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#gladtobehere – the attitude of gratefulness and thankfulness of our opportunities, for the people around us, and for life. – John Foley, Blue Angels

I had the privilege this week to hear John Foley, former lead solo pilot for the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, as one of the keynote speakers at a technology conference I was attending.  While I had known about the Blue Angels, I hadn’t ever heard of John Foley.  And I certainly hadn’t considered how what they do as pilots could relate to me as a product management leader.  Needless to say, I walked away from that session with some tidbits of knowledge that challenged me, but also encouraged me as a leader.

There is no way for me to capture everything he discussed, but here are some of the main points, as well as a few resources where you can dig deeper if you’d like.

To start with, John Foley referenced the performance pyramid.  And while he didn’t use tperformance pyramidhis explanation in his talk, it is easiest way to get the point across.  Think sports for a moment.  The majority of children are at some point involved in youth sports activities.  Many of them go on to compete through high school.  A few of them are good enough to play in college.  But only a small percentage will eventually become professional.

John used this pyramid in the context of leadership and performance, asking the question what do those at the top of the pyramid do differently?  To answer the question, he described an approach many follow call the Diamond Performance Framework.

  1. Beliefs – What is the vision? How do you as a leader provide clarity and commitment to that vision?  More importantly, make sure the purpose is something bigger than you, something everyone will believe in.
  2. Brief – How do you prepare and plan for the vision?  How do you focus the team on the objectives such that everyone is aligned on the same focal point? How are you communicating?
  3. Contracts – How are you building trust amongst the team to achieve greater levels of execution and success?  How is your team organized such that each member understands their role and how what they do contributes to the greater cause?
  4. Debrief – what is your system for continuous improvement?  How do you create an environment of open communication, that reinforces greater levels of accountability, trust and teamwork?

There are many videos on YouTube you can watch from John, but I especially appreciated this one from his talk on trust … especially the part about the need for the leader to adjust when things are off.  That’s a different perspective than the one we often find in corporate America!

All of the above is sound advice that can easily be applied to our roles in leadership.  But the thing I walked away with the most was the #gladtobehere mantra.  I can’t do any better in describing it than John did … but this just resonates with me!

I mentioned that phrase near the start of this piece; it is important to me because it symbolizes a greater truth that flows throughout the lives of everyone who takes high performance to the highest levels. Most high performers articulate it, even if they don’t use that exact phrase. And all high performers – every one of them – lives it. They rejoice and celebrate, looking at the world through a lens of wonderment and joy. For a Blue Angel who returns to earth 300 times a year mentally exhausted and three to five pounds lighter from the loss of sweat, it can literally mean, “I’m glad to be alive.” But on a day-in, day-out basis, it’s a phrase that ultimately captures the essence of living and working for something greater than ourselves. It is an expression of our inner joy over our outward purpose. It is an attitude of gratefulness that expresses itself in simple acts of thankfulness and generosity.

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