Resiliency is a Team Sport

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This past week I’ve had the great privilege to be a volunteer at the Air Force Trials for the DoD Warrior Games. The Warrior Games are a paralympic-style competition for military athletes who were wounded in battle, seriously ill, or injured while on active duty. My firm is a sponsor of the Games, and so I was honored to spend 4 days at the Air Force Trials as a volunteer. It was an incredibly rewarding experience for me to be in the company of more than 120 athletes from three countries, their caregivers, and the Air Force Wounded Warrior (AFW2) staff. As you might expect, I got far more than I gave.

I wrote on my Instagram page an abbreviated “take-away” from that week:

Baby gear, mobility aids, dog kennels… reminders that our #AFW2 athletes are members of families and communities. Husbands, wives, sweethearts, fathers, mothers. Things that come easily for most are daily challenges to conquer for these athletes.

I rarely see the struggle in their eyes. What I see is determination, courage, and even joy — determination to continue to live out their lives with purpose, courage to conquer adversity, and the joy of another sunrise with the ones dear to them in the country they love.  

“Don’t Go to the Dark Place”

“Don’t go to the Dark Place” is the warning caregivers and mentors give to their loved ones. The words are mine, of course, but the message is the same. It’s a plea and a shot of strength at the same time. I think many people live with a door that leads to the “Dark Place.” It’s the place in their lives where all their failures are on display, where the light and warmth of the love of family and friends is absent, where the Evil One shouts accusations in the cold darkness. The door to the Dark Place opens when we have trauma in our lives, and sometimes it becomes the path of least resistance.

For most people, it becomes impossible to leave the Dark Place on their own. That’s where AFW2 comes in.

Many of the AFW2 athletes and their caregivers have been to that Dark Place, or at least to the threshold. They know the darkness of a flash and waking up in a hospital half a world away from their last memory and missing limbs. Or perhaps the darkness of hearing the word “cancer” through the buzzing rush of blood in their ears. For some, it was the unspeakable trauma of sexual assault by someone who should’ve been a brother and not a threat.

When those terrible events occur in our lives, that door to the Dark Place opens. The Dark Place even looks comforting to some at first. But in short order, the Dark Place becomes a cold and binding vice sucking joy away from you like a frigid night. For most people, it becomes impossible to leave the Dark Place on their own. That’s where AFW2 comes in.

Resiliency is a Team Sport

To fight the Dark Place, you need a store of personal resiliency and a team around you to support you. There are physical battles to overcome, but the real battle is in the soul. Military people learn early on to endure physical challenges. Pain is a familiar battleground, and we know that terrain. A team around you helps with the physical battle, of course, but at some level, we all learn to compartmentalize discomfort and pain and get the mission done. The soul is new terrain–and to battle there you need help. The AFW2 program is the team to help their fellow Airmen stay in the light.

…through sport and the camaraderie of the Games, they learn to focus on a new purpose.

When we talk about “personal resiliency,” we tend to focus on skills the individual can employ to keep themselves moving forward when everything in their lives seems to be pushing them into “the dark place.” Each of the Warriors who tried out for the Games this week has a team around them to encourage them and help them stay in the light of recovery. For most of them, their “normal” will never be what it was before they were injured.

However, through sport and the camaraderie of the Games, they learn to focus on a new purpose. Severe trauma drains a person’s battery of personal resiliency quickly, and those batteries have to be recharged by others. Enter AFW2 and the caregivers. Everyone learns skills to cope and strength to stay in the light.

The Daily Battle and Daily Victory

Each of the AFW2 athletes fights a new battle every day. For some, they will return to a semblance of normal, but others will have to redefine themselves and pursue the Light every day. They’ll get tired, they’ll be inspired, they’ll get discouraged, they’ll win small victories. Each day will bring unexpected challenges and sometimes defeats. There will also be unexpected wins and light that will buoy them for another day or more. A few will even return to active duty and continue to serve in uniform.

These are not people who choose the easy way, and they’ve decided not to give up.

It’s not the victories nor the defeats that define these men and women. What defines them is their resilient spirit and their courage in the face of obstacles that seem insurmountable. Giving up is the easiest thing to do. These are not people who choose the easy way, and they’ve decided not to give up.

To be sure, none of them would choose to go through what they’ve endured. What they have chosen, however, is to close the door to the Dark Place and seek out the light. I was inspired by these Airmen and the awesome team of caregivers and supporters around them. They’re all heroes and athletes in my book.

Edited 3/5 to embed the Instagram post and make minor edits.


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

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

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The Human Connection is the Foundation of Respect

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(Photo: James Cridland)

One of the games I play to keep myself amused during trips is to make up stories in my head about the people I see walking by in airports or other public places. I give them names, try to guess at their destinations, and the reasons for their travel.

That’s Gladys Simpson. She’s a 48 year old traveling photographer, mother of two boys (Delwin and Delbert), on her way to an assignment to shoot the elusive Andean Snow Turtle. Her husband, Roland, is an HVAC technician and worked overtime so she could afford the new photo rig in her bag. It’s her first assignment after raising her family and now she’s pursuing her passion in a second career.

Sometimes the stories are a little silly like that, and sometimes the faces I see inspire a much more somber story.

He’s forgotten his real name because no one calls him by it anymore. Everyone just calls him “Buddy” as he pushes his shopping cart full of odds and ends around. “Buddy” mumbles to himself as he walks down the street looking for a place to rest before he’s forced to move again. In between random thoughts about a Parcheesi game he played as a kid, and trying to remember the color of his socks, he thinks to himself that he hopes that nice policeman comes by tonight. He feels safer when the policeman stands nearby. The street bullies don’t bother him when the cops are there and he can relax. Blue! His socks are blue!

Humans Need Each Other

Why did I take you down this little side trip? Because, humanity. We need a lot more of it.

The theme of this month’s posts is “Respect”, but a collision of religious, societal, and current events caused me to shift a bit this week. First, there’s the once in several decades overlap of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. Valentine’s Day is an invitation to erotic love and the second is a call to filial love and repentance. Then there’s the shooting in Florida that happened today. “Tragedy” seems to small a word to encompass the hell that dozens of families are experiencing tonight. There ought to be stronger words.

What in the world do all these thing have to do with each other? The answer is human connection and love for one another. The beauty of erotic love can be twisted when we objectify others. Religion becomes a social club if we don’t connect with the Divine and our faith community. Disturbed people harm others when they’re left on their own to fester. Teams, companies, and families fall apart when the members don’t invest in the people around them.

Be Deliberate, Give Them a Chance

We pass by others every day and don’t look at their faces. Each one of them is just like you and me: they have their own stories complete with triumph and tragedy. Some need more help than others, some are more successful than others, but each one is a singularly unique creation worthy of respect and yes, love. We use our words on social media to bludgeon and wound rather than to seek understanding. There is a way out, though.

When I was in the Air Force, I always accepted the people that no one else wanted. Most of the time all those people needed was someone to believe in them and give them a chance to succeed. Of course not everyone succeeded–people have different skills and sometimes their vices overwhelm their virtues–but I had about an 80% success rate with the “misfits” others didn’t want. The core truth, though, is that regardless of ability or success, each person deserves to be respected.

Don’t Walk By

Malcolm Forbes once said that he could judge the character of a man by the way he treated those who could do nothing for him, or to him. A well-known CEO always interviews potential hires at a restaurant to see how they treat the waitstaff. Human connection matters. If we walk by other people heedless of their humanity as if they’re objects to be navigated around, we surrender a little bit of what makes us human. We certainly don’t have to engage with everyone around us, but we should notice and respect their humanity.

After a tragedy like what happened in Florida today, people often make “I knew something wasn’t right” comments. Right now, a lot of people are asking, “why?” How many of us notice the homeless people we pass on the street to get our coffee? When was the last time we asked our co-workers about their families, or showed genuine concern when it was obvious they weren’t feeling well or were distraught about something? It’s a question we need to ask ourselves daily. We don’t have to be saints, but we ought to try.


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

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

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

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Respect for Persons

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The national conversation about how men and women should treat each other is a valuable conversation for leaders and high achievers to have. It’s everyone’s responsibility to create and sustain a culture of respect, and for leaders it’s particularly important. We have learned a great deal about ourselves and our culture of late. I’ve always thought of history as a bit like eating a watermelon: eat the good stuff and spit out the seeds. Time to take a bite and see what we can discern.

No Person is an Object

In our hypersexualized culture, it’s easy to simply get accustomed to the objectification of others. We should resist that. People are not things; each person is a unique creation worthy of basic human dignity and respect. As I write in Leading Leaders,

Beyond mere adherence to the law, respect is recognizing that another human being has the same value as I do because they are [they exist], not because of what they do, how much money they make, or what clothes they wear. Now, I can certainly perform rote behaviors and parrot legal scripts when dealing with others, but to truly show respect, that has to come from the heart. Again, I don’t have to condone behavior or agree with beliefs that don’t match my own; but the skilled leader, the effective leader, separates behavior from personhood and can show respect to anyone regardless of differences.

When we allow ourselves to view another human being, not as a person with their own agency but as an object to be manipulated or used, we are violating the basic tenet of “Respect.” People are of course responsible for their own actions, but we have a parallel responsibility to treat others with respect and to protect the vulnerable persons from harm. This means sticking up for people who can’t stick up for themselves, and it also means supporting others when they do stick up for themselves.

I believe men have a special responsibility here to be protectors. That is not to say that women cannot be protectors as well, of course that’s true, but since most sexual assault and harassment happens because men do it to women, men have a special responsibility to act to stop other men. We men also have a special responsibility to set a good example to other men about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Crimes are Not Mistakes

I’m sure everyone can immediately think of a case where someone has crossed the line criminally when it comes to sexual assault or harassment. Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar’s names are now synonymous with “sexual assault.” Columnists and bloggers have written pages and pages; victims have voiced their stories. There has been “collateral damage” in the reputations of some men and a few women, who didn’t cross the line into a “crime” but were nonetheless boorish at best and objectified others at worst. These stories are painful and gut-wrenching for anyone to hear, and they all point to two common themes being abundantly clear. Abusers invariably:

  1. Objectified another person, usually a woman, for the purpose of sexual gratification.
  2. Allowed by others to continue to do their dirty work without correction or being reported to the authorities because of their power, influence, or connections.

Often people tried to “handle things” quietly, or even turned a blind eye to “protect an institution” or company. These people treated these crimes as mere mistakes; crimes are not mistakes.

What It All Means

It’s tempting to reflect on the “Good Old Days,” but that’s a fool’s errand for two reasons. First the “Good Old Days” weren’t always good for everyone, and second, what’s past is past–what we do in the future is what matters. We’ve learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t in our culture in the past 30 years, we need to be mature enough men and women to apply those lessons.

Regardless of how you feel about the Sexual Revolution, I think many of us could agree that we’re not happier people today than we were before the Sexual Revolution. There’s even a case to be made that the Weinstiens of the world were emboldened when we made sex a recreational activity rather than a powerful connection between people. We ought to be brave enough as a society to learn from our mistakes and make adjustments–not out of fear of reprisal, but because it’s the right way to treat each other and ourselves. We can have our own opinions about the relationship between sex, marriage, and family, but I think we can also agree to respect the power of those things in the human mind and heart. Mature persons respect that power and don’t risk their own well being in a cost-benefit analysis that has a poor margin.

It’s good that women have taken their rightful place in society as full participants. It’ll be better if all people, and especially women, can assume they’ll be treated with respect for who they are as persons without qualification. I think it’s time we take the good lessons of the past 30 years and spit out the seeds, don’t you?


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

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

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Use Words If Necessary

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There’s an oft-repeated quote attributed a popular saint, St Francis of Assisi, that speaks to the heart of today’s post; specifically that actions speak louder than words. The quote goes: Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.  No, I’ve not turned this into a religion blog; the point is that what we do is at least as important (if not more) as what we say.

As leaders, we know that if we expect others to do what we ask, we have to be willing to do those things ourselves. We cannot expect others to follow us if they cannot trust that we are competent and worthy of their trust. How do we build that trust? We model the behavior we expect of others, and we walk with the team we’re leading. Leaders lead from the front, not from behind. It’s a basic truism of leadership.

Illegal, Immoral, or Fattening

There is a popular idea in the last two decades that one can separate their “personal” and “professional” lives. That is patently and demonstrably false. I think of it this way: I cannot be one person on Sunday morning, and turn into a different person on Monday. Whatever I permit myself to do on one evening will follow me into the next day. One of the common threads I’ve seen of all the men and women who’ve fallen from grace–both public figures and private citizens–is they have a secret life exposed. Time after time I’ve witnessed generals, politicians, business leaders, and even friends and family face personal and professional calamity as a result of their “personal” or “private” lives suddenly intruding on their “public” or “professional” lives. As if they were two separate people.

“If you’re doing something you don’t want your mother to know about, it’s either illegal, immoral, or fattening.” -Mom

The irony is that virtually every time the person facing professional consequences for their personal choices, they look surprised. As my mother used to say, “If you’re doing something you don’t want your mother to know about, it’s either illegal, immoral, or fattening.” Things that happened even decades prior have a way of finding their way into the light of day, and people face consequences. Just look no further than the case of Dr. Larry Nassar who recently went to prison for the sexual assault. He probably thought he’d gotten away with it, but eventually, the truth came out. I have a former colleague who also went to prison for 8 years after his accusers came forward 20 years later. Sooner or later the chickens always come home to roost.

Can’t Serve Two Masters

The idea that somehow a person can be of low moral character or simply make immoral and destructive choices without professional or public consequences is a recent development in our society. This is not to say that there have not been immoral, even evil, people in the past; of course there have been and there will continue to be in the future. What’s different in the last 20 years or so is we’ve apparently decided that “what a man does in his private life is none of our concern.” Of course, that’s not true. If a man is a thief or a liar at home or with his wife, what makes us think he can be trusted to tell the truth at other times? If a woman is dishonest in her dealings with others when she’s away from work, how can we expect her to be honest at work?

The proverb, “A man cannot serve two masters” is accurate. The fundamental truth about humans is we are integrated persons–body, mind, and soul. The body is easy to see, the mind is revealed when we speak and act, and it’s clear to each of us that as Yoda says, “we’re more than just this crude matter.” This union of physical, mental, and soul makes it impossible for us to separate private doings from public or professional personas. Some people are adept at suppressing the internal contradictions for a while, but eventually either their mind, body, or spirit “breaks.”

Who Do You Want to Be?

Leading ourselves or others means talking less and acting more. Your colleagues, your team, even your kids will pay far more attention to what you do versus what you say. If you want your kids to be kind, show kindness. If you want your employees to be punctual, then be on time. If you expect your spouse to be tidy, get rid of your own clutter. When you meet someone who has “their act together,” what do you notice first, their words or their actions? It’s what they do that you notice first: how they conduct their affairs, how they treat others.

As a very simple level, the question each of us must answer is, “Who do I want to be?” As fragile and fallible human beings, we shouldn’t expect perfection of ourselves but we should always strive for it. Envisioning the kind of person we want to be, then reaching for that vision of ourselves, is a way to journey constantly to being the healthy and successful person we can be. When we learn to accept that we’re not perfect but are on a journey of constant growth and improvement. We accept our failings, beg forgiveness if necessary, and resolve to do better today–sometimes with the help of grace offered. That’s way of perfection.


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

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

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

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