Character Matters Part 2 – Respect

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CMlogoToday’s post is all about the second “brick” in the foundation of leadership: Respect. As I travel around I meet a lot of good people, but it seems to me the social norms about respect are not what they should be. Too often I find the extremes: either a legalistic approach to respect that approaches relationships with others like shaking hands with a porcupine (“carefully”), or a complete lack of respect for even basic politeness.  Here’s what I wrote about “respect” in Leading Leaders back in 2013:

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

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

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

Remember–foul language, demeaning attitudes, and cultural insensitivity are breaches of respect and destroy the team. Real leaders must strive to be persons of integrity–by example and by interior disposition.  The recording below has a great discussion about respect.

In 2013, I was pleased to be featured in a 4-part series on a radio show called Character Matters! with Bob Vasquez the US Air Force Academy’s KAFA-FM radio. CMSgt (ret) Bob Vasquez was a fabulous host, and we had a great conversation about leadership. You can subscribe to his feed on SoundCloud here.

We talked about my Leading Leaders philosophy: Integrity, Respect, Teamwork, Leaders Lead, and Little Things Matter. Back then, my Leading Leaders book was still in draft and the working title was “Foundational Leadership,” but the concepts were the same as what appeared in the final copy.



One final bit of business. I’m posting these for the education and entertainment of my readers. KAFA-FM gave me permission to post these, and I want to be clear that by posting this here there is no implied or explicit endorsement by the US Air Force Academy, the Air Force, or the Federal Government. The views expressed in this broadcast and my book are mine and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.


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


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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


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


Dynamic Dozen: Step Up and Step Out

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Maj Dick Winters sought out and accepted responsibility

Looking for leadership opportunities–and accepting responsibility–is a crucial ingredient to any leader’s character.

The colonel looked at four squadron commanders and said, “The general will be inspecting the facility tomorrow, everything needs to be perfect.” Three of the assembled commanders looked at their feet, while the fourth simply smiled and said, “Sir, I got this. Leave it to us and we’ll take care of it.” In this particular case, it wasn’t even in that squadron commander’s assigned mission set, but as he said later, “It’s no sweat, Sir. The job needed to be done and I knew we could do it.” That sort of “can-do” attitude is the essence of this month’s Dynamic Dozen post: leaders seek out responsibility.

Look for Opportunities to Lead

People drawn to leadership roles are usually given the mantle of leadership because they seek out responsibility. Perhaps they believe they have a better idea, or are uniquely qualified to solve a problem, or are the one who cares for the people in their charge the most. Whatever the reason, the kind of person who seeks responsibility is the same kind of person who wants to lead. It’s the attitude that drives entrepreneurs, and it’s the attitude that enables people to effect change in large organizations.

“I may not have been the best combat commander, but I always strove to be. My men depended on me to carefully analyze every tactical situation, to maximize the resources that I had at my disposal, to think under pressure, and then to lead them by personal example.” -Dick Winters (1/506 Airborne Infantry Regiment, WWII)

Rewarding “can-do” behavior is important for leaders at all levels. We want to encourage others to grow and we want to ensure we’re not the only ones thinking and acting on the team. If a leader makes himself a single point of failure, the results will be predictably bad. Only by setting the example of seeking out responsibility, and encouraging that same skill in those we lead, can we expect our teams to excel in the face of adversity. Believe me, whether you’re facing bullets or board rooms you want to be part of a team with the same “can do” ethic as you have if you expect to come out on top!

Work Your Boss’ Boss’ Priorities

One of the best ways to seek out responsibility, and be successful in the process, is to work your boss’ boss’ priorities. Your boss is trying to be responsive her boss’ priorities; by figuratively putting yourself in your boss’ place you can more clearly see what you need to be doing. Taking your boss’ view of things is important because it enables you to understand where she’s trying to take the unit and what might be influencing her thoughts, and because it helps you grow as a leader. You’ll never be in all the meetings your boss is in, but striving to understand the environment helps you translate your boss’ instructions to your team much better. This principle is the reason military leaders spend so much time on commander’s intent. If tactical leaders understand the strategic environment, they’ll be able to make independent decisions congruent with the overall goals.

There is, of course, a wholly selfish reason to work your boss’ boss’ priorities: it makes them look good and a happy boss makes for a happy workplace. I remember the sage advice from a senior Chief Master Sergeant when I became frustrated over the direction my commander gave me, “Sir, the pay’s the same!” What he was telling me–albeit a bit tongue in cheek–is that the commander was in charge and I wasn’t. He wasn’t asking me to violate the law or my conscience, my commander had merely issued an unpopular order. The lesson is: unless someone asks us to do something illegal or immoral, then our job as leaders is to execute as if the idea were our own. More than once I learned later there were things were not as I believed them to be, and that “stupid” direction to do something wasn’t so “stupid” after all!

Success Means Responsibility

Seek out responsibility and work your boss’ boss’ priorities–sure ways to succeed as a leader!

Originally posted at

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.

Dad’s Sage Advice for Sophomores

Posted Posted in Advice Column

keep-calm-and-sophomore-onMy annual advice for new college students is really focused at freshmen, but you sophomores need advice, too. In fact, if my own personal experience is any measure, sophomores need it more.

You’re Experienced, but You’re Not an Expert.

Returning to college this fall will feel familiar. You know the locations of your classrooms, you have established friendships, you even know which dining hall lines have the best food. Despite all this experience, you’re not a collegiate expert yet. It’s very easy to get distracted and make costly mistakes. One bad semester can create years of work rebuilding a reputation and a GPA. Don’t get cocky, maintain the edge you had during your freshman year.

Set a Good Example.

Remember your first day of class as a freshman? Well, that’s happening to somebody else now, and guess what: they’re looking at you to see what to do! Set a good example for the new guys–be respectful of the campus and others, don’t lord your new status over the new guys, and be the kind of upperclassman you wanted to see when you were new.

Help a Freshman.

Remember that nice sophomore girl who showed you the way to the classroom in the cryptically numbered building? Or the nice guy who helped you pick up your stuff when they piled into a heap in the bookstore line? Or maybe the helpful clerk at the bursar’s office who waited patiently while you filled out the correct form this time? Be that person, pay it forward.

The Coursework Gets Harder–This Is the Weed-out Year.

Freshman year, at least for me, was more like a repeat of my senior year in high school than a first year in college. It’s intended to ease the new student into college-level work, as well as encourage the new student she can achieve at the next level. It doesn’t mean the work isn’t demanding, but freshmen work at a basic level. That was then, this is now. Sophomore courses are intended to remind the student that this is college. It’s serious. Nothing to be afraid of, you can do it, but recognize you’re now working at the next level.

Build and Maintain a Network of Friends.

As I’ve said before—college, well, life for that matter, is a team sport. Up until now, anyone could be academically successful by locking themselves in their room, doing their homework, and passing tests. That won’t work any more. Your success in academia and in life depends on both your skills and your network. Figure out how you can help others, and never pass up an opportunity to expand your circle of friends.

Commit to Your Faith.

Now you’re living off campus, things that used to be very easy–like practicing your faith, working out, grocery shopping–will require planning and effort. As an adult now, make a commitment to your faith: with time and with heart. That commitment should include being involved in your parish and including both pastor and peers in your network.

Don’t Hesitate to Bail–There’s Always Summer School.

You have three or four more years, including summer terms, to sort out your degree plan. It’s good to have a plan (you do have a plan, right?), but a degree plan is not a suicide pact. If the prof is a screwball, or if the course isn’t what you thought it was, if the class is full of smelly people—whatever–don’t hesitate drop the class. You can always take it in summer term—from the graduate teaching assistant. You know, the cute one.

Don’t Worry, You Can Do It.

Your sophomore year will be a great year, full of challenge and maybe even a little fear. You will do great–know why? Because you made it into college in the first place, and you made it through your freshman year. Don’t worry, kiddo, you can do it!

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.

What Is Courage? (Part II)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books

Last week, I brought you Part I of a discussion of courage from my book, The 5 Be’s for Starting Out This week I conclude with some stories about courage.


Plane_crash_into_Hudson_River_(crop)Can you learn to be courageous? More to the point, can you learn to control fear? Yes, you can. Learning to be courageous has a great deal to do with being prepared. When you have analyzed the “fight or flight” instinct as it relates to the situations you might face, you are much less likely to make a snap decision based on emotion, instead tapping into the wellspring of courage that all people possess. In a way, physical courage is the easiest to understand. We can see the danger being faced, and are able to prepare for it. We can physically prepare, mentally rehearse our response, hone our skills, and work in a team with others. This is applicable to battle scenarios, emergency situations, or even on the sports field. That preparation is key to suppressing the fear response.

When Air Force Academy graduate, former fighter pilot, and USAir Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed USAir Flight 1549 in the Hudson, he said in an interview with 60 Minutes that moments before the crash were “the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling” that he had ever experienced. However, he and his crew had practiced emergency landings with such diligence, that they were able to put that fear aside and skillfully control the emergency landing. His team saved the lives of everyone on board the flight because they didn’t succumb to fear. Instead, they controlled their fear.

To paraphrasing a chief master sergeant that I served with during my Air Force career, “Few rise to the occasion in combat. Rather, they sink to the level of their training.” The way the military values training, especially the repetition of so-called “perishable skills”, is an indicator of the value of preparation. Soldiers expect to face danger, and prepare themselves against fleeing from it. The procedures are rehearsed over and over again until it becomes second nature.
I think courage comes from a well within our Human Spirit. It stems from more than mere biology, since we are more than mere flesh and bone. If humans were only biological machines, would there be an ability to create beauty, love, or be able to discern truth from lies? Biology certainly plays a role in who we are – after all, we are not disembodied spirits – but it cannot offer the entire answer. Courage, like other Universal Human Goods, comes from both our biology and our human spirit.

A sense of duty and fraternal love contributes to courage, as does the nearly universal human social need to be accepted among a social group. Soldiers who exhibit courage in combat situations most often report that they were “just doing their jobs” and “didn’t want to let their teammates down.” We call that “duty” and “loyalty”, these qualities are among the most prized of human virtues.

People are willing to endure considerable hardship when they know that others are depending upon them. When that social pressure includes life and death situations, the sense of duty becomes even stronger. Oftentimes, our sense of duty –will override the fear instinct. That is where true courage originates. Ultimately, courage is an act of love. It’s the love of others above self that will motivate people to endure hardship and brave danger in order to protect others. Without love, there can be no courage.

The Olympic gymnast is another example, though slightly different. The fear of injury and even death is real, but not from other teams. The gymnast must first conquer himself. In a real way, gymnasts must first conquer gravity before they can even approach the “inner voice”. Like any sport, being an Olympic level gymnast requires constant dedication and sacrifice. It requires subordination of fear, heights, and pushing pain completely out of the mind to focus on the task at hand. In addition, teammates are depending on a high score. Years of 4 a.m. practices, foregoing social interactions and activities, arriving at the single moment where the difference between a gold medal and no medal is a fraction of a point. If the gymnast makes a mistake in the Olympics, he’s not only risking injury, he’s letting his country down.

Lastly, consider the courage of the cancer or rehabilitation patient. Both must rise daily with the knowledge they will face pain that day. For the cancer patient, that struggle is an actual fight for their life. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are very hard to endure. There are days of nausea and pain each time. Choosing to fight their disease rather than succumb to it takes a daily dose of special courage. Similarly, the amputee or accident victim who goes to physical therapy knowing they face hours of pain just to hope they reacquire skills they once took for granted takes courage. Wounded Warriors in rehab face weeks or even months of painful therapy to learn to walk again, or feed themselves, or hug their lived ones. People who have suffered physical or psychological trauma must daily choose not to let their injuries define them, The alternative is to cease to live. That is courageous as well.

Overcoming pressure, the fear of mistakes, and the very real fear of severe injury requires physical courage. To be an Olympian is to find the courage to succeed even when success is elusive, to manage fear for years in a single-minded purpose to stand on the winner’s podium.

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

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

What Is Courage? (Part I)

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Memorial Day is approaching and I thought a couple of posts on the subject of courage was in order. I’m pleased to bring you an excerpt from my book The 5 Be’s for Starting Out as a two-part series on courage.


Lt Harry Brubaker (William Holden) writing in a scene from the film The Bridges at Toko-ri (Paramount Pictures photo)
Lt Harry Brubaker (William Holden) writing in a scene from the film The Bridges at Toko-ri (Paramount Pictures photo / Getty Images)

Admiral Tarrant from the film The Bridges at Toko-Ri asked, “Where do we get such men?” The line is delivered near the end of the film, when the main character fails to return to the aircraft carrier after a mission, and Tarrant looks out at the busy deck and wonders where these men come from and why they serve. That question is a fundamental question people often ask of those who demonstrated courage, and then ask themselves when they look in the mirror. Maybe a better way to ask that question when applied to ourselves is: Where does courage come from?

Here’s my definition: Physical courage is the ability to overcome fear and do what’s necessary in order to survive, save a life, accomplish a mission, or excel despite physical or psychological barriers.

Using this definition of physical courage obviously concerns overcoming external obstacles. To simplify, demonstrating physical courage is overcoming the “fight or flight” instinct., and choosing to fight. Physical courage results in facing danger or the threat of pain to accomplish a goal. Note the danger doesn’t have to be real – the mere threat of danger or pain can be enough to trigger a “fight or flight” response. What is more, “fight” doesn’t necessarily mean a physical altercation or use of weapons. In the context of physical courage, “fight” simply involves meeting a particular challenge head on, without avoidance.

Returning to Admiral Tarrant’s question, “Where do we get such men?” and rephrasing it to ask “Where does courage come from?” There are several answers to that question, it’s not as vague as you might think.

There is a physiological reason for courage. Researchers discovered by a very unique (and bizarre) experiment involving snakes and an MRI machine. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, strapped test subjects in an MRI machine with a snake suspended mere inches above their heads. Using the MRI to track brain activity, researchers identified the specific area of the brain associated with courage, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (SaCC). Using human’s natural snakes to stimulate a fear response, test subjects reported their level of fear as the snake was moved closer and closer until their fear became greater than their courage.

It’s an interesting experiment. As researchers are able to determine the role that hormones and pheromones play in the attraction between boys and girls yet cannot define “love”, neither can a purely physiological explanation satisfy our curiosity about the source of courage. As I have said many times before, humans are more complex than merely our biology. Surely biology can influence courage – a large person in a crowd of small ones is more apt to be courageous than the opposite. But when it comes to courage, biology is not the determining factor.

History is populated with stories of unexpected heroism from unlikely people. The 98-pound weakling who stands up to the bully on the school yard, and the grandmother who faces down the burglar are legendary, in part because it is documented and has repeated occurrences. Movie makers have repeatedly made films about the plucky young person who saves the day while facing down a larger and more ferocious enemy. Do these real, and fictional, people have an oversized “courage center” in their brains? Perhaps, but I’d like to think it’s more than that.


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.

Capt Rickenbacher had courage. Read more about courage in The 5 Be's for Starting Out

Be Courageous

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Capt Rickenbacher had courage. Read more about courage in The 5 Be's for Starting Out“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage without fear.”– Eddie Richenbacker, World War I flying ace

There are as many definitions of the word “courage” as there are people. Courage can take many forms, but we generally think of courage in two main categories: physical courage and moral courage.

When we think about “courage,” the first example that comes to mind, is the soldier or the first responder. We envision them facing danger in order to save the life of an innocent or defend their country from an unrelenting enemy. Perhaps we think about the terrible attacks of September 11, and the brave first responders racing up the stairs of the World Trade Center to rescue people trapped in the flames. Other cases include the spectacular heroism of the passengers of United Flight 93, regaining control of their aircraft from the terrorists, but were unable to prevent its tragic destruction.

There are also other forms of physical courage in the field of sports and adventure. Picture the big wave surfer riding the 40 foot face of a monster wave at Jaws off the Maui coast, or the climber conquering his own fear in order to scale the sheer cliff face. When we think of courage we might picture something more comical, such as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, where we can laugh at the vaudeville humor while rooting for the Lion to find his courage.

Over the next two weeks I’ll explore the idea of courage–in all its forms–and see what it takes to Be Courageous. What we have to decide for ourselves, however, is how to find our own courage. We may never have to face down a terrorist or charge into a burning building, but we will have to find a way to Be Courageous in our own way in our own lives.

Most of the post above is taken from the my book The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, available at Lulu, Amazon, and other online retailers.

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

Be Balanced

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's






I believe that being successful means having a balance [in] life. You can’t truly be considered successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles.

– Zig Ziglar



When my son was very young, he would give me the same advice as I left for work each day: “Goodbye, Daddy, have a good day at work. Be sure to drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.” Without realizing it, my son was encouraging me to live a balanced life. I always thought his farewell each day was far more insightful than just a small boy’s simple advice. In fact, it’s a great way to think about life balance.

My own model for thinking about the complexity of the average human is Mind, Body, and Spirit. No matter how you model the facets of the human person, the takeaway is that humans are multi-dimensional. Therefore, we all should be deliberate about developing our whole person and not just one aspect. Each person has a body, mind, and the intangible part of themselves called a soul or human spirit. There is more to every person than meets the eye.

Mickey’s Model of the Human Person

Being a well rounded person means trying to determine what motivates and fulfills you, and then intentionally working to harmonize those very personal needs with the needs of your family, team, or workplace. It’s more than a mere transaction; leaders must recognize that their team is more than names on an organizational chart. Each is a person with needs and aspirations of their own, who have come together to do a job for their own reasons. As individuals, we need to understand our personal engagement with those around us is just as important as our self-awareness.

The companies consistently rated ‘best to work for’ seem to understand that idea. Those companies provide benefits that let the employees know they are valued for more than just their contribution to the bottom line, but also valued as people. In each case, the employees at the top rated companies enjoy their work environment; the benefits provided are a bonus. The companies that treat their employees as whole persons, with more than a single dimension, are the ones who get the most engaged and involved employees, in return.

Living life balance is challenging. There are a lot of demands on a person’s time: work, family, friends, hobbies, etc., and finding time to feed all aspects of the body and soul is key to any successful life. Anyone can put their head down and power through life, however, it takes a mature person to understand that how you live is equally important as what you accomplish. Keeping our lives in balance and living an integrated life is important to everyone. The next time you look at yourself in the mirror, stop for a minute and remember the words of my then four year old son: “drink your water, eat your lunch, and make new friends.”

The above is an edited excerpt from my book The 5 Be’s for Starting Out, available at Lulu, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and many other retailers.


Temperance: Not Just for Carrie Nation

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Turkey Trot 5K USAFA 2103Temperance is the practice of self-control, moderation and abstinence.

Whenever we think of the word “Temperance,” many probably think of Carrie Nation and Prohibition. While moderation or even abstention from alcohol can be Temperance, it is actually a narrow view of it as a virtue. Temperance applies to keeping competing appetites in balance, similar to the way high achieving athletes and scholars train their minds and bodies. In a few words, Temperance means governing your natural human appetites in a way that preserves freedom and prevents harm.

Researchers found that children with who practice good self-control, (i.e., typically better at paying attention, persist with difficult tasks, and suppress inappropriate or impulsive behaviors), are much more likely to find and retain employment as adults, spending 40% less time unemployed than those with a lower capacity for self-control.

“All things in moderation” is a common phrase to describe Temperance, and it works in general, For example, an occasional glass of wine with dinner is fine and even thought to be healthy by some researchers. However, habitual excessive drinking is destructive to the body and relationships. Food is necessary for life, and good food is a pleasure – overindulging or eating unhealthy food intentionally is destructive. Even the internet and video games can be transformed from a fun activity or useful tool into soul crushing addictions if we allow it.

Temperance is the exercise of the will, to enjoy what’s good without letting it become an addiction. It does not need to be one of the “common” vices, simple unhealthy attachment to things can become personally destructive.

For example, take the attachment to “things”. Moving as often as I have during my military career, my family has had the unique opportunity to eliminate a lot of ‘stuff’. We have been fairly successful at paring our belongings down to a necessary minimum, mostly voluntarily but sometimes involuntarily, when things are lost or broken during shipment. Consequently, there are very few things that are truly precious to any of us, and the items that are precious to us have sentimental rather than monetary value. Each time movers (strangers) have come to my home to box up our household and then load everything onto a truck, we have to come to grips with what is really important. We hold our breath and entrust those same strangers to deliver everything we possess to a new house, a new assignment. When the house is empty and the papers are signed, watching the truck drive away forces me to remember that “it’s only stuff”. Each time in this situation, my family is offered the opportunity to practice a little Temperance.

The polar opposite example of Temperance with our “stuff” is hoarding. You might be familiar with the television show that is similarly named.  The people the cast and producers are trying to help, have let “stuff” completely take over their lives. By allowing their homes to overflow with possessions (and debris), they often forfeited relationships with family and friends, and frequently endangered their own health. Without Temperance and the ability to prioritize appropriately, competing appetites will control us until we are no longer free. Without Temperance, our own appetites and passions can enslave us and cause us harm.

Athletes understand this virtue very well, as they discipline their minds and bodies in order to achieve success in their sport. They may take on a special or restrictive diet, they may trade sleep for workouts, and they eschew certain celebrations, or even common comforts, in order to be their best. This sort of mental, physical, and spiritual preparation is a commonly proven way for athletes to succeed. We applaud that sort of self-control in them, but is it really out of reach for us?

Of course not. We all have practice applying Temperance, at a variety of levels. I believe the virtue of Temperance, applied in a sensible way that respects Universal Human Goods, is a necessary component to living a healthy adult life. Whenever we delay gratification or order our priorities toward a specific end, we are practicing Temperance. So, when we stay late to finish the presentation that is due tomorrow, we are subsuming our own personal comfort because others are counting on us. When we make sure to leave on time to meet our spouse for dinner, we are balancing our time for the spouse we vowed to “love, honor, and cherish”. When we decline dessert so we can stick to our diet, when we turn off Call of Duty to help our kids with their homework, and when we delay our lunch to comfort a coworker having a bad day –  those are demonstrations of te Temperance.

Let Carrie Nation bury the hatchet, those of us with a balanced sense of Temperance will continue to grow and become “more free” by gaining an ability to control our own appetites.

If Your Friends All Jumped Off A Cliff…

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Cliff-Jumping-in-Lago-Vista-TexasPrudence is the ability for one to determine what is appropriate at any given time.

In the virtue of Prudence, we find the ability to make sound choices in the real world – choices that either expose us and others to danger or shield us from it.


A personal story might be helpful here, as it illustrates a lack of prudence that could have cost me my life, and how the common choices we make sometimes have profound consequences. My college friends and I were inner-tubing down the Guadalupe River near San Antonio, Texas and came upon the spot known as the “Blue Hole.” It was a very deep spot in the river, and is probably connected to a subterranean aquifer. It was a local tradition for people to leap from an overhanging rock face into the Blue Hole. My initial answer to the invitation was, “No, thank you”. However, once the boys swam away, leaving me alone with all the girls, my testosterone got the better of me and I raced to join them. I had a couple of chances to back out, including looking over the 20-foot drop-off, down to the water below. I didn’t use the proper judgment – I wasn’t prudent enough to back out even though I really did not want to jump.

My companions counted to three and we all stepped off the precipice – I instantly regretted my decision. “This was a dumb idea,” I thought as I plummeted to the water below, along with six other boys, all within an arms’ reach of each other. We hit the water so hard, and I went so deep that I nearly ran out of air before I made it back to the surface. There were a hundred things that could have gone wrong, and we were very lucky that no one was hurt. That experience was a great lesson in Prudence for me – that I should listen to my inner voice when it is shouting at me to pay attention

There are other ways to demonstrate Prudence besides deciding not to jump off 20-foot high rocks. The virtue of Prudence is also helpful when making ordinary decisions, such as what to eat for dinner, or whether to accelerate through a yellow traffic light (or not). In fact, it’s the daily small choices that define us far more than the big ones.

Be Free – Part I

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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.

Of Surfing, Leading, and Be’s

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


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

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

Get Your Copy of The 5 Be’s Today!

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

I’m excited to announce my latest title now available in pocketbook from Lead The Way Media!

Logo Cover - FrontIn a world full of “no” and “don’t”, The 5 Be’s For Starting Out is a positive vision of who to “Be.” Based on a lifetime of mentoring young adults, The 5 Be’s is a roadmap to living a healthy, fulfilling, and successful life!

  • Be Proud Of Who You Are: Everyone has something to contribute — and so do you!
  • Be Free: Authentic freedom means having the ability to choose what’s good for you!
  • Be Virtuous: The virtues are the “guardrails” for success in life!
  • Be Balanced:  Keep your Mind, Body, and Spirit nourished to  keep your balance!
  • Be Courageous: Courage comes in many forms: physical and moral courage — find yours!

The 5 Be’s For Starting Out was a huge hit at a recent industry conference, and I’m proud to offer it as a pocketbook. It will also be available as an ebook soon! The 5 Be’s  makes a great stocking stuffer for the young adult in your life–or anyone looking to make a fresh start.

Click the button below to get your copy now!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Help Me Choose a Cover Design for The 5 Be’s!

Posted 3 CommentsPosted in Announcements, Books

Would You Like to Be a Part of My Next Book?

I’m very excited to tell you that my next book, The 5 Be’s (For Starting Out) is nearing completion! As I go through final editing and get ready to publish, it’s time to choose a cover design. The three designs I’m considering are below!

The 5 Be’s (For Starting Out) is a positive vision of who we can be if we’re healthy and free. In a world of “don’ts”, The 5 Be’s is a guide for a person who wants to achieve without losing their soul.

Would you please vote for your favorite cover design in the combox below?  All comments welcome!!

Logo Cover
“Logo” design
Landscape Photo
“Landscape” design
Author Photo
“Author” design

Leading Through Tragedy – Part 1

Posted Leave a commentPosted in 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.

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 with the Five Be’s

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Leadership Advice from America's Most Trusted Leaders!

My latest on Leading with the Five Be’s

From the time we’re very young we’re presented with a list of “don’ts” to set boundaries. To be sure young people get the lion’s’ share of the boundary setting, but every society and organization has its list of what you can’t do. Boundaries are necessary, but a leader’s job is to inspire people to group and individual achievement so the job can’t end at “don’t.” We have to be able to articulate a positive view of where we want our teammates and followers to be. If we don’t then we’re not leading anyone anywhere in particular we’re just screaming out “row!” without telling them where they’re rowing.

In my time as a commander and leader in the Air Force, I found it necessary and even profitable to articulate this vision of who I wanted my Airmen to be as a companion to the boundaries we established to guide their behavior. That’s where the “Five Be’s” comes in: its who I want to be, and who I want the people around me to be. It’s a positive vision for a person to “Aim High” so they can reach their goals and be “all they can be” in their work and their life.

The “Five Be’s” are: Be Proud of Who You Are, Be Free, Be Virtuous, Be Balanced, Be Courageous

Read the rest here.