All my life I’ve wanted to be among the Elite, the Best of the Best … a Champion.
Growing up in a U.S. Air Force family exposed me to constant travel, stressful environments and disciplined teamwork. Blessed to be a part of a loving family, thankful to have developed lifelong friendships, while living in trying times in America – we persevered. Perhaps through these experiences, I was shaped to be the resilient servant and reliable teammate that I’ve hopefully become.
Today, as a career information and communications technology sales professional – the lessons I’ve learned have helped fuel my career and aid in my success. Like many of you – I’ve had some highs and lows in my quest for the mountain top; BUT I’ll never quit fighting to stay there and help others reach their dreams and get to that perspective.
So … this offering is a lengthy narrative on Teamwork as it’s applied to the corporate world. In my opinion- no organization exemplifies teamwork better that the U.S. Navy Blue Angels – Flight Demonstration Team.
I call these Teamwork: 3 Cornerstones of the “Top 1% of the 1%”.
1. Choose from among the Best – established in 1946, the Blue Angels are chosen from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corp pilots, there is a rigid criterion to be considered.
To be considered for a coveted spot as a flying member of the demonstration team – minimum qualifications include: being a career U.S. Navy (or Marine Corp) pilot & officer with at least 1,250 hours in a tactical jet and be aircraft carrier qualified. Then you apply for entry in the program, if selected for additional consideration – gain and pass multiple exhaustive interviews by the current Blue Angels pilots… finally be lucky enough to be one of the three who are selected annually. After all of this you get to serve two years, represent the U.S. Navy – then at some point fly Jets #2-6 before returning to the Fleet.
One of the most recognizable former Blue Angels lead solo pilots is John Foley – a decorated naval aviator, former Naval Academy football player – turned motivational speaker/corporate trainer. A true representative of the 1% of the 1% of Navy & Marine Corps pilots.
Criteria to lead the Group (aka the “Boss”) is even more rigid – it requires that you have at least 3,000 hours in a tactical jet, have commanded a Navy combat jet flight squadron, survive the interviewing gauntlet and be selected by the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Air Training. When selected – for three years, you become the Commanding Officer of some 120 people including support teams and – you fly the #1 Jet … now how cool is that!
Last but not least, are the members of the Blue Angels that keep the Blue Jets ready to fly – the support, admin and medical personnel. These committed folks work 24×7 to keep the pilots and equipment in tip-top shape to perform all over America and the World on a grueling schedule. Meticulous, disciplined, highly intelligent & capable – they too are the One Percent of the One Percenters in their field and military career.
- Real world organizational application – when recruiting/hiring be extremely selective, have a defined process with clear criteria and a commonality among the aspirants that is respected and recognizable in the Industry. Have established leaders who are accomplished, effective, esteemed and continually capable. Always be fair and objective in determining who can join your organization. Look for the best of the Best, have a top to bottom organizational culture built on diversity – that attracts world class talent, insists on teamwork, character, integrity, trust & respect – and rewards them for performance in pursuit of excellence.
On these high performers, companies can build a sales culture serving its clients with demonstrable leadership | continuous innovation | outstanding performance.
2. Train, Refine, Improve and Perform (TRIP) – repeatedly with Enthusiasm! – The Blue Angels are known for their exhaustive training regime. For every show season flown, there are hundreds of hours of disciplined training required.
For the bodily aspects – there’s physical conditioning in the gym, as the high G force maneuvers performed in the Blue Jets without a G suit, would reduce the average aviator to a “puddle” and kill a regular human being. Lacking a G suit, conditioning is everything.
Flying sometimes at 700 miles per hour, often separated by only 18 inches between the next jet – while upside down… there is NO time for a headache or G induced blackout.
(Note: a G is the pull of gravity on the body; 1G = 1x your body weight, typical Blue Angel flight routines pull over 5 G’s repeatedly. So the G suit is used by combat pilots to protect the body from the effects of these forces by inflating/deflating to pump blood from the legs to the brain during the stress of high G’s. Blue Angel pilots do not use G suits due to their inflating/deflating attributes, which could cause erratic aircraft control movements as pilots rest their “stick arm” on their leg.)
In order to fly the performances – there is annual winter training in Southern California, where new and returning pilots hone skills learned in the fleet. According to Wikipedia – “During winter training, the pilots fly two practice sessions per day, six days a week, in order to fly the 120 training missions needed to perform the demonstration safely.
A typical week during the season has practices at NAS Pensacola on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The team then flies to its show venue for the upcoming weekend on Thursday, conducting “circle and arrival” orientation maneuvers upon arrival.”
Perhaps the most obscure part of the Blue Angel training is called “Flying the Chair”.
Repetition and visualization are the keys – on practice and show days, they arrive as a team two hours in advance – sit quietly in an isolated room and calm themselves. Once they conclude the preflight briefing, each pilot is sitting in a chair, closes their eyes – assumes a flying posture of hands on stick and throttle and the Boss begins to speak in a cadence that they will hear when they are flying. Led by the Boss (giving verbal commands) – they visually, imaginatively go thru several maneuvers just like they were in the Blue Jets during the show. Mental preparation of this sort is unprecedented and helps each pilot “train his mind’ for the upcoming task.
Each practice and show performance is followed by a two hour debrief where video is reviewed and each pilot – including the Boss – is critiqued on their performance. Absolute candor is required, recognition of and admission to mistakes is expected, areas of improvement are discussed and committed to. Each pilot enthusiastically expresses their support for the mission and the TEAM.
- Real world organizational application – high performance sales organizations and their supporting teammates should expect to train regularly. Whenever possible, the sales force should train together as a unit – as should the support org. Blending the sales & support org in training exercises is highly recommended. Given the technology available today, a video and web based training curriculum is readily customizable.
However, training is not merely vendor certification – it’s learning associated with key aspects of the job which when acquired/enhanced/reviewed and honed will help the Seller (Team-member) be more valuable to their customers & prospects and their company. It’s experiential – role playing, pre-customer call prep, business planning sessions, walk- throughs and post event debriefs are critical and should be fundamental components of the high performance sales orgs culture.
Appropriate physical and mental team bonding exercises and recreational activities should also be a part of the training routine.
Team training should be fun, create an atmosphere of trust, respect and mutual accountability.
3. Management should lead from within the Team as Servants & Leaders – much has already been written herein about the Blue Angels Commanding Officer – the Boss. It should be emphasized that he is always among the Team, since he is a pilot he trains with them in and out of the gym. He sacrifices his family time (if married) and enjoys leisure time with his crew. As the highest ranking officer – he is in constant touch with the leaders/managers of the support, admin and medical team members – as all of their lives depend on each others execution and commitment.
- Real world organizational application – it makes sense then that management of a high performance sales organization must serve their team.
Leveraging my own career of sixteen years of management experience; success in building revenues from launch to run rates over $54M in divisions of Global 1000, Fortune 500, INC.500 and startups.
I believe Management should epitomize the following:
- They must be responsible to see that the Team has the appropriate training to do their jobs.
- They must ensure the Team has the tools and a safe, productive work environment in which to perform.
- Successes must be celebrated, failures recognized and corrected;
- The Mission of the Team must come before any personal agenda the Leader may have
- They must be fair, accountable to the Team, capable of adding value to the effort, demonstrate unimpeachable character and integrity
- Be seen as a part of the Team – yet recognized as the authority in decisions requiring management
- Be willing to “take the hit” for the Team when corporate executives/upper management or the customer/prospect needs accountability
For more on the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels 2014 – visit ABC’s News – Flying with the Magnificent Six
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