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.

3 Military Books Every Leader Should Read

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Throwback Thursday

wingman3Actually, I think there’s way more than three, but since everyone is busy, I’ve narrowed it down to a few.

1.  War As I Knew It, Gen George S. Patton, Jr.

The famous WWII general’s memoirs has loads of lessons in leadership, showing initiative, and strategic thinking. Very interesting reading that dispels a lot of myths about one of America’s most celebrated and successful 5-star generals, and delivers some nuggets about leading.

2.  This Kind Of War, T.R. Ferhenbach

A history of the Korean War written in narrative/story style that teaches about followership and first line leadership, with a healthy dose of valor for inspiration. It’s a gripping account of a war America was unprepared to fight told from a variety of perspectives from the individual soldier to the commanding general. Lessons in personal courage and strategy.

3. The Defense Of Hill 781, James R. McDonough

An allegory of modern combat that I made required reading when I was a squadron commander. Leadership lessons about leading a complex organization, taking over as a new leader, and overcoming obstacles to forge a team…with a helping of black humor as well.

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

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership, Throwback Thursday

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: circletrack.com
Photo credit: circletrack.com

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.

Throwback Thursday: Finding Value in Professional Obligations, Part 1

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technique Only, Throwback Thursday

JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam OClub - USAF PhotoIt was axiomatic as a brand new lieutenant I was expected to join the Officer’s Club. I read about the expectation in my Air Force Officer’s Guide, and senior officers repeatedly reinforced  that expectation. It was part of my professional obligation to support the Club, and I accepted this at face value. In fact, other a couple of assignments where there wasn’t a Club at my base, I’ve been an Officer’s Club member since the day I entered the Air Force. That’s certainly not the norm any longer. Many things have contributed to the decline in Club membership over the years, de-glamorization of alcohol, reduction in Service budgets for recreational activities, and the elimination of bachelor officers’ quarters on base, but the change has been largely generational. Club membership in the military is an excellent case study for helping senior leaders bridge those generational differences.

As a squadron commander, I was dismayed to learn most my young officers weren’t Club members. Since Club membership had become voluntary and no longer enforced by our senior leadership, younger officers hadn’t signed on like I had done. They all had their reasons, but the common theme was they didn’t find any value in plopping down $20 per month to be a member of the Officer’s Club where they may darken the doors once a month. My generation was open to allowing for others’ expectations to drive our behavior, but this generation was not willing to follow unless they found value themselves.

There’s some virtue to that viewpoint, and it speaks directly to the need for people who lead teams made up of millennials to be deliberate about demands placed upon them. It’s not sufficient to merely expect certain behavior without having a good reason and articulating that reason to the team. This is where leaders come in.

Clearly, there are things we have to do because it’s “the social convention” as Dr Sheldon Cooper might say, and leaders need to explain those things sufficiently so their teams understand the necessity of their participation.  That said, it’s important to constantly examine the social norms of a given group and ensure they are still relevant. Traditions are important to be sure, but we must never become so attached to traditions we can’t create new ones or adapt the old ones to the group as it exists today. Furthermore, the bright and motivated people entering the workforce are accustomed to finding value in what they do. They’re not likely to accept “the norms” without understanding the reason behind them.  They will  “join” things where they find value, however:

If membership organizations are going to attract and keep members in this environment, they better figure out what “benefits” people, companies, and institutions are looking for, and provide those benefits in a hassle-free, tangible way.

As leadership is fundamentally a human relationship task, building and maintaining the esprit de corps of the group is one of a leader’s most important task. Help your team find value in what you’re doing, and spend some time on the intangibles of building culture. Put more simply: you have to know your people and ensure when you engage them you do it in a way they value and understand. It does no good to have a “donut day” in an office of fitness fanatics…you’re not helping them find value. They may appreciate the gesture, but you won’t be building at “teamship.” Helping your team find value, and offering value in return, will pay off in the end with higher productivity and a happier team.

In the next post, I’ll discuss the necessity of maintaining those professional obligations.


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.

#TBT: No Real Leader “Phones It In”

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

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

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

But that’s not what he did.

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

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

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #11: Check Your Moral Azimuth

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

az·i·muth [az-uh-muhth] noun

1. Astronomy, Navigation . the arc of the horizon measured clockwise from the south point, in astronomy, or from the north point, in navigation, to the point where a vertical circle through a given heavenly body intersects the horizon.

2. Surveying, Gunnery. the angle of horizontal deviation, measured clockwise, of a bearing from a standard direction, as from north or south.

Origin: 1350–1400; Middle English azimut < Middle French ≪ Arabic as sumūt the ways (i.e., directions

It seems a constant to me that people who get themselves into trouble with their families, their workplace, or the law are usually caught living a hidden or double life. Whether it’s the website a husband doesn’t want his wife to know about or the businesswoman fudging on her company expense account, people hide what they know is illicit. We see it all the time in the news: politicians caught doing the very thing they campaigned against, military leaders violating their code of conduct, and seemingly average people living secrets that when exposed resulted in arrest and sometimes horrible crimes. The interesting thing is on the whole people know when they’re doing something wrong. If we’re doing something that we wouldn’t want posted on the company bulletin board, it’s not likely healthy behavior. Or as my mother used to say, “it’s either illegal, immoral, or fattening.”

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President Ronald Reagan once said that character doesn’t just “happen” at times of crisis, it’s constructed bit by bit by seemingly insignificant decisions. Our character is the compass on which we guide our decisions and our lives. When we have to make decisions, particularly those that involve morals, money, or the mission, we consult our character compass. I call it “checking your moral azimuth”

Of course a compass is of no value unless it points north. So it is with our internal compass. As I wrote in this post, to be useful a compass can’t be self referencing. For those of us in the military, that external orientation is our Core Values and our Oath. For others, the “North Star” is their religious beliefs or political philosophy, or perhaps their professional code of ethics like the ones for physicians or engineers. For companies large and small, that orientation should include personal ethics and the organizational mission. When leading a team, leaders must foster a shared vision and shared code of ethics, because no team can be successful when traveling in multiple directions at once. Not everyone has to pray or vote the same way, but everyone should buy into the same organizational values and goals.

On a personal level, living life with something hidden usually means eventual personal and professional disaster. It was true 30 years ago and in the internet age it’s even more true that secrets don’t stay secret for long. In other words, successful people live an integrated life free from hidden activities. They are the same person on Monday morning they were Saturday night. This sort of consistent approach is a recipe for excellence. Excellence is not only the standard of what we seek to achieve, it is the expectation of those we serve as leaders. We also have the right to expect mission success and high personal standards from each other.

Finally, we have to be on a good azimuth, the right “compass heading,” when making decisions about our jobs or our lives. Having the right direction is important for any person, but it’s crucial for leaders because people will follow us and do what we do. From making decisions on personal finances, to personal risk management, to the discipline to follow that same checklist for the umpteenth time, staying on the correct moral azimuth will ensure we make the right decision.

As much as we try to set a good example, no one can make decisions for another person. Each person must have a well developed enough sense of personal responsibility to make good decisions for himself. It’s the leader’s responsibility to set and maintain a culture of excellence and responsibility, but ultimately we make our own choices.

Whether its navigating the businesses landscape or making a low-level bomb run, checking your compass is an accepted part of our habit pattern. Its just as important to check our moral azimuth…and that’s a skill for success in life.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #9: Walk The Horses

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

she_wore_a_yellow_ribbon_frame_20100308154326

There’s a great scene in the 1949 John Ford film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon that contains a lesson in leadership.  You guessed it: they were walking their horses.

What does “walking horses” have to do with leadership?  Just this: leaders can and must try to get the best out of their people, but no one can go at a gallop all the time.  The savvy leader needs to know when to gallop, when to trot, and when to get off and walk.

Back when I first joined the Air Force, leaders extolled the virtue of working the long hours.  The guy who was at work the longest was considered the “workhorse” and admired for his dedication.  We all bragged about how little sleep we got and how poorly we ate.  That sort of pace can’t last forever, however.  Lack of sleep, long hours, and bad food are a recipe for burnout rather than achievement.  Thankfully, the culture has changed a bit and today’s leaders understand the benefits of managing the workload.


That’s where Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne) comes in.  It was standard procedure on long patrols for the cavalry to get off and walk the horses a bit.  It allowed the troopers to stretch their legs a bit, and gave the horses a break by taking 200 pounds off their backs.  Having enough energy left in the tank (so to speak) meant that when the troop needed to hop on and gallop, horses and riders were ready. If the horses run too far or too long, they will be too exhausted when it comes time to sprint to the rescue of the wagon train.

The experienced leader works with his/her team to develop a “battle rhythm”, a normal pace of business.  Every business process/operation has a natural ebb and flow, with periods of “surge” where there’s maximum effort (“gallop”) and periods with much less demand on their personal/organizational resources.  One officer I worked with went so far as to map out a 90 day period and code days as “red” (high tempo), “green” (medium/normal tempo), and “blue” (slow tempo) so he could plan ahead for things like employees’ vacation planning and training schedules.  As an executive, I’ve made it a practice to look for opportunities to encourage employees when to plan their leave/vacation, and when I had to plan for everyone to be working long hours.

Part of good strategic planning is developing and tracking the pace of operations.  Make time in that plan to walk the horses.


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 GeneralLeadership.com.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #8: Be Curious; Ask ‘Why?’ A Lot

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Throwback Thursday

extrait_galaxy-quest_7Successful leaders are curious about their business and the people who work for/with them.  This sort of curiosity is an imperative for a leader because he/she has to both accomplish the task at hand and the “care/feeding” of the team.  To put it more succinctly, the leader needs to know what’s going on.

There’s a scene in the movie Galaxy Quest where alien general Sarris (Robin Tobin) is interrogating the human starship captain/actor Commander Peter Taggart/Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) that is illustrative of this principle.  Sarris asks Commander Taggart/Nesmith repeatedly about the workings of a particular artifact on board the ship, and is incredulous when “the commander” says he doesn’t know.  “A captain knows every weld, every rivet in his ship,” says Sarris.

None of us is very likely to be matching wits with an alien general, but the point for us is that the “commander” needs to understand how the organization works down to the “rivets and bolts.”  This means understanding who does what to whom, the stakeholders, customers, and teammates who produce whatever it is the organization produces.

The leader does this for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s not possible to diagnose problems if the leader doesn’t  know how the process works.  Without that sort of detailed knowledge, it might not even be possible to know if there’s even a problem!  There’s certainly not much hope for making process improvements. Second, it’s much harder to look after the people if the leader didn’t understand the details of the organization and process.  A curious leader who knows their people will know when there’s something amiss with an employee.  They’ll notice when production drops off before it becomes a crisis.

There are some barriers to a curious leader, however.

The first barrier is the “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality.  This mentality positively breeds a lack curiosity. Everyone is comfortable, no one attempts to improve things, no one notices inefficiency or wasted effort.  “This is how we’ve sideways done it” is a recipe for organizational extinction.

The second barrier pertains mostly to senior executives and occurs when the staff and direct reports protect the executive from bad news.  If the executive isn’t sufficiently curious to seek out bad news, or to go and see the operation for themselves, he/she can be blindsided with catastrophic news.  As the saying goes, ”bad news doesn’t get better with age.”

Perhaps the best reason for a leader to be curious is the effect it has on the team. If the leader is curious and engaged, asking “why ” a lot, that behavior will become party of the  organizational culture. It will generate engaged employees, it will foster a culture of continuous improvement, and it will create an environment that improves everyone’s job satisfaction.  “Curiosity” is one of the best ways to ensure  organizational success.


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 GeneralLeadership.com.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #7: The Other Team is Not the Enemy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

Note: As we’re in the throws of a bitterly fought election year, Rule #7 takes on greater urgency. Try not to look at somone who thinks or believes differently than you as the “enemy.” Rather, begin by assuming your neighbor is a person of good will trying their best to do what they believe is right and go from there. You’ll be surprised how differently your conversation goes.

Rule # 7: The other team is not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy; don’t confuse the two.

siblings-sticking-out-toungue-at-each-otherRule #7 may seem like it only applies to war or possibly sports, but it applies to business and life as well.  Conflict can arise when goals or methods between people or organizations differ.

People being people, this difference of opinion can rapidly become a conflict that escalates beyond the scale of the actual problem, and a barrier to both individuals or groups getting what they want.  What’s more, conflict between organizations can be a huge emotional drain on both organizations that saps creativity and initiative.

Contrary to the popular myth of the hard charging “corporate warrior” who thrives under conflict, most people don’t want or like it.  Most of us would much rather have calm and happy places to work. What’s more, a perpetual state of conflict takes effort to maintain, and it consumes resources that could be productively spent on furthering the organizational goals.  Imagine the staff time it takes to fight an “ad war” between to rival companies?  It used to be just a matter of coming up with sharp advertisements, but in the age of social media and online reviews managing a reputation against false or misleading information can overwhelm small companies quickly.

The trick is to maintain relations with competitors and peers in what the military calls “Phase 0” (a state of peace or at least peaceful competition).  There will always be conflicting goals, but in general even in the modern marketplace there is plenty of “pie” for everyone.  Starting a “war” with “the other team” turns the “other” into an enemy, and that usually comes from seeing others as enemies rather than as  potential partners.  That’s a reason it’s a good idea for businesses and individuals to participate in professional and civic organizations.

You never know when you’re going to find a friend or teammate.

I touch on this idea in my book, Leading Leaders:

As a young officer, I missed an opportunity because I didn’t recognize a teammate when I saw him. In the early 1990s, the Air Force had adopted Total Quality Management (TQM) as an overarching organizational philosophy. As a result, we began a series of “awareness” classes in TQM theory and practice at each level of command.

During an exercise in my week-long introduction to TQM, we were put into a team and given the task to produce paper airplanes. We spent considerable time developing our internal processes and then called over the “supplier” (our instructor) to negotiate a price for our raw materials. The goal was to spend the least amount of money and produce the most paper airplanes. We quickly developed an adversarial relationship with our “supplier,” who repeatedly stressed that he had plenty of “Grade A” paper for our airplanes. After extracting the best possible deal from our supplier, a deal he assured us he was losing money on, we produced a number of paper airplanes. It was only after the exercise was complete that our “supplier” asked us why we didn’t ask him about the rest of his product line. “Why would we want anything other than ‘Grade A’ paper for our airplanes?” we asked. Then he showed us the “Grade B” paper: sheets of paper already folded in half, and he would’ve sold them to us at half price. That would’ve saved a lot of work! Then he showed us the “Grade C” paper: already completed paper airplanes. These were the least expensive of all, a third of the cost of “Grade A” paper. We had never asked our “supplier” what else he had, nor had we invited him into our team. We had simply treated him as a resource to be exploited.

A teamwork approach could’ve gotten our little paper airplane manufacturing company a “win” against our real competitors (the other manufacturing teams) and saved us both time and money. Lesson learned!

Of course, not everyone is willing to “keep the peace,” and sometimes conflict arises.  Even in times when you are seriously hurt, it’s useful to refrain from thinking in terms of unconditional warfare.  In all but the most extreme circumstances little is gained by crushing the opposition.  In business especially, you’re likely to have to deal with that person/organization again.  Best to avoid turning a temporary opponent into a permanent enemy if possible.  However, when your livelihood or reputation is at stake and the other side is attacking ruthlessly, you have to defend yourself.  But be judicious in the application of power, crushing the opposition utterly will usually only extend the conflict.  Being magnanimous in victory, and gracious in defeat, will open the door to detente and perhaps even future cooperation.

Soldiers understand this principle.  It is only the most fanatical and committed enemy that must be annihilated.  Usually it’s enough to defeat the enemy and let them retire from the field with some dignity.  America’s World War and Cold War foes are friends and two of them are allies because the US extended the hand of friendship after the war.

Keeping the peace, both within and without, ensures our organizational and personal resources are spent furthering our goals, and not just parrying the thrusts of a competitor.


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, Personal Development Magazine, and GeneralLeadership.com.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #6: Ask The Right Questions

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

Asking the right questions is usually better than knowing the right answers.There’s an old saying in the Air Force that colonels rarely ask questions to which they don’t already know the answer.  I never really understood that saying until I became a colonel, then the light came on.

Everyone wants to show the colonel how smart they are, and further, few senior people like to be told what to do; they really want the colonel to let them do their thing.  The same is true of VPs and their directors in the private sector.  The skills that got an executive to a senior position aren’t necessarily the skills that make that senior executive successful.

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I’ve found it useful to coach a solution out of a subordinate in most cases than to merely direct a solution.  In fact, many times I’ve regretted giving direction to a problem rather than asking questions because even though it was efficient in problem solving, I ended up wounding the pride of a subordinate leader unnecessarily.  When I’ve used questions to lead a subordinate to a solution, even when I knew in advance where we were probably heading, I’ve been more successful.

The thing is, by the time an officer rises to the rank of colonel, that officer is expected to be a strategic leader not a tactical one.  That means it’s far better to stimulate thought among subordinates than to direct the answer to a specific problem.  It’s easy for any senior leader to know the answers…chances are most have seen it all… it’s much more productive to help subordinates come to the right solution on their own.

At some point we all get a pink slip.  We change jobs, we get transferred, we retire.  If we truly care about the organization we work for, and the people we lead, we’ll make sure the people who replace us are ready for the job and worthy of the responsibility.


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 six 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 GeneralLeadership.com.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #4: Can’t Never Gets Anything Done

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

scan0127My Dad taught me a number of really great sayings, but among the best he ever taught me was “’Can’t’” never gets anything done. Keep it out of your vocabulary.”  Actually, the exact words he used were,  “Can’t” never could do anything.

You see, Dad always believed that if you try hard enough, work hard enough and never give up, you can succeed.  Through his encouragement, I came to believe it, too.

Now neither I nor my father believe that anything is possible. Some things are plainly beyond reach because of limitations in talent, or opportunity, or for some other reason. But history is replete with stories of people who meet with disaster and defeat, but never gave up and ultimately achieved their goals.

Take the story of Thomas Edison.  He failed making the lightbulb over 100 times before he finally succeeded. His quote, that he’d succeeded in finding over 100 ways not to build a lightbulb is fairly well known.  But despite the cliche of “try, try, again” the fact remains that Edison truly believed that electric lights were not only possible, but inevitable. We owe him for a wholesale change in our way of life.

Or how about the story of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner?  Warner went undrafted in 1994, then tried out for the Packers only to be cut before the season began.  He went to work sacking groceries for minimum wage until the next year when he made an Arena football team and played several seasons in that league, and the European league, before being given a shot at the NFL.  He went on to a successful NFL career, winning Super Bowl XXXIV and being named league MVP for the 1999 season.  Warner believed in himself, and worked hard in order to gain success.  I doubt if the word “can’t” is even in his vocabulary.

Growing up, Dad made sure we learned the “never give up lesson”, and it paid off time and time again.  In Little League, I never expected to make the “Majors” my first year in–but I sure did my second year.  When I was relegated to the “Texas” league the second year in a row, I was disappointed.  Dad wouldn’t let me give up, though.  “Hang in there,” he said, “just do your best and it will all work out.” During my first week of practice, it was plain to me that I was much better than most of my teammates.    I worked out with that team for about a week before I got “the call” from a Major League coach!  He told me about my new team, and that it was my attitude that had prompted him to call me up.  Despite having a terrible tryout, despite being out of sight on my Texas league team, I was getting “the call” for my stick-to-it positive attitude.

Now, no one can promise success. Like most, I’ve had my share of failure, but it’s my view that  true success comes as much from now you handle adversity, as how you handle the win.


cropped-20141026_102425.jpgMickey 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 six 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 GeneralLeadership.com.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #3: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

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Rule #3: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

One of the hardest things a leader had to do sometimes is hold back enthusiastic employees or teammates who are so focused on perfection, they keep working on a project well past when they should’ve stopped.  Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough.

200906_11_perfection

On one hand, you want employees to work hard and strive for perfection, but on the other hand there’s usually more than one task to accomplish.  On the other hand, sometimes you really do have to be perfect.  So what’s the right balance?

The key here is to look at time the same as any other resource.  Like all resources, time is valuable because it is not unlimited.  In for-profit,  non-profit, and governmental organizations alike time has a very definite cost that is quantifiable.  Unfortunately, not every leader (or employee) thinks of time as a cost vs benefit transaction.  Put another way, leaders should always be asking themselves: “what’s the return on my investment?”

Suppose a particular task takes an employee 40 hours to get the desired product  but it’s not perfect (say it’s 90% of what we wanted), and it will take another 40 hours to make the product perfect.  Is 90% good enough?

Maybe.  What will it cost if my product is not perfect?  Is it as perfect as my customer needs it to be, but not quite up to what I wasn’t it to be?  Then maybe the extra 40 hours of time spent (100% more time) isn’t worth the 10% improvement.

Maybe not.  If I have a demanding customer, or the 10% imperfection is noticeable and will affect my reputation, or if 100% is necessary for life/safety/health then the cost-benefit analysis demands I keep working until it’s perfect, then those extra 40 hours are not only worth it, they’re necessary.

In addition to managing time as a resource, the leader needs to manage employee morale as well.  Morale, like time, is finite and like time can be spent.  Unlike time, morale can be replenished.  A wise leader knows when to require perfection and when to let “good enough” really be good enough.  Avoid making changes to an employee’s work because of personal preference (don’t change “happy” to “glad”).  Don’t require more work than is necessary to get the job done right, and don’t sweat the small things.  Employees will appreciate the freedom, and will usually respond when they’re asked for perfection if it’s only demanded when it matters.

Leaders should only demand perfection when it’s necessary.  To do otherwise could mean wasting time and employee morale.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #2: Don’t Spook the Herd

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Rule #2. Don’t spook the herd.  Emotional demonstrations are always counter-productive and stifle initiative.

wpid-San-Antonio-Drive.jpgMy second rule, “Don’t Spook the Herd” was born of several lessons I learned personally.  Back in my cadet days at Texas A&M, I learned the importance keeping my emotions in check as a leader when I took over as an Assistant Squad Leader in charge of training my own squad of “fish” (freshmen).

On the second or third day of our version of basic training (benignly called “Freshman Orientation Week”), one of my charges had done something wrong, to which I responded with an animated display complete with arm waving, jumping around, and hollering. One of my upperclassmen called me aside and quietly asked me if I thought my display was effective. I paused for a moment, looked back down the hall where my new “fish” were still at attention, and looked at their faces. A couple were scared, but most of them had a blank look on their faces. They weren’t impressed, and they weren’t motivated. I turned back to my upperclassman and said, “I guess not. Sorry.” He replied, “OK, now go lead them and make them Aggie cadets.”

Even if you don’t come across as angry, a leader still has to maintain calm on the outside. When I was a brand spanking new lieutenant, I was leading a group of Engineer Airmen on a local training deployment about 30 miles from our base. As I was leading the convoy, talking on the radio and giving orders, the master sergeant who was with me quietly told me, “Sir, you need need to calm down.” In my mind, I was calm, but I was not projecting calm. I learned then that it was important for me to be more aware of how I looked and sounded, not just how I felt. A leader has to know himself, true, but he also has to be aware of how his inner feelings are perceived by others. That’s probably why some of the best leaders I’ve ever known have mastered this skill!

I’ve seen plenty of leaders who ruled by fear, but by far the most effective leaders inspire people to be better rather than being afraid. Keep it calm and carry on.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #1: Have a Direction and Go There

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The Sweet Spot
Which Way Are You Going?

Rule #1. Have a direction and know what it is. Go there.

The first rule of leadership is for the leader to know where he or she is going. People look to leaders for inspiration and motivation, but above all, they look to leaders for direction. That’s why it’s so very important for leaders to lead in a defined direction.

Few things are more frustrating than when the person in charge lacks a clear direction. People get bored and restless when they feel like they’re merely biding their time rather than accomplishing something. That restlessness can manifest itself in a number of ways: everything from listless employees who perform poorly, to bored employees who use their time for mischief. Highly motivated employees will feel frustrated at being held back, and will soon move on to greener pastures.

Leaders should take the time to define in their own minds where they want to take the team. This means spending time thinking. It’s very easy for a leader to get mired in the day to day, and forget to look at the horizon. There’s lots of ways to do that strategic thinking: in the morning, in a journal, an off-site, or some other way. The point isn’t the method, it’s the time the leader puts into charting his course. The journey may be important, but a perpetual journey serves no one.

Once a leader has a destination in mind, he must put in the hard work to get his team there. Setting goals are meaningless if the leader is unwilling to lead her team there. Leadership is an active job: to do it right leaders have to be engaged. Getting people and teams to their destinations requires leaders to monitor progress, and make adjustments along the way.

Be an active leader: have the end in mind, then lead your team there.

#TBT Mickey’s Rules

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For years I kept General Colin Powell’s “Rules” on a worn, type-written sheet of paper somewhere on my desk. His Rules had been published in a news magazine article, and I thought they were fabulous, so I typed them up and added a few of my own to the bottom. Over the years, I developed my own “Rules” that gradually replaced “Colin Powell’s Rules” even though that worn piece of paper still adorns my desk.9780679432968.OL.0.m

I’ve found these rules to be very useful to me, and I’ve regretted it every time I’ve violated them. The eleven rules listed below are my guidelines for relating to other people and to my work and reminders about leading my organization.  In the coming weeks, I’ll take each in turn and discuss it.  In the mean time….here they are!

  1. Have a direction and know what it is. Go there.
  2. Don’t spook the herd. Emotional demonstrations are always counter-productive and stifle initiative.
  3. Don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.”
  4. “Can’t” never gets anything done. Keep it out of your vocabulary.
  5. The first report is usually wrong. Be patient and ask questions.
  6. Asking the right questions is usually better than knowing the right answers.
  7. The other team is not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy; don’t confuse the two.
  8. Be curious. Ask “Why?” a lot. Keep asking until you understand.
  9. Walk the horses. No one can go full throttle all the time.
  10. Drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.
  11. Check your “moral azimuth”…if you’re doing something that you wouldn’t want posted on the Internet, it’s probably illegal, immoral, or fattening.

#TBT Early to Rise

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

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

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

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

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

How do you spend your mornings?