Carey Lohrenz: Fearless Leadership

“I knew from the very beginning that I’d be an aviator. Flying was in my blood.”

That was the first thing Carey Lohrenz told me about herself. As the first female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, Lohrenz is used to working in fast-moving environments where inconsistent execution can generate catastrophic results. That kind of high-stakes, dynamic environment is a familiar one for IH/OEHS professionals, which is why Lohrenz is the perfect person to be the keynote speaker at AIHce EXP 2019. 

Lohrenz is no stranger to sharing her story and the lessons she’s learned over the course of her career. Before she takes the stage in Minneapolis, we wanted to sit down for a conversation to learn what makes her tick. 

AIHA: You're an inspiring leader and speaker, but I want to take it back for a minute: Could you tell us a little more about your personal and professional background?

Carey Lohrenz (CL): My older brother and I grew up playing with our dad’s silk maps and flight gear. We’d perform imaginary feats of daring and skill, pretending to be pilots just like our dad, a former U.S. Marine Corps aviator. After he left the armed forces, my dad flew for a major airline until retirement; my mom had been a flight attendant before having us kids. Given this heritage, my brother and I had no doubt even as kids that we were destined for the cockpit — and we were both right. I was always drawn to the U.S. Navy because I loved that its focus was mission before self. And I knew I wanted to be a naval aviator — a coveted title even among men in the field. For a woman, especially in the 1990s, aiming for that goal seemed almost silly. 

Nevertheless, it’s what I wanted. 

AIHA: It sounds like not much was going to stand in your way! The AIHce EXP welcomes industrial hygiene/occupational health professionals of all levels. So, I’m curious: What was the most unexpected but helpful piece of advice you received in the early stages of your career?

CL: Actually, that came from my dad. It’s important to understand that, on your journey, people will tell you to give up. They’ll say you aren’t cut out for “this kind of work.” But so what if they think so? Why should their opinion change anything? This is your life, your path. These are your dreams. There will be bumps in the road, but there will also be awesome, unforeseen opportunities. 

And more often than not, as my dad used to say, “Those who tell you ‘You can’t’ and ‘You won’t’ are probably the ones most scared that you will.” So go for it anyway. 

AIHA: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your first book?

CL: Time and being vulnerable. I have four kids and a full-time job that requires extensive travel. Finding the time — prioritizing the time — to sit down and write was challenging. But you must make the time; you have to turn everything else off. I didn’t have a ghostwriter, and I wanted my book to feel as though we were having a cup of coffee together. 

The vulnerability piece comes into play for any creative: Will this be good enough? What if people don’t like it? Will it reach the people who need it the most? Is this helpful? Do I share personal info? How much? Am I enough? But you have to start. And then keep going, create that momentum, one sentence, one page, one paragraph at a time. 

AIHA: You’re pretty active on social media. What would you say to those who don’t think it’s a valuable addition to their career development?

CL: I’d say reconsider that position. Facebook isn’t just for your grandma anymore; Instagram isn’t just a repository for food or party pics, and Twitter can be a remarkably insightful space, and a great way to network and learn, if you curate your feed well. Social media can be an exceptionally helpful tool to share your story or your company’s story. Pick a single platform to start out, one where you think you can be consistent and where your customers are, and think, “How can I best serve them?” It doesn’t need to be perfect — mine certainly aren’t, and I’m not nearly as active as I could be — but do something. Done is better than perfect; you just need to start. 

AIHA: As the Navy’s first female F-14 pilot, you’re no stranger to the challenges of being a woman in the workplace. As far as we’ve come, women are still less likely to take charge of their own career advancement. What are some tips for being one’s own advocate in the workplace?

CL: Stop flying under the radar. Playing small serves nobody. As uncomfortable as it may be, raise your hand before you are ready. Knowing your value, speaking up, and not flying under the radar — that is what fearless leadership is about. 

AIHA: What do you see as the most prominent management mistake C-level executives make in today’s business environment?

CL: One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader is to put your self-interest ahead of the best interest of the team or of the organization you lead. I share this with C-level leaders because it’s not a perspective they hear often — no one ever wants to tell the emperor he or she has no clothes. Leadership is not about titles, positions, or glory. The best kind of leadership is about setting an example; it’s about influence, integrity, inspiration, and courage. 

Also, too many executives seem to be laser focused on known risks without leaving space for the speed of change. The speed of change means we can’t do business the way we’ve always done it. We are asking our teammates to be innovative while at the same time not tolerating any mistakes along the way. So leaders become stuck and paralyzed and try to just hold on to what they’ve got. 

AIHA: Let’s look ahead: IH/OH is a pretty regulated industry, which shifts and evolves with the business and government landscape. What advice would you give to leaders who must stay vigilant to succeed?

CL: Know your purpose and stay focused on what matters.​

Join your peers for Carey Lohrenz's keynote on Monday, May 20 in Minneapolis, Minnesota at AIHce EXP. Register today and save up to $200 through our Stay & Save discount.

Berrak Sarikaya is a natural conversation driver with an undeniable belief in the power of community. A proven content strategist and speaker, she resides in Seattle, WA. Follow her on Twitter.​​​​​

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