Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lessons in Leadership from the Flight Deck

Carey Lohrenz, a leadership and strategy expert, knows what it takes to win in one of the highest pressure jobs imaginable. She has spent 10 rewarding and challenging years planning, executing and debriefing complicated missions as the first female F-14 Fighter Pilot in the U.S. Navy.

Lohrenz doesn’t work in your typical office - she spends each work day in a $45 million jet working a very high stress role with a lot of moving parts. In less than two seconds she goes from 0 to 165 mph in her jet to bring men to a target and back again.

“That speed is physically exhausting so the hardest part is staying conscious, “she explained in her keynote presentation at PW&WCBA 2013 in Disney World. “Meanwhile you are responsible for communicating on three different radios to several different people in the air and on the ground.”

Working on top of an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous industrious worksites in the world. The job has a clear focus of mission– safely launching and recovering an aircraft. In order to complete each mission successfully, Lohrenz has to consistently exemplify stellar leadership skills.

“When you can leverage strong leadership skills, you can achieve growth and accelerate your career path.” she told the audience.

Here are some skills that Lohrenz developed to reach her goal:

Be the Catalyst
A catalyst is someone who can align people and make things happen faster. “That purpose, focus and discipline allow common people to achieve extraordinary thing,” said Lohrenz.
Also, having a winning attitude and commitment gets you far. How committed are your to your success and continued development? “If you lose sight, your loose the fight,” she added.

Be Tenacious
Early in her life, Lohrenz was drawn to doing something with an organization that put mission before self. She has to always be flexible, be able to adapt to ever-changing situations and overcome any obstacle, which she strongly advises people to do in any business.

The Commanding Officers had to identify only the people who were able to do this well. “They want to break us to get us to the point of understanding where we will break and be able to address those fears and challenges and work through them. The fear of failure is so paralyzing because it makes us pass up opportunities,” she explained. “But, breaking through this allows us to start reaching our potential.”

Be Committed to Excellence
Lohrenz really wanted to blend in and be one of the guys, but it turns out she became a pioneer in the industry. Because of this, she has learned how much perceptions matter, your personal brand, professional brand matters because it is how people perceive you.

“There can be a gap and you just need to know where you are in those gaps so you can address those perceptions,” she explained.

Lohrenz said she and her team are process people’ and tend to over-complicate things. They have highly effective processes of planning, executing and debriefing after the event. “We understood peoples’ roles and responsibilities so we can move easily into the execution phase,” she said. “In fact, one hour of effective planning can save you 200 execution errors, according to Harvard Business Review."

Be Resilient
Being a fighter pilot has its challenges. Lohrenz was used as a platform for “why we can’t have women fighter pilots” in an international discussion when she was just 24 years old She was pulled even out of her cockpit when the Navy chose to not support her because they thought the issue would simply go away. So, for a year and a half she was grounded and felt like her world was completely shattered.

“There were days that I felt like I couldn’t breadth. Everything I worked for was taken away from me,” she told us.

She later was given the opportunity to get back in the cockpit and fly admirals and generals, but it was a very different life than a fighter pilot.  Soon enough, she was back to where she was meant be as a fighter pilot.
“I stood up for what I believed in because the women came before me fought so hard and I knew women would be coming up behind me,” Lohrenz said.

Overall, her message today is: “Good enough is only your entry ticket into the game. Be innovative in your path to success that will get you where you want to go.”

So, be brave. Take risks. What are you going to do to make a difference?

Amanda Ciccatelli, Social Media Strategist at IIR USA in New York City, has a background in digital and print journalism, covering a variety of topics in business strategy, marketing, and technology. She previously worked at Technology Marketing Corporation as a Web Editor where she covered breaking news and feature stories in the tech industry.  She can be reached at Follow her at @AmandaCicc. 
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