What Is Courage? (Part II)

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Mickey is moving his household from Hawaii to Texas. While he’s moving, please enjoy these posts from last year, and remember “The Five Be’s” Second Edition comes out in September! 

Last week, I brought you Part I of a discussion of courage from my book, The Five Be’s This week I conclude with some stories about courage.

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Plane_crash_into_Hudson_River_(crop)Can you learn to be courageous? More to the point, can you learn to control fear? Yes, you can. Learning to be courageous has a great deal to do with being prepared. When you have analyzed the “fight or flight” instinct as it relates to the situations you might face, you are much less likely to make a snap decision based on emotion, instead tapping into the wellspring of courage that all people possess. In a way, physical courage is the easiest to understand. We can see the danger being faced, and are able to prepare for it. We can physically prepare, mentally rehearse our response, hone our skills, and work in a team with others. This is applicable to battle scenarios, emergency situations, or even on the sports field. That preparation is key to suppressing the fear response.

When Air Force Academy graduate, former fighter pilot, and USAir Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed USAir Flight 1549 in the Hudson, he said in an interview with 60 Minutes that moments before the crash were “the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling” that he had ever experienced. However, he and his crew had practiced emergency landings with such diligence, that they were able to put that fear aside and skillfully control the emergency landing. His team saved the lives of everyone on board the flight because they didn’t succumb to fear. Instead, they controlled their fear.

To paraphrasing a chief master sergeant that I served with during my Air Force career, “Few rise to the occasion in combat. Rather, they sink to the level of their training.” The way the military values training, especially the repetition of so-called “perishable skills”, is an indicator of the value of preparation. Soldiers expect to face danger, and prepare themselves against fleeing from it. The procedures are rehearsed over and over again until it becomes second nature.
I think courage comes from a well within our Human Spirit. It stems from more than mere biology, since we are more than mere flesh and bone. If humans were only biological machines, would there be an ability to create beauty, love, or be able to discern truth from lies? Biology certainly plays a role in who we are – after all, we are not disembodied spirits – but it cannot offer the entire answer. Courage, like other Universal Human Goods, comes from both our biology and our human spirit.

A sense of duty and fraternal love contributes to courage, as does the nearly universal human social need to be accepted among a social group. Soldiers who exhibit courage in combat situations most often report that they were “just doing their jobs” and “didn’t want to let their teammates down.” We call that “duty” and “loyalty”, these qualities are among the most prized of human virtues.

People are willing to endure considerable hardship when they know that others are depending upon them. When that social pressure includes life and death situations, the sense of duty becomes even stronger. Oftentimes, our sense of duty –will override the fear instinct. That is where true courage originates. Ultimately, courage is an act of love. It’s the love of others above self that will motivate people to endure hardship and brave danger in order to protect others. Without love, there can be no courage.

The Olympic gymnast is another example, though slightly different. The fear of injury and even death is real, but not from other teams. The gymnast must first conquer himself. In a real way, gymnasts must first conquer gravity before they can even approach the “inner voice”. Like any sport, being an Olympic level gymnast requires constant dedication and sacrifice. It requires subordination of fear, heights, and pushing pain completely out of the mind to focus on the task at hand. In addition, teammates are depending on a high score. Years of 4 a.m. practices, foregoing social interactions and activities, arriving at the single moment where the difference between a gold medal and no medal is a fraction of a point. If the gymnast makes a mistake in the Olympics, he’s not only risking injury, he’s letting his country down.

Lastly, consider the courage of the cancer or rehabilitation patient. Both must rise daily with the knowledge they will face pain that day. For the cancer patient, that struggle is an actual fight for their life. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are very hard to endure. There are days of nausea and pain each time. Choosing to fight their disease rather than succumb to it takes a daily dose of special courage. Similarly, the amputee or accident victim who goes to physical therapy knowing they face hours of pain just to hope they reacquire skills they once took for granted takes courage. Wounded Warriors in rehab face weeks or even months of painful therapy to learn to walk again, or feed themselves, or hug their lived ones. People who have suffered physical or psychological trauma must daily choose not to let their injuries define them, The alternative is to cease to live. That is courageous as well.

Overcoming pressure, the fear of mistakes, and the very real fear of severe injury requires physical courage. To be an Olympian is to find the courage to succeed even when success is elusive, to manage fear for years in a single-minded purpose to stand on the winner’s podium.


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.

What Is Courage? (Part I)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Mickey is in the midst of moving his household from Hawaii to Texas, so please enjoy this “classic” post from 2016. Original posts will resume in September. Also, don’t forget that The Five Be’s Second Edition goes live on Lulu and Amazon next month!!


Lt Harry Brubaker (William Holden) writing in a scene from the film The Bridges at Toko-ri (Paramount Pictures photo)

In the film, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, the Task Force Commander, Admiral Tarrant, wonders aloud about the courage of the men fighting under his command after a successful mission claims the life of a pilot and the helicopter crew sent to rescue him. Watching flight operations aboard the carrier, Tarrant remarks, “Where do we get such men?”

That question brings us face to face with trying to understand courage. Tarrant wondered at the courage to face bullets in a war far from home, but he is not the first to ask that question.

Here’s my definition: Physical courage is the ability to overcome fear and do what’s necessary in order to survive, save a life, accomplish a mission, or excel despite physical or psychological barriers.

Using this definition of physical courage obviously concerns overcoming external obstacles. To simplify, demonstrating physical courage is overcoming the “fight or flight” instinct., and choosing to fight. Physical courage results in facing danger or the threat of pain to accomplish a goal. Note the danger doesn’t have to be real – the mere threat of danger or pain can be enough to trigger a “fight or flight” response. What is more, “fight” doesn’t necessarily mean a physical altercation or use of weapons. In the context of physical courage, “fight” simply involves meeting a particular challenge head on, without avoidance.

Returning to Admiral Tarrant’s question, “Where do we get such men?” and rephrasing it to ask “Where does courage come from?” There are several answers to that question, it’s not as vague as you might think.

There is a physiological reason for courage. Researchers discovered by a very unique (and bizarre) experiment involving snakes and an MRI machine. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, strapped test subjects in an MRI machine with a snake suspended mere inches above their heads. Using the MRI to track brain activity, researchers identified the specific area of the brain associated with courage, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (SaCC). Using human’s natural snakes to stimulate a fear response, test subjects reported their level of fear as the snake was moved closer and closer until their fear became greater than their courage.

It’s an interesting experiment. As researchers are able to determine the role that hormones and pheromones play in the attraction between boys and girls yet cannot define “love”, neither can a purely physiological explanation satisfy our curiosity about the source of courage. As I have said many times before, humans are more complex than merely our biology. Surely biology can influence courage – a large person in a crowd of small ones is more apt to be courageous than the opposite. But when it comes to courage, biology is not the determining factor.

History is populated with stories of unexpected heroism from unlikely people. The 98-pound weakling who stands up to the bully on the school yard, and the grandmother who faces down the burglar are legendary, in part because it is documented and has repeated occurrences. Movie makers have repeatedly made films about the plucky young person who saves the day while facing down a larger and more ferocious enemy. Do these real, and fictional, people have an oversized “courage center” in their brains?

Perhaps, but I’d like to think it’s more than that.

Next week, more on what courage IS and ISN’T.


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

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

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

 

Life as a Mission, Best Life Ever, and The 5 Be’s

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Do you ever feel like your life is “stuck” in neutral? Well, do I have a real “dynamic duo” of women who can help you put your life in 5th gear! I had the honor and pleasure of being a guest on the Best Life Ever podcast, hosted by Kimi Morton and Pua Pakele & Cabot. Kimi and Pua are two Success Coaches, Authors, and “Work+Life Integration Ninjas” on a mission to help you create your Best Life Ever. They’re two of the most positive, motivated women I’ve ever met!

We met at a Project Management Institute meeting here in Honolulu, and their positive message of intentional living really resonated with me. Their talk was fun, engaging, and positive–exactly the kind of thing everyone needs to hear in a world where the 24-hour news cycle dominates our thinking. Kimi and Pua were kind enough to give me a copy of their Best Life Ever Weekly Planner, and my daughter loved it! I particularly liked the idea of the weekly plan review and creating the “big vision.” As I’ve written before, leaders have to know where they’re headed.

The 5 Be’s

We talked about living intentionally and how my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, fit in with their mission. It actually began as a talk for our newest Airmen, but I’ve been very pleased at how the message hasWant to know more? Click here! resonated with more “seasoned” audiences. It is by far my most requested talk! The message of The 5 Be’s is simple:

  • Be Proud of Who You Are – everyone has something to contribute
  • Be Authentically Free – don’t be bound by your appetites and whims
  • Be Virtuous – Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude (H/T to Aristotle)
  • Be Balanced – Integrate and feed your Mind, Body, and Spirit
  • Be Courageous – Both physical and moral courage are keys to being successful; especially moral courage.

Boundaries are Fine, But People Need a Positive Vision

Ever feel like all you ever hear from your boss, your parents, authorities, etc., are lists of “no’s” and “don’ts?” So did I. As I matured into leading larger, and often younger, groups of people I came to learn that boundaries simply is not enough. Here’s what I wrote in The 5 Be’s:

All of these “don’ts” form the boundaries of acceptable behavior. When reasonably imposed, boundaries are a necessary part of establishing appropriate and acceptable behavior. Manners, after all, are intended to make everyone comfortable, so that each person’s dignity and feelings are safeguarded. All human groupings develop norms for behavior that each group member is expected to adhere to. They vary in complexity and formality, but norms, boundaries, or “don’ts” are common. Of course, we can overdo boundary setting. When there are too many boundaries, it becomes a tyranny. In general, boundaries and standards of behavior (“manners” ) are necessary to the function of any human society.

What’s generally left unsaid when establishing our group norms is a target to focus on. It’s not sufficient to merely describe the outside boundaries of the target; you also have to show people what the bull’s-eye looks like. That’s what this book is all about.

People can function in a world of “do’s” and “don’ts,” but knowing what to do and what not to do only describes external behavior. What people, particularly young people, really need is a vision of who we want them to be. With that vision, people are then empowered to reach for something rather than avoiding something.

If you want to lead–know where you’re going!

How to Listen

Links to the podcast are below, and I hope you listen in to our conversation as well as their other podcasts. We talked about my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, and how it is similar it is to their message. There’s even a Yoda impression and I reveal when I wear my “jammies,” so it’s not dull! Kimi and Pua are two great women on a mission to make the world better, and it was fun chatting with them! Be sure to also check out the Podcast page for more podcasts!

Listen online

Listen on iTunes

Listen on Stitcher


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

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

 

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

 

Transitioning Leadership – The Exchange of Flags

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

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

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

The Ceremony

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

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

The First 30 Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 31

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


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

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

 

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

 

Audio Series: Character Matters! Part 3 All About Leaders

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Podcast

CMlogoIn 2013, I was pleased to be featured in a 4-part series on a radio show called Character Matters! with Bob Vasquez the US Air Force Academy’s KAFA-FM radio. CMSgt (ret) Bob Vasquez was a fabulous host, and we had a great conversation about leadership. You can subscribe to his feed on SoundCloud here.

Today’s post is all about the fourth “brick” in the foundation of leadership: Leaders Lead.  Leaders have to learn when to delegate, to know how follow, and to be able to push authority out and down.

We talked about my Leading Leaders philosophy: Integrity, Respect, Teamwork, Leaders Lead, and Little Things Matter. Back then, my Leading Leaders book was still in draft and the working title was “Foundational Leadership,” but the concepts were the same as what appeared in the final copy.

One final bit of business. I’m posting these for the education and entertainment of my readers. KAFA-FM gave me permission to post these, and I want to be clear that by posting this here there is no implied or explicit endorsement by the US Air Force Academy, the Air Force, or the Federal Government. The views expressed in this broadcast and my book are mine and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

 


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

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

 

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

 

Character Matters Part 2 – Respect

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Podcast

CMlogoToday’s post is all about the second “brick” in the foundation of leadership: Respect. As I travel around I meet a lot of good people, but it seems to me the social norms about respect are not what they should be. Too often I find the extremes: either a legalistic approach to respect that approaches relationships with others like shaking hands with a porcupine (“carefully”), or a complete lack of respect for even basic politeness.  Here’s what I wrote about “respect” in Leading Leaders back in 2013:

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

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

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

Remember–foul language, demeaning attitudes, and cultural insensitivity are breaches of respect and destroy the team. Real leaders must strive to be persons of integrity–by example and by interior disposition.  The recording below has a great discussion about respect.

In 2013, I was pleased to be featured in a 4-part series on a radio show called Character Matters! with Bob Vasquez the US Air Force Academy’s KAFA-FM radio. CMSgt (ret) Bob Vasquez was a fabulous host, and we had a great conversation about leadership. You can subscribe to his feed on SoundCloud here.

We talked about my Leading Leaders philosophy: Integrity, Respect, Teamwork, Leaders Lead, and Little Things Matter. Back then, my Leading Leaders book was still in draft and the working title was “Foundational Leadership,” but the concepts were the same as what appeared in the final copy.

 

 

One final bit of business. I’m posting these for the education and entertainment of my readers. KAFA-FM gave me permission to post these, and I want to be clear that by posting this here there is no implied or explicit endorsement by the US Air Force Academy, the Air Force, or the Federal Government. The views expressed in this broadcast and my book are mine and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

 


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

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

 

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

 

Dynamic Dozen: Step Up and Step Out

Posted Posted in GeneralLeadership.com

Maj Dick Winters sought out and accepted responsibility

Looking for leadership opportunities–and accepting responsibility–is a crucial ingredient to any leader’s character.

The colonel looked at four squadron commanders and said, “The general will be inspecting the facility tomorrow, everything needs to be perfect.” Three of the assembled commanders looked at their feet, while the fourth simply smiled and said, “Sir, I got this. Leave it to us and we’ll take care of it.” In this particular case, it wasn’t even in that squadron commander’s assigned mission set, but as he said later, “It’s no sweat, Sir. The job needed to be done and I knew we could do it.” That sort of “can-do” attitude is the essence of this month’s Dynamic Dozen post: leaders seek out responsibility.

Look for Opportunities to Lead

People drawn to leadership roles are usually given the mantle of leadership because they seek out responsibility. Perhaps they believe they have a better idea, or are uniquely qualified to solve a problem, or are the one who cares for the people in their charge the most. Whatever the reason, the kind of person who seeks responsibility is the same kind of person who wants to lead. It’s the attitude that drives entrepreneurs, and it’s the attitude that enables people to effect change in large organizations.

“I may not have been the best combat commander, but I always strove to be. My men depended on me to carefully analyze every tactical situation, to maximize the resources that I had at my disposal, to think under pressure, and then to lead them by personal example.” -Dick Winters (1/506 Airborne Infantry Regiment, WWII)

Rewarding “can-do” behavior is important for leaders at all levels. We want to encourage others to grow and we want to ensure we’re not the only ones thinking and acting on the team. If a leader makes himself a single point of failure, the results will be predictably bad. Only by setting the example of seeking out responsibility, and encouraging that same skill in those we lead, can we expect our teams to excel in the face of adversity. Believe me, whether you’re facing bullets or board rooms you want to be part of a team with the same “can do” ethic as you have if you expect to come out on top!

Work Your Boss’ Boss’ Priorities

One of the best ways to seek out responsibility, and be successful in the process, is to work your boss’ boss’ priorities. Your boss is trying to be responsive her boss’ priorities; by figuratively putting yourself in your boss’ place you can more clearly see what you need to be doing. Taking your boss’ view of things is important because it enables you to understand where she’s trying to take the unit and what might be influencing her thoughts, and because it helps you grow as a leader. You’ll never be in all the meetings your boss is in, but striving to understand the environment helps you translate your boss’ instructions to your team much better. This principle is the reason military leaders spend so much time on commander’s intent. If tactical leaders understand the strategic environment, they’ll be able to make independent decisions congruent with the overall goals.

There is, of course, a wholly selfish reason to work your boss’ boss’ priorities: it makes them look good and a happy boss makes for a happy workplace. I remember the sage advice from a senior Chief Master Sergeant when I became frustrated over the direction my commander gave me, “Sir, the pay’s the same!” What he was telling me–albeit a bit tongue in cheek–is that the commander was in charge and I wasn’t. He wasn’t asking me to violate the law or my conscience, my commander had merely issued an unpopular order. The lesson is: unless someone asks us to do something illegal or immoral, then our job as leaders is to execute as if the idea were our own. More than once I learned later there were things were not as I believed them to be, and that “stupid” direction to do something wasn’t so “stupid” after all!

Success Means Responsibility

Seek out responsibility and work your boss’ boss’ priorities–sure ways to succeed as a leader!

Originally posted at GeneralLeadership.com


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

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Book Excerpt: Handle Personal Matters Personally

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Leadership by Experience

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

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

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

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


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

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Patio Wisdom Tuesday: Not a Good Day to Die

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

 

Starting Bike
Photo by Johnny Davis Photography

While stationed in Germany, Tony attended the European Harley-Davidson Super Rally over Memorial Day weekend. It was Europe’s version of Sturgis, South Dakota, and that year it was in Austria. He’d had been recovering from a bout of bronchitis but he wasn’t going to miss what could be his last opportunity to attend a rally in Europe.

So it was: the Patio King found himself on a Sunday afternoon recovering from a crazy night of bikes, choppers, beer, bonfires, and making new friends in a field in Austria. While sitting on a picnic table enjoying the bright sun and the view of the Alps, he began to cough. When he couldn’t stop coughing, he stood up to try to get some air. He bent over, again in an effort to clear his lungs, still coughing like he’d forgotten to breathe.

Tony woke up lying flat on his back, with a crowd gathered around him and a US Army medic nicknamed “Medic Mike” kneeling over him. Tony blinked and then looking around asked, “uh? What’s up?” Astounded at the rapid recovery Medic Mike replied, “Dude, you died!”

His friends then relayed the story. Apparently while coughing he’d collapsed and had respiratory failure which led to cardiac arrest. After bystanders noticed him blue faced and without a pulse, Medic Mike saw the commotion and sprang into action. He cleared Tony’s airway and performed CPR to revive him.  No one knew for sure how long he’d been down, but probably no more than three minutes.  It was then that the realization that he’d actually been dead for a few minutes struck him.

But you can’t keep the Patio King down, so he looked up and paused for a moment, blinking hard. Tony then asked for a beer. “That is when everyone knew I was going to be OK,” he said later.


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Throwback Thursday: Finding Value, Part 2: Professional Responsibilities

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technique Only

tagsIn the first part, I discussed the necessity for leaders to help their teams find value in participation in professional and social organizations related to the business. For Air Force officers, that used to be the Officers Club, but I discovered my younger officers didn’t necessarily sign up to that particular tradition. Like the office coffee club, sometimes the benefits aren’t always tangible. We have to help our people understand the value of joining a local professional association or showing up at the office picnic, but if that value isn’t self-evident then it’s up to leaders to point out the intangible benefits as well.

All that said, transactional leadership is not the goal here…it’s helping people new to your community understand what your community values and remain connected to that community. There might not be a concrete “why”, but understanding the importance of a certain group activity, or participation in a professional organization has intangible benefits to both the individual and the group.

Of course, there are such things as “professional obligations” and we shouldn’t minimize those either. The Officer’s Club may not be the same “requirement” it once was, but the responsibility for professionals to remain engaged in and support their communities is important. Participation in professional organizations builds teams and allows for a healthy exchange of ideas among members of the industry or community. Furthermore, shouldering those “professional obligations” helps people take pride in their profession. It’s a reason people buy t-shirts with the logos of their trade unions and professional societies. When people feel like their work is important and shared by others, that pride is often translated to better morale and higher performance.

In addition to individuals, all types of organizations have an obligation to serve the community to which we belong. Volunteerism is good for the community and the volunteer, and it’s good for the company because communities like to know the businesses they patronize are a real member of the community. Of course the good publicity and image can translate to increased sales, and that’s part of the motivation, but good image alone is not a good enough reason to volunteer. Being part of the community, be it a professional society or a community service organization, is part of the obligation of individuals and companies alike. That participation is what maintains community, helps reduce conflict, and is a way to “increase the size of the pie” rather than squabbling over the last slice.

Professional obligations are an important “social convention” toward building community both within and without…and something we should teach those who come after us to embrace.


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

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

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 GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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.

What Is Courage? (Part II)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books

Last week, I brought you Part I of a discussion of courage from my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out This week I conclude with some stories about courage.

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Plane_crash_into_Hudson_River_(crop)Can you learn to be courageous? More to the point, can you learn to control fear? Yes, you can. Learning to be courageous has a great deal to do with being prepared. When you have analyzed the “fight or flight” instinct as it relates to the situations you might face, you are much less likely to make a snap decision based on emotion, instead tapping into the wellspring of courage that all people possess. In a way, physical courage is the easiest to understand. We can see the danger being faced, and are able to prepare for it. We can physically prepare, mentally rehearse our response, hone our skills, and work in a team with others. This is applicable to battle scenarios, emergency situations, or even on the sports field. That preparation is key to suppressing the fear response.

When Air Force Academy graduate, former fighter pilot, and USAir Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed USAir Flight 1549 in the Hudson, he said in an interview with 60 Minutes that moments before the crash were “the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling” that he had ever experienced. However, he and his crew had practiced emergency landings with such diligence, that they were able to put that fear aside and skillfully control the emergency landing. His team saved the lives of everyone on board the flight because they didn’t succumb to fear. Instead, they controlled their fear.

To paraphrasing a chief master sergeant that I served with during my Air Force career, “Few rise to the occasion in combat. Rather, they sink to the level of their training.” The way the military values training, especially the repetition of so-called “perishable skills”, is an indicator of the value of preparation. Soldiers expect to face danger, and prepare themselves against fleeing from it. The procedures are rehearsed over and over again until it becomes second nature.
I think courage comes from a well within our Human Spirit. It stems from more than mere biology, since we are more than mere flesh and bone. If humans were only biological machines, would there be an ability to create beauty, love, or be able to discern truth from lies? Biology certainly plays a role in who we are – after all, we are not disembodied spirits – but it cannot offer the entire answer. Courage, like other Universal Human Goods, comes from both our biology and our human spirit.

A sense of duty and fraternal love contributes to courage, as does the nearly universal human social need to be accepted among a social group. Soldiers who exhibit courage in combat situations most often report that they were “just doing their jobs” and “didn’t want to let their teammates down.” We call that “duty” and “loyalty”, these qualities are among the most prized of human virtues.

People are willing to endure considerable hardship when they know that others are depending upon them. When that social pressure includes life and death situations, the sense of duty becomes even stronger. Oftentimes, our sense of duty –will override the fear instinct. That is where true courage originates. Ultimately, courage is an act of love. It’s the love of others above self that will motivate people to endure hardship and brave danger in order to protect others. Without love, there can be no courage.

The Olympic gymnast is another example, though slightly different. The fear of injury and even death is real, but not from other teams. The gymnast must first conquer himself. In a real way, gymnasts must first conquer gravity before they can even approach the “inner voice”. Like any sport, being an Olympic level gymnast requires constant dedication and sacrifice. It requires subordination of fear, heights, and pushing pain completely out of the mind to focus on the task at hand. In addition, teammates are depending on a high score. Years of 4 a.m. practices, foregoing social interactions and activities, arriving at the single moment where the difference between a gold medal and no medal is a fraction of a point. If the gymnast makes a mistake in the Olympics, he’s not only risking injury, he’s letting his country down.

Lastly, consider the courage of the cancer or rehabilitation patient. Both must rise daily with the knowledge they will face pain that day. For the cancer patient, that struggle is an actual fight for their life. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are very hard to endure. There are days of nausea and pain each time. Choosing to fight their disease rather than succumb to it takes a daily dose of special courage. Similarly, the amputee or accident victim who goes to physical therapy knowing they face hours of pain just to hope they reacquire skills they once took for granted takes courage. Wounded Warriors in rehab face weeks or even months of painful therapy to learn to walk again, or feed themselves, or hug their lived ones. People who have suffered physical or psychological trauma must daily choose not to let their injuries define them, The alternative is to cease to live. That is courageous as well.

Overcoming pressure, the fear of mistakes, and the very real fear of severe injury requires physical courage. To be an Olympian is to find the courage to succeed even when success is elusive, to manage fear for years in a single-minded purpose to stand on the winner’s podium.


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.

What Is Courage? (Part I)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Memorial Day is approaching and I thought a couple of posts on the subject of courage was in order. I’m pleased to bring you an excerpt from my book The 5 Be’s for Starting Out as a two-part series on courage.

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Lt Harry Brubaker (William Holden) writing in a scene from the film The Bridges at Toko-ri (Paramount Pictures photo)
Lt Harry Brubaker (William Holden) writing in a scene from the film The Bridges at Toko-ri (Paramount Pictures photo / Getty Images)

Admiral Tarrant from the film The Bridges at Toko-Ri asked, “Where do we get such men?” The line is delivered near the end of the film, when the main character fails to return to the aircraft carrier after a mission, and Tarrant looks out at the busy deck and wonders where these men come from and why they serve. That question is a fundamental question people often ask of those who demonstrated courage, and then ask themselves when they look in the mirror. Maybe a better way to ask that question when applied to ourselves is: Where does courage come from?

Here’s my definition: Physical courage is the ability to overcome fear and do what’s necessary in order to survive, save a life, accomplish a mission, or excel despite physical or psychological barriers.

Using this definition of physical courage obviously concerns overcoming external obstacles. To simplify, demonstrating physical courage is overcoming the “fight or flight” instinct., and choosing to fight. Physical courage results in facing danger or the threat of pain to accomplish a goal. Note the danger doesn’t have to be real – the mere threat of danger or pain can be enough to trigger a “fight or flight” response. What is more, “fight” doesn’t necessarily mean a physical altercation or use of weapons. In the context of physical courage, “fight” simply involves meeting a particular challenge head on, without avoidance.

Returning to Admiral Tarrant’s question, “Where do we get such men?” and rephrasing it to ask “Where does courage come from?” There are several answers to that question, it’s not as vague as you might think.

There is a physiological reason for courage. Researchers discovered by a very unique (and bizarre) experiment involving snakes and an MRI machine. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, strapped test subjects in an MRI machine with a snake suspended mere inches above their heads. Using the MRI to track brain activity, researchers identified the specific area of the brain associated with courage, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (SaCC). Using human’s natural snakes to stimulate a fear response, test subjects reported their level of fear as the snake was moved closer and closer until their fear became greater than their courage.

It’s an interesting experiment. As researchers are able to determine the role that hormones and pheromones play in the attraction between boys and girls yet cannot define “love”, neither can a purely physiological explanation satisfy our curiosity about the source of courage. As I have said many times before, humans are more complex than merely our biology. Surely biology can influence courage – a large person in a crowd of small ones is more apt to be courageous than the opposite. But when it comes to courage, biology is not the determining factor.

History is populated with stories of unexpected heroism from unlikely people. The 98-pound weakling who stands up to the bully on the school yard, and the grandmother who faces down the burglar are legendary, in part because it is documented and has repeated occurrences. Movie makers have repeatedly made films about the plucky young person who saves the day while facing down a larger and more ferocious enemy. Do these real, and fictional, people have an oversized “courage center” in their brains? Perhaps, but I’d like to think it’s more than that.


 

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.

Raising Them Right: The Value of Onboarding

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

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 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.

image

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.

Capt Rickenbacher had courage. Read more about courage in The 5 Be's for Starting Out

Be Courageous

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Capt Rickenbacher had courage. Read more about courage in The 5 Be's for Starting Out“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage without fear.”– Eddie Richenbacker, World War I flying ace

There are as many definitions of the word “courage” as there are people. Courage can take many forms, but we generally think of courage in two main categories: physical courage and moral courage.

When we think about “courage,” the first example that comes to mind, is the soldier or the first responder. We envision them facing danger in order to save the life of an innocent or defend their country from an unrelenting enemy. Perhaps we think about the terrible attacks of September 11, and the brave first responders racing up the stairs of the World Trade Center to rescue people trapped in the flames. Other cases include the spectacular heroism of the passengers of United Flight 93, regaining control of their aircraft from the terrorists, but were unable to prevent its tragic destruction.

There are also other forms of physical courage in the field of sports and adventure. Picture the big wave surfer riding the 40 foot face of a monster wave at Jaws off the Maui coast, or the climber conquering his own fear in order to scale the sheer cliff face. When we think of courage we might picture something more comical, such as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, where we can laugh at the vaudeville humor while rooting for the Lion to find his courage.

Over the next two weeks I’ll explore the idea of courage–in all its forms–and see what it takes to Be Courageous. What we have to decide for ourselves, however, is how to find our own courage. We may never have to face down a terrorist or charge into a burning building, but we will have to find a way to Be Courageous in our own way in our own lives.

Most of the post above is taken from the my book The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, available at Lulu, Amazon, and other online retailers.


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 #2: Don’t Spook the Herd

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Throwback Thursday

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.