The Beginning of the Be’s

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I get asked occasionally where I got the idea for my most popular talk and book, The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life, and so I thought I’d make room here to talk about it.

It All Started with a Talk

The genesis of the book is a speech I wrote for young Airmen, fresh from Basic Military Training and arriving at their first base. I wanted to inspire them to live healthy and even virtuous lives. It’s not the vision they get from modern culture. Also, because I’d be speaking to people from varied backgrounds and beliefs, I needed to find non-sectarian ways to talk about virtue and healthy living without preaching.

What’s been interesting is the talk, and now the book, that I originally wrote for 19-year-olds resonates with people of all ages. I wanted to give them more than boundaries, I wanted them to have a vision of what a healthy person looks like; a clear idea of the kind of person I expected them to BE. The first time I was asked to give the Five Be’s talk to a conference of mostly older professionals, I reminded them that talk was really written for younger people. They responded, “we want the Five Be’s.” It was well received, and ever since then, it’s become my most requested talk.

Boundaries Are Not Enough

What I discovered a few years ago was that we spend a lot of time telling people what not to do, giving them boundaries. People need more than that.

We say “don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t act this way, don’t say those or eat that, or shop at the shop.” Boundaries are fine, we all need boundaries, but we can’t live with boundaries alone. For example, there are rules for driving and like stop lights and speed limits, etc., and all those things are fine. But if you don’t give a humans a vision of who we want them to be, a positive vision well then they are likely just to bounce back and forth, you know in the lane from boundary to boundary.

It’s not just important for young people, but for everybody starting out in life or a new chapter in their life. Think to yourself: what kind of person do I want to be ? When I tried to answer that question for myself, that’s when I came up with these Five Be’s. It’s sort of a macro formula for how to live a healthy and successful life.

You Are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

The first “BE” is “Be Proud of Who You Are.” You know everybody has something to be proud of no matter how humble you are and everybody has the same dignity and value no matter who you are. Your human dignity doesn’t depend on your age, the color of your skin, your gender, or your religion. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, doesn’t matter what rank you have on your on your sleeve, it doesn’t matter how good-looking you are – none of that matters to how you should be treated.

I think we have to remind ourselves sometimes because especially you know we can be our own worst enemy. Authentic pride isn’t cheerleading. It’s not being “Stuart Smalley” from Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it people like me.” It’s enough that we understand that each of us is a unique creation with inherent dignity.

Authentic Pride: The First BE

There are two kinds of pride; “authentic pride” and “counterfeit pride.” Authentic pride means thinking of your own self-worth and value, like pride in your family or accomplishments. It’s perfectly OK to be proud of working hard and achieving something, or of the contributions of your team, family, ethnic group, country, etc. You get the idea. Authentic pride is about tangible contributions, accomplishments, or victories. It builds people up.

Counterfeit pride is something much different. Counterfeit pride tears others down. It’s judgmental, exclusive, snobby, angry, and nasty. Counterfeit pride isn’t real because it’s not about victories, it’s about power.

Be Like the A’Ama Crab

The illustration for pride I always use, even for Mainland audiences, is a saying about Hawaiian crabs in a bucket. I read it in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser some several ago and I went thought to myself, “that’s perfect.” The saying goes something like this, “Be like the a’ama crab, not the alamihi crab.” If you put a load of alamihi crabs in a bucket, and one of them tries to crawl out, the other crabs will pull it back in. If you put a’ama crabs into the bucket, they will make a ladder and pull each other out. And so you know that’s the difference of counterfeit pride and authentic pride. Authentic pride is always trying to rip somebody down, counterfeit pride is always trying to rip somebody down, authentic pride is always trying to trip somebody up.

Be the good kind of crab. 


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The 5 Be’s Excerpt: Esprit De Corps

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I’m proud to present an excerpt from my latest book, The 5 Be’s (For Starting Out). It will be available on Lulu.com in print and e-book formats on Halloween, and on Amazon as an e-book shortly thereafter!


Before we begin the discussion on helping people find their own strengths, it is important to address the external aspects of “pride.” In the military, as illustrated in my “Airman” speech to the First Term Airman’s Center (FTAC) Airmen, it is virtuous for individuals to subordinate their own needs to that of the group. The Air Force Core Value of “Service Before Self” embodies this idea. For mentors, coaches, and leaders in every type of organization, esprit de corps builds team cohesion and imparts a sense of belonging to the group. Esprit de corps, literally “spirit of the body”, is the collective pride in the larger group. It is a necessary and desirable starting point used to assemble a group of people into a team to accomplish a shared goal.

Helping our new Airmen find some pride in their organization was the reason I began my speech to the FTAC Airmen the way I did. Reminding them about the might of the Service they volunteered to join. In order for the young Airmen to take their service seriously, they needed to take their Service seriously. Esprit de corps helps a person take pride in their group membership, enabling them to overcome the natural and human tendency of placing individual interests before the groups’.

Furthermore, the subordination of an individual’s needs will assist that group member’s personal growth. The principle is the same in many walks of life, such as athletics, religion, business or art. Any time we learn to delay gratification for the good of others, we gain the opportunity to learn something new about ourselves, and as a side effect, advanced the shared goals of the group.

Preparation + Opportunity = Victory

This is pride experienced from group participation in the best case. Like all things, divergence to either extreme can create vice. In the extreme, if individuals twist pride into fanaticism. If pride in one’s group results in the subordination of all good outside of the group then people become fanatics.

Fanatics are capable of great harm, either through violence or just plain ugliness. It is the same vice that generates bullying in high school and at its most extreme, war crimes like ethnic cleansing. On the other end of the scale, the wrong sort of pride in the group creates a user of people, where they spend their lives in subordination to the group to the exclusion of all other good. This is the kind of pride that generates the stereotypical “salaryman” who neglects his family for work.
Therefore, mentors and leaders should appreciate the power of external motivation and esprit de corps, and use that power only for good… the good of the team and the good of the individual.

Esprit de corps should inspire us to achieve, to become virtuous, and to become better people.


Look for The 5 Be’s (For Starting Out) on Halloween in the Lulu Store!

Leading with the Five Be’s

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

Leadership Advice from America's Most Trusted Leaders!
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My latest on GeneralLeadership.com: Leading with the Five Be’s

From the time we’re very young we’re presented with a list of “don’ts” to set boundaries. To be sure young people get the lion’s’ share of the boundary setting, but every society and organization has its list of what you can’t do. Boundaries are necessary, but a leader’s job is to inspire people to group and individual achievement so the job can’t end at “don’t.” We have to be able to articulate a positive view of where we want our teammates and followers to be. If we don’t then we’re not leading anyone anywhere in particular we’re just screaming out “row!” without telling them where they’re rowing.

In my time as a commander and leader in the Air Force, I found it necessary and even profitable to articulate this vision of who I wanted my Airmen to be as a companion to the boundaries we established to guide their behavior. That’s where the “Five Be’s” comes in: its who I want to be, and who I want the people around me to be. It’s a positive vision for a person to “Aim High” so they can reach their goals and be “all they can be” in their work and their life.

The “Five Be’s” are: Be Proud of Who You Are, Be Free, Be Virtuous, Be Balanced, Be Courageous

Read the rest here.