Monday Motivation: Live Deliberately

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Know Much

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

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

Dynamic Dozen: Setting The Example

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Maxwell AFB, Ala. - Officer Training School inducts Gen (ret) Lance Smith, former commander, US Joint Forces Command and NATO Supreme Allied commander for Transformation, and Brigadier General Paul Johnson, deputy US Military Representative NATO Headquarters into the OTS Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame at Maxwell AFB on Feb. 17, 2012. (US Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)
(US Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)

Always do everything you ask of those you command.
– General George S. Patton

When I was an instructor at the Air Force’s Officer Training School, I noticed the uncanny way the groups of officer trainees we led became mirrors of their Flight Commander. It was a little scary, really. If the Flight Commander was cerebral, quiet, competitive, gung-ho, or whatever: so were his or her trainees. During our Instructor Qualification Course the seasoned Flight Commanders warned us this would happen, but to see it in action was startling to me as a brand new instructor. It also impressed upon me the weight of my responsibility to set the example.

Military Leaders Know Setting the Example is Key

Setting the example is crucial to motivating others to follow, because people pay far more attention to what leaders do than what we say. Like it or not, people will emulate their leader if they respect them. A key to earning and maintaining the team’s respect is setting a good example.

It’s a truism of military leadership that we must never ask our teams to do anything we’re not willing to do themselves. We drill this idea into young military leaders from the very beginning. We expect young lieutenants and sergeants to set the example for the troops they lead in what they say and how they act. A lieutenant cannot expect his troops to follow the rules if he doesn’t, and he cannot expect loyalty if he doesn’t demonstrate loyalty both up and down the chain of command. That’s the essence of setting an example: to model exactly what we expect of those we lead. A model is much more compelling than any speech or motivational poster.

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.

-Albert Einstein

Setting the example works both ways, of course. If you are late or sloppy or disloyal, your team will soon follow suit. Leaders who fail to recognize their own responsibility to follow their own rules and set a good example become responsible for their own failure. I’ve seen many high performing team descend into mediocrity when a poor leader replaces a good one. People naturally rise to the expectations of the leader, and the example leaders set for the team are their expectations of them.

It’s Really Not Hard

Setting a good example is really not very hard, we just have to possess the discipline to do what we say. Be on time, follow your own dress code, follow the company travel rules, etc. These are simple ways to make sure your team understands what’s expected of them. Believe me, your people are watching your actions–they notice the good behavior. Besides just setting expectations, there’s also the added benefit of being able to enforce the rules with a clear conscience. People will accept correction from a leader they know is only asking them to do what the leader does him- or herself.

Setting a good example is the keystone to leadership. Set a good one and see your team soar!

Originally posted on

cropped-20141026_102425.jpgMickey 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 six books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, and

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #6: Ask The Right Questions

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday

Asking the right questions is usually better than knowing the right answers.There’s an old saying in the Air Force that colonels rarely ask questions to which they don’t already know the answer.  I never really understood that saying until I became a colonel, then the light came on.

Everyone wants to show the colonel how smart they are, and further, few senior people like to be told what to do; they really want the colonel to let them do their thing.  The same is true of VPs and their directors in the private sector.  The skills that got an executive to a senior position aren’t necessarily the skills that make that senior executive successful.


I’ve found it useful to coach a solution out of a subordinate in most cases than to merely direct a solution.  In fact, many times I’ve regretted giving direction to a problem rather than asking questions because even though it was efficient in problem solving, I ended up wounding the pride of a subordinate leader unnecessarily.  When I’ve used questions to lead a subordinate to a solution, even when I knew in advance where we were probably heading, I’ve been more successful.

The thing is, by the time an officer rises to the rank of colonel, that officer is expected to be a strategic leader not a tactical one.  That means it’s far better to stimulate thought among subordinates than to direct the answer to a specific problem.  It’s easy for any senior leader to know the answers…chances are most have seen it all… it’s much more productive to help subordinates come to the right solution on their own.

At some point we all get a pink slip.  We change jobs, we get transferred, we retire.  If we truly care about the organization we work for, and the people we lead, we’ll make sure the people who replace us are ready for the job and worthy of the responsibility.

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 six books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, and

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

Be Courageous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #3: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Throwback Thursday

Rule #3: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

One of the hardest things a leader had to do sometimes is hold back enthusiastic employees or teammates who are so focused on perfection, they keep working on a project well past when they should’ve stopped.  Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough.


On one hand, you want employees to work hard and strive for perfection, but on the other hand there’s usually more than one task to accomplish.  On the other hand, sometimes you really do have to be perfect.  So what’s the right balance?

The key here is to look at time the same as any other resource.  Like all resources, time is valuable because it is not unlimited.  In for-profit,  non-profit, and governmental organizations alike time has a very definite cost that is quantifiable.  Unfortunately, not every leader (or employee) thinks of time as a cost vs benefit transaction.  Put another way, leaders should always be asking themselves: “what’s the return on my investment?”

Suppose a particular task takes an employee 40 hours to get the desired product  but it’s not perfect (say it’s 90% of what we wanted), and it will take another 40 hours to make the product perfect.  Is 90% good enough?

Maybe.  What will it cost if my product is not perfect?  Is it as perfect as my customer needs it to be, but not quite up to what I wasn’t it to be?  Then maybe the extra 40 hours of time spent (100% more time) isn’t worth the 10% improvement.

Maybe not.  If I have a demanding customer, or the 10% imperfection is noticeable and will affect my reputation, or if 100% is necessary for life/safety/health then the cost-benefit analysis demands I keep working until it’s perfect, then those extra 40 hours are not only worth it, they’re necessary.

In addition to managing time as a resource, the leader needs to manage employee morale as well.  Morale, like time, is finite and like time can be spent.  Unlike time, morale can be replenished.  A wise leader knows when to require perfection and when to let “good enough” really be good enough.  Avoid making changes to an employee’s work because of personal preference (don’t change “happy” to “glad”).  Don’t require more work than is necessary to get the job done right, and don’t sweat the small things.  Employees will appreciate the freedom, and will usually respond when they’re asked for perfection if it’s only demanded when it matters.

Leaders should only demand perfection when it’s necessary.  To do otherwise could mean wasting time and employee morale.

Book Review: Lost Mandate of Heaven

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Leaders are also readers, and when I travel I use the time to catch up on my reading and writing. Ignatius Press recently sent me The Lost Mandate of Heaven by Geoffery D. T. Shaw to review, and it was time well spent!

Shaw tells the story of the rise and betrayal of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. The book is extremely well researched, footnoted, and written–worthwhile for students of history, politics, or leadership.

Ngo Dinh Diem, the man who would become the President of South Vietnam, was actually born in what was once the Demilitarized Zone between the North and South to a politically connected Catholic family. His father’s political connections to the French colonial authorities and his Catholic faith meant he was well-educated in Western thought, and his membership in one of Vietnam’s “great families” meant he was immersed in Confucian thought. Diem even considered the priesthood briefly, but in the end his duty to his country ruled his heart. In short, in both education and temperament, no one was better prepared than Diem to guide Vietnam during the transition from colonial and post-war society into the modern family of nations. Unfortunately, due in no small part to meddling from Washington by people who had no first hand knowledge of Vietnam or Diem, this was not to be.

Post-World War II Vietnam suffered from the same political and societal chaos as the rest of the world. Communists and opportunists used the vacuum created by retreating and defeated empires to attempt to install regimes friendly to their own agendas. At the conclusion of the Pacific War in 1945, just as in Korea, Japanese forces surrendered to separate Allied nations in different parts of the country. In the South, the British forces accepted the Japanese surrender while in the North, it was the Chinese. When the French installed Emperor Bao Dai, the Communist Viet Minh (later: Viet Cong) led by Ho Chi Minh began the First Indochina war to overthrow the French-supported post-colonial regime and install a Communist government. With considerable support of the Soviet Union and Chairman Mao’s People’s Republic, the Viet Minh defeated the French-Vietnamese National Army at Dien Bien Phu. It was then the Great Powers partitioned Vietnam with a promise of UN-supervised elections that never came. Ngo Dinh Diem had risen through the ranks of colonial government, became president of South Vietnam in 1955. Due to his social status and his occupation as a scholar, many Vietnamese saw Diem as the leader with the Confucian “Mandate of Heaven” to rule. After reflection, it seems to me the crux of the conflict between North and South Vietnam was not so much between Communism and Capitalism, or between Buddhism, Christianity, and Confucianism. Rather, it was a battle in the hearts and minds of the people of Vietnam about who had the Mandate of Heaven: Ngo Dinh Diem or Ho Chi Minh.

Many elites on the Left in the USA saw Diem very differently than the people of Vietnam. It was telling to me that the men who actually went to Vietnam and spoke with Diem respected and supported him, while policy wonks inside the Beltway who had done neither plotted his removal. Vice President Johnson argued forcefully against Diem’s removal, as did Ambassador Colby, Chief of Mission in Saigon. Both men had met with Diem personally, and both had been to Vietnam themselves. The Viet Cong did a masterful job of playing up the slightest mistakes and even twisting events to appear to be what they were not. An American press anxious for stories that sell magazines, sometimes printed poorly researched stories then stuck with their line when the facts on the ground didn’t match. Finally, while the author doesn’t explicitly say it in the book, reading the quotes from senior leaders and policymakers at the time makes it clear there was considerable willingness to believe the worst of Diem, and few who were willing to allow facts to rule their judgement when those facts contradicted their preconceived notions.

Ultimately, the Kennedy Administration encouraged, either passively or actively, the removal and killing of of Diem in Saigon. In Confucian society, the scholar is at the top of the social respect pyramid, and the soldier is near the bottom. In encouraging the coup, Kennedy Administration demonstrated not only an appalling lack of understanding of the facts on the ground, but a complete disregard for the culture we were meddling in. By replacing a scholar-monk like Diem with a junta made up of soldiers, we effectively upended and “un-ordered” society at precisely the moment when order and national unity was a prerequisite for winning the war against the North and stabilizing the country. The results were predictable: chaos and a lack of national will to fight the Viet Cong and the North.


The ouster of Diem was not America’s finest hour, and was a result of ideology in Washington trumping solid leadership and sober decision-making. The Lost Mandate of Heaven is well-written and thoroughly researched. Shaw does an excellent job of laying out the facts, and I particularly appreciated the heavy use of primary sources. Quotes from the major decision makers’ own personal writings, official records, and direct-cited official communications all lay out a clear and unemotional case of at best malfeasance by the Kennedy Administration, and at worse criminal behavior for planning the unlawful coup of an ally. It’s a book worthy of any reading list on history, organizational dynamics, or leadership. I recommend this book highly.

#TBT Mickey’s Rule #1: Have a Direction and Go There

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules, Throwback Thursday
The Sweet Spot
Which Way Are You Going?

Rule #1. Have a direction and know what it is. Go there.

The first rule of leadership is for the leader to know where he or she is going. People look to leaders for inspiration and motivation, but above all, they look to leaders for direction. That’s why it’s so very important for leaders to lead in a defined direction.

Few things are more frustrating than when the person in charge lacks a clear direction. People get bored and restless when they feel like they’re merely biding their time rather than accomplishing something. That restlessness can manifest itself in a number of ways: everything from listless employees who perform poorly, to bored employees who use their time for mischief. Highly motivated employees will feel frustrated at being held back, and will soon move on to greener pastures.

Leaders should take the time to define in their own minds where they want to take the team. This means spending time thinking. It’s very easy for a leader to get mired in the day to day, and forget to look at the horizon. There’s lots of ways to do that strategic thinking: in the morning, in a journal, an off-site, or some other way. The point isn’t the method, it’s the time the leader puts into charting his course. The journey may be important, but a perpetual journey serves no one.

Once a leader has a destination in mind, he must put in the hard work to get his team there. Setting goals are meaningless if the leader is unwilling to lead her team there. Leadership is an active job: to do it right leaders have to be engaged. Getting people and teams to their destinations requires leaders to monitor progress, and make adjustments along the way.

Be an active leader: have the end in mind, then lead your team there.

Justice as a Virtue?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

justiceAccording to Aristotle, Justice is the proper moderation between self-interest, the rights and needs of others, and rendering to each person what is deserved.

We most often think of “Justice” in the legal sense: the system of enforcement of laws, including punishment for committing crimes. But the virtue of Justice is much more than merely administering laws and regulations. At a basic level, the essence of justice is that people are given their due. There is a measure of precision in Justice, because to do so requires a person to weigh and measure what another deserves. Unlike the other three virtues which deal primarily with self-governing, Justice is a virtue that applies to how we treat others.

How does the ordinary person employ the virtue of Justice? Is Justice only for courts and police? Of course not.

Like all the virtues, the ordinary person can develop the virtue of Justice by treating others fairly in their common dealings. Paying a fair price for what you buy is Justice, as is repaying a loan promptly and in full. Taking responsibility for a failure in the workplace and not allowing another to take the blame is also a form of Justice. In fact, we have the opportunity to apply Justice in all of our personal, professional and familial relationships. Justice need not have a negative connotation, such as “bringing a criminal to Justice.” It can, and should be, a positive virtue where we understand and willingly accept our responsibilities to others.

Like all virtues, we can abuse Justice as well. If we weigh competing needs unequally, or a person’s application or desire for Justice overwhelms Universal Human Goods (such as Truth), then Justice can easily transform into the vices vengeance or lawlessness. Justice as a virtue is not an end in and of itself – it is a means where we, as individuals and as a society, protect human dignity.

Justice’s other traveling companion is Mercy. Mercy allows us to temper raw justice so we respect Universal Human Goods and inflict no unnecessary harm in the name of Justice. For example, in many countries, automobile operators are considered “professional drivers” and are criminally liable for vehicular accidents. Justice demands criminal sanction in some cases, but Mercy applied by those in authority, when appropriate, prevents people from going to jail for routine “fender benders”.

Raw Justice would fill jails, Mercy ensures only actual criminals go there.

Be Free – Part I

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

9215883633_0b13a03051_o“Freedom” is a word often misused in our current vocabulary. We view our “freedoms” in such a broad manner that the word sometimes loses its meaning. Particularly in the case of young people, “freedom” is synonymous with “doing whatever I like”, but that’s not authentic freedom. Authentic freedom is being able to choose what’s good for you, and yet remaining unencumbered by things that prevent you from being healthy. In fact, unbounded freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want is not freedom; it is license.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

– Nelson Mandela

It’s really not a radical concept, the idea that freedom is bound by responsibilities and limits; in fact it’s preserved in our system of laws and our notion of justice. We regulate speech and assembly both for the common good and for the individual’s good. People are not permitted to gather for the purpose of fomenting violence, and we don’t allow a person to run into a theater and shout “fire” without just cause. Ideally, our laws are constructed to both protect the common good, and safeguard individual liberty. However, the freedom we enjoy as Americans is not unfettered liberty. We are free but we do not have license to do whatever we want.

Authentic freedom is an individual’s ability to choose what is good without being impeded or bound, be it an internal or external restriction. If an individual’s appetites or another person’s demands prevent the individual from making good choices, then we can objectively say that the individual is not free.

Of Surfing, Leading, and Be’s

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


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

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

Leaders Pay Attention to the Little Things

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership


“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” That’s what leaders hear constantly as we’re challenged to keep a strategic focus. It’s generally good advice, particularly for senior or executive leaders, but the maxim to keep your eyes on the horizon is not carte blanche to ignore relevant details. The real trick is to figure out which details are the important ones. Just like driving a car, we have to both keep our eyes on the road, and mind the instrument panel. We can’t simply stare at the horizon without watching our speed and engine temperature, nor can we keep our eyes inside the car without watching where we’re going.

In my book, Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams, I share an extreme example to prove the point that some details are important:

In 2000 Air France Flight 4590 crashed on takeoff, killing all aboard. Ultimately, 113 people were killed and a $107 million aircraft was lost because a 17-inch long by 1-inch wide strip of metal on the runway punctured the fuel tank, starting a fire that ultimately caused the Concorde to crash. The investigation later determined that the metal strip that fell from the aircraft that took off just prior to the Concorde, the one that caused the deaths of 113 people, came from an engine of a DC-10 from Houston. The crash investigation determined that the strip of metal was neither manufactured nor installed properly. The inattention of the maintenance crews in Houston, 5,300 miles away, resulted in a disaster in Paris months later.

I know that an aircraft crash is an extreme example—most of us will not fly a $107 million Concorde—but it illustrates how a seemingly small detail can have very big consequences.

In any sufficiently large organization, there are details that matter and details that don’t. Senior leaders will drive organizational behavior by what things get their attention. If the executive pays attention to “queep” then the entire organization gets dragged into the quagmire of collecting and measuring meaningless data. Conversely, if the data gathered and measured is actionable and relevant to the strategic direction of the organization, then that organization will grow and thrive. So how do you know which details are relevant and which are “queep?”

I’ve found it productive to ask myself two questions when selecting which details to track as a senior leader:

Does it help me (not my subordinates) make decisions?

Does it inform my intelligence about the organization?

Helping Me Make Decisions—Not My Subordinates. In an information saturated environment, it’s very easy for executives to put their teams into “Powerpoint Hell” gathering data and preparing charts for no purpose. Avoid the temptation to gather data just because you can. Leaders have to understand that just because the data is available doesn’t mean it’s relevant. Data gathering and analysis consumes staff time and money–gathering the wrong data wastes both. In general, details that help me make decisions about the strategic direction of the enterprise are those that expend dollars or manpower, or both, on progress toward the organizational goals. Senior leaders need only focus on those details that directly influence strategic decisions. Those details could be anything, but are generally resource-related. The trick is not to attempt to manage all details…but rather only the critical ones. Process analysis tools like process mapping or critical path evaluation are ways to help figure out what’s driving organizational performance.

Informing My Intelligence About the Organization. Besides charting the course for the organization, leaders also have to care for the people in their charge. Understanding the health of the organization requires leaders to pay attention to details as well, but different sorts of details than performance metrics. Even high performing teams will lose their edge if leaders ignore the morale and welfare concerns of the people. In this regard, seemingly unimportant details can significantly affect the team. If executives find team members haven’t heard their message because mid- and low-level leaders in the organization aren’t communicating, if organizational policies and procedures are ignored, if staff payroll suddenly shows a big change in sick leave or vacation time taken, then executives must sit up and take notice. These are all indicators that something is amiss. Whenever I took over an organization, I made it a point to visit all the work areas and meet the people. I could tell a great deal about the health of the organization by seeing people in their environment, and taking a peek at their work centers. If the bulletin board was out of date, or the area was sloppy, or people seemed reluctant to talk, I was sure there was a problem that required my attention. It’s hard for busy senior leaders to get “out and about,” but get out they must–and on a regular basis.

Details matter. Not all details, of course, and there isn’t a checklist to determine which ones are important and which ones are “queep.” Smart leaders know when to check their speedometer, and when to keep their eyes on the road.

Leading Through Tragedy – Part 2

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Advice Column, Practical Leadership
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

In the first part, I discussed leaders’ role in guiding an organization through tragedy. But what if it’s you that suffers the tragedy? How do you continue to lead when a personal disaster depletes your attention and energy?

The first thing to remember is if it’s a big deal to you, it probably a big deal. A death in the family, a wayward child, conflict with a neighbor or family member, even a serious accident, can all cause significant disruption in our ability to lead (or even function at all!). There are as many different types of personal calamity as there are people, and just because you’ve “shaken off” a similar event in your life before or others seem to have “handled it,” doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal now to you. Clearly, not everything bad is a life-changing event and sometimes a little perspective is all that’s needed to get through tough times. Nonetheless, simply “gutting it out” is not a universal solution  to personal tragedy (or even a preferred solution!). So even recognizing people can sometimes blow things out of proportion, serious personal issues can and do affect everyone regardless of their role, status, or position. In other words, everyone is human and no one expects you to be super-human.

Recognizing you are subject to the same human frailties as the mortals around you will enable you to get help when you need it, and remain approachable to those around you. Keeping emotions bottled up and living inside your head helps no one, least of all you. If you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, then ask for help. That help can come from clergy, counselors, or friends. Sometimes just talking to someone is enough, sometimes you might need professional help, and sometimes you just need a break. Whatever form it takes, getting help shows strength and maturity. If you allow yourself to spiral into deeper disaster because you didn’t seek out the help, your personal damage will deepen and consume those around you as well. Your work, your colleagues, and most importantly, your family will all suffer. Don’t add calamity to catastrophe because you tried to carry everything around on your own. Of course, some things just can’t be fixed. Having the help of others during the time when you’re grieving and recovering is vital.

As leaders, even during tough times we cannot entirely divorce ourselves from our responsibility to lead. We have a responsibility to many others: teammates, organizations, and our families. We have to recognize when we’re unable to function and deal with those issues in the best way possible. If you’re stressed out as a leader, you’ll do no one any good: you’ll make poor decisions, and you’re likely to be short or rude to others (usually at the worst possible moment). If as a leader, you’ve let the stress get to the point–or circumstances have put you in the position–of simply being unable to execute your duties, then you have a responsibility to step aside for everyone else’s good as well as your own. Hopefully it won’t be a permanent change, but regardless of the amount of time, and even in dire circumstances leaders have to be mindful of their responsibility to others. Whether it’s a little time off, a leave of absence, or a resignation you owe your teammates and the organization the courtesy of removing yourself if you can’t function.

Finally, it’s also important to allow your colleagues and subordinates some knowledge of what’s going on with you. You certainly don’t have to let everyone know every detail of your life, but if you’ve had a death in the family or something of that sort, it’s perfectly OK to share that you’re dealing with a personal catastrophe. It will help your team to understand why you’re not yourself, and you might be surprised at the support you’ll receive from unlikely places. If you’ve cared for others during their own personal tragedies, that kindness and concern will be returned. Be gracious and accept it–after all, when you offered your own support to others they did the same. You’ll also set a good example for others to follow.

Leading an organization when you’re suffering is doubly difficult. Taking time to heal and getting help for yourself is just as necessary for leaders as it is for those we lead. Don’t shortchange yourself or your team when personal tragedy strikes; instead be the leader who follows his own advice.

For the New Graduates

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Pure Inspiration

It’s the graduation season, and young people across the country are throwing their square caps into the air in celebration of their accomplishment. My daughter was honored to present the Valedictorian speech at her school (which I’ll post tomorrow), and as a Dad I’ve got some advice I’d like to offer as well.

In honor of all those new high school grads who are preparing to enter college or the working world (or both), I thought I’d pen my very own Commencement Speech:

Aloha Graduates!

That word is heavy with meaning isn’t it? To be a graduate signifies you’ve accomplished something–something not everyone accomplishes. For good reasons and bad, roughly 10% of your peers nationwide weren’t able to finish. Maybe they had a tragedy in their lives that caused them to leave school and enter the workforce early, or perhaps there was some other reason. But regardless of the reason, you’ve accomplished something others have not. You shouldn’t take your accomplishment for granted. I share in your family, friends, and the faculty’s pride for you getting this far, and so should you be proud of yourself.

Some of you will be going on to college–congrats for your acceptance by your college or university! That is no small accomplishment even in an age when so many seek those college diplomas. Colleges can afford to be choosy, and they chose you. Let that sense of accomplishment carry you over the summer and into the orientation week at your new school; then forget it. You won’t be attending the 13th Grade, you’re in college and everyone expects you to perform at the collegiate level. Whether you’re majoring in Underwater Basketweaving or Nuclear Engineering, your faculty (and your parents!) will expect you to be an adult who can make their own decisions, ask for help when you need it, and deliver results with the work they give you. In a very real sense, you’ve got a $24,000 a year job (at your average state school) and your new boss expects you to earn your pay.

Some of you will be attending vocational training, either at a community college or trade school–congrats for your acceptance in your program! Employers constantly tell me how hard it is to get good employees, so you’re acceptance into a vocational training program is something of which you can be proud! But just like your college-bound classmates, you can have the summer break to savor your graduation and acceptance, and then you need to realize that accomplishment is not what will get you your license or certificate.  It will definitely not get you your first job, although it will get you in the door. Vocational training courses range in cost from $11,000 in non-medical fields, to more than $60,000 for medical training. That means you also have a job to do and your instructor is expecting you to earn your “pay.”

For those entering the workforce directly or the military: congrats on your very brave decision to grow up immediately! I commend you for your heart and for your willingness to get out and earn your own way in the world.  Unlike you’re classmates who still have a year or four to go before they start earning a living, you probably won’t get a summer to savor your graduation–but you get to start your adventure immediately. Remember, you’re not in high school. Your employer or your Military Training Instructor are there to train you up to do a job, and they expect you to perform. Do what your boss tells you, be honest and punctual, and be ready to do the dirty work. If you work hard and forthrightly it won’t be long until you’re the one giving the orders, but you’ll have to earn that privilege.

In case you haven’t guessed, all that advice actually applies to every graduate no matter what path you’ve chosen after high school. Some sprinted across the line and others made it just before the time expired, but you all made it! I want you all to be proud of yourselves, regardless of your class rank or the path you’ve chosen to pursue in life. Getting to the finish line of high school, whether you arrived in style or slid into your parking space just as the engine gave out is not only praiseworthy, it’s exciting and worthy of a victory cry.

One last word–your next set of decisions about the course of your life are significant, but they are not carved on stone tablets. If you decide college isn’t for you, or you’ve chosen the wrong field of study, or the wrong vocation, or the wrong job, then I want you to exercise the same will to succeed you did to complete high school to chart a new course for your life. I don’t mean you should make monumental choices lightly, or change life paths on a whim; but I do mean that you don’t have to go down with the ship if life changes in unexpected ways.

Reach for the stars, chase your dreams, and above all: work hard. You’ve earned your celebration tonight and you’ve earned your place in society. Tomorrow, begin the work of earning it anew. In the world you’re stepping into, not everyone gets a trophy but everyone gets a chance. Take that chance and make the most of it.

Class of 2015: Heartfelt congratulations for a job well done, and “Aim High” as you launch into the next chapter of your life!

From the Blogs: What the Team Needs

Posted 1 CommentPosted in From the Blogs

I spotted this great article from People Development Mag on leading teams and wanted to share!  I like their model:

“What the Team Needs” -Lora Schafer


and it closely resembles my own:

The Leadership "COP" - Mickey Addison
The Leadership “COP” from “Leading Leaders” – Mickey Addison



Says Ms Shafer:

When initiative, productivity, creativity and execution are lacking, the costs to the team can be very real. The tangible results can be a lackluster product or service, subpar customer service, team members finding it difficult to work with each other, a leader struggling to get vital feedback. This costs your company, your department, your team and you revenue and reputation.

So, how do you get your team back on track when it is under-performing? How do you ignite a spark that will open up a higher level of performance and excellence?

There are 4 vital elements that your team needs for them to perform at optimal levels. However, they cannot attain these on their own. You, as the leader, must provide each of these element and support your team as they utilize each.

It’s a great article, and you’ll want to go read the whole thing.







General Leadership: So Say We All

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leadership by Experience

Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama, Photo Courtesy of NBC UniversalIn my latest over a, I talk about leading change while channeling my inner Commander Adama from SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica.

“It won’t be an easy journey. It’ll be long, and arduous. But I promise you one thing: on the memory of those lying here before you, we shall find it, and Earth shall become our new home. So say we all!”
Commander Bill Adama, Battlestar Galactica

Studying fictional leaders is sometimes as profitable as studying actual ones. For example, Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) in the SyFy TV series Battlestar Galactica is a great character study in leadership during crisis. I’m a big BSG fan, and consider it one of the best sci-fi TV series ever made. The quote above is from the end of the pilot, after the Cylons have destroyed the entire human race except for 50,000 survivors. The last Colonial warship, the Battlestar Galactica now leads a ragtag fleet of survivors, and the fleet’s leaders must find a way to keep humanity’s last remnants alive and moving toward a goal. That goal is the “Thirteenth Tribe of Man” located on the legendary planet of “Earth.” As a sci-fi nerd and a movie fan, I often see parallels between the storylines of my favorite movies and real life. So it was that as our Air Force embarked on a very significant re-organization I find myself reflecting on Commander Adama as I lead a group of people to a (figurative) new “land” and leave behind much of “the old ways” to learn new ones. Not to be melodramatic, surely no Cylons are chasing us through space, but we are now leading our Airmen through some very significant change.

Read the rest here.

Finding Value, Part 2: Professional Responsibilities

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technique Only

tagsIn the first part, I discussed the necessity for leaders to help their teams find value in participation in professional and social organizations related to the business. For Air Force officers, that used to be the Officers Club, but I discovered my younger officers didn’t necessarily sign up to that particular tradition. Like the office coffee club, sometimes the benefits aren’t always tangible. We have to help our people understand the value of joining a local professional association or showing up at the office picnic, but if that value isn’t self-evident then it’s up to leaders to point out the intangible benefits as well.

All that said, transactional leadership is not the goal here…it’s helping people new to your community understand what your community values and remain connected to that community. There might not be a concrete “why”, but understanding the importance of a certain group activity, or participation in a professional organization has intangible benefits to both the individual and the group.

Of course, there are such things as “professional obligations” and we shouldn’t minimize those either. The Officer’s Club may not be the same “requirement” it once was, but the responsibility for professionals to remain engaged in and support their communities is important. Participation in professional organizations builds teams and allows for a healthy exchange of ideas among members of the industry or community. Furthermore, shouldering those “professional obligations” helps people take pride in their profession. It’s a reason people buy t-shirts with the logos of their trade unions and professional societies. When people feel like their work is important and shared by others, that pride is often translated to better morale and higher performance.

In addition to individuals, all types of organizations have an obligation to serve the community to which we belong. Volunteerism is good for the community and the volunteer, and it’s good for the company because communities like to know the businesses they patronize are a real member of the community. Of course the good publicity and image can translate to increased sales, and that’s part of the motivation, but good image alone is not a good enough reason to volunteer. Being part of the community, be it a professional society or a community service organization, is part of the obligation of individuals and companies alike. That participation is what maintains community, helps reduce conflict, and is a way to “increase the size of the pie” rather than squabbling over the last slice.

Professional obligations are an important “social convention” toward building community both within and without…and something we should teach those who come after us to embrace.

Finding Value, Part 1

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Technique Only

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.



Rule #4: “’Can’t’ Never Gets Anything Done”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Mickeys Rules

My Dad taught me a number of really great sayings, but among the best he ever taught me was “’Can’t’” never gets anything done. Keep it out of your vocabulary.”  Actually, the exact words he used were,  “Can’t” never could do anything.


You see, Dad always believed that if you try hard enough, work hard enough and never give up, you can succeed.  Through his encouragement, I came to believe it, too.

Now neither I nor my father believe that anything is possible. Some things are plainly beyond reach because of limitations in talent, or opportunity, or for some other reason.  But history is replete with stories of people who meet with disaster and defeat, but never gave up and ultimately achieved their goals.

Take the story of Thomas Edison.  He failed making the lightbulb over 100 times before he finally succeeded. His quote, that he’d succeeded in finding over 100 ways not to build a lightbulb is fairly well known.  But despite the cliche of “try, try, again” the fact remains that Edison truly believed that electric lights were not only possible, but inevitable. We owe him for a wholesale change in our way of life.

Or how about the story of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner?  Warner went undrafted in 1994, then tried out for the Packers only to be cut before the season began.  He went to work sacking groceries for minimum wage until the next year when he made an Arena football team and played several seasons in that league, and the European league, before being given a shot at the NFL.  He went on to a successful NFL career, winning Super Bowl XXXIV and being named league MVP for the 1999 season.  Warner believed in himself, and worked hard in order to gain success.  I doubt if the word “can’t” is even in his vocabulary.

Growing up, Dad made sure we learned the “never give up lesson”, and it paid off time and time again.  In Little League, I never expected to make the “Majors” my first year in…but I sure did my second year.  When I was relegated to the “Texas” league the second year in a row, I was disappointed.  Dad wouldn’t let me give up, though.  “Hang in there,” he said, “just do your best and it will all work out.” During my first week of practice, it was plain to me that I was much better than most of my teammates.    I worked out with that team for about a week before I got “the call” from a Major League coach!  He told me about my new team, and that it was my attitude that had prompted him to call me up.  Despite having a terrible tryout, despite being out of sight on my Texas league team, I was getting “the call” for my stick-to-it positive attitude.

Now, no one can promise success. Like most, I’ve had my share of failure, but it’s my view that  true success comes as much from now you handle adversity, as how you handle the win.