Excerpt: “The Five Be’s” – My Newest Book Coming in October ’15!

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Five Be's - Facebook banner-001I’m happy to offer you an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Five Be’s, now going through post-production editing enroute to an October publishing date!

“We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

Really, it was not just the Air Force Military Training Instructors who’d told them “don’t”; they’d been hearing that word a great deal throughout their lives.           I stood in front of a group of young Airmen at the First Term Airmen’s Center (FTAC) as they sleepily waited to hear what the old colonel had to say to them. With few exceptions, they were about 19 years old and living away from home for the first time in their lives. They had all volunteered to serve their country in a time of war, most of them in Kindergarten or Elementary School during the 9/11 attacks. Before they appeared in new Air Force blue uniforms in that FTAC classroom, they had been through 12 weeks of Basic Military Trainingfor indoctrination into the Air Force, and Air Force Technical Training to learn the skills each would employ in their Air Force Specialty. For their first six months in the Air Force, they had heard their leaders give them a lot of “don’ts.”

As we raise young people into adulthood, we spend a lot of time setting boundaries.  In fact, most of what young people hear as they grow is a list of “don’t’s.”  When we’re very young, we hear “don’t throw food on the floor”, “don’t speak disrespectfully to your elders”, “don’t take toys away from your friends.”  As we grow, the “don’ts” begin to pile up: don’t play in the street, don’t forget your manners, don’t use bad language, etc. Even in adulthood, we are inundated with “don’ts” regarding our behavior: don’t say those words, don’t wear those clothes,don’t eat this, don’t touch that.

All these “don’ts” form the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and within reason, boundaries are a necessary part of establishing appropriate behavior. Manners, after all, are intended to make everyone comfortable so each person’s dignity and feelings are safeguarded. All human groupings develop norms for behavior 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, and when there are too many boundaries, we call that tyranny.  In general, however, boundaries and standards of behavior (“manners”) are necessary to the function of any human society.

What we generally left unsaid when establishing our group norms is a target to aim at.  It’s not sufficient to merely describe the outside bounds of the target, you also have to show people what the bulls 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 really 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 thanavoiding something.

To illustrate that point, imagine the following:

You’re in a pitch black room with the task of finding a door somewhere in the room. What would you do? Most people would find the walls first, feeling their way slowly around the walls until they find the door, then opening the door to exit. But what if the door were a trap door in the floor? Or a staircase in the center of the room? What if there’s no walls or the walls give way when you push on them? Simply being told there’s a door in the room isn’t enough information to find the door. You have even less chance if the walls are missing or not firm enough to help guide you. Giving a person a vision of who we want them to be is like turning on an exit light in the room. The light illuminates the exit and gives you a direction to walk. It could even be bright enough to illuminate the entire room.

What this little thought experiment illustrates is the need for both boundaries and a target: standards of behavior and a positive vision of who we want to be.

That’s what I wanted to give those bright young Airmen at FTAC: a positive vision of who I want them to be. A vision of a person who is healthy and integrated, balanced and free. the kind of person who can be as proud of themselves and who they are as we are of them. I wanted to give them a vision to aim at, so they could grow into the kind of people others would follow.

And now I offer that same vision of who I wanted them to be to you. It’s the kind of person I want to be as well.

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Follow my author page on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @mickeyaddison

Watch for my newest title, The Five Be’s, in October 2015!!

My book, Leading Leaders, is available at the Lulu StoreAmazon, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble.

Leading Leaders Book Excerpt: Leaders Lead

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As I alluded to in the stories from my time in the Aggie Corps, I’ve learned that leadership is not merely a matter of barking orders or acting “in charge.” The leader has to take charge and make decisions. Even in the military, we rarely bark orders. In an emergency or in combat, certainly, but in our routine day to day it’s best to ensure your teams understand what they’re doing and why. Furthermore, a leader can only “bark” so many times before their team simply tunes out the raised voices. I’ve seen it plenty of times in sports. Teams that are accustomed to hearing their coach yell and make demonstrations simply stop listening to the coach’s histrionics; they’re mentally somewhere else when he is speaking. So yelling and demonstrations simply don’t work very often and neither does rule by fear.  A leader who relies on fear to motivate their employees has a very shallow toolbox.  Put another way, if a leader’s only motivational method is fear or arm-waving, he won’t last very long and probably won’t get much accomplished.

In the military, the overarching mission is usually summarized in a statement of “commander’s intent”: an explicitly defined end state or goal of a particular mission. While one might not use the same words in business or sports, the same principle of clearly stating the objective applies. The effective leader ensures people understand what’s required of them, and then she follows up to see the task through to completion. They give their teams a sense of purpose.

Most organizations have more than a single leader. They have “layers of leaders,” and the principle of “Leaders Lead” requires that all leaders exercise their authority. Leaders at all levels should show initiative and work together. If a team leader is waiting for direction, then he is essentially waiting for their boss to make a decision for them. That’s not leading.

Furthermore, a “reluctant” leader will only inspire the informal leaders in the group to begin to vie for power. A vacuum must always be filled; if the leader at any level creates a void through inaction, then someone will usually fill that void. It’s a sure bet that the leader won’t have his job for very long. Someone will replace him, the company will fail, or the team will disintegrate.

Now before you get the wrong idea, I’m not advocating leaders exceed their authority, but I am suggesting that leaders should exercise the authority that their boss has vested in them. If they work in an environment where integrity is expected, within a culture of respect, then even a hierarchical organization can be very effective. No matter what the organization looks like on paper, ultimately it’s the relationships that matter.

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Like what you’re reading? Buy the book at the link on the right.

Leading Leaders Excerpt: Recognizing and Promoting Excellence

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Leaders should deliberately recognize and reward excellence of members as a means of encouraging excellence for both the team as a whole and by individuals. This usually takes the shape of a formal recognition program, but it should also include informal recognition as well. The real trick for the skilled leader is to know how to balance those two forms of recognition.
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Formal recognition programs are certainly the most prevalent and can be very effective at promoting excellence if managed carefully. Virtually every organization of any size has an “Employee of the Month” or similar program. These are important; however, I believe the leader must deliberately manage these programs to avoid having them become meaningless. Because they are ubiquitous, there can be a tendency among employees to discount or even make fun of the program. It’s really up to the leader to be sure that doesn’t become the case by ensuring the process for selecting winners is fair, objective, and non-repetitive. It’s very easy for a busy leader to select winners for these sorts of programs randomly or casually. Leaders must resist the temptation to do so. So long as there is a defined process and objective criteria that everyone knows, and the leader follows the process, then the team will respond positively to “of the month” programs. However, if the employees see the same people winning time after time, or believe (even erroneously) that winners are selected based on their ability to “butter up” management, then no amount of sincere praise will make the winners feel special and recognized.
I had a personal experience where this derision of the recognition program surprised me greatly. We had a “do it yourself” shop at an Air Force base where I was stationed as the Operations Chief in a public works department. The DIY shop was staffed by a small group of fairly senior people, and they consistently did heroic work to enable the Airmen at various units around the base to fix things themselves instead of waiting for facility maintenance personnel to come do it for them. We saved hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in labor, and the program encouraged pride in the facilities by the Airmen. On top of that, our DIY program was consistently regarded as one of the best of the dozen or so in Air Combat Command. The surprise came, however, when I attempted to recognize the civilian manager who led the DIY shop. He came to my office and emotionally demanded that I remove his name from contention as “Civilian Manager of the Quarter.”
While he never gave me a specific reason, I believe he’d lost faith in the process. I think he had come to believe that the selection of winners for the quarterly awards was based only on “favorites” and wanted no part of it. Reluctantly, I agreed not to recognize him, but it gave me impetus to make some significant changes in how we selected our award winners in the future. I made sure the mini-boards for selecting our winners were composed of more people and that the process was more formalized. I also made sure we were keeping notes as to who had won and from which shop, to be sure that we spread the awards around and looked for people who were performing in the “shadows” rather than just “out front.” It took a while, but I believe that by the time I’d left, we’d restored a measure of trust in the system.