Being Committed: What I Learned by watching the Blue Angels


Named by Inc. as one of the top 100 leadership speakers, Shelley Row, P.E., is an engineer and former government and association executive. Shelley’s leadership work focuses on developing insightful leaders who can see beyond the data.
One of the best known events and a highlight of the U.S. Naval Academy Graduation ceremony in Annapolis every May is when the Blue Angels fly over the Severn River in honor the graduates. Many residents and visitors head to the shore staring at the sky and searching the horizon. Every time I see their show, it still surprises me; the roar of the engines ripping through the sky while it looks as though they came from the clouds. The power and speed they possess in rotating all the way around in a pattern that leaves them 18’ apart with each sweep and motion in unison. They make it look effortless as they work as a team.

I noticed more so this year while watching them on the dock, the precision and level of commitment they show each trip. I realized that there cannot be any debate or discussion on what moves they make next. It’s that they follow the leader’s commands and that is it; period. I realized that at times, this is the way it needs to be within an organization as well. It’s the teamwork.

We always refer to the need of gathering more information, discussing what we know, and debating as we gain a better understanding. Sometimes though, there is too much discussion and a decision or commitment needs to be made. There are situations where you probably disagreed with a decision that was made, but how did you handle it? Did you show respect and follow or complain to others? I saw in those Blue Angels that there was no room for questioning; there was only time for compliance. Whether you agree or not, what does committing look like at work? Here are 3 examples of committing.

Disagree, but commit for the good as a whole.


1.   Don’t say anything negative about the decision maker.

Even when you’ve got all the facts on your side and made your best arguments, it may not go your way. If it doesn’t, then you have to be ready to understand that sometimes that happens. Commitment is determined by what you do next. The worst thing you can do for the organization is to vent about the situation to your staff. Complaining to others within your job creates distrust and lack of commitment. Either keep quiet or go to the third option below.

2.   Recognize that you don’t know everything that went into the decision.

Just like the Blue Angel that was flying at the back of the formation, you can only see from your vantage point. That pilot can only see the planes directly in front of him causing his view to be limited. He trusts that the lead plane – which has a different view – is making the best decision based on the additional information they have. It’s the same for you. You don’t have all the information that the final decision-maker does. There comes a time when you must recognize that decision-makers are assimilating more and different information than you. Commitment means trusting that they will select the most reasonable approach based on their vantage point.

3.   Disagree, but commit for the good as a whole.

The Blue Angels can’t tolerate the pilot who wants to bank 2-degrees differently from the others. Either everyone agrees to the same plan or they literally all go down in flames. Most of us don’t have that level of risk in the workplace. Nonetheless, the time comes when you must decide to disagree and be fully committed to the decision. For the sake of moving forward and the greater good, you must swallow hard, find ways to articulate your support and behave in ways that fully conform with the decision even though you may not personally agree.

Six planes, wingtip to wingtip soared directly over all its viewers. In the exact single moment, each plane abruptly changed course to fly apart in six different directions creating a starburst of power and smoke. But, each of us knew that they would meet back at the base together to celebrate a safe, well-executed show. This was possible, because they all committed.

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