First Line Leaders Get it Done

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U.S. Air Force Photo, 2BW/PA

It does no good for the commander to sell a grandiose vision if the sergeants and team leaders aren’t buying. Furthermore, if the first line and mid-level leaders are undermining the commander’s vision, then the ensuing lack of respect for the institution begins to break down the team just as surely as if the leader had a personal breach of integrity. It falls on those same first-line supervisors to implement the commander’s vision and to do it in such a way as to communicate the enthusiasm the commander himself has for the endeavor. The difference between a mediocre organization and an excellent organization is often these first line leaders’ commitment to the company vision. That commitment is measured in how that first line leader can translate the task he or she’s been given with sufficient enthusiasm to get the employees motivated to excellence.

That’s why the military spends so much effort to develop their first line leaders. We depend on sergeants to give the orders that get their soldiers moving. They must understand the commander’s objective so well that they can make it simple for their small group and then improvise on the fly if necessary.

Business is No Different

The same is true in business. The team leaders and assistant managers must understand the boss’ agenda and then sell that to the employees as if it were their own idea. It is counter-productive for the assistant manager to stand up at the beginning of a shift and announce in monotone that “corporate has decided that we’ll….” Employees have already stopped listening. What that assistant manager has to do is tell his team the “what and why” and motivate them to achieve both for their own fulfillment and to achieve the company’s goals.

It’s also incumbent upon leaders at all levels not to merely “sell” the company line but to understand as best as possible the reason their boss came to the decision they did. This is a very important point. First line leaders have the most responsibility to motivate and train the people who actually do the company’s work. “Because I said so” has a finite lifespan and becomes very tiresome when used too often. The company leadership should arm first line leaders with the “why” so they can tell their teams. Employee morale and effectiveness starts at the team leader level; employees who rarely or never learn the “why” will soon believe they are unappreciated. Once the downward spiral of morale begins, it’s difficult for even the most talented leaders to rescue it. Executives owe it to their company leaders to ensure that they not only understand the task but also understand the why. Not every first line leader will agree with decisions made above them, but if she is to pass on the company’s direction successfully, she’ll need to understand why senior leaders made the decision in the first place.

Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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Leading Teams to Greatness – Part 2 – Making a Plan

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“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
General George S. Patton

After all the instruction and practice on the beach, it was time to actually put my board into the ocean and paddle out to the break. I knew how to surf—well, I knew what my instructors taught me–but I’d never actually put my board into the water and paddled it before. I was a little intimidated. The waist high waves weren’t particularly big that day, the sea was smooth and glassy, and the wind was light. I had no reason to be nervous yet there I was hesitating on the beach pretending to continue to watch the waves. My surfing buddy and instructor walked past me and shouted over his shoulder as he put his board in the water, “C’mon Mick! Can’t surf on the beach!”

In my previous post I wrote about the process of understanding the environment to lead change. This month, we’re going to talk about making a plan. Great teams understand the world changes and they need to lead the change to be achieve and remain at the top.

Know Where You’re Headed

Effective leadership requires we establish a clear vision of what future success looks like. Having a vision gives you a clear focus, and can stop you heading in the wrong direction. The world doesn’t stop spinning because we’re planning, so remaining aware and flexible during the planning process is key. Returning to my surfing analogy, once we know where and how the waves are breaking, it’s time to paddle out. When paddling out to the lineup, conditions can change–it’s the ocean after all–so we have to be ready for it. We might go over or under a wave, depending on its size, and we have to be alert for other surfers. This is analogous to the planning process.

The Planning Process

The process of planning a change involves taking the intelligence we developed during the Survey the Environment phase and creating a specific plan with milestones and planned decision points to reach our goal. There’s many methods for planning, but the simplest and most commonly used in the US military is creating a Plan of Action and Milestones–POAM for short. To create a POAM, we need to follow the following steps:

  1. Write a clear definition of your endstate.
  2. Break the job into tasks.
  3. Map the tasks from start to finish
  4. Establish intermediate milestones
  5. Establish intermediate decision points
  6. Establish criteria for passing the milestones and decision points

A couple of those steps are worth a little emphasis: (1) writing a clear definition of your endstate and (6) establishing criteria for passing milestones and decision points. Besides the obvious project management benefits of smart planning, the leadership benefits are what I want to emphasize. Leaders cannot lead if they don’t know where they’re going. You absolutely have to have the end in mind when creating a plan–and believe me no one will follow a leader who doesn’t know where he’s headed! The same is true for establishing intermediate criteria. To effectively maneuver the change once you start to implement you’ll need to be able to know if you’re on track. For example, proceeding with a project might be contingent of raising a given amount of money, or securing the concurrence of local officials, etc.

Prepare for Disruptions

Finally, understand the world will change while you’re planning so be prepared for disruptions. Key to leading teams to greatness during the planning process is anticipating and mitigating problems. Planning for the unexpected and leading through the planning process is an important part of leading change. One of the best illustrations of this idea comes from General Norman H. Schwarzkopf’s memoir It Doesn’t Take a Hero where he wrote about his technique for planning for the unexpected. After he and his staff were caught completely unprepared for helicopter crash, he began to write down each day three bad and good things that might happen based on the day’s activities. It was his way of anticipating trouble and preparing to lead through it.  Planning ahead for road blocks is central to leading teams to greatness.

In my next post, I’ll wrap up the series with a system for implementing the change we’ve planned using this process.

Be sure to check out my “Change Management” Resources Page

Originally posted on General


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


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


Join Me at JETC 2015! – UPDATED

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I’m excited to be presenting at the Society of American Military Engineers’ JETC 2015 next week in Houston, Texas!

As a Life Member, it’s a privilege to serve my Society by leading a Speed Mentoring session, moderating a panel on Theater Security Engagement World-Wide in the Contingency Engineering Track, and presenting “The Five Be’s” in the Leadership and Business Development Track.  Please join me if you can!

Mentoring Program for Young Members, NCOs and Fellows: Tues, 19 May, 2:45-5:15 pm

Theater Security Engagement Worldwide: Wed, 20 May, 10:30-11:30 am

The Five Be’s: Thurs, 21 May, 9:30-10:30 am

Download the full JETC agenda here.

Register here.


5/19: THANKS to all the SAME Fellows, members, and Young Members who participated in the Mentoring workshop yesterday!


10 hours of education and training sessions filled up the afternoon of Day 1 at JETC, along with a Speed Mentoring event led by Col. Mickey Addison, USAF, who also is an accomplished author and speaker. The mentoring event brought together SAME Fellows and Young Members for a discussion of what mentoring really is, then it mixed the audience up throughout the room for candid discussion and networking.

5/20: We had a super panel for Theater Security Engagement Worldwide on Wednesday. Thanks to our reps from PACAF, SOUTHCOM, AFRICOM, Bridges To Prosperity, & CENTCOM.

5/21: Concluded with an engaging conversation about leadership and values during The Five Be’s session. I was super impressed with the level of discussion by the attendees!

UPDATED! Presenting at the SAME Hawaii Training Workshop this Week

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Honored to be presenting at the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Hawaii Engineer Training Workshop! I’ll be presenting at 8 am on Tuesday on “Perspectives on Joint Engineering” to the SAME group, and later on “Air Force Engineer Issues” to the Joint Engineer Working Group.

On Wednesday at 8 am, I’ll present as part of a panel discussion on “Theater Security Engagement Planning for the Pacific” to the SAME group.




Update #2 (2/8/15): Here’s the link to the SAME blog post about the event!