See, Now You’re Just Making Stuff Up

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders

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Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

In the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris Bueller fakes being sick to get out of going to school. By the second period, there are “Save Ferris” fundraisers and harrowing stories of Ferris passing out “at the 31 Flavors last night.” All of it caused by people passing on something they’d heard and embellishing a bit. The funny thing was, none of it was true!

Modern social media and even political discourse are not very different.

There once was a time when the British press characterized the late summer as the “Silly Season.”  Fleet Street would run frivolous stories and people out on the last few weeks of summer holiday would seem to want to cram in all the, well, silliness, they could before the end of summer. August, in particular, seems to be especially prone to nuttiness, from the ridiculous to the dangerous. After two Augusts in a row when the international order reeled from the invasion of Kuwait followed the next year with the coup in the Soviet Union, Pres George H. W. Bush even remarked, What is it about August?  

Nowadays, it seems the silly season is not merely confined to August. Between perpetual political campaigns, a Twitter-fueled 24-second news cycle, and effectively unlimited information at our fingertips all the time, every day is now the “Silly Season.” Spend 24 seconds on television or any social media platform if you don’t believe me. This makes it paramount to take our responsibility to both hold our tongues and keyboards, as well as get the actual facts about the social “tornado” de jour. The other day I was on Facebook when I ran across a discussion between two friends about an issue I feel very strongly about. Not only did they espouse the opposite view from my own, but they supported their argument with things are were false on their face at best, and calumny at worst. I was tempted to write something brilliant and snarky, but took a deep breath and changed my mind. After the wave of indignation passed, I logged off Facebook and haven’t been back to that conversation since.

It’s Not You, It’s Your Poor Research

You see, what made me sad was less that my friends held an opposing view – I don’t require my friends to agree with me on anything – but that their “defense” of their position was based on sound bites and talking points. They hadn’t even bothered to attempt to understand their opponents’ position. That makes me very sad. We don’t have to agree, but we ought to at least avoid having conversations that mirror the snark on cable news shows and Twitter. We can do better. We need to use our Information Superhighway for good, not for evil. Always check the links out before posting, and always, always, always go to the source. Hearsay is dangerous. Most importantly, never start with the idea that your ideological opposite is evil. Begin with the idea they’re working in good faith but they’re merely misinformed and be prepared to walk away rather than win an argument at the cost of a relationship. Believe me, you may make your point, but if you break a family or friend to do it, it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

Even Genghis Khan famously left his enemies an avenue of escape – surely we can do the same in our discussions. Andy Taylor had the same idea. As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.


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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Good Feedback Gets High Performance

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

scan0032I missed the block. The defensive end was my guy to block and I missed him, so our quarterback, Louis, ended up on his back. Again. I felt terrible—we were already struggling and now I’d made a mistake that cost us another 10 yards and Louis some undeserved bruises. Finally, I couldn’t hold it back any more, and in the huddle I told everyone that I’d missed the block and that it was my fault. At that point, Tony, our halfback stepped out of the huddle and pointed at the field and gave me some direct feedback, “Mickey, look where we are! Tell me again this is your fault!”

What he meant, of course, was that our inability to move the ball that night was not any one man’s fault—our failure was a team effort. His feedback was direct and honest, and aimed at helping me get over myself and get back to work. It’s a simple example, but it illustrates the point that high performing teams are honest with each other.

Leaders Demand Honest Feedback

Providing—and receiving—good feedback is vital to the performance of any team. Without honest and direct feedback no one gets any better, and everyone remains in their mediocrity believing whatever they want since there’s no voice outside to counter the voice inside. Leaders especially need to make certain we’re both giving and receiving honest feedback. It’s far too easy to “go along to get along” and never improve. High performance requires a good feedback system.

Everyone understands this need for good feedback, even if they don’t want to deliver it or hear it themselves. When we hire a golf instructor or take an art class or learn a musical instrument we ask the teacher/coach to push us to higher performance. In business it’s the same. Why else do we hire coaches and outside experts come into our companies? We hire them to tell us where we’re going wrong and what to do to fix it! Imagine how much more effective those coaches would be if we started from a culture of solid, honest self-assessment?

You’re Doing Fine!

Whenever I’m on the receiving end of feedback where I’m told I don’t need to change anything, I work hard to seek out something I’m doing wrong. I’m not perfect, and I make mistakes and have blind spots like anyone else. That sort of “you’re doing fine feedback” may feel good to deliver, but it doesn’t help anyone. Passing on the opportunity to critically examine my performance is just wasting time.

How Feedback is Done

OK, so now I’ve convinced you to give good feedback, let me show you how to do it right. A good feedback system should:

  • Enable leaders and team members to work together to improve performance
  • Guide professional and even personal development
  • Build trust

That’s a tall order, but these six companies are already breaking new ground by building just such a system. Big companies like General Electric and Cargill demonstrate they understand these principles and their employees are responding. Even the US Air Force is re-vamping their feedback system in order to eliminate the “Firewall 5” ratings and let the real high performers rise to the top. Here’s the tactics to reaching those goals and leading your teams to high performance:

  • Carefully explain your expectations and standards to your team well in advance
  • Give feedback more than once a year, and at least at the mid-term
  • Measure performance against those standards
  • Spend time preparing for the feedback session—review records, emails, etc.
  • Have concrete examples on how the ratee can improve
  • Make suggestions for professional advancement and development
  • Ask for feedback from your ratee—and listen!
  • Be kind!

Give Good Feedback, Get High Performance

Champion athletes and CEOs have one thing in common: they seek and give good feedback. If you want your team to reach high levels of performance, then build a culture where honest feedback is a core value. An honest and consistent feedback system will improve performance because it reduces mistakes and miscommunication. Leaders who show a genuine interest in the professional and personal development of their teams generate good morale, and accomplished teams. All of that build trust—and leads to high performance.


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

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

 

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

 

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.

Dynamic Dozen: Build Networks of Leaders

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

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

~ Abraham Lincoln

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

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

The Principle of “Leaders Lead”

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

Networks Are More Agile Than Hierarchies

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

Grow Your Own and Be Agile

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

Originally posted at GeneralLeadership.com


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

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

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #9: Walk The Horses

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

she_wore_a_yellow_ribbon_frame_20100308154326

There’s a great scene in the 1949 John Ford film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon that contains a lesson in leadership.  You guessed it: they were walking their horses.

What does “walking horses” have to do with leadership?  Just this: leaders can and must try to get the best out of their people, but no one can go at a gallop all the time.  The savvy leader needs to know when to gallop, when to trot, and when to get off and walk.

Back when I first joined the Air Force, leaders extolled the virtue of working the long hours.  The guy who was at work the longest was considered the “workhorse” and admired for his dedication.  We all bragged about how little sleep we got and how poorly we ate.  That sort of pace can’t last forever, however.  Lack of sleep, long hours, and bad food are a recipe for burnout rather than achievement.  Thankfully, the culture has changed a bit and today’s leaders understand the benefits of managing the workload.


That’s where Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne) comes in.  It was standard procedure on long patrols for the cavalry to get off and walk the horses a bit.  It allowed the troopers to stretch their legs a bit, and gave the horses a break by taking 200 pounds off their backs.  Having enough energy left in the tank (so to speak) meant that when the troop needed to hop on and gallop, horses and riders were ready. If the horses run too far or too long, they will be too exhausted when it comes time to sprint to the rescue of the wagon train.

The experienced leader works with his/her team to develop a “battle rhythm”, a normal pace of business.  Every business process/operation has a natural ebb and flow, with periods of “surge” where there’s maximum effort (“gallop”) and periods with much less demand on their personal/organizational resources.  One officer I worked with went so far as to map out a 90 day period and code days as “red” (high tempo), “green” (medium/normal tempo), and “blue” (slow tempo) so he could plan ahead for things like employees’ vacation planning and training schedules.  As an executive, I’ve made it a practice to look for opportunities to encourage employees when to plan their leave/vacation, and when I had to plan for everyone to be working long hours.

Part of good strategic planning is developing and tracking the pace of operations.  Make time in that plan to walk the horses.


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

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

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

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Throwback Thursday

extrait_galaxy-quest_7Successful leaders are curious about their business and the people who work for/with them.  This sort of curiosity is an imperative for a leader because he/she has to both accomplish the task at hand and the “care/feeding” of the team.  To put it more succinctly, the leader needs to know what’s going on.

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

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

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

There are some barriers to a curious leader, however.

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

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

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


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

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

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #7: The Other Team is Not the Enemy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

Note: As we’re in the throws of a bitterly fought election year, Rule #7 takes on greater urgency. Try not to look at somone who thinks or believes differently than you as the “enemy.” Rather, begin by assuming your neighbor is a person of good will trying their best to do what they believe is right and go from there. You’ll be surprised how differently your conversation goes.

Rule # 7: The other team is not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy; don’t confuse the two.

siblings-sticking-out-toungue-at-each-otherRule #7 may seem like it only applies to war or possibly sports, but it applies to business and life as well.  Conflict can arise when goals or methods between people or organizations differ.

People being people, this difference of opinion can rapidly become a conflict that escalates beyond the scale of the actual problem, and a barrier to both individuals or groups getting what they want.  What’s more, conflict between organizations can be a huge emotional drain on both organizations that saps creativity and initiative.

Contrary to the popular myth of the hard charging “corporate warrior” who thrives under conflict, most people don’t want or like it.  Most of us would much rather have calm and happy places to work. What’s more, a perpetual state of conflict takes effort to maintain, and it consumes resources that could be productively spent on furthering the organizational goals.  Imagine the staff time it takes to fight an “ad war” between to rival companies?  It used to be just a matter of coming up with sharp advertisements, but in the age of social media and online reviews managing a reputation against false or misleading information can overwhelm small companies quickly.

The trick is to maintain relations with competitors and peers in what the military calls “Phase 0” (a state of peace or at least peaceful competition).  There will always be conflicting goals, but in general even in the modern marketplace there is plenty of “pie” for everyone.  Starting a “war” with “the other team” turns the “other” into an enemy, and that usually comes from seeing others as enemies rather than as  potential partners.  That’s a reason it’s a good idea for businesses and individuals to participate in professional and civic organizations.

You never know when you’re going to find a friend or teammate.

I touch on this idea in my book, Leading Leaders:

As a young officer, I missed an opportunity because I didn’t recognize a teammate when I saw him. In the early 1990s, the Air Force had adopted Total Quality Management (TQM) as an overarching organizational philosophy. As a result, we began a series of “awareness” classes in TQM theory and practice at each level of command.

During an exercise in my week-long introduction to TQM, we were put into a team and given the task to produce paper airplanes. We spent considerable time developing our internal processes and then called over the “supplier” (our instructor) to negotiate a price for our raw materials. The goal was to spend the least amount of money and produce the most paper airplanes. We quickly developed an adversarial relationship with our “supplier,” who repeatedly stressed that he had plenty of “Grade A” paper for our airplanes. After extracting the best possible deal from our supplier, a deal he assured us he was losing money on, we produced a number of paper airplanes. It was only after the exercise was complete that our “supplier” asked us why we didn’t ask him about the rest of his product line. “Why would we want anything other than ‘Grade A’ paper for our airplanes?” we asked. Then he showed us the “Grade B” paper: sheets of paper already folded in half, and he would’ve sold them to us at half price. That would’ve saved a lot of work! Then he showed us the “Grade C” paper: already completed paper airplanes. These were the least expensive of all, a third of the cost of “Grade A” paper. We had never asked our “supplier” what else he had, nor had we invited him into our team. We had simply treated him as a resource to be exploited.

A teamwork approach could’ve gotten our little paper airplane manufacturing company a “win” against our real competitors (the other manufacturing teams) and saved us both time and money. Lesson learned!

Of course, not everyone is willing to “keep the peace,” and sometimes conflict arises.  Even in times when you are seriously hurt, it’s useful to refrain from thinking in terms of unconditional warfare.  In all but the most extreme circumstances little is gained by crushing the opposition.  In business especially, you’re likely to have to deal with that person/organization again.  Best to avoid turning a temporary opponent into a permanent enemy if possible.  However, when your livelihood or reputation is at stake and the other side is attacking ruthlessly, you have to defend yourself.  But be judicious in the application of power, crushing the opposition utterly will usually only extend the conflict.  Being magnanimous in victory, and gracious in defeat, will open the door to detente and perhaps even future cooperation.

Soldiers understand this principle.  It is only the most fanatical and committed enemy that must be annihilated.  Usually it’s enough to defeat the enemy and let them retire from the field with some dignity.  America’s World War and Cold War foes are friends and two of them are allies because the US extended the hand of friendship after the war.

Keeping the peace, both within and without, ensures our organizational and personal resources are spent furthering our goals, and not just parrying the thrusts of a competitor.


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

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

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #6: Ask The Right Questions

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

Asking the right questions is usually better than knowing the right answers.There’s an old saying in the Air Force that colonels rarely ask questions to which they don’t already know the answer.  I never really understood that saying until I became a colonel, then the light came on.

Everyone wants to show the colonel how smart they are, and further, few senior people like to be told what to do; they really want the colonel to let them do their thing.  The same is true of VPs and their directors in the private sector.  The skills that got an executive to a senior position aren’t necessarily the skills that make that senior executive successful.

image

I’ve found it useful to coach a solution out of a subordinate in most cases than to merely direct a solution.  In fact, many times I’ve regretted giving direction to a problem rather than asking questions because even though it was efficient in problem solving, I ended up wounding the pride of a subordinate leader unnecessarily.  When I’ve used questions to lead a subordinate to a solution, even when I knew in advance where we were probably heading, I’ve been more successful.

The thing is, by the time an officer rises to the rank of colonel, that officer is expected to be a strategic leader not a tactical one.  That means it’s far better to stimulate thought among subordinates than to direct the answer to a specific problem.  It’s easy for any senior leader to know the answers…chances are most have seen it all… it’s much more productive to help subordinates come to the right solution on their own.

At some point we all get a pink slip.  We change jobs, we get transferred, we retire.  If we truly care about the organization we work for, and the people we lead, we’ll make sure the people who replace us are ready for the job and worthy of the responsibility.


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

#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.

200906_11_perfection

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.

Like Mickey’s Rules for Leaders? Buy the Ebook!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Mickeys Rules

I received so much positive feedback from my “Mickey’s Rules” series, I’ve assembled the entire list into an ebook!

Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverDeveloped over career spanning three decades, in this book I give leaders a “how to” rule book for leading at any level. The eleven rules in the book are excellent guidelines for relating to other people, correctly prioritizing work, and leading teams to high performance. Learn the secrets of leadership from a leader who’s lived it! With Rules like “Don’t Spook the Herd” and “The First Report is Usually Wrong”, this is not your average handbook!

It’s short and accessible for leaders at any level–with some practical examples and a little humor thrown in for good measure.

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

#TBT Mickey’s Rules

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

For years I kept General Colin Powell’s “Rules” on a worn, type-written sheet of paper somewhere on my desk. His Rules had been published in a news magazine article, and I thought they were fabulous, so I typed them up and added a few of my own to the bottom. Over the years, I developed my own “Rules” that gradually replaced “Colin Powell’s Rules” even though that worn piece of paper still adorns my desk.9780679432968.OL.0.m

I’ve found these rules to be very useful to me, and I’ve regretted it every time I’ve violated them. The eleven rules listed below are my guidelines for relating to other people and to my work and reminders about leading my organization.  In the coming weeks, I’ll take each in turn and discuss it.  In the mean time….here they are!

  1. Have a direction and know what it is. Go there.
  2. Don’t spook the herd. Emotional demonstrations are always counter-productive and stifle initiative.
  3. Don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good.”
  4. “Can’t” never gets anything done. Keep it out of your vocabulary.
  5. The first report is usually wrong. Be patient and ask questions.
  6. Asking the right questions is usually better than knowing the right answers.
  7. The other team is not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy; don’t confuse the two.
  8. Be curious. Ask “Why?” a lot. Keep asking until you understand.
  9. Walk the horses. No one can go full throttle all the time.
  10. Drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.
  11. Check your “moral azimuth”…if you’re doing something that you wouldn’t want posted on the Internet, it’s probably illegal, immoral, or fattening.

General Leadership: So Say We All

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama, Photo Courtesy of NBC UniversalIn my latest over a GeneralLeadership.com, I talk about leading change while channeling my inner Commander Adama from SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica.

“It won’t be an easy journey. It’ll be long, and arduous. But I promise you one thing: on the memory of those lying here before you, we shall find it, and Earth shall become our new home. So say we all!”
Commander Bill Adama, Battlestar Galactica

Studying fictional leaders is sometimes as profitable as studying actual ones. For example, Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) in the SyFy TV series Battlestar Galactica is a great character study in leadership during crisis. I’m a big BSG fan, and consider it one of the best sci-fi TV series ever made. The quote above is from the end of the pilot, after the Cylons have destroyed the entire human race except for 50,000 survivors. The last Colonial warship, the Battlestar Galactica now leads a ragtag fleet of survivors, and the fleet’s leaders must find a way to keep humanity’s last remnants alive and moving toward a goal. That goal is the “Thirteenth Tribe of Man” located on the legendary planet of “Earth.” As a sci-fi nerd and a movie fan, I often see parallels between the storylines of my favorite movies and real life. So it was that as our Air Force embarked on a very significant re-organization I find myself reflecting on Commander Adama as I lead a group of people to a (figurative) new “land” and leave behind much of “the old ways” to learn new ones. Not to be melodramatic, surely no Cylons are chasing us through space, but we are now leading our Airmen through some very significant change.

Read the rest here.

Learning from Starbucks About Mission

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs

starbucks logoOne of my core tenets is leaders must give teams a sense of mission:

In my book Leading Leaders, I recount the story of a friend of mine who took over leadership of a volunteer re-sale shop.

“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.”

Apparently, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and I are on the same page in this regard, for which I’m grateful every time I stop in at my local Starbucks for a cappuccino.  Listed first on a list of 12 business lessons from the global coffee giant is “mission.”

1. Have a Mission

Starbucks has one simple mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

That mission statement has served the company for more than four decades, because Starbucks is more than just a coffeehouse. It’s become an escape for anyone needing a break from the daily grind. It’s become a centralized meeting location for friends to catch up and business people to have meetings.

Starbucks wanted to provide people–no matter their age, profession, or location–with a unique experience: the coffeehouse as a place to relax, work, and socialize.

I’ve always believed one of a leader’s most important jobs is to give the team a sense of mission.  It’s the reason military units have such good espirit de corps, and will hang together even under the most dire circumstances. As a leader you have to have a vision, communicate it clearly, and then cheer on your team as they move toward the goal. If your people believe in the mission of your company, they’ll work very hard. If they believe in you as their leader as well, they’ll get to the goal with smiles and ready for the next challenge.

 

Rule #6: Asking The Right Questions Is Better Than Knowing The Answer

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules

6. Asking the right questions is usually better than knowing the right answers.

There’s an old saying in the Air Force that colonels rarely ask questions to which they don’t already know the answer.  I never really understood that saying until I became a colonel, then the light came on.

Everyone wants to show the colonel how smart they are, and further, few senior people like to be told what to do; they really want the colonel to let them do their thing.  The same is true of VPs and their directors in the private sector.  The skills that got an executive to a senior position aren’t necessarily the skills that make that senior executive successful.

image

I’ve found it useful to coach a solution out of a subordinate in most cases than to merely direct a solution.  In fact, many times I’ve regretted giving direction to a problem rather than asking questions because even though it was efficient in problem solving, I ended up wounding the pride of a subordinate leader unnecessarily.  When I’ve used questions to lead a subordinate to a solution, even when I knew in advance where we were probably heading, I’ve been more successful.

The thing is, by the time an officer rises to the rank of colonel, that officer is expected to be a strategic leader not a tactical one.  That means it’s far better to stimulate thought among subordinates than to direct the answer to a specific problem.  It’s easy for any senior leader to know the answers…chances are most have seen it all… it’s much more productive to help subordinates come to the right solution on their own.

At some point we all get a pink slip.  We change jobs, we get transferred, we retire.  If we truly care about the organization we work for, and the people we lead, we’ll make sure the people who replace us are ready for the job and worthy of the responsibility.

Rule #5: The First Report Is Usually Wrong

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules

wpid-Breaking_News.jpg5. The first report is usually wrong. Be patient and ask questions.

 

In my military career I’ve had the unique opportunity to watch news bring made, both in Washington and in the field, then watch it being reported on TV. I’ve also meet many reporters, and in my experience they’re trying their best to tell what they see, but it’s also been my experience that the “breaking news” first reports are at best incomplete and at worst completely wrong.  That situation is not confined to journalism.

The first reports aren’t usually wrong because the people reporting the news are trying to get it wrong.  The first reports are usually wrong because in fast moving situations it takes an enormous amount of skill and patience to sort through to find out what’s really going on.

Everyone expects a little chaos in an emergency situation, so commanders and first responders learn quickly how to sort “possible” from “probable” and “true” from “false.”

Those same “sorting” skills are useful in any situation when leaders have time-sensitive decisions to make and the information is coming at them in rapid bursts.  Perhaps the hardest thing to do in a scenario like that is to breathe deeply and patiently ask enough questions to determine the veracity of the report.

The reason it’s hard for leaders to be patient is that there is pressure to act now in a crisis.  No matter if it’s a terrorist attack or someone forgot to notify the customer their order is messed up, subordinates and teammates will look to the leader and demand action.  What’s more, leaders often pressure themselves to act, sometimes painting themselves into a corner where action is both inevitable and unwise.

Good leaders resist pressure to act until the time is right for action.  Somewhat counter intuitively, sometimes the best decision is not to act.  But act or not, the leader has people looking at him wanting to know what’s next.

Now, before I go on, there are certainly many instances where some action now is better than the perfect action later.  Combat or an emergency situations are times when it’s important to act immediately rather than later.  It doesn’t mean that those quick actions are rash or uninformed, rather, the soldier and the first responder train to face uncertain and dangerous situations so that they’ve done their “cold consideration” many times over before engaging the enemy or running into the burning building.  But these instances are not the point of Rule #5.

Rather, the purpose of Rule #5 is for those crisis situations where there is a little time to figure out what’s true and what isn’t.  In those situations, the skilled leader takes a deep breath and thinks before he acts or speaks.  The skilled leader is patient while she sorts out where she needs to put her attention.

Last tip: be sure to separate your skepticism of the accuracy of the first report from the truthfulness of the person making the report.  People are usually doing their best.

That requires the leadership maturity to be patient enough to figure out when and how to act.

======
Have your copy of Leading Leaders yet?  It’s available at Lulu.com!
image

Buy the paperback here, only $14.95!   The ebook is here, only $9.99.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Rule #4: “’Can’t’ Never Gets Anything Done”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules

My Dad taught me a number of really great sayings, but among the best he ever taught me was “’Can’t’” never gets anything done. Keep it out of your vocabulary.”  Actually, the exact words he used were,  “Can’t” never could do anything.

image

You see, Dad always believed that if you try hard enough, work hard enough and never give up, you can succeed.  Through his encouragement, I came to believe it, too.

Now neither I nor my father believe that anything is possible. Some things are plainly beyond reach because of limitations in talent, or opportunity, or for some other reason.  But history is replete with stories of people who meet with disaster and defeat, but never gave up and ultimately achieved their goals.

Take the story of Thomas Edison.  He failed making the lightbulb over 100 times before he finally succeeded. His quote, that he’d succeeded in finding over 100 ways not to build a lightbulb is fairly well known.  But despite the cliche of “try, try, again” the fact remains that Edison truly believed that electric lights were not only possible, but inevitable. We owe him for a wholesale change in our way of life.

Or how about the story of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner?  Warner went undrafted in 1994, then tried out for the Packers only to be cut before the season began.  He went to work sacking groceries for minimum wage until the next year when he made an Arena football team and played several seasons in that league, and the European league, before being given a shot at the NFL.  He went on to a successful NFL career, winning Super Bowl XXXIV and being named league MVP for the 1999 season.  Warner believed in himself, and worked hard in order to gain success.  I doubt if the word “can’t” is even in his vocabulary.

Growing up, Dad made sure we learned the “never give up lesson”, and it paid off time and time again.  In Little League, I never expected to make the “Majors” my first year in…but I sure did my second year.  When I was relegated to the “Texas” league the second year in a row, I was disappointed.  Dad wouldn’t let me give up, though.  “Hang in there,” he said, “just do your best and it will all work out.” During my first week of practice, it was plain to me that I was much better than most of my teammates.    I worked out with that team for about a week before I got “the call” from a Major League coach!  He told me about my new team, and that it was my attitude that had prompted him to call me up.  Despite having a terrible tryout, despite being out of sight on my Texas league team, I was getting “the call” for my stick-to-it positive attitude.

Now, no one can promise success. Like most, I’ve had my share of failure, but it’s my view that  true success comes as much from now you handle adversity, as how you handle the win.

Rule #3: Don’t Let “Perfect” Be the Enemy of “Good”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules

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.

 

200906_11_perfection

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.