroy companies.

…there are some things in the “just don’t do it” category, for example: sexual harassment, alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, racism, etc. These are inherently self-destructive behaviors that leaders cannot tolerate under any circumstances…

Leaders have to act quickly to prevent someone’s illegal choices from costing someone else their life or livelihood. In industrial settings, the consequences for the “just don’t do it” behaviors are similarly severe. However, not all of us work in a life and death profession. So while leaders in an office or small business may not have to deal with an industrial accident, business and personal consequences can be very severe. Moreover, an incidence of sexual harassment damages the victim and could expose the firm to legal action for not addressing the illegal behavior.

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.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams. It’s available in the Lulu Bookstore and on Amazon, also on Kindle.


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

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

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

 

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What I Saw in Houston

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, The Five Be's, Veterans

Team Rubicon “Greyshirts” of FOB FRIENDSWOOD prepare to move out for the day.

Last week I deployed with Team Rubicon on my first ever disaster response operation: Operation Hard Hustle.  I can tell you I got more out of the experience than I gave—serving others and doing important work in the company of other military veterans and first responders is soul-cleansing. This post is my reflection on that week.

Doing good work and serving others is my primary reason for volunteering, but there is a secondary benefit as well. The experience also provides a place for veterans to be among other veterans, and to reconnect with the “brotherhood.” Having spent my entire adult life in uniform, I relish that connection.  WW II soldier and Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin called it the “Benevolent And Protective Brotherhood Of Them What Has Been Shot At”, and that’s a discription I’ve thought about many times over the course of my career.

My Air Force specialty was civil engineering and installation management, which means when bad things happened I went to work. Being retired from the Air Force, I was now on the sidelines of a disaster happening just a few hours by car away from me. I felt the need to be there, and so enter Team Rubicon. I’ve written about Team Rubicon before, but in a nutshell it’s a veteran-led organization who respond to disasters. When we were in the military, we received a lot of training on handling chaos and trauma—some of us were medics, rescue personnel, infantry, engineers, etc. Team Rubicon allows us to put our military experience and training to work as well as continue to serve.

I can tell you I got more out of the experience than I gave—serving others and doing important work in the company of other military veterans and first responders is soul-cleansing.

Pack Your Stuff

My “Go Bag” is packed.

When Hurricane Harvey headed for the Texas coast gaining strength, I felt I just couldn’t sit idle while people were about to have their lives shattered when I had the skills to help. On Thursday with Harvey’s rain pounding and wind howling outside, I filled out the forms, did the training, and submitted my background check. And waited.

I didn’t have to wait long.

On Sunday afternoon I received the coveted “green dot” on my TR Profile meaning I was cleared, and an email with deployment orders to join the first wave of volunteers at Forward Operating Base (FOB) FRIENDSWOOD in Friendswood, Texas.  Most of my field gear and camping equipment is still in storage in Colorado, so I was off to Academy and Walmart to get a few things, then on Tuesday morning I drove the three hours down to our FOB for operations in the area. Our Area of Operations (AO) would include Friendswood, Dickinson, League City, Alvin, and Hitchcock. The Incident Command team of four seasoned TR volunteers was there a few days ahead of us, and we began operations as soon as we got signed in.

Professionals Talk Logistics

Warm welcome from Friendswood!

The first order of business for the handful of new arrivals was to set the logistics for the remainder of the deployment. We re-positioned vehicles, drew tools and equipment, and set up two dozen cots in the gym that would be our living quarters. I must say that the good people who hosted and supported us at Friendswood United Methodist were amazing. The fed us three meals a day, washed our clothes, and provided small comforts like toiletries, home baked goodies, and pillows. Can’t say enough about them and their servants’ hearts!

On Day 2 while a most of our team headed out to do Damage Assessments and work at a house (“Strike Team”), three of us headed to a warehouse down at the airport that would be our Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration (RSOI) center for Greyshirts (TR volunteers) arriving in the next week. We spend the morning cleaning it and getting the RSOI center ready, then back to the FOB after repositioning more vehicles, picking up others, and drawing more equipment for our teams.

“It’s Too Dangerous for My Children”

More Greyshirts arrive on Saturday!

On Days 3-5, I was finally able to get into the field and begin working with the people affected by the flooding. We went house to house in a Dickinson and Friendswood meeting with residents trying to cope with the wreckage that had been their homes. Whether a house got 4 inches or 4 feet of water, the damage was largely the same. Imagine taking everything you own and piling it in a wet, moldy heap in the front yard. That’s what the flooded areas look like.

One woman took the moment with us away from her family to shed a few tears with my teammate, afraid to be anything other than positive and strong in front of her husband and her kids. Another calmly told us the story of getting out of his house as the water went from ankle-deep to waist deep to chest deep so quickly they got out with the clothes on their backs in the boat they had in the driveway. He told us sadly about that during the evacuation, one of the family dogs was swept under the boat and drowned.

Another family in Dickinson told of a harrowing story of getting out as the flood waters rose. A woman in her 60’s walked her disabled brother and elderly neighbor through waist deep water following the yellow line on the road—none of them could swim. When she arrived at her 92-year-old mother’s house, she evacuated all of them by boat with the clothes on their backs.

Another woman flagged us down and told us she needed help. She spoke English slightly better than I speak Spanish, and we communicated in a blend of the two languages. While her young daughter slept in the car seat, she told us with tears welling in her eyes that she discovered only after the flood that she’d been renting her house, rather than paying a mortgage. With two little ones with her, and her son in the Navy in California, she was unsure what to do next because she couldn’t go home (“demasiado peligroso para mis niños –it’s too dangerous for my children”).

There are thousands of stories like that.

I completed the last two days of my tour in the command post as Deputy Ops, and it was gratifying to see the work we gathered getting scheduled and teams dispatched. At the end of seven amazing days, I said good-bye to the team and returned home.

Everyone we met had an unshakable faith in God. Through the flood waters and devastation of their homes, their faith in God and in each other had remained unvanquished.

Houston Strong

Despite the occasional tears, two things struck me: the resilience of the people and the amazing example of who we are as Texans and Americans these people provided.

First, Houstonians specifically and Texans in general are incredibly resilient. Many of the houses we visited had already had a volunteer group come through and provide initial demolition assistance. It’s imperative to get the wet stuff out of the house quickly to avoid dangerous mold growth. Neighbors shared food by having cookouts and checked on each other.  One man we met assembled a trailer with a grill and coolers, worked a deal with the local Walmart manager to buy food, and then circulated around neighborhoods feeding people. Even those we met who opened their hearts and cried a little always took a big breath and let resolve to go forward settle on them before we left. Everyone we met had an unshakable faith in God. Through the flood waters and devastation of their homes, their faith in God and in each other had remained unvanquished.

Second, spending a week with volunteers and Houstonians reinforced to me that America is still who we thought she is. America remains the City on a Hill. Men and women from all over the country came to help Houstonians recover. Groups of volunteers from countless churches, neighborhoods, and civic organizations went house to house to help strangers. We saw perhaps a dozen other volunteer groups working in each neighborhood.

While as a Texan I believe there’s something special about Texas, I’ve traveled enough and lived enough other places to know that if Texans indeed did anything truly extraordinary it was only to remind our fellow Americans who we are as a country.

Our team visited with men and women of every color, creed, and background. Time and again I heard them tell me, “All that division is crap. We’re Americans, we’re Texans.” We honestly believe All Men Are Created Equal and in the “image and likeness of God”; it’s not a slogan here. I’m not naive, I know there are problems and people sometimes do bad, even evil, things to each other. But I also know the vast majority of people around us are good and decent, and will be there for you when things get bad. While as a Texan I believe there’s something special about Texas, I’ve traveled enough and lived enough other places to know that if Texans indeed did anything truly extraordinary it was only to remind our fellow Americans who we are as a country.

Move to the Sound of the Guns

Napoleon’s standing order for units out of communication with his headquarters was to “move to the sound of the guns.” It is an imperative to act and not wait for someone to tell you what to do. There was no gunfire on the Texas Gulf Coast, but there was a battle to be waged against Nature and it was good men and women who moved to the metaphorical “sound of the guns” when things went bad. Napoleon’s order is something military people and first responders do instinctively, and I believe there’s something in the Texan and American character that drives that instinct. We saw that play out on TV countless times when men and women “moved to the sound of the guns” to help their neighbors. Federal, State, local authorities, and volunteers didn’t wait for someone to give them orders; they acted and worked together to save lives and now to rebuild them.

My Team Rubicon teammates were there doing swift water rescues, and we’ll be there to help Houston rebuild. It’s TR men and women: veterans, first responders, medical professionals, and a few civilians in the mix who represent what’s right about America.

The City on a Hill may have a few potholes and broken windows, but she remains a shining example of who America truly is as a country. We really are who we say we are, and I believe that now more than ever.


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

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

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

 

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Leaders Have to Love

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

Me during a brief stop at Ali Air Base, Iraq, April 2003

If we love our country, we should also love our countrymen.

-Ronald Reagan

“Love” may seem to be an odd topic for a post on a leadership blog, after all I write about leading people in a business or organizational setting. However, I think “love” is a particularly poignant topic for us to discuss this time of year–particularly regarding love of country and appreciating our fellowship with each other.

I wrote the article below in 2006, when I was the commander of the 2d Civil Engineer Squadron, as an editorial in the base paper. Much to my surprise Air Force Print News picked it up and published it worldwide. I think that’s because we all want to be inspired to our better natures. It’s easy to be offended–it’s harder to love. But that’s exactly the kind of man I want to be, and the kind of leader I want to follow. Don’t worry, this is serious and I won’t be too sappy.

I’ve edited the original a bit–as I’ve gotten older and I’m no longer leading a combat unit, I’ve taken a little of the “edge” off. The sentiments, however, remain the same: Love your country, love your Air Force, and love your fellow Airman. I think even non-Airmen can relate: love your country, love your family, and love your co-workers.


I think that while Airmen many not use that word, “love”, they demonstrate their love in the way they serve every day. Above all, by living out our core values, we show our love for our country, our Air Force, and our fellow Airmen before love of ourselves.

Love Your Country

First, in order to serve this great nation, we must love her deeply.  Patriotism is an abstract concept for many people, but for those of us who wear the uniform of the Republic, love of country is an absolute necessity.  With our nation at war, her warriors must believe in the values that make our country great, else our service becomes little more than mercenary.  Our United States of America stands astride the road of history, and we, her warriors, have voluntary placed our bodies between civilization and the abyss of our enemy.  We have been blessed to serve such a great Republic–few other countries on earth can boast the freedoms that we enjoy here in America. Freedom to say what we think, believe what we want, associate with whom we choose, elect our government, and own our own property are values that are not common.  To love our country more than ourselves lifts our service from a just a “job” to a vocation, a calling, and it lifts us from being merely “in it” for ourselves to warriors for a great Republic fighting in the cause of freedom, for ideals larger than ourselves.

Love the Air Force

Love of our Air Force is the way we express our espirit de corps, that intangible measure of the devotion of the Airmen in a certain squadron or wing.  It manifests itself in the steely-eyed coolness of our aviators, the quiet technical professionalism of our maintainers, the can-do spirit of our combat support Airmen, and the selfless care of our medics.  We hear it in our squadron yells and we see it in the pride when we sing The Air Force SongEspirit de corps, literally “soul of the body”, expresses the energy, pride, and morale of any warrior. To love the Air Force is to give life to that soul of our Service.  The animation we give to our Service makes us the best in the world…and inspires our fellow Airmen to greater feats of arms.

Love Your Fellow Airman

The final “love” is love of our fellow Airmen.  As much as we love our country and our Air Force, during the most extreme moments we fight for each other.  Our training often bonds us through shared hardship, and the crucible of combat is the fire that hardens our steel.  Somewhere between the mundane tasks of everyday missions and the second by second terror of a street fight in Baghdad, we learn that our love for each other is what binds us most deeply.  We show our love for each other by the way we respect and care for each other, the way leaders do the hard work of discipline when it’s required, and the way we honor our own by celebrating our accomplishments.  It’s manifested most deeply in the way we salute a fallen Airmen.  Yes, love for our fellow Airmen is rarely spoken, but often seen–sometimes it’s just the knowing smile and firm handshake of a comrade who is confident his buddy has his back.

Many among us would not recognize the unnamed emotion they feel for their country, the Air Force, or their buddies–but no other word really describes these feelings better.  Patriotism, espirit de corps, and camaraderie–three words that mean the same to an Airman: love.


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 and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Mickey 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 and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, People Development Magazine, and GeneralLeadership.com.


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Book Excerpt: Handle Personal Matters Personally

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Leadership by Experience

I’m pleased to present another excerpt from my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams about the importance for senior leaders to do some things personally:

Paperback Cover - FrontIn my own experience as a leader, I have often been surprised at how much impact little things have on people. Each year former and current students from my alma mater, Texas A&M, gather together on the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto to commemorate fellow Aggies who have died during the year. Aggies have been gathering at Muster ceremonies around the world each year since 1922. When I was a young officer on the Pacific Air Force’s staff in Hawaii, I was the chairman of our local Texas A&M Association of Former Students’ Muster Committee. As it happened, General Pat Gamble, the commanding general, was also a Texas Aggie (’67), so we invited him to attend Muster. He was able to come by for a few minutes before heading off to an official function. Our guest speaker that night was another Aggie, Dr. Don Powell (’56), a famous cartoonist who contributed to the Texas A&M school newspaper for a generation. Dr. Powell was the author of a cartoon entitled “dp” that depicted a lovable cadet and his sidekick. It was a cherished memory of days gone by, especially if you were an Aggie sports fan like me. As souvenirs for the evening, Dr. Powell signed copies of his cartoons, so I asked him to sign a “dp” cartoon for General Gamble. Dr. Powell graciously obliged.

The next day at work, I quickly typed up a short note thanking the general for coming to Aggie Muster, attached the signed cartoon, and delivered it to the general’s secretary. I didn’t expect to hear from the general again; after all, he commanded a vast organization responsible for protecting the airspace across the entire Pacific Ocean with thousands of Airmen and hundreds of airplanes, and I was a mere captain. But sure enough, in a day or two I received a handwritten note card with a thank you from the general. That act of kindness—and good manners—made a big impression on me. That handwritten note probably took General Gamble a couple of minutes to write. He likely forgot about it as soon as he’d done it, but to this day that note is the reason I still don’t sign form “letters of appreciation” prepared by my staff. Countless members of my own units have received handwritten notes all because years ago a very busy man took a couple minutes to write a personal note to me.

I have come to believe in the power of the personal touch when leaders interact with their teams. People may say they don’t care about what their leaders think about them, but my experience tells me the opposite. It matters when a leader takes the time to personally recognize excellence and when the leader shows interest in the team members’ families and personal lives. Certainly there is a line that one shouldn’t cross, like dating subordinates or asking uninvited personal questions about family, faith, or politics, but treating people like people who have their own interests and relationships instead of cogs in the machine means leaders should handle some things personally.


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 and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Throwback Thursday: Leading People With Positivity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Leadership by Experience

 

scan0038A positive leader is a real strength to an organization. In fact, learning how to deal with adversity and leading people through it is one of the most important skills leaders must develop. Some people are so successful that when they eventually fail at something, that failure becomes an existential crisis for them. Organizations are not different: some are resilient and some aren’t. For leaders to be effective, they need to be able to put things in perspective leading people with “positivity.”

When I was in high school, I co-coached my brother’s Little League team when the adult coach had to quit for personal reasons. It was my first coaching job and I certainly learned a great deal about leadership from the experience. One particularly bad day, our game plan completely came apart. We’d gone through all our pitchers, and the other team was killing us. At one point things were going so badly, I walked into the dugout and dejectedly sat down. Seeing this, my Dad quietly walked out of the bleachers and whispered in my ear, “When you get down, the team will get down. Get up and get back in the game.” It was a great lesson in leading with positivity.

I’d like to say we won, but we didn’t. However, we were able to tell the boys they’d done good and congratulate them for never giving up even when they were getting creamed. That post game pep talk carried a lot more weight when we coaches maintained our positive attitude.

There’s many personal skills involved in maintaining a positive attitude, like the ones John Treas writes about over a Inc.com  5 Steps Toward Maintaining a Positive Attitude.

1. Manage rejection. It is easy to get discouraged when unwelcomed events occur. The trick is to put them in perspective: Most will pass and become unimportant with time. It’s easy to feel like a single failure or rejection is the end of the world, but it never is. In fact, setbacks often give you an opportunity to turn a rebuff into a win. One time early in my sales career, I was literally thrown out of a prospect’s office because she felt I hadn’t respected her tight schedule. I went back to my office, wrote a letter of apology, and sent a gift designed to make her job easier. She became a good customer, and we became lasting friends.

Of course there’s other ways as well, and each person has their own. Leaders should find what works for them. That said, whatever individual skills people use to maintain their personal positivity, leaders must translate that into helping their teams maintain their positivity. As I’ve written many times, leadership style is both highly personal and highly situational, so leaders must adapt to their environment. I agree with Treas’ ideas at the link, and I’d like to add a couple leadership behaviors I believe are important for leaders to model:

– Be truthful. People quickly see through “happy talk” when leaders are delivering bad news. Some leaders believe they can “sugar coat” unpleasantness and those words will carry greater weight than the actual unpleasantness. I’m sorry, but to someone losing their job or being forced into a significant changes euphemisms like “right sizing” or “we’re making a change” ring hollow. People respect leaders who speak truthfully, and while bad news can be delivered with gentleness and compassion, we shouldn’t attempt to use euphemism to minimize the real pain people feel with change. When teams have confidence their leaders are being truthful, the resulting trust helps people maintain a positive attitude.

– Think Ahead. It’s much easier to lead people toward a positive attitude when there’s a plan. Even when the road ahead is tough, the team’s attitude is much more likely to stay positive if they can see where they’re going. Nothing destroys team morale…positive attitudes…than figuratively groping through the darkness towards an unseen or ambiguous goal.

– Stay positive. The most important thing a leader can do is model the behavior they want their teams to exhibit. Once the leader gets “down” the team will quickly follow; conversely if the leader is positive it’s much more likely the team will stay “up.”

Just like that Little League team, leaders need to understand the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and helping their teams maintain theirs. What skills do you use to keep yourself and your teammates positive?

#TBT: No Real Leader “Phones It In”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Leadership by Experience, Throwback Thursday

Paperback Cover - FrontMy book, Leading Leaders, is filled with stories about leaders and personal stories from my own life since leadership is inherently a personal experience. Leadership is not the application of skills as much as it’s the focused attention on human interaction. Humans are complex beings that are the amalgamation of their own experiences, learned and innate behaviors, and the situations leaders and teams find themselves in over the course of the job at hand. We can learn a lot from our own experiences, and others’, so long as we’re open to the lesson. That’s the real secret of effective leaders: they care enough about the team and the job at hand to invest themselves in the effort.  Leaders have to be present and engaged.  No effective leader ever “phones it in.”

A great story to illustrate my point: I once accompanied an Army 2-star general to the signing ceremony of an agreement on enhancing military spouse employment between four military bases in the Rocky Mountain Front Range.  It was a typical ceremonial military function, with local officials, base officials from two military Services, and a host of military spouses.  As the Army major general made his way through the crowded corridor, staff in tow, toward the ball room to get ready to start the event, he found himself shaking hands with a volunteer who was also the wife of one of his deployed soldiers.   The general could have shaken her hand, smiled perfunctorily, and moved on.  No one would have blamed him, since he commanded thousands of soldiers and certainly had a full schedule.

But that’s not what he did.

He stopped and gave that young woman his full attention.  He asked her how she was doing with specific questions, and after listening to her intently, assured her of his support by making certain his aide had her name and her husband’s unit.  I have no doubt that he checked on her and her husband later, probably personally.  It made a huge impression on me to see such focus and presence by a senior leader!

That’s presence…that’s leadership…and it’s applicable to leadership in any situation.

People Need a Purpose, Not Just a Paycheck

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

images (1)“Shared Purpose” is shorthand for getting people connected to the mission of an organization. The most effective leaders are able to build a collective sense of shared purpose and connect each individual to the mission of the larger team. In fact, the teams who think and work together with a sense of shared purpose are the happiest, and the most successful. When leaders keep the welfare and engagement of their teams in the forefront of their decisions, they enable those teams to connect to the mission of the organization. That connection leads to a sense of mission and shared purpose–both keys to high performance.

When Leaders Serve, Teams Connect

In contrast to the Industrial Age, Information Age leaders have to pay attention to the needs of individuals. Those leaders who do, will be giving the individuals in their teams a sense of shared purpose. During the Industrial Revolution, management specialists de-emphasized the needs and variations of individuals in an effort to standardize the product. While standardization and mass-production enabled large scale availability of consumer goods, it often produced, ahem, sub-optimal results in employee morale and even safety. In fact, when we form a caricature of a soul crushing work environment, an industrial age factory or office comes to mind. Thankfully, we’ve learned a few things since the 1940s.

Today’s corporate leaders understand the need to develop their people, facilitate their engagement, and the need for individuals to contribute meaningfully. Good leaders care about their people and give their teams a shared purpose and mission. Companies who repeatedly score highly on “Best Companies to Work For” lists take these principles seriously. In my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, I talked about companies who do this successfully. The data is a little old, but their names will be familiar:

For example, according to CNN Money Magazine, the top three companies to work for in 2012 were Google, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and SAS Institute. Employees at all three companies reported they felt valued by leadership, their work was meaningful, their pay was good, and that the workplace was a fun place to work. Google’s success as an organization is legendary: good pay, self-paced work, and plenty of free food. BCG has a focus on work–life balance, including requiring their employees to take time off, which demonstrates they value their employees’ well being as much as they value their productivity. SAS has a number of programs emphasizing the value of their employees’ well-being, including subsidized Montessori childcare, intramural sports leagues, and unlimited sick time. All three of these companies value their employees and prove that through their HR policies. What’s more, the leaders themselves model the behavior they require of their employees.

In addition to the work environment, 21st Century corporate leaders are getting a renewed sense that their place in the community also requires them to be involved in the common good. More than sponsoring community events, companies who value their contributions to the community are engaged in community service work as a company, and also encourage their employees to engage in individual volunteerism. In this way, corporate leaders help their people connect to the community as individuals and send the message that the company cares about the community as well.

Inspire and Connect

Corporate leaders can be just as successful as military leaders by inspiring and connecting their employees to something larger than just a paycheck. Leaders should demonstrate they care about the people they lead–and understand that leadership is a call to service rather than a mantle of success. No matter whether a company is for-profit or nonprofit, there is a purpose for the company to exist: it performs a service or produces a product people need. If there wasn’t a need, there would be no company. Leaders are responsible for helping their people see that they’re not simply creating paper or making a widget–they’re enabling others and filling a need in others’ lives. SpaceX is an excellent example: they’re going to Mars! Not every company is trying to revolutionize space travel and colonize another planet, but every company produces value or they won’t be in business for long!

Here’s the key: leaders help the employees see the value of the work they’re performing beyond the paycheck they receive each week. If leaders do that, if they truly inspire their teams and connect them to the larger mission and the community they serve, their teams will strive and reach high performance. What’s better, they’ll get there will enough gas in the tank to go farther and they’ll enjoy the journey as well.


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 and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Teamwork is the Purpose of Leadership

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

USAF Ace and Hero, In Honor of Mustache MarchWhen discussing leadership we most often focus on the leader-follower dynamic. But there’s another relationship crucial to the success of any effort: the teams relationship with themselves and other teams. The leader who can lead teams to work effectively amongst themselves, and with others outside themselves, is a high performing leader.

As a young officer in the 1990’s, I participated in a Total Quality Management “Awareness Training” event where I learned a valuable lesson about teamwork. During the training course, we divided ourselves into teams of 5 and undertook the task of building paper airplanes. It was a competition between the students to see how many paper airplanes we could make and how much money we could make. We were given a budget to spend on supplies, had to get our design approved by the customer, and meet certain performance requirements. We schmoozed our customer, he was the one with the money after all, but we took an entirely different tack with our “supplier.” We told him what we were after, and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer during the negotiations. During our negotiation, he kept stressing he had loads of “Grade A Paper.” When we were done, our “supplier” hardly felt like part of the team. We used our “Grade A Paper” well by cranking out a bunch of paper airplanes. One team managed to make a lot more paper airplanes than we did, and we were keen to know how they did it. The answer was “teamwork,” but not in the way we expected.

The teams were fairly evenly matched, Each had a mixture of old heads and new blood, officer and enlisted, experienced and innovative. But what set the winning team apart from us was who they had on their team. You see, when they looked for teammates, it wasn’t merely the people who’d been assigned to them, but their customer and their supplier. The customer wasn’t interested in all the performance specs, only a few were really important to him (distance), and the supplier had loads of “Grade B” paper (half folded sheets), “Grade C” paper (a fully folded paper airplane). If we’d seen the customer and the supplier as members of our team and included them from the beginning rather than trying to exploit each for our own purposes, we’d have had a much better chance of winning.

Therein lies the leaders role in teamwork.

Leaders’ words and actions will set the tone for relationships between internal and external teammates. If leaders see others as potential or actual teammates, so will the team, and so will those others. Leaders have to expect, inspect, and reward teamwork–doing otherwise generates a lot of resistance to progress. If we as leaders can set the expectations that those outside our organizations as well as those within are teammates, we establish an environment of mutual respect that produces a whole greater than the sum of the parts. Leaders then have to follow through, to “inspect” or measure, the level of teamwork within their organization. There cannot be a “them” and helping our teams see the others we work with as potential teammates. So it is with customers and suppliers; we reward good teamwork when we bring these people onto our team,and praise our employees for demonstrating that teamwork in their interactions with them. Just like our paper supplier, there’s likely more win-win relationships out there if we give them the chance.

Teamwork is a leadership principle worth passing on!

General Leadership: So Say We All

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama, Photo Courtesy of NBC UniversalIn my latest over a GeneralLeadership.com, I talk about leading change while channeling my inner Commander Adama from SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica.

“It won’t be an easy journey. It’ll be long, and arduous. But I promise you one thing: on the memory of those lying here before you, we shall find it, and Earth shall become our new home. So say we all!”
Commander Bill Adama, Battlestar Galactica

Studying fictional leaders is sometimes as profitable as studying actual ones. For example, Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) in the SyFy TV series Battlestar Galactica is a great character study in leadership during crisis. I’m a big BSG fan, and consider it one of the best sci-fi TV series ever made. The quote above is from the end of the pilot, after the Cylons have destroyed the entire human race except for 50,000 survivors. The last Colonial warship, the Battlestar Galactica now leads a ragtag fleet of survivors, and the fleet’s leaders must find a way to keep humanity’s last remnants alive and moving toward a goal. That goal is the “Thirteenth Tribe of Man” located on the legendary planet of “Earth.” As a sci-fi nerd and a movie fan, I often see parallels between the storylines of my favorite movies and real life. So it was that as our Air Force embarked on a very significant re-organization I find myself reflecting on Commander Adama as I lead a group of people to a (figurative) new “land” and leave behind much of “the old ways” to learn new ones. Not to be melodramatic, surely no Cylons are chasing us through space, but we are now leading our Airmen through some very significant change.

Read the rest here.

Leading People With Positivity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Leadership by Experience

 

scan0038Learning how to deal with adversity and leading people through it is one of the most important skills leaders must develop. Some people are so successful that when they eventually fail at something, that failure becomes an existential crisis for them. Organizations are not different: some are resilient and some aren’t. For leaders to be effective, they need to be able to put things in perspective leading people with “positivity.”

When I was in high school, I co-coached my brother’s Little League team when the adult coach had to quit for personal reasons. It was my first coaching job and I certainly learned a great deal about leadership from the experience. One particularly bad day, our game plan completely came apart. We’d gone through all our pitchers, and the other team was killing us. At one point things were going so badly, I walked into the dugout and dejectedly sat down. Seeing this, my Dad quietly walked out of the bleachers and whispered in my ear, “When you get down, the team will get down. Get up and get back in the game.” It was a great lesson in leading with positivity.

I’d like to say we won, but we didn’t. However, we were able to tell the boys they’d done good and congratulate them for never giving up even when they were getting creamed. That post game pep talk carried a lot more weight when we coaches maintained our positive attitude.

There’s many personal skills involved in maintaining a positive attitude, like the ones John Treas writes about over a Inc.com  5 Steps Toward Maintaining a Positive Attitude.

1. Manage rejection. It is easy to get discouraged when unwelcomed events occur. The trick is to put them in perspective: Most will pass and become unimportant with time. It’s easy to feel like a single failure or rejection is the end of the world, but it never is. In fact, setbacks often give you an opportunity to turn a rebuff into a win. One time early in my sales career, I was literally thrown out of a prospect’s office because she felt I hadn’t respected her tight schedule. I went back to my office, wrote a letter of apology, and sent a gift designed to make her job easier. She became a good customer, and we became lasting friends.

Of course there’s other ways as well, and each person has their own. Leaders should find what works for them. That said, whatever individual skills people use to maintain their personal positivity, leaders must translate that into helping their teams maintain their positivity. As I’ve written many times, leadership style is both highly personal and highly situational, so leaders must adapt to their environment. I agree with Treas’ ideas at the link, and I’d like to add a couple leadership behaviors I believe are important for leaders to model:

– Be truthful. People quickly see through “happy talk” when leaders are delivering bad news. Some leaders believe they can “sugar coat” unpleasantness and those words will carry greater weight than the actual unpleasantness. I’m sorry, but to someone losing their job or being forced into a significant changes euphemisms like “right sizing” or “we’re making a change” ring hollow. People respect leaders who speak truthfully, and while bad news can be delivered with gentleness and compassion, we shouldn’t attempt to use euphemism to minimize the real pain people feel with change. When teams have confidence their leaders are being truthful, the resulting trust helps people maintain a positive attitude.

– Think Ahead. It’s much easier to lead people toward a positive attitude when there’s a plan. Even when the road ahead is tough, the team’s attitude is much more likely to stay positive if they can see where they’re going. Nothing destroys team morale…positive attitudes…than figuratively groping through the darkness towards an unseen or ambiguous goal.

– Stay positive. The most important thing a leader can do is model the behavior they want their teams to exhibit. Once the leader gets “down” the team will quickly follow; conversely if the leader is positive it’s much more likely the team will stay “up.”

Just like that Little League team, leaders need to understand the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and helping their teams maintain theirs. What skills do you use to keep yourself and your teammates positive?

Military Leaders in the Private Sector

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Leadership by Experience

I know I’m a little late, but in honor of the Army’s birthday back in June, and in keeping with the theme of military leadership lessons, US Army vet Bill Murphy Jr offers his take on leadership.

image
US Air Force photo

Here’s a sample:

No organization talks more about leadership and trying to teach its people to become excellent leaders than the U.S. Army. Having both served in the Army and reported on it, I’ve known more military leaders than I could possibly count. Most were admirable professionals. Some, unfortunately, didn’t live up to the standards we have a right to expect. However, there were quite a few others who were truly amazing. These are the leaders who pass what I call the kid brother test: If your kid brother or sister had to go to war, you’d feel a little better knowing that these were the people in charge. In honor of the Army Birthday–the 239th anniversary of the date on which the Continental Congress first authorized the recruitment of troops–here are 23 things great leaders always do (most of which are taught in the U.S. Army).

I think many people believe that military leadership is vastly different than leading in the civilian world; but I say that circumstances may vary widely, leadership is leadership. The leader’s primary task is to motivate people to accomplish a goal. Effective military leaders, just like their civilian counterparts, get that while the “mission” is the purpose it’s the people who do the work that are the most important. Military leaders have unique problems to be sure, but the basic interpersonal skills to motivate and inspire aren’t unique. That’s why military leadership skills are so sought after in the private sector: because the military cultivates and rewards going leadership skills.

What leadership traits do you believe are most important and what can you learn from military leaders?

What strategies do you employ to get teams motivated and focused on your organizational mission?

Keep The Troops In The Shade

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, Practical Leadership

I’ve written many times about how a leader’s most important responsibility is taking care of the people under his/her charge. A mission focus is important, but unless someone is leading robots, then leaders have to take care of their people. The phrase we often use in the military is “Keep The Troops In The Shade,” which is shorthand for a leader looking after the welfare of his/her people.

I think no matter what enterprise you’re engaged in as a leader, making sure the people who do the work are cared for, and know they are cared about, is vital to the success of your organization. It’s certainly true in the military where we often refer to the individual Airman or Soldier as “The Human Weapon System,” but it’s true in business as well.

image

(photo courtesy of smallbusinessguy.com)

I wrote about the subject extensively in my book, Leading Leaders, but as the quote from JW Marriott demonstrates mine is not the only voice on the subject.

From Leading Leaders

In the military, there is a saying that illustrates how leaders see their roles regarding the care of the people under their charge: leaders eat last. What this means is that the leader has to provide for her people before accepting comforts for herself. There are plenty of stories about officers dining in opulence while the troops shiver and eat cold food, but that’s largely a Hollywood stereotype with little basis in fact. A good officer or sergeant makes sure his troops are fed before eating themselves. They also share in the suffering of their troops. If it’s cold meals out of a bag for the troops, it’s cold meals out of a bag for the leader. This behavior demonstrates to the troops that they have value and that the leader himself is committed to their well being and willing to share in the discomfort of even the lowest ranking Airman. If Airmen are going to accept orders that might put them in harm’s way, they need to know their officers aren’t making those decisions with callous disregard for their safety. It’s a matter of trust between the leader and the team.

That translates to the private sector easily: executive or managerial perks should be used sparingly, and the leader should personally check on the working conditions of the team. Know if the workplace is too hot or too cold, if the bathrooms are dirty or in poor repair, if the food in the employee cafeteria is lousy or not, or if Mary Smith is exhausted because she’s worked a double shift two days in a row. Don’t be afraid to send someone home to get some rest or request an employee take a couple days vacation so that she can recharge her batteries. The slight drop in productivity because Mary is allowed to go home early will be made up in spades by a team that knows you’re more concerned for their well being than your own. Those sorts of leaders are the ones people want to work hard for, and that sort of leadership inspires people to give their best.

Over at Inc.com, Marla Tabaka has a great rundown of simple ways to help your employees know you care about them and their personal well being.

Did you know that stress-related health care and missed work are costing employers $300 billion a year? Heck, for a small business even $3,000 a year is a lot. It’s time to pay attention to your employees’ stress levels, not just because it’s costing you but also to show them you care.

You’ll want to read the whole thing.

The bottom line is this: the basic task of leadership is managing and inspiring people. An effective leader understands the people under his/her charge are the real reason for the success of the company.

Advice For New Commanders

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, Practical Leadership, Technique Only

While I usually write about leadership in general or business environments, today I’m going to write specifically to those new squadron commanders who’ll be taking command of Air Force squadrons this summer. Today’s topic is how to be a successful squadron commander in the Air Force.

image

1. Remember that command is a privilege.

Command in the military is transitory, you’ll usually only get two years. Remember that the deference people show you is due to your position not your person.  Never forget that you’re there to serve.

2. Live what you say.

Nothing destroys your credibility faster than saying one thing and doing another. Whatever standard operating procedures or command policies you enact, be sure to live by them yourself. As a commander, you’re always on parade; never think no one will see you “cheating.” If you make a mistake, own up to it then “drive on.”

3. Be present.

You can’t command from behind a desk. Get out and see what your Airmen are doing; learn firsthand what they struggle with, who they are, what they do. If they’re standing out in the cold at 0300, be with them. If they’re eating MRE’s, you eat MRE’s. Learn their names, understand their personal stories. Have frequent commander’s calls, communicate constantly.

4. Work performance reports, personnel actions, and decorations first.

Things like performance reports and decorations affect Airmen’s careers, and within reason, should be handled immediately. Don’t let these things sit! Handling career-affecting paperwork immediately is a tangible way to let your Airmen know you value them.

5. Be calm, be nice.

You don’t have to be a pushover, and even though sometimes you have to bark orders calmness and common courtesy are contagious. By showing respect for others, you set the example. Arm waving is counterproductive anyway.

6. Mistake are OK, crimes are not.

People will make the occasional mistake, but crimes are not mistakes. Abuse of alcohol, use of illegal drugs, sexual harassment or assault, dereliction of duty, etc, are all breaches of standards that can never be tolerated. Moreover, crimes like these do great harm to our fellow Airmen and degrade our ability to do our mission.

7. Think strategically, and work your bosses’ agenda.

The commander can’t lead if he doesn’t know where he’s going. That said, command can’t be self-referencing: you’ve got to work your boss’s and your boss’s boss’s agenda. Look ahead far enough to anticipate trouble, then make a plan to achieve your mission objectives.

8. Develop you leadership ethos.

Try to summarize in a few short phrases what you stand for and how you lead. Distilling your ethos into a few easy to remember and communicate ideas enables you to focus the unit. It’s OK to borrow ideas from others, but you need to make it your own.

9. Pay attention to the small things.

Don’t micromanage, but don’t ignore small things in your unit. Check spelling, cleanliness, do the math, ask questions until you understand.

10. Have fun.

Command is probably the best job you’ll ever have, and the Air Force chose you for command because senior officers believe in you. Trust your judgment, make friends, be a wingman to your fellow commanders, and appreciate the tremendous opportunity you’ve been granted!

Lead the Way!

Early to Rise…

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, Practical Leadership

I’ve been privileged to attend both Air Command & Staff College and the Eisenhower School where I heard dozens of very successful leaders from every walk of life speak to us: business executives, military leaders, politicians, and athletes.

There were several common themes in all of their talks, and one of the most obvious to me was that they were all early risers. Some got up very early, others merely earlier than than most. But they all got up at a regular time every day with a disciplined morning routine.

Over at Inc.com, Margaret Heffernan notes the same trend among successful leaders:

What is striking about leaders, however, is that even those who do get a decent eight hours a night are mostly early risers. Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment, gets up at 5 AM. Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone gets up at 6. Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, gets up at 5 because, he says: “Life is too exciting to sleep.”

I have also always been an early riser. I use the time in the morning for physical fitness, catching up on the day’s news, some spiritual nourishment, and a decent breakfast. That’s my routine, but I don’t think there’s a magic formula. What’s important is to get a head start on the day, so that when your team assembles the leader is ready to show the way.

How do you spend your mornings?

Leading Leaders Book Preview: No Real Leader “Phones It In”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Leadership by Experience, Practical Leadership

My upcoming book, Leading Leaders, is filled with stories about leaders and personal stories from my own life since leadership is inherently a personal experience. Leadership is not the application of skills as much as it’s the focused attention on human interaction. Humans are complex beings that are the amalgamation of their own experiences, learned and innate behaviors, and the situations leaders and teams find themselves in over the course of the job at hand. We can learn a lot from our own experiences, and others’, so long as we’re open to the lesson. That’s the real secret of effective leaders: they care enough about the team and the job at hand to invest themselves in the effort.  Leaders have to be present and engaged.  No effective leader ever “phones it in.”

A great story to illustrate my point: I once accompanied an Army 2-star general to the signing ceremony of an agreement on enhancing military spouse employment between four military bases in the Rocky Mountain Front Range.  It was a typical ceremonial military function, with local officials, base officials from two military Services, and a host of military spouses.  As the Army major general made his way through the crowded corridor, staff in tow, toward the ball room to get ready to start the event, he found himself shaking hands with a volunteer who was also the wife of one of his deployed soldiers.   The general could have shaken her hand, smiled perfunctorily, and moved on.  No one would have blamed him, since he commanded thousands of soldiers and certainly had a full schedule.

But that’s not what he did.

He stopped and gave that young woman his full attention.  He asked her how she was doing with specific questions, and after listening to her intently, assured her of his support by making certain his aide had her name and her husband’s unit.  I have no doubt that he checked on her and her husband later, probably personally.  It made a huge impression on me to see such focus and presence by a senior leader!

That’s presence…that’s leadership…and it’s applicable to leadership in any situation.