The Beginning of the Be’s

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I get asked occasionally where I got the idea for my most popular talk and book, The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life, and so I thought I’d make room here to talk about it.

It All Started with a Talk

The genesis of the book is a speech I wrote for young Airmen, fresh from Basic Military Training and arriving at their first base. I wanted to inspire them to live healthy and even virtuous lives. It’s not the vision they get from modern culture. Also, because I’d be speaking to people from varied backgrounds and beliefs, I needed to find non-sectarian ways to talk about virtue and healthy living without preaching.

What’s been interesting is the talk, and now the book, that I originally wrote for 19-year-olds resonates with people of all ages. I wanted to give them more than boundaries, I wanted them to have a vision of what a healthy person looks like; a clear idea of the kind of person I expected them to BE. The first time I was asked to give the Five Be’s talk to a conference of mostly older professionals, I reminded them that talk was really written for younger people. They responded, “we want the Five Be’s.” It was well received, and ever since then, it’s become my most requested talk.

Boundaries Are Not Enough

What I discovered a few years ago was that we spend a lot of time telling people what not to do, giving them boundaries. People need more than that.

We say “don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t act this way, don’t say those or eat that, or shop at the shop.” Boundaries are fine, we all need boundaries, but we can’t live with boundaries alone. For example, there are rules for driving and like stop lights and speed limits, etc., and all those things are fine. But if you don’t give a humans a vision of who we want them to be, a positive vision well then they are likely just to bounce back and forth, you know in the lane from boundary to boundary.

It’s not just important for young people, but for everybody starting out in life or a new chapter in their life. Think to yourself: what kind of person do I want to be ? When I tried to answer that question for myself, that’s when I came up with these Five Be’s. It’s sort of a macro formula for how to live a healthy and successful life.

You Are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

The first “BE” is “Be Proud of Who You Are.” You know everybody has something to be proud of no matter how humble you are and everybody has the same dignity and value no matter who you are. Your human dignity doesn’t depend on your age, the color of your skin, your gender, or your religion. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, doesn’t matter what rank you have on your on your sleeve, it doesn’t matter how good-looking you are – none of that matters to how you should be treated.

I think we have to remind ourselves sometimes because especially you know we can be our own worst enemy. Authentic pride isn’t cheerleading. It’s not being “Stuart Smalley” from Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.” It’s enough that we understand that each of us is a unique creation with inherent dignity.

Authentic Pride: The First BE

There are two kinds of pride; “authentic pride” and “counterfeit pride.” Authentic pride means thinking of your own self-worth and value, like pride in your family or accomplishments. It’s perfectly OK to be proud of working hard and achieving something, or of the contributions of your team, family, ethnic group, country, etc. You get the idea. Authentic pride is about tangible contributions, accomplishments, or victories. It builds people up.

Counterfeit pride is something much different. Counterfeit pride tears others down. It’s judgmental, exclusive, snobby, angry, and nasty. Counterfeit pride isn’t real because it’s not about victories, it’s about power.

Be Like the A’Ama Crab

The illustration for pride I always use, even for Mainland audiences, is a saying about Hawaiian crabs in a bucket. I read it in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser some several ago and I went thought to myself, “that’s perfect.” The saying goes something like this, “Be like the a’ama crab, not the alamihi crab.” If you put a load of alamihi crabs in a bucket, and one of them tries to crawl out, the other crabs will pull it back in. If you put a’ama crabs into the bucket, they will make a ladder and pull each other out. And so you know that’s the difference of counterfeit pride and authentic pride. Authentic pride is always trying to rip somebody down, counterfeit pride is always trying to rip somebody down, authentic pride is always trying to trip somebody up.

Be the good kind of crab. 

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Life Lessons from Surfing

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Just take your time – wave comes. Let the other guys go, catch another one. -Duke Kahanamoku, Legendary Hawaiian Waterman

Surfing became a part of my life later than most. Other than the one time my Dad and I rented a board in Corpus Christi, Texas to try to surf the Gulf shorebreak, I was 30 years old before I got on a surfboard. To say that learning to surf was life changing seems trite, but it’s true nonetheless. Like golf, surfing is a sport that one takes a lifetime to master and is also a metaphor for life. I can vividly remember the feeling: the smell of the ocean, the roar of the waves, the anticipation after spotting a ride-able set approaching, and the exhilaration of that first feeling of lightness as the wave picks you up and you feel like you’re gliding over the water.

In Life Lessons from Surfing, I try to share the lessons I’ve learned from two decades of trying to understand the “one-ness” of ocean-surfboard-man. I am by no means an expert–I still miss more waves than I catch–but I’ve been at it long enough to distill some truths from feeling the ocean and waiting for the right moment to launch myself down the face of a wave.

The Lessons

Paddle Out Often. The first lesson for surfing is to actually go surf. You can’t learn to surf sitting on your couch watching surf videos, and you can’t lead people from behind your desk or grow personally without engagement in life. Life requires us to be in harmony with others, with ourselves, with God. That harmony only comes with engagement. In an era when it’s very easy to simply sit on the couch and interact with the world through a screen, my challenge to you is to “Paddle Out.”

Keep Your Eye on the Waves. It’s an old adage to “never turn your back on the sea,” and the reason it’s an old adage is because it’s true. The ocean isn’t predictable and it requires your full attention. The moment you start getting complacent and daydream in the lineup is the moment some big wave will come thrash you! Complacency will also rob you of opportunities to ride the perfect wave. In life, it’s the same idea. If we remain engaged in life we’ll be ready when the next opportunity presents itself. Being engaged means deliberately cultivating relationships and seeking to serve others. Figuratively keeping your eyes on the waves of life is a sure-fire formula for avoiding the “coulda-shouldas” later in life.

Choose the Right Board for the Conditions. To non-surfers all boards probably look basically the same, but even casual surfers know you match the board to the conditions. Like choosing the right board, choosing the right person as a business partner or the right opportunity is the difference between and “epic ride” and a “wipeout.” If something feels forced, then that’s a good signal to examine the situation and ensure you’re a good fit. It’s also about pursuing things in life where you thrive instead of merely survive. Metaphorically choosing the right board in life implies we have some knowledge of what we’re doing. Over the last 22 years I’ve surfed I never stopped learning–either by talking to others more experienced than I or practice. Life is the same way: never stop learning and always seek to find a place where you “fit.”

Don’t Fight the Current. It’s a cliché that surfers are some of the most laid back and easygoing people you’ll ever meet, but there’s some truth to that. I think the reason is because really serious surfers are good at reading the wind and waves while waiting for that perfect time to drop in. Like the surfer who chases every wave instead of patiently watching and waiting for the right time, the over-engaged person will be exhausted when it’s really important to be fresh. It’s easy, particularly this time of year, to become overly enthusiastic and a bit too optimistic about our own energy reserves. You can become exhausted trying to do and be too much. Spend your energy wisely. Choose where you gain energy and spend it primarily on those activities. Adults have to do things that sometimes drain our batteries, but if everything drains your batteries then you won’t be able to do anything well.

Have Fun. Surfing isn’t supposed to be work; it’s supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun you’re probably doing it wrong. Trust me, if you’re not having fun nobody else around will either! Again, achieving in this life often requires sacrifice and hard work, but healthy people look for ways to enjoy even the hard times. It’s the reason for the dark humor of soldiers who joke about their conditions, and it’s the reason for the inside jokes people make in bad office environments. The life lesson from surfing, then, is to have a good attitude and have fun (and make sure you’re not the reason nobody is having fun!).

Surf Your Life, Don’t Get Thrashed

Life, like the ocean, can be a place of discovery and wonder or storms and danger. Engaging in our life actively and seeking harmony is the best method I’ve found for being the sort of person we were to be, and the kind of person who achieves what we want out of life.

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

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

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Life as a Mission, Best Life Ever, and The 5 Be’s

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Do you ever feel like your life is “stuck” in neutral? Well, do I have a real “dynamic duo” of women who can help you put your life in 5th gear! I had the honor and pleasure of being a guest on the Best Life Ever podcast, hosted by Kimi Morton and Pua Pakele & Cabot. Kimi and Pua are two Success Coaches, Authors, and “Work+Life Integration Ninjas” on a mission to help you create your Best Life Ever. They’re two of the most positive, motivated women I’ve ever met!

We met at a Project Management Institute meeting here in Honolulu, and their positive message of intentional living really resonated with me. Their talk was fun, engaging, and positive–exactly the kind of thing everyone needs to hear in a world where the 24-hour news cycle dominates our thinking. Kimi and Pua were kind enough to give me a copy of their Best Life Ever Weekly Planner, and my daughter loved it! I particularly liked the idea of the weekly plan review and creating the “big vision.” As I’ve written before, leaders have to know where they’re headed.

The 5 Be’s

We talked about living intentionally and how my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, fit in with their mission. It actually began as a talk for our newest Airmen, but I’ve been very pleased at how the message hasWant to know more? Click here! resonated with more “seasoned” audiences. It is by far my most requested talk! The message of The 5 Be’s is simple:

  • Be Proud of Who You Are – everyone has something to contribute
  • Be Authentically Free – don’t be bound by your appetites and whims
  • Be Virtuous – Prudence, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude (H/T to Aristotle)
  • Be Balanced – Integrate and feed your Mind, Body, and Spirit
  • Be Courageous – Both physical and moral courage are keys to being successful; especially moral courage.

Boundaries are Fine, But People Need a Positive Vision

Ever feel like all you ever hear from your boss, your parents, authorities, etc., are lists of “no’s” and “don’ts?” So did I. As I matured into leading larger, and often younger, groups of people I came to learn that boundaries simply is not enough. Here’s what I wrote in The 5 Be’s:

All of these “don’ts” form the boundaries of acceptable behavior. When reasonably imposed, boundaries are a necessary part of establishing appropriate and acceptable behavior. Manners, after all, are intended to make everyone comfortable, so that each person’s dignity and feelings are safeguarded. All human groupings develop norms for behavior that each group member is expected to adhere to. They vary in complexity and formality, but norms, boundaries, or “don’ts” are common. Of course, we can overdo boundary setting. When there are too many boundaries, it becomes a tyranny. In general, boundaries and standards of behavior (“manners” ) are necessary to the function of any human society.

What’s generally left unsaid when establishing our group norms is a target to focus on. It’s not sufficient to merely describe the outside boundaries of the target; you also have to show people what the bull’s-eye looks like. That’s what this book is all about.

People can function in a world of “do’s” and “don’ts,” but knowing what to do and what not to do only describes external behavior. What people, particularly young people, really need is a vision of who we want them to be. With that vision, people are then empowered to reach for something rather than avoiding something.

If you want to lead–know where you’re going!

How to Listen

Links to the podcast are below, and I hope you listen in to our conversation as well as their other podcasts. We talked about my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, and how it is similar it is to their message. There’s even a Yoda impression and I reveal when I wear my “jammies,” so it’s not dull! Kimi and Pua are two great women on a mission to make the world better, and it was fun chatting with them! Be sure to also check out the Podcast page for more podcasts!

Listen online

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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 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


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


Of Surfing, Leading, and Be’s

Posted Leave a commentPosted in How To Change, Podcast, Practical Leadership, The Five Be's


Aloha everyone! I am privileged to appear on The Civil Engineering podcast with leader, career coach, and former Air Force engineer Christian Knudson.  Episode 19: Riding The Wave of Change As a Civil Engineer Leader – goes live today Wednesday Nov. 25 on iTunes at 6am EST.

This weeks Civil Engineer podcast features Mickey Addison, career military officer, civil engineer, author and senior leader about developing effective leadership in your civil engineering career.  Listen in to his three steps for civil engineering leaders navigating and implementing organizational change.  Plus learn about his new book, “The 5 Be’s”, available now!

Malama i Ka Pono

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

The Hawaiian language is very beautiful, and it’s been a great pleasure to live here where I hear it spoken often. As a writer who loves words, the nuance in Hawaiian words and phrases inspires me. Words like aloha or ‘ohana have meanings much deeper than “hello/farewell” (aloha) and “family” (‘ohana), they also have contextual meanings as well. For example, the word aloha can mean “love” or “a friendly spirit” or even an “open sense of welcome.” ‘Ohana certainly means blood relatives, but it can also mean a wider sense of family or even community.

One of the words I really like is malama (“to take care”). The title of this post is malama i ka pono which roughly translates as “to take care of each other righteously,” or as Bill and Ted might have said, “Be excellent to each other.” My own amateur interpretation of the word malama is closer to “cultivate” and “care for deliberately” than merely babysit or nurse. When someone uses the word malama, they mean a commitment deeper than merely watching over someone; they take responsibility for their charge in a personal way.

What does all this have to do with leadership and personal development? Just this: leaders have to take care of their people. Situations can be stressful, tasks and deadlines can be stressful, and sometimes the leader must apply pressure to get the job done, but…leaders have to remember they’re leading people who must have enough left in the tank for the next task after the current one is complete. If a leader has the metaphorical throttle at the firewall all the time, he’s going to exhaust his team pretty quickly. An exhausted team might cross the finish line, but they won’t be ready for the next race (at least not quickly). In business as in the military, the next race often begins right after the last one ends!

American military leadership tradition is similar to the Hawaiian idea of malama, where we charge military commanders with knowing and caring for their troops on a personal level. We expect commanders to understand their Airmen’s drives and motivations, their struggles and strengths, and keep an ever watchful eye so they don’t expose the troops to unnecessary danger. Furthermore, while sometimes military leaders must send their troops into harm’s way, commanders also know not to spend everything on the current battle at the expense of the campaign. Even in peacetime or the safety of the rear area, military leaders understand the work is a marathon not a sprint requiring personal attention to the well being of the troops.

Since few in the private sector will be leading people in combat, what does all this malama business mean to those situations? The same principles apply, although the application may be a bit different. A private sector leader can malama his/her team by deliberately managing the stress level in the workplace. That care manifests in a number of ways: care for the workplace environment, distribution of workload, and most importantly treating subordinates with respect. A leader who’s shouting and waving their arms will increase the stress of the team and lower their productivity simultaneously. Furthermore, unlike the military a private sector employee can simply quit if the work is too abusive. Leaders can’t eliminate stress, and you shouldn’t try because a certain amount of stress is healthy, but leaders can and should be deliberate about how much and what kind of stress they allow. When a leader applies the principle of malama to their team, they see them as more than resources and will learn to cultivate their strengths and productivity.  A team who knows the leader actually cares about them, and has their interests as well as the company’s in mind is much more likely to perform at high levels. Conversely, teams whose leader is clearly out for their own advancement at the team’s expense is headed for disaster.  A leader who makes sure the workplace is safe, clean, and well-supplied is demonstrating malama.

So to sum up: if you want a high performing team, be a leader who lives malama in your approach to the teams you lead. Your people will return your care with performance and loyalty…from battlefields to bake sales.

Pearl Harbor Day 73rd Anniversary

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We’re privileged to live near hallowed ground: the battleground where 2,000 Americans lost their lives on December 7, 1941 during the attack on the military bases on Oahu. It’s humbling to live and work in a place where the history is never locked away in a book or museum, but part of our everyday lives.

Each morning I climb the stairs to my office in Building 1102 at Hickam Field past the scars of that day. In those days, what is now the headquarters of the US Pacific Air Forces was the barracks for the Airmen of the Hawaiian Air Force. One hundred eighty-nine men lost their lives in my building, another 303 were wounded. I remember them each time I see the bullet holes in the stairsand the walls outside. Seeing those battle scars everyday is a constant reminder of the importance of the work we do to keep the peace in the Pacific.

Technology allows us to participate in the remembrance ceremonies, even from far away.

The National Park Service and the U.S. Navy will host a joint memorial ceremony commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 2014 on the main lawn of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, looking directly out to the USS Arizona Memorial, at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

Follow the remembrance ceremony live on the Web.

This Pearl Harbor Day, pause a moment and remember the heroes of December 7th and all our World War II veterans. May the fallen rest in peace, and the veterans enjoy the peace so dearly bought and bravely won.

Outriggers and Leaders

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Outriggers and LeadershipNear my home in Hawaii is a stream that leads out to the ocean where I often paddle my kayak. It’s also where the local outrigger canoe club practices. I’d seen the outrigger canoes many times on television, but the first time I found myself in the water with them I was surprised by the size and the power of the canoes and their crews.

When discussing leadership is common to use a canoe crew as an example, but the power of those outrigger canoe crews underscores why it’s a great example to use. For the canoe to move like that the crew must work together very well, and they must have the discipline to practice often.

The 6-man canoes the local club paddles are 30-45 feet long, and they left a wake that rocked my kayak as they sprinted past! A practiced crew can get their canoe up to 20 knots, which is fast enough to ski behind! Power isn’t everything; you have to maneuver the canoe as well. I’ve seen six man canoe teams slow their big canoes from speed then turn 180 degrees on a buoy, and then accelerate again to 10 or 15 knots. Trust me it’s an impressive sight, and it doesn’t happen without a well-led and confident team.

Leaders can get those sorts of results if they lead their teams well. Getting the team all “paddling” in synch with each other is the key to organizational excellence. There’s a variety of ways to make that happen, from finding the “sweet spot” of personal-organizational-task needs to inspiring people with personal example. But we can’t neglect the importance of organizational discipline that comes from practice. Leaders have to set the example and establish the standards. Just like the steerman who calls the strokes and guides the canoe, teams respond to steady and confident leaders. Much of that confidence comes with practice.

Practice and routine are powerful tools at a leader’s disposal because as people repeat success they gain confidence in their ability as well as their teammates. Not every business had repeatable processes, but establishing standards of performance is something any organization can employ to get the team “paddling together.”

In the end, be it well drilled process or established quality standards, leading teams to high levels of performance requires confident leadership.


Leaders Supply the Perspective

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My latest over at General Leadership:

Hiking in Hawaii is one of the joys of living here. There are hundreds of miles of trails leading to natural beauty unique to the Islands of Aloha, but despite the fact we’re on an island, it’s surprisingly easy to get lost. Whoever is leading the hike has to know where they’re going, and maintain perspective during the journey. It’s an excellent metaphor for leadership because leadership, especially at senior levels, is all about maintaining perspective.

Read the rest on

Thanks NAVFAC Hawaii!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Speaking

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