In this episode of Leading with Courage:
- Specific strategies and techniques for leading in situations of uncertainty, stress, and risk.
- Ways to lead in challenging situations by recognizing that being brave and afraid at the same time is both normal and necessary.
- How to cultivate a wingman culture on your team where each person is part of something bigger and more important than themselves.
- Developing a fighter pilot mindset for embracing risk, failing forward, and learning from mistakes.
Here is a glimpse of Leading with Courage:
Today we have an amazing human being and an incredible and courageous leader. We have Kim (KC) she’ll tell you what that means. Later Kim, who’s a retired Air Force colonel, served in the Air Force for more than 24 years as a fighter pilot and a senior military leader, she’s flown more than a hundred combat missions protecting troops on the ground both in both Iraq and Afghanistan. As a senior military leader, Kim has led hundreds of airmen at home and abroad in deployed locations around the world. Most recently, Kim served as a director of the Center of Character and Leadership Development at the Air Force Academy. Kim is now Managing Director of Victory Strategies, where she’s the leadership coach and keynote speaker. She’s also the author of Flying in the Face of Fear, Lessons on Leading with Courage.
You’ve been everywhere. You’ve done everything that the Air Force had to offer. Why did you leave? You don’t have to have to, right? So why did you say it was time to hang it up?
I tried to leave three times, so I figured the third time was a charm. But one of my final jobs in the Air Force before I moved to the Air Force Academy, I was a group commander responsible for about a thousand people throughout Central America, South America the Caribbean, a lot of travel, a lot of time away from home. I absolutely loved connecting with my team, getting out and meeting them and walking around, getting to know them. But my husband was also an active duty Air Force officer at the time. He was responsible for the entire base down in Tucson. We also have two boys who happened to be now 10 and 14, but at the time were one and five. And it was a lot.
We came to realize that our priorities were changing, the pressures were changing, the stress levels were changing, and we decided it was time to do something different where we were a little bit more in control of our schedules. I attempted to retire then and the Air Force asked if I would stay and become an instructor at the Air Force Academy. Which to me, coming back was home for me. That’s where I started my career. And so, coming back there was a great opportunity to help influence the next generation of leaders. Then my husband and I retired at the same time, same ceremony, but it was really a family decision more than anything. And resetting our priorities and our boundaries as well.
My passion and my purpose were really initially flying A10, supporting our troops on the ground. That changed over time as I got to lead teams. But then my passion and purpose, changed and I was able to put all my effort and energy and passion into leading the next generation of our airmen, of our leaders of our aviators. And that to me had value, and I was able to find my new way.
We help people get better as leaders. Just for a minute, we must touch on the A10 though, it’s too cool an aircraft not to talk about for a minute or two before we dive into the other stuff. So why A10s and what was your view on it?
I realized early on during my days at pilot training, I knew I wanted to be a fighter pilot.I knew from the fifth grade on I was going to be a fighter pilot. I didn’t know what airplane I wanted to fly. And then I got to pilot training, and I realized that I really enjoyed low-level flying. It was just fun. It was exciting. It was exciting to fly really close to another airplane. And then I started talking to other pilots about what they liked about their missions. There was something unique. They were so passionate about supporting our troops on the ground, knowing that what they did every day made a difference and helping someone get home safely to their families. That is a mission I can get on board with. And that was my choice to go fly the A10.
For those of you that don’t know the A10, it’s low-level. It’s basically a gigantic cannon with wings, and it’s designed to support the troops by clearing the way for them and suppressing other opposing forces. It is one of the most feared aircraft in the arsenal of the United States of America by any opposing force. But you didn’t make it home one time.
It happened on April 7th, 2003. So we’re almost at the 20-year anniversary. That’s part of the reason that I love the A10, why I’m passionate about the A10 was that it helped get me home safely. And I happened to be over Bagdad providing support to our troops on the ground when my airplane was hit with a surface tear missile. I remember that moment; it was such a loud boom and bright red-orange flash as this fireball envelops my aircraft. And then it just dumped over, and I could see Bagdad below. And I think it was just instinct. I pulled back on my control stick and absolutely nothing happened.
It was not responding to any of my control inputs. And I remember thinking, I do not want to eject. I mean, that’s the last thing I want to do is eject over Baghdad. And I really fell back on my training and all the preparation that I had done quickly trying to figure out what was going on in my aircraft. And I’ve got lights flashing everywhere. I’ve got a master caution panel that’s lit up like a Christmas tree. I mean, it was slightly overwhelming, but I had to focus on what was most important. And that is, how do I get this airplane under control? I quickly realized that it has lost all hydraulics. They dumped out when the missile hit the airplane. And so at this point, I know I either eject or I try to get the airplane in our backup emergency system. And thankfully I flipped that switch. The airplane worked exactly as advertised, and I was able to slowly pull the aircraft and, and get away from Baghdad. And that was for me, the first moment I felt like I was going to make it out of there alive.
I flew the airplane back for an hour. I was able to get it on the ground which was obviously a huge feeling of relief. And let’s say there was a lot of adrenaline in that moment. And the next day, instead of being tasked with a normal mission, I was tasked with combat search and rescue alert, which is another mission we fly, where if an aviator is shot down, then we go and do everything we can to rescue them. Normally when we’re on alert, we sleep, we rest, you know, it’s, it’s downtime because this, this doesn’t happen often, but this was April 8th, the alarm sounded, it wasn’t a drill. An A10 pilot had been shot down right in Baghdad, right. Where I had escaped my own shootdown. And for me, it was just that those guys were there for me the day before. I was going to do the same for this pilot. We raced out to the Jets, we were start gathering information, and we make an immediate takeoff. I just didn’t have time to think about it. It was just, how do we get there as quickly as we can? And thankfully, he was very lucky he got picked up by friendly ground troops. So we only made it about 30 minutes into Iraq. But wow, you know, it was the whole idea that that’s what we do for teammates.
Unfortunately, that airplane never flew again. I was able to land it, but it was so badly damaged that they assessed that they couldn’t repair it in the location that it was. So they decided that maintenance took every piece and part that they could out of it. But they also cut a piece of the back tail section for me that had the tail number on it. And it’s been with me for 20 years. It’s hung in every Air Force office I’ve had. But I recently retired and it held a place actually back behind me here. And this Smithsonian is doing a new exhibit on modern military aviation. They asked if I had anything, and I thought, what better way Yeah. To share the story than that tail flash. So I delivered it on Tuesday to the Smithsonian in Washington DC It will be there in a new exhibit. And now the story and the lessons learned, which are most important to me, can be told to the next generation.
So let’s move over to leadership. You move from sort of being an individual contributor in the form of a pilot to leading people. And now you’ve transitioned to teaching people how to lead people. So let’s just roll all the way back and if you had to characterize your leadership approach, what would be the elements of your leadership approach, the teachable elements of your leadership approach?
Well, I think part of the reason that I wrote my new book, I was trying to capture all of these experiences and lessons. And what I realized for me is that over the course of my career, I have experienced fear. I have experienced being nervous or stressed about flying airplanes, and about leading teams. And to me, all it came down to was those feelings, those things are normal. They happen. It is all about what you do in the moment. It is about leading with courage. And so for me, this whole idea of courageous leadership and leading with courage and how can you make those hard decisions? How can you make decisions when you don’t have perfect information? How can you have the tough conversations that none of us like to have, but are essential and necessary? How do you hold yourself and other people accountable? How do you admit mistakes when it’s really uncomfortable to do so? You know, how do you get out and connect with your team? It all comes down to me having the courage to do that, to do the hard things, to make those connections, and to build an environment of trust. So the short answer is, it’s all about leading with courage.
For lessons from Kim, and to learn what her call signal KC stands for, listen to the complete podcast on leading with courage.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Kim “KC” Campbell on Linkedin
- Jim Schleckser on LinkedIn
- The CEO Project
- Great Ceos Are Lazy: How Exceptional Ceos Do More in Less Time by Jim Schleckser
Thank You to Our Guest
Kim “KC” Campbell served in the Air Force for 24 years as a fighter pilot and senior military leader. She has flown 1,800 hours in the A-10 Warthog, including more than 100 combat missions protecting troops on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2003, Kim was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism after successfully recovering her battle-damaged airplane after an intense close air support mission. Most recently, Kim served as the Director of the Center for Character and Leadership Development at the Air Force Academy. Kim is now a Managing Director at Victory Strategies where she is a leadership coach and keynote speaker. She is also the author of Flying in the Face of Fear: A Fighter Pilot’s Lessons on Leading with Courage.
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by The CEO Project. The CEO Project is a business advisory group that brings high-caliber, accomplished CEOs together. Our team of skilled advisors is comprised of current and former CEOs who have run both public and private sector companies across multiple industries. With our experience and expertise, we guide hundreds of high-performing CEOs through a disciplined approach that resolves constraints and improves critical decisions. The CEO Project has helped high-performing, large enterprise CEOs with annual revenues ranging from $20M to over $2 billion to drive growth and achieve optimal outcomes. If you are an experienced CEO looking to grow your company, visit www.theCEOProject.com.