Nothing To Fear But Yourself: Female Leadership Tools From A Fighter Pilot

Carey Lohrenz says all you need is 20 seconds of courage at a time.
Carey Lohrenz says all you need is 20 seconds of courage at a time.

The inside of a F-14 tomcat cockpit is not that much different than the workplace.

And Carey Lohrenz would know.

The country’s first female fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy and now performance expert and leadership development trainer says, “Too often women try to conform and not tell people they are kicking ass. They try to blend in. It’s a huge challenge.”

Lohrenz, who started her 10-year career in the U.S. military in 1989, and was the first female combat pilot flying in missions around the world in 1993, says, “I am struck by the parallels of military, aviation and business. Playing small serves nobody. You have to know your value and you must be willing to speak up and not fly under the radar.”

Lohrenz laughs. She means that literally.

A mother of four, who returned from the U. S. Navy with the title of lieutenant, Lohrenz is the author of Fearless Leadership: High-Performance Lessons from the Flight Deck, and agrees she has seen changes over the years for women leaders in many different arenas, from the military to business to global security.

What Lohrenz has found in her career is that women in the military do not want to be defined by their gender. “They do not want to be known as a female tanks driver, they just want to be known as a service member.”

That is true in any field—from journalism to businesses of all stripes. Why is the qualifier of “female” necessary?

The author and leadership expert serves as the closing keynote at the ASIS 2017 conference for 22,000 global security professionals in Dallas September 28, following speakers who include Mark Cuban and former President George W. Bush. This aligns with the mission of the membership organization.

“There’s a spotlight on diversity” in the global security industry, says Donna Kobzaruk, Women in Security Council’s  chair at ASIS and vice president and security manager, Midwest at Chase.

Global needs for security are very high, considering the very recent terrorist attacks in London, Paris, Barcelona, and even violence in Charlottesville and St. Petersburg, as well as  the threat of Internet leaks and attacks, such as recently with Equifax.

“Women in security are making outstanding inroads," she says, particularly in cybersecurity, where she says the percentage of women is about 25 percent. That is much higher than the physical security niche, with people protecting property, individuals and buildings or what Kobzaruk calls “guards and guns.”

Women in the security industry need “support and inspiration,” Kobzaruk says, and that means every woman can create her own personal “board of directors” that includes mentors and supporters who coach, network and advise.

“I don’t know how you look yourself in the mirror without supporting another woman,” Kobzaruk says.

Lohrenz agrees in the value of mentorship, but says keen self-awareness is crucial. What keeps women from advancing their careers from entry level to mid-career to C-Suite, Lohrenz says, is fear.

“You don’t need to be courageous all the time, just 20 seconds at a time. So what if someone tells you no?” asks Lohrenz. “Ask for it anway.”

This aligns with Power Leadership Tool #3, created by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. "Use What You’ve Got," the third of nine power leadership tools states, "What you need is almost always there. See it and use it with courage. Because power unused is power useless."

With the skills, instincts and passions, you can move forward. “You are lost when you are crippled by your fears and perceived limitations,” Lohrenz says.

For instance, she says, if given the opportunity to take on a leadership role, feeling overwhelmed may get in the way. To counter that, Lohrenz says, “Build your ability to work through the fear and do what needs to be done.”

Both men and women have that trepidation, Lohrenz suggests, but men may have a lower threshold of fear and do not feel they need to prepare as deeply as women feel they need to. “Men expect they will be successful and women prepare relentlessly. You have to raise your hand first,” she says.

This is what Lohrenz calls the “bias to act.” The bias for action revolves around a woman’s inclination for hesitation and a man’s inclination to forge ahead.

Counter this and “train yourself to act in scary situations. Train yourself to be a high performance leader," Lohrenz says.

This is where her experience as a fighter pilot comes in. “We are high-level risk managers,” Lohrenz says. “If we act extemporaneously, chances of us coming home drop. We are well-prepared with a high level of situational awareness. We want to be as prepared as possible and knowledgeable and act decisively.”

This is the opposite of acting quickly and  impulsively.

“Women need to understand that in order to get ahead, you don’t want to wait for the invitation to make a difference. Step into a challenging role when there is no guarantee for success,” Lohrenz says.

Thinking of the global security issues, both Kobzaruk and Lohrenz agree this is a good time for women to be in leadership roles around the world.

“We need diversity of thought, Kobzaruk says.

A new study released at the United Nations General Assembly “questions whether policymakers in five countries are equipped with the basic information they need to advance gender equality,” writes Abigail Jones in Newsweek.  

Equal Measures 2030, a global partnership of nine organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, conducted a survey of 109 policymakers in Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Senegal. Half were men, half were women, and they worked at every level of power—in central government and parliament, at the state and local levels, and as senior civil servants or in other influential fields. The results revealed that, when it came to key issues affecting girls and women, those in charge were ‘largely not confident in their knowledge of the facts.’” Jones writes.

“Even the best intentioned decision-makers can’t make the best decisions if they’re operating in the dark,” Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver, one of the Equal Measures 2030 partners, said in a statement, according to Jones.

“It’s hard to cite a statistic cold, but I think policymakers would be able to make a more educated guess on other issues, like economic growth last year or your biggest export industry in your country,” Alison Holder, director of Equal Measures 2030, told Jones.

“Absolutely women will be necessary team members for us to meet the challenges of the future,” Lohrenz says. “There is a danger in women underestimating their potential.”

And yes, naysayers are everywhere. This is not new.

“There will always be people who say you can’t do something, and ask, “Who are you to think you are good enough?” Lohrenz adds, “Go for it anyway.”