Can We Talk About Virtue for a Moment?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

There’s loads of talk in the media and online about “polarization,” and I think it’s the right time to bring up virtue.

Many of us have been trained to think of “virtue” as the opposite of “vice.” That’s an imperfect comparison because, in reality, virtue lies between the extremes of vice on either end of the spectrum. Aristotle and later, St Thomas Aquinas, called this idea “The Golden Mean.” I think the idea illustrates the need for mature thinking and restraint – don’t let the pendulum pull you to vice.

Virtue Isn’t Inaccessible

Some often think of “virtue” as some sort of antiquated and inaccessible ideal – not applicable to the “real world” or only applicable to someone else. But virtue is not merely for saints and firefighters. All of us benefit from a society that embraces virtue with people who try their best to be virtuous. The Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude seem like they’re difficult or even from another time – but these are things we do every day.

When we make smart decisions about money or choose to hold our tongues instead of saying something mean, or even something as mundane as choosing the apple slices instead of fried potatoes at Chik-Fil-A, we’re using Prudence. Athletes and students exercise Temperance all the time when they choose to study or work out instead of sit on the couch and watch TV. Justice happens when we repay a debt or give someone credit for a job well done. Fortitude is when we show moral or physical courage in the face of adversity. Good people and even not-so-good people do these things all the time.

Back to the Golden Mean

In an age of extremism as an attempt to get attention for ourselves and our causes, we need to re-learn the value of the Golden Mean. Virtue lies between twin vices, not at the opposite end of them.

For example, “Courage” lies between the extremes of “Reckless Abandon” and “Cowardice.” It’s equally wrong to have complete disregard for your own safety and the safety of others, as it is to cower in safety while others are in need of your assistance. It’s not virtuous to take unneccessary chances, or refuse to risk yourself to save others, but it is virtuous to act when others need you.

The Middle Isn’t Moderate

We love to contrast the “Moderates” with the “Extremists,”  but I say a pox on both their houses. “Moderates,” at least the ones who seem to bend to the winds of society, stand for nothing. Their “True North” is whatever is popular at the moment. “Extremists” are grown up children clamoring for attention by banging on doors and attempting to shout people down. Neither of these examples strikes me as a particularly virtuous.

A virtuous person attempts to find common ground with others, but never compromises their core values. They don’t fall for the twin temptations at each end of the spectrum. It’s perfectly acceptable to advocate passionately for things we believe in. Where we cross the line is when we descend into vice in the service of our positions. That’s a line we cross at our own peril. Compromise and working together is virtuous, but we must never sacrifice principle on the altar of compromise.

Paraphrasing Aquinas, when we do Good and reject Evil we elevate ourselves and those around us. Truth and Good are objective realities – such things are not subject to opinion polls or how many “Likes” we get on our tweet.

Until we recover the idea of Virtue with a Capital V, we can never hope to live in a just civilization. For Aristotle, “Virtue” was the way mature, well-formed humans lived in harmony with others. Aquinas added a Christian view to that idea, living in harmony with others and God, but the idea is the same: grown-ups need to act like, well, grown-ups.

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Why No One is Listening to You

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules
Mom’s advice is still true

I have a little rule that I rarely break: never read the comments. In general, I find online discussions and online reviews of products and services routinely devolve into ugly comments and hyperbole. In a world where everyone can broadcast to the planet, many of us believe we have to exaggerate to be heard. I’m here to tell you that’s a false premise.  If you feel like no one is listening to you, I’ll tell you why I think that’s the case.

When I first began blogging, there were no social media platforms. Then came Plurk, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumbler, Instagram, Pinterest, Yelp, and on and on. Naively, I signed up for many platforms and participated in many discussions online. The problem, of course, is obvious. If you write online or participate in discussions online, sooner or later you’re going to make someone upset. Maturity has given me some perspective on how to constructively engage online, and one of the key lessons I learned is to avoid hyperbole.

Clickbait and Fake News

I know I don’t have to tell you that headlines and ads constantly use misleading or even salacious headlines to get your attention online. We’re at the point now where people don’t trust websites that don’t already tell them what they “know” is true. During the 2016 election cycle, we learned about “fake news” –  websites produced by pranksters, political hacks, nutjobs, and foreign agents designed to appear like legitimate news outlets. The term has become entangled with “propaganda” – which uses hyperbole extensively – but true “fake news” isn’t reporting or editorial slants we don’t like, it’s fiction or at least mostly fiction.

It’s important to separate editorial approach and truth. Just ‘cause a given news story, or blog post, conflicts with your view of the world doesn’t make it factually incorrect.  More importantly, I hope we’ve also learned to research a little before re-sharing something on social media.

Tribal Communication

One of the interesting things I’ve become aware of is how hermetically sealed almost everyone is in their own echo chambers. When people do venture away from their tribes, the language others use is so foreign to them, it’s difficult to have a discussion. When we can’t agree on the definitions of basic terms, like ‘person’ and ‘crime’, then arriving at any sort of mutual agreement is ne’r impossible. I have many examples, but here’s a benign (non-political) one.

Years ago and fresh from my master’s program in national resource strategy, I was steeped in the language of policymaking and economics. When someone was decrying fiscal policy of the then Administration and cited some incorrect facts, I thought I’d provide some help by dropping some economic knowledge on them. I used the term, “economic shock” which is a technical term for a, well, shock to the economy, in this case, the Great Recession of 2008. A person in the conversation was incensed that I would use such a “mild” term to describe something that was so devastating to her personally. I was speaking with my own “tribal language” with a blind spot on how others might hear it.

The same can be true with in-person discussions. It’s obvious when we see people from opposite political views talk to each other – they seem to be speaking completely different languages sometimes. When we make a word mean what we want it to mean rather than using the common or dictionary definition, then we’re only speaking to our own tribe. Go read the comments about news stories about almost anything and you’ll see what I mean.

Primary Sources, Please

It’s certainly not 100% successful, but choosing to use primary sources to educate yourself on the facts can help dial the emotion down a bit, and increase your chances of making your point. People are much more likely to listen when you start a sentence with, “The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported…” or “according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis…” rather than, “Actually, the answer is…”, or worse, “You’re an idiot…”.

Most often, a 5-second internet search is sufficient to prove/disprove a given assertion. Interestingly, the perspective of spending 5 minutes skimming a couple of articles (don’t forget: primary sources) is enough to move the argument to a discussion.

Be Prepared to “Disagree Agreeably”

Look, there are some people who you will never win over to your cause. You can improve your chances by being respectful, supporting your assertions with facts from reputable sources, and making a compelling case. However, there are some who will never find your case convincing. That’s OK, let it be. If you believe strongly about something, then support organizations that advocate for your issue. Educate yourself about the issues and opposing views. And for Pete’s sake exercise your freedom to vote. But when you can’t win someone over, let it be. Bringing drama or anger into yours or someone else’s life is only going to make yours worse.

For 34 years I wore the uniform of my country, and for 30 of those years I served alongside some of the finest people I will ever know. We did that job because we love our country. Honestly, I never cared much about who my fellow Airmen voted for, what they looked like, or whether or not they went to church, or who they dated. All that mattered, in the end, was our shared mission. I wish the rest of my countrymen could share the same view. If you’d like people to listen to you, then be the kind of person others are willing to listen to. The bottom line is this: if you love your country, then at least try to love Americans, too.

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Crimes are Not OK. Ever.

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, Practical Leadership

In last week’s post I discussed an example of an “honest mistake” using an example from an HBO dramatization of the Apollo Moon program in the 1960s. Today, we discuss crimes. Unlike mistakes, where we learn without (hopefully) causing any real harm, a crime always causes harm. It’s the leader’s job to hold people accountable and minimize that harm.

Today I bring you another excerpt from my book Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams where I discuss the difference and how leaders should react. While I discuss the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State below, the lessons can apply to the Church or any organization of any size. 

How many teams have been rendered ineffective because of the boorish (and perhaps illegal) behavior of one person? There have been a number of high profile scandals in the last ten years, where leaders failed to act on information that criminal acts were taking place in their organization.
The 2012 Penn State scandal is instructive because, as these sorts of scandals go, it has a lot in common with the many other scandals in large organizations. Look at the personal and institutional wreckage caused by the systemic failure of a handful of people to report the criminal abuse of minors by Jerry Sandusky. For decades while at Penn State, Mr. Sandusky preyed on young boys, and at some point his co-workers and leadership began to believe something was amiss. However, instead of leaders forcefully and directly addressing the situation by asking some basic questions (or better, reporting the matter to the authorities), it appears that Sandusky’s behavior was swept under the rug.

Former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky is escorted by police. (Photo: The Wrap)

Even when Sandusky was caught in the act of abusing a boy in the locker room by a coach, and the matter was reported up the chain of command, the Administration took no action other than telling Sandusky not to bring children to the Penn State locker rooms anymore. That wasn’t the only time someone observed Sandusky’s behavior during the 15 years the grand jury investigated. According to the grand jury investigation, at least 21 people in leadership positions, some of them executive leadership positions, had first-hand knowledge of the abuse and didn’t act. The institution suffered far more damage than it would have had the leaders had the fortitude and integrity to confront Sandusky and contact the authorities. More tragically, their failure to swiftly address the situation to the proper authorities not only tarnished the reputation of the institution but enabled a serial abuser to continue his destruction of young lives far longer than he should have. The victims and their families will have a long road to recovery, and the personal wreckage is tragic beyond words.


Leaders have to do the hard work of holding to personal, professional, and legal standards. To do otherwise doesn’t merely endanger personal reputation of the offender; it endangers the entire enterprise. It will be years, perhaps even decades, before Penn State recovers its reputation and self-respect. For the foreseeable future, the thousands of current students, faculty, and alumni will have to live with the stain caused by a very small number of people. They will also have to live with the permanent damage done to the victims by someone the University had celebrated as a hero and role model.

I think the response by student body and alumni should give leaders pause when they believe they’re protecting an institution by hiding wrong-doing. After the initial shock wore off, the students and alumni demanded accountability. They petitioned for the resignation (or removal) of the University president and demanded that the statue of former head football coach Joe Paterno be removed. They raised money for the victims of sexual abuse to the tune of $574,000. In the end, after all the emotion and grief over the scandal, the majority of the students and alumni accepted the punishments meted out by the authorities and sought to do their best to reclaim their honor. It was the best they could do to salvage a horrible situation, but it was a failure of integrity by leaders that made a horrible situation much, much worse.

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Honest Mistakes Are OK, But Crimes Are Not

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, Practical Leadership

Recently, the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church many of us thought was behind us has been thrust back into the spotlight. According to what I’ve read, it was brought about largely because men in positions of authority either lacked the moral courage to act or worse, condoned the behavior of men committing crimes against minors as well as adults (e.g. seminarians). As a Catholic, I’m appalled by this behavior – frankly, I expected much better from the bishops. It’s not just a problem with Catholic bishops, however. This problem of a lack of moral courage is endemic in our society today.

We begin this discussion about moral courage with the idea that honest mistakes are OK, and are very different than crimes.

Promo poster from Tom Hanks’ From the Earth to the Moon: Episode 5, “Spider” (HBO)

Today I bring you an excerpt from my book Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams where we talk about a story from a dramatization about the Apollo Moon program.

A culture of trust and respect means that people need to be allowed an honest mistake from time to time. “Allowed an honest mistake” doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for making that mistake; it means that there is a difference between a mistake and a crime. The main difference, of course, between the consequences of a mistake and a crime is that the boss often has a choice over how hard to “come down” on someone for a mistake. A crime is a different matter and must always be dealt with by the law enforcement authorities. No one should get a pass for a crime.

There’s a scene in one of my favorite mini-series, Tom Hanks’ From the Earth to the Moon, that I think illustrates the difference between accepting mistakes and crimes. During testing, Grumman engineers were trying in vain to understand why the legs of the moon landing ship kept buckling. It turns out that an engineer had made a math error in his initial calculations for the leg design that had carried through the rest of his work. The project fell months behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. After spending all night working to discover the error, the young engineer in charge of the leg design sheepishly approached his CEO the next morning and confessed the error was his. Believing he was to be fired, he offered to go home.

Instead, his boss scolded him gently for having made the mistake and then thanked him for bringing the matter to him. The CEO then told his depressed and exhausted engineer to get some rest because he had a lot of work to do to get the project back on schedule. The engineer was held responsible for his failure, but the boss also realized that the work his team was engaged in required innovation and risk taking. No one had been injured, and although the company had expended considerable resources, it was not a total loss. More importantly, if every error were a “mortal sin,” then the chilling effect on the rest of the team would stifle creativity and reduce the chance for successfully landing a man on the moon. He had to create and maintain an environment where the individual team members knew they were valued and respected not only for their contributions but because they were valued as people.

Of course, the United States landed men on the moon and returned them safely to the Earth using the vehicle designed by that same Grumman engineer who made the initial mistake. That success was made possible because the climate of respect among teammates was strong enough that an employee could approach his boss and confess a mistake, even expecting to lose his job, without fear of being mistreated. An institutional climate where people know they are valued because they are creates an atmosphere that breeds excellence.

Next week: Crimes, Penn State and Sandusky.

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What are Your Aspirations?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Achieving Goals

Aspire to become a better you!Every January we focus a lot on “resolutions” and “goals”–and all that’s good. I think we should step back and think a little bigger; namely: our aspirations. What’s the difference? Why do we need them? Aren’t goals enough?

No. Let me tell you why.

Aspirations versus Goals

Put succinctly, an aspiration is a longing, hope, or ambition, while a goal is a tangible achievement. So while I have a goal to drop 20 pounds and work out 4 times per week, I aspire to a high level of fitness so I can do the things I like to do like mountain biking or surfing.

If you’re struggling to come up with goals or find it hard to keep resolutions, it might be because you haven’t figured out what you aspire to be. Goals flow from aspirations. If I aspire to live my life a certain way or be a certain kind of person, then making (and achieving) my goals becomes natural. As I’ve written before, knowing where you’re going increases your chance of getting there. Goals give us “targets” to aim at as we go through life. What aspirations do for us is help us stretch and reach outside ourselves. Aspirations help us grow.

Why We Need to Aspire

It’s fairly common for people to make the same types of resolutions each year. We all know the most common: lose weight, quit smoking, go to the gym more, getting up earlier, reading more books, etc. If those are your goals this year, then by all means go for it! But if you are making the same goals for a second or third year in a row, then it might be time to think about why you made the goals in the first place. Getting healthy, starting your day right, and improving your mind are all great goals–but if they’re not aligned with your aspirations then it will be drudgery to maintain your momentum. However, if you aspire to be a healthy person, an early riser, or more well read because you want to be a better person, then working on achieving your goals becomes much easier, and maybe even fun!

Who Do You Want to Be?

Starting with a vision of who you want to be will enable you to become a high performer as you develop aspirations to help you stretch. Visioning your future, giving voice to your aspirations, will give you the power to reach your goals. So, the question for you is: Who do you want to be?

Check out the goal setting resources page for worksheets to help you build your aspirations and goals.

 


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

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

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

 

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Give Me Three Goals Mister

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Achieving Goals

Goals anyone?Ah January, that time of year when we can no longer ignore the calories we consumed over the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and thoughts turn to goal setting and resolutions. The gyms will be busy for a few weeks, and the television will have weight loss and “New Year New You” commercials (until Super Bowl Sunday, of course, then we take a break!)

There’s a great honor in a failed attempt, but there’s no honor in no attempt. – Laird Hamilton

Despite the Hype, You Need to Set Goals

I know it’s stereotypical to write about goal setting in January, but setting goals is incredibly important. Simply allowing life to “happen” to us without thinking about where we want to be, what we want to achieve, and the kind of person we want to be is a recipe for an unhappy life. How many times have we’ve heard, “I’d have done such-and-such or gone to fill-in-the-blank place, but…” DON’T BE THAT GUY!  You’ll never regret the scars of failed attempts or time spent with your family, but you will regret the times you sat on the couch and let life happen.

Three Steps to Goal Setting

Picking out what you want to achieve in the coming year should match your personality and skills, be measurable, and be realistic. For example, I can set myself a goal to play in the NFL next fall, but unless they have a shortage of slow 52-year-olds with bad knees that’s probably not a good goal for me. I can, however, set myself a goal to participate in the 21-mile Dam That Cancer standup paddle board event. That’s a realistic goal and right in line with my skills and personality.

Your goals should be something you actually want to achieve. You should be able to measure your progress toward your goal, and they should be actually achievable. By all means, stretch yourself and reach for something–that’s where you grow–but don’t set yourself up for failure by “shooting the moon” without a rocket. To be successful, here’s the Three Steps I use:

  1. Write your goals down and tell someone. Having your goals on paper and in public creates accountability for you to motivate you to stay committed.
  2. Measure your progress. It can be a massive motivator to see your progress grow (or shrink, depending on the goal!). There’s loads of tools out there, from apps to journals, but you don’t have to be fancy–just measure it.
  3. Reward yourself when you get there. Some goals are fun and rewarding, some are just necessary for your personal or professional growth. In any case, celebrate the win with a little reward when you achieve your goal. The promise of the reward is a motivator, and in those times when it’s hard you’re gonna need it.

So, Where Do You Want to Be in February?

In the Air Force, we used to talk about short-term goals or problems as “the 50 meter target” because on the shooting range, those are the closest ones. In combat, you always engage the closest target first. February is your 50 meter target! It’s easy to sit on the couch and make goals, heck most of us actually mean it when we make them. Then, February.

After we make our long-term goals that fit with our personality and skills, are measurable, and realistic, we need to steel ourselves to engage February. February is dark and cold in most places. After the post-holiday glow is gone and before the sun warms us up in spring, February will be the “goal killer.” Engage that target!  Visualize the person you want to be a the end of February, and power through. Remind yourself in those dark February mornings why you set those goals to begin with, and resolve not to lose ground. All that said, if you do stumble, remember: you still have 10 months to go! Plenty of time to regain your footing and move forward again.

You Got This

No matter what, remember you are able to reach your goals. If you select realistic goals and work on them steadily throughout the year, you’ll get there by the time 2019 rolls around.

 


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

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

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

 

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Christmas Geekiness and Planning for 2018

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

The Christmas Season begins at the Vigil (sundown) on Christmas Eve (Dec 24) and continues through the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan 6).

We’ll have a short post this week as I’m trying to keep my screen time to a minimum to enjoy the holidays and some time off with my family. I thought you’d appreciate some fun facts about Christmas, perhaps something you already know or perhaps something new! I’ll admit to being a bit of a history and liturgy geek, so bear with me!

Christmas Geekology

Christmas begins on Dec 24th, so why do we start celebrating early? Well, mostly because of World War II. With millions of Americans deployed overseas, the Federal Government urged Blue Star families to send their cards and presents early so the troops would receive them by Christmas.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are the actual Christian liturgical season of Christmas between Advent, and Ordinary Time. The entire calendar is derived from calculating Easter’s date, with “fixed” Solemnities like Christmas and the Annunciation fitting in as well. The Annunciation, the celebration of the Angel’s visit to the Blessed Virgin, occurs on March 25th each year–9 months before the celebration of Christ’s birth. If you notice, many churches and households decorate simply with evergreen and ribbons, saving the lights and colors for Christmas Day. My own Mom would challenge our poor mountain-grown fir tree to remain fireproof in the warm Texas winter until the Epiphany (Jan 6), although our house Fire Marshal (Dad) would occasionally drag the poor brown thing to the curb on Jan 1st.

Thinking about Next Year Yet?

I’ve been thinking a LOT about what I’ll be doing in 2018. If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you’ve already gotten a sneak peek! I’ll be adding to the blog, and I’m mulling over more ways to deliver content to you. If you have topics or ideas you’d like to see from me, I’d LOVE to hear them! Post them in the blog comments below or send me an email. In January, look for hints and methods for reaching your goals and becoming a High Achiever in the next year.

In the mean time, have a GREAT Christmas season and rest up for an AMAZING 2018!!!

 

 


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

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

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

 

Never miss a post! Subscribe to get the posts delivered to your inbox.