Raising Them Right: The Value of Onboarding

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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.

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.


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.

Like Mickey’s Rules for Leaders? Buy the Ebook!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Mickeys Rules

I received so much positive feedback from my “Mickey’s Rules” series, I’ve assembled the entire list into an ebook!

Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverDeveloped over career spanning three decades, in this book I give leaders a “how to” rule book for leading at any level. The eleven rules in the book are excellent guidelines for relating to other people, correctly prioritizing work, and leading teams to high performance. Learn the secrets of leadership from a leader who’s lived it! With Rules like “Don’t Spook the Herd” and “The First Report is Usually Wrong”, this is not your average handbook!

It’s short and accessible for leaders at any level–with some practical examples and a little humor thrown in for good measure.

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.