Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pilot's advice to business owners: 'Lead from where you are, then you will fly'

Elizabeth McCormick ran just as many miles, did just as many push-ups and hovered in a helicopter just as horribly as any male pilot when she enrolled in a U.S. Army flight school in 1993.

The difference: She was the only female in her class.

So, what does her experience have to do with running a business?

When someone tells you no, say, 'why not?'" McCormick said to a conference room full of female veterans, businesswomen, spouses and active military personnel. "You've got to be your own cheerleader in life."

McCormick on Tuesday was the keynote speaker at a Central Piedmont Community College conference focusing on women veterans becoming business entrepreneurs.

She encouraged attendees to dispel negative thoughts. If you don't feel smart enough to run a business, figure out what it takes to feel smart, she said: Take a class. Hire a coach. Find a mentor.

Her other tips included:

  • While brushing your teeth in the morning, speak five positive words to yourself that represent what you aspire to be while you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror.
  • Practice makes permanent. Practice, she said, determines how you perform in your life and your business, and how you'll find gumption to show up everyday. 
  • Rest. Peak performance, McCormick said, "doesn't get the job done." Optimal performance does. "You deserve your best. It's up to you to make 'you' a priority. You have gifts that the world needs. What you have has value."
  • Take a risk: She dared attendees to do something different
  • Your 'flight plan' is your business: "You've got to own it," she said. "It's yours. You decide where it goes...you determine your future...you determine your goals."
An unhappy wife, McCormick caught what she calls a case of the "if he can do it, I can do it too" bug and enlisted in a U.S. Army flight school program. There, she had eight weeks to learn the ins and outs of operating a Huey helicopter.

Elizabeth McCormick
She faced a misogynistic flight instructor who often belittled her, calling her stupid and telling her each day that a monkey could fly better than her because she --and nearly every male student-- had trouble mastering helicopter hovering. Her requests for a new instructor were denied.

"Every place I went, opposition," she said. "Every place I went, it was 'no.'"

She finally met an instructor who taught her the right way to hover. She learned not to give up. The reason why, she said on Tuesday, rests with her "belief zone" -- the things she needed to tell and believe about herself to overcome her obstacles.

"I knew I was meant to be more than just a wife," she told ShopTalk after the conference. "I wasn't willing to settle."

Brenda Robinson

Much of McCormick's speech resonated with Brenda Robinson, the first female African American pilot in the Navy.

In 1978, she graduated from flight school and went into the Navy. She didn't make a fuss about her pioneer status, she said, choosing instead to focus 100 percent on her career. 

"Nobody knows me because I did not want the attention" from the public or her co-workers, she said. In the early 1990s, she began flying commercial airlines but retired after 35 years of flight experience.

Like McCormick, Robinson speaks across the country, encouraging students and seniors to identify and then achieve their goals. 

"Lead from where you are," McCormick said. "When you see a need, you must choose to lead. And then, you will fly."

Her next goal: Become the first female in the top 10 ranking of motivational speakers in the nation.

McCormick's BBFD acronym for business owners:

  • Can I do it Bigger than everybody else?
  • Can I do it Better than everybody else?
  • Can I do it Faster than everybody else?
  • Can I do it differently than everybody else?

CAN method for business leadership:

Communicate: Questions to ask yourself, she said, include: "Is (what I'm saying) clear? Is it concise? Do (employees) know they're understood?

Aviate: Take action, McCormick implored before relaying details of her harrowing flight amid a 1998 ice storm in New York. "You can't stop when there's a crisis. When things get really hard, that's when you show up."

Navigate: "Do you know where you're going?" she asked. Business owners, she said, should be comfortable with saying "No" to some opportunities so they can make room for the ones that help them move closer to their goals.


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Anonymous said...

Yesterday's conference was outstanding! It was wonderful to have a program focused on women veterans. The panel discussion earlier in the day was just as terrific as the keynote address. Thank you.