Global Success Means Cultural Literacy

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Practical Leadership


In my line of work, I travel quite a bit. I’ve lived in a number of different places around the country and around the world, and I’ve seen a great deal of the world. One of the many benefits of living that way over the past 27 years is a deep appreciation for cultural literacy. To be culturally literate is to seek to bridge cultural gaps by doing your best to understand another’s culture–their language, social customs, and history. It cannot be done from afar, it must be done in person.

WaPo blogger Christopher Ingraham learned that lesson first-hand after writing a piece translating the USDA rankings for natural amenities into a declarative statement calling Red Lake County, MN, “The absolute worst place to live in America.” Commendably he traveled there and saw the place, met the people, and breathed in the air–and predictably, he came away with a different point of view. Minnesota and Washington DC are both in the USA of course, but it was a micro-lesson in cultural literacy, and a lesson in seeing beyond mere data from charts and reports.

Says Mr Ingraham:

I was worried that 36 hours would be too long a visit, that we’d run out of things to say or do and end up sitting in silence, staring at corn. But I left feeling like I’d barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and know about the county and the people who call it home.

To a certain degree, I suppose, we all suffer from an urge to be, well, provincial in the way we view others. After all people are different–we live in vastly different places, dress differently, speak differently, worship differently, and eat different foods. The diversity of humanity is so expansive; anthropologists spend lifetimes and fill volumes with what we know and what we are learning. I’ve had the privilege of seeing that diversity first hand by meeting and interacting with people from all corners of the globe during my service in the Air Force. Sometimes it’s be daunting–how will we ever bridge the gap between our own lived experience and the people we meet for whom what we take for granted they marvel as if it were magic? Is it even necessary to try to be culturally literate?

For leaders, it’s extremely necessary.

…from the sole proprietor all the way to the C-suite, not being culturally literate is synonymous with being left out of the marketplace.

Global mobility and a global marketplace mean we are in contact with people who aren’t like us, usually daily. An entrepreneur in Europe can contract with a manufacturing plant in Mexico or China, then sell the product in America, with social media and PR assistance from freelancers in the Philippines or India. That means that everyone from the sole proprietor all the way to the C-suite, not being culturally literate is synonymous with being left out of the marketplace. It’s certainly true that military leaders have to be culturally literate as we work with our allies and partners across the globe to maintain the peace and fight extremism. For all of us, particularly for leaders, learning to meet people where they are and find common ground and common purpose is a prerequisite for high performance.  To do that, we have to engage personally, and recognize each of us has something to offer. Not everyone is a perfect fit, of course, but we can’t let external differences keep us from leading teams to high performance. And of course, “teams” can be everywhere if we look.

Cultural literacy is a bridge to performance and teamwork.

My experience as an Air Force officer has borne out the idea that cultural literacy builds teams. Time I spent making an effort to be culturally literate was always valuable. Being aware of local customs, religious sensitivities, and history are all ways to become a better guest–or host as the case may be. Even something as small as learning a few phrases in another’s language like “yes”, “no”, “please”, and “thank you” is a bridge to greater understanding and teamwork. Each time I step into another’s world and walk around a bit, I appreciate their point of view. That sometimes becomes a shared view, even if it’s only a slice of each other’s culture, helps each of us find common ground. Cultural literacy is a bridge to performance and teamwork.

After travelling so many different places during my career, I still find that despite the even significant cultural differences, most people want the same thing: honest work, to raise their families in peace, and enjoy their lives. When we find common ground through our shared human values (e.g. Truth, Beauty, Love, etc.) we can build a team from the most unlikely and diverse groups. Cultural literacy helps leaders build strong connective tissue, and that enables them to lead teams to high performance.

Living and Leading with Authenticity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

In the marketplace, more and more people are now seeking authenticity, and whole industries have grown up in the last ten years to meet that need. The demand for artisan products ranging from spirits to furniture to health care products has grown significantly. “Authentic” connotes something that’s real, something that’s connected to the world around it, and something that’s honest. When we seek out “authentic” restaurants, we are looking for something made by humans rather than stamped out in a factory and re-heated. When we purchase “authentic” antiques, we want a piece that is actually from that other time and place, not a replica. In other words, when we seek “authenticity” we’re seeking something real, tangible, and connected to the world around us. In an age when privacy is difficult to come by and it’s hard to predict what can go viral in an instant, people are also seeking authenticity in their work and their leaders. They’re seeking that authenticity, I think, because despite the electrons whizzing about in the air, people still have a fundamental need to connect to each other and the world in tangible ways.

Authentic in the context of “living and leading” is just like that handmade loaf of bread from Mom’s kitchen or the reclaimed shiplap on the wall of the newly renovated home: it means being a leader who is real, connected, and honest. An authentic leader is mindful of both the common good and individual good. An authentic leader both requires respect and gives it. An authentic leader is the same person on Monday morning as they were on Sunday morning or Friday night, and they intend to do good rather than just avoiding doing wrong. They are the same person from day to day–they assure people around them their “face” is in fact their “person” and mean it. An authentic leader will put others before themselves, and they will always seek to leave their teams and their organizations better than they found them.

Leaders also have a responsibility to husband their own personal resources and set a good example of character to lead their teams to high performance. In the military, we call that “walking the talk,” but that same principle is played out in all occupations and every endeavor daily. As leaders, we must never ask someone to do something we are unwilling to do ourselves. We follow the rules we set for others, and we are willing to roll up our sleeves and help our teammates out when it’s necessary. Truly, who wants work for someone who is not who they pretend to be? Who wants to follow someone who can’t relate to their teammates as human beings, or is unwilling to follow their own rules? The answer: no one wants to follow a leader like that–at least not for very long–no matter how many digits in the paycheck.

In my upcoming book, The Five Be’s, I discuss my philosophy for living an authentic life. The Five Be’s are Be Proud, Be Free, Be Virtuous, Be Balanced, and Be Courageous, and the underlying principle is living and leading authentically. It’s a talk I used to give to the new Airmen when they were freshly arrived at my unit, where I offered them a positive vision after months or years of hearing little else but “don’t” and “no.” I think it’s applicable to all age groups, not just the young ones, because each of us must wake and make decisions daily about what gets our energy that day. Living authentically and The Five Be’s is certainly a philosophy applicable for leaders who want to be their best and get the best from their teams. Good character and authenticity are perquisites for good leadership.

It’s central to good leadership to set the example by being authentic, and encouraging our teams to do the same. While sometimes, the job we’re doing requires personal sacrifice and the proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears,” leaders cannot be blind to the human factor in every equation. Leadership, after all, is primarily a human endeavor. We must remember our people can’t give 110% all the time; no one can give more than they have. So while that “110%” cliché is a helpful metaphor for “maximum effort” it can’t be a reasonable way to live or work. If we sprint all the time, we won’t have any energy for the sprint when it’s really necessary. An authentic leader–or any person striving to live an authentic life–understands that truism. Work hard and work smart, but remember to sprint only when you have to do so.  If we’re real and not two-faced, if we connect to the people and world around us, if we’re honest with others and ourselves then we’re living and leading authentically. Doing that will lead enable us to lead our teams to high performance, and will make sure we get everyone to the finish line together–including ourselves. Authentic leaders are honest to themselves and their teammates, and they remember they are part of a team, a family, and a community that also deserve some of their energy. The authentic leader is able to stay connected, even in the hardest times.

Living authentically—real, connected, honest– is a formula for success in business and in life.

Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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Leaders Pay Attention to the Little Things

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership


“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” That’s what leaders hear constantly as we’re challenged to keep a strategic focus. It’s generally good advice, particularly for senior or executive leaders, but the maxim to keep your eyes on the horizon is not carte blanche to ignore relevant details. The real trick is to figure out which details are the important ones. Just like driving a car, we have to both keep our eyes on the road, and mind the instrument panel. We can’t simply stare at the horizon without watching our speed and engine temperature, nor can we keep our eyes inside the car without watching where we’re going.

In my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, I share an extreme example to prove the point that some details are important:

In 2000 Air France Flight 4590 crashed on takeoff, killing all aboard. Ultimately, 113 people were killed and a $107 million aircraft was lost because a 17-inch long by 1-inch wide strip of metal on the runway punctured the fuel tank, starting a fire that ultimately caused the Concorde to crash. The investigation later determined that the metal strip that fell from the aircraft that took off just prior to the Concorde, the one that caused the deaths of 113 people, came from an engine of a DC-10 from Houston. The crash investigation determined that the strip of metal was neither manufactured nor installed properly. The inattention of the maintenance crews in Houston, 5,300 miles away, resulted in a disaster in Paris months later.

I know that an aircraft crash is an extreme example—most of us will not fly a $107 million Concorde—but it illustrates how a seemingly small detail can have very big consequences.

In any sufficiently large organization, there are details that matter and details that don’t. Senior leaders will drive organizational behavior by what things get their attention. If the executive pays attention to “queep” then the entire organization gets dragged into the quagmire of collecting and measuring meaningless data. Conversely, if the data gathered and measured is actionable and relevant to the strategic direction of the organization, then that organization will grow and thrive. So how do you know which details are relevant and which are “queep?”

I’ve found it productive to ask myself two questions when selecting which details to track as a senior leader:

Does it help me (not my subordinates) make decisions?

Does it inform my intelligence about the organization?

Helping Me Make Decisions—Not My Subordinates. In an information saturated environment, it’s very easy for executives to put their teams into “Powerpoint Hell” gathering data and preparing charts for no purpose. Avoid the temptation to gather data just because you can. Leaders have to understand that just because the data is available doesn’t mean it’s relevant. Data gathering and analysis consumes staff time and money–gathering the wrong data wastes both. In general, details that help me make decisions about the strategic direction of the enterprise are those that expend dollars or manpower, or both, on progress toward the organizational goals. Senior leaders need only focus on those details that directly influence strategic decisions. Those details could be anything, but are generally resource-related. The trick is not to attempt to manage all details…but rather only the critical ones. Process analysis tools like process mapping or critical path evaluation are ways to help figure out what’s driving organizational performance.

Informing My Intelligence About the Organization. Besides charting the course for the organization, leaders also have to care for the people in their charge. Understanding the health of the organization requires leaders to pay attention to details as well, but different sorts of details than performance metrics. Even high performing teams will lose their edge if leaders ignore the morale and welfare concerns of the people. In this regard, seemingly unimportant details can significantly affect the team. If executives find team members haven’t heard their message because mid- and low-level leaders in the organization aren’t communicating, if organizational policies and procedures are ignored, if staff payroll suddenly shows a big change in sick leave or vacation time taken, then executives must sit up and take notice. These are all indicators that something is amiss. Whenever I took over an organization, I made it a point to visit all the work areas and meet the people. I could tell a great deal about the health of the organization by seeing people in their environment, and taking a peek at their work centers. If the bulletin board was out of date, or the area was sloppy, or people seemed reluctant to talk, I was sure there was a problem that required my attention. It’s hard for busy senior leaders to get “out and about,” but get out they must–and on a regular basis.

Details matter. Not all details, of course, and there isn’t a checklist to determine which ones are important and which ones are “queep.” Smart leaders know when to check their speedometer, and when to keep their eyes on the road.

Leading Through Tragedy – Part 2

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders, Mickeys Rules

In the first part, I discussed leaders’ role in guiding an organization through tragedy. But what if it’s you that suffers the tragedy? How do you continue to lead when a personal disaster depletes your attention and energy?

The first thing to remember is if it’s a big deal to you, it probably a big deal. A death in the family, a wayward child, conflict with a neighbor or family member, even a serious accident, can all cause significant disruption in our ability to lead (or even function at all!). There are as many different types of personal calamity as there are people, and just because you’ve “shaken off” a similar event in your life before or others seem to have “handled it,” doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal now to you. Clearly, not everything bad is a life-changing event and sometimes a little perspective is all that’s needed to get through tough times. Nonetheless, simply “gutting it out” is not a universal solution  to personal tragedy (or even a preferred solution!). So even recognizing people can sometimes blow things out of proportion, serious personal issues can and do affect everyone regardless of their role, status, or position. In other words, everyone is human and no one expects you to be super-human.

Recognizing you are subject to the same human frailties as the mortals around you will enable you to get help when you need it, and remain approachable to those around you. Keeping emotions bottled up and living inside your head helps no one, least of all you. If you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, then ask for help. That help can come from clergy, counselors, or friends. Sometimes just talking to someone is enough, sometimes you might need professional help, and sometimes you just need a break. Whatever form it takes, getting help shows strength and maturity. If you allow yourself to spiral into deeper disaster because you didn’t seek out the help, your personal damage will deepen and consume those around you as well. Your work, your colleagues, and most importantly, your family will all suffer. Don’t add calamity to catastrophe because you tried to carry everything around on your own. Of course, some things just can’t be fixed. Having the help of others during the time when you’re grieving and recovering is vital.

As leaders, even during tough times we cannot entirely divorce ourselves from our responsibility to lead. We have a responsibility to many others: teammates, organizations, and our families. We have to recognize when we’re unable to function and deal with those issues in the best way possible. If you’re stressed out as a leader, you’ll do no one any good: you’ll make poor decisions, and you’re likely to be short or rude to others (usually at the worst possible moment). If as a leader, you’ve let the stress get to the point–or circumstances have put you in the position–of simply being unable to execute your duties, then you have a responsibility to step aside for everyone else’s good as well as your own. Hopefully it won’t be a permanent change, but regardless of the amount of time, and even in dire circumstances leaders have to be mindful of their responsibility to others. Whether it’s a little time off, a leave of absence, or a resignation you owe your teammates and the organization the courtesy of removing yourself if you can’t function.

Finally, it’s also important to allow your colleagues and subordinates some knowledge of what’s going on with you. You certainly don’t have to let everyone know every detail of your life, but if you’ve had a death in the family or something of that sort, it’s perfectly OK to share that you’re dealing with a personal catastrophe. It will help your team to understand why you’re not yourself, and you might be surprised at the support you’ll receive from unlikely places. If you’ve cared for others during their own personal tragedies, that kindness and concern will be returned. Be gracious and accept it–after all, when you offered your own support to others they did the same. You’ll also set a good example for others to follow.

Leading an organization when you’re suffering is doubly difficult. Taking time to heal and getting help for yourself is just as necessary for leaders as it is for those we lead. Don’t shortchange yourself or your team when personal tragedy strikes; instead be the leader who follows his own advice.

5 Things Your Boss Wants You To Know

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Advice Column, Leading Leaders

This time of year I always feel compelled to write advice for young people. Maybe it’s just the season, or maybe it’s I was always a little slow on the uptake as a young person. I made a few avoidable mistakes that if I’d just gotten a little help at the beginning perhaps wouldn’t have happened.

If you’re a high school or college-age person and just entering the workforce, then I have some words just for you today. It’s stuff I wish I’d known–that everyone else seemed to know intuitively.

1. Have Values and Stick to Them

The most important thing you can do is have a moral core and stick to it. This is not always an easy thing to do; it requires courage and fortitude. A contract to work in an organization is not a requirement to compromise your values. While every decision is not a moral crisis, there might arise a decision to participate in something that would tempt you to compromise on your beliefs and values. Don’t give in to that temptation. No job, no matter how much you’re paid or how lovely your co-workers, is worth compromising your integrity. Be an adult about it and go to your boss politely and forthrightly and tell them you can’t do such-and-such because it would cause you a moral dilemma. It might be a simple misunderstanding, or your boss might have not understood the implications of what he/she asked you to do–but your conscience should demand you defend your values. It might mean parting ways with the company. If that’s true, then you can do that secure in the knowledge you kept your integrity. That’s no small thing.

2. Don’t Follow the Crowd–Unless the Crowd is Right

At commencement speeches across the planet, speakers exhort graduates are to “make your own way” and “don’t follow the crowd.” That’s generally good advice; but like all advice, you have to take it both in the context of your own experience and the place you’re implementing it. Sometimes, the “crowd” is “right!  Never compromise your morals or your integrity, BUT “make your own way” is not license to violate the company dress code or evangelize your co-workers to your own brand of politics. Social norms and company policy, like protocol and tradition, exist to make people feel comfortable and help people get along. You don’t have to be a “Stepford Employee,” nor do you have to conform to your employer’s or your colleagues’ political or religious beliefs–but you do have to be polite and do your best to fit in.

3. Take Chances

Did I just contradict myself? No, I did not–growing in your profession and personal life means taking chances. Take on work that stretches you, offer your friendship to the workplace loaner, get involved in the professional society or group supporting your industry–these are the sorts of things employers and leaders notice, and the sorts of things that help you grow as a person. “Taking Chances” doesn’t mean making potentially personally destructive choices, but taking chances professionally and personally can help you grow into the person you want to be.

4. “Don’t Be Stupid”

When I first began CrossFit, I read the rules on the message board, and came across this gem: “Don’t Be Stupid.” I found this to be excellent advice. Any new thing will have activities for the beginner and for the advanced practitioner–know where you fall on that continuum. If you’re a beginner, start there then as you prove your ability to yourself you can move up. It’s always better to be adding weight to the bar than being out of action for weeks because you injured yourself on your first set.

5. Believe Your Eyes

Fight hard for what you believe in personally and professionally, but when you lose the argument and someone above you makes a decision, then move out and get it done. The corollary to this rule is when you see a bad outcome to a project or decision, then believe it to be true. I’ve worked with too many people who either disagreed with a decision made by higher ups or simply didn’t have the vision to see what was plain to others. They’d make some impassioned plea as to “Why Things Were Not What They Seemed” which is another way of saying, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” That attitude is the opposite of helpful, and it both delays the inevitable and destroys the effectiveness of the organization.  Live in this world.

BONUS: 6. Be On Time, Give A Full Day’s Work

I know…this is “six” when I only said “five,” but for your new boss this last piece of advice is very important and frankly should be a given. The fact that it’s not a baseline of common behavior means old guys like me have to write it: be on time. On time means you’re ready to work when the office/shop opens, and you’re not walking in at 7:59 for an 8 o’clock start.  In the military, we have a saying: “If you’re not early, you’re late.” If your workday starts at 8 a.m., then you should be at your place of business at 7:45 a.m. Believe me, you’ll feel much better if you’re not racing to be “on time” and your boss will notice who’s committed to the work and who’s not. Your boss hired you because she/he wants your skills and your effort–don’t change their opinion of you because you are dashing in the door at the last minute. Then, by all means give your employer a full days’ work.

Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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

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Join Me at JETC 2015! – UPDATED

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Announcements, Conferences, Speaking



I’m excited to be presenting at the Society of American Military Engineers’ JETC 2015 next week in Houston, Texas!

As a Life Member, it’s a privilege to serve my Society by leading a Speed Mentoring session, moderating a panel on Theater Security Engagement World-Wide in the Contingency Engineering Track, and presenting “The Five Be’s” in the Leadership and Business Development Track.  Please join me if you can!

Mentoring Program for Young Members, NCOs and Fellows: Tues, 19 May, 2:45-5:15 pm

Theater Security Engagement Worldwide: Wed, 20 May, 10:30-11:30 am

The Five Be’s: Thurs, 21 May, 9:30-10:30 am

Download the full JETC agenda here.

Register here.


5/19: THANKS to all the SAME Fellows, members, and Young Members who participated in the Mentoring workshop yesterday!


10 hours of education and training sessions filled up the afternoon of Day 1 at JETC, along with a Speed Mentoring event led by Col. Mickey Addison, USAF, who also is an accomplished author and speaker. The mentoring event brought together SAME Fellows and Young Members for a discussion of what mentoring really is, then it mixed the audience up throughout the room for candid discussion and networking.

5/20: We had a super panel for Theater Security Engagement Worldwide on Wednesday. Thanks to our reps from PACAF, SOUTHCOM, AFRICOM, Bridges To Prosperity, & CENTCOM.

5/21: Concluded with an engaging conversation about leadership and values during The Five Be’s session. I was super impressed with the level of discussion by the attendees!

Creating a Culture of Respect

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maxresdefaultIn my last article at, I wrote about how integrity is the very foundation of leadership. Extending that analogy, if Integrity is the “foundation” then Respect is the “walls” of a well-led organization.

So, what does “Respect” mean for a leader and how does a leader create a culture of respect in the organization?

In my mind, the four walls of “Respect” are: (1) the inherent dignity each human person has simply by virtue of being a human being, (2) the respect each leader must earn through their actions, (3) the respect for each others’ views and values leaders must require, and (4) the respect for the organization leaders must create. We’ll take each one in turn.

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Integrity Is The Cornerstone of Leadership

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cadetwilsonIntegrity must be at the core of who we are as leaders if we’re to successfully inspire confidence in our teams. Because leadership is fundamentally about human relationships, integrity must be the very cornerstone of any leader’s foundation. In every aspect of our lives we depend on the integrity of others, and others do the same for us. We count on stores to give us fair prices, on students to do their own work, and athletes to play by the rules. That’s why it’s such a big deal when there is a breach of integrity like a public lie or the discovery someone we trust isn’t playing by the rules. A leader who lacks integrity is headed for disaster; leaders who lead with integrity are the ones we truly value.

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Learning from Starbucks About Mission

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs

starbucks logoOne of my core tenets is leaders must give teams a sense of mission:

In my book Leading Leaders, I recount the story of a friend of mine who took over leadership of a volunteer re-sale shop.

“She and her leadership team began by listening to the volunteers and addressed their personal concerns about the rigidity of the workplace, and then went on a communication campaign to remind all the volunteers why they were there. It was an effective leadership style but it required a great deal of work on her part to get the organization moving again. When she turned over leadership to her successor, the volunteers were happy and the resale shop was thriving again. It’s amazing what a great leader can do when she connects with her people and then connects them to the mission.”

Apparently, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and I are on the same page in this regard, for which I’m grateful every time I stop in at my local Starbucks for a cappuccino.  Listed first on a list of 12 business lessons from the global coffee giant is “mission.”

1. Have a Mission

Starbucks has one simple mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

That mission statement has served the company for more than four decades, because Starbucks is more than just a coffeehouse. It’s become an escape for anyone needing a break from the daily grind. It’s become a centralized meeting location for friends to catch up and business people to have meetings.

Starbucks wanted to provide people–no matter their age, profession, or location–with a unique experience: the coffeehouse as a place to relax, work, and socialize.

I’ve always believed one of a leader’s most important jobs is to give the team a sense of mission.  It’s the reason military units have such good espirit de corps, and will hang together even under the most dire circumstances. As a leader you have to have a vision, communicate it clearly, and then cheer on your team as they move toward the goal. If your people believe in the mission of your company, they’ll work very hard. If they believe in you as their leader as well, they’ll get to the goal with smiles and ready for the next challenge.


The Five Be’s

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership, The Five Be's

I’ve noticed organizations and institutions spend a lot of time telling young people the “don’ts”, we spend very little time telling them the “do’s”, or who we want them to be. The rules are important, everyone needs boundaries, but if we don’t give our young people some positive vision of the kind of people we want them to become then we’re setting the bar very low.  Aspiration to become a person of character is more important than rules, because the reason the rules exist in the first place is to inspire people to reach goals and achieve.

Photo credit:

Over the years leading young adults and teens both in the military and out, I developed “The Five Be’s” as a way to communicate who I wanted them to be. The Five Be’s are my vision for what a grounded, healthy adult looks like. It’s my hope young people will be inspired to “be all they can be” and live integrated lives of consequence and character.

1. Be Proud Of Who You Are.

Each person has something about them that makes them special. A person’s path through life and the sum of their experiences, good or bad, make them who they are. Everyone has something to contribute.

2. Be Free.

Never be a slave to your own passions or appetites, and the same goes for others. Being truly free doesn’t mean “anything goes,” it means being able to choose what’s good for you. There is a difference between “freedom” and “license”; being free means being able to know right from wrong, and freely choose right over wrong.

3. Be Virtuous.

The view of virtue we accept in 21st Century America has a long history in the West, beginning with the ancient Greek philosophers and tracing its path through Western civilization. These Cardinal Virtues remain a part of our conversation today because they work: healthy and successful people often display these qualities.

There are four Classical “Cardinal” or principal virtues:

Prudence – making the right decisions

Justice – doing what’s right

Restraint – taking/doing only enough and not overdoing it

Fortitude – enduring trials

4. Be Balanced.

Keeping all aspects of life in the proper perspective is a great pathway to success. A healthy work ethic in balance with home life and personal development is a great recipe for a successful person. What’s more, people with their life in balance have the ability to “sprint” when the need arises.

5. Be Courageous.

Unless you’re a emergency responder or military servicemember then it’s not likely most people will need to demonstrate physical courage. However, most of us are called to demonstrate moral courage regularly. Do we sign out on the report or do the inventory? Admit our mistake or cover it up? Confront inappropriate behavior or turn or heads?  Developing courage when it’s necessary is important for a leader and at every stage in life.


Thanks NAVFAC Hawaii!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Speaking

PBNAVFAC EmblemThanks to CAPT Michael Williamson, CO of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii for inviting me to speak during their leadership series yesterday!  Great discussion about my one of my favorite topics: leadership! My host for the day was the XO, CAPT Ed Sewester, and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share my perspective on leadership with a group of Navy civil service and Air Force engineer officers from the joint base.



Moral Courage

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Most of us will never lead troops in combat or run into a burning building to save someone, so physical courage is not something that will ordinarily be required of us. Moral courage, however, is required of everyone daily. Daily decisions about how to do our jobs and live our lives form us into the kind of person that we are. Individual decisions certainly have more or less weight in importance, but nonetheless they contribute to our character. Do we do the inspection or merely sign off on the form? Perform the inventory or just guess at how much is there? Do we take time to do a proper performance review for our employees, or do we just have coffee and “call it even”?

Poor decisions can aggregate into poor performance. Not doing an inspection of a piece of equipment may mean that we miss a safety issue that could be dangerous.  Failing to count the number of widgets on the shelf could lead to lost sales, or worse, someone being falsely accused of theft. A leader who fails to do proper employee feedback could inadvertently encourage bad behavior by subordinates.

Moral courage is more than just following company policy; it’s also having the courage to act in a situation where there’s injustice. In 2013 Michael Garcia, a waiter at a Houston restaurant, refused to serve a customer who he felt was being disrespectful to a special needs child at another table. It was a risk because his boss could’ve fired him, but Mr. Garcia believed he was standing up for a person who was unable to stand up for himself. The customers left the restaurant, and the special needs child’s family wasn’t even aware of the exchange. Mr. Garcia became a hero to that family and to the families of special needs kids around the country. In the process, the restaurant got some free publicity, and the city of Houston got an example of how to concretely demonstrate respect.

Another employee didn’t get the same response as Mr. Garcia, demonstrating why it sometimes takes courage to act. Twyla DeVito of Shelby, Ohio, watched a regular patron and board member at the American Legion post where she worked get into a car appearing to her to be drunk, and so she called the police.  She was subsequently fired by the Post Commander for her actions. DeVito defended her actions by saying, “If he had gotten in a wreck that would have been on me, because I was on my shift…I chose to possibly save a life.” I’m certainly not going to second guess either her decision or her boss’, but the entire situation serves to illustrate that sometimes there are no “good” decisions; there are only “least worst” decisions. Ms. DeVito had the moral courage to follow her convictions and do what she thought was right.

Practicing moral courage daily might not make a person a hero, but will work wonders for a leader who wants to encourage character in their subordinates.