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Would you take advice from the U.S. Navy’s first female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot?

Rebecca Shaw for Progressive Dairy Published on 15 July 2019
Rebecca Shaw, Meg Becker and Carey Lohrenz

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of blogs Rebecca Shaw is providing about female entrepreneurs and what the dairy industry can learn from them. In her next blog, Shaw will further explore the idea of a red team in the dairy industry.

The answer to the question in the headline is “ABSOLUTELY!” Carey “The Vixen” Lohrenz was the first female F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. She is now a popular keynote speaker and successful author, talking about leadership and being fearless. Go ahead and Google her name – hundreds of videos, articles and podcasts will come up featuring her giving a presentation on leadership. 



However, there is one thing she doesn’t talk about much publicly that I heard her speak about in person at a conference. It’s called a red team. 

Imagine you’re about to tackle a major decision or project. Building a new barn, launching a new product, starting a farm website – this is when you call your red team. Your red team is made up of people you trust to critique and call out everything that is wrong or could go wrong. Lohrenz explained to our group, “The more you plan, and plan effectively, you can reduce your execution errors.” 

What I feel is most important, is you are able to take their criticism as constructive and not offensive. Often, these are people you often won’t seek out for feedback because you know they’ll ask challenging questions. Truth is, if you don’t go to those people and have a tough, uncomfortable conversation in the safe space between you, you’re going to face the same questions and issues head on, blind and unprepared to answer them. 

This is something that Emily Yeiser-Stepp, senior director of the FARM Program, and I have talked about a lot, and we both catch ourselves getting into really heated and strong conversation about it. 

“With the safety, comfort, yet brutal honesty of that team, a farm can explore their next business venture they may think is crazy, enter into the social media sphere, or simply help take everything being thrown at them and prioritize the ever-growing list to create a long-term, sustainable business that is bulletproof,” she says. 


Emily continues telling me about her own red team. “Professionally, my red team, first and foremost, is my family, especially my dad and my husband. In my role with FARM, we’re always trying to anticipate where the pressure points for the dairy industry will be next from a customer and consumer perspective. My dad and husband didn’t grow up in agriculture, but because of me, my family and our friends, they have become dairy industry supporters. But, in the same vein, they are always asking ‘why?’ to what we [dairy industry] do. If I can’t justify the ‘why’ to those two, I know we’re going to have issues getting those not as well-informed (or well-married) to buy in.”

The more we talked about this concept, the more ambitious we got. This is our start to a list of projects that dairy industry members and producers should be consulting a red team on before executing:

  • Setting SOPs on-farm
  • Developing a new website or social media page
  • Writing content for any online platform or print publication 
  • Seeking new business partners and/or partnerships 
  • Hiring new employees (reviewing candidates)
  • High-cost decisions (new buildings, equipment, loans, etc.)

This isn’t complete – rather a starting point to enable you to build a list of projects and ideas to take to your red team. As Emily tells me, “A red team is invaluable. We have to be willing to accept the bullets that will come from them. I believe, without this willingness to be vulnerable, to hear things we don’t want to hear, we’ll never recognize the full potential of what our industry and farm businesses have to offer.”  end mark

Want to learn more about Lohrenz? Here are a few podcasts Shaw recommends: 

1. The Leadercast Podcast 8: How To Fight Fear With Carey Lohrenz

2. Executive Speakers on Speakers Podcast with Carey Lohrenz


3. The Brian Buffini Show: Be Fearless – an Interview with Carey Lohrenz, First Female F-14 Tomcat Fighter Pilot #088

Read Shaw’s previous posts about female entrepreneurs:

To people who overuse the word ‘sorry,’ stop it

Hey sharks, let’s make a deal on resiliency

PHOTO: Rebecca Shaw (far right) and her co-worker Meg Becker (left) pose with Carey Lohrenz (center) at a recent conference. Photo provided by Rebecca Shaw.

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