Leading Leaders: Little Things Matter

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

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.


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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Leadership Foundations

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

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.


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

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Podcast

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

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

The 5 Be’s

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

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

Boundaries are Fine, But People Need a Positive Vision

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

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

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

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

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

How to Listen

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

Listen online

Listen on iTunes

Listen on Stitcher

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

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


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


Respect and the Power of Nice: Setting the Example

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Holidays, Practical Leadership

(photo courtesy Hawaiian Airlines)

There has been considerable talk in the press and in the blogs on the importance of people treating each other with respect. It’s a subject I write about often because it’s central to leaders inspiring people to be their best, and groups forming into high performing teams.

Whether it’s travelling, shopping in a crowd, or just trying to survive that family or social gathering without losing your patience (or a family member!), ‘tis the season for practicing the art of being nice. On a recent flight I got to see the “power of nice” in action.

The boarding and takeoff were uneventful. As we waited for our beverages, I chatted up one of the flight attendants and she made the comment about how nice everyone was being on this flight. I didn’t think I (or anyone else I’d seen for that matter) was being anything other than “normal” polite, but she sure thought so. After she made the comment to me I made a point to listen to how the other passengers were treating each other and the cabin crew. Sure enough, I noticed people deferring to each other, saying “yes Ma’am” and “no Ma’am” to the cabin crew.

I fly a lot, and I see how hard people in the travel industry work to make sure our travel is safe and pleasant. Because of that, I always try to be nice and respectful to the cabin crew. They have a really tough job, frankly are not paid nearly enough, and so it always amazes me when people treat them like–well, not like how they’d like to be treated. Clearly, though, something on this flight was different.

At the end of the flight the flight attendant who’d noticed everyone being extra nice got on the PA and told us we were the nicest group of passengers she’d had and we’d made the flight very pleasant for her. I’m not taking credit, clearly, but I have to wonder how many “splashes of nice” among the passengers it took to ripple among 300 people on a crowded holiday flight. Perhaps it only took a few people to start it, but at the end all 300 hundred of us got off the plane in a much better mood than we started. Great lesson there.

So why did it happen? Maybe it was because it was Thanksgiving, or because we were all being mindful of a fairly vicious political campaign season. Truth be told, it really doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, people decided to be nice and respectful to each other.

It’s a lesson leaders can learn as well. When leaders set the example, the team follows. If you’re surly and short, people around you will be the same. If you’re respectful and positive, your team will follow suit. The key is to set the example and be the sort of person you want those around you to be.

After a rancorous political season, the Christmas holidays offer us an opportunity to reset our attitudes and set a good example. You’ll never know what battle someone is fighting, so be nice.


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

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


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


Advice that Sticks with Me

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Bob_Denver_Gilligans_Island_1966I don’t know what it is that I’m doing, but I sure as heck keep doing it! – Gilligan

If you’re a member of a certain “experienced” generation—ahem, mine—then you’ll remember a television show called Gilligan’s Island. It was one of my favorites, and there was often a lesson in the antics of the hapless castaways from the fictional S.S. Minnow, and the title character, Gilligan, was the First Mate. While his bumbling was the comedic center of the show, I think Gilligan probably taught more to his fellow castaways (and the audience) than even the creator Sherwood Schwartz intended. It was advice that sticks, and it “stuck” because the audience and the castaways learned the lessons together. Of course, Gilligan’s Island was comedy, not philosophy.

Like the fictional castaways on that South Pacific island, I’ve also learned a great deal through experience. (You were wondering where I was going with all that Gilligan stuff, weren’t you?) The advice I’ve received has stuck with me because it’s both true and lived. Now it’s yours, too:

“Can’t Never Could Do Anything” (Mickey’s Rule #4) – This originated with my Dad and have been words that motivated me as a skinny 14 year old yearning for gridiron glory AND as a 51 year old colonel! Keep a positive attitude and can-do spirit and you can be mighty!

“Drink Your Water, Eat Your Lunch, and Make New Friends” (Mickey’s Rule #10) – advice from a pre-K kiddo that was wise beyond his years. Live your life in balance and always look for new friends.

“People Are Not Machines” – advice from one of my first squadron commanders to remind me that my Airmen were humans and needed to be treated as such. Leaders can expect a lot from people they treat well–and very little from people they abuse.

“Start Your Day with a Prayer” – a surprising number of senior leaders from all walks of life, both military and civilian, spoke to my Air Command and Staff College and Eisenhower School classes about the need to begin your day with some form of prayer or quiet time. Don’t discount the need to feed your spirit.

“Remember, Thou Art Mortal” – When victorious Roman commanders paraded through the city with their spoils to the cheers of the citizens, there was always someone whispering in his ear, Memor, sis mortalis (Latin: “Remember, thou art mortal”). It’s easy to believe your own press, stay humble.

“Keep Your Head Down and Your Eye On the Ball” – advice from golf and baseball coaches that work for either sport, and in life. Basically, focus on what you’re doing now and avoid distractions.

“Stay In Your Lane” – more sports advice from my high school football coaches. For the kickoff team to be successful, everyone has a job to do–lanes to charge down–and if you’re doing someone else’s job you’re not doing yours!

“Be Kind” – it’s easy to be mean, it takes effort to be kind but it’s worth it. Being kind doesn’t mean you can’t be truthful or even make hard decisions, but it does mean respecting the other person enough to treat them with respect.

Advice that sticks – that’s the best kind!

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

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

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

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

What’s “Leadership” All About Anyway?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Ultimately, leadership is both highly personal and highly situational. There are all sorts of teams and leaders, and the themes and truisms I lay out in this book are universal; each leader has to adapt their own style and personal ethos. I submit that the personal ethos is the first thing a serious leader should reflect on when he takes on a new leadership role. No matter how long a job lasts, be it days or years, the leader should constantly review her ethos in light of the task at hand. My ethos, the philosophy outlined in my book Leading Leaders, is the man I want to be when I lead and the values I want my organization to manifest.

As an instructor at the Air Force Officer Training School (OTS), I saw the officer trainees take on the personality of their leaders time and time again. Each of us flight commanders were different in our approach to instruction. One thought of OTS as “adult education,” while another acted as if he’d just come off the set of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Each of the groups of officer trainees soon adopted the personality traits of their leader. The transformation was dramatic in some cases, and the military training environment intensified it. For me, it underscored my need to be sure I was the sort of leader I wanted people to emulate, because I knew they’d be taking my example as well as my instruction out into the Air Force.

What It Takes to Be Successful

I believe if a leader is truly successful, you see it in the demeanor and character of the people he leads. It’s often surprising to me how much organizations, even large ones, take on the personality of the leader. It’s incumbent, therefore, on the leader to be a person of character, because he has great influence on the character of others. Once a leader understands that essential mandate—truly gets it—he is never the same person again. Integrity must be our watchword, because, without it, we cannot hope to build teams that trust each other. Respect is the common ground teammates join on to accomplish their professional and personal goals. Leaders Lead when they take charge and motivate others to achieve and grow. Teamwork is essential to reaching any end; individual achievement is almost always the result of shared effort. Finally, a leader’s strict attention to detail means that he fully understands the task and which Little Things Matter to getting things done. These are basic ideas, but without these principles as a solid foundation, a leader is without a starting place.

Before the satellite navigation, Global Positioning System, the most advanced navigation system was called the Inertial Navigation System (INS). In order to navigate from place to place, an INS device had to know precisely where it was at the start. Knowing that, the machine used speed and time to calculate distance and precise location along the route. The device was even used to navigate to the moon and back during the Apollo missions.

Like the fixed starting point for the INS, the principles described in this book are the starting point: a precise location to launch from for any leadership journey. If your personal leadership ethos is based on character, you’ll have a solid foundation no matter whether you’re leading a Boy Scout troop, a small business or major corporation, or battalions in combat.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #3: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Throwback Thursday

Rule #3: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

One of the hardest things a leader had to do sometimes is hold back enthusiastic employees or teammates who are so focused on perfection, they keep working on a project well past when they should’ve stopped.  Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough.


On one hand, you want employees to work hard and strive for perfection, but on the other hand there’s usually more than one task to accomplish.  On the other hand, sometimes you really do have to be perfect.  So what’s the right balance?

The key here is to look at time the same as any other resource.  Like all resources, time is valuable because it is not unlimited.  In for-profit,  non-profit, and governmental organizations alike time has a very definite cost that is quantifiable.  Unfortunately, not every leader (or employee) thinks of time as a cost vs benefit transaction.  Put another way, leaders should always be asking themselves: “what’s the return on my investment?”

Suppose a particular task takes an employee 40 hours to get the desired product  but it’s not perfect (say it’s 90% of what we wanted), and it will take another 40 hours to make the product perfect.  Is 90% good enough?

Maybe.  What will it cost if my product is not perfect?  Is it as perfect as my customer needs it to be, but not quite up to what I wasn’t it to be?  Then maybe the extra 40 hours of time spent (100% more time) isn’t worth the 10% improvement.

Maybe not.  If I have a demanding customer, or the 10% imperfection is noticeable and will affect my reputation, or if 100% is necessary for life/safety/health then the cost-benefit analysis demands I keep working until it’s perfect, then those extra 40 hours are not only worth it, they’re necessary.

In addition to managing time as a resource, the leader needs to manage employee morale as well.  Morale, like time, is finite and like time can be spent.  Unlike time, morale can be replenished.  A wise leader knows when to require perfection and when to let “good enough” really be good enough.  Avoid making changes to an employee’s work because of personal preference (don’t change “happy” to “glad”).  Don’t require more work than is necessary to get the job done right, and don’t sweat the small things.  Employees will appreciate the freedom, and will usually respond when they’re asked for perfection if it’s only demanded when it matters.

Leaders should only demand perfection when it’s necessary.  To do otherwise could mean wasting time and employee morale.

Be Free – Part I

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, The Five Be's

9215883633_0b13a03051_o“Freedom” is a word often misused in our current vocabulary. We view our “freedoms” in such a broad manner that the word sometimes loses its meaning. Particularly in the case of young people, “freedom” is synonymous with “doing whatever I like”, but that’s not authentic freedom. Authentic freedom is being able to choose what’s good for you, and yet remaining unencumbered by things that prevent you from being healthy. In fact, unbounded freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want is not freedom; it is license.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

– Nelson Mandela

It’s really not a radical concept, the idea that freedom is bound by responsibilities and limits; in fact it’s preserved in our system of laws and our notion of justice. We regulate speech and assembly both for the common good and for the individual’s good. People are not permitted to gather for the purpose of fomenting violence, and we don’t allow a person to run into a theater and shout “fire” without just cause. Ideally, our laws are constructed to both protect the common good, and safeguard individual liberty. However, the freedom we enjoy as Americans is not unfettered liberty. We are free but we do not have license to do whatever we want.

Authentic freedom is an individual’s ability to choose what is good without being impeded or bound, be it an internal or external restriction. If an individual’s appetites or another person’s demands prevent the individual from making good choices, then we can objectively say that the individual is not free.

Leading Through Tragedy – Part 2

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders, Mickeys Rules

In the first part, I discussed leaders’ role in guiding an organization through tragedy. But what if it’s you that suffers the tragedy? How do you continue to lead when a personal disaster depletes your attention and energy?

The first thing to remember is if it’s a big deal to you, it probably a big deal. A death in the family, a wayward child, conflict with a neighbor or family member, even a serious accident, can all cause significant disruption in our ability to lead (or even function at all!). There are as many different types of personal calamity as there are people, and just because you’ve “shaken off” a similar event in your life before or others seem to have “handled it,” doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal now to you. Clearly, not everything bad is a life-changing event and sometimes a little perspective is all that’s needed to get through tough times. Nonetheless, simply “gutting it out” is not a universal solution  to personal tragedy (or even a preferred solution!). So even recognizing people can sometimes blow things out of proportion, serious personal issues can and do affect everyone regardless of their role, status, or position. In other words, everyone is human and no one expects you to be super-human.

Recognizing you are subject to the same human frailties as the mortals around you will enable you to get help when you need it, and remain approachable to those around you. Keeping emotions bottled up and living inside your head helps no one, least of all you. If you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, then ask for help. That help can come from clergy, counselors, or friends. Sometimes just talking to someone is enough, sometimes you might need professional help, and sometimes you just need a break. Whatever form it takes, getting help shows strength and maturity. If you allow yourself to spiral into deeper disaster because you didn’t seek out the help, your personal damage will deepen and consume those around you as well. Your work, your colleagues, and most importantly, your family will all suffer. Don’t add calamity to catastrophe because you tried to carry everything around on your own. Of course, some things just can’t be fixed. Having the help of others during the time when you’re grieving and recovering is vital.

As leaders, even during tough times we cannot entirely divorce ourselves from our responsibility to lead. We have a responsibility to many others: teammates, organizations, and our families. We have to recognize when we’re unable to function and deal with those issues in the best way possible. If you’re stressed out as a leader, you’ll do no one any good: you’ll make poor decisions, and you’re likely to be short or rude to others (usually at the worst possible moment). If as a leader, you’ve let the stress get to the point–or circumstances have put you in the position–of simply being unable to execute your duties, then you have a responsibility to step aside for everyone else’s good as well as your own. Hopefully it won’t be a permanent change, but regardless of the amount of time, and even in dire circumstances leaders have to be mindful of their responsibility to others. Whether it’s a little time off, a leave of absence, or a resignation you owe your teammates and the organization the courtesy of removing yourself if you can’t function.

Finally, it’s also important to allow your colleagues and subordinates some knowledge of what’s going on with you. You certainly don’t have to let everyone know every detail of your life, but if you’ve had a death in the family or something of that sort, it’s perfectly OK to share that you’re dealing with a personal catastrophe. It will help your team to understand why you’re not yourself, and you might be surprised at the support you’ll receive from unlikely places. If you’ve cared for others during their own personal tragedies, that kindness and concern will be returned. Be gracious and accept it–after all, when you offered your own support to others they did the same. You’ll also set a good example for others to follow.

Leading an organization when you’re suffering is doubly difficult. Taking time to heal and getting help for yourself is just as necessary for leaders as it is for those we lead. Don’t shortchange yourself or your team when personal tragedy strikes; instead be the leader who follows his own advice.

Leading Through Tragedy – Part 1

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders, Mickeys Rules, Practical Leadership

Photo by Chris Jakubin
Photo by Chris Jakubin, Colorado Springs, CO

Tragedy is a part of the human experience: we can’t escape it and as leaders we get one chance to get that right. Whether that tragedy is the loss of a co-worker to an untimely death, a teammate with a life threatening disease, or the loss of an employee’s family member, leaders have to be ready to step up and guide their teams through the trauma of those events.

The military and emergency services have a great tradition of caring for the fallen and the fallen’s families. We know that, God forbid, something bad should happen to any of us that our commanders and colleagues will look after our families and us. That is a great comfort that builds trust between us and our buddies, as well as our families. But that sort of camaraderie and teamwork shouldn’t be restricted to those who put their lives in danger as their profession. Tragedy can strike in the form of a serious illness, an accident, or even as the result of an act of violence. Organizations of all types need to be ready to provide support to their suffering colleagues if the time comes.

Good teams form bonds of trust and mutual support for each other; it’s the leader’s responsibility to create an environment for that trust and then nurture it. When tragedy strikes the team, it’s the work the leader and the team put in over time that will enable the group to overcome the trauma. That sort of resilience, both personal and organizational, isn’t born in the moment; it’s cultivated over time deliberately.

Leaders have a number of tools and techniques at their disposal to prepare for a tragedy before it happens, and then guide their teams during and after the trauma happens. Churches and other religious organizations, government social services, and non-profits like the American Red Cross can all assist in developing a coping plan so leaders are ready when disaster strikes. Good planning will ensure you have the ability to function if/when the worst happens, when people look to their leaders the most.

Besides planning, the most important thing a leader can do when tragedy strikes the team is to be present and avoid the temptation to try to solve every problem. You can’t. The best you can do is be there for those suffering, offering what help they want, and supporting them as they grieve. Don’t say, “I know how you feel”…you don’t. Don’t say, “it will be OK,” it might never be OK.  Do say, “I’m so sorry” and “we’re here for you.” People deal with tragedy and trauma in their own way, and must be given the freedom to experience their personal pain in their own way as well. What leaders can do is make sure their colleagues have the space they need, and the firm foundation of support, to cope with the left turn their life took as a result of the tragedy.

The team also needs leaders, and a strong presence in the organization can strengthen the bonds of the team. The strength a leader demonstrates in crisis will infect the team and enable them to be supportive of their colleague. It’s especially important to maintain your own humanity and willingness for others to see you suffer, too. Robots comfort no one…humans comfort each other.

In short, good leadership is more than encouraging victory; it also means leading through the tough times as well.

Staying On Course to Your Goals

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Set your goals then get moving!Each new year the resolutions fly…we promise to lose weight, eat better, work harder, read more, you name it. Now that we’re at the end of January, it’s time to take stock of our goals and re-commit to them.

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once spoke about the snooze button, and how it was really superfluous. “When that alarm goes off, get up! You made the decision to get up at that time when you set the alarm, don’t re-make that decision.” That advice is the same for goal setting, and commitment to achieving them. You made the decision to strive for a goal when you set it, don’t second guess yourself before you get there.

The common joke about the empty gym in December being full in January then empty again by February is funny because it’s true. People really do run out of steam during the “dark ages” in winter. It’s difficult for busy people to remain committed to goals when so many things are working against them psychologically and practically: short days, cold weather, busy work, school, family commitments, etc. So do we just surrender to the winter and wait again until next year? No way!

That’s not what leaders do.

Leaders re-commit themselves to their goals, and don’t let temporary failures become permanent habits. It’s not easy to overcome the inertia we build up that prevents us from achieving our goals, but it’s worth the effort to push through. I recommend a three step process for getting back on, or staying on, track to achieving the goals I’ve set for myself:

1. Write It Down.

Putting something in writing, even if it’s just on an index card. Wherever you write the goal, it has to be visible and something you see often. It’s much harder to blow off a goal if it’s always “right there.” I write my goals on an index card and keep them in the journal I use every day to take notes at meetings. That ensures I see it daily and remember I made the decision to achieve it when I wrote it down in the first place. By the way, the same is true for organizations: once you set a goal, put it on the wall for all to see.

2. Take Stock Regularly.

Once the goal is on the index card (or the wall!), take stock regularly on your progress. Be honest with yourself on how you’re doing, and then recommit yourself to the goal. If you’re doing well, be proud of yourself and your team, celebrate a little and keep moving toward the goal.  If you’re off track, don’t lose heart! Just remember why you set the goal in the first place and re-commit to getting to the finish line. If you made a New Year Resolution, don’t get down…you still have 11 months to go!

3. Make A Plan & Stick to  It

Commitment is important to achieving goals, but you can’t be “all thrust and no vector.” Energy will only carry you and your team so far if you don’t have a plan. Not having a plan is probably the biggest reason people don’t reach their goals. Just like being on the wrong trail won’t get you to Maunawili Falls no matter how long you hike, expending all your energy on something that doesn’t help you reach your goals will ensure you don’t achieve what you set out to achieve. Don’t give up, just make a plan then execute it one step at a time!

Just like setting that alarm clock, you made the decision to reach a goal when you set it. Don’t let the winter blues get you off track from being the person you want to become!

Be A Good Wingman

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Leading Leaders know followership means being a good wingman!In military aviation, the “wingman” is responsible for protecting the lead in a two-ship formation. As the “Lead” prosecutes the target, the “Wingman” watches his back and calls out threats. In this “two-ship” formation, there’s a leader and a follower, but they work together to accomplish the mission and get everyone back home. Put another way, the wingman is a good follower.

Followership is a key component to leadership, both in the team being led and in the leader herself.

In the military, we indoctrinate our new recruits into followership first and while we’re teaching them leadership. The reason we do that is because good followership is a prerequisite to good leadership. Contrary to what some may believe, good followership is not merely doing what one is told. That’s certainly not true in the American military where we follow the Prussian military tradition of placing our moral obligations above the orders of our superiors.  Put another way, good followership is not blind obedience, but rather it is the active participation by the follower in the leadership of the team.

Good followership is as essential as good leadership in the success of the team. If the leader is the only one thinking, the team will be mired in mediocrity. Good followership is an important part of the Leaders Lead principle…when the top leader empowers and supports teams in developing their own leadership the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. People will begin thinking ahead, anticipating problems, and being good wingmen to each other as well as to the boss. When everyone focuses on serving others, the result can be very powerful.

“Lead” has to model the “wingman” behavior as well, and in my book, Leading Leaders, I discuss the importance of leaders’ modeling good followership:

As a leader, you can build good followers by modeling the behavior yourself. For example, when given direction from your boss, pass it on with the same enthusiasm as if it were your own idea. That might take a little acting at times, but if you hold your boss up to ridicule, you’ll be opening the door to your subordinates to ridicule you. Loyalty is contagious; demonstrate loyalty and you’ll engender loyalty in return.

So be a good wingman, and you’ll get good wingmen in return. With a solid “two-ship” flying in a tight formation, you’ll hit your target and bring the birds home safely!

Leading Volunteers is (Not) Easy

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Volunteerism is American as
A WWII Red Cross Volunteer Poster

Leading volunteers is not easy. It would seem axiomatic that leading a group of volunteers would be easier than leading any other group, but it can more difficult because both the “transactional” relationship and the “mission” relationship are different from other types of teams.

In a for profit venture the primary motivation is making the company successful, and it’s easy for leaders to let that be the only motivation they employ. Profit and loss are objective measures of effectiveness, and even though taking care of the people is just as important in a for profit enterprise as it is in any other sector, when all other forms of motivation fail the boss can hand over a handsome paycheck to keep the team moving.  This is not to say people in for profit business don’t care about each other or the mission of their company, but compensation and the promise (in some cases) of doing better financially if the company does well are powerful motivational tools. Put another way, high performing companies motivate their employees by getting excited about the mission of the company, but merely mediocre companies can survive even if they produce a quality product from an unmotivated workforce. The challenge for leaders in this environment is not to let the economics of the business outweigh the need to lead the people in the company.

Not so with volunteer or non-profit organizations. In these situations, leaders must rely more heavily on creating a shared sense of mission and commitment to that mission among the team, primarily because there is no direct compensation. Volunteers have the ability to “un-volunteer” relatively easily in most cases. This means leaders have to maintain a unity of purpose and commitment to the mission at much higher levels than perhaps is necessary in for profit companies. There are a wide variety of volunteer organizations, from non-profits with paid staffs to community organizations. Leading these volunteers can be a challenge unless we understand why people volunteer in the first place, and what keeps them coming back even when it’s tough work. Employees in non-profits willingly accept less compensation because they believe in what they’re doing so much, the personal satisfaction of their contribution “pays the bills” and is worth a smaller paycheck.  The challenge is connecting them with the mission first, and inspiring them to see the indirect compensation they receive.  It’s not an easy task!

According to Guidestar.com volunteers contribute for skill development, personal growth, and to take on a challenge. Taking these factors into account means leaders have to keep the organizational mission at the forefront, and continually remind volunteers why they volunteered in the first place.  Additionally, leaders have to be mindful of the volunteers’ need for challenging work and opportunities to grow. That requires a high degree of commitment from the leader, and a level of communication both within the team and with stakeholders.

In my book Leading Leaders, I recount the story of a friend of mine who took over leadership of a volunteer re-sale shop. It would’ve been easy to simply do the minimum, but that’s not my friend’s style so she took on the challenge. The previous leadership had begun to improve the environment and the store, but was unable to finish so my friend was asked to pick up the mantle. She and her leadership team began by listening to the volunteers and addressed their personal concerns about the rigidity of the workplace, and then went on a communication campaign to remind all the volunteers why they were there. It was an effective leadership style but it required a great deal of work on her part to get the organization moving again. When she turned over leadership to her successor, the volunteers were happy and the resale shop was thriving again. It’s amazing what a great leader can do when she connects with her people and then connects them to the mission.

In the end, volunteers are there because they want to be. They may or may not be financially compensated, but for volunteers the mission is the thing. When leading volunteers, that’s the most important fact to keep in mind.


Leading Leaders: The Workbook Now Available in the Lulu Store!

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Leading Leaders ThumbnailI’m very proud to announce that after many proof copies Leading Leaders: The Workbook is now available in the Lulu Store!

Leading Leaders: The Workbook is a companion to my leadership book by the same title, but can be used as a stand-alone guide for discussion groups, seminars, and individual study. Thoughtful questions and chapter self-assessments will assist leaders and teams to improve their leadership skills through candid review of both leadership and followership skills.

This workbook is even more valuable when used side by side with the book Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams. Drawn from a lifetime of leading in the military, in sports, and in volunteer organizations, Leading Leaders is both an engrossing and interesting way to learn to lead better. I take leadership lessons from my own career, as well as from historical and contemporary leaders, and creates an engaging, down-to-earth dialogue with the reader.

The workbook can be used in seminars, small groups, and as a self-study tool.

 Download a FREE preview here!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.



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“Leading Leaders” Book Preview: Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness

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In life and in business neatness counts, and attention to detail is important.  Its both an indicator of the quality of the work the team is doing, and the quality of the team members themselves. In any case, the leader can tell a lot by the little things, and little things that may require his attention. Work area cleanliness is sometimes a good indicator whether the staff is organized and motivated. When you walk into a place of business or an office of some sort, no matter what your personality type, you make judgments about the effectiveness and productivity of an organization by what the area looks like. Of course there are the practical considerations of health and safety, but teammates and customers are certainly judging you by your workspace! A personal story about workplace cleanliness comes to mind. 

Back in the 1990’s (when computers were much simpler), I did a lot of the work on my own machine, fixing problems and upgrading the hardware was a hobby. Occasionally, there would be a problem I couldn’t fix myself, so I had to go to a professional to make the repairs. I was always looking for a bargain repair shop as opposed to taking my machine to one of the “big box” electronic stores for the repairs, which in those days meant small one or two person repair shops. I found a small shop that was recommended by a friend, and walked in with my home-built 386sx computer. The shop was a mess, with computers in various states of disassembly amid papers, coke cans, chip bags, electronic components, and empty boxes. There was no one at the unfinished wooden counter, so I waited for a moment to see if I’d be helped.

I was about to leave the shop when the young man working there that day came around the corner and beckoned me back to the counter. Reluctantly, I placed my machine on the counter and explained what was wrong, he looked at me with little interest, then handed me a form to fill out. At the bottom of the form was a damage waiver.  “What’s this for?” I asked. The bored young man replied that it was a “standard form” and that it covered the company in case they did cosmetic damage to my computer while it was in their shop. “Like what?” I asked. “Oh, like scratches or dents to the case,” he added hastily, “but that never happens,” I looked around the shop again. It was a disaster area. Making up my mind quickly, I said, “Uh, I don’t think so,” then gathered my machine up and left. 

Would the shop personnel have taken care of my property? Perhaps. Maybe it was just a bad day in the shop, maybe the young man who waited on me was tired or had some other personal issue that prevented him from being more customer oriented. The net result of all those “little things” however, was that in the space of just a few minutes I had lost confidence that this shop was capable or qualified. In fact, I was pretty sure they were going to give my computer back to me with scratches and dents. They lost my business because of the little things. Additionally, they not only lost my business, they also lost the business of all the people to whom I subsequently relayed the story. It had nothing to do with their actual professional or technical ability, training, or certifications. It didn’t matter to me that they were not the most expensive shop in town or came highly recommended by peers.

My negative opinion was based on a single employee and a single policy for the potential that my property would not be respected.  Is that unreasonable?  Was I applying “military” appearance standards inappropriately?  Maybe, but my experience taught me that when a person is unwilling to do the little things like keeping their work area in order, they were probably unwilling to take care in other facets of their work.  The “standard form” just put an exclamation point on the matter for me.