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Commentary & Analysis

What Do the Navy’s Blue Angels Have to Do with Print?

I grew up in the shadow of Navy base Moffett Field in Mountain View CA, and later lived near Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth NH, and had the opportunity to see many Blue Angels shows and practice sessions. So it was quite an experience to hear from John Foley, a retired U.S. Navy Commander who led the vaunted Blue Angels, a keynote speaker at Dscoop.

By Cary Sherburne
Published: April 13, 2017

I attend a lot of conferences, and hear many keynote speakers deliver “canned” talks that sometimes don’t seem to have much relevance to the audience. That certainly wasn’t true of John Foley, retired Navy commander who led the Blue Angels team earlier in his career (he retired in 1999 after 17 years of service). This was one of the best keynotes I have ever sat through! A big thanks to Dscoop for securing such an inspirational speaker. I wasn’t alone --- the entire audience was spellbound. And there was lots of video of the Blue Angels flying interspersed throughout.  Did you know that sometimes those planes are as close as 18” apart? Talk about operational excellence and no room for error!

So what does this have to do with print? He talked about being – not in the top 1%, but in the top 0.01%, where it is not about process, but rather about the mindset of a champion. He talked about the importance of sustaining excellence under conditions of change – and we’ve certainly had change in the printing industry! He suggested that as leaders, you must care deeply about your customers, your teammates and yourself. He also talked about being in the moment. During debriefings, his teammates always ended their comments with “I’m glad to be here.” How many of us say that to ourselves – or to anyone – each and every day?

Foley said, “Dreams hit you in the heart, not the head but you’d better have a strategy, a plan to connect heart and head. Otherwise there are a lot of unrealized dreams… at the top 0.01%, something else kicks in, a different mindset, a different vocabulary, a different way of thinking. We all talk about beliefs; that’s what you ask of each other, your customers, your family, to believe it you … let’s see what’s possible when you surround yourself with others who not only have a high commitment but a high belief.”  He also pointed out that leadership is harder from the back.

And he identified 4 themes that leaders in the printing industry – or any industry – should live by:

  1. Beliefs, vision, buy-in, inspiration. It’s a continuum. And it involves change which can be scary. Scared is awareness – trust your intuition. Scared says I am going to lean in but be smart and aware. Fear means you are going to run away. He stressed the difference, and stated that purpose is the differentiator, a purpose that is larger than self is where the energy comes from. And Innovation is also critical – it’s one thing to have yourself operate at a whole new level, but how do you get your team there?
  2. Brief, plan, prepare, focus. If you can learn how to focus, you can focus that energy anywhere and bam, you have power. Watching the videos of the Blue Angels flying certainly brought that home. Talk about focus. Talk about power. He spoke about the need to get to unconscious competence – those pilots certainly have. Creating a new habit, he says, takes repetition of about 66 times. He advises, over the next 66 days, ask yourself, do you have a happy thought when you wake up? But optimism isn’t enough alone; you have to have a plan. And focus on trust; if you can increase trust, execution will follow. Is #gladtobehere part of your daily routine?
  3. High trust contracts, verbal and non-verbal commitment. You say to your people, or your family, or your customers: If you are where you need to be, I don’t need to know. But if you aren’t, I need to know because we have to make corrections. This was in evidence in the Blue Angels debriefing videos he showed. And remember, each person’s report ended with #gladtobehere.
  4. The debrief is the least done in business, according to Foley. A #gladtobehere debrief is part of the process of getting better – how do we look at what’s going well and what do we need to fix.

According to Foley, #gladtobehere is the secret sauce. Get it into the DNA of your team and your life.

Again, thanks to Dscoop for acquiring such an inspirational speaker. If you haven’t heard John Foley speak, I hope you have the opportunity to do so. If you are interested in more insight, visit http://www.gladtobehere.com/. I hope you can take some of these thoughts and translate them into personal and business growth!

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.


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