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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And the First Day it Rained

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Outbound Collective, Practical Leadership
This week I’m pleased to bring you my guest post on The Outbound Collective. Be sure to click the link and show them some love!

My mom was a prolific writer and tried mightily to get her short story published about the vacations she used to take with her 4 siblings and her mom and dad all crammed into a 1955 station wagon. The title of her story was, And the First Day It Rained…

I thought of Mom as we loaded the canoes near Ponca, Arkansas in the drizzle and prepared to launch into the icy water of the Buffalo River. It was April, and a late spring rain had drenched the Ozarks around us over the past two days, making our drive through the narrow mountain roads, ahem, “sporty.” Nonetheless, we managed to make it from South Texas to the Buffalo National River with all our gear and with most of our wits. After a bit of really outstanding barbeque and homemade fried pies at T’s BBQ in Harrison (thank you Yelpers) and last minute provisioning at the Harrison Walmart, we were finally here. Weeks of planning and thinking about the trip were about to be consummated. After a brief checkout at Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca, we caravan-ed down to the launch point to meet up with our canoes.

You Had One Job

I spent a lot of time in the water growing up in the lakes of North Texas, and more recently eight years in the ocean daily off the Windward shores of O’ahu, but this was to be my first multi-day canoe trip. I was concerned that my ocean and lake experience wouldn’t translate to the swift water, but I wasn’t a novice in the water.

My one goal for the day was to stay in the canoe. I’d rafted Class IV rapids in Idaho, surfed double overhead waves on Oahu, paddled outriggers, and regularly paddle boarded and kayaked in strong trades and chest high surf. Surely, I thought, someone with my experience in the water could manage to stay upright in a river.

We finished loading in the 55-degree drizzle, stopped for a couple of photos, and launched into the grey, fast moving Buffalo, determined not to be “that guy” who ends up in the water with wet gear and an embarrassed smile.

Water is Water, Right?

I figured that despite my lack of recent swift water experience, I was likely the one with the most time in the water and the most time with a paddle. I tried to gently maneuver myself to the back of my canoe so I could steer, but didn’t want to strong arm my buddy and ended up in the front. We tried to switch ends just after launching—which didn’t work—and so after a little bit of wrangling the canoe we managed to get ourselves into a good rhythm for the rest of the morning. Our plan was to stop at Horseshoe Bend, about 4.5 miles downriver, and hike up to a place called Hidden Falls.

We almost made it.

Surfing the Buffalo

My canoe partner, Stan, and I were learning each other, and I was learning what it was like to be along for the ride. Like me, Stan was no stranger to the water either, spending time sailing the ocean and motoring around the lake near Corsicana, Texas. Canoes are a different matter altogether, however, and two-man canoes require the crew to be in sync. In a two-man crew, the guy in front is just the motor—the guy in back is the one who steers—and the crew works together to move the canoe through swift water and around obstacles. Stan and I were not yet a crew and that was about to become painfully apparent.

I was navigating with the National Park map so I knew Horseshoe Bend was around the next corner, but since neither Stan nor I had paddled that stretch of the river before, we really had no idea what to expect or which line to take. Our lack of synchronicity as a crew, a slightly off-center load in the canoe, and a bad read of the river had us going wide on the turn once we entered Horseshoe Bend. At the top of the bend a large tree overhung the river. We’d successfully ducked tree limbs all morning, but this one was to be our undoing.

Even as I write this, it’s hard to remember exactly what happened.

Cold Dunking Achievement Unlocked

What I think happened, was, as we got wide on the turn the big limb came right at me at nose height. I put up my paddle to shield my face and probably got knocked to the right gunwale. Stan, I think, must’ve leaned right or dug in his paddle to try to turn, and suddenly we were overloaded on the right side—tumbling into the 60-degree water. All that happened in about 1 second, because all I really remember is a loud crash from the plastic paddle hitting the tree, followed by the crash of leaves, followed by bone chilling cold.

I’d like pause my story for a moment here to thank three persons: God, the BOC guy at the put in, and Eddie Bauer.

Clearly, God sent an extra angel or two to watch over us because despite being canoe-rookies and Stan getting tangled in some gear, we both ended up in coming out of the water alive and with all of our gear except one water bottle. If He hadn’t been watching over us a potentially deadly situation could’ve been tragic. Instead, we just came out wet and cold.

Second, I usually paddle on the very mild Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country. The shallow river is popular for “toobers” and rarely approaches swift water with any rating at all. Because of the mild current and shallow conditions, I usually stow my PFD and paddle without it. The BOC guide suggested rather strongly we wear our PFDs if for no other reason than it would keep us warm. I’m not certain we’d have had quite such a happy ending without a PFD.

Third, I could’ve been doing a commercial for Eddie Bauer—pants, socks, web belt, fleece, and shell were all right out of Eddie’s closet. Because I had on good clothes, I dried out quickly and stayed warm even when soaked through in 55 degree air. If I hadn’t been a fan before, then I’d have become an Eddie Bauer fan for life after I dried out in minutes after my dunking!

Back to the action.

The water was so cold I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs to make myself heard above the roar of the water. I mouthed and pointed, “get to the beach over there” and we managed to steer our now overturned canoe dragging gear to the outside rocky beach at the apex of the Bend. After disentangling Stan from our tie down rope, began to gather up our gear. I had to go back into the water after a paddle and a couple of items that had come untied in the mayhem, but we managed to recover our gear and get dried out while eating our lunch. Amazingly, the sandwiches in paper bags in my Eddie Bauer daypack stayed dry. The first aid kit was soaked—but the food stayed dry. Small miracles.

It’s All Down River from Here

Hiking up to the falls was now off the agenda, we needed time to gather up our gear, dry out a little, and repack the canoe. After a breather and some food, I managed to shake my frustration at falling short of my only goal (stay dry) and get back in the canoe. Stan and I had planned to swap positions in the canoe at lunch each day, and now in the steering position and feeling in control of my own fate a little more, we launched back into the river.

Better loaded than our first try, and with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds, we made our way the last 6 miles through gorgeous canyons and a few more areas of swift water. Providence smiled on us again, and about 3pm that afternoon we pulled into a sweet camp on the edge of another horseshoe bend with a sandy beach and firewood already stacked up from the previous occupants. Dry clothes, a good fire, some hot food, and my spirits began to improve. By the firelight we relived college memories and shared things that’d happened since our last time together. A good night’s sleep would complete my rehabilitation after my involuntary swim in the frigid river.

Floating Down the Buffalo, Driving Southbound on I-35

The second and third days were much warmer than the first, and it didn’t take long for us to shed all our cold weather clothes and slather on the sunscreen to prevent bad burns. As we traveled further down the river, we started running into floaters who were on day trips. The silence of the first two days was broken by loud music and beer-fueled conversations with others on the river on the third. Our 34 miles ended sooner than we expected as we reached our take out at Carver Landing early afternoon on the third day. Tired, happy, and a little sunburned, we packed our gear, put on the dry clothes we’d left in the car, and headed south. It would be a long eight-hour drive back to Corsicana for an overnighter, then home to New Braunfels the next day.

It had been a great adventure with my old friends, and we parted with plans to return to the river again.


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 Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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The Stories in Stacks of Business Cards

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Conferences, Practical Leadership
This week I’m pleased to bring you my guest post on the Society of American Military Engineer’s Bricks & Clicks Blog. Be sure to click the link and show them some love!

Photo courtesy of SAME

Every time I come back from the Society of American Military Engineers Joint Engineer Training Conference (“JETC”), I find myself sorting through a stack of business cards. Each one of those cards tells a story: a new person I’ve met or a colleague I’ve reconnected with after not seeing for a while. In those stacks of business cards, there’s the thread of my story that’s connected with others in the Society.

That connection with others in the community is the thing I love most about coming to what I humbly believe is the best annual conference of any professional organization. There are lots of great conferences out there, but I think JETC is special.

What Makes Us Special

“We are establishing at this time a Society of American Military Engineers. This society will serve no selfish purpose. It is dedicated to patriotism and national security. Its objects are, in brief, to promote solidarity and co-operation between engineers in civil and military life, to disseminate technical knowledge bearing upon progress in the art of war and the application of engineering science thereto, and to preserve and maintain the best standards and traditions of the profession, all in the interests of patriotism and national security.” –The Military Engineer magazine, January 1920

Like many professionals, I belong to several professional societies and service organizations. They all have their virtues of course, but the chief virtue of SAME is its enduring purpose: dedicated to patriotism and national security. Most professional associations exist for the primary benefit of the members. Professional growth, networking, and of course community service are all worthy goals. The thing about SAME is that both those in government and in industry are committed first to national service in the defense of our country.

It’s the calling of engineers whose credo is to first serve the public good. It’s that common sense of mission and purpose that creates a community of some of the best people I know. It’s what makes us special.

Always Learning

Another thread revealed in that stack of business cards is the memories of the talks I heard, and conversations had over those three days at the 2018 JETC in Kansas City. It’s interesting how the subject matter and education tracks have evolved over time.

This year, there were more and more sessions about the implementation of digital and disruptive technology that gives our government colleagues and industry teammates a competitive edge in an increasingly complex global defense environment. It’s always fun to see a card and reflect on the conversations we had during JETC, and see the continuous evolution of our profession and our Society is energizing to watch.

Rewards, Friendships, Heroes

A member of the SAME National Office staff once referred to JETC as a “SAME love fest.” When I smiled and asked what she meant, she explained that because of the social events, the Post awards, and the Society Ball, it was a chance for the members to reconnect and show their affection and appreciation for each other.

She is right: the mood of the conference reflects that sense of community and collegiality. It’s fun to see people recognized for their tremendous work to further the profession and grow the Society’s reach. I particularly enjoy seeing people I know who have worked without fanfare or seeking recognition heralded publicly for their contributions.

Looking Forward to Next Year

Of course, it goes without saying the keynotes are always inspiring, this year particularly so. As a “Greyshirt” myself, meeting Team Rubicon founder Jake Wood and hearing his story of continued service was motivating. It’s experiences like that, along with the opportunity to renew old friendships as well as make new ones, that speak to me from those stacks of business cards.

The call for presentations for the 2018 Small Business Conference is already out, and there’s a lot of business that gets done at that one, so don’t miss it. Of course, the 2019 JETC in Tampa, Fla., is just around the corner as well: less than 350 days and counting!

I should have worked my way through all those cards by then.


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 Teams, Mickey’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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How Not to Get Unfriended

Posted Posted in Practical Leadership

I don’t need to tell anyone that sometimes people with–shall we say strong political views?–have difficulty communicating below the 100 decibel level, especially on social media. Navigating the office and social media environment in the age of the 24 hour news cycle while maintaining your sanity and your friendships is not as easy as it once was.

But it should be. It’s not that you shouldn’t have opinions, it’s just that it’s not always necessary to share your opinions. It’s important to know when to speak, to whom, and on what subject. To that end, and as a public service, I’ve developed a set of “rules” to guide online and office behavior.

Before I get into the “rules” I’d like to take a moment to quote Founding Father James Madison’s Federalist 10 on the virtue of republican democratic government for resolving the inevitable “faction” that develops among people attempting to govern themselves. I also want to point out that when Madison refers to “republicans,” he’s referring to the idea of a republic as a form of government not the political party by the same name.

In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government. And according to the degree of pleasure and pride we feel in being republicans, ought to be our zeal in cherishing the spirit and supporting the character of Federalists.

– Madison, Federalist #10

The Federalist Papers are a collection of what we’d call today blog posts that made the case for the form of government we have today in the USA. In Federalist 10, Madison writing under the pen name Publius described both the inevitability of developing “factions” among people, and the virtue of a “republic” over a pure “democracy,” and offered a remedy for moderating the passions of the day. It’s worth the read, for sure, and is a great reminder to be optimistic about our country’s ability to work through issues and (eventually) reach a solution. You might not know it sometimes, and the Civil War notwithstanding, but Americans have a remarkable resilience and ability to solve problems peacefully, although usually loudly. OK, end of preamble, now on to the rules.

The Rules

1. All humans deserve to be treated with respect. Someone else’s lack of respect doesn’t justify you doing the same.

When someone is being disrespectful or rude the natural reaction is to return fire and as we say in the military, “establish fire superiority.” Resist the urge–either remove yourself from the situation or return rudeness with kindness. Trust me, it’s a far better place to be. You might feel good in the moment by “winning” but in business and in life relationship is not about “winning” or “losing,” but rather about mutual respect.

2. Public figures are humans, not messiahs and not devils.

It’s very important to remember the people we see on TV are, you know, actual people. They have virtues and flaws, friends and family who love them, and their own thoughts. They make mistakes. They do good work. Public pronouncements and actions are fair game for discussion or disagreement, but be careful to separate criticism or praise of an action from criticism or praise of the person. Always give people the benefit of the doubt. We’re always free judge a person’s actions, but we’re not to judge a soul–leave that to God.

3. If you’re partisan before you’re a patriot you are part of the problem.

The good of the country should always be a primary consideration, and we should always be ready to change our minds if presented with enough facts, so long as we don’t violate our values.

4. The first report is usually wrong; remember the real work of politics gets done in committee and in board rooms, rarely in public.

This is also one of “Mickey’s Rules for Leaders,” and it applies to political discussions as well. Remember that just because someone told you something is true, or you saw it reported a certain way on your favorite news outlet, doesn’t necessarily mean you have the whole story. Avoid rushing to judgement.

5. Always check multiple primary sources before believing and passing on a link, no matter what the source and especially if it seems to confirm something you believe.

Avoid taking someone else’s word for something; seek out primary (original) sources of information. Modern search engines online allow you to read what a person actually said and in context. If a particular report seems to confirm something you think you know already, be doubly skeptical.

6. Data doesn’t care who you are. (Corollary: if you torture the numbers long enough they’ll confess to anything).

Data is data, and there’s as many ways to parse numbers as there are to count. Be open to changing your mind when presented with facts, rather than dismissing data simply because someone with an opposing ideology presents it to you.

7. I never learned anything while I was talking.

Listen first, second, and even third. Then speak. This is harder than it sounds.

8. Being “pro” something isn’t necessarily the same as being “anti” something.

Remember that being  for something isn’t the same thing as being against something else. Begin by assuming the best about someone and asking questions, like “Did you mean to say…?” You might be surprised at the common ground you have with someone you might have thought was your polar opposite. Not always, but often we merely disagree on method, and agree on goals.

9. Insulting people guarantees they’ll ignore you.

Strong language is generally a bad idea. If you’re looking to severe a relationship, that’s the quickest way to do it. There’s a reason it’s polite to use gentle language. I think us moderns have become far too comfortable throwing verbal bombs and profanity. Again, the benefit of the doubt and a little kindness goes a long way.

10. No one changes their mind based on your political Facebook post.

Frankly, I generally avoid political discussions altogether, especially online. I do this not only because as an officer I respect our institutions and our military apolitical tradition, but because people need space to believe what they want and change their minds if they like. The greatest voice we have is a vote, no one is going to change their minds based on your ten-links per day from “MyPoliticalOpinionIsRighteousAndYoursIsEvil.com.”

Remember, we’re all in this together!


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

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Continue the Mission: The First 100 Days

Posted Posted in Practical Leadership

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days . . .nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin. -John F. Kennedy

My first month as Mission Support Group Commander at the Air Force Academy was wonderful. Sure, there was work to do, but I spent the first few weeks touring the campus and meeting many of the 2,600 people who I led. There were plenty of awards to hand out, challenge coins to deliver, and interesting people to meet. When I was on horseback with the Academy Stablemaster touring the South Training Area, I thought to myself, this is the best command I’ve ever had! Of course, all honeymoons end and sooner or later a new leader has to stop being “oriented” and get to work. It certainly wasn’t going to be two years of kissing babies and riding horses through the Front Range.

Previously, we talked about the first 30 days after your “change of command.” The job of making a successful transition isn’t over at Day 30; in fact it’s only just begun. If your transitions are like mine, the first 30 days are the easiest.

The Next 70 Days

During the remainder of your first 100 days is the time to build relationships with your new team and learn the organization thoroughly. It will also be time to deliver on the goals you set for the team. Spend time getting into the details, walk around your organization and learn the people and their issues, and be visible to them. Build on relationships you’ve established with your leadership team and work hard to forge new ones with as many others in the larger team as possible. I actually carved out time in my scheduled deliberately for visiting various work centers in my Mission Support Group and when possible, to work with them. Take that time to recognize high performers and learn if senior leaders are passing down your priorities and principles to the first line workers. People respect senior leaders who are willing to do the “dirty work” of the organization, and

Those goals could be as modest as making a plan for later, or as ambitious as sweeping changes in the organization and products. Whatever your goals, and whatever changes you want to make in your team, once you announce where you intend to go focus your energy and organization on getting there. You’re credibility is now in play, but this is exactly why getting your team on board with you in the first 30 days is so important. Some organizations will need a firmer hand than others, but whether you’re turning around a failing organization or taking an already high performing team to the next level, you’ll need a team effort.

Day 100 – Move Out

Once you reach the 100th day recognize your work is only beginning. As a senior leader your “grace period” is finally over–you’re no longer the “new guy” and you own all the successes and failures. If you’re turning around a failing organization it’s unlikely you made any significant progress in the first 100 days and they’ll be plenty of work left to do. A high performing team will be accustomed to you at this point, so it will be important not to let them rest on their laurels. Make adjustments in your leadership style and continue to lead from the front. A solid first 100 days will set the tone for the months and years ahead.

Originally posted on General Leadership


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

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Continue the Mission: The First 30 Days

Posted Posted in Practical Leadership

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

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

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

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

Before You Arrive

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

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

At the “Change of Command”

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

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

The First Month

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted on General Leadership


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

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Your First 100 Days – Achieving Your Goals

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Achieving Goals, Practical Leadership

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

Why re-evaluate?

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

So, how do we do a self evaluation?

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

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

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

Be Your Own Scarlet

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

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


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

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

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

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

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

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

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

Five Principles for Success

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

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

Mature Leaders Do Transition Well

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

Originally posted on General Leadership


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

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

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

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

 

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

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

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

So began my first 100 days in command.

Being the Repairman

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

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

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

The Method

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

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

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

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

Inspire and Lead.

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


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Transitioning Leadership – The Exchange of Flags

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

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

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

The Ceremony

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

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

The First 30 Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 31

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


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Continuing the Mission – Leadership Drives Culture During Transition

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com, Practical Leadership

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

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

Always Teaching Others

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

The military learning culture depends on three key factors:

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

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

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

The Mission is More Important than Me

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

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

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

Mission. People. Success.

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

Originally posted on GeneralLeadership.com


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Transitioning Leadership – The Outgoing Executive

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

I tried to stay out of sight, but I just had to return the car keys. Calling my now former deputy, I asked him to meet me in the parking lot so I could return his car keys. “Why don’t you just come up?” he asked. “I’ve already said my good-byes,” I replied, “it would be weird.” He chuckled, “Just leave them in the seat, I’ll get them later. Have a great flight Sir!” he said.

Such is the dance of the outgoing commander. The lesson of “passing the baton then be gone” is instructive for any leadership transition. In this week’s post: tips for the outgoing leader.

A successful transition depends as much on the outgoing leader as it does the incoming leader. For the high performing leader, loyalty to the organization and the people we work with are a primary concern. The outgoing leader should make it a priority to help the “new guy” integrate into the team and prepare the team for the new leader. Of course, the terms of your departure often dictate how much you’ll want to–or even are able to–help your successor. If you’re being sacked, or if the split is not amicable, then transition planning is more difficult. That said, the way a leader departs a job is important to preserving your reputation as well as ensuring the team doesn’t suffer when there’s a transition in leadership. This is especially true for executive departures. Nothing is gained by allowing the departure of one executive to become a drama-filled event!

 

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

Five Principles of a Successful Transition

Download the Transition Countdown Infographic!

 

The five principles below are my guide for a smooth transition of leadership. As I wrote on the General Leadership blog, good transition planning begins weeks or even months in advance. In fact, most of the work for a successful transition of leadership is done by the existing team.

  • Prepare the Team for the New Guy’s Style. Every leader has their own style, and the “new guy” might have one radically different than yours. In a perfect world, the new leader’s style is similar to yours, but that’s rarely the case. You don’t have to make any adjustments to your own style, but it’s good to be mindful of the change that’s coming. If you can make adjustments to prevent the staff from being “shocked” by a radically different style, so much the better.  In any event, spend some energy with the senior staff to prepare them for the change.
  • Leave a Trail of Breadcrumbs on Your Decisions. Leaders make decisions based on the the best information we have at the time. While any executive should be prepared for their decisions to be reversed by their successor, we can maximize the chances good decisions can remain in place by documenting our decisions well. I term this idea “leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.” Keeping good records, making sure staff who remain through the transition understand the decisions, and ensuring the new executive has access to the reasons why are all ways to ensure good decisions last.
  • Plan for Overlap “Right Seat-Left Seat” Time. In the military, we call the leadership overlap time “Right Seat-Left Seat” time. The term comes from the positions in an aircraft or combat vehicles where the co-pilot and the commander trade places when after the co-pilot becomes familiar with the mission and vehicle. For executive transition, planning for a few days of overlap is crucial to success. Use that time where the incoming leader (“Right Seat”) shadows the departing leader to learn the staff and see how things are run (“Left Seat”). The staff can brief the new leader, the outgoing one can be on hand to explain things, and most importantly the staff can see a responsible and smooth transfer of power. When the incoming leader moves to the “Left Seat” he’ll be thoroughly prepared.
  • Don’t Bad Mouth the New Guy or the Old Company. This one is very important. No matter whether the incoming leader is a saint or, ahem, sinner, bad mouthing the “new guy” is unseemly and unprofessional. Remember, you can’t control others’ actions–but you can control your own. How you behave before, during, and after a transition says more about you than your successor. Resolve to be kind and mature.
  • Say Your Goodbyes and Then Take Your Leave.  Nobody likes the “old guy” hanging around–it’s awkward. Once you hand over the reins to your successor, say your good-byes and take your leave. If you care about the organization and/or the people you’ve led, then allow them the space to get to know their new boss and start working his way.

Moving On

There are dozens of reasons for a change in leadership, ranging from retirement to getting the sack. For leaders at the executive level, managing that transition no matter what the circumstances says a great deal about us. Make that transition successful.

 

 

 

 


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Respect and the Power of Nice: Setting the Example

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Holidays, Practical Leadership

(photo courtesy Hawaiian Airlines)

There has been considerable talk in the press and in the blogs on the importance of people treating each other with respect. It’s a subject I write about often because it’s central to leaders inspiring people to be their best, and groups forming into high performing teams.

Whether it’s travelling, shopping in a crowd, or just trying to survive that family or social gathering without losing your patience (or a family member!), ‘tis the season for practicing the art of being nice. On a recent flight I got to see the “power of nice” in action.

The boarding and takeoff were uneventful. As we waited for our beverages, I chatted up one of the flight attendants and she made the comment about how nice everyone was being on this flight. I didn’t think I (or anyone else I’d seen for that matter) was being anything other than “normal” polite, but she sure thought so. After she made the comment to me I made a point to listen to how the other passengers were treating each other and the cabin crew. Sure enough, I noticed people deferring to each other, saying “yes Ma’am” and “no Ma’am” to the cabin crew.

I fly a lot, and I see how hard people in the travel industry work to make sure our travel is safe and pleasant. Because of that, I always try to be nice and respectful to the cabin crew. They have a really tough job, frankly are not paid nearly enough, and so it always amazes me when people treat them like–well, not like how they’d like to be treated. Clearly, though, something on this flight was different.

At the end of the flight the flight attendant who’d noticed everyone being extra nice got on the PA and told us we were the nicest group of passengers she’d had and we’d made the flight very pleasant for her. I’m not taking credit, clearly, but I have to wonder how many “splashes of nice” among the passengers it took to ripple among 300 people on a crowded holiday flight. Perhaps it only took a few people to start it, but at the end all 300 hundred of us got off the plane in a much better mood than we started. Great lesson there.

So why did it happen? Maybe it was because it was Thanksgiving, or because we were all being mindful of a fairly vicious political campaign season. Truth be told, it really doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, people decided to be nice and respectful to each other.

It’s a lesson leaders can learn as well. When leaders set the example, the team follows. If you’re surly and short, people around you will be the same. If you’re respectful and positive, your team will follow suit. The key is to set the example and be the sort of person you want those around you to be.

After a rancorous political season, the Christmas holidays offer us an opportunity to reset our attitudes and set a good example. You’ll never know what battle someone is fighting, so be nice.

 


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Five Simple Ways to Develop Your Employees – And Why You Should

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

 

ORG XMIT: *S0406337545* ** FILE ** Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, right, shares a shovel with coach Tom Landry at the ground breaking of the Cowboys practice facility in Irving, Tex., In this Nov. 30, 1983 file photo. Schramm died at his Dallas home Tuesday, July 15, 2003. He was 83. (AP Photo/File) [ valley ranch training facility practice facility ] DN1 07162003xSports 10262004xNews
(AP Photo/File)
The secret to winning is constant, consistent management.  -Tom Landry

Ask any HR professional and they’ll tell you how recruiting quality people and then developing them is much more a cost effective business model than constantly seeking the perfect match. When Tom Landry and Tex Schramm led the Dallas Cowboys, they rarely recruited players for a particular positions. They went looking for the best athlete they could find, believing they could place that man where the team needed him and developing him as a member of the team. That same philosophy of recruiting and developing the best people, not the best skills, works in business, too.

If you recruit quality people, and then put the effort into developing them, your business will thrive and your people will thrive. When leaders commit to the betterment of their people, most often the people return that commitment with their loyalty and effort. Some companies do employee development better than others, and some of the bigger names are well known: Google, Amazon, and others. The Air Force also does a great job of developing Airmen…there are formal training programs, incentives for education, and a commitment to physical fitness.

But what about small companies? Here are 5 simple ways small companies can develop their employees.

Take Advantage of Professional Societies’ Programs

Many industry groups have education programs through their monthly meetings and regional/national conferences. For small businesses, these are cost effective venues to get employees training or continuing education credits.  Professional societies like the Society of American Military Engineers and local Chambers of Commerce offer free lunch and learn programs, webinars, and conferences that supply continuing education credits, as well as development programs. Hey, everyone has to eat lunch, right? Make that time work for you!

Partner with Local Colleges

Many state colleges and universities have extension services or institutes as part of their system where your employees can get certifications and training at low cost. By working with the local college or a professor in your industry, small business owners can sometimes tailor course material. Faculty are often hungry for interaction with the industry they teach in, and will welcome your collaboration. Institutions will see a low cost option for local employees as a way to attract more students. Done well, industry-academy collaboration is a win-win.

Allow Time Off for Employees to Work on Advanced Education

Of course, your business is your business but often the temporary “pain” of having an employee out of the workplace more is offset with a significant gain once that employee returns full time. In addition to your employees’ own personal self-satisfaction and growth, the additional skills they’ll learn in getting their college degrees are valuable to you as an employer. Even if the degree is the unrelated to your business, simply going through the process of getting a degree helps employees think broader about the business.  Lastly, whether you give time off or not, don’t forget to celebrate employee academic and vocational training graduations–and give a perk or two for success. They’re part of your team and their success is your success.

Hire Veterans and Encourage Them to Use their Benefits.

Military veterans enter the civilian workforce with considerable skills, but they also enter with great benefits that also benefit you as an employer. The GI Bill, access to military facilities, and health care are just some of the advantages veterans have and should use. Encouraging your veterans to use their benefits is good for you as a company, because the DoD and VA will always be able to outspend you when it comes to benefits. Further, and more to the point, if a veteran needs help of almost any sort, there are people who are ready and able to help in a way your veteran specifically needs.

Host Brown Bag Seminars

“Brown bag” seminars where employees can engage in learning on the job is good for the entire team. The topics should vary from direct work related subjects to anything of interest to your team. The best brown bag programs rotate leadership among the team so everyone gets a chance to develop and present a program. Leading a program builds confidence and develops planning skills from your employees.

Spending leadership effort to consciously develop your employees, even if you’re a small company, has a great return on investment. It’s something successful companies know and practice!


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Good Feedback Gets High Performance

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

scan0032I missed the block. The defensive end was my guy to block and I missed him, so our quarterback, Louis, ended up on his back. Again. I felt terrible—we were already struggling and now I’d made a mistake that cost us another 10 yards and Louis some undeserved bruises. Finally, I couldn’t hold it back any more, and in the huddle I told everyone that I’d missed the block and that it was my fault. At that point, Tony, our halfback stepped out of the huddle and pointed at the field and gave me some direct feedback, “Mickey, look where we are! Tell me again this is your fault!”

What he meant, of course, was that our inability to move the ball that night was not any one man’s fault—our failure was a team effort. His feedback was direct and honest, and aimed at helping me get over myself and get back to work. It’s a simple example, but it illustrates the point that high performing teams are honest with each other.

Leaders Demand Honest Feedback

Providing—and receiving—good feedback is vital to the performance of any team. Without honest and direct feedback no one gets any better, and everyone remains in their mediocrity believing whatever they want since there’s no voice outside to counter the voice inside. Leaders especially need to make certain we’re both giving and receiving honest feedback. It’s far too easy to “go along to get along” and never improve. High performance requires a good feedback system.

Everyone understands this need for good feedback, even if they don’t want to deliver it or hear it themselves. When we hire a golf instructor or take an art class or learn a musical instrument we ask the teacher/coach to push us to higher performance. In business it’s the same. Why else do we hire coaches and outside experts come into our companies? We hire them to tell us where we’re going wrong and what to do to fix it! Imagine how much more effective those coaches would be if we started from a culture of solid, honest self-assessment?

You’re Doing Fine!

Whenever I’m on the receiving end of feedback where I’m told I don’t need to change anything, I work hard to seek out something I’m doing wrong. I’m not perfect, and I make mistakes and have blind spots like anyone else. That sort of “you’re doing fine feedback” may feel good to deliver, but it doesn’t help anyone. Passing on the opportunity to critically examine my performance is just wasting time.

How Feedback is Done

OK, so now I’ve convinced you to give good feedback, let me show you how to do it right. A good feedback system should:

  • Enable leaders and team members to work together to improve performance
  • Guide professional and even personal development
  • Build trust

That’s a tall order, but these six companies are already breaking new ground by building just such a system. Big companies like General Electric and Cargill demonstrate they understand these principles and their employees are responding. Even the US Air Force is re-vamping their feedback system in order to eliminate the “Firewall 5” ratings and let the real high performers rise to the top. Here’s the tactics to reaching those goals and leading your teams to high performance:

  • Carefully explain your expectations and standards to your team well in advance
  • Give feedback more than once a year, and at least at the mid-term
  • Measure performance against those standards
  • Spend time preparing for the feedback session—review records, emails, etc.
  • Have concrete examples on how the ratee can improve
  • Make suggestions for professional advancement and development
  • Ask for feedback from your ratee—and listen!
  • Be kind!

Give Good Feedback, Get High Performance

Champion athletes and CEOs have one thing in common: they seek and give good feedback. If you want your team to reach high levels of performance, then build a culture where honest feedback is a core value. An honest and consistent feedback system will improve performance because it reduces mistakes and miscommunication. Leaders who show a genuine interest in the professional and personal development of their teams generate good morale, and accomplished teams. All of that build trust—and leads to high performance.


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 writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Dynamic Dozen: People Need a Purpose, Not Just a Paycheck

Posted Posted in GeneralLeadership.com, Practical Leadership

S.L.A._Marshall“A man has integrity if his interest in the good of the service is at all times greater than his personal pride, and when he holds himself to the same line of duty when unobserved as he would follow if his superiors were present”
– General S.L.A. Marshall

It was very dark and cold on the flightline at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base where teams of Airmen and a Kuwaiti contractor were working furiously in the desert night to repair a critical fuel line prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The fuel line had been damaged in the 1991 war, and we were racing the calendar to get fuel to the airplanes who would launch the opening of the liberation of Iraq. No one knew the exact date we’d “go north,” but we all knew it was soon. Getting the air base ready for combat was our purpose.

As I made the rounds checking on my engineers and talking with the contractors, I made sure to thank them for the very important work they were doing. The Airmen were in cold and miserable conditions, but all of them were upbeat and positive. “Sir, we know this project is important and we’re proud to be here!” one of them said in the darkness. He knew what was coming and was excited because he was doing his mission. Our Kuwaiti site superintendent gave me the most moving response, however. When I shook his hand and thanked him for his work, in heavily accented English he said simply, “Sir, it is our duty.”

The Myth vs Reality of Military Leadership

Watch almost any military story told on film and you’ll eventually meet the “Colonel Jessup” character–you know, the guy who feels the insignia on his sleeve or collar entitles him to give orders that are followed without question. It’s a popular myth, but it is a myth. While there are certainly occasions for swift and decisive action, good leaders know people aren’t robots and need to know the “why,” especially if there’s danger involved. Further, and more to the point, when leaders give their people a purpose larger than themselves instead of just a paycheck, their relationship transcends the transactional and enters the realm of high performance.

We actually do an exceptional job in the military of giving people a higher purpose to attach to themselves and their work. It’s part of the military leadership model to ensure the team understands and to the maximum extent possible buys into the mission. In war, especially modern war, we expect even the most junior leaders to understand their commander’s purpose and even anticipate that commander’s decisions. The military orders process includes rehearsals and detailed explanations of the plan. We explain how individual tasks fit into the overall plan. Furthermore, military leaders know our work is dangerous and so spend a great deal of energy motivating their teams to understand the risks and why those risks might be necessary.

It’s the same in the day-to-day training environment. Leaders spend energy personally helping the entire team, from the newest “one-striper” the the seasoned veterans understand and appreciate their contribution to the overall mission. It’s common for people to be able to connect even the most mundane tasks to the mission of the larger unit–it’s often the unit motto. “We fuel the warfighter!”, “No comm, no bomb!”–you get the idea. Regardless of whether someone is carrying a rifle, flying a plane, cooking a meal, or repairing an air conditioner, he knows how his particular job contributes to the larger mission.

Private Sector Companies Get It Too

The most successful private sector companies are very good at giving their employees a purpose instead of just a paycheck. There are loads of great examples, but Recreational Equipment Inc (REI) and Space Exploration Technologies, Inc. (SpaceX) are among my favorite examples. REI sells outdoor apparel and equipment, and SpaceX is in the space launch business. Despite being in vastly different industries, they have many things in common. Both companies are innovators, with REI crushing their competitors with record sales and profits, and SpaceX setting a new standard for space launch. They also have something else in common: they are impressively successful at giving their team members as since of higher purpose–a mission. For REI, their mission is to get people outside to enjoy the great outdoors; SpaceX is going to Mars.

To these teams, their purpose is a greater motivation than the bottom line. To be sure, profit and loss statements are the lifeblood of any business—but the heart and soul of that business is the purpose. Leaders who can inspire by connecting individual effort to the overall mission of the organization are the ones who can get high performance from their teams. When that purpose itself is inspirational, so much the better. Case in point is the video below—SpaceX employees cheering the launch and landing of their Falcon 9 rocket like it was the Super Bowl. That sort of excitement doesn’t come from a good compensation package. It comes from visionary leadership energizing the team with the knowledge they’re part of something important. It’s no surprise then, that REI is in an elite category for outdoor equipment and SpaceX is about to launch the same rocket for the second time dramatically lowering the cost of space travel.

Inspire Them, Lead Them

Not everyone is going to Mars or helping people enjoy the great outdoors, but every business leader can help their teams understand their contribution to society and community. Retailers supply the needs and wants of the community, service industry businesses are the fuel for other businesses, city service providers keep the community clean and healthy. All but the most esoteric of luxury businesses contribute directly to the well-being and success of the community. The lesson is this: If you want to lead your organizations to high performance, the inspire them first by giving them a purpose, not just a paycheck.

Originally posted on General Leadership.


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.

Advice that Sticks with Me

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Bob_Denver_Gilligans_Island_1966I don’t know what it is that I’m doing, but I sure as heck keep doing it! – Gilligan

If you’re a member of a certain “experienced” generation—ahem, mine—then you’ll remember a television show called Gilligan’s Island. It was one of my favorites, and there was often a lesson in the antics of the hapless castaways from the fictional S.S. Minnow, and the title character, Gilligan, was the First Mate. While his bumbling was the comedic center of the show, I think Gilligan probably taught more to his fellow castaways (and the audience) than even the creator Sherwood Schwartz intended. It was advice that sticks, and it “stuck” because the audience and the castaways learned the lessons together. Of course, Gilligan’s Island was comedy, not philosophy.

Like the fictional castaways on that South Pacific island, I’ve also learned a great deal through experience. (You were wondering where I was going with all that Gilligan stuff, weren’t you?) The advice I’ve received has stuck with me because it’s both true and lived. Now it’s yours, too:

“Can’t Never Could Do Anything” (Mickey’s Rule #4) – This originated with my Dad and have been words that motivated me as a skinny 14 year old yearning for gridiron glory AND as a 51 year old colonel! Keep a positive attitude and can-do spirit and you can be mighty!

“Drink Your Water, Eat Your Lunch, and Make New Friends” (Mickey’s Rule #10) – advice from a pre-K kiddo that was wise beyond his years. Live your life in balance and always look for new friends.

“People Are Not Machines” – advice from one of my first squadron commanders to remind me that my Airmen were humans and needed to be treated as such. Leaders can expect a lot from people they treat well–and very little from people they abuse.

“Start Your Day with a Prayer” – a surprising number of senior leaders from all walks of life, both military and civilian, spoke to my Air Command and Staff College and Eisenhower School classes about the need to begin your day with some form of prayer or quiet time. Don’t discount the need to feed your spirit.

“Remember, Thou Art Mortal” – When victorious Roman commanders paraded through the city with their spoils to the cheers of the citizens, there was always someone whispering in his ear, Memor, sis mortalis (Latin: “Remember, thou art mortal”). It’s easy to believe your own press, stay humble.

“Keep Your Head Down and Your Eye On the Ball” – advice from golf and baseball coaches that work for either sport, and in life. Basically, focus on what you’re doing now and avoid distractions.

“Stay In Your Lane” – more sports advice from my high school football coaches. For the kickoff team to be successful, everyone has a job to do–lanes to charge down–and if you’re doing someone else’s job you’re not doing yours!

“Be Kind” – it’s easy to be mean, it takes effort to be kind but it’s worth it. Being kind doesn’t mean you can’t be truthful or even make hard decisions, but it does mean respecting the other person enough to treat them with respect.

Advice that sticks – that’s the best kind!


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.

Throwback Thursday: What 100 Miles Taught Me

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership, Throwback Thursday

In 2013, I completed a personal goal of riding in the Honolulu Century Ride, 100 miles through the beautiful Hawaiian countryside and back to Honolulu. It’s a great lesson in goal setting.

In 2013, I accomplished a personal goal by completing a “century” bicycle ride.  On hundred miles in six and a half hours flat on a bicycle took commitment to a training schedule, some acquired knowledge on endurance nutrition, and not a small amount of determination to finish.

Besides the “ordinary” preparation of putting lots of miles on my bike, I also had to learn the art of setting intermediate goals.  Just gotta make it up Heartbreak Hill, I thought at the beginning, then Makapuu, then Kailua, then the Mike’s Kiawe Chicken stand, then Kualoa Ranch, then the turn around at Swanzy Beach Park…. then the whole thing in reverse.  I never focused on the odometer, only on the next goal because I knew that if I stuck to my plan I’d make it back to Kapiolani Park in Waikiki and complete the “century.”

It’s rare, I think, to accomplish any big goal without checking off intermediate goals first.  Breaking difficult and complex tasks down into a series of steps is a good way to cope with big projects.  Sometimes biting off the entire thing can be overwhelming, intermediate steps make the big project manageable.


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: What Got You Here Won’t Make You Successful Here

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

10-Hardest-Life-Fish-BowlWhen I was going through the executive leadership curriculum at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (now the Eisenhower School), speakers and readings continually repeated the notion that executive leadership was different; that the skills we learned as majors and lieutenant colonels would not make us successful as colonels and generals.

At the time, I gave that idea little credence.  “Leadership is leadership” I thought to myself, how could it be that different?  Then I graduated and went on to an executive position at the Pentagon and found that everything they taught me was–wait for it–true.  Executive leadership was different!  I spent a lot more time gaining consensus around ideas and building relationships than giving orders and making plans.  I had fewer people reporting to me on the staff, but more people from whom I needed support to further my goals. Less details and more concepts.  More strategy and less tactics.

An “Ah-Ha” Moment

That particular “ah-ha” moment for me was after I returned from a meeting where my senior executive boss sent me to represent him. When I returned, I started to relate the topics of discussion to him and he stopped me to ask, “Who was there?”  I responded with the names of the various organizations represented and he stopped me again, “No, no…who was there?” (meaning, he wanted to know the names of the people at the table). Then he asked me, “Where were they sitting?” The seating chart and the names of the people in the meeting told him something important. It told him what his peers thought and their relative importance to the Principal. The lesson was less about “office politics” and more about the way senior people work with each other at the senior levels. Executives work more through relationship and collaboration than through strict lines of authority. That’s not to say formal authority isn’t important–but it’s less important than the informal influence senior leaders exert.

What They Said

Over at Lifehacker, they’ve borrowed a Harvard Business Review article that addresses that very subject:

An internal battle rages inside many high performers who advance from positions where they thrived as individual contributors to positions that require them to depend on others. On the one hand, they pride themselves on knowing more than anyone else about their area and like feeling confident in their abilities to deliver exceptional work. On the other, the scope of their new responsibilities no longer makes keeping up on all the details possible—or even preferable.

Read the rest at Harvard Business Review (via Lifehacker)


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.