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Former Combat Pilot to Discuss Women’s Leadership

September 6, 2013

On Sept. 9, Simmons College will host its first ENCORE series, bringing back 2012 Simmons Leadership Conference speaker Vernice "Flygirl" Armour, the first African-American female combat pilot and author of
Zero to Breakthrough: The 7-Step, Battle-Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals that Matter.

Below, "Flygirl" provides insights on leadership style, her philosophy of creating a "breakthrough mentality," and some of the women who have inspired her.

How would you describe a "breakthrough mentality"?

Breakthrough mentality, simply put, is refusing to settle, even in the smallest moments, and demanding a breakthrough life, career, or experience. I like to compare a breakthrough mentality with a "MacGyver mentality." How can we save the world with a little bit of bubble gum and Duck tape? I remember watching countless episodes of MacGyver. In each one, he always came up with some crazy breakthrough solution to get himself out of a very tight spot, most of them life threatening. If we work together and make a concerted effort, our teams can also come up with innovative solutions that create amazing breakthroughs for our bottom line.

Do you think women lead differently than men? How so?

Women and men lead the same in many ways, and differently in probably just as many. Countless research has been done documenting and proving that men and women think differently. But, it would be crazy for me, or anyone else, to categorize all women in the same box. There are many factors: environmental, cultural, experiences, etc., that come into play that impact how women lead. Bottom line is women are just as capable (if not more!!!) than men to be amazing leaders. When we step up to the plate, realize our worth, move toward the vision, and execute, mission accomplishment isn’t far away.

What do you see as some of the most common ways that women hold themselves back from leadership?

The number one way I have seen that women hold themselves back from leadership is fear. Fear of not knowing enough, being enough, being strong enough. Whatever the "not enough" is, it’s one of the strongest limiting beliefs I have ever seen. It has been known to keep people trapped in mediocrity for years. I like to say: "Transform your fear to fuel" and take bold steps into action. This is also one of the issues I am tackling in my next book "The Gutsy Leader." Sometimes moving forward means taking a risk, but not a haphazard risk. Thought, preparation, assessments, experience; many things go into the decision, but you feel it in your gut and it takes guts to execute. If you look at the path of any successful leader or company, at some point they made a gutsy move. We can either stay tucked and trapped in fear, or we can move boldly forward and create the breakthrough we’re looking for.

What women leaders do you admire - and why?

I admire Lt. Col. Denise Williams because she reached out to me as a brand new officer and said let me help you on your path. She didn’t baby me. She gave it to me straight. Sometimes she was soft and sometimes she was hard. She gave me the guidance I needed at just the right times. I admire Bessie Coleman and Dr. Mae Jemison. They broke the barrier for women of color in flight and I am walking in their footsteps. Dr. J has always supported me and given me sage advice in critical moments and wrote the forward for my book. I admire my grandmother and great grandmother. These women laid the foundation for who I am today. Their strength and philosophies on life run through my veins.

What is the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

The best advice anyone ever gave me was to remember that everything happens for a reason. As my great grandmother, Dr. Falls, would say, "Somethin’ GOOOOOD’S gotta come out of this!" Living by this philosophy has helped me maintain the mindset to keep moving forward to actively create the space for my good. There is a difference between hoping and knowing that the best is yet to come. When I hear people say your attitude determines my altitude, I wholeheartedly agree. The question I like to ask is: What are you creating?!?!