Creating impact by raising your B.A.R.

At least twice a year you should examine where you are in life and determine if it is time to raise the B.A.R. to reengage and make an impact.

The first question is your BELIEF in what you are doing. Belief answers why you do what you do. It set expectations.  Many people take a big picture view of “Why” they do what they do. “I want a bigger house, a better car, or I want to be better than everyone else;” however, those don’t answer what you belief in at the core. You may have a lot of money and still be miserable and unchallenged.  Ask yourself why you still do what you do. If it is simply about money, ask yourself if you are truly happy. Do you still come to work each day or attend the group function trying to make an impact, or are you simply going through the motions? To make an impact, one must believe that what they are doing is going to make a difference. I have met interesting people, who have jobs most would look down upon, who feel their job is meaningful. If you are stuck in a rut, change your perspective. Just be curious about why and how you do your job.  You don’t have to change jobs to reengage. You simply have to believe you can make an impact.

How are your ACTIONS helping you realize your beliefs? No one succeeds along and success isn’t about all the things we do, but the things we do well. Every day, try to do one thing better than you did yesterday; I am only asking you to do one thing better.  If you do one thing better, look at what you will accomplish at the end of the year.  Don’t fear being going big, fear being mediocre. Your actions demonstrate how you meet the expectations developed by why you do what you do and core beliefs.

What are the RESULTS of those actions you took to realize your beliefs? What were you trying to accomplish? Did you map out a plan or wing it? Hint, most of the time we have set backs. The ones who are successful never give up. They look at the results, try to learn a lesson, and then go at it again. If you are working with a team, it takes time to overcome organizational inertia and get people moving in a new direction. If you didn’t get the results you were looking for, you should be curious to discover what happened. The answer to what happened opens up new avenues for you to explore, to create new ideas, and reinvigorate whatever interests you.

In short, to be effective one must believe they are making an impact. The actions one takes should support those beliefs. The results are the effects of your actions you took based on your beliefs.  You decide if it is time to get real and raise your B.A.R. to create an impact.



W. Michael Phibbs

At some point in every person’s life, something bad has happened which was caused by somebody else. You may have been in a car accident, the target of an assault, fell for a con-artist’s phone call, or a close friend betrayed your trust. The truth is, bad things happened to good people. A person’s character and adaptability is revealed in such hardship. Will you be a victim or a victor?

No matter what has occurred your life, your perspective is the key to how it turns out. After the incident, will you go, “Well that suck’s” and attempt to pick up the pieces and move on saying, “This will not beat me.” Or, do you say, “This suck’s, my life is ruined, and I can’t live this way.” Granted, getting over hurt feelings is easier than recovering from injuries sustained by an IED or financial ruin caused after falling for a con-artist’s smooth talk promising of fortune after you invest your life savings in his scheme.

It’s simple; when someone hurts you, it sucks and always has a bad impact. The effect may be physical deformity or lasting deep down psychological impact, Now, for the good news, go to any book store and you can find shelves of books written by people who could have been victims but decided to be victors. The people who overcome adversity don’t forget what happened to them. They adapt and say “I’m not going to let this define me. I will not let it win, I will win, I will not be a victim, I will be a victor.”

People who are victims allow the circumstances define who they are. They are not willing to accept that things have changed. They don’t understand that a detour sign has been placed onto the roadmap of life. I have heard more than once, “But I had everything planned out, and I’m not going to change my ways.” The people who refuse to accept that things have changed and are unwilling to adapt to new circumstances are the ones who allow themselves to remain a victim. It’s not that they can’t change, rather they are unwilling to change. They are rigid and linear thinking, A,B, C, …you get it. Hint, after a while, people get tired of someone claiming they are a victim.

Victors are adaptable. They are the individuals who say, “With enough pressure, I can force a square rod through a round hole.” People who are willing to be adaptable don’t look at the unexpected things that happen as roadblocks. They learn from them, they realize they must reprogram the GPS and set out in a new direction. Maybe, it will be better. Maybe you become interested in new activities. Maybe you become an activist for a cause. Perhaps you become someone who people in similar circumstances look up to. Or, you go on living your life under new circumstances. How you react to life’s challenges is personal. There is only one you, and no one can make you feel or react differently from how YOU DECIDE to react. When something bad happens, ask yourself. Am I going to be rigid and be a victim? Or, am I going to be adaptable, make the best of it, and be a victor?

Interest, Innovation, Impact: the difference between great or mediocre




W. Michael Phibbs

On a wall in the lunch room is a sign, “Wanted: Mavericks and Heretics to join Sector 212. Together, we all make a difference.” It is in the lunch room for a simple reason; everyone goes there sometime during the day. At first the sign was kind of a joke; people would ask do you really you want Maverick’s to buck the system or Heretic’s to challenge your authority?

“Yep” was the answer. Eventually, people started to knock at the door and say, “I have an idea.”

The usual reply was, “try it and let me know what happens.” When people begin to feel they can make a difference in an organization change really begins.

Caley Cantrell, Professor at the VCU Brandcenter, was quoted in the blog:, for making a statement about branding which is actually intuitive for building an energized workforce. She said, “What is of interest in this problem? What is interesting about how people live their lives? Can you create a conversation between a brand and a person by revealing a common interest?” Better yet, does your agency, division, team, or group create a story which compels people to want to come to your building each day? When people believe in what they are doing then work ceases to be a job and becomes a pleasure.

Someone once told me in his industry there was no room anymore for creation and innovation. His company has long since gone under, but his competition thrived. There is always room for innovation! Companies start, they grow, morph, and change through new innovations. Every moment something is being innovated. Every teammate or tribe member has innovative ideas to help your organization grow. Notice, I wrote tribe or team member instead of employee. Employees work for you. Tribe members or team members work with you. Unlock the talent. Not by giving speeches, but going back to the lunchroom to hang out and talk to people. Intentionally “Bump into people.” Ask people their names and get to know them. Build trust and allow people to come forward with ideas; implement the good ones and acknowledge the bad ones. Heck, even if it is bad give the person a Starbucks rewards card for bringing the idea to your attention. Ideas lead to innovation which leads to impact.

Every person on the earth wants to have an impact. Many struggle with the idea. Fear holds most of us back. Bring forth your ideas! What is the worst that can happen? In a bad company, you may get criticized for a bad idea, or criticized by others for a great idea that they did not think of, or were too afraid to tell anyone. Compare the feeling of fear for being criticized with the feeling of making an impact. The journey to make an impact is arduous. It requires you to face your fear and take a leap of faith. Faith in oneself and that your ideas have worth. Mavericks and Heretics are interesting because they are not afraid to innovate and demand to make an impact.

Your organization can become great and leave the mediocrity of others by recruiting people who challenge the status que. Require your HR department to look for the ones who take you out of your comfort zone. Shake off the cobwebs. Brand your company as interesting and innovative which inspires people to exceed all expectations. Don’t just stay in the game, lead the game. Find the people who will pull or push your organization. Put the signs on the door, “Looking for Mavericks and Heretics….”

Female Firefighter ~ The Pioneering Spirit



W. Michael Phibbs

Over the years I have spoken at a number of leadership conferences aimed at emergency services organizations and personnel on branding themselves. It has led to a number of interesting conversations about women in the different branches. The subject of female fire fighters is at the top of my mind at the moment as we reflect on the loss, the suicide, of a female firefighter in VA, as allegations of cyber bullying are surfacing. I have heard countless stories of how both volunteer and career fire fighters, who happen to be female, have been treated, including being faced with the antiquated notion that the women were only there to cook and clean the fire house. However, in my experience, the majority of firefighters, male and female, are exemplary and act professionally around their coworkers.

While women have faced and risen to the challenge of entering the law enforcement field, joining the ranks of fire fighters has been a slower process. Women who have joined the fraternity of police officers worked long and hard to reach the same job responsibilities as their male counterparts. They have paved the way for more women to follow in their footsteps. A number of very capable women now do the same as fire fighters and I have had the pleasure of meeting a number of these pioneers.

In today’s society, we are hyper vigilant, or perhaps hyper sensitive, creating an environment where a single misspoken word or action can destroy a brand that an organization or a person is trying to build or maintain. We have been going through a period of demographic change, starting with Civil Rights in the 60’s through today with efforts to give everyone an equal chance. This means that the volunteers and career officers can be held liable for their liable under Title 7 Discrimination lawsuits or department code of conduct violations. If terminated after a substantiated charge of discrimination they will unlikely find further employment or volunteer opportunities in the field. Public safety organizations are not striving be more inclusive and better represent the demographics of society. This will have significant impact on any agency which is almost entirely comprised of males. A challenge will be how to effectively prevent discrimination need to be discovered and implemented. You can’t find always find simple answers to complex problems; and this one is complex.

Law enforcement faced the challenge of integrating females into the profession many years ago, and in cases continues to struggle with the issue. Female law enforcement officers have the same job responsibilities as their male counterparts, but in many cases, they have had to work harder to blaze a trail for others to follow. Similarly, I have met many Female Fire Officers with outstanding reputations as leaders in their organizations. These women are the new pioneers of today, making the way better for those who will follow.

Firefighting isn’t easy and as such, the training isn’t easy either. Going into a burning building wearing heavy gear or administering medical treatment on a severely injured person is not for the faint of heart. After rigorous and extensive training and testing, when all of the tests are passed, the trainee becomes a “Firefighter”; they are not segregated by race or gender, they are all firefighters. After graduation, the new firefighters get assigned to a station, whereby livings in a station, for 24 hours at stretch, “rookies” integrate into the team. It is the duty of Fire Officer to help new firefighters assimilate.

Unlike law enforcement where officers can avoid officers they don’t like, firefighters are a team and must work together.   Fire Officers must ensure their subordinates effectively communicate and cannot allow a simple misunderstanding fester into resentment. Supervisors are held to a higher level of responsibility from organizations and courts. But that comes with the position. Supervisors have a duty to their community, male and female officers, to take swift action to stop what may be construed as discriminatory, harassment, or a hostile work environment. While in quarters Firefighters from time to time they will joke around. But then the question is raised: At what point does a joke or comment cross the line from being funny to harassment? The question is complex, but training and reinforcement on ways to handle workplace issues harassment and discrimination and provide guidance.

It can be tough to stand up to subordinates, who may spend more time together than with their own families. Their job is to lead not just by example, but also by the actions they condone. Leaders who allow problems to fester are in charge of a gaggle, not a team. Lives can be lost when a group intentionally leaves someone out instead of being a team. When effective communication, individual skill development, and team building training are conducted, differences diminish and the entire organization is lifted.

As society and the demographics of the workforce change, more women will enter the fire profession. The days of the male only profession are slowly dwindling. All public safety agencies must recruit and hire a more diverse workforce and we all feel the growing pains. The women who work in the profession today are true pioneers with the grit of the women who walked across the Great Plains in the 19th century. There are creating the path for the future and have earned the right to be called “Professional Firefighter”

Excellence Is Not An Accident

If you look at successful people in any occupation you will see one common thread. Excellence is not an accident. If it were easy, everyone would attain it. Many who have reached a pinnacle may not remember every step made along the way; most will tell you that they love what they do, but all will say it took hard work.

So, what goes into excellence?

Passion: You have to have passion for what you do. You may never make any money doing what you are passionate about, but it’s not about money, it’s about your own fulfillment. Without passion you will not be able to truly give it your all. You may be committed but passion reaches down into the marrow of the bone. You alone are responsible for your inspiration and fulfilling your asperations.

Skills and ability: Whether you are a writer, actor, painter, mechanic, or simply the best parent in the history of parenting, you have to have skills. Some are inherently gifted and come easily. Other skills have to be worked at. Excellence means you make the most out of the gifts you were given and then your work your tail off to improve. To achieve excellence, you must strive to be your best. It’s an individual choice; you alone determine when to stop.

Curiosity: You must be curious to achieve excellence Curiosity leads to new discoveries, creating something new, or improving on something that already exist. Excellence means to challenge the status quo. It means to ask questions, to push the bounds and ask a simple question: “Is this it?” Then one provides the answer to the question, “No!” Now, let’s see how far we can take it.

A plan: A plan: You need to have a map for achieving your goals. You could not become a doctor without first excelling in an undergraduate school and then at a medical school. Some serendipity may factor into your excellence as you go along, however it cannot be a factor in your plan. Your passion may be so evident to people you know that they themselves assist or they can introduce you to people that can assist your attaining your goals, but that is not something that can be planned. Only you can map out and follow your plan, overcoming obstacles as they arise.

Don’t cave in to others’ opinions: If everyone stopped at the first sign of criticism, then we would still be living in caves, “Don’t go out into the wild it is dangerous.” There will always be people who try and hold others back. They say, “You’re are foolish, or wrong” in order to hold you back. Frequently, the people criticizing you are the people trying to hold you back. Their criticism is caused by their own internal faults, weakness and fears, and not you. There are times when constructive criticism is warranted and should be heeded. Constructive criticism should simply be another vehicle for you to challenge yourself. To look critically at what you are doing, make improvements, and boldly charge forward. You are your own keeper of talent. Excellence is in you not in the others who pass judgments.

Guardian mentality – We are in this together.

Police Community Relations

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing-Final Report recommended Moving from the Warrior to Guardian mentality in police. Many law enforcement officers around the country have voiced the opinion that the “Guardian” mentality is some sort of slap to their efforts to protect their communities. In truth, it is just the opposite. Before officers used patrol cars, and Community Policing was the norm, officers walked the streets and neighborhoods. The walking beat officers knew everyone, the neighbors, children, criminals, the ones who were doing well, and those who were struggling. Everyone worked together to protect the communities. The officers were in tune with the community; the Guardians.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s communities began placing officers in patrol cars, and so the slow end of the Guardian relationship began. Placing officers into cars had an economic impact; officers in cars can cover more area. Therefore, you didn’t need as many officers. Unfortunately, the positive economic impact resulted in decreasing community connectedness. Officers drove past neighborhoods rather than getting out of their cars to meet the residents. Slowly, officer’s mentality became less Guardians working with the communities and more Warrior like with the officers forming a tribe within their shifts. The mentality became our tribe versus everyone else. Likewise, communities who no longer knew their officers began to distrust the police

To stop the tide, Community Policing efforts were begun to reconnect officers to the communities they serve. Much of the success in reconnecting officers back into their communities resulted from the Community Policing efforts. However, simply having a Community Policing program is not a panacea. It takes time, effort, and must be tailored to each community. Moving away from the Warrior mentality will also take time. Officers will still be in cars, and constantly running calls for service. High call volumes create fewer opportunities for the officers to make the connections necessary to build community relationships. Officers may feel guilty when they walk and areas knowing their brothers are out running calls. However, the impact of walking officers is significant. Research indicates that walking officers have a positive impact on the fear of crime. Walking officers get to know the residents and who is committing crimes, and therefore make the communities safer.

The Guardian mentality should be looked to not as a slap to the officer’s hard work, but as an opportunity go get back to the roots of policing. Back to the days when officers work made an impact not by arrests but connectedness and mutual responsibility for the community.


Picture from:

Leadership Lessons From Scout Alfa 33

Morning Briefing


W. Michael Phibbs

In folklore and romanticized movies the Army scout would come over the wide expansive plain and walk up to his commander and point, “The enemy is over there!” He would then turn, with arrows still protruding from his back, and fade into the distance only to reappear when danger lurked again.

In truth an Army scout’s job is not romantic and not a job for the solitary soldier. For the uninitiated, Scouts go miles out in front of the regular infantry companies. They find the enemy and report back to their commanders. They work as a small team and this requires incredible leadership abilities to get the team to be self-reliant and perform at these high levels.

Alberto had spent almost decade assigned to “regular strait leg infantry line platoon” and his transfer to another division didn’t surprise him; every three or four years everyone gets moved. As a team leader, he knew his craft: digging fighting positions, ranging targets, and a whole host of other seemingly mundane tasks which occur when a 45 man company goes into the bush. But all of that was about to change.

“Welcome to the Scout Platoon, Alberto,” said the Sergeant Major as he slapped him on the back. For an instant Alberto was elated. No more digging foxholes up to my neck at two o’clock in the morning. Then it hit him. If a scout needed to dig then it was too late. He was used to fighting with numbers of men, not sneaking around, finding targets, and relying on artillery to save him if he ever needed to evade an enemy. Scouts have always been highly prized prisoners. Hell, most scouts never made it to captivity and were simply killed where they were caught.

Regardless of Alberto’s rank, he was green to the ways of a Scout Platoon. He was told by his both his Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant that he would initially be under a junior NCO while in the bush. Until he proved himself that is. The platoon had been assigned to run scout missions for a battalion exercise somewhere in a jungle the next week. He only had a few days to ensure he had his equipment and to meet his new team. When First Sergeant Smith introduced Alberto to his new platoon, Alfa 33, all of the members seemed to stare at him disapprovingly. A Specialist named Ramsey pulled a map out of his pocket and unfolded it. “Word has it you are a “Strait leg” from a line company. Pointing to his map, can you get me from this spot to that spot without getting me killed?” “When was the last time you called for artillery or air strike?” “Never” replied Alberto. “Bullshit, he’s not leading me”, came from back of the pack. Alberto’s heart sank as “Welcome to the Scout Platoon” echoes in the back of his head.

Over the next year Alberto listened and learned. He learned quickly, because he had to in order to survive not only the “enemy” but further disfavor from the rest of the platoon. Learn or leave in a scout platoon was as synonymous as up or out for an officer. Movement to contact was no longer the name of the game. Scouts go out in five man squads look, listen, find the enemy, report what you find up the chain, and if all possible return alive where now his mantra. He started from the bottom, even as a sergeant, he began by carrying the gear; knowing at first, it was more important to the team to carry the gear than make decisions only his rank qualified him to do.   He watched the specialists and sergeants closely to discern not only the decisions they made, but the thought process behind it. Early on, he would be asked to create the navigation path they would follow on a mission. The first time he presented his plan he was immediately rebuffed, “That is a path a line company would take, the path of least resistance. That path would get us all killed.” A member of the team would then explain how scouts plan navigation plans to conduct missions. How staying at a distance, taking your time, and paying extra attention to the clues left around you provide a better picture than getting too close.

Alberto was not the most talented scout to ever enter the bush, but he could reasonably apply what he was learning. He did have a gift of making friends. He willingly helped out others, even of lower rank, not because he was sucking up, but he generally cared about the people he worked with. He took pride in knowing when someone else succeeded that he had played a part, even if it was sufficiently small. When Specialist Elridge arrived to the platoon he went to the bottom of the pack. It was his turn to carry the extra gear, to walk to the company command post and bring back supplies. Most people felt relieved to move up. Alberto took pity on the new guy. When Elridge was told to walk half a mile back to the command post to get water and MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) Alberto jumped up and said he was going to help. First Sergeant Neirman said, “He needs to learn to follow orders and carry the weight.” “He also needs to learn how to serve and help others,” replied Alberto quickly catching up to Elridge.

Fast forward one year, while the sun rained down high into the triple canopy of trees, a down pour of rain still fell onto Alberto’s head. Alfa 33, team 1, was in their positions, and the other sergeants were huddled next to the new Platoon Lieutenant, when the RTO, Radio Telephone Operator, turned to the group, “They changed frequencies and never gave us the new extract. We are now on our own.”

“Well what do we do now? We are already 10 clicks in front of them.” said Fitz, the now the newest sergeant in the platoon. “I’ll tell you what we are going to do. We are going to do our jobs,” said the lieutenant. “We have our target list. We will check them out, and then we are going to look on the dumbest place to put a command post and go there. I bet they will be sitting there all nice and comfy.”

“Alberto, I’m sending you there,” the lieutenant said, as he pointed at the map. “It’s about 7 kilo’s out and   should take you two days to do it correctly. We are going to hit these spots and meet you at this point,” moving his finder up and over the grid lines to the bottom of a ridge line bordering a swamp. “Crap that is a long way with a lot of moving parts” was all Alberto could think. “You are going the furthest and therefore I will let you pick your own team,” said the lieutenant. “You got it, Sir” was all Alberto could say as he began to feel the depths of his self-doubt.

As word passed around the platoon that they had been left behind, the lieutenants resolve to accomplish the mission, and the gravity of the long range recon assignments, the other platoon members began to look deep inside. Some of the squads were stronger than other. Alberto was now good, but he needed people who were great to pull this off. As Alberto’s self-doubt crashed down upon his shoulders, Jones came up to him. “Heard you need a navigator.” Jones was the best in the battalion for creating navigation plans. He never got caught and never got lost, not even in jungles with few terrain markings. Philips simply walked over with the radio packed, “Got the internal ‘platoon freques’ and the batteries are still holding up.” Elridge came up and threw a small stick at Albeto’s chest, “Well, someone has to be on point. God knows where you will end up without me.” “Well, you’re going to need someone to carry your crap. You’re almost 30 and kinds of fragile,” said Dobson.

“Thank you” was the only thing Alberto could say. “Hell, you bailed us out when you didn’t have to in the past; we are only returning the favor, said Jones. “Thanks again,” Alberto said. “Now let’s start planning. Each had their part to play in planning their mission. Over the past two years, Alberto learned to let everyone develop their part of the plan; he simply needed to ensure everything was covered and all the pieces fit. If some part of the plan didn’t seem right he would ask for clarification. When Alberto asked Jones about a TRP, target reference point, on the map, Jones explained why he chose the point. It made sense perfect sense. Philips was packing more communications gear then necessary. Alberto told him that since they had no comms with the company that they only needed the equipment to stay in contact with Alfa 33 and Alfa 36. Leaving the other equipment would save 14 pounds. Over the course of two days, saving 14 pounds would mean a lot.

At 1830 hours, the group headed out. The years of being assigned to a line company know paid dividends to Alberto. He knew the signs to look for. Infantryman walk in lines because is easier to follow a path, instead of walking in wedge formations which means everyone goes through their own little hell breaking brush. Companies leave trash while walking in the woods, they knock over things, and generally “We’re over here” signs everywhere. By early morning they were in position.   As planned, they would split into two groups. Each group would work their way in a 180 degree loop. They would scout out the area, mark their observations on maps, and then regroup on the other side. The key was to stay at a distance: look for through holes in a the vegetation to glimpse small windows of what was occurring, listen for voices, sounds of vehicles, people digging, and cursing. From there they would call back a “Sit Rep” (Situation Report) and move back to the link-up point with the rest of the platoon.

That evening, both groups linked up in a swampy section on the other side of the ridge. “Legs” hate getting wet, which makes swamps a great place to link up because “Legs” are less likely to look for you there. They combined the information and submitted their “Sit-Rep” before moving out. Four hours later they linked-up with the rest of the platoon. They barely had time to rest before they were off again. The Lieutenant saying, ”I found the dumbest place on the map to put a Command Post.” Moving his fingers over the map and stopping on top of a ridge with three roads converging, “We’ll go there first.”

Six hours later the group walked unchallenged right into the command post. The Lieutenant had been wrong. He was off by 50 yards on his estimate of where the command post was located. The area where he had pointed was full of briars. The Command Post was placed in the wood line with more space to set up, and less briars. As they walked in, the Battalion Commander said it was great to see them, and asked how they found the Command Post. The Lieutenant simply requested to talk in private. A short while later, a battalion artillery section could be heard unleashing shells to destroy targets, and groans from “Leg soldiers” were heard as they were told to get up and prepare to move for an early morning attack.

The Lieutenant walked back from his private meeting and said, “Let’s move to someplace safe and get some rest.” Just like the myths of old, the Scouts came in, reported their findings, and slipped away back into the cover of nature. When they finally stopped, Alberto said to the Lieutenant, “Sir, I wanted to thank you for your confidence that I could do the mission.” The Lieutenant, simply looked up, “You’re a Scout right? It was your turn. If I didn’t think you could do it, you would have left here months ago.” As he turned to walk back to his team, Alberto heard “Good job,” come from the Lieutenant.

A month later, Alfa 33 had received orders it was going to deploy to the Middle East. The platoon was told to expect new members that afternoon. All had been transferred from “Leg Units.” “Fresh meet” said a senior member of the team. “Alberto, this time you get to see what you looked like when you showed up.” Alberto grinned. As Sergeants McRoy and Upton, along with Specialists Garcia and Smith, walked into the Alf 33 bay area they were immediately bombarded by questions they had no chance of answering. Alberto knew it was simply a test and welcoming aboard ceremony. Later that evening, Alberto found Sergeant McRoy sitting on a bench outside of the company compound. He looked shell shocked. Alberto walked up to him, slapped him on the back, and said, Welcome to the Scout Platoon. You ready to get started?”

Leadership Reference Points:

  • When you move from one assignment to anything new you will feel anxiety.
  • There will be new things to learn, but it was the same way when you arrived in your old job.
  • You probably will not be the expert.
  • Watch others, see how they make decisions, and apply the lessons where you can,
  • Learn to serve others. You never know when it will pay dividends.
  • Trust your people to do their assigned part. If they can’t do it then train them or move them out.
  • Look at your company’s strategy. If it is obvious to you, then it may be obvious to your adversary.
  • Help others build skills, and trust them to accomplish tasks that they may feel reluctant to accomplish.
  • When you see something wrong, tell someone. If you have to tell a superior bad news, do it in private.
  • Remember, most things are not as bad as they seem. A pat on the back can go a long way to building success for your team’s future.

Photo: Morning Briefing from

Leadership Lessons from “Fatboy Express”: The First Race

Bike race


W. Michael Phibbs

Liam “Fatboy Express” has had a great year since he began riding his bicycle. He has not forgotten why he designed his kit (A kit is what the riders call the shift and pants): Fat is an expression of wait and Express was a mindset. Many people had heard his story of determination and were inspired to take up activities that made them healthier and feel better. Some joined Fatboy Express on rides, other took up swimming or fencing, and some simply went for long walks. He did not set out to make an impact on other people’s lives, but he had. A few months ago, he started to enter amateur road bicycle races. Several small shops began to sponsor him, which meant he had enough money for gas to drive to event and register.

Today Fatboy Express was entering the most challenging race of his life; a century ride against people who not only rode competitively but had aspirations for the Olympics and professional teams. For Fatboy this race was as not about winning, it was only about facing his fears and taking on a challenge. The fear of looking silly whilst being crushed by the well trained competition and the challenge of doing something this hard. Before the race, he prepared his lime green Specialized bike. He didn’t have a race crew so he had to make sure everything was right. He donned his white, lime, and black kit and began to head to the starting line. He had number 76 on his back. 76 is the number where they ranked him when he registered. The last number was 82. As he approached he saw a rider wearing lime green and grey kit. His shirt had red letters on the front back with his sponsor’s logo. He had 14 on his back. He looked at the Fatboy Express Logo and simply quipped, “Fat Ass Express is more like it.” A rider next to the biker in grey, and number 23, glanced over his should and also saw Fatboy Express; “Simply- Ass” would be more like it. Fatboy Express just smiled and said, “Good Morning, lovely day for a race.” The others paid no attention.

At 0700 A.M. the race began. The race began very quickly. The peloton stayed together packed on top of one another. If one fell they may all may go down. Fatboy Express was not use to riding so close, so he stayed near the end of the pack. He was amazed that the other riders were having conversations with each other, like this was nothing. Some discussed strategy, others what they had done since their last race. Most said the real race would not really begin for several hours when the sandbaggers had dropped out. At mile three they hit the first hill. Fatboy Express dropped his gears and pulled heavily up with his clipless pedals. He was so used to working on riding hills back home that his hamstrings easily pulled him up the hill. As he went up he noticed something, he was actually passing people. Odd he thought. After the first hill he actually began to move up in the pack. As the went back down a large hill his weight actually propelled him faster still. At the bottom of the hill there was a tight turn, Fatboy still feared tight turns. As he approached the turn he tapped his breaks. Immediately he heard curse words from the riders following him. He tapped his breaks and now the peloton was careening over the place trying to avoid each other. With the simple tap he angered the other riders and lost many spots.

Next was a five mile flat land area. This is where the smaller riders were strongest and the bigger, less aero dynamic riders struggle. Fatboy continued to struggle to keep up. On lap three he was finally dropped from the pack. He felt bad. He had read what it means to be dropped from the pack. You are not good enough to keep up. But still he road on. He now rode at his pace. As he continued, he yelled thanks to the police who were standing on posts. They looked shocked at first, and then began to wave back in support of the struggling rider.

Eventually, something strange started to happen. Others were falling out of the pack. He spotted the number 14 on the lime green and grey shift moving back. As Fatboy Express caught up, he could have ignored the guy, or had his own fun catching the now struggling rider, but he didn’t. “Get behind me and I will pull you, Fatboy Express said. “Thank you was all he heard.” As they continued along Fatboy Express said he would continue to be in front and pull number 14 as long as he needed him to. Then they hit the hill again. Fatboy Express was already tired and the hill looked daunting. All of the sudden he heard, “Lower your gear to get more speed. Pull your arms in the let your upper body work harder, and pull with the hamstrings.” Fatboy Express did as he was told. Next came, “Spin those legs!” Fatboy Express was actually going faster up the hill than ever before. When they crowned the hill number 14 said, “Now get behind me, stick to my rear tire, do everything I do, and stay the hell off the brakes.” They zoomed down the hill. When they hit the turn at the bottom Fatboy Express held on for life. His bike stuck to the road. Wow, what a feeling.

As the two continued to ride, number 14 said, “I’m Phil.” Liam, said “Fatboy Express.” As they rode along Phil told Liam tricks and strategies to stay competitive. Each would now take a turn leading each other. Phil would give pointers to Liam. Liam would block the wind for Phil and help pull him up the hill. As they continued on, other riders were now beginning to be dropped from the pack. Liam encouraged them all to keep going on. He told each one to join their pack. Many had made fun of Fatboy Express before the race, and were astonished by his encouragement and giving. Many more soon followed the pack. As they would catch up to those who were also dropped, Liam would always shout encouragement and invite them into their ever growing pack. Phil began to explain how each had a job to do in the pack. Each had their turn at the front, and Liam’s lead was needed in the windiest areas. He was also the motivational speaker. The pack was coalescing, and they were coalescing around Liam.

Wham, all of the sudden, while going around a corner, Liam’s front tire slid out from under him. Sudden pain ripped up the side of his knee, leg, and shoulder. “I’m done” he thought. But as soon as he hit the ground the others were picking him back up. One sprayed his cuts with water. Another slathered an antiseptic on the cuts, and two more pushed him to get started again. Amazing! He yelled, “Thank you.” A guy wearing all yellow, and the number 3 on his back, said, “You didn’t let us go, we aren’t about to let you go.” With a grin, he said, besides, I need your fat ass to get me up that hill.” They were back off. Liam was still in pain, but he knew it was part of the race.

One lap to go. Phil and the other began to talk strategy. Liam found it fascinating. The group picked the people who were going to pull, when, and for how long. Liam was left out of the discussion; he was confused, but went with the group. Liam pulled when he needed and let the others take over when it was their turn. They eventually caught the main peloton. They began to mix in, Phil continued to give orders. With a half mile to go Phil yelled, “Fatboy Express get your ass in gear and sprint. Go win this thing.” Liam didn’t question. He powered down. Pushing down, pulling up, he took off. He was with the leaders. At 300 feet they were all side by side. At 100 feet Liam was nose to nose with the leaders. Then as suddenly as it began, it was over. Liam was 4th by .25 of a second. He eventually pulled over and pulled off his helmet. As the other members of his group came by he apologized for letting them down. The other riders slowly pulled up, “Let us down? Hell, you kept us together.” “I want to ride with you more” was heard many times.

(Picture downloaded from:


Want to know what is going on in our organization? Eat a meal in the employee lunch room!



W. Michael Phibbs

Have you ever watched Undercover Boss? Do you recognize similar problems in your work environment and wish that one day you would have a chance to tell your boss what you see as the problems hampering your organization and potential solutions? Fire Chiefs for decades have told up and coming Front Line Officers that if they want to know what is going on in their organizations they should eat a meal at a station. You build trust while breaking bread together. While sitting down together for a meal, fire fighters will tell you exactly what the feel, both good and bad. This sound advice resonates through all segments of public safety to the public sector. Steve Jobs once said of turnaround expert, “But how can he be an expert when he eats his lunch alone in his office.”1 Another widely endorsed action that will increase your understanding of what is really happening in your organization is MBWA (Manage By Walking About). MBWA is less effective than breaking down barriers over a meal, but the basic principal is the same, get out of your office and talk to the troops who do the work.

As years go by and we move up in ranks it is easy to become lost in our own office siloes. A new term, “Cubiment”, short for “cubical environment” has been created to describe how people spend their entire working day in the solitary environment of their cubicles (Cubical Farm is now too long for our even faster paced world). Most do not hear from their boss unless something is not going right. Even the most well-meaning manager can become fixated in clearing out their daily In-box. Little by little, day after day, we slowly become disassociated from the most important people in an organization. We cannot create organizational energy through email and power points expounding how proud we are of our employees. Human interaction and connection is the way real leaders become change agents.

Lunch can be a sacred time to spend with others you know and trust. Through the process of breaking bread together, leaders not only learn what is going on, but also have an opportunity to discuss ideas for the future. They can discuss where their organizations are going and obtain unfiltered feedback from their team members. Free flowing ideas will not happen at a banquet, or corporate outing, but will arise at a table in your own lunchroom. If you only eat at the Executive Lunchroom or at your desk, you may find it difficult to find people who trust you enough to eat with, at least at first. Over time, when people get accustomed to seeing you, some brave person will approach you and want to talk, and you should do just that, talk, about anything. You will be amazed at what you learn. I have seen many managers become re-inspired and become highly effective leaders through these little lunch room chats. You get a chance to really find out what is going on inside of your organizations. You can mentor people and learn who the up in coming leaders really are. In short, by breaking bread allows you have positive employee engagement.

What are you waiting for? Today, or tomorrow, set an appointment time in your Outlook calendar to eat with someone new. Either invite someone to sit with you or go over to a table ask to sit with a group. Engage them in small talk. It may take a while to break down the silos and build trust. By talking to people today, you head off problems of tomorrow. Pack a lunch and realize there is no limit to what you can be accomplish by breaking bread with someone new.


1.Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schelander and Rick Tetzeli,

Knowing your guiding principles


Before I begin a session coaching executive level leaders on how to execute more effectively, I always challenge them describe their own guiding principles. Many executives can describe their organizations guiding mission statement or principles but often struggle to describe their own. They begin to squirm in their seats and often talk in generalities. For some, it can be difficult to keep them on task. Why? Simply because they have not thought enough about it. After struggling to come up with a list, many have a hard time defending their guiding principles. Early in your career, It is extremely important develop an internal understanding of what is important to you. I find it to be an extremely positive experience to help a client develop a rock solid set of principles that they want to live by.
Self-analysis is critical for anyone who is seeking to lead an organization. Look in any major newspaper and you will be able to read of a corporate leader being investigated for an ethics violation. Many leaders with enormous potential have faltered because they did not spend the time to develop and write down their own guiding principles. Get a piece of paper and write down answers to these three simple questions:
• What is important to you?
• What won’t you tolerate?
• What will you defend?
There are no right or wrong answers and the list can be as long or short as you wish. Writing the answers down helps to engrain them in your psyche. If you simply think about the answers you are not engaged. Writing down the answers takes energy and helps physically and mentally to tie you into the process. If you feel uneasy about your answers, you should review your list and ask yourself why you came up with the answers. Are the answers what others want you to say? Are they really important to you? If you don’t know the answers to these three questions you may appear, at best, to be a ship adrift on a sea of ambiguity, and at worst, having a moral compass which quickly changes directions. Look at your list at least once a week.
Most develop guiding principles that are congruent with the organizations they wish to lead. Not surprisingly, some find that they are not happy at work because deep down their lists did not match what their company espoused. Some decided to move on and now have great careers in other companies. Others decided to stay and try to change their company’s culture from the inside. Regardless of the outcome, you have a responsibility to yourself and your organization to develop your own list of guiding principles.