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Exactly What To Say When You’re Having Mission-Critical Conversations

Is there a better person to teach you about engaging in mission-critical conversations than a former lead solo pilot of the Blue Angels? 

John ‘Gucci’ Foley, a former pilot turned inspirational keynote speaker, knows exactly what to say and how to get the very best.

He frequently shares advice and stories from his incredible flying career with the Blue Angels, a flight demonstration squadron of the United States Navy. 

The advice he shares will teach you how you can use his airborne skills and techniques to achieve the same high-performance mindset on the ground.

Mission-Critical Conversations

A mission-critical conversation is anything that has a high impact or high consequence. 

The Blue Angels are skilled in executing mission-critical conversations. The same skills and techniques can be used for many other situations. 

This could be in a sales environment, in services, or in operations. You can relate it to any organization.

Clarity And Communication

Clarity and communication are essential, especially in the air. 

The Angels are required to communicate throughout, talking to each other via radio and coordinating every single maneuver. 

In a 37-minute airshow, they often do a staggering 30 maneuvers. 

Communication is an absolute must for a successful, safe performance.

3 Critical Steps

There are 3 critical steps to achieving this: communication before the show, airborne communication, and the after-show de-brief.

All communication needs to be clear and concise throughout.

Step 1

Mission-Critical Communication Pre-Show

Before every single show, the pilots and maintenance crews have an event brief. This is done so that all members know exactly what’s expected.

This pre-show attention is all about mental focus and careful preparation. 

Communication needed for a show is practised thoroughly around a table as if they’re actually in the air doing the maneuvers.

Step 2

Airborne Communication

Once airborne everything that has been practised prior to the event is carried out. 

Everyone checks in with their names and acknowledges that they know what is happening right before every stunt. 

The moves are so dangerous that precise instructions are the difference between success and potential death.

Step 3

After Show De-Brief

The de-brief is the most important mission-critical conversation. 

John often refers to it as the ‘glad to be here de-brief.’ As a team, you should review what happened and use it as an opportunity to grow together. 

There are 5 dynamics to having an effective and powerful de-brief.

  • Create A Safe Space – The conversations always occur in a safe environment with respect for one another.
  • No Ego – Check your egos at the door, humility is a must.
  • Lay It All Out – This is the time for honest and open communication.
  • Accountability – Not just as a group, but personal accountability too. Driving the ownership mentality that’s needed to grow.
  • Glad To Be Here – Showing appreciation and gratitude for each other mixed in with operational excellence.

Real World Application

These 3 steps are essential for the Blue Angels team, but you don’t have to be a navy pilot to benefit from the practice of communication skills.

These tools can be used for many real-world scenarios, especially when applied in the workplace.

You can discover the answers to these questions by following all the steps.

Mission-Critical Checklist

Begin with your brief. 

You’ll need clear hand-offs if you’re doing a presentation with multiple people. Everyone needs to know who’s speaking and when. Everyone needs to know what each person is covering and what the individual roles are.

Once airborne and doing your thing, you’ll need to be crystal clear about the execution phase. 

And finally, the most important thing of all: a thorough de-brief. 

This is to ensure that you learn and adapt from every experience. 

Go forward as a dynamic team.

Creating this allows for solid communication in the future and will ensure that you’ll have breakthrough performances every time.


John Foley

John is a former lead solo pilot of the Blue Angels, a Sloan Fellow at Stanford School of Business, a top rated Keynote Speaker to over 1500 organizations worldwide, ‘Gratitude Guru’, bestselling author and expert in the “how” of high performance teams. 

His exciting, rare journey inspires awe, triggering keynote audiences to take action and rethink what they believe is possible.

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