Words of Wisdom from the Summit Part I: Leadership Lessons from the Flight Deck

At the last Global Summit, we hit the jackpot in our keynote speakers. We had fighter pilots, CPOs, Ph.D.s and MBAs...we had practitioners, motivational speakers and authors...and we had people who have viewed things from the trenches and seen them from the sky. In each, we received pearls of wisdom...anecdotes to apply in our daily lives and corporate positions. In this series, I'll try to capture some of the key messages our general sessions provided. We kicked off the event with Carey Lohrenz, a former U.S. Navy Tomcat Fighter Pilot. Her session was inspiring and had the audience scribbling furiously, trying to capture her lessons from the flight deck that we could carry into the business world. As the first female fighter pilot, Carey learned to thrive in adversity. Some of the more poignant things I took away from her presentation...and my interpretation of how they apply to those of us in civilian clothing:

  • Lose sight, lose the fight. It is clear what this means in a fighter jet, but perhaps even more obvious in business. Having a vision and keeping it at the forefront is key to succeeding.
  • One thing that makes dreams impossible to achieve is the fear of failure. Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take." If you are afraid to even try because you're afraid you may fail, you are guaranteed to miss opportunities. I have often said this to my kids with regards to sports (i.e., "you can't score if you don't take a shot"), but it's equally true in the business world. You can't succeed at something if you don't try it.
  • It’s what you do when you fail that matters. Let's face it...no one is perfect and we are all destined to fail at some point. But how you deal with your failure and what you learn from it are what will define you as a leader. It's not the failure people will remember...it's the character with which you handle your failure.
  • Great teams always embody two qualities...belief and trust. Never is this more true than when you are a fighter pilot and have a wingman flying 18 inches from your jet...but it can be applied in the corporate world also. Great teams are made of people who believe the members of their team are always acting in good faith and trust that they will do what they say they will do. Always.
  • Question the voice that says "I'm not ready yet." Are you really not ready...or just afraid you might fail? Lohrenz suggests that you think deeply about this and find another way to make yourself ready. And if you still think you’re not ready, read the "fear of failure" messages above.
  • Don't give feedback that isn’t actionable. Think about it...when someone comes to you with a complaint about something AND presents it to you with a possible solution, aren't you more amenable to listening?
  • Lead with courage and make decisions based in integrity. This one speaks for itself. Being a leader isn't always easy and frankly it doesn't always make you popular...but if you want people to actually think of you as a leader they want to follow, you must be someone they trust and someone who makes choices with integrity.

If you take some of these anecdotes and think about how you can apply them in your everyday roles, my bet is that you will have people who are ALWAYS willing to be your wingmen.

Sarah Holliman, Vice President of Marketing, SIG