Rage is the Easiest Button

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

Social media is poisoning your soul. Universal Human Goods are the antidote.

I recently deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. That likely seems an odd thing to do for someone like me who writes and speaks publicly, but after some reflection I realized those two apps were stealing happiness out of my life. I didn’t completely leave the platforms, mind you, just removed the apps from my phone to prevent the “bored scroll through the feed.” Removing the apps also tames the impulse to overshare that’s inherent in social media. Does anyone really care what I had for lunch today? The links that appeared in my feed on – you name the topic – were most often sensational headlines designed for maximum emotional response. Frankly, though, most of those were eye rollers to me because I rarely take headlines at face value anymore. It is the comments that really get to me.

Social Poison

Honestly, and this is not news to anyone, the things people “say” to each other on social media we’d likely never say in person. I’m not claiming the high ground here – I’m painfully aware of times I have written things I wish I’d written differently. The flaming insults people who are ostensibly “friends” hurl at each other is truly disturbing, and to be honest, mostly recycled talking points from their political point of view. Very few discussions in the comment section cite actual facts; rather, people just fling sound bytes pulled from the “source du jour” without even trying to understand the motives or position of the other. What’s even more disturbing is the trend of truncating or eliminating facts that don’t comport with our positions, not to mention outright lies and setups.

Twitter is even worse, and a word has been coined to describe it: “TwitterMob.” Metaphorical pitchforks raised, the TwitterMob lurches from outrage to outrage in a 240-character attempt to shame, ridicule, and emotionally harm “the other.” Of course there is all sorts of things happening on Twitter and other social media sites, but on balance, I’ve concluded it’s not a productive use of my time and energy.

It’s not to say there’s not good in any social media – clearly it can be inspiring and informative – but the current state of affairs is not good. As an early adopter of social media, I’m saddened that it’s become a virtual town square where friendships end and mud gets spattered.

The Easy Button

When trying to move people to action, we try to elicit an emotion. Paraphrasing Chris Stirewalt, “rage is the easiest button.” It takes a lot less work to generate rage than compassion or happiness or gentleness, so that’s where many content outlets have descended. Everyone says they want to hear “just the facts,” but that’s not the behavior the content-consuming public reinforces with our clicks. In politics, the easiest way to get people motivated is to assert the “other guys” are evil or depraved. Pop culture is not better. Take a look at those magazines at the supermarket check out: feuds between celebs, fights between celeb spouses, or whatever the outrage du jour happens to be apparently sells magazines. Who buys those things anyway?

Universal Human Goods

In The Five Be’s I write very briefly about St Thomas Aquinas’ concept of Universal Human Goods. While there’s no definitive list in Aquinas’ Summa, any list of Human Goods has to include Beauty, Truth, Kindness, and Love. We are finite humans, so when we fill ourselves up on social media outrage and tabloid gossip, we have little room for anything else. It’s no wonder we’re not happy even though we live in the freest, safest, most prosperous time since the beginning of human history.

Imagine how better we’d sleep if we cared a lot less about celeb gossip or our friends voted, and more about being generous and seeking beauty? Wouldn’t our lives be better if we quit comparing ourselves to the latest Instagram model and more seeking Truth and Love? Shouldn’t a relationship with the Divine be life-changing and free us from trashy TV and internet browsing?

I submit we can do better. We shouldn’t do better so we can boast on Facebook about how successful we are – we should do better because it makes us and the world around us happier.

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.

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The Cool Kids Usually Aren’t, But You Are

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

When I was in high school I desperately wanted to be one of the cool kids. I was decidedly not “cool.”

The Cool Kids Usually Aren’t

My parents worked hard to provide for us, and we lived a good life with everything we needed including a Catholic education K-12. However, my classmates wore (then) $60 Nikes and I wore $20 Traxx from KMart. The cool kids wore Izod polos, mine were Montgomery Ward button downs. There was nothing wrong with my clothes, our car, our home, or any other outward measurement of social worth, but I was not “in” with the cool kids. I was too immature at 17 to understand that being “cool” wasn’t a be all and end all. It wasn’t even important.

Wish I’d learned that sooner because I wasted a lot of time on things that prevented me from friendships and personal growth. I know that now.

Cool Kids Are Usually Trying Too Hard

You see, the “cool kids” were often doing things that weren’t good for them or the people around them. Things we think are “cool” when we’re 16 or 17, are decidedly not with the benefit of a little hindsight and maturity. In fact, looking back, I’m glad I wasn’t one of the cool kids. My lack of social cooth and status likely protected me from some bad decisions.  Not that I didn’t make bad decisions with the uncool kids – but to be honest, those were mostly because I was trying to be something I’m not.

Be Yourself, You’re the Only You You’ve Got

Over and over again, it’s become apparent to me that absent a solid foundation in personal dignity and core values, people will often make the worst possible choices. One of the things continually surprised about as an adult is the propensity of large numbers of people to do things, wear things, and go places because someone in the entertainment industry or public life did it, wore it, or went there. When I see the magazines at the grocery store checkout, I’m amazed that these publications are in business. Honestly, I just don’t care that Princess So-And-So wore that thing, or Mr. Actor did such and such, or Mrs Socialite said whatever. Everyone is welcome to their own politics and opinions, and people in public life are no exceptions, but just because someone in a magazine or on TV is doing it is not sufficient reason for us to follow. People whose life is different than yours can be inspirational if they are virtuous or doing good works, but their life is just their life. Like eating watermelon, you have to eat the sweet stuff and metaphotically spit out the seeds.

Core Values

This is where guiding principles come into play. If we have a set of guiding principles for our life, we won’t be swayed because a pretty face decides to wear something or buy something. They have their lives, but their lives are not ours and vice versa. We can certainly admire someone’s work without feeling the need to agree with their politics or personal taste in clothes or cologne. Ultimately, when we have our core values and align our decisions with them, the “world” can do whatever “they” want without really affecting the quality of our lives. I can enjoy an actor’s work without feeling the need to agree with their politics, and just as importantly, not feel the need to judge them if we disagree. As I’ve written often, Mickey’s Rule #7 holds here, The other team is not the enemy.

Be authentically free, ya’ll.

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.

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Leaders Read

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

I’ve always been a reader: fiction, non-fiction, comic books–seriously, anything I can get my hands on. I think a person who is a steady consumer of books is opening their mind in a way that’s not possible any other way. Watching videos and listening to lectures has their place, but books are the gateway because the printed words can only come alive in your own mind. No one has PowerPoint or YouTube videos to shape your imagination, you have to give life to the words on the page yourself.

Leaders can benefit from this concept because through books and the exercise of the mind that goes with reading, leaders can refine their own style and learn from others. As the great British humorist and moralist G. K. Chesterton once said, Learn from other’s mistakes, you don’t have time to make them all yourself.

Now, it seems Rochelle Ballis (and science) over at Forbes Magazine agrees with me:

According to Forbes:

It turns out that you develop skills from reading fiction that simply do not emerge from consuming other forms of content. Reading literary fiction is strongly correlated with a higher capacity to understand what’s going on in other people’s heads, a talent often referred to as “theory of mind.”

In 2006 York University psychologist Raymond Mar and his colleague performed a study that examined lifetime exposure to both fiction and non-fiction. They found that engaging with fiction positively correlated to greater emotional empathy, while reading non-fiction did not. In 2009, Mar re-confirmed his results, and went on to prove that the link between reading literature and “theory of mind” persisted even if you control for the possibility that empathetic people might choose to read more fiction.

While television has the power to entertain, it doesn’t share the same socialization benefits as reading a book. In fact, recent research suggests television may actually weaken our understanding of other people’s desires or beliefs.

For me, there have been many books that have shaped how I think about leadership. To name a few, they are: The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), Starship Troopers (Heinlein), The Defense of Hill 781 (McDonough), the Bible (God), and War As I Knew It (Patton). So tell me in the comment section what books have most impacted your personal or leadership development? It doesn’t have to be non-fiction, it can be anything–inquiring minds want to know!

Leading Volunteers is (Not) Easy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technique Only

Volunteerism is American as
A WWII Red Cross Volunteer Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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