Leaders Need to Know the Truth

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Holding to consistent ethics and morals is vital for leaders

Truth? What is Truth?

Senior leaders have great responsibility for being able to sort out fact from fiction, and apply those ethics in their decisions. There’s a scene in the the film The Passion of the Christ where Jesus is speaking with Pilate about “truth” that illustrates the point.

When Jesus tells Pilate that He is a “witness to the truth” and Pilate retorts “what is truth?”, we see a leader who us un-moored to objective right and wrong. In the following scene, Pilate debates the subject again with his wife Claudia. When Claudia implores him not to find Jesus guilty just to satisfy the crowd, Pilate asks her whether she can explain to him what “truth” means. She takes his face in his hands and tells him that if can’t see it, no one can explain it to him. Pilate then goes on to explain “his” truth, but what he fails at is having a starting place beyond the consequences of a given decision.

Pilate is unable to see that in condemning an innocent man to death, he is breaching the Truth of right and wrong. Of course the decision is difficult – he was facing another rebellion in a crowded city and Caesar had warned him more than once about controlling the province. But in giving in and “washing his hands” of the death of Jesus, he neither prevented unrest nor showed strength to the citizens of Jerusalem. Instead, he’s remembered as the villain who failed to do what’s right, and lost his own wife in the process.

The central lesson here is that there is such a thing as objective truth, and there is the lived experience of leaders trying to navigate ambiguous situations. Having a good foundation in ethics, morals, and objective truth is very important. Holding to those is even more important

Fact, Opinion, Perspective, Truth

The more senior I went in the Air Force, the more times I was presented with decisions that required separating fact from fiction, opinion from truth, and finding the correct perspective from which to view the decision. Starting from a consistent ethic and moral foundation is the only way to make tough decisions rationally and correctly.

Another film reference to illustrate the point: In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, we see Tevye struggle to apply what he knows is true with the messiness of human existence. He has many conversations with himself weighing the values he holds dear with the needs and wants of his daughters. In the end, he makes the best decisions he can in an imperfect world, while holding true to his faith and his duty as a husband and father. His decisions aren’t perfect, but by starting from a place of certainty -what’s right and what’s wrong – then applying those principles in love and mercy, he does what’s right in the end.

It’s the same with leaders, especially senior ones. We must hold fast to our ethics, and our morals, but we need to remember that real humans are involved. Some of the most difficult decisions I ever made as a leader were between two decisions that were best described as “bad” and “worse.” Making those decisions is crucial for leaders, and ensuring that even when a situation has negative consequences the decision is based on consistent ethics.

There is Such a Thing as Right and Wrong

Objective truth – things that are true no matter the situation – has had a rough run of late. The popular meme of “speaking my truth” rather than “speaking the truth” illustrates an approach where we avoid drawing conclusions about decisions and behavior. In the military, we learned to separate the person from the action, and to base our decisions on a consistent ethic. I sometimes had to visit negative consequences on people who I liked, or who were generally good people. Sometimes good people make horrible and even criminal decisions, and while every offense isn’t a mortal sin, people notice when leaders don’t hold others accountable for their actions. The key is to remember the people you’re dealing with are humans, and to address the behavior rather than engaging in character assassination.

There are things we know in our hearts are always wrong. Intentionally killing an innocent, stealing, cheating, lying, etc. are all objectively wrong. The situation may mitigate the consequences, but there must almost always be consequences for our actions. The classic example is the man who breaks into a pharmacy to get medicine for a dying person in an emergency. A window is broken, but a life is saved. Theft and destruction of others’ property is always wrong, but the consequences for this would be different than the dealer who breaks in to steal drugs he plans to sell illegally.

We Know, We Act

We usually know what’s right and wrong instinctively, and we need hold to that moral core as leaders if we ever intend to inspire others to act morally. As I’ve written in Leading Leaders, a breach of integrity is like mildew, the place gets stinky if you don’t clean it up quickly. When we get that little “twinge” of conscience that something is wrong, we should listen carefully. It’s not wrong to be tempted; it’s only wrong to act on that temptation to violate our integrity.


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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Spit Out the Seeds

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Life is about enjoying the sweet stuff and getting rid of stuff you can’t digest.

There is something very “summer” about having a slice of ice cold watermelon on a hot summer day. Seedless watermelons are ok, I guess, but nothing beats a good old Big Stripe watermelon for sweetness. There’s really no way to eat around the seeds, though, or cut them out. In most cases you just have to take a bite and spit out the seeds.

Life is Like That Too

Anyone who tells you they never meet with adversity or have to deal with unpleasantness is either lying or lives in alone and never goes outside. Life is not always fun, and embedded in the sweetness of it all are the seeds of conflict and vice. There are many ways to approach those things: we can avoid the sweetness and live in solitary, or we can start eating lots of “seeds” and embrace life that’s not perfect. A better way to live, I think, is to take a big bite and then spit out the seeds we don’t like.

Life is just too short to miss out on the melon because you can’t stand the seeds. The lie of the modern age is we have to live in a world where everything lines up with our beliefs. Trust me, that ain’t happenin’ this side of Heaven. Our world is full of the seeds of vice, cruelty, and despair. Misery and sin are simply part of the human condition as a consequence of our fallen nature and our human freedom. The question we should be asking ourselves, however, is whether we’re going to let that get us down, or prevent us from being the leaders and the persons we are meant to be.

I Don’t Want to be Around Those People

I have a friend who would never want to live in certain parts of the country because they don’t believe they could handle their neighbors’ views on lifestyle and politics, even though the climate and scenery suited them. In the parlance of my Dad, I think my friend is “cutting off his own nose to spite his face.” In other words, my friend’s decision to isolate themselves from people who he disagrees with is in the end, self defeating.

There is probably no place on earth where one can be surrounded by others who agree with them on everything. Trying to find that place is ultimately isolating and self-defeating. We have to re-learn how to “spit out the seeds.” One of the ironies of the Information Age is it’s far too easy to isolate ourselves and live in an echo chamber of our own biases and beliefs. If we are to truly grow as a human being, and therefore be more effective as a leader, we need to learn how to listen to other points of view. We needn’t abandon any of our principles, but we should understand that none of us is perfect.

There’s Plenty of Melon for Everyone

Too often people present leaders binary choices where the choices are not “either/or” but “both/and.” The more senior we get, the less the choices are binary. Sometimes there simply are no “best” choices, only “bad ones,” and we have to choose between the “worst, less worst, and the “least worst” choice.

It’s the same when dealing with people we disagree with. You can (usually) pick your friends, but you can almost never pick your neighbors or business associates. We don’t have to agree with everything our friends and neighbors do, we can only control our own behavior and how we respond to others. I’ve written about this before (see my post about Andy Taylor) and the gist is this: learn to get along with people you disagree with, even vehemently.

We don’t have to agree with each other on everything; heck, we don’t even have to like each other. But as leaders and adults, we have to learn how to get along and get our work done. Be moral, be ethical, and by all means be lawful, but learn how to talk to people you don’t agree with nicely.

It’s just like that watermelon: there’s plenty for everyone, no need to quarrel over how it’s cut. Just enjoy the melon and spit out the seeds.


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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Swing Easy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

I’ve always been a below average golfer. I play just well enough to (mostly) enjoy the game and just poorly enough to avoid telling anyone my score. It’s my swing: I’ve got a terrible slice because, among other things, I have a hard time not gripping the club too tightly. When I can relax and “swing easy” to let the gravity accelerate the club head and properly rotate my wrists, I can hit the ball long and straight. When I “strangle the club” by gripping too tightly, my shot is a slice (or worse).

Like all good sports truisms, “don’t strangle the club” is a great metaphor for leaders.

You Don’t Have to Control Everything

The transition from “first line” leader to “executive” is difficult, and many leaders never make the transition.  I’ve been around many organizations where leaders had to transition from “startup mode” where the leader does everything, to “leading leaders” mode where authority and responsibility get pushed out to other team members. That transition is hard because when one goes from leading a small team to a large one, the leader at the top’s role changes. Some don’t recognize the need for that change, and they can’t stop “strangling the club” by holding onto decisions others should make, or being involved in everything.

Just like holding onto the club too tightly sends the ball careening off the course wildly, so will a leader who is holding on too tightly divert the team from their mission. The more senior the leader, the less one has to be in control over everything. Mid-level and senior leaders should always remember they’re leading other leaders and need to allow those people the chance to do their jobs. Constantly badgering them for information, demanding to be involved in every decision, or requiring them to create reports to “keep me informed” is a recipe for the organization to depart the fairway.

Learn to Coach not Direct

The more senior you get, the more you need to lead with a coaching style. Crisis situations often demand directive leadership, but let’s face it, those situations are few and far between.  A coach’s job is to prepare the team and offer corrections when the team is foundering. The coach doesn’t play the game for the team, and a coach never enters the field of play.

My golf coach spent time with me on the driving range, gently correcting my grip, my stance, and my swing. He’d ask questions and watch me swing to diagnose my problems. But he never swings for me.

The same is true for leaders. Every leader above the first line level, and especially executive leaders, must learn to be a coach. Sometimes that coach can be directive and sometimes that coach can be inspirational, but the coach can never take over unless the circumstances are dire. When leaders step in and push subordinate leaders aside, it not only kills motivation, but it puts doubt into the team. There are times when senior leaders must step in and “rescue” a team whose leader is failing, but a good coach rarely allows the team to get into that much of a fix in the first place. That’s the beauty of a leader who’s coaching rather than directing: they can see trouble brewing long before it happens and avoid disaster.

Be a coach and help your team to swing easy if you want to be successful.

______________________________________________________________________________

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

The Human Connection is the Foundation of Respect

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

(Photo: James Cridland)

One of the games I play to keep myself amused during trips is to make up stories in my head about the people I see walking by in airports or other public places. I give them names, try to guess at their destinations, and the reasons for their travel.

That’s Gladys Simpson. She’s a 48 year old traveling photographer, mother of two boys (Delwin and Delbert), on her way to an assignment to shoot the elusive Andean Snow Turtle. Her husband, Roland, is an HVAC technician and worked overtime so she could afford the new photo rig in her bag. It’s her first assignment after raising her family and now she’s pursuing her passion in a second career.

Sometimes the stories are a little silly like that, and sometimes the faces I see inspire a much more somber story.

He’s forgotten his real name because no one calls him by it anymore. Everyone just calls him “Buddy” as he pushes his shopping cart full of odds and ends around. “Buddy” mumbles to himself as he walks down the street looking for a place to rest before he’s forced to move again. In between random thoughts about a Parcheesi game he played as a kid, and trying to remember the color of his socks, he thinks to himself that he hopes that nice policeman comes by tonight. He feels safer when the policeman stands nearby. The street bullies don’t bother him when the cops are there and he can relax. Blue! His socks are blue!

Humans Need Each Other

Why did I take you down this little side trip? Because, humanity. We need a lot more of it.

The theme of this month’s posts is “Respect”, but a collision of religious, societal, and current events caused me to shift a bit this week. First, there’s the once in several decades overlap of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. Valentine’s Day is an invitation to erotic love and the second is a call to filial love and repentance. Then there’s the shooting in Florida that happened today. “Tragedy” seems to small a word to encompass the hell that dozens of families are experiencing tonight. There ought to be stronger words.

What in the world do all these thing have to do with each other? The answer is human connection and love for one another. The beauty of erotic love can be twisted when we objectify others. Religion becomes a social club if we don’t connect with the Divine and our faith community. Disturbed people harm others when they’re left on their own to fester. Teams, companies, and families fall apart when the members don’t invest in the people around them.

Be Deliberate, Give Them a Chance

We pass by others every day and don’t look at their faces. Each one of them is just like you and me: they have their own stories complete with triumph and tragedy. Some need more help than others, some are more successful than others, but each one is a singularly unique creation worthy of respect and yes, love. We use our words on social media to bludgeon and wound rather than to seek understanding. There is a way out, though.

When I was in the Air Force, I always accepted the people that no one else wanted. Most of the time all those people needed was someone to believe in them and give them a chance to succeed. Of course not everyone succeeded–people have different skills and sometimes their vices overwhelm their virtues–but I had about an 80% success rate with the “misfits” others didn’t want. The core truth, though, is that regardless of ability or success, each person deserves to be respected.

Don’t Walk By

Malcolm Forbes once said that he could judge the character of a man by the way he treated those who could do nothing for him, or to him. A well-known CEO always interviews potential hires at a restaurant to see how they treat the waitstaff. Human connection matters. If we walk by other people heedless of their humanity as if they’re objects to be navigated around, we surrender a little bit of what makes us human. We certainly don’t have to engage with everyone around us, but we should notice and respect their humanity.

After a tragedy like what happened in Florida today, people often make “I knew something wasn’t right” comments. Right now, a lot of people are asking, “why?” How many of us notice the homeless people we pass on the street to get our coffee? When was the last time we asked our co-workers about their families, or showed genuine concern when it was obvious they weren’t feeling well or were distraught about something? It’s a question we need to ask ourselves daily. We don’t have to be saints, but we ought to try.


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 seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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Respect for Persons

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The national conversation about how men and women should treat each other is a valuable conversation for leaders and high achievers to have. It’s everyone’s responsibility to create and sustain a culture of respect, and for leaders it’s particularly important. We have learned a great deal about ourselves and our culture of late. I’ve always thought of history as a bit like eating a watermelon: eat the good stuff and spit out the seeds. Time to take a bite and see what we can discern.

No Person is an Object

In our hypersexualized culture, it’s easy to simply get accustomed to the objectification of others. We should resist that. People are not things; each person is a unique creation worthy of basic human dignity and respect. As I write in Leading Leaders,

Beyond mere adherence to the law, respect is recognizing that another human being has the same value as I do because they are [they exist], not because of what they do, how much money they make, or what clothes they wear. Now, I can certainly perform rote behaviors and parrot legal scripts when dealing with others, but to truly show respect, that has to come from the heart. Again, I don’t have to condone behavior or agree with beliefs that don’t match my own; but the skilled leader, the effective leader, separates behavior from personhood and can show respect to anyone regardless of differences.

When we allow ourselves to view another human being, not as a person with their own agency but as an object to be manipulated or used, we are violating the basic tenet of “Respect.” People are of course responsible for their own actions, but we have a parallel responsibility to treat others with respect and to protect the vulnerable persons from harm. This means sticking up for people who can’t stick up for themselves, and it also means supporting others when they do stick up for themselves.

I believe men have a special responsibility here to be protectors. That is not to say that women cannot be protectors as well, of course that’s true, but since most sexual assault and harassment happens because men do it to women, men have a special responsibility to act to stop other men. We men also have a special responsibility to set a good example to other men about what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Crimes are Not Mistakes

I’m sure everyone can immediately think of a case where someone has crossed the line criminally when it comes to sexual assault or harassment. Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar’s names are now synonymous with “sexual assault.” Columnists and bloggers have written pages and pages; victims have voiced their stories. There has been “collateral damage” in the reputations of some men and a few women, who didn’t cross the line into a “crime” but were nonetheless boorish at best and objectified others at worst. These stories are painful and gut-wrenching for anyone to hear, and they all point to two common themes being abundantly clear. Abusers invariably:

  1. Objectified another person, usually a woman, for the purpose of sexual gratification.
  2. Allowed by others to continue to do their dirty work without correction or being reported to the authorities because of their power, influence, or connections.

Often people tried to “handle things” quietly, or even turned a blind eye to “protect an institution” or company. These people treated these crimes as mere mistakes; crimes are not mistakes.

What It All Means

It’s tempting to reflect on the “Good Old Days,” but that’s a fool’s errand for two reasons. First the “Good Old Days” weren’t always good for everyone, and second, what’s past is past–what we do in the future is what matters. We’ve learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t in our culture in the past 30 years, we need to be mature enough men and women to apply those lessons.

Regardless of how you feel about the Sexual Revolution, I think many of us could agree that we’re not happier people today than we were before the Sexual Revolution. There’s even a case to be made that the Weinstiens of the world were emboldened when we made sex a recreational activity rather than a powerful connection between people. We ought to be brave enough as a society to learn from our mistakes and make adjustments–not out of fear of reprisal, but because it’s the right way to treat each other and ourselves. We can have our own opinions about the relationship between sex, marriage, and family, but I think we can also agree to respect the power of those things in the human mind and heart. Mature persons respect that power and don’t risk their own well being in a cost-benefit analysis that has a poor margin.

It’s good that women have taken their rightful place in society as full participants. It’ll be better if all people, and especially women, can assume they’ll be treated with respect for who they are as persons without qualification. I think it’s time we take the good lessons of the past 30 years and spit out the seeds, don’t you?


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 seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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Use Words If Necessary

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There’s an oft-repeated quote attributed a popular saint, St Francis of Assisi, that speaks to the heart of today’s post; specifically that actions speak louder than words. The quote goes: Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.  No, I’ve not turned this into a religion blog; the point is that what we do is at least as important (if not more) as what we say.

As leaders, we know that if we expect others to do what we ask, we have to be willing to do those things ourselves. We cannot expect others to follow us if they cannot trust that we are competent and worthy of their trust. How do we build that trust? We model the behavior we expect of others, and we walk with the team we’re leading. Leaders lead from the front, not from behind. It’s a basic truism of leadership.

Illegal, Immoral, or Fattening

There is a popular idea in the last two decades that one can separate their “personal” and “professional” lives. That is patently and demonstrably false. I think of it this way: I cannot be one person on Sunday morning, and turn into a different person on Monday. Whatever I permit myself to do on one evening will follow me into the next day. One of the common threads I’ve seen of all the men and women who’ve fallen from grace–both public figures and private citizens–is they have a secret life exposed. Time after time I’ve witnessed generals, politicians, business leaders, and even friends and family face personal and professional calamity as a result of their “personal” or “private” lives suddenly intruding on their “public” or “professional” lives. As if they were two separate people.

“If you’re doing something you don’t want your mother to know about, it’s either illegal, immoral, or fattening.” -Mom

The irony is that virtually every time the person facing professional consequences for their personal choices, they look surprised. As my mother used to say, “If you’re doing something you don’t want your mother to know about, it’s either illegal, immoral, or fattening.” Things that happened even decades prior have a way of finding their way into the light of day, and people face consequences. Just look no further than the case of Dr. Larry Nassar who recently went to prison for the sexual assault. He probably thought he’d gotten away with it, but eventually, the truth came out. I have a former colleague who also went to prison for 8 years after his accusers came forward 20 years later. Sooner or later the chickens always come home to roost.

Can’t Serve Two Masters

The idea that somehow a person can be of low moral character or simply make immoral and destructive choices without professional or public consequences is a recent development in our society. This is not to say that there have not been immoral, even evil, people in the past; of course there have been and there will continue to be in the future. What’s different in the last 20 years or so is we’ve apparently decided that “what a man does in his private life is none of our concern.” Of course, that’s not true. If a man is a thief or a liar at home or with his wife, what makes us think he can be trusted to tell the truth at other times? If a woman is dishonest in her dealings with others when she’s away from work, how can we expect her to be honest at work?

The proverb, “A man cannot serve two masters” is accurate. The fundamental truth about humans is we are integrated persons–body, mind, and soul. The body is easy to see, the mind is revealed when we speak and act, and it’s clear to each of us that as Yoda says, “we’re more than just this crude matter.” This union of physical, mental, and soul makes it impossible for us to separate private doings from public or professional personas. Some people are adept at suppressing the internal contradictions for a while, but eventually either their mind, body, or spirit “breaks.”

Who Do You Want to Be?

Leading ourselves or others means talking less and acting more. Your colleagues, your team, even your kids will pay far more attention to what you do versus what you say. If you want your kids to be kind, show kindness. If you want your employees to be punctual, then be on time. If you expect your spouse to be tidy, get rid of your own clutter. When you meet someone who has “their act together,” what do you notice first, their words or their actions? It’s what they do that you notice first: how they conduct their affairs, how they treat others.

As a very simple level, the question each of us must answer is, “Who do I want to be?” As fragile and fallible human beings, we shouldn’t expect perfection of ourselves but we should always strive for it. Envisioning the kind of person we want to be, then reaching for that vision of ourselves, is a way to journey constantly to being the healthy and successful person we can be. When we learn to accept that we’re not perfect but are on a journey of constant growth and improvement. We accept our failings, beg forgiveness if necessary, and resolve to do better today–sometimes with the help of grace offered. That’s way of perfection.


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 seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey’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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What Is Courage? (Part II)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books

Mickey is moving his household from Hawaii to Texas. While he’s moving, please enjoy these posts from last year, and remember “The Five Be’s” Second Edition comes out in September! 

Last week, I brought you Part I of a discussion of courage from my book, The Five Be’s This week I conclude with some stories about courage.

__

Plane_crash_into_Hudson_River_(crop)Can you learn to be courageous? More to the point, can you learn to control fear? Yes, you can. Learning to be courageous has a great deal to do with being prepared. When you have analyzed the “fight or flight” instinct as it relates to the situations you might face, you are much less likely to make a snap decision based on emotion, instead tapping into the wellspring of courage that all people possess. In a way, physical courage is the easiest to understand. We can see the danger being faced, and are able to prepare for it. We can physically prepare, mentally rehearse our response, hone our skills, and work in a team with others. This is applicable to battle scenarios, emergency situations, or even on the sports field. That preparation is key to suppressing the fear response.

When Air Force Academy graduate, former fighter pilot, and USAir Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed USAir Flight 1549 in the Hudson, he said in an interview with 60 Minutes that moments before the crash were “the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling” that he had ever experienced. However, he and his crew had practiced emergency landings with such diligence, that they were able to put that fear aside and skillfully control the emergency landing. His team saved the lives of everyone on board the flight because they didn’t succumb to fear. Instead, they controlled their fear.

To paraphrasing a chief master sergeant that I served with during my Air Force career, “Few rise to the occasion in combat. Rather, they sink to the level of their training.” The way the military values training, especially the repetition of so-called “perishable skills”, is an indicator of the value of preparation. Soldiers expect to face danger, and prepare themselves against fleeing from it. The procedures are rehearsed over and over again until it becomes second nature.
I think courage comes from a well within our Human Spirit. It stems from more than mere biology, since we are more than mere flesh and bone. If humans were only biological machines, would there be an ability to create beauty, love, or be able to discern truth from lies? Biology certainly plays a role in who we are – after all, we are not disembodied spirits – but it cannot offer the entire answer. Courage, like other Universal Human Goods, comes from both our biology and our human spirit.

A sense of duty and fraternal love contributes to courage, as does the nearly universal human social need to be accepted among a social group. Soldiers who exhibit courage in combat situations most often report that they were “just doing their jobs” and “didn’t want to let their teammates down.” We call that “duty” and “loyalty”, these qualities are among the most prized of human virtues.

People are willing to endure considerable hardship when they know that others are depending upon them. When that social pressure includes life and death situations, the sense of duty becomes even stronger. Oftentimes, our sense of duty –will override the fear instinct. That is where true courage originates. Ultimately, courage is an act of love. It’s the love of others above self that will motivate people to endure hardship and brave danger in order to protect others. Without love, there can be no courage.

The Olympic gymnast is another example, though slightly different. The fear of injury and even death is real, but not from other teams. The gymnast must first conquer himself. In a real way, gymnasts must first conquer gravity before they can even approach the “inner voice”. Like any sport, being an Olympic level gymnast requires constant dedication and sacrifice. It requires subordination of fear, heights, and pushing pain completely out of the mind to focus on the task at hand. In addition, teammates are depending on a high score. Years of 4 a.m. practices, foregoing social interactions and activities, arriving at the single moment where the difference between a gold medal and no medal is a fraction of a point. If the gymnast makes a mistake in the Olympics, he’s not only risking injury, he’s letting his country down.

Lastly, consider the courage of the cancer or rehabilitation patient. Both must rise daily with the knowledge they will face pain that day. For the cancer patient, that struggle is an actual fight for their life. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are very hard to endure. There are days of nausea and pain each time. Choosing to fight their disease rather than succumb to it takes a daily dose of special courage. Similarly, the amputee or accident victim who goes to physical therapy knowing they face hours of pain just to hope they reacquire skills they once took for granted takes courage. Wounded Warriors in rehab face weeks or even months of painful therapy to learn to walk again, or feed themselves, or hug their lived ones. People who have suffered physical or psychological trauma must daily choose not to let their injuries define them, The alternative is to cease to live. That is courageous as well.

Overcoming pressure, the fear of mistakes, and the very real fear of severe injury requires physical courage. To be an Olympian is to find the courage to succeed even when success is elusive, to manage fear for years in a single-minded purpose to stand on the winner’s podium.


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

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

What Is Courage? (Part I)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Mickey is in the midst of moving his household from Hawaii to Texas, so please enjoy this “classic” post from 2016. Original posts will resume in September. Also, don’t forget that The Five Be’s Second Edition goes live on Lulu and Amazon next month!!


Lt Harry Brubaker (William Holden) writing in a scene from the film The Bridges at Toko-ri (Paramount Pictures photo)

In the film, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, the Task Force Commander, Admiral Tarrant, wonders aloud about the courage of the men fighting under his command after a successful mission claims the life of a pilot and the helicopter crew sent to rescue him. Watching flight operations aboard the carrier, Tarrant remarks, “Where do we get such men?”

That question brings us face to face with trying to understand courage. Tarrant wondered at the courage to face bullets in a war far from home, but he is not the first to ask that question.

Here’s my definition: Physical courage is the ability to overcome fear and do what’s necessary in order to survive, save a life, accomplish a mission, or excel despite physical or psychological barriers.

Using this definition of physical courage obviously concerns overcoming external obstacles. To simplify, demonstrating physical courage is overcoming the “fight or flight” instinct., and choosing to fight. Physical courage results in facing danger or the threat of pain to accomplish a goal. Note the danger doesn’t have to be real – the mere threat of danger or pain can be enough to trigger a “fight or flight” response. What is more, “fight” doesn’t necessarily mean a physical altercation or use of weapons. In the context of physical courage, “fight” simply involves meeting a particular challenge head on, without avoidance.

Returning to Admiral Tarrant’s question, “Where do we get such men?” and rephrasing it to ask “Where does courage come from?” There are several answers to that question, it’s not as vague as you might think.

There is a physiological reason for courage. Researchers discovered by a very unique (and bizarre) experiment involving snakes and an MRI machine. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, strapped test subjects in an MRI machine with a snake suspended mere inches above their heads. Using the MRI to track brain activity, researchers identified the specific area of the brain associated with courage, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (SaCC). Using human’s natural snakes to stimulate a fear response, test subjects reported their level of fear as the snake was moved closer and closer until their fear became greater than their courage.

It’s an interesting experiment. As researchers are able to determine the role that hormones and pheromones play in the attraction between boys and girls yet cannot define “love”, neither can a purely physiological explanation satisfy our curiosity about the source of courage. As I have said many times before, humans are more complex than merely our biology. Surely biology can influence courage – a large person in a crowd of small ones is more apt to be courageous than the opposite. But when it comes to courage, biology is not the determining factor.

History is populated with stories of unexpected heroism from unlikely people. The 98-pound weakling who stands up to the bully on the school yard, and the grandmother who faces down the burglar are legendary, in part because it is documented and has repeated occurrences. Movie makers have repeatedly made films about the plucky young person who saves the day while facing down a larger and more ferocious enemy. Do these real, and fictional, people have an oversized “courage center” in their brains?

Perhaps, but I’d like to think it’s more than that.

Next week, more on what courage IS and ISN’T.


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

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

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

 

Leaders are Readers – Your Summer Reading List

Posted Posted in Books

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers. -Harry S. Truman

As a student at both Air Command and Staff College and National Defense University’s  Eisenhower School, I was privileged to hear dozens of accomplished national leaders speak. Generals, Supreme Court justices, Congressional representatives and senators, leaders in industry. We even heard from two sitting presidents. They came from very diverse walks of life and professions but all had a number of things in common: they were all early risers, intellectually agile, often men and women of faith, and committed to their families and to the country. They were also all–to person–voracious readers.

I’m Busy! Why Spend Time Reading?

Noted Victorian era moralist and author G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Learn from others’ mistakes, you don’t have time to make them all yourself.” It’s one of my favorite quotes and it underscores the need to spend time learning from others. For busy military professionals, or leaders in any profession, that means devouring books and publications to gain the benefit of others perspectives. Reading books, blogs, and periodicals are ways to help develop perspective, particularly on current events. Our teams count on us as leaders to have perspective and not act rashly or out of ignorance. I know it seems basic, but spending time with a book gives us the chance to cross space and time to listen to others voices. It allows us to put current events in context, and gives us tools to process things going on around us. 

What Should I Read?

The easy answer to the question, “What should I be reading?” is everything. Leaders, particularly at the executive level, should be versed in history, politics, economics, and science. These subjects are key to understanding the environment as well as the motivations of others. Of course, I’ve written many times that leaders are in the people business. The better we understand people, both individually and as a group, the better we’ll be at motivating and inspiring people to high achievement. Of course, “man does not live by bread alone,” so your leadership reading library should also include fiction, especially literature. These books form the the basis of much of our culture (whether we know it or not), and culture sets the framework for what people value. Popular entertainment has it’s place, of course, but have you ever heard anyone read a book and then say, “the movie was better”?

Military Leaders Reading List

A question I’m asked often, is “what books do you recommend?” The list is always evolving, of course, but here’s a few books that almost always appear on my lists. If you have an add for the list, tell us in the comments below!

The Defense of Hill 781, James R. McDonough.

Army Colonel James McDonough examines leadership through a fantasy allegory of an infantry officer in Purgatory until he leads his mechanized task force to victory over the demons inhabiting the battlefield. Great leadership lessons.

War as I Knew It, General George S. Patton, Jr.

No list is complete without this candid memoir from one of America’s greatest wartime commanders. Filled with historical tidbits and lessons applicable to executive leadership in any large organization, this one is a must read.

Empire by Default: The Spanish-American War and the Dawn of the American Century, Ivan Musicant.

America’s entry into the world stage at the end of the 19th Century was not a smooth one. Lessons about leading among peers at very senior levels, logistics preparation and management, organizational dynamics, and leading when you’re on your own abound in this interesting read.

The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers, Gillian Tett.

In this book, Tett uses the 2008 financial crisis as a case study in organizational culture. She points out that very large and respected international corporations lost trillions of dollars because of their inability to communicate clearly across internal teams or “silos.”  

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal.

In my mind this is the definitive work for working in a globally networked organization. Gen McChrystal talks about his successful campaign against Al Qaeda in Iraq. He created a network of special operators and support forces that rapidly leveraged intelligence and technology, coupled with the expertise of the world’s greatest special operations forces, to crush the insurgency in Iraq.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

Written by two former SEAL officers, this book is a “how to” manual on small unit leadership. It’s a candid recounting of battlefield successes and mistakes, and how those leadership lessons apply to both military and civilian environments alike.

The Art of Positive Leadership, John E. Michel.

Written by the General Leadership Foundation’s own Brig Gen (ret) John Michel, The Art of Positive Leadership is a series of essays written mostly during his time in Afghanistan. Michel gives great tips for inspiring high performance even during stressful situations.

And finally, I humbly submit my own flagship leadership book:

Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, Mickey Addison

Developed over a 30 year military career and a lifetime of leading, Leading Leaders lays out the foundation for character-based leadership. Illustrated through personal stories and anecdotes, I believe this books is a must read for anyone who wants to improve their productivity and their character.

Happy Reading!

Originally posted on General Leadership

Want to see the full “crowdsourced” reading list? Check out this page!


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 ebook as a thank you!

 

On Civic Virtue, Respect, and Followership

Posted Posted in The Five Be's

Jose Ferrer as Navy Lt Greenwald, “The Caine Mutiny” (Columbia Pictures, 1954)

Ever work for someone or have to be deferential to someone you didn’t respect or didn’t like? Fortunately for me, all the men and women I reported directly to were people I did respect. Civic virtue demands we understand how to respect the office rather than just the office holder.

Respect the Rank and the Office

Of course, and there’s a variety of ways to deal with a situation where the office holder isn’t necessarily someone we can respect personally, some good and some, well, not so good. No matter what, we always respect the rank, or the office, regardless of whether we respect the man or woman wearing it. In truth, there’s really only one way professionals–make that adults–deal with the idea that we respect the “rank” even when we don’t respect the man wearing it. We use the proper titles and terms of address for others, and for Heaven’s sake, capitalize the name of God whether we believe in Him or not. We say “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am” when speaking to officials, and each other. We don’t use foul language in public. The respect we show isn’t necessarily to the office holder–its to the office itself. Particularly in our American experience, office holders are transitory–but the ideals that hold our country together are not. When we show respect for the rank and the office, we are endorsing the ideals behind them that bind us together.

Civil Virtue Builds Societies

While a lack of respect for others is certainly not a new phenomenon, it has been very disheartening to me how coarse our language has become, and how little respect we show each other both online and in person. I think it’s time to revisit the idea of civic virtue–those virtues and ideals that put the civil peace ahead of our own desire to express ourselves. In fact, these days we talk a lot about “rights.” While everyone has a right to be rude, it’s destructive to the civil peace and ultimately to the person being rude. Being authentically free is not doing whatever we want, it’s being free of shackles so we choose whats good for us. I once heard a protocol officer remind her staff that the purpose of custom and protocol was to ensure everyone knew what to do and therefore everyone felt more comfortable. Civic virtue–civility–does the same thing. When we know the people we are interacting with will treat us with respect, we are much more likely to return that respect. The stress level lowers, the conversation centers on issues rather than personality. Oh, I know, the “yellow dog press” of the past always printed salacious things, and of course people being people we have always had bouts of incivility. But until recently, that was not the norm and it was not accepted in most company. There is a great deal to be said about good manners.

Right On Mr Greenwald

Which brings us to Jose Ferrer’s “Lt Greenwald” and lessons from film, and from a more civil time. Sometimes film is a great way to examine culture and even think out leadership. If you’ve never seen the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, based on the Herman Wouk novel, then you really should. It’s one of my favorite films. Not only is The Caine Mutiny spectacularly good film making, it also gives some insight into virtues like loyalty, leadership, & followership. (Spoiler Alert)

What I think is a particularly good lesson in this film is the idea of respect for a position or office, even when we might not “like the cut of his suit” as Mr Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) says. While life is not a US Navy destroyer in a life-threatening gale, there is something to be said about respecting the position and being loyal to an institution even when respect for the person is difficult. In this case, the extreme situation of relieving the captain of the ship in order to save it would likely not been necessary if the officers had shown the most modest respect and loyalty to their boss. That respect for the “office” is how professionals act–not out of self-interest or on a personal agenda. In the Air Force we call that virtue “Service Before Self.” As a civic virtue, it’s called “patriotism” or “loyalty,” even “civic duty.” That’s the real lesson of the film. Had the officers of the Caine put their ship and their mission, and yes, even their captain’s welfare, ahead of their own there would not have been a mutiny. No careers destroyed, no ship and crew in peril in a storm.

Those virtues don’t just work in film, they work in the real world, too.

 


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 ebook as a thank you!

 

Overcoming Barriers to Change

Posted 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 – The Exchange of Flags

Posted 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 Leave a 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 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 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!

 

Monday Motivation – Let Purpose Arise from Relationship

Posted 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 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.

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 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 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 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!