Keeping Up with Engel Jones

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Podcast, The Five Be's, Video

Back in November, I had the pleasure to appear on 12 Minute Convos with Engel Jones podcast. It was great fun, and today Engel came by to reconnect on Facebook Live with me. We had a conversation that was way too short, but incredibly fun.

What I like most about Engel is his genuineness – he truly enjoys meeting all kinds of people and engages fully when he does. It’s the kind of authenticity I write about in The Five Be’s, and the kind of person I’m always trying to be.

If you enjoyed this conversation, check our Engel’s podcast and go support his GoFundMe to help him finish his “conversation tour” of the United States and conversations with interesting people!


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And the First Day it Rained

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Outbound Collective, Practical Leadership
This week I’m pleased to bring you my guest post on The Outbound Collective. Be sure to click the link and show them some love!

My mom was a prolific writer and tried mightily to get her short story published about the vacations she used to take with her 4 siblings and her mom and dad all crammed into a 1955 station wagon. The title of her story was, And the First Day It Rained…

I thought of Mom as we loaded the canoes near Ponca, Arkansas in the drizzle and prepared to launch into the icy water of the Buffalo River. It was April, and a late spring rain had drenched the Ozarks around us over the past two days, making our drive through the narrow mountain roads, ahem, “sporty.” Nonetheless, we managed to make it from South Texas to the Buffalo National River with all our gear and with most of our wits. After a bit of really outstanding barbeque and homemade fried pies at T’s BBQ in Harrison (thank you Yelpers) and last minute provisioning at the Harrison Walmart, we were finally here. Weeks of planning and thinking about the trip were about to be consummated. After a brief checkout at Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca, we caravan-ed down to the launch point to meet up with our canoes.

You Had One Job

I spent a lot of time in the water growing up in the lakes of North Texas, and more recently eight years in the ocean daily off the Windward shores of O’ahu, but this was to be my first multi-day canoe trip. I was concerned that my ocean and lake experience wouldn’t translate to the swift water, but I wasn’t a novice in the water.

My one goal for the day was to stay in the canoe. I’d rafted Class IV rapids in Idaho, surfed double overhead waves on Oahu, paddled outriggers, and regularly paddle boarded and kayaked in strong trades and chest high surf. Surely, I thought, someone with my experience in the water could manage to stay upright in a river.

We finished loading in the 55-degree drizzle, stopped for a couple of photos, and launched into the grey, fast moving Buffalo, determined not to be “that guy” who ends up in the water with wet gear and an embarrassed smile.

Water is Water, Right?

I figured that despite my lack of recent swift water experience, I was likely the one with the most time in the water and the most time with a paddle. I tried to gently maneuver myself to the back of my canoe so I could steer, but didn’t want to strong arm my buddy and ended up in the front. We tried to switch ends just after launching—which didn’t work—and so after a little bit of wrangling the canoe we managed to get ourselves into a good rhythm for the rest of the morning. Our plan was to stop at Horseshoe Bend, about 4.5 miles downriver, and hike up to a place called Hidden Falls.

We almost made it.

Surfing the Buffalo

My canoe partner, Stan, and I were learning each other, and I was learning what it was like to be along for the ride. Like me, Stan was no stranger to the water either, spending time sailing the ocean and motoring around the lake near Corsicana, Texas. Canoes are a different matter altogether, however, and two-man canoes require the crew to be in sync. In a two-man crew, the guy in front is just the motor—the guy in back is the one who steers—and the crew works together to move the canoe through swift water and around obstacles. Stan and I were not yet a crew and that was about to become painfully apparent.

I was navigating with the National Park map so I knew Horseshoe Bend was around the next corner, but since neither Stan nor I had paddled that stretch of the river before, we really had no idea what to expect or which line to take. Our lack of synchronicity as a crew, a slightly off-center load in the canoe, and a bad read of the river had us going wide on the turn once we entered Horseshoe Bend. At the top of the bend a large tree overhung the river. We’d successfully ducked tree limbs all morning, but this one was to be our undoing.

Even as I write this, it’s hard to remember exactly what happened.

Cold Dunking Achievement Unlocked

What I think happened, was, as we got wide on the turn the big limb came right at me at nose height. I put up my paddle to shield my face and probably got knocked to the right gunwale. Stan, I think, must’ve leaned right or dug in his paddle to try to turn, and suddenly we were overloaded on the right side—tumbling into the 60-degree water. All that happened in about 1 second, because all I really remember is a loud crash from the plastic paddle hitting the tree, followed by the crash of leaves, followed by bone chilling cold.

I’d like pause my story for a moment here to thank three persons: God, the BOC guy at the put in, and Eddie Bauer.

Clearly, God sent an extra angel or two to watch over us because despite being canoe-rookies and Stan getting tangled in some gear, we both ended up in coming out of the water alive and with all of our gear except one water bottle. If He hadn’t been watching over us a potentially deadly situation could’ve been tragic. Instead, we just came out wet and cold.

Second, I usually paddle on the very mild Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country. The shallow river is popular for “toobers” and rarely approaches swift water with any rating at all. Because of the mild current and shallow conditions, I usually stow my PFD and paddle without it. The BOC guide suggested rather strongly we wear our PFDs if for no other reason than it would keep us warm. I’m not certain we’d have had quite such a happy ending without a PFD.

Third, I could’ve been doing a commercial for Eddie Bauer—pants, socks, web belt, fleece, and shell were all right out of Eddie’s closet. Because I had on good clothes, I dried out quickly and stayed warm even when soaked through in 55 degree air. If I hadn’t been a fan before, then I’d have become an Eddie Bauer fan for life after I dried out in minutes after my dunking!

Back to the action.

The water was so cold I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs to make myself heard above the roar of the water. I mouthed and pointed, “get to the beach over there” and we managed to steer our now overturned canoe dragging gear to the outside rocky beach at the apex of the Bend. After disentangling Stan from our tie down rope, began to gather up our gear. I had to go back into the water after a paddle and a couple of items that had come untied in the mayhem, but we managed to recover our gear and get dried out while eating our lunch. Amazingly, the sandwiches in paper bags in my Eddie Bauer daypack stayed dry. The first aid kit was soaked—but the food stayed dry. Small miracles.

It’s All Down River from Here

Hiking up to the falls was now off the agenda, we needed time to gather up our gear, dry out a little, and repack the canoe. After a breather and some food, I managed to shake my frustration at falling short of my only goal (stay dry) and get back in the canoe. Stan and I had planned to swap positions in the canoe at lunch each day, and now in the steering position and feeling in control of my own fate a little more, we launched back into the river.

Better loaded than our first try, and with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds, we made our way the last 6 miles through gorgeous canyons and a few more areas of swift water. Providence smiled on us again, and about 3pm that afternoon we pulled into a sweet camp on the edge of another horseshoe bend with a sandy beach and firewood already stacked up from the previous occupants. Dry clothes, a good fire, some hot food, and my spirits began to improve. By the firelight we relived college memories and shared things that’d happened since our last time together. A good night’s sleep would complete my rehabilitation after my involuntary swim in the frigid river.

Floating Down the Buffalo, Driving Southbound on I-35

The second and third days were much warmer than the first, and it didn’t take long for us to shed all our cold weather clothes and slather on the sunscreen to prevent bad burns. As we traveled further down the river, we started running into floaters who were on day trips. The silence of the first two days was broken by loud music and beer-fueled conversations with others on the river on the third. Our 34 miles ended sooner than we expected as we reached our take out at Carver Landing early afternoon on the third day. Tired, happy, and a little sunburned, we packed our gear, put on the dry clothes we’d left in the car, and headed south. It would be a long eight-hour drive back to Corsicana for an overnighter, then home to New Braunfels the next day.

It had been a great adventure with my old friends, and we parted with plans to return to the river again.


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

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

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The Stories in Stacks of Business Cards

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Conferences, Practical Leadership
This week I’m pleased to bring you my guest post on the Society of American Military Engineer’s Bricks & Clicks Blog. Be sure to click the link and show them some love!

Photo courtesy of SAME

Every time I come back from the Society of American Military Engineers Joint Engineer Training Conference (“JETC”), I find myself sorting through a stack of business cards. Each one of those cards tells a story: a new person I’ve met or a colleague I’ve reconnected with after not seeing for a while. In those stacks of business cards, there’s the thread of my story that’s connected with others in the Society.

That connection with others in the community is the thing I love most about coming to what I humbly believe is the best annual conference of any professional organization. There are lots of great conferences out there, but I think JETC is special.

What Makes Us Special

“We are establishing at this time a Society of American Military Engineers. This society will serve no selfish purpose. It is dedicated to patriotism and national security. Its objects are, in brief, to promote solidarity and co-operation between engineers in civil and military life, to disseminate technical knowledge bearing upon progress in the art of war and the application of engineering science thereto, and to preserve and maintain the best standards and traditions of the profession, all in the interests of patriotism and national security.” –The Military Engineer magazine, January 1920

Like many professionals, I belong to several professional societies and service organizations. They all have their virtues of course, but the chief virtue of SAME is its enduring purpose: dedicated to patriotism and national security. Most professional associations exist for the primary benefit of the members. Professional growth, networking, and of course community service are all worthy goals. The thing about SAME is that both those in government and in industry are committed first to national service in the defense of our country.

It’s the calling of engineers whose credo is to first serve the public good. It’s that common sense of mission and purpose that creates a community of some of the best people I know. It’s what makes us special.

Always Learning

Another thread revealed in that stack of business cards is the memories of the talks I heard, and conversations had over those three days at the 2018 JETC in Kansas City. It’s interesting how the subject matter and education tracks have evolved over time.

This year, there were more and more sessions about the implementation of digital and disruptive technology that gives our government colleagues and industry teammates a competitive edge in an increasingly complex global defense environment. It’s always fun to see a card and reflect on the conversations we had during JETC, and see the continuous evolution of our profession and our Society is energizing to watch.

Rewards, Friendships, Heroes

A member of the SAME National Office staff once referred to JETC as a “SAME love fest.” When I smiled and asked what she meant, she explained that because of the social events, the Post awards, and the Society Ball, it was a chance for the members to reconnect and show their affection and appreciation for each other.

She is right: the mood of the conference reflects that sense of community and collegiality. It’s fun to see people recognized for their tremendous work to further the profession and grow the Society’s reach. I particularly enjoy seeing people I know who have worked without fanfare or seeking recognition heralded publicly for their contributions.

Looking Forward to Next Year

Of course, it goes without saying the keynotes are always inspiring, this year particularly so. As a “Greyshirt” myself, meeting Team Rubicon founder Jake Wood and hearing his story of continued service was motivating. It’s experiences like that, along with the opportunity to renew old friendships as well as make new ones, that speak to me from those stacks of business cards.

The call for presentations for the 2018 Small Business Conference is already out, and there’s a lot of business that gets done at that one, so don’t miss it. Of course, the 2019 JETC in Tampa, Fla., is just around the corner as well: less than 350 days and counting!

I should have worked my way through all those cards by then.


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

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

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Throwback Thursday: Finding Value in Professional Obligations, Part 1

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technique Only, Throwback Thursday

JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam OClub - USAF PhotoIt was axiomatic as a brand new lieutenant I was expected to join the Officer’s Club. I read about the expectation in my Air Force Officer’s Guide, and senior officers repeatedly reinforced  that expectation. It was part of my professional obligation to support the Club, and I accepted this at face value. In fact, other a couple of assignments where there wasn’t a Club at my base, I’ve been an Officer’s Club member since the day I entered the Air Force. That’s certainly not the norm any longer. Many things have contributed to the decline in Club membership over the years, de-glamorization of alcohol, reduction in Service budgets for recreational activities, and the elimination of bachelor officers’ quarters on base, but the change has been largely generational. Club membership in the military is an excellent case study for helping senior leaders bridge those generational differences.

As a squadron commander, I was dismayed to learn most my young officers weren’t Club members. Since Club membership had become voluntary and no longer enforced by our senior leadership, younger officers hadn’t signed on like I had done. They all had their reasons, but the common theme was they didn’t find any value in plopping down $20 per month to be a member of the Officer’s Club where they may darken the doors once a month. My generation was open to allowing for others’ expectations to drive our behavior, but this generation was not willing to follow unless they found value themselves.

There’s some virtue to that viewpoint, and it speaks directly to the need for people who lead teams made up of millennials to be deliberate about demands placed upon them. It’s not sufficient to merely expect certain behavior without having a good reason and articulating that reason to the team. This is where leaders come in.

Clearly, there are things we have to do because it’s “the social convention” as Dr Sheldon Cooper might say, and leaders need to explain those things sufficiently so their teams understand the necessity of their participation.  That said, it’s important to constantly examine the social norms of a given group and ensure they are still relevant. Traditions are important to be sure, but we must never become so attached to traditions we can’t create new ones or adapt the old ones to the group as it exists today. Furthermore, the bright and motivated people entering the workforce are accustomed to finding value in what they do. They’re not likely to accept “the norms” without understanding the reason behind them.  They will  “join” things where they find value, however:

If membership organizations are going to attract and keep members in this environment, they better figure out what “benefits” people, companies, and institutions are looking for, and provide those benefits in a hassle-free, tangible way.

As leadership is fundamentally a human relationship task, building and maintaining the esprit de corps of the group is one of a leader’s most important task. Help your team find value in what you’re doing, and spend some time on the intangibles of building culture. Put more simply: you have to know your people and ensure when you engage them you do it in a way they value and understand. It does no good to have a “donut day” in an office of fitness fanatics…you’re not helping them find value. They may appreciate the gesture, but you won’t be building at “teamship.” Helping your team find value, and offering value in return, will pay off in the end with higher productivity and a happier team.

In the next post, I’ll discuss the necessity of maintaining those professional obligations.


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.

Friday Link Around – All (Well, Mostly) Business

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technique Only

Durango-Silverton Line 1976This week’s Friday Link Around is all about the business of, well, business.

To begin, are performance reviews value added? Red Balloon founded Naomi Simpson doesn’t think so–she sees them as at best incomplete and at worst a source of office bullying. What do you think?

You probably already know I hate meetings, but if you have to go to one, here’s some meeting etiquette tips every professional should know.

Over at Inc. Magazine, Travis Bradberry (author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0) has six things you don’t owe your boss.

Of course, once you get your team built, you have to retain those team members. Some of your employees are leaving, and not for the reasons you might think.

Think networking is valuable? Greg McKeown, writing for Harvard Business Review, doesn’t think so. His opinion is 99% of networking is a waste of time. If that’s true, I’ve wasted a lot of time!

Finally, because no one can be all business…a little levity via Armstrong and Getty. Who doesn’t love happy piggy noises?


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 LeadersPersonal Development Magazine, and GeneralLeadership.com.