What Is Courage? (Part II)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books

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.

__

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!

 

June Newsletter Sneak Peak- Is Your Summer in Balance?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Announcements, Practical Leadership

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

MInd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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.

__

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.

__

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.

Friday Link Around – Graduation

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs

Durango-Silverton Line 1976

It’s graduation time! Graduation pictures are appearing on my Facebook feed: smiling grads and proud parents. In honor graduation day for so many, this week’s Link Around is all about the grad.

Top 10 Commencement Speeches

Time Mag: Graduation gift ideas

George Saunders has excellent advice: be kind

Inspirational quotes for graduates

Buzzfeed: 31 Grad Party Decor Ideas

Stylecaster: 25 more (just in case you didn’t like any of the first ones)

Write those thank you notes: WSJ: The Lost Art of the Handwritten Note (you can get my favorite book on the subject here)

Logo Cover - Front

My book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, makes a good gift!

In a world full of “no” and “don’t”, The 5 Be’s For Starting Out is a positive vision of who to “Be.” Based on a lifetime of mentoring young adults, The 5 Be’s is a roadmap to living a healthy, fulfilling, and successful life!

 

 

 

Check out PatioWisdom.com!

Or if you’re feeling more “whimsical,” try Patio Wisdom for a little inspiration and humor!

Inside are the musings from Living a Life at Full Speed, where wisdom comes from the School of Hard Knocks. It’s wisdom born of adventure and hardship, joy and pain, victory and defeat…and everything in between. Illustrated with the author’s own photos, and narrated with quips and memories, Patio Wisdom will leaving you in tears and stitches!

 


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.

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.

Ngo Dinh Diem

Leadership Lessons from The Lost Mandate of Heaven

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Quotes by Famous Leaders
Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngo Dinh Diem (Photo: “Biografías y Vidas”)

Last week, I reviewed The Lost Mandate of Heaven by Geoffrey D. T. Shaw (Ignatius Press), While Lost Mandate is not a leadership book, senior leaders can mine a number leadership lessons from it.

The Most Senior Leader Must Remain Engaged

Kennedy was involved in most of the decisions leading up to the coup, but the author never presents any evidence that he was involved in making an affirmative “go/no-go” decision. It appears he simply allowed his advisors and senior Cabinet officials to make national decisions without his direct input. C-suite leaders must walk a fine line between micro-managing and being too passive. As I detail in Leading Leaders, senior executives have to understand where to be personally involved and what to delegate. This skill more than any other is essential for leaders at all levels but vital for senior leaders. Executives can strangle an organization by over-controlling, but they can also find themselves dangerously off-course by “checking out” and allowing others to make decisions only the CEO should make. Kennedy was directly involved in how US military forces supported the Bay of Pigs invasion, but appears to have left the decision to remove and ultimately have Diem murdered in the hands of a committee.

Facts, Facts, Facts–Even When They Clash With Your Worldview

Senior leaders can become so enamored with their own ideas and ideology that they refuse to accept facts when they see them. This results in senior leaders making decisions on emotion and guesswork rather than on facts. The CIA and DoD, as well as dissenting elements of State and even VP Johnson all told Kennedy that Diem was the right man to lead South Vietnam. Instead, false and misleading reports as well as outright fabricated stories in the press seem to have contributed to the decision to remove Diem. Senior leaders must insulate themselves against emotional decisions by constantly seeking out data to drive decisions. Additionally, those same leaders must be willing to be convinced when the weight of the facts contradicts their preconceived notions. The coup was enabled because facts from people who actually had first hand knowledge of Diem and South Vietnam were ignored in favor of “experts” in Washington and New York.  Senior leaders and executives must continually ask “why?” and reward those who are courageous enough to speak their minds. Failure to do so will result in reports of everything being “great” right up to the point of bankruptcy or worse.

Culture and History Are Crucial

As I’ve written before, being culturally literate is a central precept to doing business in the 21st century. The world is very “small” due to high speed travel and communication, so a failure to understand the context of decisions usually leads to poor decisions. Furthermore, making uninformed decisions not only frustrates our aims, it usually leads to unintended consequences. The uninformed “experts” in Washington believed they could replace a scholar with a military general without understanding the cultural significance of that act. The Vietnamese people, and even Ho Chi Minh himself, believed Diem and honorable man and a patriot–he had the Confucian Mandate of Heaven to lead. Upending the social order and removing the man with the Mandate invited disunity and social chaos the Communists exploited to their benefit. The aim of removing Diem was to speed the victory over the Communists, but it probably enabled the Communists’ victory 10 year later. With Diem gone and the military in charge, the war ceased to be a national fight for the heart of the Vietnamese people and instead became a proxy war between the Americans and Soviets to the benefit of the Vietnamese Communists. Executives have to rely on their staffs of experts, but they have to understand the context of every decision. That sort of expertise only comes with experience and study. The best international organizations spend considerable energy to understand their environment and make decisions in the context of the cultures and people involved. No matter how good the intel, the best decisions are made collaboratively with those involved and affected.

Unity Does Not Mean Uniformity

Diem understood he governed in a multi-religious environment (Confucians, Buddhists, and Catholics) and went to pains to ensure he showed no favoritism. It’s ironic, then, that the event probably orchestrated by his enemies in Hanoi and Saigon and that gave his enemies in Washington fodder to oust him was over religious freedom. A quick survey of the facts by Shaw proves Diem was no despot, but that was the label unjustly applied to him as a pretext for his removal. Diem did not require uniformity in belief, only unity of action. In modern parlance, we use the word diversity as shorthand for this idea, but the concept is more than a buzzword or recruiting principle. Unity of effort toward the organizational goals is far more important than uniformity of belief or action. Diem chose people who shared his vision of a democratic and free Vietnam regardless of their religion. Senior leaders would do well to select team members who share their goals and work well with their teammates, rather than looking for a particular pedigree or background. In this way, senior leaders can assure themselves they get the best possible advice and enable the best possible decisions.

Summary

Just as in the Kennedy Administration of 1962, leaders can allow their personal biases and lack of first hand knowledge to become a barrier to sound decisions. C-suite leaders and senior leaders at all levels have to guard against allowing that to happen, lest they end up creating a worse situation than the one they’re trying solve. When Kennedy gave the green light to the plotters in Washington and Saigon, he couldn’t have forecasted the cascade of disasters that would follow. While most leaders in business will never have the fate of nations in their hands, their business and their employees are counting on sound decisions. A committment to sober decisions based on facts should always be the senior leader’s priority when they come to work each day. Secondary effects require a clairvoyance few possess.

Be Free – Part II

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, The Five Be's

Moby_1In Part I, I put forth the idea that “freedom” is not simply doing whatever we want, but doing what’s good and in a way that builds ourselves and others up. To illustrate, we will look at traffic controls which are tools such as traffic signals, signage, speed limits, and pavement markings. Traffic controls restrict the flow of vehicular traffic on roads and highways to comply with specific safety rules and guidelines. A superficial look at traffic controls would imply that traffic controls restrict a driver’s freedom, but the opposite is actually the case.  Imagine how dangerous roads would be without speed limits, signage or lane markings.

What fascinates me about addiction and obsessive behavior is that people would choose an altered state of consciousness that’s toxic and ostensibly destroys most aspects of your normal life, because for a brief moment you feel okay.

– Moby, musician-songwriter

The opposite of freedom is not “just” confinement or restriction. As we will discuss in the next section, Aristotle’s philosophy of the Golden Mean, is that virtue lies in the middle between the extremes of vice.However, with appropriate traffic controls, we have the freedom to safely travel wherever we like. We can feel safe travelling at high speeds on the highway since we know that our fellow motorists will also be following the guidelines ensuring safe travel for all. Appropriate behavioral controls permit us to remain free, and in this case unharmed.

Therefore, on one end of the “freedom continuum” lies slavery, and on the other lies license. Just as slavery is the abuse of freedom to hold another unjustly bound, license likewise is an abuse of freedom since it binds our own will to our appetites or passions. The newspaper is brimming with stories of people who abused their own freedom either through the self-abuse or by allowing others to abuse them. “Excessive freedom” is as much a problem as a complete lack of freedom, and in fact ends up in the same place: slavery. On the ends of the “freedom continuum” is slavery to others and slavery to appetites – both are self-destructive.

As a military officer, I often remind my Airmen that the Air Force doesn’t set standards of behavior to hinder their freedom (i.e., regulations). Rather, we set standards of behavior to keep them safe and healthy, ready to accomplish our mission – to have the defense of our countrymen in our hands is a serious responsibility.

When Airmen violate these standards, leaders must do their duty and hold them accountable – this is justice. Furthermore, being held accountable is actually good for morale. The consequences for violating military standards range from minor to severe, depending on the seriousness of the offense, and always entails some sort of penalty such as a fine, extra duty, or demotion of rank. When others see an offender receive their just deserts for violating the rules or the law, it reinforces their confidence in their leaders and each other.

To summarize, true freedom does not come at someone else’s expense and true freedom doesn’t result from selfishness or self-centeredness. True freedom comes from serving others and respecting both our own and others’ dignity. True freedom enables us to grow as human persons.

Of Surfing, Leading, and Be’s

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

TCEP Ep19

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

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

Get Your Copy of The 5 Be’s Today!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Announcements, Books, The Five Be's

I’m excited to announce my latest title now available in pocketbook from Lead The Way Media!

Logo Cover - FrontIn a world full of “no” and “don’t”, The 5 Be’s For Starting Out is a positive vision of who to “Be.” Based on a lifetime of mentoring young adults, The 5 Be’s is a roadmap to living a healthy, fulfilling, and successful life!

  • Be Proud Of Who You Are: Everyone has something to contribute — and so do you!
  • Be Free: Authentic freedom means having the ability to choose what’s good for you!
  • Be Virtuous: The virtues are the “guardrails” for success in life!
  • Be Balanced:  Keep your Mind, Body, and Spirit nourished to  keep your balance!
  • Be Courageous: Courage comes in many forms: physical and moral courage — find yours!

The 5 Be’s For Starting Out was a huge hit at a recent industry conference, and I’m proud to offer it as a pocketbook. It will also be available as an ebook soon! The 5 Be’s  makes a great stocking stuffer for the young adult in your life–or anyone looking to make a fresh start.

Click the button below to get your copy now!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

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

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Books, The Five Be's

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.

______________________________________

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.

From the Blogs: What the Team Needs

Posted 1 CommentPosted in From the Blogs

I spotted this great article from People Development Mag on leading teams and wanted to share!  I like their model:

“What the Team Needs” -Lora Schafer

 

and it closely resembles my own:

The Leadership "COP" - Mickey Addison
The Leadership “COP” from “Leading Leaders” – Mickey Addison

 

 

Says Ms Shafer:

When initiative, productivity, creativity and execution are lacking, the costs to the team can be very real. The tangible results can be a lackluster product or service, subpar customer service, team members finding it difficult to work with each other, a leader struggling to get vital feedback. This costs your company, your department, your team and you revenue and reputation.

So, how do you get your team back on track when it is under-performing? How do you ignite a spark that will open up a higher level of performance and excellence?

There are 4 vital elements that your team needs for them to perform at optimal levels. However, they cannot attain these on their own. You, as the leader, must provide each of these element and support your team as they utilize each.

It’s a great article, and you’ll want to go read the whole thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check Out My Newest Blog: Patio Wisdom

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Announcements, Books, Patio Wisdom, Pure Inspiration

Check out PatioWisdom.com! I’d originally intended the blog “Patio Wisdom” to be a static page as an intro to the book by the same title. Patio Wisdom is a fun book I believe will inspire young men, and can be an inspiration to any one who’s a student of the School of Hard Knocks. Life isn’t always fair, but it can be fun!

I had fun doing the project with my brother. I hope you’ll enjoy the blog!