What Is Courage? (Part II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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.

How Do You Handle Failure?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Lead people for any length of time and you’re bound to fail.

I know there’s a lot of Type A’s out there who are convinced they never fail, but I assure you, if you’ve been leading for more than 5 minutes you have failed! So all you high achievers, you who’ve been number one at everything since you were a fetus, this post is especially for you.

Early in my military career I learned the secret to surviving failure, even an epic one, could be summed up simply.  As is often the case, the secret to keeping yourself out of the psych ward after a failure is expressed in a cute little acronym: FIDO.  FIDO stands for Forget It And Drive On, and is a reminder not to be paralyzed by fear or embarrassment.  For most people failure will be a setback at best and a debilitating event at worst.  FIDO is the way successful people overcome their failures and roadblocks to find their way in life.

Olympian Ruben Gonzalez 1Lt Clebe McClary, USMCFIDO is hero Marine 1Lt Clebe McClary’s personal motto.  After he was grievously wounded in Vietnam, McClary decided he had to “drive on” and not let his injuries define him.  I was privileged to hear Lieutenant McClary speak when I was a young officer and it made a big impression on me.  My friend and 4-time Olympian Ruben Gonzalez started training for his first Olympics at age 21, the age many Olympic athletes retire. Not taking “no” for an answer, Ruben made the Argentine Olympic team, achieved an international “Top 50” ranking, and competed in four Olympic Games.  Motivational speaker Jennifer Webb has even written a book about FIDO.For high achievers or “high drive” leaders, sometimes even the fear of failure is enough to induce strange and out-of-character behavior.

The difference between a man who fails 10,000 times before succeeding and a man who fails once and is a wreck for the rest of his life is perspective and balance.  You see, “FIDO” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about failure; FIDO means you learn from your mistakes and put on your big boy pants then get on with the mission.  It means keeping your head up when things go wrong.  A “FIDO person” may never achieve what he originally intended because of a failure, but a FIDO person will find new goals to achieve and move out in that direction.

Not everyone takes failure so well.  I’ve seen leaders fail and refuse help from others believing they were “done.”  I’ve watched leaders refuse to take stock and evaluate their own performance, instead deflecting blame for their failures on others.  There are even those I’ve worked with over the years who are so paralyzed by the idea of making a career-ending mistake they become unable to make any decision at all.  Worse still is the “Type A” who is on the rise through the ranks who become an impediment to getting work done through an almost manic need to control everything.

The reality is failure is common and a part of the atmosphere of leadership. Any leader worth their salt has to be able to “take a metaphorical punch,” learn, and then “drive on.”  Both the fear of failure and wallowing in that failure are counter-productive.  Leaders are human with the same emotions and self-doubt every other human possesses.  The difference between high achievers and the rest of us mortals is how they deal with failure.

The lesson is this: don’t let failure or the fear of it define who you are. No matter what happens take stock, learn, then FIDO.

Leaders Expect High Standards

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Practical Leadership

Each organization in an institution or company has a job to do: Leaders exist to execute their jobs in support of their company’s objectives. That means, internal to an organization, leaders should support their bosses and their institutional goals. My experience is that people rise to the leaders’ expectations. Set high standards and hold people to them, and people will meet them almost every time (conversely, if you set low standards…). Standards must be uniform; everyone knows how counter-productive “teacher’s pets” can be. Everyone wants to be successful and wants to feel that sense of accomplishment.

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Photo credit: Washington Post

Expecting high standards is more than merely setting high sales goals or demanding perfection in quality. It means that leaders expect and demonstrate high personal and professional standards in the conduct of their lives and business. I don’t mean we create a “Stepford company” of robotic overachievers, but we do expect that ethical behavior at work means that we have ethical behavior in our private lives. We serve our cause, or institution, and each other best when this is the case. Entrepreneur and co-founder of Medical Imaging Company, combat veteran, and former A-10 pilot David Specht once shared his theory about why people fail that I think is very astute: “If someone fails, they usually fail for one of three reasons: either they weren’t trained, they weren’t resourced, or they weren’t led.” Dave’s view is one I agree with, and it illustrates the responsibility for the leader to lead his team by investing himself in the team’s success. If there is failure, the leader usually has himself to blame, at least initially.

Apart from George Bailey’s uncle in the film It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s a rare case indeed where the failure of an employee is solely responsible for an organization’s failure. However, even if it’s the sole employee’s fault for a failure, it’s the leader’s responsibility to get the task accomplished. An effective leader accepts responsibility for the failure of the task and diverts praise for success to their teammates and subordinates. It’s very unseemly for a leader to try to blame others for the failure of the team, just as it’s a morale killer for the team when the leader tries to take the glory for the success. The leader in those cases isn’t fooling anyone; everyone knows success is a team effort, and the leader is ultimately accountable for failure. Trying to divert attention only lowers the leader in the esteem of others.