Of all the things I have to look forward to at The PPAI Expo next week in Las Vegas, I am most excited to hear and meet our Education Day keynote speaker John Foley. Today, I will share a bit about John Foley through a recent exclusive Q&A with PPAI’s PPB magazine.
For those of you attending The PPAI Expo, be sure to hear Foley’s motivational presentation, The Path to High Performance” on Tuesday, January 3, from 3:30-5 pm in the South Seas Ballroom, Level 3 of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
When John Foley flew as a lead solo pilot for the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, and as a fighter pilot and Naval instructor pilot, he counted on discipline, trust and teamwork to ensure a triumphant outcome in this high-stakes environment. Today, using his Blue Angels’ experience as a model, Foley delivers 60 to 100 keynote presentations annually teaching audiences and companies how to engage teams, build trust and reach their highest performance and sustain it.
“I create a picture of what a high-performance team, organization or person looks like,” he told PPB recently, “and then we break it down so that it’s a combination of process and mindset that accelerates people’s performance dramatically and teaches them to sustain it. There’s a real ‘Wow’ factor. How do you take a 22-ton jet and fly it 36 inches from another —upside down—and how do you repeat that? The Blue Angels do it 300 times a year.”
Although Foley’s accomplishments are indeed praiseworthy (he graduated from the United States Naval Academy and holds master’s degrees in business management from the Stanford Graduate School of Business as a Sloan Fellow, international policy studies from Stanford University and strategic studies from the Naval War College), he’s had his share of disappointments and setbacks as well. Those have served to make him all the more grateful for what he has achieved. Talk with Foley for five minutes and his attitude of gratitude spills over into the conversation. To express his thankfulness for his many blessings, he created Glad To Be Here®, a foundation supporting charitable works around the world. Foley donates 10 percent of his speaker fees to charity—half to his client’s choice and half to the foundation which, to date, has given out more than a quarter of a million dollars.
He is also founder and president of CenterPoint Companies, which provides business performance training to Fortune 500 corporations.
What is the hardest lesson that you learned through experience?
You learn more from your failures than from your successes. I’ve had many setbacks. I got rejected from the Air Force academy—they said I wasn’t physically qualified. I overcame that. I played football at the Naval Academy and, while I lettered for two years, I never achieved as much as I could have. My belief level wasn’t high enough. I limited myself there. One day while flying jets, I shot a missile by mistake. I got grounded and went through the whole Navy process. I learned that I’d gotten complacent. They could have fired me but didn’t. You learn from your mistakes. I started a company that was going to be the NASCAR of aviation and it physically blew up on 9/11.That was a setback that allowed me to start the company I have now.
When was your lowest point and how did you get through it?
I went through a divorce, and I learned so much from that. I also learned you don’t point the finger at anyone else because there are three pointing back at you. I’ve had some personal setbacks, too. When that company blew up, I was $400,000 in debt. I worked myself out of that hole. Now I have a very successful company. Those are the kinds of things I’m grateful for. I’ve changed my view now, too. I look inside myself and ask what I could have done differently to change the situation.
How do you regain trust once it has been broken?
Trust is the key to execution. Do you do what you say you are going to do? You won’t get anything unless you give trust first. If you want teamwork, you have to demonstrate teamwork. If you want people to be passionate, you have to be passionate. When trust is broken, our natural reaction is not to trust that person. The opposite is what we need to do—extend trust. You earn trust every day. As a Blue Angel, you are expected to fly the jet a certain way, lead the formation, be on time, and be physically and mentally prepared. Trust is created mostly by your actions, not by your words. I live that every day.
How can we stay focused, on task and on goal in our everyday work situations?
I call it the Glad to Be Here debrief, and I use visualization to stay focused. I’ve trained my mind to wake up happy. I do that with gratitude. When I first wake up, I think about what I’m grateful for. Then I reflect back to what happened to me in the past 24 hours and project forward 24 hours, and think about what I’m grateful for. I do this every day. For example, in preparing for this interview, I didn’t think about the questions. Instead, I spent time thinking about how I could make this better for you. I want you to be successful—that’s my motivation. That’s the way to look at life.
What is the one accomplishment on your bucket list that has eluded you?
I don’t have a specific list. I’ve accomplished a lot of things, but I’m not yet satisfied. I’m always looking to get better. At this point in life, it’s less about me and more about what I can do to help others. I started the Glad to Be Here Foundation where I donate 10 percent of my fees to charity. What I really want to see is the world come together. We are more similar than dissimilar. Let’s come together as one. That’s not done through ideological, religious or political means but through the core values we share. Everyone wants to be happy, healthy and secure, and have good futures for their children. That’s what I’m working toward, and that’s what we, as a company, want to achieve.
The session is free to all Expo registrants. Register for the show at www.theppaiexpo.org.