Throwback Thursday: “We” Is More Powerful Than “I”

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In any endeavor, teamwork is usually the key to success. Every organization functions as a team; we all need each other to be successful.

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Whether your company is 5 or 5,000, there are teams of people who have to work together to get the job done. It is a rare task that a person accomplishes on his or her own. This is not to downplay individual achievement, far from it, but the idea that teamwork enables organizations to reach their goals.

Ever watch an interview with a NASCAR driver? From the outside, car racing looks like a solitary sport: a car and a driver and a track. The skill and courage of a single driver pitted against a field of drivers. But listen to that interview: the driver never uses the word “I” when referring to what happens on the track. “We were running pretty good through the whole first 50 laps,” or “we’re just trying to run our race,” et cetera…you get the idea. Drivers understand that although they may be the “face” of the racing team, it is the team that is important. Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon said it best when he said, “Teamwork is everything. It takes all of us working together. We win and lose together.”

In sports, and in business, highly performing teams are most often the reason organizations are successful.  Even superstars recognize they don’t get to the championship on their own.


Throwback Thursday: Leaders Who Allow Honest Mistakes Encourage Excellence

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership, Throwback Thursday
NASA Photo
Apollo 11 on the Moon. (NASA Photo)

A culture of trust and respect means that people need to be allowed honest mistakes 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.

From the Earth to the Moon

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 the testing of the ship that would actually land on the moon, 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.

Risk Taking Breeds Excellence

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.

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.

June Newsletter Sneak Peak- Is Your Summer in Balance?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Announcements, Practical Leadership

This week, I’m offering a “sneak peek” at the some of the original content my newsletter subscribers receive every month! New subscribers also receive a free electronic copy of Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, my simple guide to leading any team effectively! Sign up by clicking this link or on form in the sidebar at right!


Welcome to Summer Everyone! It’s finally June–watermelon by the lake, baseball, and vacation time. One of the “Be’s” in my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, is “Be Balanced.” “Be Balanced” is all about Life Balance–and that’s way more than “work-life”–it means nurturing the three aspects of ourselves. What’s that have to do with summer, you ask? Just this: the changing of the seasons is a great reminder to us to ensure our life is in balance.

When thinking about “Life Balance,” I use a three-part model of Mind-Body-Spirit to describe the aspects of a human person. For many,whether you’re in school or just have kids who are, the school year is all about developing the Mind. Summer offers us an opportunity to exercise the other two aspects of our person: our Body and our Spirit.

Didn’t have time to exercise regularly? We have extra hours of sunlight to get outside and do something physical. You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy the outdoors–just a walk in the neighborhood will do!

What about that Spirit? As Yoda once said, “Luminous beings are we, not just this crude matter.” What Yoda knows is humans are complex creatures–much more than the mere sum of our parts. That means we need to dedicate time to cultivating our Spirit by seeking things that elevate us and feed us–things like Beauty and Truth.

There’s practical reasons for leaders to pay attention to their own and their teammates “Balance” as well. Consider this excerpt from The 5 Be’s for Starting Out.

Being a well rounded person means trying to determine what motivates and fulfills you, and then intentionally working to harmonize those very personal needs with the needs of your family, team, or workplace. It’s more than a mere transaction; leaders must recognize that their team is more than names on an organizational chart. Each is a person with needs and aspirations of their own, who have come together to do a job for their own reasons. As individuals, we need to understand our personal engagement with those around us is just as important as our self-awareness.

The companies consistently rated ‘best to work for’ seem to understand that idea. Those companies provide benefits that let the employees know they are valued for more than just their contribution to the bottom line, but also valued as people. In each case, the employees at the top rated companies enjoy their work environment; the benefits provided are a bonus. The companies that treat their employees as whole persons, with more than a single dimension, are the ones who get the most engaged and involved employees, in return.

Summer is here: now is a perfect time to make a plan for you, your family, and your teammates to “Be Balanced.” Absolutely, work hard and play hard in these warm summer months–but don’t forget to stop and smell the sunflowers before summer gets away from you!

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.

The Courage to Innovate in Large Organizations

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10-Hardest-Life-Fish-BowlInnovation in any large organization requires courage–courage from senior leaders right down to the front line worker. If done with courage and clear vision, then leaders can develop a true culture of innovation–a “startup mentality”–even in the public sector. Is it really possible to have a “startup” in a huge global enterprise? The answer is “yes,” and I’m actually running one today. Furthermore, the “startup mentality” is absolutely vital if our massive, global operation is going to succeed in the next 50 years. Let me explain.

About two years ago, the Air Force embarked on a massive reorganization. We created a new global Center headquarters to centrally manage all the resources for all 77 Air Force bases around the world. For a military force so tied to their bases–land based air power needs bases to operate–this as an enormously complex undertaking. Culturally, organizationally, and operationally, the reorganization of the Air Force was a big risk. The opportunities to improve how we manage Air Force bases, to save money and ensure we meet the Air Force’s the highest priorities are equally enormous. We have a tremendous opportunity to something truly amazing.

My piece of this global enterprise is located here in Hawaii, and we serve alongside our teammates from several other regional “business units” with the same parent headquarters. Our mission is to be “solutions architects” for our primary customer (Pacific Air Forces), as well as the other Airmen in the Pacific. Our headquarters is in San Antonio, Texas, five times zones and 3,700 miles away. To be sure, we’re not entirely breaking new ground: the other uniformed Services embarked on similar centralization efforts a decade ago. Also, we have the benefit of working within the umbrella of a very large organization–the Air Force.  As an optimist, I see even drastic change as an opportunity to do something amazing. Even well conceived and managed change breeds chaos–it disrupts people from their routines, establishes new communication and resource lines of authority, and forces us to look at delivering products and services in new ways. As painful as it is, disruption is a necessary catalyst for innovation in large organizations, especially in the public sector.

Starting from Scratch is an Opportunity

Rather than seeing change–even tumultuous change–as a reason to give up, we have to look for the opportunities when change happens. Each of us has those moments when we think, “I could do this so much better”, change is our opportunity to bring those ideas to life. In our case, being 3,700 miles from our nascent headquarters and co-located with our primary customer were also benefits because we could implement change on our end and then prove it worked before pitching it to the enterprise. When we had good ideas and shared them with our teammates around the globe we became influencers to the entire Air Force. Because our team was and is agile in turning our ideas into reality, and then sharing those ideas with our off-island teammates, we have the chance to be a big influence on the way our enterprise does business.

Having the Courage to Innovate

Of course, nothing happens without strong leadership supporting a culture of innovation–and that must come within and without. Most importantly, our “C-suite” leadership back in San Antonio allowed us to innovate and share. It is a courageous choice for the CEO of a new global organization to provide broad guidance and give us all freedom to innovate. We are very lucky to have leadership with that courage. Secondly, our teammates around the world had the courage to share ideas with us and each other. Big change breeds stress and the natural human tendency is to retreat to protect what’s left. Not so with our global teammates: they constantly share ideas, proposed solutions, and challenged the status quo. Finally, our own Pacific team had to overcome our own distress at successive “reorgs” and look for opportunities to lead. Our little, but mighty, diverse team of sixty professionals came together to take a proactive stance. This sort of courage and collaboration can be very powerful. The result was people were free to take some risks and look for alternatives to the status quo. That is the heart of innovation: the willingness to try something new and seek a better solution to an old problem. It takes courage to innovate, courage inspired by courageous leaders.

Change is Hard-It’s Harder if You Don’t Innovate

Innovation, then, is led with courage by leaders willing to accept some measure of risk. That leadership can’t operate in a vacuum; all our good ideas would have been meaningless if we’d kept them to ourselves. Furthermore, if we’d have gone beaming off on our own instead of seeking solutions to problems common across the enterprise then our off-island teammates would be justified in writing us off as kooks. But we didn’t. We took good ideas from others, we shared successes and failures, we fought for feedback, and we took risks. Massive change is incredibly difficult, but it’s impossible without courage from leaders at all levels to try something new and take risks. That’s a lesson for any large organization, no matter what you do.

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 Leading Leaders blog, People Development Magazine, and


What’s “Leadership” All About Anyway?

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Ultimately, leadership is both highly personal and highly situational. There are all sorts of teams and leaders, and the themes and truisms I lay out in this book are universal; each leader has to adapt their own style and personal ethos. I submit that the personal ethos is the first thing a serious leader should reflect on when he takes on a new leadership role. No matter how long a job lasts, be it days or years, the leader should constantly review her ethos in light of the task at hand. My ethos, the philosophy outlined in my book Leading Leaders, is the man I want to be when I lead and the values I want my organization to manifest.

As an instructor at the Air Force Officer Training School (OTS), I saw the officer trainees take on the personality of their leaders time and time again. Each of us flight commanders were different in our approach to instruction. One thought of OTS as “adult education,” while another acted as if he’d just come off the set of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Each of the groups of officer trainees soon adopted the personality traits of their leader. The transformation was dramatic in some cases, and the military training environment intensified it. For me, it underscored my need to be sure I was the sort of leader I wanted people to emulate, because I knew they’d be taking my example as well as my instruction out into the Air Force.

What It Takes to Be Successful

I believe if a leader is truly successful, you see it in the demeanor and character of the people he leads. It’s often surprising to me how much organizations, even large ones, take on the personality of the leader. It’s incumbent, therefore, on the leader to be a person of character, because he has great influence on the character of others. Once a leader understands that essential mandate—truly gets it—he is never the same person again. Integrity must be our watchword, because, without it, we cannot hope to build teams that trust each other. Respect is the common ground teammates join on to accomplish their professional and personal goals. Leaders Lead when they take charge and motivate others to achieve and grow. Teamwork is essential to reaching any end; individual achievement is almost always the result of shared effort. Finally, a leader’s strict attention to detail means that he fully understands the task and which Little Things Matter to getting things done. These are basic ideas, but without these principles as a solid foundation, a leader is without a starting place.

Before the satellite navigation, Global Positioning System, the most advanced navigation system was called the Inertial Navigation System (INS). In order to navigate from place to place, an INS device had to know precisely where it was at the start. Knowing that, the machine used speed and time to calculate distance and precise location along the route. The device was even used to navigate to the moon and back during the Apollo missions.

Like the fixed starting point for the INS, the principles described in this book are the starting point: a precise location to launch from for any leadership journey. If your personal leadership ethos is based on character, you’ll have a solid foundation no matter whether you’re leading a Boy Scout troop, a small business or major corporation, or battalions in combat.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #10: Drink Your Water, Eat Your Lunch, and Make New Friends

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Practical Leadership

When my son was very young, he would give me the same advice as I left for work every day: “Goodbye, Daddy, have a good day at work. Be sure to drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.” I always thought his farewell each day was far more insightful than just a small boy’s simple advice. In fact, it’s a great chance to talk about life balance.


There are many different ways to understand and dissect the topic of life balance. My model consists of 3 main focus areas: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. Others use Health, Wealth, and Friends, or Work/Life. The US Air Force has an outstanding approach to balancing the demands of work and life in their Comprehensive Airman Fitness Model which takes the familiar Mental, Physical, and Spiritual dimensions and adds a fourth, Social. And of course there’s always the familiar Maslow Hierarchy of Needs.

No matter how you slice up the dimensions of the human person, the take away is that humans are multi-dimensional, and therefore leaders should be intentional about engaging the whole person and not just the external part. Each person has a body, mind, and the intangible part of themselves religious people call a soul, and non-religious people often refer to as the human spirit. The point is that every person is more than meets the eye.

Being a leader means trying to find what motivates people, and what fulfills them, then intentionally working to harmonize those very personal needs with the needs of the organization. It’s more than a mere transaction: leaders must recognize that their team is more than their collective job titles. They are people with needs and aspirations of their own, persons who have come together to do a job for their own reasons that may or may not be because they’re drawing a paycheck.

The companies consistently rated best to work for seem to get that idea. They provide benefits that let the employees know they’re valued beyond their contribution, but also valued as persons too. There’s plenty of examples with Google and Southwest Airlines often at the top of the list. In each case the employees at those top rated companies like their work and their environment first; the benefits are simply the externals. The companies that treat their employees as whole persons, with more than a single dimension, are the ones who get the most engaged employees at work in return.

So the next time you look out over your team, stop for a minute and remember the words of my then four year old son: drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.

Living life balance as a leader is challenging. There are a lot of demands on a person’s time when they’re in charge, but finding time to feed all aspects of your body and soul is a key to any successful life. Anyone can put their head down and power through life; it takes a mature leader to understand that how you live is equally important to what you accomplish.

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 Leading Leaders blog, and

The Power of Shared Purpose

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

20150902_175720As a military officer, I’ve served with some of the finest people I’ll ever know. Few of them were exactly like me, but all of us shared a common purpose to serve our country. It’s that shared purpose that unified a diverse group of people around a singular mission to fight for our country, our values, and each other. When leaders help those around them understand and work toward shared purpose, its a powerful “energizer” for the team.

As we move constantly, you’d be forgiven in thinking military people say goodbye easily–we don’t. Because of the bond of our service, saying goodbye is usually accompanied with tears and sadness. Even when we’re excited to move on to another assignment or get a promotion, leaving our comrades behind and making new friends is hard. Retirements are even more difficult because we’re leaving the “brotherhood” for good and leaving behind the symbols of our connection: our uniforms and our duties. Amazingly, even when soldiers are wounded in battle their first questions are usually about their battle buddies and when they can return to take their place in the line. Such is the power of shared purpose.

The military may be expert at helping recruits internalize the military values and mission, but that same sense of mission works in the private sector as well. I’ve written many times about the value of giving people a purpose, not just a paycheck. It’s been my experience that most people want to contribute, not just clock in and out. In fact, the most successful companies in the business today are successfull for precisely that reason. Take a look at these well-know companies and their missions:

  • Google (“…to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”)
  • REI (“…inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship”)
  • SpaceX (“..revolutionize space technology…to enable people to live on other planets”)
  • USAA (“Facilitate the financial security of [the] members”)

See? Each of those examples–and there are hundreds like them–provide their employees with a sense of shared purpose, a reason to come to work each day and contribute. Their mission statements give their employees something larger than themselves to aspire to be. However, mission statements are nothing but a pretty wall-hanging in the executive conference room if the leadership doesn’t help new people internalize the team’s values, and that process begins during onboarding and continues as long as we’re with the company.

There are two key ideas to creating shared purpose within your company:

1. The mission has to be about more than dollars and cents. Profit motive and success are important, that’s the grease for getting the mission done, but they can’t be the only thing the company cares about. In the examples above, each of those companies is worth billions–and each has a mission to accomplish that is higher than merely making money. For entrepreneurs and corporations alike: think about the reason you got into your line of work to begin with: that’s your mission!

2. Leaders from the C-suite to the front line have to “walk the talk.” No matter what your company does, leaders have to be about the mission first. Everyone want’s to be successful financially, but trust me, if you don’t get the mission done no one will care what the bottom line looks like. Business in the ’80’s might have been all about conspicuous consumption and “greed”–but that’s not the Twenty-First Century way. We care about the financials, but we care just as much about corporate citizenship. Leaders have to set the example!

Give your team a shared purpose, not just a paycheck, and you’ll see how both the bottom line and the sense of community within grow. A team unified around a shared purpose is a powerful team indeed!

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 Leading Leaders blog, and

Raising Them Right: The Value of Onboarding

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CCPL AddisonOnboarding new employees is critical to the success of any organization. Without a deliberate and thoughtful onboarding process, new employees are set adrift in an organizational culture without any guide–and some will lose their way. Done correctly, a good onboarding process will imbue the new recruit with company values and energize them to find where they can contribute their unique talents to making the team better.

The military is famously successful at building camaraderie and esprit de corps in part because we begin at the beginning. Warfare is a team sport–it requires the synchronization of sometimes thousands of people working on wildly different processes in order to bring violence to a crucial spot in time and space. That synchronization requires trust, selflessness, courage, and commitment. The ancient Greeks and Romans were successful in battle because they fought as a team, rather than a mob. The American military is the best in the world because we fight as a globally synchronized team. As I told my young Airmen many times, there’s no place on the planet we can’t go and either take a picture, feed someone, or destroy something. That sort of power only happens when you have shared purpose and trust on an epic level. My fellow Airmen share values and mission–and we trust each other to watch our “six” and with our lives.

How does the military do it, and how can a for-profit company benefit from copying that process? To be sure, maintaing a sense of share purpose a constant process over the course of an Airman’s career, but it begins in basic training. During the indoctrination phase of basic training, we don’t merely teach the new recruit how to fill out forms and say, “yes, sir,” we help them transition from being individuals to being part of a team. We teach them to march, even though troops haven’t maneuvered on the battlefield in blocks since the 1860’s, because marching teaches them to work together and connects them to 5,000 years of military culture. We give them new haircuts and we give them uniforms to help them see their connection to each other. We teach them to respect their sergeants–and we make sure those sergeants are men and women worthy of that respect–to help the recruit understand leadership and find a role model. We give them a sense of history, and we connect them to it; and then we charge them with the weighty task of defending their homes and each other from a determined enemy. We give them purpose and connect to the larger whole.

Non-military organizations can do the same but with their own methods. The overall goal of basic training is to get an Airman on the other end–someone who can begin contributing on Day 1 and who internalizes our values. That should be the goal of onboarding at any company: a new team member who is fully “on board” and willing to contribute.

  • Begin your onboarding process with helping your new recruit understand the history of the company. Connect them to that history by explaining the company mission and energize them to understand their role in that mission.
  • Teach new recruits to respect their leaders. Have company leaders come and speak to them, make those C-suite leaders accessible and real. Believe me, when a CEO addresses a new recruit by name and concretely explains how the recruit’s particular job enables the company to be successful, you’ve onboarded correctly.
  • Explain the company culture. Helping the new recruit become comfortable in their new environment will give them a jumpstart toward contributing sooner.
  • Give them something to unify the recruit with the company–a pin, name tag, embroidered polo shirt, or maybe just a sticker for their car window. Giving the recruit some sort of “uniform” is a visible reminder they are now part of something larger than themselves.
  • Connect the new recruit with a mentor. Developing employees and helping them grow is a key responsibility of leaders, and it’s a sound investment in the company.

Done correctly, a good onboarding process will energize the team and build a sense of shared purpose. Giving someone a mission is the first step to creating a culture of excellence, and a place people love to work.

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 Leading Leaders blog, and

Of Surfing, Leading, and Be’s

Posted Leave a commentPosted in How To Change, Podcast, Practical Leadership, The Five Be's


Aloha everyone! I am privileged to appear on The Civil Engineering podcast with leader, career coach, and former Air Force engineer Christian Knudson.  Episode 19: Riding The Wave of Change As a Civil Engineer Leader – goes live today Wednesday Nov. 25 on iTunes at 6am EST.

This weeks Civil Engineer podcast features Mickey Addison, career military officer, civil engineer, author and senior leader about developing effective leadership in your civil engineering career.  Listen in to his three steps for civil engineering leaders navigating and implementing organizational change.  Plus learn about his new book, “The 5 Be’s”, available now!

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

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership
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)
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)

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!

Global Success Means Cultural Literacy

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In my line of work, I travel quite a bit. I’ve lived in a number of different places around the country and around the world, and I’ve seen a great deal of the world. One of the many benefits of living that way over the past 27 years is a deep appreciation for cultural literacy. To be culturally literate is to seek to bridge cultural gaps by doing your best to understand another’s culture–their language, social customs, and history. It cannot be done from afar, it must be done in person.

WaPo blogger Christopher Ingraham learned that lesson first-hand after writing a piece translating the USDA rankings for natural amenities into a declarative statement calling Red Lake County, MN, “The absolute worst place to live in America.” Commendably he traveled there and saw the place, met the people, and breathed in the air–and predictably, he came away with a different point of view. Minnesota and Washington DC are both in the USA of course, but it was a micro-lesson in cultural literacy, and a lesson in seeing beyond mere data from charts and reports.

Says Mr Ingraham:

I was worried that 36 hours would be too long a visit, that we’d run out of things to say or do and end up sitting in silence, staring at corn. But I left feeling like I’d barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and know about the county and the people who call it home.

To a certain degree, I suppose, we all suffer from an urge to be, well, provincial in the way we view others. After all people are different–we live in vastly different places, dress differently, speak differently, worship differently, and eat different foods. The diversity of humanity is so expansive; anthropologists spend lifetimes and fill volumes with what we know and what we are learning. I’ve had the privilege of seeing that diversity first hand by meeting and interacting with people from all corners of the globe during my service in the Air Force. Sometimes it’s be daunting–how will we ever bridge the gap between our own lived experience and the people we meet for whom what we take for granted they marvel as if it were magic? Is it even necessary to try to be culturally literate?

For leaders, it’s extremely necessary.

…from the sole proprietor all the way to the C-suite, not being culturally literate is synonymous with being left out of the marketplace.

Global mobility and a global marketplace mean we are in contact with people who aren’t like us, usually daily. An entrepreneur in Europe can contract with a manufacturing plant in Mexico or China, then sell the product in America, with social media and PR assistance from freelancers in the Philippines or India. That means that everyone from the sole proprietor all the way to the C-suite, not being culturally literate is synonymous with being left out of the marketplace. It’s certainly true that military leaders have to be culturally literate as we work with our allies and partners across the globe to maintain the peace and fight extremism. For all of us, particularly for leaders, learning to meet people where they are and find common ground and common purpose is a prerequisite for high performance.  To do that, we have to engage personally, and recognize each of us has something to offer. Not everyone is a perfect fit, of course, but we can’t let external differences keep us from leading teams to high performance. And of course, “teams” can be everywhere if we look.

Cultural literacy is a bridge to performance and teamwork.

My experience as an Air Force officer has borne out the idea that cultural literacy builds teams. Time I spent making an effort to be culturally literate was always valuable. Being aware of local customs, religious sensitivities, and history are all ways to become a better guest–or host as the case may be. Even something as small as learning a few phrases in another’s language like “yes”, “no”, “please”, and “thank you” is a bridge to greater understanding and teamwork. Each time I step into another’s world and walk around a bit, I appreciate their point of view. That sometimes becomes a shared view, even if it’s only a slice of each other’s culture, helps each of us find common ground. Cultural literacy is a bridge to performance and teamwork.

After travelling so many different places during my career, I still find that despite the even significant cultural differences, most people want the same thing: honest work, to raise their families in peace, and enjoy their lives. When we find common ground through our shared human values (e.g. Truth, Beauty, Love, etc.) we can build a team from the most unlikely and diverse groups. Cultural literacy helps leaders build strong connective tissue, and that enables them to lead teams to high performance.

Three Critical Questions for Strategic Planning

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Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress;
working together is success.
Henry Ford

As a freshman engineering student, I remember vividly the day my professor announced we needed to know the answer before we performed the calculations.What in blazes does he mean? I thought to myself. Then he explained: if we don’t have an idea of what the answer should be when we start calculating, we’ll have no idea if we’ve gotten a reasonable answer at all. You know the adage: garbage in, garbage out. It’s a skill engineers have passed on to one another for centuries–does the answer I calculated make sense? It’s the same with strategic planning. If we don’t begin with the end in mind, and work the process mindful of the constraints we live with, we’re likely to get a glossy publication with high sounding words–but not an executable strategy.

There are plenty of strategic planning models out there, but before we even begin planning, we need to ask ourselves three critical questions. They will frame the strategic planning process, no matter what planning method we choose, and will help us understand the output of that process. The Three Critical Questions are:

  1. What is Our Mission?
  2. Who is on Our Team?
  3. What does Success Look Like?

Question 1: What is Our Mission?

Every organization has a mission. We provide a service or produce a product–but in neither business nor the public sector do organizations exist for no purpose. A solid understanding of the organization’s mission will underpin everything with a firm footing, but a misdiagnosed or mistaken understanding will send the team careening in the wrong direction. Mission statements aren’t static; they require maintenance and periodic re-evaluation. Furthermore, we need to write mission statements in clear language so there is a minimal chance of misinterpretation. Begin every strategy session with a review of the organization’s mission and ask: Does this still make sense? Is this really what we’re doing? Is this what my boss, our customers, and our stakeholders expect of us? If you can answer all of these questions to your satisfaction, you can move on to the next question.

Question 2: Who is on Our Team?

It’s not hyperbole to say we have teammates everywhere–even in places we don’t expect. When I was a young Air Force officer in the 90’s, Total Quality Management was all the rage. In a TQM training seminar, we competed with other teams to “manufacture” paper airplanes. By not recognizing either our supplier or our customer as potential teammates, we ended up losing the contest to another team that did. It’s a simple example, but building a network of teams as well as solid teamwork within your own organization is crucial to 21st century success. The world is far too inter-connected for any of us to operate as an “organizational island”–even the famously neutral Swiss cooperate with their neighbors and joined the United Nations. Therefore, when asking Who is on my team? look beyond the boundaries of the organization to partners, suppliers, customers, stakeholders, and even competitors. You might be surprised with whom you share a bond or a common goal.

Question 3: What does Success Look Like?

The last of the three critical questions is sometimes the hardest to answer. If we can’t define success, then all the mission statements and partnering agreements are for naught. We must be as precise as we can, and as honest as we can be about what we’re capable of accomplishing. Defining an end state that’s out of reach is just as useless as defining an ambiguous one. Be specific, reach a little, but above all be clear and realistic. One word of caution about vision statements: they are valuable as aspirational documents, but they are not a concise definition of success. To illustrate, compare the following two statements:

Vision Statement:
We want to be a world-class engineering company, providing the highest quality services on the world’s most pressing infrastructure problems. We want to be responsible stewards of our resources and foster a culture of respect both within our team, and with those whom we collaborate.

Success Definition Statement:
We define success as a 15% overall growth in a healthy company. Specifically: billable hours increased by 20% over last year, costs reduced by 10% over last year, and employee satisfaction ratings up compared to the 2014 employee survey.

See what I mean? Both statements are necessary for their purpose–one to help team members aspire to be better, and the other to give concrete goals to achieve–but they are not interchangeable.

Strategic planning is absolutely indispensable to any high performing team. To create a good strategic plan we have to start with the end in mind, and answer those three critical questions.

Originally posted on


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It’s no secret that I’m an American Airman, and proud of the US Air Force and my service as an Airman. I’m proud of “my” Air Force because of my shared experience with my fellow Airmen, and I’m proud of “my” Air Force because my leaders have given me reasons to be proud.

The Air Force embarked on an effort to forge more professional Airmen, and part of that effort is to remind Airmen who they as Airmen. Reminding people who they are, and why they should be proud of who they are, is an important aspect of organizational leadership. In addition, helping people understand and appreciate who they are as people builds strong teams, and resilient people.

Enjoy the US Air Force’s video, “Committment,” and while you’re watching think about who you are and where you came from–and remember to be proud of that as well. Aim High!

Pennies on Sully

Dad’s “Sage” Advice for Freshman Success at College – 2015 Edition

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

It’s time to welcome the Class of 2019 to their collegiate careers! Below is my annual “advice” to new freshmen–updated of course!

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

1. Stay Healthy: Mentally, Physically, Spiritually

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Guard Your Chastity

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

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

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

7. Have A Regular Schedule

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

8. Ask For Help When You Need It

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

9. Communicate

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

Leaders Lead – Take Charge Move Out

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For leadership to be authentic, we have to make decisions and take risks. The reason we’re hired into a position of leadership is to do just that; and if we’re too timid to use the authority our boss gives us then we’re not doing our jobs. In the military as in many professions, we strive to solve problems at the lowest level. “Delegating up” to the senior leaders in any organization is a sure-fire way to create organizational paralysis, but the responsibility to ensure decisions get made at the appropriate level fall on senior and junior leaders alike.

Senior leaders have to fight the urge to solve all the team’s problems for them. It’s tempting, because senior leaders didn’t rise to their lofty positions in the organization by sitting on their hands and letting others do the work. Senior leaders got their positions of leadership by, well, leading. However, once a leader passes into the senior/executive level, he or she takes on a different role. As they taught us at the Eisenhower School, “What got you here isn’t going to make you successful here,” which of course means senior leaders must learn new skills to compliment the ones that made them a successful leader at lower levels. For example, they can’t be involved in all–or even most–of the tactical decisions in the organization. Senior leaders have to have their eyes on the horizon, and be thinking several moves ahead.

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Leaders Pay Attention to the Little Things

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“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” That’s what leaders hear constantly as we’re challenged to keep a strategic focus. It’s generally good advice, particularly for senior or executive leaders, but the maxim to keep your eyes on the horizon is not carte blanche to ignore relevant details. The real trick is to figure out which details are the important ones. Just like driving a car, we have to both keep our eyes on the road, and mind the instrument panel. We can’t simply stare at the horizon without watching our speed and engine temperature, nor can we keep our eyes inside the car without watching where we’re going.

In my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, I share an extreme example to prove the point that some details are important:

In 2000 Air France Flight 4590 crashed on takeoff, killing all aboard. Ultimately, 113 people were killed and a $107 million aircraft was lost because a 17-inch long by 1-inch wide strip of metal on the runway punctured the fuel tank, starting a fire that ultimately caused the Concorde to crash. The investigation later determined that the metal strip that fell from the aircraft that took off just prior to the Concorde, the one that caused the deaths of 113 people, came from an engine of a DC-10 from Houston. The crash investigation determined that the strip of metal was neither manufactured nor installed properly. The inattention of the maintenance crews in Houston, 5,300 miles away, resulted in a disaster in Paris months later.

I know that an aircraft crash is an extreme example—most of us will not fly a $107 million Concorde—but it illustrates how a seemingly small detail can have very big consequences.

In any sufficiently large organization, there are details that matter and details that don’t. Senior leaders will drive organizational behavior by what things get their attention. If the executive pays attention to “queep” then the entire organization gets dragged into the quagmire of collecting and measuring meaningless data. Conversely, if the data gathered and measured is actionable and relevant to the strategic direction of the organization, then that organization will grow and thrive. So how do you know which details are relevant and which are “queep?”

I’ve found it productive to ask myself two questions when selecting which details to track as a senior leader:

Does it help me (not my subordinates) make decisions?

Does it inform my intelligence about the organization?

Helping Me Make Decisions—Not My Subordinates. In an information saturated environment, it’s very easy for executives to put their teams into “Powerpoint Hell” gathering data and preparing charts for no purpose. Avoid the temptation to gather data just because you can. Leaders have to understand that just because the data is available doesn’t mean it’s relevant. Data gathering and analysis consumes staff time and money–gathering the wrong data wastes both. In general, details that help me make decisions about the strategic direction of the enterprise are those that expend dollars or manpower, or both, on progress toward the organizational goals. Senior leaders need only focus on those details that directly influence strategic decisions. Those details could be anything, but are generally resource-related. The trick is not to attempt to manage all details…but rather only the critical ones. Process analysis tools like process mapping or critical path evaluation are ways to help figure out what’s driving organizational performance.

Informing My Intelligence About the Organization. Besides charting the course for the organization, leaders also have to care for the people in their charge. Understanding the health of the organization requires leaders to pay attention to details as well, but different sorts of details than performance metrics. Even high performing teams will lose their edge if leaders ignore the morale and welfare concerns of the people. In this regard, seemingly unimportant details can significantly affect the team. If executives find team members haven’t heard their message because mid- and low-level leaders in the organization aren’t communicating, if organizational policies and procedures are ignored, if staff payroll suddenly shows a big change in sick leave or vacation time taken, then executives must sit up and take notice. These are all indicators that something is amiss. Whenever I took over an organization, I made it a point to visit all the work areas and meet the people. I could tell a great deal about the health of the organization by seeing people in their environment, and taking a peek at their work centers. If the bulletin board was out of date, or the area was sloppy, or people seemed reluctant to talk, I was sure there was a problem that required my attention. It’s hard for busy senior leaders to get “out and about,” but get out they must–and on a regular basis.

Details matter. Not all details, of course, and there isn’t a checklist to determine which ones are important and which ones are “queep.” Smart leaders know when to check their speedometer, and when to keep their eyes on the road.

Doing What Feeds Your Spirit

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Lana'i Animal Rescue Center Founder Kathy Carroll
Lana’i Animal Rescue Center Founder Kathy Carroll

Ask anyone who’s been successful in their life about how they became so, and you’re likely to hear a familiar refrain from all of them: do something that you love. If you love your work, then it’s not work, it’s a joy. For the entrepreneur that sort of passion is a must, whether the work is for profit or service. It’s also a terrific signpost for the rest of us as we seek to make the most of the time we’re given.

If we don’t like our jobs, then we have only three choices: (1) suffer, (2) learn to love our work, or (3) find work that feeds the spirit.

The entrepreneur always chooses the third option. While suffering may be necessary for any number of reasons, and praiseworthy as a means of spiritual growth, it’s certainly not the first choice for most of us. Learning to love the work you’re doing is a good way to adapt to your circumstances, a sort of a “bloom where you’re planted” approach to life. That philosophy has benefits for personal growth: by learning to be happy in your circumstances you’re feeding your spirit. Sometimes the budding entrepreneur has to wait a bit to pursue his/her passion; it’s a fact of grown up life that we do what’s necessary to take care of ourselves and families. As I near 50 years of age and come closer to the end of my military career, I find inspiration in “second career” leaders who seek out their passion and look for ways to feed their spirit.

Case in point: the Lana’i Animal Rescue Center (LARC) and Kathy Carroll.

We were fortunate enough to meet Kathy and her husband Mike during a brief stay on Lana’i, and I was impressed by their courage, entrepreneurial spirit, and positive approach to life. After moving from Chicago to the Hawaiian island of Lana’i to resume Mike’s art career after a 22 year hiatus, Kathy became aware of the magnitude of the cat problem when someone dropped off an injured kitten at Mike’s art gallery. Lana’i is a small island, and home to a population of 3,100 souls. Kathy is an animal lover, and recognized that on a 144 square mile island, management of the cat population was badly needed. On Lana’i cats have no natural predators, and that situation coupled with the warm Hawaiian climate means each female can produce up to four litters per year. That’s a lot of cats. Managing the cat population was not only necessary for the health of the cats themselves, it was vital to the health of the larger animal population on the island as well as the quality of life for the human population. That little kitten became the “cat-a-lyst” for a new career and a mission!

However, establishing a traditional “brick and mortar” shelter for hundreds of animals on one of the most remote places on the planet, a place where the closest vet was a 45 min ferry ride away to Lahaina, Maui, would require millions of dollars. Those dollars and her dream were out of reach–until she came upon the realization that she needed a transformative model for a rescue shelter.20150621_113659

If big cat preserves can thrive with natural enclosures, why not small cats? With the realization that with a relatively modest investment she could house and care for these animals, the LARC was born. Using the same ingenuity that enabled her to conceive of the project in the first place, she assembled a crew of volunteers and they designed facilities for the animals where they could be comfortable. Then the work really began: trapping cats late into the night, working with visiting vets coming from Maui and O’ahu, and writing grant proposals. Kathy has really accomplished something amazing: a shelter for roughly 400 animals with a small paid staff and several adoption programs to find homes for them. While purely volunteer run from 2004 to 2010, the LARC team has built it into a 501(c)(3) with a small paid staff to supplement the volunteers.

Our program started out with a handful of volunteers and spaying get/neutering homeless cats; we evolved baby-step by baby-step, rather than as a preconceived big picture. To me, was more about stepping up when seeing a need, and gutting it out vs. having a well-charted path from the get-go…figuring it out bit by bit…not being afraid to take risks, to tap into experts.  One needs to be willing to launch  into unknown territory, and embrace a very steep learning curve replete with mistakes, trials and tribulations. Grit works. – LARC Founder Kathy Carroll

Additionally while there is nothing formal, the LARC team collaborates with Lana’i’s Department of Natural Resources to help take care of what Kathy calls the “Lana’i Lions’ ”  veterinary needs, and recently received a grant from the Hawai’i Tourism Authority for visitors education. I think this exemplifies the spirit of Teamwork and the idea that we should look for teammates everywhere.

You might imagine that all that hard work would drain Kathy of her energy–but the opposite is true. Kathy’s enthusiasm for her work and the cats is infectious, and begins the moment you meet her. Today, the LARC has a highly dedicated paid and volunteer staff that runs the shelter, and Kathy’s role is leading tours, fund raising, grant writing, the e-newsletter, and sharing their innovative model with others. A true leader, when others try to give her credit for the cat sanctuary she founded, she defers that credit to the LARC staff, both past and present. A tribute to the entire team, the LARC inspired scaled down versions of the outdoor sanctuary on the neighbor island of Moloka’i, and at the Silicon Valley Humane Society. I believe it’s Kathy’s passion, and the dedication of the staff: Sanctuary Manager (Mike Hanog) and Animal Care Technicians (Becky Myers, Amanda Amby Shimokawa, and Jezel Antioquia), that’s made the difference. How else could you account for visitors coming from all over the world just to experience the place, including one Japanese man who flew all the way there to spend 5 hours with the cats before returning to Japan!

What lessons can we learn from Kathy’s experience? I think there’s two: first, do what you love, and second, be willing to do the work. Doing work you’re passionate about, whether it’s working with your hands or sailing corporate seas, should be a first principle. Not everyone has the choice of profession or trade, but when you get the chance to pursue work that feeds your spirit as well as your stomach–don’t hesitate. On the second lesson, no matter how enjoyable the work is–work requires effort. History is replete with people who had great ideas and then either fizzled (or never started) because they weren’t willing to put in the work. I’m sure being up at 2 a.m. after trapping 40 felines so the vet could do her work was not exactly “in the brochure” when Kathy dreamed of opening an cat sanctuary, but it’s the necessary work that goes along with the dream.

The same passion that drives us to dream big should also drive us to work hard.


To find out more about the Lana’i Animal Rescue Center, or find a way to help Kathy in her mission, like them on Facebook or go to

Leading Through Tragedy – Part 1

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Photo by Chris Jakubin
Photo by Chris Jakubin, Colorado Springs, CO

Tragedy is a part of the human experience: we can’t escape it and as leaders we get one chance to get that right. Whether that tragedy is the loss of a co-worker to an untimely death, a teammate with a life threatening disease, or the loss of an employee’s family member, leaders have to be ready to step up and guide their teams through the trauma of those events.

The military and emergency services have a great tradition of caring for the fallen and the fallen’s families. We know that, God forbid, something bad should happen to any of us that our commanders and colleagues will look after our families and us. That is a great comfort that builds trust between us and our buddies, as well as our families. But that sort of camaraderie and teamwork shouldn’t be restricted to those who put their lives in danger as their profession. Tragedy can strike in the form of a serious illness, an accident, or even as the result of an act of violence. Organizations of all types need to be ready to provide support to their suffering colleagues if the time comes.

Good teams form bonds of trust and mutual support for each other; it’s the leader’s responsibility to create an environment for that trust and then nurture it. When tragedy strikes the team, it’s the work the leader and the team put in over time that will enable the group to overcome the trauma. That sort of resilience, both personal and organizational, isn’t born in the moment; it’s cultivated over time deliberately.

Leaders have a number of tools and techniques at their disposal to prepare for a tragedy before it happens, and then guide their teams during and after the trauma happens. Churches and other religious organizations, government social services, and non-profits like the American Red Cross can all assist in developing a coping plan so leaders are ready when disaster strikes. Good planning will ensure you have the ability to function if/when the worst happens, when people look to their leaders the most.

Besides planning, the most important thing a leader can do when tragedy strikes the team is to be present and avoid the temptation to try to solve every problem. You can’t. The best you can do is be there for those suffering, offering what help they want, and supporting them as they grieve. Don’t say, “I know how you feel”…you don’t. Don’t say, “it will be OK,” it might never be OK.  Do say, “I’m so sorry” and “we’re here for you.” People deal with tragedy and trauma in their own way, and must be given the freedom to experience their personal pain in their own way as well. What leaders can do is make sure their colleagues have the space they need, and the firm foundation of support, to cope with the left turn their life took as a result of the tragedy.

The team also needs leaders, and a strong presence in the organization can strengthen the bonds of the team. The strength a leader demonstrates in crisis will infect the team and enable them to be supportive of their colleague. It’s especially important to maintain your own humanity and willingness for others to see you suffer, too. Robots comfort no one…humans comfort each other.

In short, good leadership is more than encouraging victory; it also means leading through the tough times as well.