Who Do You Want to Be?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in The Five Be's

As we raise young people into adulthood, we put a great deal of effort into setting boundaries. In fact, most of what young people hear as they grow is a list of “don’ts.”  When we’re very young, we hear “Don’t throw food on the floor,” “Don’t speak disrespectfully to your elders,” and “Don’t take toys away from your friends.” As we grow, the “don’ts” begin to pile up: don’t play in the street, don’t forget your manners, and don’t use bad language. Even in adulthood, we are inundated with “don’ts” regarding our behavior: don’t say those words, don’t wear those clothes, don’t eat this, and don’t touch that.

All these “don’ts” form the boundaries of acceptable behavior. When reasonably imposed, boundaries are a necessary part of establishing what’s appropriate and acceptable. Manners, after all, are intended to make everyone comfortable, so that each person’s dignity and feelings are safeguarded. All human groupings develop norms for behavior that each group member is expected to adhere to. They vary in complexity and formality, but norms, boundaries, or “don’ts” are common. Of course, we can overdo boundary setting. When there are too many boundaries, then it becomes tyranny. In general, however, boundaries and standards of behavior (“manners”) are necessary to the function of any human society.

What’s generally left unsaid when establishing our group norms is a target to focus on. It’s not sufficient to merely describe the outside boundaries of the target; you also must show people what the bulls-eye looks like. That’s what the Five Be’s book is all about.

Humans Need a Vision of Who They Want to Be

People can function in a world of “do’s” and “don’ts,” but knowing what to do and what not to do only describes external behavior. What people, particularly young people, really need is a vision of who they should want to be. With that vision, people are then empowered to reach for something rather than merely avoiding something.

The Pitch Black Room Analogy

To illustrate that point, imagine the following situation:

You’re in a pitch-black room with the task of finding a door somewhere in the room. What would you do? Most people would find the walls first, feeling their way slowly around the walls until they found the door, then opening the door to exit. But what if the exit was really a trap door set in the floor? Or a staircase in the center of the room? What if the walls gave way with the slightest pressure leaving you groping in the dark? Simply being told there is a door in the room isn’t enough information to find the door. There’s even less of a chance if the walls are unstable.

Giving a person a vision of who we want them to be is like turning on an exit light in that imaginary room. The light will dimly illuminate the way, and give them a direction to walk toward. It could even be bright enough to illuminate the entire room.

What this thought experiment illustrates, is the need for both boundaries and a target: standards of behavior and a positive vision of who we should want to be.


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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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 GeneralLeadership.com, 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.

GL.com: Finding the Sweet Spot and Leading Teams to Acheivement

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

The Sweet Spot
Which Way Are You Going?

I’m very proud to announce my first contribution to General Leadership, “Leadership Advice from America’s Most Trusted Leaders”!

In military parlance, a Common Operating Picture (or “COP”) is a single presentation of the battlespace to a wide and distributed audience.  The purpose is to provide common understanding and situational awareness for all involved. I’ve adapted this idea to graphically display the “battlespace” a leader has to understand so the team can achieve success. Leaders must harmonize the needs of their organization, their task, and individual team members to prevail. It’s a complex and people-focused job. If a leader can find the sweet spot in the “Leadership COP”, then they’re truly leading teams to high performance.

Read the rest here.