Continue the Mission: The First 30 Days

Posted on Posted in Practical Leadership

When things go wrong in your command, start wading for the reason in increasing larger concentric circles around your own desk. – General Bruce D. Clark

Standing on the platform in front of troops and family for the fourth time to take command, this time of a Mission Support Group, I was following a popular and successful commander. I’d be leading a very talented unit of 2,600 Airmen, civil service personnel, and contractors. They had a tremendous reputation for excellence.

In the previous three months, I’d prepared as best I could and now it was “go” time. Under the big Colorado sky on a stunningly beautiful summer day, thoughts about both the mission and people I was now responsible for leading circled my mind. All my previous leadership experience, all my networking, all my preparation had come to this moment. When it was my turn to speak, I stepped up to the mike and began my command.

In this series, I’ve written about how to exit gracefully and how to your prep for your new “command.” This month we take a look at what it takes to be the “New Guy” and we’ll focus in on the first crucial 30 days in “command.”

Before You Arrive

Changes in leadership like the assumption of command I described above are often planned and announced in advance. Retirements, promotions, and the like create openings in leadership positions in all organizations. Even when someone gets the sack, there’s usually time for some limited preparation. That time is important because every team is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach that works. Even experienced leaders will need to make adjustments to their own style to suit the new team and mission.

If you have a good transition, your predecessor will have sent you plenty of information and planned a Left Seat-Right Seat time. If the transition is short or unplanned, your prep time is limited. No matter how long you have, spend it learning as much as you can before you arrive. Mission statements, public financial records, customer reviews, press releases, and anything available on the personnel. You’ll get two opportunities to speak to the team, once in public and once to your senior staff. Plan those talks carefully: first impressions really matter and it will be obvious if you haven’t done your homework.

At the “Change of Command”

The military conducts a change of command ceremony where the outgoing and incoming commanders exchange the unit’s flag as a symbol of passing the leadership of the unit. Those ceremonies and their civilian equivalents are all about the farewell for outgoing leader. As the new guy, your job is to thank everyone, give a brief version of your priorities, and get off the stage. Give your predecessor the room to bask in the adulation of the team one last time; it’s your team now and you’ll have plenty of time with them in the coming months and years.

During your speech, be gracious to the outgoing leader–even if he/she doesn’t deserve it. No matter what the circumstances that required a change in leadership, it’s not your place to pile on or take issue with the outgoing guy’s style or achievements. They know him–they don’t know you–so being gracious will make a good impression. It’s just good manners. I assure you no one will remember the “bumper stickers” you talk about at the ceremony, but they will remember if you’re snarky, rude, or go long. Get up, say your piece, and get off the stage.

The First Month

On your first day in the seat, you’ve got only two things to do: meet with your senior staff one and one and as a group. Use that time to get to know them better, get a sense of their professionalism and proficiency, and lay out your strategy and priorities. If you have an office or administrative staff, give them your expectations on how you expect work to flow. They’ll want to know how you like to organize your day and about any pet peeves you might have regarding the logistics of running the office.

Once you’ve met with your senior team–we call it a “command team” in the Air Force, it’s time to meet with the larger senior staff as a group. Plan to spend about an hour, and lay out your priorities and guiding principles, your expectations, and let them know where you’ll be focusing your attention. A few Powerpoint slides or a handout is a good idea since it allows them to listen better rather than taking notes. Allow them all time they need to ask questions–few of them will take you up on it anyway–and then give them a preview of what you plan to publish to the entire team. This is the first step to gaining their trust and getting them on board for where you’re planning to lead them. Set some achievable goals for the first 100 days and ensure your new team is on board.

During the first month, commit to spending time looking around and listening to your new team. As a rule of thumb, and unless something is badly broken, dangerous, or illegal, don’t make any changes for the first 30 days. This gives your team some breathing room to get used to you, and more importantly, time for you to understand why things are the way they are in the first place. Rare is the case where a leader or an organization is completely incompetent. Understand the context of your predecessors’ decisions before you begin making changes. Doing so will help avoid unwanted second and third order effects, and it will give you a better chance of finding root causes of problems rather than just symptoms.

Make time in the first few days to have an “all hands meeting” and address the entire team. If your team is geographically separated, then record your session and make that recording available to them. During that all hands meeting, lay out your priorities and principles Boil down your priorities and principles into 2-4 easy to remember phrases. You want your “slogan” to be memorable and easy to repeat–you’ll be repeating it often. Give the broad strokes to the whole organization, and spend some time with the senior staff to be sure they understand clearly who you are and where you intend to go.

Lastly, get a thorough orientation to your new organization unit by unit. Resist the temptation to spend that entire orientation in a conference room reading PowerPoint slides. Whenever I take over a new organization I spend that first week or so walking through each unit and learning as much as I can from the people doing the actual work. You can read slides on your own–you need to see where people are working and let them tell you what they’re doing. Believe me, you can tell a lot about an organization by asking questions and observing the work environment. The morale will be self-evident and you’ll gain important insight into what needs to be changed on day 31.

Originally posted on General Leadership


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

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

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

 

Continue the Mission: How to Exit Gracefully (and Why You Should)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Leadership to me means duty, honor, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time. -George W. Bush

This month, I continue my series on successful leadership transition. If you missed the first part, you can go back and read it here. When we accept a leadership position we accept two things: (1) stewardship of the people and organization we’re leading, and (2) the understanding that we’ll be replaced some day. Regardless of the reason we may be handing off the reins to a successor–good or bad–how we manage that transition says a great deal about us as people and leaders.

Leadership transition is far more than just “exchanging salutes” and reporting to your new office. A successful transition of leadership depends on a servant leadership mentality and maturity. The principles below are my guide for a smooth transition of leadership. As I wrote last month, good transition planning begins well in advance of the actual day. In fact, successful transitions occur because of the prep work done well before the “new guy” shows up.

Five Principles for Success

Below principles to keep in mind for the outgoing leader. Adhering to them is the best way to prepare the team and the organization for success under the incoming leader.

  • Prepare the Team for the New Guy’s Style. You may be the best leader ever, but when you hand over the reins of command to another leader, his style is the most important one. Give your staff the benefit of helping them understand the “new guy’s” style and if you can make adjustments to accommodate him or her before you leave, so much the better. Your goal should be to make a difficult time as smooth as possible. Be sure to spend some energy with the senior staff to prepare them for the change.
  • Leave a Trail of Breadcrumbs on Your Decisions. While any leader should be prepared for their decisions to be reversed by their successor, we can maximize the chances good decisions remain in place by documenting our decisions well. That’s what I mean by “leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.” If your successor understands the context of your decisions, and has access to much the same information, it makes it more likely good decisions remain. If there must be a change, then there’s enough data to make solid adjustments. Many a time I’ve avoided a bad decision by understanding why what I wanted to change was done in the first place–you owe that to your successor.
  • Plan for Overlap “Right Seat-Left Seat” Time. For any transition, planning for a few days of overlap is crucial to success. Use that time where the incoming leader (“Right Seat”) shadows the departing leader to learn the staff and see how things are run (“Left Seat”). When the incoming leader moves to the “Left Seat” she’ll be thoroughly prepared and will know what adjustments she needs to make.
  • Don’t Bad Mouth the “New Guy” or the Old Company. I can’t understate how important this principle is to a successful transition. If you and the incoming leader get along famously, great! If not, keep it to yourself. You’ll do great harm to everyone–including your reputation–by disparaging the “new guy.” Believe me, no matter whether he’s a “saint” or “sinner”, your people will make up their own minds about the new leader soon enough. They don’t need your help. When you’ve moved on to other things, keep your words positive. What you say about the guy who replaced you or the company says more about you than them. Even if you’re the only one, be the adult in the room.
  • Say Your Goodbyes and Then Take Your Leave. Once you’ve moved out of the proverbial “Left Seat”, then get going. Hanging around makes it awkward on everyone. This requires a little planning, you really don’t want to be walking back into the building the day after those tearful goodbyes to return your security badge.

Mature Leaders Do Transition Well

Remember leadership is never about you. Leadership is always about those you lead and serve. Leaders who understand that principle first will be the ones who leave a place better than they found it. That’s a successful leadership transition.

Originally posted on General Leadership


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

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

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

 

Overcoming Barriers to Change

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in How To Change

One of the highest barriers to effecting change is getting enough people to change their thinking from “the way it is now” to the way you want to operate. In fact, many people are very resistant to change–I call that resistance “institutional inertia.” The most successful companies are able to help their teams and their stakeholders make the transition in thinking, and it’s absolutely crucial to innovation and transformation. How do they do it?

Knowing Where You Want to Go

Obviously, you have to know where you’re going or you’ll never get anywhere, so that’s the first step. Senior leadership teams need to spend some time thinking clearly about where you want to move the organization well before engaging the rank and file. A solid vision statement is a must, and not one of those flowery ones full of meaningless buzzwords. A clear vision of where you want to move the organization must also be congruent with your existing mission statement. If it’s not, you’ll either need to change your vision or revise your mission. It does no good to change one and not the other!

Knowing The Barriers to Change

There are all sorts of barriers to change, both internal and external. Understanding what those barriers are and making a plan to overcome them is the next step in effecting transformation and innovation. In large organizations internal barriers to transformation will be:

  • Threats to positional power
  • Uncertainty in accomplishing the organizational mission
  • Threats to personal careers

Take time to identify the key players and list the threats to your transformational plan, then make a concrete plan to mitigate each. For example, if people are concerned with losing their jobs you can mitigate that with assurances you don’t plan staff reductions. If organizational reorganizations will change certain persons’ positional power, you can mitigate those by engaging those people directly and ensure you have a plan to either move them into a commensurate position or offer compensation to take away the sting.

There’s also external barriers as well:

  • Resistance from functional communities
  • Resistance from key stakeholders
  • Resistance from customers

Like the internal barriers, making specific plans to reduce the resistance to the planned transformation is key to success. Overcoming these barriers is where senior leaders really earn their pay! Getting functional communities on board, for example, will likely mean lots of time discussing planned changes with key functional leaders and getting their buy in. Of course, even the most gifted negotiators sometimes can’t get everyone on board. In those cases, it’s necessary to build a stable of allies that can help you exert political influence on decision makers and stakeholders to make the change happen. For small companies, those functional leaders will often be industry associations and government oversight staffs. For larger organizations, it could be “higher headquarters” or even key C-suite or board members leaders in the company. Assemble the team, make the case, and build consensus among those who can stop the transformation. Be prepared to use influence and power to knock down barriers if necessary!

Knowing When to Engage the Entire Team

As the senior leadership team, you’ll have consider when to bring more people into your planning process. In complex change efforts, keeping the team as small as possible initially will prevent “paralysis by argument.” Again, you’ll need to clearly articulate where you’re headed and why it’s beneficial to all involved. Get as many people as possible involved in creating the transformation plan, careful not to overdo it with too many! Ideally, the more people invested in effecting the change, the more successful you’ll be in making it happen. However, don’t grow the team too fast, and don’t allow the team to take over the transformation from the senior leadership team!

Make it Happen

To effect any transformation, you’ll need to (1) Know Where You’re Headed, (2) Know Your Barriers, and (3) Know Who to Involve. Follow this three-step process and you’ll be able to lead your teams through change!


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

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

 

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

 

Transitioning Leadership – When You’re the New Guy and a Repairman

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

 

It was the second time I’d been sent to fix a broken unit, only this time the unit didn’t know they were broken. The team had all the externals of a high performing team, but only on the surface.

Below the surface, they were dysfunctional and broken. The organizational chart bore little resemblance to the actual power structure within the unit. Senior non-commissioned officers who were supposed be leading at the first line exercised little actual leadership. Relationships with the customers of the unit were frayed because my predecessor had mystified the process to the point where “yes” seemed an impossible dream. Readiness indicators were at the lowest possible levels, disciplinary actions were severe and routine for everything from multiple DUIs to a wave of failing fitness tests.

As the unit’s leadership team looked at me, they really didn’t expect much from me. I was coming from The Pentagon and everything they’d heard from my predecessor was that I was an uptight headquarters “weenie” who knew nothing about the “real” Air Force. On top of that, several members of the command staff were not only uninterested in working with me, they were actually hostile to what they perceived of my agenda.

So began my first 100 days in command.

Being the Repairman

Last week, I wrote about taking the reins of leadership and the do’s and don’ts for the new guy. This week’s post is all about taking over a failing organization. There’s many variations on the theme of fixing something that’s broken, but it really boils down to two: (1) they’re broken and they know it, and (2) they’re broken and they don’t. The second one is the hardest.

If a team is broken and they know they’re broken, there’s some hope you’ll be able to get the team working together toward repair during the first 100 days. If you’ve had a good transition, your new team will be looking at you hopefully. Your task as the new leader is to have a plan or make one quickly. If your new team knew how to get themselves out of the mess they’re in, they’d have done it already. However, just because they don’t have a plan doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s wrong. Even if they’re looking to you as their savior, simply dropping out of the sky and imposing a get-well plan on them will guarantee resistance. You have to have a plan, but you have to get their assent.

If the team is broken and they don’t know it, you’re in for a hard slog because before you can even make or present a plan you’ll have to convince them they’ve got a problem. Again, you can’t just drop out of the sky and force something on the team. No matter how good your plan or how dysfunctional the team, they need to believe they’re sick before you can lead them anywhere. You may have had a good transition, but you will lose any good will you might have if you launch on a recovery plan prematurely

The Method

There’s no “checklist” or single solution to leading a broken team to high performance, but there is a method. This method has been successful many times, but you’ll have to take into account the personalities and team dynamics.

Lay Out Your Priorities and Principles Immediately. As soon as you assume the mantle of leadership, you need to lay out who you are and what you’re about. Your new team will have heard all about you, and much of their “intel” will likely be superficial at best. Even if their intel is correct, your approach may be very different than with a previous team because of the situation. For example, you might be easy going with a previous team–what the military calls “low maintenance”–but the new team may require a firmer hand. Boil down your priorities and principles into 2-4 easy to remember phrases. You want to be memorable, and easy to repeat–you’ll be repeating them often. Something like Readiness-Responsiveness-Resiliency or Sustainability & Responsibility works well; use alliteration and rhyme to make it easy to remember. Give the broad strokes to the whole organization, and spend some time with the senior staff to be sure they understand clearly who you are and where you intend to go.

Look and Listen. Regardless whether they know they’re failing or not. you’ll need to listen to your team to find out what they know and look around to make an assessment of the operation. Commit to your team to make no changes in the first 30 days unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your senior staff especially will be anxious and perhaps even defensive about making changes no matter how necessary. The 30 day buffer gives you a chance to listen to your team and find out what they think is important. It also enables you to discern who will be you ally, and where the landmines are buried.

Make a Plan with your Team. Be as Collaborative as You Can. In a perfect world, you and your team would sit down over the course of a few weeks and assemble a plan to fix their problems. No matter how hostile the team is to your strategy, leaders have to at least try to work with the team and get them on board. Even when you know exactly what’s broken and how to fix it, you’ll need to give your team some ownership and a stake. Do that by spending time planning with your team. Use as many of their ideas as you can, and then give them a stake and a role in implementation. Make them partners and stakeholders in the successful implementation of the plan. If collaboration just isn’t possible, then you’ll have to go it alone, In that case, be sure your boss is on board then give your orders and follow through.

Inspire and Lead.

In all cases, your people will need you to inspire them and lead them. Any change of leadership is difficult, but it’s impossible if the leader doesn’t take his job as “Chief Cheerleader” seriously. Even when most of the team isn’t even aware they’re broken they’ll want to know you’re rooting for them.


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

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

 

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

 

Transitioning Leadership – The Exchange of Flags

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

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

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

The Ceremony

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

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

The First 30 Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 31

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


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

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

 

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

 

Transitioning Leadership – The Outgoing Executive

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Practical Leadership

I tried to stay out of sight, but I just had to return the car keys. Calling my now former deputy, I asked him to meet me in the parking lot so I could return his car keys. “Why don’t you just come up?” he asked. “I’ve already said my good-byes,” I replied, “it would be weird.” He chuckled, “Just leave them in the seat, I’ll get them later. Have a great flight Sir!” he said.

Such is the dance of the outgoing commander. The lesson of “passing the baton then be gone” is instructive for any leadership transition. In this week’s post: tips for the outgoing leader.

A successful transition depends as much on the outgoing leader as it does the incoming leader. For the high performing leader, loyalty to the organization and the people we work with are a primary concern. The outgoing leader should make it a priority to help the “new guy” integrate into the team and prepare the team for the new leader. Of course, the terms of your departure often dictate how much you’ll want to–or even are able to–help your successor. If you’re being sacked, or if the split is not amicable, then transition planning is more difficult. That said, the way a leader departs a job is important to preserving your reputation as well as ensuring the team doesn’t suffer when there’s a transition in leadership. This is especially true for executive departures. Nothing is gained by allowing the departure of one executive to become a drama-filled event!

 

Leadership to me means duty, honor, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time. -George W. Bush

Five Principles of a Successful Transition

Download the Transition Countdown Infographic!

 

The five principles below are my guide for a smooth transition of leadership. As I wrote on the General Leadership blog, good transition planning begins weeks or even months in advance. In fact, most of the work for a successful transition of leadership is done by the existing team.

  • Prepare the Team for the New Guy’s Style. Every leader has their own style, and the “new guy” might have one radically different than yours. In a perfect world, the new leader’s style is similar to yours, but that’s rarely the case. You don’t have to make any adjustments to your own style, but it’s good to be mindful of the change that’s coming. If you can make adjustments to prevent the staff from being “shocked” by a radically different style, so much the better.  In any event, spend some energy with the senior staff to prepare them for the change.
  • Leave a Trail of Breadcrumbs on Your Decisions. Leaders make decisions based on the the best information we have at the time. While any executive should be prepared for their decisions to be reversed by their successor, we can maximize the chances good decisions can remain in place by documenting our decisions well. I term this idea “leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.” Keeping good records, making sure staff who remain through the transition understand the decisions, and ensuring the new executive has access to the reasons why are all ways to ensure good decisions last.
  • Plan for Overlap “Right Seat-Left Seat” Time. In the military, we call the leadership overlap time “Right Seat-Left Seat” time. The term comes from the positions in an aircraft or combat vehicles where the co-pilot and the commander trade places when after the co-pilot becomes familiar with the mission and vehicle. For executive transition, planning for a few days of overlap is crucial to success. Use that time where the incoming leader (“Right Seat”) shadows the departing leader to learn the staff and see how things are run (“Left Seat”). The staff can brief the new leader, the outgoing one can be on hand to explain things, and most importantly the staff can see a responsible and smooth transfer of power. When the incoming leader moves to the “Left Seat” he’ll be thoroughly prepared.
  • Don’t Bad Mouth the New Guy or the Old Company. This one is very important. No matter whether the incoming leader is a saint or, ahem, sinner, bad mouthing the “new guy” is unseemly and unprofessional. Remember, you can’t control others’ actions–but you can control your own. How you behave before, during, and after a transition says more about you than your successor. Resolve to be kind and mature.
  • Say Your Goodbyes and Then Take Your Leave.  Nobody likes the “old guy” hanging around–it’s awkward. Once you hand over the reins to your successor, say your good-byes and take your leave. If you care about the organization and/or the people you’ve led, then allow them the space to get to know their new boss and start working his way.

Moving On

There are dozens of reasons for a change in leadership, ranging from retirement to getting the sack. For leaders at the executive level, managing that transition no matter what the circumstances says a great deal about us. Make that transition successful.

 

 

 

 


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

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

 

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

 

Leading Teams to Greatness – Part 3 – Executing the Plan

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com, How To Change

riding-the-wave-of-change

Planning is very important, but just like the surfer sitting in the lineup at some point you have to actually drop in and ride the waves. For leaders, this idea means we have to carry out the plans we make. Perfect plans don’t accomplish anything–implementing them does!

That surfing maxim came home to me in the deserts of Kuwait of all places. January 2003 was cold and wet in Kuwait. We’d been planning for months and now it was “go” time. While some projects in our construction program were already underway, we were about to embark on a crash program to complete the remainder of the crucially important projects to get our air base ready. In a few weeks, we’d be receiving 5,000 Airmen and Marines, as well as 200 airplanes. I’ll probably never know for certain, but the word was that when our base was fully operational then we’d begin Operation Iraqi Freedom. In other words: the world was literally waiting on us. We needed to execute the plan we’d made, and we’d need to do it right the first time.

In Part 1, we discussed surveying the environment, and in Part 2 we talked about making a plan. Part 3 is all about execution. After you survey the environment and make a plan, you have to put it into action. When in execution, leaders should keep in mind the following :

  1. Steer the implementation – be a leader and do the job.
  2. Anticipate barriers and plan ahead.
  3. Communicate to everyone constantly.

Keep Your Hand on the Stick

Executing any plan requires a leader to be involved in the execution. We hire leaders to make decisions and inspire others–that means during implementation leaders must understand the plan and steer its implementation. They should be visible and involved. It’s very easy for a leader to spend all his time making the plan then be absent during the actual implementation. We absolutely must resist that urge. Of course the amount of involvement depends on the level of responsibility. First line leaders need to be there all the time, in the middle of the action inspiring and leading, solving problems for the team. Other more senior leaders need to be visible, but shouldn’t “hover”; give the first line leaders space to do their jobs. The mid-level leader should be looking further ahead: clearing barriers and ensuring the team has the resources they need while maintaining contact with the team “on the ground.” Executive leaders should be spending most of their time at the enterprise level, without neglecting the need to be visible to the people actually doing the the job. Regardless of level of responsibility, leaders have to lead through the change: measure progress, keep track of resources, monitor morale.

Heads Up

Another key leadership task during implementation is to anticipate barriers and plan ahead. Just like the surfer riding a wave has to watch out for changing surf conditions and other surfers, leaders must be on the lookout for anything that can go wrong. One of my favorite techniques came from Gen Tommy Franks’ memoir American Soldier where he took time each morning to write down three things that could go right or wrong on a given day. Gen Franks kept those lists on an index card on his desk, and refreshed the lists daily. There are other techniques as well, but the point is leaders must be looking up and out–anticipating things that could affect the current operation and making adjustments. It does no good for leaders to be just as surprised as everyone else when something unexpected happens. Rather, by thinking through the plan and anticipating things that can go wrong, leaders can position their teams to either avoid or minimize damage from barriers when they pop up.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

One often overlooked leadership task is communication. Nothing is done in isolation; no matter what we’re doing others are involved. Everything we do–even those thing “individual” tasks–affect others. We need resources, permissions, advocacy, or buy-in. Community groups, unions, shareholders, boards of directors, and even families all have interest and even stake in what we’re doing. Of course there’s also government officials, customers, and suppliers. All these people and more need to know what’s going on. Believe me, if leaders don’t “feed the beast” and communicate, someone else will fill in the blanks! Public officials need a public affairs plans, businesses need to engage with their customers and advertise, and everyone needs to keep their teammates informed. Clearly, there are as many ways to communicate as there are people, but the key point is this: it’s the leader’s responsibility to ensure everyone who needs to know gets the information. Leaders should spend a great deal of their time communicating, and need to do so deliberately.

Across the Finish Line

Just like a surfer watching the wave and adjusting his course as he goes, leaders have to steer their teams all the way to the finish. By leading visibly, anticipating problems, and communicating appropriately leaders can get their teams to mission accomplishment successfully–while being ready for the next wave!


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

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

 

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

 

Respect and the Power of Nice: Setting the Example

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Holidays, Practical Leadership
(photo courtesy Hawaiian Airlines)

There has been considerable talk in the press and in the blogs on the importance of people treating each other with respect. It’s a subject I write about often because it’s central to leaders inspiring people to be their best, and groups forming into high performing teams.

Whether it’s travelling, shopping in a crowd, or just trying to survive that family or social gathering without losing your patience (or a family member!), ‘tis the season for practicing the art of being nice. On a recent flight I got to see the “power of nice” in action.

The boarding and takeoff were uneventful. As we waited for our beverages, I chatted up one of the flight attendants and she made the comment about how nice everyone was being on this flight. I didn’t think I (or anyone else I’d seen for that matter) was being anything other than “normal” polite, but she sure thought so. After she made the comment to me I made a point to listen to how the other passengers were treating each other and the cabin crew. Sure enough, I noticed people deferring to each other, saying “yes Ma’am” and “no Ma’am” to the cabin crew.

I fly a lot, and I see how hard people in the travel industry work to make sure our travel is safe and pleasant. Because of that, I always try to be nice and respectful to the cabin crew. They have a really tough job, frankly are not paid nearly enough, and so it always amazes me when people treat them like–well, not like how they’d like to be treated. Clearly, though, something on this flight was different.

At the end of the flight the flight attendant who’d noticed everyone being extra nice got on the PA and told us we were the nicest group of passengers she’d had and we’d made the flight very pleasant for her. I’m not taking credit, clearly, but I have to wonder how many “splashes of nice” among the passengers it took to ripple among 300 people on a crowded holiday flight. Perhaps it only took a few people to start it, but at the end all 300 hundred of us got off the plane in a much better mood than we started. Great lesson there.

So why did it happen? Maybe it was because it was Thanksgiving, or because we were all being mindful of a fairly vicious political campaign season. Truth be told, it really doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, people decided to be nice and respectful to each other.

It’s a lesson leaders can learn as well. When leaders set the example, the team follows. If you’re surly and short, people around you will be the same. If you’re respectful and positive, your team will follow suit. The key is to set the example and be the sort of person you want those around you to be.

After a rancorous political season, the Christmas holidays offer us an opportunity to reset our attitudes and set a good example. You’ll never know what battle someone is fighting, so be nice.

 


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

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

 

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

 

Leading Teams to Greatness – Part 2 – Making a Plan

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

wpid-patton1-620x519.jpg

“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
General George S. Patton

After all the instruction and practice on the beach, it was time to actually put my board into the ocean and paddle out to the break. I knew how to surf—well, I knew what my instructors taught me–but I’d never actually put my board into the water and paddled it before. I was a little intimidated. The waist high waves weren’t particularly big that day, the sea was smooth and glassy, and the wind was light. I had no reason to be nervous yet there I was hesitating on the beach pretending to continue to watch the waves. My surfing buddy and instructor walked past me and shouted over his shoulder as he put his board in the water, “C’mon Mick! Can’t surf on the beach!”

In my previous post I wrote about the process of understanding the environment to lead change. This month, we’re going to talk about making a plan. Great teams understand the world changes and they need to lead the change to be achieve and remain at the top.

Know Where You’re Headed

Effective leadership requires we establish a clear vision of what future success looks like. Having a vision gives you a clear focus, and can stop you heading in the wrong direction. The world doesn’t stop spinning because we’re planning, so remaining aware and flexible during the planning process is key. Returning to my surfing analogy, once we know where and how the waves are breaking, it’s time to paddle out. When paddling out to the lineup, conditions can change–it’s the ocean after all–so we have to be ready for it. We might go over or under a wave, depending on its size, and we have to be alert for other surfers. This is analogous to the planning process.

The Planning Process

The process of planning a change involves taking the intelligence we developed during the Survey the Environment phase and creating a specific plan with milestones and planned decision points to reach our goal. There’s many methods for planning, but the simplest and most commonly used in the US military is creating a Plan of Action and Milestones–POAM for short. To create a POAM, we need to follow the following steps:

  1. Write a clear definition of your endstate.
  2. Break the job into tasks.
  3. Map the tasks from start to finish
  4. Establish intermediate milestones
  5. Establish intermediate decision points
  6. Establish criteria for passing the milestones and decision points

A couple of those steps are worth a little emphasis: (1) writing a clear definition of your endstate and (6) establishing criteria for passing milestones and decision points. Besides the obvious project management benefits of smart planning, the leadership benefits are what I want to emphasize. Leaders cannot lead if they don’t know where they’re going. You absolutely have to have the end in mind when creating a plan–and believe me no one will follow a leader who doesn’t know where he’s headed! The same is true for establishing intermediate criteria. To effectively maneuver the change once you start to implement you’ll need to be able to know if you’re on track. For example, proceeding with a project might be contingent of raising a given amount of money, or securing the concurrence of local officials, etc.

Prepare for Disruptions

Finally, understand the world will change while you’re planning so be prepared for disruptions. Key to leading teams to greatness during the planning process is anticipating and mitigating problems. Planning for the unexpected and leading through the planning process is an important part of leading change. One of the best illustrations of this idea comes from General Norman H. Schwarzkopf’s memoir It Doesn’t Take a Hero where he wrote about his technique for planning for the unexpected. After he and his staff were caught completely unprepared for helicopter crash, he began to write down each day three bad and good things that might happen based on the day’s activities. It was his way of anticipating trouble and preparing to lead through it.  Planning ahead for road blocks is central to leading teams to greatness.

In my next post, I’ll wrap up the series with a system for implementing the change we’ve planned using this process.

Be sure to check out my “Change Management” Resources Page

Originally posted on General Leadership.com

 


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

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

 

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

 

Monday Motivation – Let Purpose Arise from Relationship

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Monday Motivation

Engage in Dialogue

 


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

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

 

Audio Series Part 4: Teamwork and Little Things Matter

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Podcast

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

The Third & Fifth bricks in the Leading Leaders philosophy we discussed were Teamwork and Little Things Matter.

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

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

 


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

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

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

 

Audio Series: Character Matters! Part 3 All About Leaders

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Podcast

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

 

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

 

Monday Motivation

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Monday Motivation

 

 


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 blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Character Matters Part 2 – Respect

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Podcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 


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

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

 

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

 

Monday Motivation

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Monday Motivation

 

 


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 blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

New Audio Series: Leading Leaders on Character Matters! with Bob Vasquez

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Podcast

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

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

I’ll post these each week for the next four weeks–they’re short and thoughtful conversations on leadership. Enjoy!

 

 

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

 


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

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

 

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

 

Good Feedback Gets High Performance

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

scan0032I missed the block. The defensive end was my guy to block and I missed him, so our quarterback, Louis, ended up on his back. Again. I felt terrible—we were already struggling and now I’d made a mistake that cost us another 10 yards and Louis some undeserved bruises. Finally, I couldn’t hold it back any more, and in the huddle I told everyone that I’d missed the block and that it was my fault. At that point, Tony, our halfback stepped out of the huddle and pointed at the field and gave me some direct feedback, “Mickey, look where we are! Tell me again this is your fault!”

What he meant, of course, was that our inability to move the ball that night was not any one man’s fault—our failure was a team effort. His feedback was direct and honest, and aimed at helping me get over myself and get back to work. It’s a simple example, but it illustrates the point that high performing teams are honest with each other.

Leaders Demand Honest Feedback

Providing—and receiving—good feedback is vital to the performance of any team. Without honest and direct feedback no one gets any better, and everyone remains in their mediocrity believing whatever they want since there’s no voice outside to counter the voice inside. Leaders especially need to make certain we’re both giving and receiving honest feedback. It’s far too easy to “go along to get along” and never improve. High performance requires a good feedback system.

Everyone understands this need for good feedback, even if they don’t want to deliver it or hear it themselves. When we hire a golf instructor or take an art class or learn a musical instrument we ask the teacher/coach to push us to higher performance. In business it’s the same. Why else do we hire coaches and outside experts come into our companies? We hire them to tell us where we’re going wrong and what to do to fix it! Imagine how much more effective those coaches would be if we started from a culture of solid, honest self-assessment?

You’re Doing Fine!

Whenever I’m on the receiving end of feedback where I’m told I don’t need to change anything, I work hard to seek out something I’m doing wrong. I’m not perfect, and I make mistakes and have blind spots like anyone else. That sort of “you’re doing fine feedback” may feel good to deliver, but it doesn’t help anyone. Passing on the opportunity to critically examine my performance is just wasting time.

How Feedback is Done

OK, so now I’ve convinced you to give good feedback, let me show you how to do it right. A good feedback system should:

  • Enable leaders and team members to work together to improve performance
  • Guide professional and even personal development
  • Build trust

That’s a tall order, but these six companies are already breaking new ground by building just such a system. Big companies like General Electric and Cargill demonstrate they understand these principles and their employees are responding. Even the US Air Force is re-vamping their feedback system in order to eliminate the “Firewall 5” ratings and let the real high performers rise to the top. Here’s the tactics to reaching those goals and leading your teams to high performance:

  • Carefully explain your expectations and standards to your team well in advance
  • Give feedback more than once a year, and at least at the mid-term
  • Measure performance against those standards
  • Spend time preparing for the feedback session—review records, emails, etc.
  • Have concrete examples on how the ratee can improve
  • Make suggestions for professional advancement and development
  • Ask for feedback from your ratee—and listen!
  • Be kind!

Give Good Feedback, Get High Performance

Champion athletes and CEOs have one thing in common: they seek and give good feedback. If you want your team to reach high levels of performance, then build a culture where honest feedback is a core value. An honest and consistent feedback system will improve performance because it reduces mistakes and miscommunication. Leaders who show a genuine interest in the professional and personal development of their teams generate good morale, and accomplished teams. All of that build trust—and leads to high performance.


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 blog and GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Dynamic Dozen: Step Up and Step Out

Posted on Posted in GeneralLeadership.com

Maj Dick Winters sought out and accepted responsibility

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

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

Look for Opportunities to Lead

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

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

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

Work Your Boss’ Boss’ Priorities

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

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

Success Means Responsibility

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

Originally posted at GeneralLeadership.com


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

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

How to Build Shared Purpose in Your Team

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Practical Leadership

09.28.2014 (1)“Shared Purpose” is shorthand for getting people connected to the mission of an organization. The most effective leaders are able to build a collective sense of shared purpose and connect each individual to the mission of the larger team. In fact, the teams who think and work together with a sense of shared purpose are the happiest, and the most successful. When leaders keep the welfare and engagement of their teams in the forefront of their decisions, they enable those teams to connect to the mission of the organization. That connection leads to a sense of mission and shared purpose–both keys to high performance.

When Leaders Serve, Teams Connect

In contrast to the Industrial Age, Information Age leaders have to pay attention to the needs of individuals. Those leaders who do, will be giving the individuals in their teams a sense of shared purpose. During the Industrial Revolution, management specialists de-emphasized the needs and variations of individuals in an effort to standardize the product. While standardization and mass-production enabled large scale availability of consumer goods, it often produced, ahem, sub-optimal results in employee morale and even safety. In fact, when we form a caricature of a soul crushing work environment, an industrial age factory or office comes to mind. Thankfully, we’ve learned a few things since the 1940s.

Today’s corporate leaders understand the need to develop their people, facilitate their engagement, and the need for individuals to contribute meaningfully. Good leaders care about their people and give their teams a shared purpose and mission. Companies who repeatedly score highly on “Best Companies to Work For” lists take these principles seriously. In my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, I talked about companies who do this successfully. The data is a little old, but their names will be familiar:

For example, according to CNN Money Magazine, the top three companies to work for in 2012 were Google, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and SAS Institute. Employees at all three companies reported they felt valued by leadership, their work was meaningful, their pay was good, and that the workplace was a fun place to work. Google’s success as an organization is legendary: good pay, self-paced work, and plenty of free food. BCG has a focus on work–life balance, including requiring their employees to take time off, which demonstrates they value their employees’ well being as much as they value their productivity. SAS has a number of programs emphasizing the value of their employees’ well-being, including subsidized Montessori childcare, intramural sports leagues, and unlimited sick time. All three of these companies value their employees and prove that through their HR policies. What’s more, the leaders themselves model the behavior they require of their employees.

In addition to the work environment, 21st Century corporate leaders are getting a renewed sense that their place in the community also requires them to be involved in the common good. More than sponsoring community events, companies who value their contributions to the community are engaged in community service work as a company, and also encourage their employees to engage in individual volunteerism. In this way, corporate leaders help their people connect to the community as individuals and send the message that the company cares about the community as well.

Inspire and Connect

Corporate leaders can be just as successful as military leaders by inspiring and connecting their employees to something larger than just a paycheck. Leaders should demonstrate they care about the people they lead–and understand that leadership is a call to service rather than a mantle of success. No matter whether a company is for-profit or nonprofit, there is a purpose for the company to exist: it performs a service or produces a product people need. If there wasn’t a need, there would be no company. Leaders are responsible for helping their people see that they’re not simply creating paper or making a widget–they’re enabling others and filling a need in others’ lives. SpaceX is an excellent example: they’re going to Mars! Not every company is trying to revolutionize space travel and colonize another planet, but every company produces value or they won’t be in business for long!

Here’s the key: leaders help the employees see the value of the work they’re performing beyond the paycheck they receive each week. If leaders do that, if they truly inspire their teams and connect them to the larger mission and the community they serve, their teams will strive and reach high performance. What’s better, they’ll get there will enough gas in the tank to go farther, and they’ll enjoy the journey as well.


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.

Agility Through Independence

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in How To Change
Battle_of_Guiliford_Courthouse_15_March_1781
Agile networks of American militia overcame legendary British training and discipline.

The buzzword in modern business these days is agility. What does agility mean? It means networks of teams working independently but in unity to accomplish common goals. The hierarchical organization is sometimes a necessary way to structure a company or military unit, but there are very few organizations that can respond rapidly to changing environments if they operate that way.

Wiring Diagram vs Network of Teams

Since the advent of the industrial revolution, hierarchies have been the norm for organizing large organizations. These days the hierarchy is a hindrance rather than a help. Hierarchies are generally slow to change, slow to innovate, and slow to respond when the environment changes. Notwithstanding the ability of a “Great Captain” to inspire large bodies of people to unified effort in a hierarchy, the necessary fixed lines of communication and authority in a “stack of blocks” makes agility difficult.

On the other hand, networks of small teams who support each other and operate semi- or even fully autonomously are extremely agile. They can quickly share information and get to those in authority quickly for decisions they can’t make on their own. Networks with leaders vested with sufficient resource or approval authority can make decisions on behalf of the network and quickly respond to changing conditions.

How to Build a Network of Teams

To build an effective Network of Teams, we need two things: authority to make decisions and a shared purpose.

First, authority must be decentralized to the maximum extent possible. Individual team leaders or team members don’t necessarily need unlimited authority, but each “node” in the network needs sufficient authority to make decisions or commit resources to accomplish their team or organizational mission. It does no good to form a network of teams then vest all the decision-making authority at the C-suite. Each “node” in the Network of Teams is a contact point with customers, suppliers, and other internal nodes. They have to have the ability to respond to the “demand signal” of those they work with, and can’t be in a position of constantly referring to others to satisfy the demands of their customers.

Second, teams must have a shared purpose so they’re aligned with the senior leaders and organizational strategy. To operate as a network, the nodes need to have as much of a defined “lane” as possible but still have enough “freedom of maneuver” to innovate. Multiple complementary nodes operating independently but towards a shared purpose is powerful indeed. The power of a thirty people all thinking, applying their unique skills and perspectives, and working toward a shared purpose is demonstrated–believe it or not–in the way military units operate. Modern military operations are networks of small units all working toward a common end, often over long distances. In some cases they never even see each other, but they share information and provide mutual support–innovating as they go–based on a common mission and commander’s intent.

Networks of Teams are Agile

The net result of using these networks is an organization that can rapidly respond to change, has “crowd-sourced intelligence,” and learns as it goes. That’s the very definition of agility, and that’s what the 21st century demands of leaders.


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.