Carey Lohrenz

  • Stephen: Coming to you live from Chatterbox Studios in downtown Memphis, it's Stephen Kirkpatrick with Executive Speakers on Speakers. I've got the first female F-14 fighter pilot, Carey Lohrenz, on the phone with me today. We're gonna be talking about managing fear, high-performing teams and how you get a call sign. It's decorative gourd season. It's awesome. Let's go.

    We're so excited to have Carey Lohrenz. Carey was the first female F-14 fighter pilot. She's a leadership expert and keynote speaker, and she's flown combat missions worldwide. Carey, how are you today?

    Carey: I am awesome. Glad to be here with you.

    Stephen: Awesome, awesome. So what's going on in Minnesota that's good?

    Carey: Everything. Life is good up here in the frozen tundra. First of all, it's not frozen ... yet. So that's good. But life is good.

    Stephen: But winter is coming, as they say.

    Carey: Yes, winter is coming. So we're all starting to prepare for that.

    Stephen: Hey, so first question for you. So, what is one thing that was awesome about being a fighter pilot that people wouldn't probably think of? What's one of the benefits of being a fighter pilot?

    Carey: So ... two things. I would think that ... sometimes ... one of the most amazing things is that, as scary as it is to land on an aircraft carrier at night, one of the advantages is being thousands of miles offshore where there's no ambient light. When we would have to stand overnight watches ... So middle of the night, say 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM ... and you're sitting strapped in your airplane on an alert five, it feels like you are sitting in a bowl of stars. Because it's crystal clear, and everywhere you look there are just thousands and thousands of stars. I know, probably an unexpected response, but it's pretty cool.

    Stephen: That is cool. That's really cool. Now, most people probably don't know this, but the United States is actually the only country that lands on aircraft carriers at night. Is that correct?

    Carey: That is correct. United States Navy and Marine Corps fighter pilots are the only people who will dare land high-speed fighters on an aircraft carrier at night. Nobody else will do it.

    Stephen: So why is that? Is it just the risk? And what does that say about, I guess, our military ... that they're willing to take that risk?

    Carey: Well, it can say a couple of things. So, we do it because it allows us to be where we need to be at all hours of the day, and we're not limited by our environment. It is exceptionally risky, and it takes an enormous amount of training and talent. And the stakes are so hight that if you're not able to meet all of those metrics, the risks are too great ... which is why nobody else in the world will do it.

    Stephen: That's interesting ... And I know, obviously, the title of your book is Be Fearless ... and I was re-reading the first chapter today, and in it you recount landing at night on an aircraft carrier and ... take us through that just a little bit, and some of the dangers that go into that, please.

    Carey: Oh my gosh. Every single landing is like a controlled car crash, and I'll tell you there is nothing scarier or blacker or more empty than launching off the front end of an aircraft carrier at night with no stars, no moon, no horizon, bad weather ... except for the palpable fear of knowing that you have to come back and land on that moving postage stamp at night, and it's not going to be where you left it. So there is a lot of fear involved in that, as you can imagine. It would be like going ... trying to do your job where you went and sat in your office chair and somebody slid you into a closet, put a handkerchief around you, started spinning you around, shaking your chair and then ... kind of banged on your head back and forth to add the turbulence, and said, "Okay, do your job." It's a challenge. So, there's definitely a lot of fear in that whole landing at night part.

    Stephen: Gotcha. So, obviously there's tons of training that goes into it. And one of the things you talk about in your book is, be fearless. And how does the training help you overcome that fear? Or does it?

    Carey: Well, I think it allows you to manage your fear, for the most part ... and figure out a couple of things. Not only how to ... How do you overcome that fear of failure? Because there are going to be multiple times during any flight that things are going to go wrong. So how do you overcome this enormously paralyzing fear of failure? So there's that part of it. And the other part is, is trying to get you to understand ... and developing the skillset ... of focusing. And that is critical, because what oftentimes ... And whether this is in the military or in business ... what looks impossible ... And sometimes the goals that we're given by our boss, by our manager, even by the marketplace ... Even our dreams can feel equally impossible. Really, you're trying to land on a ship at night, right?

    So understanding how you focus, and how can you push yourself beyond what others tell you you can do; what you're capable of. And even what you even think you can do. So, that belief system is really critical; because we can't succeed without that. We can't achieve a high level of performance without having that belief that we can push ourselves, and still fail and still be successful ... without having to seek permission to do so, if that makes sense.

    Stephen: It makes total sense, and that's a great response. I think for me, what really nailed it home how hard it was to land on an aircraft carrier was whenever I heard you say that a lot of times, whenever you're coming into land, you see the propellers of the ship. And I didn't realize how much an aircraft carrier moved in the ocean up and down.

    Carey: It's terrifying. The first time you see the back end of an aircraft carrier up out of the water during the daytime, and the landing signals officers ... the guys on the flight deck tell you to, "Keep it coming," you're convinced that you're gonna die on a day that's perfectly sunny, everything seems awesome ... blue skies, and you're like, "I'm going right into the jaws of death. I can't believe I'm here." So, it's very humbling.

    Stephen: Well, it's humbling, but I think too ... there's a certain amount of trust that has to be there with your teammates. Because like you said, you've got your teammates ... who are on the ground, the flight crew, saying, "Keep coming, everything's good." And you've gotta believe them even though everything in your mind is saying, "Oh my gosh, I've gotta pull up. I'm gonna go into the back of this ship or go into the ocean."

    Carey: Oh, it's crazy. And what's fascinating about it is that working on the top of that flight deck, on the top of an aircraft carrier ... it's actually one of the most dangerous industrial work sites anywhere. And what is even more terrifying, certainly from a safety perspective, but also a leadership perspective ... is how dependent we are on teamwork, and that the average age on an aircraft carrier is 19 to 19 and-a-half years old. So anytime anybody talks about millennials and what they're not capable of ... kind of gets my hackles up, because ... go to the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and you watch an average age of 19 year-olds accomplishing amazing feats on a daily basis, and you'll start thinking differently about what young people are capable of.

    Stephen: Hey, Carey-

    Carey: ... But I digress.

    Stephen: ... Carey, what's a hackle? I've never heard that term before.

    Carey: Oh, "get your hackles up"? I don't know ... make you irritated? Get your-

    Stephen: ... Is that a Midwest thing?

    Carey: Maybe.

    Stephen: Maybe.

    Carey: It just means what you're irritated by. I never realized it was a Midwest thing, but maybe it is. Kind of like "all y'all" is a Southern thing. "All y'all" ... That's my favorite Southern phrase.

    Stephen: And you will hear that on this show many times. So, gotta tell you a funny story really quick. A friend of mine has this shirt. It has a single cactus, and it says, "You" ... two cactuses, it says, "Y'all" ... three cactuses, "all y'all." So there you go. It [crosstalk 00:08:43].

    Carey: There you go. It's perfect.

    Stephen: So, I want to ask you this question, going back to trust and leadership. So you've got these 19-year-olds, who you're basically placing your life in their hands. Where does that trust come from for you? Is it because you trust their training? Is it because you've worked with them so much? How do you build that cohesion? Or is that a necessity?

    Carey: Well, it would be easy to say it's just out of necessity, but you can't legislate or dictate trust ... or teamwork, or mutual support. You can't just throw a motivational poster on your office wall or on the side of a ship and go, "Just go do that." Right? So these aren't just buzzwords, but it's the way we have to choose to behave ... and very intentionally, from a leadership perspective ... every day. So we have teammates who are committed to excellence, who are constantly learning from people who are dedicated and invested mentors. So this isn't an assigned mentorship program; it's not a framework of, "Oh, you need to have four people that you're going to be mentoring or mentees." It is that ... From a day-to-day operational basis ... to establish a culture of excellence, everybody is constantly learning, and each person is critically dependent on the other people to step up and do their job.

    So it doesn't matter what color shirt you wear on the aircraft carrier, what department you're in, or even what your rank is. It is all about orienting on the successful completion of the mission. It's all about teamwork. So within that, it's this very unique blend of having individual high-performers who also have the mentality of cooperation and selflessness, and the ability to put the team first. And that has a dramatic effect on the effectiveness and the safety of our operations. And that's just as true for any other organization's performance. In order to have an effective team, or build teamwork within your team, you need to be able to trust each other and provide that mutual support and have open lines of communication.

    Stephen: Very good answer. So let me back up. When did you decide in your life, "Hey, I wanna be a fighter pilot?" What kind of went into that whole thing?

    Carey: Oh gosh. So I knew from the beginning that I would be an aviator. I didn't know what-

    Stephen: Really?

    Carey: ... it was going to look like-

    Stephen:  ... Five years old, you were like-

    Carey: ... Yeah, for sure.

    Stephen:  ... "I'm gonna fly?"

    Carey: Absolutely.

    Stephen: Cool.

    Carey: My dad flew in the Marine Corps, so he was a United States Marine. So my brother and I, who is just a year older than me ... literally grew up playing with all of my dad's silk maps and his really cool flight gear. And we'd flip ... He was stationed over in Japan for a little bit and bought a bar set, and we would flip over these bar stools in the dining room, and sit in them. So we'd make our little cockpits, our own individual cockpits ... as we would race each other, and compete against each other with our little helmets on, and I'm sure we were a sight to behold. So we were both kind of steeped in this, and yet it wasn't a path that my dad necessarily pushed either myself or my brother into. It was just something that we were aware of. Now, my brother ended up actually just retiring from the military ... but he flew his entire career.

    I think what was a little more challenging from my perspective ... Even though the path to becoming a pilot is a challenge for anyone, no matter how driven you are or how big your dreams are ... Being a female doing that had a few additional layers of challenge. As you can imagine, there were very, very few role models. So there was nobody to really research or look up to. I knew the WASPs had flown in the 40s, but then essentially it was as though women became invisible. But nevertheless, it's what I wanted.

    And there were people that said I was crazy, some who thought it was cool and other people who were like, "Oh, you seem way too nice. Why would you ever wanna do that?" So from a different angle, I think it's just important for anybody listening to understand that no matter your journey or no matter path, you will always have ... tell people that say ... that question your dreams, right? Or say, "Wow, I don't know that you're cut out for this." Or, "Why would you wanna do that?" Just to be sure that you ... don't put too much weight into somebody else's opinion. If it's something that you want to go ... This is your life and your path ... and go for it.

    Stephen: So what was it like, that first ... meeting you went into with fellow fighter pilots, the first training, when it's like, "Oh, hey. There's a female here." Were they like, "Oh, you can just put the coffee over there. We'll tell you when we're done." Were you accepted? Were some people like, "Hey, that's really cool" and other [inaudible 00:14:20] was like, "Why?"

    Carey: Yes, yes and yes to all of that. Going through flight school, there were a handful of us, but as the funnel narrowed, and going into the fighter pilot community there wasn't really anybody. So there certainly was that element of ... All of a sudden you show up and people are like, "Female fighter pilot; what is that?" Right? And because I grew up in the Midwest, there's this part of me where ... Everybody pretty much works up here. And I don't wanna say we don't have really strong gender roles, because I don't know that that's necessarily true ... but for the most part, everybody has a really strong work ethic. So if you wanna do something ... "Okay, so just go out and do it. And don't complain about it. If it's gonna be hard ... Yes it's gonna be hard. So what? Just go do it." So from my perspective ... and because I was young ... I couldn't really get my mind around some of the arguments because I'm like, "I don't really get it." The jet doesn't know the difference. Right? The jet doesn't know who's flying it. The jet just wants to go out and fly.

    So there were definitely ... back channel, and there were issues at stake ... that I had no idea why there was so much pushback. However, that being said, I think that probably no different than a lot of women right now who are in male-dominated environments ... So whether that's in IT or tech or finance, right? ... Working in the finance space ... women are gonna face these pressures to figure out, "How do you work through an all male-dominated environment?" There might be different levels of how extreme that is, but I think that a lot of women in those areas are experiencing some of the similar things that I went through.

    Stephen: So going through training, what was the hardest thing for you to overcome? Was it physical? Was it just the time log? Was it emotional? Was it overcoming fear? What would you say your greatest obstacle was that you had to overcome in your training?

    Carey: Well I would think that, not only for me, but probably for a lot of the people is your belief system, right? And what do you believe is possible? Because too often, what we believe we're capable of and what we're not capable of is ... Either that somebody else has told us that we can't do it, or we'll never be able to do it ... We get fearful; we start to doubt ourselves. Or we become distracted, because we're so overwhelmed. And one of the biggest challenges, I think ... when you think about these limiting beliefs and what your struggles can be are ... simply inaction. Because oftentimes people think, "Well, if I don't do anything, if I let somebody else go first, then I'll be playing it safe." But that actually puts you at greater risk. So I think that ... One of the big things that, certainly in the past that I took going through Aviation Officer Candidate School, and then through flight school, is that one of the key traits that everybody who was successful ... is that they developed a bias to act. And to act in spite of not knowing. To take action in spite of no guarantees of being successful. So, it's overcoming the feeling of staying safe if you just pull back and protect yourself.

    So I think it's those limiting beliefs that we have. The fear and kind of the B.S. stories and excuses that we give ourselves for why we won't be successful and why somebody else is successful.

    Stephen: So what's your call sign, Carey? What was your call sign?

    Carey: Oh, gosh. Well, I had several.

    Stephen: Wait, I thought you only had one call sign.

    Carey: I know.

    Stephen: Maverick was Maverick.

    Carey: Well, I know. And normally, that is the case. And to be clear, you don't get to pick your call sign. You either get your call sign for something really notable you did, something not so notable, or it simply rhymes with your last name. So I, for whatever reason, had a couple of different ones with different little pockets of some of the different groups of other aviators. But the main one that kind of stuck was Vixen. And I know that sounds super salacious and not politically-correct ... And nobody's call signs usually are politically correct, so let me share that with you ... And the more you push back on it, the harder it will stick.

    Stephen: I'm sure so.

    Carey: But it was because wherever we went on detachments, I was always one of the only females. So whenever we would go out to dinner at night, or we'd be socializing ... other women, their local women, would always think I was somebody's girlfriend. Which I wasn't, so they would always joke about that, and I'm like, "No, that's not happening." So again, it sounds really politically incorrect, but I've been married for 24 years and have four kids, so I'm pretty boring.

    Stephen: Oh, no. You're not boring, Carey. You're funny. Hey, four kids cannot-

    Carey: ... I'm not-

    Stephen:  ... Four kids cannot be boring. It can't.

    Carey: No, no. I'll tell you what, they keep me on my toes. I am really blessed. I've got four great kids, good attitudes ... super fun. So, I'm a lucky girl.

    Stephen: Hey, so I wanna switch gears with you really quick and talk a little about ... business of speaking. You spoke at ISB this past April, where I saw you live and you did an amazing job. One of the things you do, I think, is you connect really, really well with audiences. What are some of your keys to connecting with your audience whenever you're on stage to make sure that your points are hitting and that they're engaged?

    Carey: That's a great question. So, a couple of things. First and foremost, I think for me is ... a very, very deep understanding and position of not only gratitude, but that I know at the end of the day that even though ... Yes, I am a person who is on stage taking up that time and sharing a story with that audience ... but I'm very clear with my own internal compass that it's actually not about me. That if I can share something of value, and hopefully something ... a lesson, a piece of content, an idea ... that resonates with people, that causes them to think about something differently, or go do something differently ... or hold a different belief about themselves or the people they work with, then that is a win for me.

    So I always, always take time to do at least one or two conference calls before a presentation, before the organization has their meeting. And I really go through stuff. So I take the time to research their organization and the marketplace, so I understand that. But I also want to really have my mind around, "What challenges does this specific audience face? Maybe, what are some recent significant events? Or what separates their high-performance people from other people?" And again, "What are the issues or challenges?" And most importantly, I always want to understand, "What's the most important objective of your function?" Because that could be very different day-to-day and organization-to-organization. Whether it's, they just want something that inspires and uplifts people, and they want them to feel like as soon as they're done they can go out and just take over the world, be super empowered. Or other people might have very specific requests of, "Hey, we're struggling with the pace of innovation. How do we handle change? How can we do this?"

    So for me, getting great clarity and understanding ... You have to put that before the event ever happens, and have a true and a deep understanding of what that organization's challenges are and what their strengths are. Otherwise ... You know what, you're just showing up and you might as well crack open a can of Mountain Dew and say, "Hello, Vancouver" ... read the hotel you're on and ... And I know when I'm at events, and if somebody does that I sit there with my arms crossed, and the whole time I feel like I'm being played. So that's the point, or that's the position, that I come from.

    Stephen: So did you know that you always wanted to be a speaker after you got done with your military service? Or is that something that just kind of-

    Carey: ... Oh, heck no-

    Stephen: ... came about randomly?

    Carey: No, that was never my end goal. And I don't know that-

    Stephen: ... You're taking notes-

    Carey: ... 20 years ago-

    Stephen: ... as you land, "Oh I just landed on an aircraft carrier at night. I should think about this point, this point and this point [crosstalk 00:23:42] speaker afterwards."

    Carey: No, and it's funny because I think I'm a little more from a generation or a position of ... Again, I think it's a little bit being from the Midwest, or when you see World War II veterans who rarely talk about their experiences ... and anytime you see them in documentaries or in films they always say, "I was just doing my job." And it's only when they get amongst themselves that the stories start coming out, right? And the scary things that happened, or the lessons that they learned. Other than that, they definitely would keep stuff to themselves.

    So it's been a journey to understand how you share a story when for me, I feel like I'm really grateful for the opportunities that I have, and the value in the experiences that you have ... how they can impact somebody else and lift somebody else. That if you keep it all to yourself, then what use is that? So I never expected that I'd be on stage in front of 25,000 people or on stage in front of 500 people talking about this, but I am so glad I am. Because, I think it makes a difference. And it's a tremendous opportunity.

    Stephen: Well, you do. You're a good steward of the opportunity, I think. So, and with that, it is time for our most popular part of the show. It's time for Three Random Questions.

    All right, Carey. So here's the deal. I'm gonna ask you three random questions about something. If you get it correct, you get a ding. If you get it wrong, you get a buzz ... and your day is awful.

    Carey: Oh, no.

    Stephen: I know. So, little-known about Carey ... Carey served on the PTA with our lovely and talented Christine Adams from Executive Speakers Bureau. So we're gonna have three random questions about the PTA.

    Carey: Oh, fantastic. Bring it on.

    Stephen: All right. Question number one ... It's multiple choice. When was the PTA formed? Obviously, PTA ... Parent Teacher Association. When was the PTA formed? Was it A: 1933, B: 1914, C: 1945 or D: 1897?

    Carey: B.

    Stephen: B: 1914?

    Carey:  Oh, sure ... let's go with A.

    Stephen: A?

    Carey: [inaudible 00:26:21] A.

    Stephen: Okay, A: 1933.

    Carey: I have no idea.

    Stephen: Well, Carey; you gotta pick one. Come on.

    Carey: I know. Hold on, can I phone a friend?

    Stephen: No. No, there's no phone-a-friend in this. And you can't Google it either, okay? There's no Googling in this.

    Carey: [crosstalk 00:26:37] the same? I have no idea. I don't know. I'm so ashamed.

    Stephen:  I don't know what to do, Bob. I've never had someone just say, "I don't know." Okay, the answer-

    Carey: ... I don't know.

    Stephen: Okay, well I'm gonna give you a buzz ... and I'm gonna say 1897. It was founded in 1897.

    Carey: Okay, but see that's rule number one of leadership. If you don't know the answer, don't try to bull your way through it. Just say, "I don't know. But I'll get back to you."

    Stephen: Oh gosh.

    Carey: So hold on. Let me Google it. 'Cause maybe the PTA was formed at a different time up in the north land here. PTA formation ... No, I don't even know how to Google it. Go ahead. Next question. Let's see if I can be a winner on this one.

    Stephen: Okay, so it was founded in 1897 as the National Congress of Mothers. So it's name then turned into the PTA. Number two, another multiple choice ... What were first dues for the PTA? What were the first national dues for the PTA? Was it A: ten cents, B: five cents or C: a quarter. And this was in 1901 when they started doing dues.

    Carey: Oh, it has to be five cents. A quarter would have been like [crosstalk 00:27:44]-

    Stephen: ... Very good. Very good. [crosstalk 00:27:48].

    Carey: 50-50 now ... That would get me in Baseball Hall of Fame.

    Stephen: There you go. We're one for two. All right, question number three. There are five core values of the PTA ... five core values.

    Carey: Oh, for Pete's sake.

    Stephen: You'll be fine. You're gonna be fine. The first four are collaboration, commitment, diversity and respect. What is the fifth one, and I will give you a hint ... It starts with an A.

    Carey: Do I get a multiple choice?

    Stephen: No, you just gotta guess a word. It starts with an A.

    Carey: Say them again.

    Stephen: First four ... Collaboration, commitment, diversity, respect. What is number five, and it starts with an A?

    Carey: Collaboration ... Oh, my gosh ... Collaboration, commitment, diversity and respect, starts with an A?

    Stephen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Carey: You know what ... I would say ... A, A, A ... This is like Wheel of Fortune. I need a letter.

    Stephen: We talked about this-

    Carey: ... Is there-

    Stephen: ... earlier when we talked about teams, and it's a building block of a team.

    Carey: Authenticity?

    Stephen: Sorry. Accountability. Accountability.

    Carey: Oh, accountability. See, I was gonna say altruism. So it's been awhile since I've been on the PTA. That was ten years ago, so I'm probably gonna have to give back my Girl Scout badge now. I'm so sorry. So hopefully the PTA's not gonna be your next client, because if they were, I would know this.

    Stephen: Oh, gosh.

    Carey: But goll darn. I was thinking it was altruism.

    Stephen: Hey, you know what, that-

    Carey:  ... But that's a good one. Accountability's a good one.

    Stephen:  Well, you know, altruism ... Maybe we should email them and say, "Hey, we think you should change one of your [inaudible 00:29:34] core values to altruism."

    Carey: Because, Carey's slowly sliding off the Hall of Fame baseball roster here. Go ahead.

    Stephen: Hey, one out of three for your career is good. Hitting .333, you're in the Hall of Fame. So everything is fine.

    Carey, thank you so much for your time today. It's been so much fun getting to chat with you and learning about you. Carey's an amazing speaker. To learn more about her, go to our website, Put in Carey Lohrenz and you can find out more about her, video speech talks and all that kind of fun stuff.

    Carey, thanks so much for your time. Please come see us again, and enjoy the winter in Minnesota.

    Carey: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

    Stephen: Hey, everyone. Thanks so much for listening. I wanna thank my guest, Carey Lohrenz. To get more information about Carey, go to our website, C-a-r-e-y L-o-h-r-e-n-z. Learn about bio, speech topics and video. Big thank you to Chatterbox Audio Theaters and my producer Bob Arnold. Also, thanks to Ryan Scheeler and Podington Bear for providing our music. Thanks so much for listening. We'll see you next time.




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  • "I appreciate your recommendations.  In addition, you are always a pleasure to work with and understand the pains of an over worked meeting plann...
  • We truly appreciate the excellent support and attention to detail we have received from Executive Speakers Bureau.  They have provided us with so...
  • "As I mentioned before, your engagement model was incredibly easy to work with, and I know we came to you on short notice!  I would highly recomm...
    Capitol One
  • "I will be sure that all involved know what a wonderful resource you have been. The universe smiled on me when I discovered Executive Speakers and you...
    Ocala Eye
  • "It was a great pleasure to work with you in making this event a success. Your professionalism, attention to detail and response to all my questions a...
    Fellowship of Christian Athletes
  • "Everyone loved Bob and he was so nice on site. Thank you for all you did. The process was so easy and we will definitely work with you again next yea...
  • "I wanted to share with you feedback of my experience in working with Executive Speakers Bureau.. Very responsive and detail oriented.  When I wa...
  • "I shared with Kaplan [Mobray] that I had never had this type of experience with ANY vendor I have worked with in the past. Your responsiveness to urg...
    Gates Corp.
  • Thank you to both of you for everything surrounding Mr. Will as our special guest. I suspect, soon, I will be in touch regarding our next event. 
    Oxford Financial
  • "We not only went 3 for 3 but I'd say they were all home runs! Thanks for your help on the speakers. It was a key and very positive component of our c...
  • As always, you deliver excellent service. Thanks!
    Camden National Bank
  • "We loved our speakers. Thanks to you and your team for your outstanding service and thank you for your patience!"

    National Association of the Blind
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