Fearless Leadership:  Lessons From a Female Fighter Pilot

Fearless Leadership: Lessons From a Female Fighter Pilot

June 17, 2015
Business Skills

by RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

The keynote session at last week's FMI Connect show was lead by Carey Lohrenz, one of the first women to fly a fighter jet into combat as a member of the Navy.  When she first joined the Navy, women were not allowed to fly in combat.  This changed during her tenure, and through her experiences Lohrenz learned much about what she calls fearless leadership. Her advice aligns well with the retail industry and dietitians working in this space.

Carey's leadership advice:

  • 75% is good enough. In the military and in retail, you have to have a bias to act as these are environments that are constantly changing. Seeking perfection can paralyze you, and if you wait too long to act, you may have missed out on capitalizing on a trend, partnering on a key promotion, using available vendor dollars, or securing a stretch work assignment as a part of your career grown.
  • Focus on the big goal. When you're flying a $45 billion dollar jet, taking off and landing from a vessel in the ocean, you have to shut out all the distraction and focus on the goal. In retail, you need to have a line sight to the ultimate goal, and to ensure team members have this same focus.  Distractions occur every day, but it's about spending the majority of your time and your best time focused on the big picture goal.
  • Diluted focus is diluted power. Similar to the previous learning, Lohrenz stressed the importance of understanding your purpose and being effective at articulating your vision to ensure everyone in the organization knows what matters. In retail, there can be a tendency to allow everyone else's priorities become yours. If this happens, you end up being mediocre instead of great. As a retail dietitian, no matter your level, success will come to those who have a strong and clear vision, can articulate it, and stay focused on your priorities -- which can encompass others' priorities.
  • Courage is the 20-second sprint. Tenacity, the 5-hour marathon. Whether you're the first RD hired by your retailer or you have a innovative concept that many say can't be done, tenacity is essential for retail RDs to build a successful career in this industry. Don't let daily set backs get you down and prevent you from moving forward; stay focused on each step that gets you to the end goal.
  • The ship is always going to be in a turn. Be agile, don't wait for an invitation to make a difference. Just like in the Navy, things are always changing in retail. From buyer movements to industry consolidations to new ideas on health and wellness, it's a constant whirlwind of movement. Leaders will see the opportunity in this movement and take advantage of it, for the betterment of the company and their own careers.
  • Fear of failure can paralyze you. The true sign of leadership is how you react when something goes wrong or when you fail. Part of the peak performance process is recognizing failure and knowing what you will do when it happens. The retail industry is new to most dietitians working in this space, and there are bound to be setbacks and failures. Handle them with grace and dignity as others will be watching how you manage in these situations.
  • We can survive solo as a high performer, but together we can win. A retail company has many functions to make it operate as seamlessly as it does. Many people in these roles know your shoppers well and how to effectively sell to them. Partnering with these functions and colleagues will expand the scope of retail dietitians, helping them more effectively meet the shoppers' health and wellness needs and positively impacting the company's business.
  • Sometimes you need to step up and ask for what you want. After flight training, Lohrenz was told she could either take a non-flying job or leave the Navy as the law didn't allow women to fly in combat. She went back in and asked for a third way for things to be done. They found a role for her as a flight instructor, which she held until women were allowed to fly in combat. Whether it's your salary or bonus structure, reporting relationship, an amazing program idea you have -- sometimes you need to just ask for what you want.


To learn more about Carey's leadership lessons and apply them to retail, read her book Fearless Leadership.