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

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

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

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

Five Principles for Success

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

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

Mature Leaders Do Transition Well

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

Originally posted on General Leadership


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

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

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Overcoming Barriers to Change

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

Knowing Where You Want to Go

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

Knowing The Barriers to Change

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

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

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

There’s also external barriers as well:

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

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

Knowing When to Engage the Entire Team

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

Make it Happen

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

So began my first 100 days in command.

Being the Repairman

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

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

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

The Method

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

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

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

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

Inspire and Lead.

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


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

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

 

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

 

Transitioning Leadership – The Exchange of Flags

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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

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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!

 

Monday Motivation – Let Purpose Arise from Relationship

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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!

 

Monday Motivation

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

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

 

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

 

Dynamic Dozen: Step Up and Step Out

Posted on Posted in GeneralLeadership.com

Maj Dick Winters sought out and accepted responsibility

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

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

Look for Opportunities to Lead

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

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

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

Work Your Boss’ Boss’ Priorities

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

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

Success Means Responsibility

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

Originally posted at GeneralLeadership.com


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

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

Agility Through Independence

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Battle_of_Guiliford_Courthouse_15_March_1781
Agile networks of American militia overcame legendary British training and discipline.

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

Wiring Diagram vs Network of Teams

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

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

How to Build a Network of Teams

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

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

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

Networks of Teams are Agile

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


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

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

Dynamic Dozen: Build Networks of Leaders

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

Dear General McClellan, if you’re not going to use the army, may I borrow it for a while?

~ Abraham Lincoln

thunderbirds USAFThe squadron was broken and the commander was the reason. He empowered no one, made all the decisions himself, and insisted on controlling even the most minute details in everything we did. By any measure, the commander was what we call a “single point of failure.”

The result of this sort of leadership was predictable: people simply refused to take responsibility for anything. Knowing he would likely countermand their orders–or worse, berate them for making a decision in the first place–the commander’s direct reports pushed all their decisions to him. Mid-level and first line leaders couldn’t understand why their bosses wouldn’t make a decision. Eventually, the business of the squadron ground to a halt. Even the simplest decisions seemed impossible to make, no one took any initiative, and morale was very low. Finally, that commander was relieved of his command for misconduct, and that came as no surprise to anyone in the squadron. We all saw it coming.

The Principle of “Leaders Lead”

In my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, I outline my leadership principle of “Leaders Lead.” Unlike my wayward squadron commander, good leaders cultivate and grow leaders around them. When I meet my staff for the first time, I emphasize how important it is for everyone to exercise the authority I give them. There’s two practical reasons for this: efficiency and growth. First of all, senior leaders’ time is very valuable, and if it is consumed making decisions for others, then that colonel or CEO is not doing their job. We need our senior leaders focused on the strategy not tactics. Empowering our teams to make decisions opens the aperture so those senior leaders can see pitfalls and opportunities much sooner. The second reason to push decision making out and down is to grow new leaders. In the military, we’re always training someone else to do our job. Military people change jobs often–we get promoted and we move–so there’s also the need for redundancy should there be casualties. In business, people may be reluctant to train others to do what they do for fear of losing their job to their trainee. However, good leaders know even in business no one has a lifetime contract. Furthermore, people get sick or have to travel. Building redundancy into the organization ensures we can continue to operate when someone is away from their desk, and we can eventually grow new leaders. Many a professional network is expanded through developing leaders, even if they move on to other firms.

Networks Are More Agile Than Hierarchies

Perhaps there was a time in the past when leaders could afford the time to centralize all the decision making, but the 21st century requires far more agility than that. In the military, we expect our cohort of junior leaders to understand the commander’s intent and make dozens of parallel decisions aimed at achieving that mission. Business in the Information Age must operate with the same agility. Time to Market (TTM) cycles are shrinking as new technology and new sources enter the manufacturing sector. In the tech sector, TTM can be mere weeks or days from idea to offering. Companies who use networks like those described in Gen Stanley McChrystal’s Team of Teams  will always be ahead of those that demand adherence to hierarchy. When the C-suite execs all the way to front line leaders empower their teams to make decisions and execute, the company can be very agile and has a much greater chance of success. This is exactly the way America’s military fights and the reason we’ve been so successful. Senior leaders give broad guidance, junior leaders dissect specified and implied tasks, then execute in concert with units around and supporting them. This system creates a network where we can rapidly respond to dynamic conditions and bring maximum force to bear at critical points. Centralized control is very slow and extremely unresponsive. From blitzkrieg during WWII to the destruction of the Iraqi Army in 1990 and 2003—highly centralized control is no match for a network operating in three dimensions. The lesson for all leaders in those military examples is if you demand centralized control you will never be able to respond fast enough to be first.

Grow Your Own and Be Agile

When leaders at all levels push out authority and empower others to make decisions, the entire organization benefits. In the military that means accomplishing our mission–in business that means a healthier bottom line.

Originally posted at GeneralLeadership.com


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

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

Friday Link Around: Managing Your Email Like a Boss

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs

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One of the questions I get most often is, “How do you read all your email?” With multiple email accounts, many stakeholders and customers, and working in a global enterprise I get dozens of emails daily. Despite the fact that I believe email is dead–Professional Social Networks are the future–we all do a lot of business on email.   If you’ve got tips and tricks, why not share it with the community in the comments section below?

It is rare for me to leave my desk at the end of the day with unread emails, here’s how I do it:

1. I don’t read every email. Sort on the subject, delete emails that look like duplicates, “reply to alls”, and office spam.

2. In Outlook, use Conditional Formatting to color code important senders. Read those first. My boss and other general officers and senior (“C-suite”) are red, key peers are blue, and headquarters’ key staff are green. Those emails then stand out and I can read them first.

3. In Outlook, use Rules to sort emails into sub-folders. There are emails you get regularly you want to get to, but don’t need cluttering your inbox: notifications, news, appointment requests, calendar invites, etc. Create Rules to dump those emails into a subfolder. You’ll see the unread emails and can get to them in the appropriate time. For example, I receive notifications for electronic staffing regularly–those electronic memos requiring my attention (performance reports, awards, approval requests, etc) go into my “Staffing” subfolder, and when I see an unread email in those folders I know I’ve got something to do.

 4.   In GMail, use Filters and Categories to sort email. You can use the Filters and Categories to sort email so only the most important emails are in my Primary box. Don’t underestimate the Skip the Inbox and Archive functions!

5. Delete, Delete, Delete. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and the like–those all go into a single folder in GMail.  Since many of those are daily emails, if I’m unable to read them in a few days they’re usually out of date anyway. Many I’ll save and read, but if something is unread in my Inbox for more than a few days and I don’t consciously leave it unread for some reason, it gets deleted.

6. Unsubscribe.  If you find yourself deleting more emails you’ve subscribed to than reading it–hit the “unsubscribe” button.

There’s plenty of hacks and tips out there as well, here’s a survey of some of the best:

Lifehacker: Control Your Email

Lifehacker: Hack Your Email 99 Ways

Lifehacker: Become a GMail Master

PCWorld: 10 Tips for Mastering Outlook 2013

Alphr.com: Be an Email Jedi

Youtube: Outlook 2013 Tips and Tricks (video)

The Atlantic: Inbox Zero vs Inbox 5,000

Mashable: 5 Tricks to Finally Achieve Inbox Zero

 


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.

The Courage to Innovate in Large Organizations

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

10-Hardest-Life-Fish-BowlInnovation in any large organization requires courage–courage from senior leaders right down to the front line worker. If done with courage and clear vision, then leaders can develop a true culture of innovation–a “startup mentality”–even in the public sector. Is it really possible to have a “startup” in a huge global enterprise? The answer is “yes,” and I’m actually running one today. Furthermore, the “startup mentality” is absolutely vital if our massive, global operation is going to succeed in the next 50 years. Let me explain.

About two years ago, the Air Force embarked on a massive reorganization. We created a new global Center headquarters to centrally manage all the resources for all 77 Air Force bases around the world. For a military force so tied to their bases–land based air power needs bases to operate–this as an enormously complex undertaking. Culturally, organizationally, and operationally, the reorganization of the Air Force was a big risk. The opportunities to improve how we manage Air Force bases, to save money and ensure we meet the Air Force’s the highest priorities are equally enormous. We have a tremendous opportunity to something truly amazing.

My piece of this global enterprise is located here in Hawaii, and we serve alongside our teammates from several other regional “business units” with the same parent headquarters. Our mission is to be “solutions architects” for our primary customer (Pacific Air Forces), as well as the other Airmen in the Pacific. Our headquarters is in San Antonio, Texas, five times zones and 3,700 miles away. To be sure, we’re not entirely breaking new ground: the other uniformed Services embarked on similar centralization efforts a decade ago. Also, we have the benefit of working within the umbrella of a very large organization–the Air Force.  As an optimist, I see even drastic change as an opportunity to do something amazing. Even well conceived and managed change breeds chaos–it disrupts people from their routines, establishes new communication and resource lines of authority, and forces us to look at delivering products and services in new ways. As painful as it is, disruption is a necessary catalyst for innovation in large organizations, especially in the public sector.

Starting from Scratch is an Opportunity

Rather than seeing change–even tumultuous change–as a reason to give up, we have to look for the opportunities when change happens. Each of us has those moments when we think, “I could do this so much better”, change is our opportunity to bring those ideas to life. In our case, being 3,700 miles from our nascent headquarters and co-located with our primary customer were also benefits because we could implement change on our end and then prove it worked before pitching it to the enterprise. When we had good ideas and shared them with our teammates around the globe we became influencers to the entire Air Force. Because our team was and is agile in turning our ideas into reality, and then sharing those ideas with our off-island teammates, we have the chance to be a big influence on the way our enterprise does business.

Having the Courage to Innovate

Of course, nothing happens without strong leadership supporting a culture of innovation–and that must come within and without. Most importantly, our “C-suite” leadership back in San Antonio allowed us to innovate and share. It is a courageous choice for the CEO of a new global organization to provide broad guidance and give us all freedom to innovate. We are very lucky to have leadership with that courage. Secondly, our teammates around the world had the courage to share ideas with us and each other. Big change breeds stress and the natural human tendency is to retreat to protect what’s left. Not so with our global teammates: they constantly share ideas, proposed solutions, and challenged the status quo. Finally, our own Pacific team had to overcome our own distress at successive “reorgs” and look for opportunities to lead. Our little, but mighty, diverse team of sixty professionals came together to take a proactive stance. This sort of courage and collaboration can be very powerful. The result was people were free to take some risks and look for alternatives to the status quo. That is the heart of innovation: the willingness to try something new and seek a better solution to an old problem. It takes courage to innovate, courage inspired by courageous leaders.

Change is Hard-It’s Harder if You Don’t Innovate

Innovation, then, is led with courage by leaders willing to accept some measure of risk. That leadership can’t operate in a vacuum; all our good ideas would have been meaningless if we’d kept them to ourselves. Furthermore, if we’d have gone beaming off on our own instead of seeking solutions to problems common across the enterprise then our off-island teammates would be justified in writing us off as kooks. But we didn’t. We took good ideas from others, we shared successes and failures, we fought for feedback, and we took risks. Massive change is incredibly difficult, but it’s impossible without courage from leaders at all levels to try something new and take risks. That’s a lesson for any large organization, no matter what you do.


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

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

 

What Is Courage? (Part II)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Books

Last week, I brought you Part I of a discussion of courage from my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out This week I conclude with some stories about courage.

__

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #8: Be Curious; Ask ‘Why?’ A Lot.

Posted on Posted in Mickeys Rules

SarrisSuccessful leaders are curious about their business and the people who work for/with them.  This sort of curiosity is an imperative for a leader because he/she has to both accomplish the task at hand and the “care/feeding” of the team.  To put it more succinctly, the leader needs to know what’s going on.

There’s a scene in the movie Galaxy Quest where alien general Sarris (Robin Tobin) is interrogating the human starship captain/actor Commander Peter Taggart/Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) that is illustrative of this principle.  Sarris asks Commander Taggart/Nesmith repeatedly about the workings of a particular artifact on board the ship, and is incredulous when “the commander” says he doesn’t know.  “A captain knows every weld, every rivet in his ship,” says Sarris.

None of us is very likely to be matching wits with an alien general, but the point for us is that the “commander” needs to understand how the organization works down to the “rivets and bolts.”  This means understanding who does what to whom, the stakeholders, customers, and teammates who produce whatever it is the organization produces.

The leader does this for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s not possible to diagnose problems if the leader doesn’t  know how the process works.  Without that sort of detailed knowledge, it might not even be possible to know if there’s even a problem!  There’s certainly not much hope for making process improvements. Second, it’s much harder to look after the people if the leader didn’t understand the details of the organization and process.  A curious leader who knows their people will know when there’s something amiss with an employee.  They’ll notice when production drops off before it becomes a crisis.

There are some barriers to a curious leader, however.

The first barrier is the “this is how we’ve always done it” mentality.  This mentality positively breeds a lack curiosity.  Everyone is comfortable, no one attempts to improve things, no one notices inefficiency or wasted effort.  “This is how we’ve sideways done it” is a recipe for organizational extinction.

The second barrier pertains mostly to senior executives and occurs when the staff and direct reports protect the executive from bad news.  If the executive isn’t sufficiently curious to seek out bad news, or to go and see the operation for themselves, he/she can be blindsided with catastrophic news.  As the saying goes, ”bad news doesn’t get better with age.”

Perhaps the best reason for a leader to be curious is the effect it has on the team. If the leader is curious and engaged, asking “why ” a lot, that behavior will become party of the  organizational culture. It will generate engaged employees, it will foster a culture of continuous improvement, and it will create an environment that improves everyone’s job satisfaction.  “Curiosity” is one of the best ways to ensure  organizational success.

Dynamic Dozen: You Have to Decide

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

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No! Do or do not. There is no try. -Yoda

I had to decide and there really weren’t any good choices. Balancing security with the “need for speed” completing construction in preparation for the invasion of Iraq. The security officer at our air base in the Kuwaiti desert would not budge on his requirements, and we did not have enough Airmen to do the job. We had to hire more contractors and that meant more Airmen needed to guard them. What’s more, we wouldn’t get any relief from either security or the deadline and the time when we would “go north” into Iraq was approaching. We were simply out of time and ideas.

“OK guys,” I told my assembled team leaders, “our priorities are airfield pavement, water, power, and everything else. What’s left on the project list?” After some discussion, I decided to shift Engineer Airmen from other work to guard duty for the contractors who were working the water projects. It meant we would run the risk of not completing all our work on time, but I had to prioritize the work and make sure the most critical jobs got done. In the end, we launched the jets on time on the 19th of March–literally screwing the last of the taxiway lights into the pavement as the first F-16s were taking off to strike the first targets of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

You’ll Never Have Enough Information

The most common mistake leaders make is trying to make a perfect decision by gathering an immense amount of information. In the Air Force, we call it “Paralysis By Analysis,” and we’ve all suffered a leader who seemingly refused to make a decision without perfect information. Leaders, let me be clear: you will never have enough information. There will always be another “why” to ask, another metric to dissect, and another opinion to seek. As leaders, if we allow ourselves to get caught in an infinite “Do Loop” seeking the perfect decision, then we’re no longer leaders: we’re followers of data. Leaders get paid to make decisions, and for those decisions to mean to any thing they have to be timely and accurate. Remember, we don’t work for the computer.

Don’t Rush It

There was a popular vineyard whose 1980’s slogan was “We’ll sell no wine, before its time.” So it is with making decisions. Timing of decisions is skill every leader must have, and we get better at it when we make decisions. Just as “Paralysis By Analysis” can delay a good decision, rushing into a decision is just as bad. When I worked as a “budgeteer” on the Headquarters Air Force engineer staff, we used the expression, “Speed kills” to remind ourselves not to rush and make mistakes. The SEALS have an even better expression, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” It means, take your time and do it right the first time. A rushed job is a sloppy job. Just as taking too long to make a decision makes the decision irrelevant, a rushed decision almost guarantees a poor one.

Right Time, Right Decision

So where’s the balance? Well, it’s making the best decision you can with the information you have–not too soon and not too late. That comes with practice to be sure, practice making decisions. Understanding when there is enough information and then having the courage to make it is the key. It takes some seasoning to get it right–few do it intuitively–but when you make good decisions you enable your team to max performance. The trick is to understand when getting more information is not going to help you. Most decisions we make in business have a deadline.

People Need a Purpose, Not Just a Paycheck

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

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

When Leaders Serve, Teams Connect

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

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

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

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

Inspire and Connect

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

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


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

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

Raising Them Right: The Value of Onboarding

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CCPL AddisonOnboarding new employees is critical to the success of any organization. Without a deliberate and thoughtful onboarding process, new employees are set adrift in an organizational culture without any guide–and some will lose their way. Done correctly, a good onboarding process will imbue the new recruit with company values and energize them to find where they can contribute their unique talents to making the team better.

The military is famously successful at building camaraderie and esprit de corps in part because we begin at the beginning. Warfare is a team sport–it requires the synchronization of sometimes thousands of people working on wildly different processes in order to bring violence to a crucial spot in time and space. That synchronization requires trust, selflessness, courage, and commitment. The ancient Greeks and Romans were successful in battle because they fought as a team, rather than a mob. The American military is the best in the world because we fight as a globally synchronized team. As I told my young Airmen many times, there’s no place on the planet we can’t go and either take a picture, feed someone, or destroy something. That sort of power only happens when you have shared purpose and trust on an epic level. My fellow Airmen share values and mission–and we trust each other to watch our “six” and with our lives.

How does the military do it, and how can a for-profit company benefit from copying that process? To be sure, maintaing a sense of share purpose a constant process over the course of an Airman’s career, but it begins in basic training. During the indoctrination phase of basic training, we don’t merely teach the new recruit how to fill out forms and say, “yes, sir,” we help them transition from being individuals to being part of a team. We teach them to march, even though troops haven’t maneuvered on the battlefield in blocks since the 1860’s, because marching teaches them to work together and connects them to 5,000 years of military culture. We give them new haircuts and we give them uniforms to help them see their connection to each other. We teach them to respect their sergeants–and we make sure those sergeants are men and women worthy of that respect–to help the recruit understand leadership and find a role model. We give them a sense of history, and we connect them to it; and then we charge them with the weighty task of defending their homes and each other from a determined enemy. We give them purpose and connect to the larger whole.

Non-military organizations can do the same but with their own methods. The overall goal of basic training is to get an Airman on the other end–someone who can begin contributing on Day 1 and who internalizes our values. That should be the goal of onboarding at any company: a new team member who is fully “on board” and willing to contribute.

  • Begin your onboarding process with helping your new recruit understand the history of the company. Connect them to that history by explaining the company mission and energize them to understand their role in that mission.
  • Teach new recruits to respect their leaders. Have company leaders come and speak to them, make those C-suite leaders accessible and real. Believe me, when a CEO addresses a new recruit by name and concretely explains how the recruit’s particular job enables the company to be successful, you’ve onboarded correctly.
  • Explain the company culture. Helping the new recruit become comfortable in their new environment will give them a jumpstart toward contributing sooner.
  • Give them something to unify the recruit with the company–a pin, name tag, embroidered polo shirt, or maybe just a sticker for their car window. Giving the recruit some sort of “uniform” is a visible reminder they are now part of something larger than themselves.
  • Connect the new recruit with a mentor. Developing employees and helping them grow is a key responsibility of leaders, and it’s a sound investment in the company.

Done correctly, a good onboarding process will energize the team and build a sense of shared purpose. Giving someone a mission is the first step to creating a culture of excellence, and a place people love to work.


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

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