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Mental Stamina of a Great Business Mind: An Interview With Captain Laura Einsetler on Maintaining Resiliency, Fortitude, and Perseverance Under the Most Challenging of Circumstances

As an airline captain, Laura is essentially the CEO, CFO, and COO of each of her flights. She must take into account the huge responsibility of operating a complex, $150 million dollar asset, assuming over $2 billion dollars worth of passenger liability for each flight she makes.  She is responsible and accountable to her crew, […]

As an airline captain, Laura is essentially the CEO, CFO, and COO of each of her flights. She must take into account the huge responsibility of operating a complex, $150 million dollar asset, assuming over $2 billion dollars worth of passenger liability for each flight she makes.  She is responsible and accountable to her crew, her passengers, Air Traffic Control, and all of the airline stakeholders that count on her to make safe, smart leadership decisions every minute of every day. She learned early on that she too is a valued asset within her company and she takes that very seriously. Laura also seeks to mentor others whether they are aviation-minded, or seek to develop general skills in leadership and critical thinking.  Her books, blog, speaking, and appearances reflect her passion in helping others to push past roadblocks in order to achieve their goals and successes.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get to be where you are right now?

Laura learned to fly early on at fifteen years old working several jobs to pay for her flying lessons and flew her first solo flight on her sixteenth birthday. Shortly after, she earned her private pilot license and her multi-engine aircraft license. She then attended and graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, (aka The Harvard of the Skies) with a bachelors degree in Aeronautical Sciences, plus earned her instrument flying, commercial pilot, instructor pilot, multi-engine instrument, and advanced transport pilot (ATP) licenses. She started her career an instructor pilot teaching all levels of flying and eventually was hired by a charter airline to fly the Convair 580 and the Lockheed L-188 (P-3) on both domestic and international routes. She has flown civilian and military operations, charters, sports teams, aerobatics, and was a director of airshow productions.  Finally, Laura achieved her objective and was hired as a pilot for a major US airline. She has served as a First Officer on the Boeing 737, 757, 767, and Airbus A319/A320 aircraft. She subsequently upgraded to the left seat as a Captain on the 737 and currently, Laura flies as a Captain on the Boeing 757 and 767 commercial aircraft.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How did this quality help you overcome obstacles on the path of becoming an influential and inspiring leader? 

Laura says she started off as quite the introvert, but quickly realized that this would not work for her long term.  As a teenager, she mentally made a conscious decision to shift into more extroverted ways of thinking and acting.   She joined activities in school such as cheerleading and the dancing, which required her to perform routines in front of the public.  Outside of school she took up martial arts to build up her confidence and strength. It was uncomfortable at first, but gradually it became normal to be speaking out or performing in front of a crowd.  She realized that the more she could speak her mind and express her thoughts, the more positive change she could affect, both in herself and in others. She also learned about leadership. At first, she observed the effective leaders around her.  But rather than being envious of their success, she talked to them, picked their brains, and found out from them how they operate. One key attribute she realized is that the most effective leaders actively listen to others and exchange ideas. In order to be an inspiring leader, people need to feel that they are valued and heard by you. It is a mutual respect situation.

What does it mean to be mentally-strong in the hyper-competitive world of running a business or an organization?

Mental strength has to do with the ability to weather the storms, to endure the constant blowing winds, and to dodge the flying objects that are hurled your way. She says that strength comes from being the calm of the eye within the hurricane. In her profession, there is pressure from all sides. When the crap is hitting the fan, that is the time to slow things down and take all aspects into consideration so that clear, effective, and directive, decisions are made, amid the chaos.   You have to tamp down the emotions and rely on your knowledge, your training, your resources, and your gut instincts.

A lot of people in the business would feel as if talking about mental health makes them appear weak. How do you feel about showing mental strength and setting an example of what it takes to have strong mental stamina to succeed?

Mental health is just as important, if not more so, than physical health. People cannot make clear decisions if they are in a state of stress, fatigue, or burnout. It is especially important in her line of work because there is no ability to just stop and think.  You cannot move the aircraft over to the ‘side of the road’ and park to try and figure things out. Hundreds of lives are at stake so the mental acuity and alertness of a pilot is crucial at all times. There are times where they must go for hours at these heightened levels of full mental acuity, and you must have the endurance to do so. This is where mental focus, prioritization, compartmentalization, and methodology are the difference between succeeding or failing.

Is there a particular person, a book, or place of wisdom that has inspired you to become a successful and mentally-strong leader?

While Laura does have a ravenous appetite for reading books about effective leaders, the majority of her mental strength has come from survival skills she developed early on, and from some excellent mentoring from leaders along the way.  Survival skills are critical. You have to be able to survive difficult times by using your resources, having a will to survive, and having an internal motor that keeps going, despite any struggles or setbacks. She also found that face-to-face mentorship, more so than merely reading a book on leadership methods, is extremely valuable to developing mental strength. By watching and discussing with leaders how they handle various situations, how they carry themselves, and how they command respect, Laura was able to shape how she operates both at work and at home. She has never been intimidated by people’s titles or status. It is not uncommon for her to walk up to a Vice President, Director, or Chief Pilot in her airline to glean knowledge from how they effectively function and subsequently succeed.

Can you give us 5 tips on maintaining strong mental health stamina to succeed in the modern business world? Tell us a little about why each point matters. 

First, have ethical convictions and stand by them. If you have a strong conviction, rooted in sound knowledge, training, and ethics, then hold to it.  Do not yield to the whims of others because it may benefit them in certain situations. Shortcuts, unproven methods, or unethical thinking ultimately benefits no one and usually it causes significant harm.

Second, dress the part or even “one step above” the part you hold.   If you are an employee, dress like a manager. If you are a manager, dress like an executive.  It shows that you really mean business professionally and that you take what you do very seriously. It also helps you mentally to literally dress up in your leadership persona.

Third, approach things from multiple angles. If the front door does not open for you, try the side door, the window, the backdoor, etc. – If you know this is what you need or where you need to be, find a way in!

Fourth, don’t ever be afraid to waive the ‘bullshit’ flag – especially when it comes to looking out for the safety and security of your colleagues, co-workers, customers, passengers or family. If your cause is just and righteous, you cannot go wrong.

Fifth, take a stand for what is right and don’t get caught up in who is right. That way, everyone wins and it really does not matter who gets the credit.

Know your limits and boundaries. Do not let people push you across your line or rush you for their personal gain.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The best leaders with mental stamina take on the responsibilities of other’s mistakes. They are brave enough to accept the blame for their subordinates mishaps and to use their experience, talent, knowledge, and understanding to make the situation better for the customer as well as a learning opportunity for the person who was responsible.

What does it mean to be mentally strong in the age of information and technology?

I feel strongly about this topic since it pertains directly to the issues of overloading pilots with too much technology in the cockpit.  You MUST always, as a leader, do a quality assurance check to verify that what the technology is telling you is what you are expecting to see.  You have to take the momentary pause and revert to manual thinking about what is happening.  Does it make sense?  Does it match what it should be? Can I rely on it?  Revert to your own knowledge basis, your foundation, and your skills to handle whatever comes your way. Leaders who take data and information from technology at face value only are at risk.  The information can be skewed, spun, altered, or just plain wrong, potentially affecting your decisions.  And those wrong decisions, especially in the pilot profession, can potentially be fatal.

Can an imbalance in your private life cause a mentally strong leader to deviate away from the path of success? Why? How to alleviate the problem

Absolutely.  It is imperative that leaders have the ability to compartmentalize.  When you are in a career field that prevents you from being able to handle issues back at home, you have to be able to put the worries and concerns aside so that you are fully present with your tasks at hand for work, especially when you have other people’s lives you are responsible for. Great leaders can handle bouts of acute stress but it is the chronic, on-going helpless stress that can degrade their ability to make solid decisions. You must find outlets to alleviate the build up so that release is taking place. You also need to make the major changes to cutout destructive and unsupportive things or people that are weighing you down. People tend to fall into the thought habit that things will be easier to just maintain status quo, when in actuality, it causes health and stamina declines.

What works best to maintain a strong mental stamina as a leader?  Yoga? Meditation?

When at work, what works best is to take those minutes throughout the day to deep breathe and visualize something peaceful (like walking on the beach in Maui).  Even a quick escape to the restroom can do wonders. At home, Laura also enjoys taking time to detoxify in an infrared sauna while meditating, praying, and stretching along with sneaking off to an occasional therapeutic massage.  The family always comes first, of course, but don’t feel guilty to self-nurture. Keeping the ‘golden goose’ healthy and happy is critical to everyone’s well being. Finding ways to calm your mind and be in the present moment are the only ways to keep the endurance going.

What is the better choice to make to achieve greatness?  Learn to interact with toxic acquaintances to get to the top or be a loner and do all of the grunt work yourself?

Laura believes that you cannot achieve great things without a team along side of you.  As the team leader, you have to be able to interact with the occasional ‘toxic’ person and be able to get them onboard with your objective.  Often the toxic person is just frustrated and wants to be heard, so give them that. Listen. Validate that they have thoughts. But you don’t have to agree with them.  Sometimes they can be swayed to your line of thinking, sometimes they cannot. But as a leader, you must be clear that you expect them to respect your thoughts, decisions, and actions.  If they continue to resist, well, she is basically a ‘3 strikes and your out!’ person. If in 3 opportunities you cannot bring value to the table, we are done.

What is the best way to recharge energy?

You need to unplug from the world, both literally and figuratively.  Turn off the cell phone, the television, the radio, or whatever. Then, find a quite place and nurture your creative side, your dreamer side.  Focus on yourself and your close relationships. Focus on what is good your life and give gratitude. Surround yourself with good people, good vibes, and good times.  Laura’s saying is to “Lead with Love”.

If the readers of this interview series would like to read more about you, how can they reach out? 

Captain Laura Einsetler welcomes you to reach out via www.CaptainLaura.com under “Contact Me” as well as [email protected]. She can also be connected with on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and keep connected with her new and upcoming projects!

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