Look Outside the Tent

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The command post was tense. It was pitch black inside and the inside was illuminated by a few red lights intended to maintain our night vision as we managed the battle raging outside. 

Our camp had 360 degree security, and I congratulated myself at having repulsed two assaults on the perimeter already. We’d correctly anticipated the enemy’s approach lanes and positioned ambushes along them that caught the enemy by surprise. The barriers on the perimeter were holding. In short, we were winning and I and the enemy knew it.

The enemy decided make a culminating attack just after midnight, beginning with mortars and small arms fire. I could hear the battle outside as I watched the map get updated and listened to the reports over the radio. But something was different this time: the sounds of the battle were different. Then came the call over the radio, “They’re wearing gas masks!” The radio net erupted in calls for clarification and new reports. There was so much chaos on the radio that it took me precious minutes to sort out what was happening. I asked if anyone could see anything besides one enemy wearing a gas mask, and no one reported anything unusual. Someone mentioned a “smoke grenade”, which I accepted at face value.

By the time I figured out we were under a chemical attack, it was too late: the exercise controllers had declared dozens of my Airmen casualties. At the very moment we were winning the battle, the enemy overran the south perimeter and was now fighting us inside the camp.

Yes, this was an exercise, not an actual battle, but I learned a very valuable lesson about thinking critically and checking important things personally.

Look Outside

Locked inside the command post, I had cut myself off from the battle by not observing it directly. Had I opened the tent flap and looked outside, I’d have seen the massive smoke plume (that represented the chemical attack) and made sense of the confused reports that came over the radio. 

Leaders should ensure they are not just receiving information, or even receiving enough information. Leaders should ensure they’re receiving the right information. In my darkened command post, I had a lot of information flowing in: position reports, attack locations, type and disposition of the enemy, etc. I’d even received a snippet of information that indicated a chemical attack might be underway. What I lacked was the context to make sense of all the data; context I could’ve had with a 3 second look outside with my own eyes.

Figure Out What You Need to Know

In the information age, leaders have access to great volumes of information and the temptation is to allow the information stream to wash over them unsorted. These leaders are information sponges, consuming any and all data they can get or have their teams gather. The alternative vice is to become so detached that decisions are made out of context, or with leaders who are out of touch. 

The antidote for both of these leadership mistakes is to deliberately think about what information leaders need to have to make informed decisions, with the realization that there is no such thing as perfect information. That kind of decision-quality information usually comes as a result of a collaboration with the team and familiarity by the leaders in the process. Leaders check small things, but not every thing.


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

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Swing Easy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

I’m taking the remainder of the summer off from blogging. In the mean time, please enjoy this “throwback” post from the archives.

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

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

You Don’t Have to Control Everything

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

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

Learn to Coach not Direct

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

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

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

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

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

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Cooperate and Graduate

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Cooperation between competitors serves everyone well, since there is usually more than enough business to go around. By adopting a “cooperate and graduate” style, even competitors can become partners. Clearly, there are practical and legal limits to cooperation between industry competitors, but having limits doesn’t imply there should be no cooperation at all.

Take the case of the then-US Air Force’s newest air superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor. Boeing and Lockheed-Martin teamed to develop and then manufacture the advanced aircraft rather than compete amongst themselves. A second team, Northrop-Grumman and McDonnell-Douglass, also teamed up to compete for the contract. Both teams partnered for several reasons, among them that it spread the risk out among many business units, and a team approach also ensured that components could be manufactured and assembled in as many Congressional districts as possible to shore up support on Capitol Hill. A more cutthroat approach would’ve been for a single company to make the pitch to the Air Force, and if they won the contract, they’d have eliminated perhaps several major competitors from the market. However, both teams knew the Air Force was concerned with maintaining the aviation industrial base, and developing new technology is also fraught with risks, so both companies elected to “cooperate and graduate” on the F-22 project so they could minimize their risk and maximize the chance of getting the contract. Now, the Air Force got their fighters, had some confidence that the industry will stay healthy, and both companies in the winning team live to fly another day. Together, the teams of Lockheed-Martin and Boeing were more successful than either would’ve been on their own.

Making it Happen

What’s more, while a multi-billion dollar contract certainly had the top executives involved in setting the agenda, think of the cooperation and teamwork required at the first line supervisor level at both companies. Engineers and program managers had to make hundreds of decisions per day about what information to share and how to achieve their company’s leaders’ vision while not compromising future projects. Lockheed-Martin and Boeing were allies in the F-22 project, but they were still competing in the same market for other contracts. That kind of teamwork at the lowest levels requires both a commitment to supporting the first line leaders (and “foot soldiers”) by headquarters and first line leaders’ commitment to protecting their own company’s interests at the same time. That kind of “tight rope” only works if first-line leaders are given clear guidance and entrusted with the responsibility to get the job done by their leaders. People have to be able to make decisions and not “wait for guidance.” The more complex the situation, the more important first-line leaders are to the success of an enterprise.


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

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

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First Line Leaders Get it Done

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U.S. Air Force Photo, 2BW/PA

It does no good for the commander to sell a grandiose vision if the sergeants and team leaders aren’t buying. Furthermore, if the first line and mid-level leaders are undermining the commander’s vision, then the ensuing lack of respect for the institution begins to break down the team just as surely as if the leader had a personal breach of integrity. It falls on those same first-line supervisors to implement the commander’s vision and to do it in such a way as to communicate the enthusiasm the commander himself has for the endeavor. The difference between a mediocre organization and an excellent organization is often these first line leaders’ commitment to the company vision. That commitment is measured in how that first line leader can translate the task he or she’s been given with sufficient enthusiasm to get the employees motivated to excellence.

That’s why the military spends so much effort to develop their first line leaders. We depend on sergeants to give the orders that get their soldiers moving. They must understand the commander’s objective so well that they can make it simple for their small group and then improvise on the fly if necessary.

Business is No Different

The same is true in business. The team leaders and assistant managers must understand the boss’ agenda and then sell that to the employees as if it were their own idea. It is counter-productive for the assistant manager to stand up at the beginning of a shift and announce in monotone that “corporate has decided that we’ll….” Employees have already stopped listening. What that assistant manager has to do is tell his team the “what and why” and motivate them to achieve both for their own fulfillment and to achieve the company’s goals.

It’s also incumbent upon leaders at all levels not to merely “sell” the company line but to understand as best as possible the reason their boss came to the decision they did. This is a very important point. First line leaders have the most responsibility to motivate and train the people who actually do the company’s work. “Because I said so” has a finite lifespan and becomes very tiresome when used too often. The company leadership should arm first line leaders with the “why” so they can tell their teams. Employee morale and effectiveness starts at the team leader level; employees who rarely or never learn the “why” will soon believe they are unappreciated. Once the downward spiral of morale begins, it’s difficult for even the most talented leaders to rescue it. Executives owe it to their company leaders to ensure that they not only understand the task but also understand the why. Not every first line leader will agree with decisions made above them, but if she is to pass on the company’s direction successfully, she’ll need to understand why senior leaders made the decision in the first place.


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

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

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Respect for the Institution and Finding Earth

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When I write about “respect” there’s an element of the concept that often gets overlooked, and that’s respect for the institution. If you can’t respect the institution, then get another institution. Life is way, way too short to either be stuck someplace that you can’t respect or to be an anchor on the organization or the institution because you’re in the back grousing. You’re not doing yourself or anybody else any good if you’re sticking around like a square peg in a round hole.

We see this kind of disrespect for the institution a lot in organizations that are transforming. Transformation is very difficult for some people, and the turmoil that accompanies transformation generates significant emotion. This is not to say that all change is good, or that everyone should simply smile and accept change without question. Sometimes changes are not good changes. Sometimes change is necessary.  It’s good to fight for change, it’s good to put forward your ideas, even if you’re going against the grain, but at some point we all have to go “Find Earth.” The phrase, “Find Earth” is an idea I borrowed from from my favorite sci-fi TV show, Battlestar Galactica. While I loved the 1978 edition, I’m particularly fond of the 2005 version.

Commander Adama and the School Teacher

If you don’t know the story, Battlestar Galactica is a takes place hundreds of thousands of years in the past. The human race is wiped out by the Cylons, and a small remnant of survivors set off across the stars in a convoy of spaceships led by the sole surviving warship (the Battlestar Galactica) to go find the mythical planet of Earth as their new home. In the pilot, the surviving Secretary of Education now-President of the Colonies Laura Roslin (Mary McDowell) looks at Commander Adama (Edward Olmos), the Galactica’s commander, and asks him what are his intentions. It is a “reality check” discussion for her, but he can’t see it yet. Commander Adama is determined to get back into the fight. He’s at war and most if not all of his comrades and friends are likely dead. He’s going to go down swinging.

Part of the reason Adama is so intent on disregarding the president and so focused on getting back into the fight is he doesn’t respect the institution Roslin now represents. In his mind, Roslin is merely a “school teacher”  and not the president. Neither her orders nor her advice are to be taken seriously. In response, President Roslin straightens her suit and says, “I don’t know why I’m the one that has to keep telling you this, but the war’s over, we lost.” It was only later after her words sunk in that Adama realized that she was right. He also realizes that people need something to live for beyond mere survival – finding the mythical 13th Colony of “Earth.”

Transformation Fatigue

Time and time again in both my work as an Air Force officer and a consultant, I hear about “transformation fatigue.” It’s cited by people up and down an organization that have been through multiple changes in organization and (usually) had that change poorly explained or poorly executed. Sometimes to the people “on the line” some “school teacher” comes along every few years with a good idea, and then everyone’s lives are turned upside down. It’s exhausting. It’s also unnecessary.

Good leaders can drive change by giving people a reason to change, something to live for rather than merely endure. What we have to do is metaphorically go find Earth. We have to live through the change, we have to lead the change we can lead, fight the good fight.

If you’re opposed to a certain change, and the war’s over and you lose, then you must move on and go find earth. That’s what “respect for the institution” means when you’re transforming. It doesn’t mean kowtow, it doesn’t mean compromising your values, it doesn’t mean don’t fiercely advocate for your position. What it does mean is once the decision is made, you have to either lead, follow, or get out of the way.

If you can’t respect the institution for whatever reason, good or bad, then go find another institution. Go find another place where you’re happy, and the institution will be happy and make room for someone else.


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

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

Finding the Sweet Spot

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It’s hard to over communicate as a leader or project manager.  If you’ve ever suffered through a project or role where key players seemed unable or unwilling to communicate, you know what I mean. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when you’re like me and accustomed to robust communication. Sending emails and text messages into the ether with questions and concerns that are met with silence is a recipe for breeding a lack of confidence. Generating a common picture and integrating the various needs of the Institution, Project, and People is a great way to help build a shared view and shared purpose.

A Leadership Common Operating Picture

If you’ve been around the military for any length of time, you’re likely to hear the term “common operating picture” (COP). A common operating picture is the view of the battle space that is shared with everybody that’s involved in that battle space. It’s called a common operating picture, because it’s common across everybody who’s in there, everybody who needs to see it, and it’s common across what the military now terms “Multi-Domain Operations” (air, space, sea, land, cyber). What’s important about a COP is that information is shared and constantly updated so that everyone has a shared view, and can pursue a shared goal.

We can approach leadership and project management the same way, and it’s the basis for my Sync to Swim Model. Leadership is a team sport. If you’re leading, and you see yourself alone, then you have to wonder why no one is following you. A shared view of the “battlespace” is a good place to start, and to build that shared view, leaders have to answer some fundamental questions.

Answering the Questions

What are the three questions a leader has to answer? First of all, leaders must understand “what are the team members’ personal needs.” As a leader, you deal with human beings. You have to understand what your people need, what feeds them as a human being? What can I give them as a leader? What can the organization give them? What can their teammates give them? Answering these questions helps leaders ensure people are in the right roles, where they can contribute and where they can grow.

The second question is ”what does the organization need?” What do I have to do as a unit, as a group, as a team, to satisfy what the organization needs? Every institution and organization, be it public or private, has policies, goals, and a culture. There are laws and rules we must follow. Our bosses have expectations for our performance. All these things should be on our minds as leaders – after all, we’re hired by an organization to serve the interests of that organizations.

The third question is “what are the requirements of the task?” For engineers and project managers, that’s where we often “live.” We love this part, because we can plug numbers into a spreadsheet, make a flow chart, do a project plan. I can figure things out and produce a piece of paper. Done. Getting the actual work done is an important part of leadership – it does no good to have a boss who likes you and good morale on the team if nothing ever gets done.

The Sweet Spot

We have to figure out when to integrate all of those things, and so the sweet spot is right there in the middle: the task, the needs of the organization, and the needs of the individuals on the teams. If we can integrate all those things, and find that sweet spot, then we’re truly leading people. That sweet spot is where we should live.

Be sure to check out my Sync to Swim Resources page!

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

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

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

Leading Leaders: Little Things Matter

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In the quote at left, Bell is actually paraphrasing St Luke’s Gospel where Jesus reminds his followers that trustworthiness doesn’t depend on the size of value of the task. This idea that a leader pays attention to details is the core around the concept of “Little Things Matter.”

The task for the leader then, is to figure out which little things matter. As a commander, one of the things I always checked when I entered a new workspace was the bulletin board. If I walked into a shop, or an office, and I looked at the bulletin board. If the notices were sun faded because nobody replaced them, or the chaplain, or the EO counselor’s letter was no longer assigned to the unit ago, or if it hadn’t been updated in a while, then it prompted me to look further.

I ran into this issue as a executive leader as a colonel in the Air Force. When I got to be the Deputy Director for Installations and Mission Support at Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces, I immediately noticed that perhaps attention to detail had slipped a bit. The 1992 PACAF Goals were still hanging in the same place in the Directorate office suite. In 2013.

Somebody, and it’s lots of somebodies, over the course of 21 years, had never taken the 1992 command goals off the wall. If scores of people had walked past this plaque on the wall – right next to the front door by the way – and had not removed them or asked why they were there, what else got missed in that office? Do you think our visitors and customers had confidence in our professionalism and competence? I’m going with “probably not.”

Now, not every little detail matters, you can nickel and dime your organization to death. I once worked for a person with executive experience. She was a wonderful person: very intelligent and kind, but had never been a senior executive position before. This person spent a lot of time sending cover memos back for editing, even though she was the only one who was ever going to see them. So, it would take forever to get things through the office, and work slowed to a crawl. That’s an inappropriate attention to detail.

The goal then for leaders, is to figure out which little things matter, and then pay attention to those little things, and then be willing to adjust to which little things matter, based on the situation. A leader who’s engaged, who pays attention, can create organizational change for the good. You can use your power for good. You can create a team that pays attention too.

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

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

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Leadership Foundations

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I use sports metaphors a lot in my books and in my talks because I’m a firm believer in the power of sports to teach life and leadership lessons. I’m not alone in that view. Gen Douglas MacArthur famously said, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” The quote means that the things we learn on the field of play are applicable to life: dealing with adversity, motivating others, perseverance, humility in victory, dignity in defeat.

Football, and Spring Football

Sports is very big in Texas. In Texas, we only have two sports, football and spring football. Ok, that’s a tad bit over the top, but football is probably the most popular sport in Texas. Growing up in Ft. Worth, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys were my hometown team and the men on the team were boyhood heroes. I never missed a game on TV, knew all the names of all the players and most of the coaches, and wore Roger Staubach’s and Drew Pearson’s numbers on my jerseys.

Head Coach Tom Landry remains one of the men I most admire. If you haven’t read his story, I highly encourage it. His book is hard to find, but worth the read. He was a B-17 pilot in World War II, a US Air Force captain who flew combat missions, and then like a lot of veterans came back and resumed his life. He played the New York Giants, and then later as a coach. When the Cowboys franchise began he became the first head coach for nearly 30 years.

Coach Landry on Leadership

A Tom Landry quote I like a lot mirrors my approach to leadership as well. Landry said, “The art of leadership is getting people to do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they want to achieve.” To me, that is the essence of what leadership is about. Many things we’re asked to do as leaders involve things that we don’t want to do. Some things are uncomfortable. We have to work hard, or we have to work late, or they’re tasks that are unpleasant. The art of leadership is to motivate people, and motivate yourself as a leader to inspire people to greatness, despite maybe the unpleasantness of those tasks. Character is built suffering through two-a-day football practice in August in Texas with the knowledge that the sweat and sore muscles now mean success on the field in November.

Mapping Leading Leaders Tenets to Goals of Leadership

In my books Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, I map out the the goals leaders have for understanding their environment with five tenets of leadership. These tenets form the foundation of any leadership approach. It’s these goals and tenets I first learned on the sports field, and honed over three decades in the US Air Force.

TenetsLeadership Goal
IntegrityLittle Things MatterUnderstand that ethics and character contribute to high performing teams
RespectLeaders LeadUnderstand the relationship between the leader and the follower
TeamworkAppreciate the “teams within teams” concept of organizational leadership

When you take those five tenets of leadership, and then you marry those things up with our goals as leaders, as relationship builders, as task doers, that’s where they map out. The first is understanding the ethics and character. This really is the foundation of leadership, right? Because if we don’t have good character, if we don’t start with the foundation of integrity, then we’re going to make decisions later that are going to let other people down, and compromise ourselves.

Respect” and “Leaders Lead,” that’s understanding the relationship between the leader and the follower. It’s that understanding that leading people is about motivating and inspiring people, not merely  accomplishing a task. Sometimes we’re a bit too in love with our spreadsheets. We love to be able to plug numbers in and do math, and get an answer. But we sometimes forget as that our purpose in life is to do things for human beings. That’s what leaders do, leaders take the task that we’re doing, and make it applicable to the human beings that we work and serve, and work for.

The last goal of Teamwork is understanding the idea of “teams within teams”. We had a great chief of staff in General John Jumper a few years ago, and he used to talk about teams within teams, and that’s where I borrowed that phrase. There is room for individual achievement, and we should celebrate that, but we should never forget that we have teammates, and sometimes we have teammates that we don’t realize we have.

On the Fields of Friendly Strife

We can do a lot of leadership and character growth on the sports field – take advantage of the chance to learn those lessons in a benign environment.

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

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

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Leaders Need to Know the Truth

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Holding to consistent ethics and morals is vital for leaders

Truth? What is Truth?

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

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

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

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

Fact, Opinion, Perspective, Truth

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

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

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

There is Such a Thing as Right and Wrong

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

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

We Know, We Act

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


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

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

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Spit Out the Seeds

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

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

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

Life is Like That Too

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

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

I Don’t Want to be Around Those People

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

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

There’s Plenty of Melon for Everyone

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Swing Easy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

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

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

You Don’t Have to Control Everything

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

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

Learn to Coach not Direct

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________________________________________

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

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

Leaders Create a Culture of Respect

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

The second brick in the foundation of leadership that’s necessary when leading leaders is respect. The leader must model respect and demand it of their teams.

Respect must go both ways, up as well as down, and most of the burden falls on the leader’s shoulders. Respect is both inherent, and it is earned.  It is earned by the way we do our jobs, the way we treat others, and how we carry ourselves. Just as important, respect for the organization is a necessary component.  Respect is also inherent in each person as a matter of simple human dignity.

Leaders Set the Tone

It is very important for a leader to explicitly outline his or her expectations in this regard. Everyone should expect their co-workers and their leaders to follow the law, that’s a given. Our attitudes about the people we work with should convey that our hearts as well as our heads demonstrate our respect. The leader must also pledge that they will show respect to their team. A person who shows respect to others will create a “bubble of trust” around them. People will want to work with them and for them. Customers will want to do business with them. The more people in an organization that have built their reputations on mutual respect, the bigger that “bubble of trust” grows. When people know they’re respected by their teammates and leaders, they feel safe to perform, to take risks, and to be themselves.

A person who shows respect to others will create a “bubble of trust” around them.

Whenever I took command of a new unit, I made it very clear that we were to respect each other as Airmen and as persons. For us, that meant we used proper military customs and courtesies, we didn’t use foul language, and we respected each others’ dignity whether or not we agreed with our teammates’ choices or beliefs. Each person has a multitude of ways to describe them: sex, race, eye color, religion or no religion, national origin, etc. We are required by law to treat people equally in all things and not to treat someone differently because they are different from us. It’s not necessary for me to agree with everything another person thinks or believes, but it is necessary for me to treat them with the respect they deserve as a fellow human being.

Beyond mere adherence to the law, respect is recognizing that another human being has the same value as I do because they are.

Not Just for the Military

In the private sector, this is no different. Like the public sector, there are institutional policies and public law that require certain personal and institutional behaviors, but respect is not a legal requirement. Respect is much more than that. Beyond mere adherence to the law, respect is recognizing that another human being has the same value as I do because they are, not because of what they do, how much money they make, or what clothes they wear. Now, I can certainly perform rote behaviors and parrot legal scripts when dealing with others, but to truly show respect, that has to come from the heart. Again, I don’t have to condone behavior or agree with beliefs that don’t match my own; but the skilled leader, the effective leader, separates behavior from personhood and can show respect to anyone regardless of differences. This type of respect engenders respect in return.

Over the course of my career, I’ve led and worked with a number of people who were very different from me. Because we lived and worked in an environment where respect was the expected behavior, teams and friendships usually form quickly, even among very dissimilar people. We became friends with people we might never have even met, let alone socialized with, because the climate our leaders created and maintained required that we respect each other. When you start with respect for another person, most times the differences don’t really matter all that much.

Crimes are not Mistakes – Know the Difference

Of course, there are some things in the “just don’t do it” category, for example: sexual harassment, alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, racism, etc. These are inherently self-destructive behaviors that leaders cannot tolerate under any circumstances and go well beyond mere “philosophical differences.” In professions like heavy industry, construction, the military, police, or fire service, these sorts of self-destructive behaviors can have life or death consequences. In business, it can end careers and destroy companies.

…there are some things in the “just don’t do it” category, for example: sexual harassment, alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, racism, etc. These are inherently self-destructive behaviors that leaders cannot tolerate under any circumstances…

Leaders have to act quickly to prevent someone’s illegal choices from costing someone else their life or livelihood. In industrial settings, the consequences for the “just don’t do it” behaviors are similarly severe. However, not all of us work in a life and death profession. So while leaders in an office or small business may not have to deal with an industrial accident, business and personal consequences can be very severe. Moreover, an incidence of sexual harassment damages the victim and could expose the firm to legal action for not addressing the illegal behavior.

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.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams. It’s available in the Lulu Bookstore and on Amazon, also on Kindle.


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.

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

 

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The Thumper Rule – If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

I heard my father’s voice in my head: “Be nice,” so I choked out a strained “thank you” through a fake smile. What I really wanted to say was, “Are you KIDDING me?!!” 

The young Airman standing in front of me had very proudly secured an all black Toyota Forerunner from the motor pool that he thought was, “a cool color.” In a place where the summer temperatures reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, I had a black car without tinted windows. And I had to say “thank you.” In fact, if I’d said anything else, I’m sure I’d have crushed him because he thought he was doing me a favor. Not everyone has a black car in Kuwait. In fact, in the year I was there I never saw another black car! It was unheard of in the desert country of Kuwait because the Kuwaitis knew better.

As I tore my stunned gaze away from the solar oven that was about to be my command vehicle, I searched for something to say.  Heck, I’d have left there and had a beer to drown my sorrows–except General Order No 1 prohibited the consumption of alcohol in the Central Command Area of Responsibility. So, I smiled, thanked the young man, and left before I said something I knew I’d regret.

What Thumper Said–Sometimes

In the classic Disney film, Bambi, there is a scene when Bambi’s cottontail companion Thumper is corrected by his mother after he makes a rude comment about Bambi. In reply to his mother’s, “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”, he replies sweetly, “If you don’t have somethin’ nice to say, don’t say nuthin’ at all.” It’s good advice that seems more difficult to abide by in the digital age.

It’s easy in the heat of the moment and particularly online to be more direct and verbally aggressive than we would’ve been otherwise. It’s particularly easy when the interface between you and another person is a computer screen that you take with you everywhere (like your phone or tablet). It’s gotten so bad for some that a few friends of mine have abandoned all social media completely. I think a great many people, fearful of others’ harsh words or perhaps their own, have simply ceded the public square to the trolls.

Light a Candle

The truth is very, very few of us enjoy being mean or nasty. There are a few people out there who seem to thrive on the pain and embarrassment of others, but most people really don’t like confrontation or meanness. But just like the old saying, “Don’t curse the darkness, light a candle,” we can actually do something about it.

It starts with living out what you believe, and doing so in a positive and constructive way. As my own father wisely told me, “Taking the coat off someone else’s back doesn’t make mine any warmer.” He means, tearing others down doesn’t build us up–it actually brings all of us down together. If we truly believe that other humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and “in the image and likeness of God,” shouldn’t we treat our fellow humans as if that were true? If we actually believe in the ideal that “all men are brothers”, shouldn’t our words and actions reflect that belief?

I think it should, and that’s our way to light a candle. When the conversation gets bad, we can find a way to show love to one another and bring a little peace with our words, or even silence. If you are human and mess up, then apologize as best you can and try to be better next time. Even if we need to correct something or defend ourselves or others, we can do that peacefully and with love.

That’s lighting a candle, too. And it’s also what Thumper would’ve done.

 


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.

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

 

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Back in the Saddle and How Can I Serve Better in 2018?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Announcements

It’s been a couple of months with no posts here and I know some have wondered about the hiatus (Dad, thanks for asking!). Well, I’ll tell you!

As I’ve transitioned to a new role in my new hometown, the blog had to take a back seat. But now that I’ve re-established myself in my new life, it’s time to return to the keyboard. So, “I’mmmm baaaack!”

Where I’ve Been

The end of the summer saw me officially leave active duty and begin a new job in the private sector. I learned quite a few things about that transition–or as I called it, “graduation”–that I’ll be sharing in upcoming blog posts. My network of friends and mentors was extremely supportive and I’m so very grateful for everyone’s support!

Of course, making that transition is time and energy-consuming–hence the hiatus. Still a lot going on but after 2 months I’ve finally found some daily rhythm. Leaving the military, Hawaii, and re-establishing your entire life in a new city is daunting! Thankfully, we received such a warm welcome here in New Braunfels that it’s already feeling like home. We really miss Hawaii, especially now as the temperatures are dropping! However, we’re feeling good to be close to family and are enjoying exploring the Texas Hill Country.

Looking Ahead

Being almost December, I’m also planning for the next year. It’s important for me to be responsive to the needs of my readers. What topics do you want covered? What questions do you have about leadership or character? Read any good books you’d like to share and have me review? I really want to know!

I’ll be returning to my usual weekly Wednesday post, and potentially more as I get cracking on some projects I’ve been working on over the last year that also took a back seat to my transition to civilian life. I’m excited to share them with you!

If you’re not a subscriber to the newsletter, I’d encourage you to do that as my subscribers get first dibs at specials and new stuff coming down the pike.

For readers who’ve stuck with me since September, thank you! Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and I’m looking forward to sharing Advent and Christmas with you all as we journey to the new year!

 


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.

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

 

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What I Saw in Houston

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience, The Five Be's, Veterans

Team Rubicon “Greyshirts” of FOB FRIENDSWOOD prepare to move out for the day.

Last week I deployed with Team Rubicon on my first ever disaster response operation: Operation Hard Hustle.  I can tell you I got more out of the experience than I gave—serving others and doing important work in the company of other military veterans and first responders is soul-cleansing. This post is my reflection on that week.

Doing good work and serving others is my primary reason for volunteering, but there is a secondary benefit as well. The experience also provides a place for veterans to be among other veterans, and to reconnect with the “brotherhood.” Having spent my entire adult life in uniform, I relish that connection.  WW II soldier and Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin called it the “Benevolent And Protective Brotherhood Of Them What Has Been Shot At”, and that’s a discription I’ve thought about many times over the course of my career.

My Air Force specialty was civil engineering and installation management, which means when bad things happened I went to work. Being retired from the Air Force, I was now on the sidelines of a disaster happening just a few hours by car away from me. I felt the need to be there, and so enter Team Rubicon. I’ve written about Team Rubicon before, but in a nutshell it’s a veteran-led organization who respond to disasters. When we were in the military, we received a lot of training on handling chaos and trauma—some of us were medics, rescue personnel, infantry, engineers, etc. Team Rubicon allows us to put our military experience and training to work as well as continue to serve.

I can tell you I got more out of the experience than I gave—serving others and doing important work in the company of other military veterans and first responders is soul-cleansing.

Pack Your Stuff

My “Go Bag” is packed.

When Hurricane Harvey headed for the Texas coast gaining strength, I felt I just couldn’t sit idle while people were about to have their lives shattered when I had the skills to help. On Thursday with Harvey’s rain pounding and wind howling outside, I filled out the forms, did the training, and submitted my background check. And waited.

I didn’t have to wait long.

On Sunday afternoon I received the coveted “green dot” on my TR Profile meaning I was cleared, and an email with deployment orders to join the first wave of volunteers at Forward Operating Base (FOB) FRIENDSWOOD in Friendswood, Texas.  Most of my field gear and camping equipment is still in storage in Colorado, so I was off to Academy and Walmart to get a few things, then on Tuesday morning I drove the three hours down to our FOB for operations in the area. Our Area of Operations (AO) would include Friendswood, Dickinson, League City, Alvin, and Hitchcock. The Incident Command team of four seasoned TR volunteers was there a few days ahead of us, and we began operations as soon as we got signed in.

Professionals Talk Logistics

Warm welcome from Friendswood!

The first order of business for the handful of new arrivals was to set the logistics for the remainder of the deployment. We re-positioned vehicles, drew tools and equipment, and set up two dozen cots in the gym that would be our living quarters. I must say that the good people who hosted and supported us at Friendswood United Methodist were amazing. The fed us three meals a day, washed our clothes, and provided small comforts like toiletries, home baked goodies, and pillows. Can’t say enough about them and their servants’ hearts!

On Day 2 while a most of our team headed out to do Damage Assessments and work at a house (“Strike Team”), three of us headed to a warehouse down at the airport that would be our Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration (RSOI) center for Greyshirts (TR volunteers) arriving in the next week. We spend the morning cleaning it and getting the RSOI center ready, then back to the FOB after repositioning more vehicles, picking up others, and drawing more equipment for our teams.

“It’s Too Dangerous for My Children”

More Greyshirts arrive on Saturday!

On Days 3-5, I was finally able to get into the field and begin working with the people affected by the flooding. We went house to house in a Dickinson and Friendswood meeting with residents trying to cope with the wreckage that had been their homes. Whether a house got 4 inches or 4 feet of water, the damage was largely the same. Imagine taking everything you own and piling it in a wet, moldy heap in the front yard. That’s what the flooded areas look like.

One woman took the moment with us away from her family to shed a few tears with my teammate, afraid to be anything other than positive and strong in front of her husband and her kids. Another calmly told us the story of getting out of his house as the water went from ankle-deep to waist deep to chest deep so quickly they got out with the clothes on their backs in the boat they had in the driveway. He told us sadly about that during the evacuation, one of the family dogs was swept under the boat and drowned.

Another family in Dickinson told of a harrowing story of getting out as the flood waters rose. A woman in her 60’s walked her disabled brother and elderly neighbor through waist deep water following the yellow line on the road—none of them could swim. When she arrived at her 92-year-old mother’s house, she evacuated all of them by boat with the clothes on their backs.

Another woman flagged us down and told us she needed help. She spoke English slightly better than I speak Spanish, and we communicated in a blend of the two languages. While her young daughter slept in the car seat, she told us with tears welling in her eyes that she discovered only after the flood that she’d been renting her house, rather than paying a mortgage. With two little ones with her, and her son in the Navy in California, she was unsure what to do next because she couldn’t go home (“demasiado peligroso para mis niños –it’s too dangerous for my children”).

There are thousands of stories like that.

I completed the last two days of my tour in the command post as Deputy Ops, and it was gratifying to see the work we gathered getting scheduled and teams dispatched. At the end of seven amazing days, I said good-bye to the team and returned home.

Everyone we met had an unshakable faith in God. Through the flood waters and devastation of their homes, their faith in God and in each other had remained unvanquished.

Houston Strong

Despite the occasional tears, two things struck me: the resilience of the people and the amazing example of who we are as Texans and Americans these people provided.

First, Houstonians specifically and Texans in general are incredibly resilient. Many of the houses we visited had already had a volunteer group come through and provide initial demolition assistance. It’s imperative to get the wet stuff out of the house quickly to avoid dangerous mold growth. Neighbors shared food by having cookouts and checked on each other.  One man we met assembled a trailer with a grill and coolers, worked a deal with the local Walmart manager to buy food, and then circulated around neighborhoods feeding people. Even those we met who opened their hearts and cried a little always took a big breath and let resolve to go forward settle on them before we left. Everyone we met had an unshakable faith in God. Through the flood waters and devastation of their homes, their faith in God and in each other had remained unvanquished.

Second, spending a week with volunteers and Houstonians reinforced to me that America is still who we thought she is. America remains the City on a Hill. Men and women from all over the country came to help Houstonians recover. Groups of volunteers from countless churches, neighborhoods, and civic organizations went house to house to help strangers. We saw perhaps a dozen other volunteer groups working in each neighborhood.

While as a Texan I believe there’s something special about Texas, I’ve traveled enough and lived enough other places to know that if Texans indeed did anything truly extraordinary it was only to remind our fellow Americans who we are as a country.

Our team visited with men and women of every color, creed, and background. Time and again I heard them tell me, “All that division is crap. We’re Americans, we’re Texans.” We honestly believe All Men Are Created Equal and in the “image and likeness of God”; it’s not a slogan here. I’m not naive, I know there are problems and people sometimes do bad, even evil, things to each other. But I also know the vast majority of people around us are good and decent, and will be there for you when things get bad. While as a Texan I believe there’s something special about Texas, I’ve traveled enough and lived enough other places to know that if Texans indeed did anything truly extraordinary it was only to remind our fellow Americans who we are as a country.

Move to the Sound of the Guns

Napoleon’s standing order for units out of communication with his headquarters was to “move to the sound of the guns.” It is an imperative to act and not wait for someone to tell you what to do. There was no gunfire on the Texas Gulf Coast, but there was a battle to be waged against Nature and it was good men and women who moved to the metaphorical “sound of the guns” when things went bad. Napoleon’s order is something military people and first responders do instinctively, and I believe there’s something in the Texan and American character that drives that instinct. We saw that play out on TV countless times when men and women “moved to the sound of the guns” to help their neighbors. Federal, State, local authorities, and volunteers didn’t wait for someone to give them orders; they acted and worked together to save lives and now to rebuild them.

My Team Rubicon teammates were there doing swift water rescues, and we’ll be there to help Houston rebuild. It’s TR men and women: veterans, first responders, medical professionals, and a few civilians in the mix who represent what’s right about America.

The City on a Hill may have a few potholes and broken windows, but she remains a shining example of who America truly is as a country. We really are who we say we are, and I believe that now more than ever.


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.

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

 

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Hurricane Harvey – How You Can Help

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Announcements

Texans remain resilient in the aftermath of Hurricane HarveyI’m sure you all have been watching the coverage of the devastation on the Texas Gulf Coast. Many of you have been asking, “How can I help?” That is the mark of a true leader, to look outside themselves and seek to help others! Thank you to the dozens who’ve already reached out to me looking for resources!

As you might expect, there are people out there who are collecting and updating information–the Hurricane Harvey-Houston and Surrounding Areas Facebook Group has done a really superb job of collecting links and contact info. Well done guys! Here’s the link to their Google Doc with all the info. Be sure to check out ALL the tabs at the bottom! There are tabs with links to provide financial donations, as well as where to go to volunteer.

Official sources are always best, so here they are:

Harris County Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Federal Emergency Management Agency (Harvey Page)

If you’re looking to contribute, either financially or as a volunteer, please consider the Red Cross, Catholic Charities, or one of the host of other organizations listed here.  Don’t forget that blood banks, even those far removed from the disaster area, will need blood donations. The Red Cross blood donation page is here.

If you’re a vet looking to volunteer, then I’d suggest either The Mission Continues or Team Rubicon.

High performers, now is a good time to step up and lend a hand to help your neighbor. The people of south Texas and soon southern Louisiana will be counting on us. I know you won’t let them down!

Lead, Inspire, and Achieve!!


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.

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

 

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What Is Courage? (Part II)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books

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

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

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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.

Book Review: Warrior to Patriot Citizen Transition

Posted Posted in Books

Great guide for transition to civilian lifeAs an author and milblogger, I get the opportunity to review books from time to time. Rarely, however, have I reviewed a book that was so personally timely and beneficial as Warrior to Patriot Citizen by Donna Hoffmeyer and Kevin Cullis. It’s a comprehensive resource for any military servicemember transitioning to civilian life, either as a retiree like me or separating after a single enlistment. There’s a lot of transition guides out there, but this one is truly one of the best I’ve read.

Hoffmeyer and Cullis are both fellow USAF Airmen: she an 18 year veteran nurse of with both active duty and reserve time, and he a veteran, author, and self-described “business geek”.  Both authors combine their considerable experience in and out of the military to produce this great guide to success in transition.

Well Organized

I appreciate the organization of the book a lot. The book has a logical flow, and is divided into relevant chapters addressing the transition both into and out of the military, dealing with injury and wounds suffered on active duty as a veteran, taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and financially, translating military skills into civilian skills, and the art of networking. Twelve chapters in all, including an entire chapter dedicated to web resources organized by topic. At the end of each chapter there’s pages for assembling a personalized action plan, and organizing your thoughts. This enables the veteran to go directly to the chapters most relevant to your own situation.

Different Kind of Guide

What makes this guide different–and I think better than other guides–are the personal notes each author adds to the chapters. In addition, there’s two whole chapters dedicated to “lessons learned” and success stories from other veterans. The advice in Chapter 11 “Veteran’s quips, advice, and letters” is from both officers and enlisted personnel, and from all Services. There’s some very handy tips in there, like these:

“Set goals, do not expect to get what you want overnight, work smart; network, network, network. Get involved in volunteer work and help your fellow veterans, take courses, use online information to your advantage…” – W.G., 21 year USMC vet

“You will have failures; expect them. Know that they are learning experiences. Don’t shy away from trying something for fear of failure. In the military, you are trained better than you will be in the future corporate world…You will sometimes fail but you are not a failure.” -J.B., 4 year USAF vet.

This is a fabulous guide that I’ll have with me throughout my transition back to civilian life, and I recommend it highly to anyone making the change to “permanent civilian status” after a military career.

Buy it Here

Warrior to Patriot Citizen is available on Amazon at this link.

Visit www.wariortopatriotcitizen.com for more resources.


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

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

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