Flying at twice the speed of sound. Experiencing up to eight times the force of gravity. Landing with a split second stop on an aircraft carrier.
These experiences may not be part of a typical day for baking industry executives, but they are relevant in providing leadership lessons for anyone facing disruption and extreme competition.
That was the message of Carey Lohrenz, who was the first female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. She delivered the opening keynote presentation during the ATBI Breakfast at the American Bakers Association Convention in Naples, Fla. earlier this month.
“In a chaotic environment you need to be clear on everyone’s purpose,” she said. “You need to explain how your team can align their actions and operate with excellence. If you lose sight, you lose the fight.”
Lohrenz, who is now an executive coach and author on leadership, relayed a series of daunting challenges in her career journey. These ranged from facing intense flying missions to dealing with a male-dominated military culture that limited the paths for women.
The Teamwork Imperative
Lohrenz emphasized the importance of building resiliency and fostering teamwork as ways to overcome challenges.
“You need to be a fearless leader with tenacity and integrity,” she said. “You must figure out how to bring others on board and get your team to become resilient.
It’s not a matter of whether things will go bad, it’s when, so build resiliency now.”
Success relies on “making your teammate look good, and trusting in your teammates that they are working to make you look good as well.”
In the cockpit, she was inundated with information, simultaneously managing some 350 dials and switches to synthesize data.
“Welcome to my office, the cockpit of a $45 million fighter jet,” she said. “We are responsible directly for leading 250-300 sailors or marines with assets valued at around one billion dollars. We are always feeling task overloaded.”
Living the ‘80 percent rule’
In such an environment, seeking perfection isn’t realistic. Lohrenz emphasized the ‘80 percent rule.’
“You need to move forward with uncertainty and clarify the complex,” she began. “Then you need to debrief every day, which allows you to move forward knowing that 80 percent is good enough, because you’re always integrating new lessons immediately.”
It’s also helpful to seek out fresh alternatives for challenges. Lohrenz relayed a personal story in which her military career was being stalled because of restrictions on women becoming flyers. She was given a choice of leaving the Navy or choosing a non-flyer career path. Instead, she pursued a “third choice” of outperforming in her training and biding her time until the government lifted restrictions on women flying in combat missions.
“Sometimes you need to find a third way,” she said. “If you don’t, someone else will grab your customer, vendor or client, because you didn’t hang in and stay gritty.”
Leadership by Action
Many of Lohrenz’s lessons are relevant to both the military and the business world.
A case in point is dealing with conflicting information and uncertainty. There’s a big temptation to wait on decisions until things become clearer, but that is usually a bad choice, Lohrenz said.
“Only those who take action in the face of the unknown will remain relevant,” she said. “Even if it’s not the right decision, taking action is key, because it provides the chance of adjusting to a changing environment”
Lohrenz urged ABA Convention attendees to move forward in their business and personal lives by experimenting with taking action as a follow-up to the event.
“Just do one thing that scares you each day for the next 30 days,” she said. “Something that puts a pit in your stomach, or a lump in your throat, because you’re operating a little bit differently than you did before. When you do that, and when you start asking teammates to operate a bit differently, they will have seen you do it, and they will be willing to step up as well. You will inspire them. Be fearless.”
-About the Author- David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, food industry expert and speaker. He currently is the principal of David Orgel Consulting LLC, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries.