Transitioning Leadership – The Exchange of Flags

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

The military change of command ceremony is rooted in centuries of tradition back to the time of Frederick the Great. In the days before radio communications, the unit’s commander used his flag as a symbol of command and to signal movements on the battlefield. Leaders would physically hand the unit’s organizational flag from the outgoing to the incoming leader to symbolize the transfer of authority. Civilian companies have their own way of transferring authority, but the effect should be the same: a visible transfer of authority from “old guy” to “new guy.” Unless there’s compelling reason not to have a ceremony, like the previous leader was removed or left unexpectedly, doing a “change of command” ceremony is an important tool to keep a unit moving forward during what can be a disruptive time.

In a previous post, I wrote about what to do as the outgoing executive leader. This week we’re talking about the “new guy” at the executive level.

The Ceremony

The basic structure of a change of command ceremony is unchanged for centuries. The two leaders–outgoing and incoming–come out together led by the leader at the next echelon above. The organizational flag is passed from one to the other, then both make brief remarks. For the outgoing commander, this is a time for farewells and the ceremony is predominately for the outgoing leader and the team to make a formal break. For the incoming commander, it’s time to briefly introduce command philosophy–and get off the stage. There will be plenty of time for more later.

In non-military organizations and especially for executive leaders we often separate the two events–a retirement or farewell for the outgoing leader and some sort of welcome for the incoming–but there’s real value in the team seeing the transfer of authority from old to new. In a handshake, the passing of an “artifact” like a pen or even a coffee mug can be a powerful symbol of the transfer of allegiance. Making that transfer public and tangible goes a long way to enabling the organization to go on successfully under the new leader.

The First 30 Days

The first 30 days are a critical time for new leaders because first impressions are lasting ones. Use that time when you’re still the “new guy” to learn as much as you can about the team, the organization, and the processes.

During your first day on the job, meet one-on-one with key senior direct reports, administrative assistants, and the team as a whole. Help them understand your guiding principles and your priorities for your time at the helm. Your administrative staff, if you have one, will be keenly interested in your likes and dislikes for running the office, keeping your schedule, and passing information. Your key direct reports will want to get to know you, and you them, as well as understand what changes you intend to make.

Once you’ve met with your senior direct reports–we call it a “command team” in the Air Force–it’s time to meet with the entire staff as a group. Spend about an hour, and lay out your priorities, guiding principles, and your expectations. I always included few PowerPoint slides or a handout so they could listen better rather than taking notes. Be sure to allow them all time they need to ask questions–few of them will take you up on it anyway. Lastly give them a preview of what you intend to deliver to the entire organization during your upcoming “all hands call” and seek their feedback. Again, you’re not likely to get any feedback, but people appreciate being asked and any feedback you get tells you something about the people you’re working with.

Make time in the first few days to have an “all hands meeting” and address the entire team. I always tried to do that in the first week, the first day is best. If your team is spread out over many locations, then record your session and make that recording available to them. Like in the meeting with your senior staff, lay out your priorities and principles and make it memorable. You want your “slogan” to be memorable and easy to repeat–you’ll be repeating it often. This is your real first impression–make it count.

As a rule of thumb, and unless it’s absolutely necessary, avoid making any changes for the first 30 days. Understand your predecessors’ decisions before you begin making changes; this will help you avoid unwanted second and third order effects, and it will give you a better chance of finding root causes of problems rather than just symptoms.

Finally, during the first month make a deliberate effort to get around to as many work centers and offices as humanly possible. Avoid spending that entire time in conference rooms–you can read on your own time–you’re there to meet the people and see where they work. Whenever I take over a new organization I spend that first week or so walking through each unit and learning as much as I can from the people doing the actual work. You can tell a lot about an organization by asking questions and observing the work environment, and that sort of listening and personal contact means a great deal to your people.

Day 31

Once you reach your 31st day, you’ll be ready to begin moving the organization forward on the path you choose. What’s more, if you do these first few weeks well, you’ll have a team ready to move with you. Of course, not every situation can wait 30 days. Sometimes an organization is broken and stakeholders want action now. Take as much time as you can; time spent preparing the team to accept you as the new leader and to accept your agenda is like money in the bank waiting on you to cash the check. A smooth transition will make Day 31 possible.


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 GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Leading Teams to Greatness – Part 3 – Executing the Plan

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com, How To Change

riding-the-wave-of-change

Planning is very important, but just like the surfer sitting in the lineup at some point you have to actually drop in and ride the waves. For leaders, this idea means we have to carry out the plans we make. Perfect plans don’t accomplish anything–implementing them does!

That surfing maxim came home to me in the deserts of Kuwait of all places. January 2003 was cold and wet in Kuwait. We’d been planning for months and now it was “go” time. While some projects in our construction program were already underway, we were about to embark on a crash program to complete the remainder of the crucially important projects to get our air base ready. In a few weeks, we’d be receiving 5,000 Airmen and Marines, as well as 200 airplanes. I’ll probably never know for certain, but the word was that when our base was fully operational then we’d begin Operation Iraqi Freedom. In other words: the world was literally waiting on us. We needed to execute the plan we’d made, and we’d need to do it right the first time.

In Part 1, we discussed surveying the environment, and in Part 2 we talked about making a plan. Part 3 is all about execution. After you survey the environment and make a plan, you have to put it into action. When in execution, leaders should keep in mind the following :

  1. Steer the implementation – be a leader and do the job.
  2. Anticipate barriers and plan ahead.
  3. Communicate to everyone constantly.

Keep Your Hand on the Stick

Executing any plan requires a leader to be involved in the execution. We hire leaders to make decisions and inspire others–that means during implementation leaders must understand the plan and steer its implementation. They should be visible and involved. It’s very easy for a leader to spend all his time making the plan then be absent during the actual implementation. We absolutely must resist that urge. Of course the amount of involvement depends on the level of responsibility. First line leaders need to be there all the time, in the middle of the action inspiring and leading, solving problems for the team. Other more senior leaders need to be visible, but shouldn’t “hover”; give the first line leaders space to do their jobs. The mid-level leader should be looking further ahead: clearing barriers and ensuring the team has the resources they need while maintaining contact with the team “on the ground.” Executive leaders should be spending most of their time at the enterprise level, without neglecting the need to be visible to the people actually doing the the job. Regardless of level of responsibility, leaders have to lead through the change: measure progress, keep track of resources, monitor morale.

Heads Up

Another key leadership task during implementation is to anticipate barriers and plan ahead. Just like the surfer riding a wave has to watch out for changing surf conditions and other surfers, leaders must be on the lookout for anything that can go wrong. One of my favorite techniques came from Gen Tommy Franks’ memoir American Soldier where he took time each morning to write down three things that could go right or wrong on a given day. Gen Franks kept those lists on an index card on his desk, and refreshed the lists daily. There are other techniques as well, but the point is leaders must be looking up and out–anticipating things that could affect the current operation and making adjustments. It does no good for leaders to be just as surprised as everyone else when something unexpected happens. Rather, by thinking through the plan and anticipating things that can go wrong, leaders can position their teams to either avoid or minimize damage from barriers when they pop up.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

One often overlooked leadership task is communication. Nothing is done in isolation; no matter what we’re doing others are involved. Everything we do–even those thing “individual” tasks–affect others. We need resources, permissions, advocacy, or buy-in. Community groups, unions, shareholders, boards of directors, and even families all have interest and even stake in what we’re doing. Of course there’s also government officials, customers, and suppliers. All these people and more need to know what’s going on. Believe me, if leaders don’t “feed the beast” and communicate, someone else will fill in the blanks! Public officials need a public affairs plans, businesses need to engage with their customers and advertise, and everyone needs to keep their teammates informed. Clearly, there are as many ways to communicate as there are people, but the key point is this: it’s the leader’s responsibility to ensure everyone who needs to know gets the information. Leaders should spend a great deal of their time communicating, and need to do so deliberately.

Across the Finish Line

Just like a surfer watching the wave and adjusting his course as he goes, leaders have to steer their teams all the way to the finish. By leading visibly, anticipating problems, and communicating appropriately leaders can get their teams to mission accomplishment successfully–while being ready for the next wave!


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 GeneralLeadership.com.

 

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

 

Good Feedback Gets High Performance

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

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

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

Leaders Demand Honest Feedback

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

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

You’re Doing Fine!

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

How Feedback is Done

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

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

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

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

Give Good Feedback, Get High Performance

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


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

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

 

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

 

Dynamic Dozen: Step Up and Step Out

Posted Posted in GeneralLeadership.com

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 GeneralLeadership.com


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

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

Dad’s Sage Advice for the Class of ’20

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Advice Column

A&M Students 1894The Class of 2020 is arriving at college this month, and so keeping with August’s “Advice That Sticks” theme, here’s the latest version of Dad’s Sage Advice for College – 2016 Edition

1. Keep Yourself Healthy

You can’t run at full throttle all the time-be sure to maintain your mental, spiritual, and physical health. Don’t be a cave dweller. It’s easy to remain locked away in your dorm room for four years making excellent grades and few friends-resist the urge. Eat right, exercise, and attend to your spiritual health. Beer and Xbox is not a hobby, and just because Mom isn’t there to get you out of bed on Sunday morning doesn’t mean you don’t have to go to church.

2. Remain Authentically Free

There’s plenty of things “out there” that will steal your freedom-never let your or someone else’s appetites prevent you from choosing what’s good for you. There are all sorts of “freedom stealers” from the benign (video gaming) to the downright dangerous (drugs, alcohol, porn). Don’t let the “freedom stealers” prevent you from being the amazing person you were born to be.

3. Guard Your Chastity

I know this sounds very old fashioned, but remember you’re there to get an education, not find a mate or a date. Believe me, with all the other drama involved in getting through college, you can do without relationship drama. Regardless whether or not you’re a virgin, respect the power of sex and leave it for later–there will be plenty of time.

4. Make Friends 

Find a group of people who share your values, and with whom you can be yourself. Additionally, it’s good to make friends with people who aren’t like you. You need both kinds. You don’t have to agree on everything or be the same in order to develop a friendship. Everyone needs friends who can build us up, and challenge us to be better people.

5. Be Adventurous but Not Stupid

Don’t compromise your values or your safety, but don’t be afraid of new experiences either. Join a club, go to a rally, see a play, go to a football game, take a road trip, enter a contest. Challenge the college experience to make you a better person.

6. Never Quit

Success usually goes to the one who is prepared and has asked the question, “what can go wrong here?” Plan for and expect success, but don’t be crushed by failure. The only real failure is quitting; never quit. No matter what happens, good or bad, be able to say you’ve done your best.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. – G. K. Chesterton

7. Go to Class, Do the Work

I know this seems basic, but it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and get behind. You do have to do the work. In the game of football, all you have to do is travel 10 yards and you get to keep going. Make enough first downs and you score a touchdown. Remember why you wanted a college education in the first place, and keep making first downs until you get to the end zone.

8. Remember, You’re Never Alone

Ask for help when you need it, talk to people, share the load with others and allow others to do the same. You have to take tests and do some work on your own, but that doesn’t mean you have to be by yourself. Include your profs in that as well–they’re there to help you learn. College is a team sport.

9. Remember, We Love You.

Keep your loved ones in the loop and stay connected. As a Dad, I want you to know your family wants you to succeed and be your own person–but we want to remain part of your life, too.


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.

Advice that Sticks with Me

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Bob_Denver_Gilligans_Island_1966I don’t know what it is that I’m doing, but I sure as heck keep doing it! – Gilligan

If you’re a member of a certain “experienced” generation—ahem, mine—then you’ll remember a television show called Gilligan’s Island. It was one of my favorites, and there was often a lesson in the antics of the hapless castaways from the fictional S.S. Minnow, and the title character, Gilligan, was the First Mate. While his bumbling was the comedic center of the show, I think Gilligan probably taught more to his fellow castaways (and the audience) than even the creator Sherwood Schwartz intended. It was advice that sticks, and it “stuck” because the audience and the castaways learned the lessons together. Of course, Gilligan’s Island was comedy, not philosophy.

Like the fictional castaways on that South Pacific island, I’ve also learned a great deal through experience. (You were wondering where I was going with all that Gilligan stuff, weren’t you?) The advice I’ve received has stuck with me because it’s both true and lived. Now it’s yours, too:

“Can’t Never Could Do Anything” (Mickey’s Rule #4) – This originated with my Dad and have been words that motivated me as a skinny 14 year old yearning for gridiron glory AND as a 51 year old colonel! Keep a positive attitude and can-do spirit and you can be mighty!

“Drink Your Water, Eat Your Lunch, and Make New Friends” (Mickey’s Rule #10) – advice from a pre-K kiddo that was wise beyond his years. Live your life in balance and always look for new friends.

“People Are Not Machines” – advice from one of my first squadron commanders to remind me that my Airmen were humans and needed to be treated as such. Leaders can expect a lot from people they treat well–and very little from people they abuse.

“Start Your Day with a Prayer” – a surprising number of senior leaders from all walks of life, both military and civilian, spoke to my Air Command and Staff College and Eisenhower School classes about the need to begin your day with some form of prayer or quiet time. Don’t discount the need to feed your spirit.

“Remember, Thou Art Mortal” – When victorious Roman commanders paraded through the city with their spoils to the cheers of the citizens, there was always someone whispering in his ear, Memor, sis mortalis (Latin: “Remember, thou art mortal”). It’s easy to believe your own press, stay humble.

“Keep Your Head Down and Your Eye On the Ball” – advice from golf and baseball coaches that work for either sport, and in life. Basically, focus on what you’re doing now and avoid distractions.

“Stay In Your Lane” – more sports advice from my high school football coaches. For the kickoff team to be successful, everyone has a job to do–lanes to charge down–and if you’re doing someone else’s job you’re not doing yours!

“Be Kind” – it’s easy to be mean, it takes effort to be kind but it’s worth it. Being kind doesn’t mean you can’t be truthful or even make hard decisions, but it does mean respecting the other person enough to treat them with respect.

Advice that sticks – that’s the best kind!


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

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

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

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

Book Excerpt: Handle Personal Matters Personally

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Books, Leadership by Experience

I’m pleased to present another excerpt from my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams about the importance for senior leaders to do some things personally:

Paperback Cover - FrontIn my own experience as a leader, I have often been surprised at how much impact little things have on people. Each year former and current students from my alma mater, Texas A&M, gather together on the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto to commemorate fellow Aggies who have died during the year. Aggies have been gathering at Muster ceremonies around the world each year since 1922. When I was a young officer on the Pacific Air Force’s staff in Hawaii, I was the chairman of our local Texas A&M Association of Former Students’ Muster Committee. As it happened, General Pat Gamble, the commanding general, was also a Texas Aggie (’67), so we invited him to attend Muster. He was able to come by for a few minutes before heading off to an official function. Our guest speaker that night was another Aggie, Dr. Don Powell (’56), a famous cartoonist who contributed to the Texas A&M school newspaper for a generation. Dr. Powell was the author of a cartoon entitled “dp” that depicted a lovable cadet and his sidekick. It was a cherished memory of days gone by, especially if you were an Aggie sports fan like me. As souvenirs for the evening, Dr. Powell signed copies of his cartoons, so I asked him to sign a “dp” cartoon for General Gamble. Dr. Powell graciously obliged.

The next day at work, I quickly typed up a short note thanking the general for coming to Aggie Muster, attached the signed cartoon, and delivered it to the general’s secretary. I didn’t expect to hear from the general again; after all, he commanded a vast organization responsible for protecting the airspace across the entire Pacific Ocean with thousands of Airmen and hundreds of airplanes, and I was a mere captain. But sure enough, in a day or two I received a handwritten note card with a thank you from the general. That act of kindness—and good manners—made a big impression on me. That handwritten note probably took General Gamble a couple of minutes to write. He likely forgot about it as soon as he’d done it, but to this day that note is the reason I still don’t sign form “letters of appreciation” prepared by my staff. Countless members of my own units have received handwritten notes all because years ago a very busy man took a couple minutes to write a personal note to me.

I have come to believe in the power of the personal touch when leaders interact with their teams. People may say they don’t care about what their leaders think about them, but my experience tells me the opposite. It matters when a leader takes the time to personally recognize excellence and when the leader shows interest in the team members’ families and personal lives. Certainly there is a line that one shouldn’t cross, like dating subordinates or asking uninvited personal questions about family, faith, or politics, but treating people like people who have their own interests and relationships instead of cogs in the machine means leaders should handle some things personally.


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.

Patio Wisdom Tuesday: Road Poetry

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

Been too long

Since I pointed the compass out of town

Too long since I raced the sun

It’s time to hear the engine whine

And listen to those tires hum


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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.

Patio Wisdom Tuesday: Life is Like Coffee At Work

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

Life is a lot like coffee at work: sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes you should just be happy to have it at all.

Having some perspective on life and being satisfied with “who you are” is the cornerstone of Patio King’s wisdom. If you can’t be comfortable in your own skin, you’ll waste energy on things that don’t matter and miss things that do. Reach for the stars, but don’t miss life wishing for something that can’t happen.


Like what you’re reading? Get more Patio Wisdom at the Lulu Store and at Amazon.

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.

Patio Wisdom Tuesday: Not a Good Day to Die

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

 

Starting Bike
Photo by Johnny Davis Photography

While stationed in Germany, Tony attended the European Harley-Davidson Super Rally over Memorial Day weekend. It was Europe’s version of Sturgis, South Dakota, and that year it was in Austria. He’d had been recovering from a bout of bronchitis but he wasn’t going to miss what could be his last opportunity to attend a rally in Europe.

So it was: the Patio King found himself on a Sunday afternoon recovering from a crazy night of bikes, choppers, beer, bonfires, and making new friends in a field in Austria. While sitting on a picnic table enjoying the bright sun and the view of the Alps, he began to cough. When he couldn’t stop coughing, he stood up to try to get some air. He bent over, again in an effort to clear his lungs, still coughing like he’d forgotten to breathe.

Tony woke up lying flat on his back, with a crowd gathered around him and a US Army medic nicknamed “Medic Mike” kneeling over him. Tony blinked and then looking around asked, “uh? What’s up?” Astounded at the rapid recovery Medic Mike replied, “Dude, you died!”

His friends then relayed the story. Apparently while coughing he’d collapsed and had respiratory failure which led to cardiac arrest. After bystanders noticed him blue faced and without a pulse, Medic Mike saw the commotion and sprang into action. He cleared Tony’s airway and performed CPR to revive him.  No one knew for sure how long he’d been down, but probably no more than three minutes.  It was then that the realization that he’d actually been dead for a few minutes struck him.

But you can’t keep the Patio King down, so he looked up and paused for a moment, blinking hard. Tony then asked for a beer. “That is when everyone knew I was going to be OK,” he said later.


Like what you’re reading? Get more Patio Wisdom at the Lulu Store and at Amazon.

Throwback Thursday: Leading People With Positivity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Leadership by Experience

 

scan0038A positive leader is a real strength to an organization. In fact, learning how to deal with adversity and leading people through it is one of the most important skills leaders must develop. Some people are so successful that when they eventually fail at something, that failure becomes an existential crisis for them. Organizations are not different: some are resilient and some aren’t. For leaders to be effective, they need to be able to put things in perspective leading people with “positivity.”

When I was in high school, I co-coached my brother’s Little League team when the adult coach had to quit for personal reasons. It was my first coaching job and I certainly learned a great deal about leadership from the experience. One particularly bad day, our game plan completely came apart. We’d gone through all our pitchers, and the other team was killing us. At one point things were going so badly, I walked into the dugout and dejectedly sat down. Seeing this, my Dad quietly walked out of the bleachers and whispered in my ear, “When you get down, the team will get down. Get up and get back in the game.” It was a great lesson in leading with positivity.

I’d like to say we won, but we didn’t. However, we were able to tell the boys they’d done good and congratulate them for never giving up even when they were getting creamed. That post game pep talk carried a lot more weight when we coaches maintained our positive attitude.

There’s many personal skills involved in maintaining a positive attitude, like the ones John Treas writes about over a Inc.com  5 Steps Toward Maintaining a Positive Attitude.

1. Manage rejection. It is easy to get discouraged when unwelcomed events occur. The trick is to put them in perspective: Most will pass and become unimportant with time. It’s easy to feel like a single failure or rejection is the end of the world, but it never is. In fact, setbacks often give you an opportunity to turn a rebuff into a win. One time early in my sales career, I was literally thrown out of a prospect’s office because she felt I hadn’t respected her tight schedule. I went back to my office, wrote a letter of apology, and sent a gift designed to make her job easier. She became a good customer, and we became lasting friends.

Of course there’s other ways as well, and each person has their own. Leaders should find what works for them. That said, whatever individual skills people use to maintain their personal positivity, leaders must translate that into helping their teams maintain their positivity. As I’ve written many times, leadership style is both highly personal and highly situational, so leaders must adapt to their environment. I agree with Treas’ ideas at the link, and I’d like to add a couple leadership behaviors I believe are important for leaders to model:

– Be truthful. People quickly see through “happy talk” when leaders are delivering bad news. Some leaders believe they can “sugar coat” unpleasantness and those words will carry greater weight than the actual unpleasantness. I’m sorry, but to someone losing their job or being forced into a significant changes euphemisms like “right sizing” or “we’re making a change” ring hollow. People respect leaders who speak truthfully, and while bad news can be delivered with gentleness and compassion, we shouldn’t attempt to use euphemism to minimize the real pain people feel with change. When teams have confidence their leaders are being truthful, the resulting trust helps people maintain a positive attitude.

– Think Ahead. It’s much easier to lead people toward a positive attitude when there’s a plan. Even when the road ahead is tough, the team’s attitude is much more likely to stay positive if they can see where they’re going. Nothing destroys team morale…positive attitudes…than figuratively groping through the darkness towards an unseen or ambiguous goal.

– Stay positive. The most important thing a leader can do is model the behavior they want their teams to exhibit. Once the leader gets “down” the team will quickly follow; conversely if the leader is positive it’s much more likely the team will stay “up.”

Just like that Little League team, leaders need to understand the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and helping their teams maintain theirs. What skills do you use to keep yourself and your teammates positive?

Patio Wisdom Tuesday: Outstanding In His Field

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

 

Back at Texas State Line

I’m going to go stand outside so, if anyone asks, I’m outstanding.


Like what you’re reading? Get more Patio Wisdom at the Lulu Store and at Amazon.

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.

Patio Wisdom Tuesday: Knuckle Busters Teach Lessons

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

If at first you do not succeed, then you should do it like I told you in the first place.

Remember that wisdom is hard won, usually through a few bloody noses and broken bones. For the apprentice, the wisdom from the man with scarred knuckles could keep said apprentice from having the same scars. Of course, if the apprentice doesn’t listen…

There’s a lesson for the master and journeyman as well. If someone allowed you the chance to scar your knuckles to win that wisdom for yourself, then it could profit your apprentice to suffer the same knuckle scrapes. The trick is not to let the apprentice get truly hurt. After all, if the apprentice gets laid up, who’s gonna get the coffee?


Like what you’re reading? Check out “Patio Wisdom” in the Lulu Store and at Amazon.

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.

Patio Wisdom Tuesday: Bike Patterns

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

Astride Bike

Had a friend tell me long ago that I didn’t buy motorcycle parts, I bought patterns. I’ll be damned if I don’t hear his voice every time I try to buy something nice for my bike.


Like what you’re reading? Check out “Patio Wisdom” in the Lulu Store and at Amazon.

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

Patio Wisdom Tuesday: Get Something Done

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Patio Wisdom

Don’t get mad at me for yelling at you: Go get something done.

When you have a bad day at work, or anywhere for that matter, you have two choices to deal with it: get angry and stomp around, or get something done. I prefer the latter!  You can’t control other’s thoughts and words, let alone their actions, so why let someone else steal your joy away. Get mad, get over it, then go get something done.

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Like what you’re reading? Check out “Patio Wisdom” in the Lulu Store and at Amazon.

Bacon Wisdom?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Road Wisdom
Tony at the Bacon Wagon

 

Be very careful what you say. It might be what she said.

Comedian Jeff Allen tells many stories to illustrate the old husband’s maxim “Happy Wife, Happy Life” (aka “Allen’s Law).  Patio King’s Corollary to Allen’s Law refers to the good husband’s judgement about when to open his mouth and when to just let it go. Of course, the same goes for talking about one’s, ahem, accomplishments in a group of guys. Sometimes it’s best to remember that some things are better left unsaid.

PS. Go to the Bacon Wagon in Ft Worth…food’s delicious and the crew is nice! No seriously, you should go!

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Like what you’re reading? Check out “Patio Wisdom” in the Lulu Store and at Amazon.

Leading People With Positivity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Leadership by Experience

 

scan0038Learning how to deal with adversity and leading people through it is one of the most important skills leaders must develop. Some people are so successful that when they eventually fail at something, that failure becomes an existential crisis for them. Organizations are not different: some are resilient and some aren’t. For leaders to be effective, they need to be able to put things in perspective leading people with “positivity.”

When I was in high school, I co-coached my brother’s Little League team when the adult coach had to quit for personal reasons. It was my first coaching job and I certainly learned a great deal about leadership from the experience. One particularly bad day, our game plan completely came apart. We’d gone through all our pitchers, and the other team was killing us. At one point things were going so badly, I walked into the dugout and dejectedly sat down. Seeing this, my Dad quietly walked out of the bleachers and whispered in my ear, “When you get down, the team will get down. Get up and get back in the game.” It was a great lesson in leading with positivity.

I’d like to say we won, but we didn’t. However, we were able to tell the boys they’d done good and congratulate them for never giving up even when they were getting creamed. That post game pep talk carried a lot more weight when we coaches maintained our positive attitude.

There’s many personal skills involved in maintaining a positive attitude, like the ones John Treas writes about over a Inc.com  5 Steps Toward Maintaining a Positive Attitude.

1. Manage rejection. It is easy to get discouraged when unwelcomed events occur. The trick is to put them in perspective: Most will pass and become unimportant with time. It’s easy to feel like a single failure or rejection is the end of the world, but it never is. In fact, setbacks often give you an opportunity to turn a rebuff into a win. One time early in my sales career, I was literally thrown out of a prospect’s office because she felt I hadn’t respected her tight schedule. I went back to my office, wrote a letter of apology, and sent a gift designed to make her job easier. She became a good customer, and we became lasting friends.

Of course there’s other ways as well, and each person has their own. Leaders should find what works for them. That said, whatever individual skills people use to maintain their personal positivity, leaders must translate that into helping their teams maintain their positivity. As I’ve written many times, leadership style is both highly personal and highly situational, so leaders must adapt to their environment. I agree with Treas’ ideas at the link, and I’d like to add a couple leadership behaviors I believe are important for leaders to model:

– Be truthful. People quickly see through “happy talk” when leaders are delivering bad news. Some leaders believe they can “sugar coat” unpleasantness and those words will carry greater weight than the actual unpleasantness. I’m sorry, but to someone losing their job or being forced into a significant changes euphemisms like “right sizing” or “we’re making a change” ring hollow. People respect leaders who speak truthfully, and while bad news can be delivered with gentleness and compassion, we shouldn’t attempt to use euphemism to minimize the real pain people feel with change. When teams have confidence their leaders are being truthful, the resulting trust helps people maintain a positive attitude.

– Think Ahead. It’s much easier to lead people toward a positive attitude when there’s a plan. Even when the road ahead is tough, the team’s attitude is much more likely to stay positive if they can see where they’re going. Nothing destroys team morale…positive attitudes…than figuratively groping through the darkness towards an unseen or ambiguous goal.

– Stay positive. The most important thing a leader can do is model the behavior they want their teams to exhibit. Once the leader gets “down” the team will quickly follow; conversely if the leader is positive it’s much more likely the team will stay “up.”

Just like that Little League team, leaders need to understand the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and helping their teams maintain theirs. What skills do you use to keep yourself and your teammates positive?

Leaders Supply the Perspective

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

Maunawili_Falls

My latest over at General Leadership:

Hiking in Hawaii is one of the joys of living here. There are hundreds of miles of trails leading to natural beauty unique to the Islands of Aloha, but despite the fact we’re on an island, it’s surprisingly easy to get lost. Whoever is leading the hike has to know where they’re going, and maintain perspective during the journey. It’s an excellent metaphor for leadership because leadership, especially at senior levels, is all about maintaining perspective.

Read the rest on GeneralLeadership.com