The Three Parts of Courage: Failing, Learning & Thinking

Episode #1080: In this episode of the Arete Coach Podcast, Tony Lewis, an Executive Coach, Vistage Master Chair, Vistage Best Practice Chair, and Chairman of The Lewis Group USA, guides us through his journey from aviation, the military, and executive leadership to his career as an executive coach today. Tony shares valuable insights from his time in the military and how he applies military sayings and practices to his coaching sessions. Join us as we discuss topics including courage, learning throughout life, leadership, and decision-making processes in Episode #1080 of the Arete Coach Podcast.



About Tony Lewis

Tony Lewis is an Executive Coach, Vistage Master Chair, Vistage Best Practice Chair, and Chairman of the The Lewis Group USA. Tony has been coaching with Vistage since 1996 and is currently a Master Chair in the Kansas City, Missouri area. He has served as a Best Practice Chair for 7 years, helping other coaches and acting as a mentor to other Vistage Chairs.


In 1998, Tony founded The Lewis Group USA, where he helps companies develop better strategic direction and greater organizational effectiveness. Prior to The Lewis Group, Tony held several executive positions, including President and CEO of ConAgra Foods and Vice President of Continental Grain. Additionally, Tony is retired from the United States Air Force, having served his country for 6 years as an active-duty Colonel. In addition, he also has 31 years of experience as a General in the Air Force National Guard.


Tony has a passion for making a positive impact through his personal accountability, principles, integrity, and respect, while contributing to the positive human wealth of others in society.


Key highlights


The OODA loop

Timestamp 11:03


When discussing Tony’s experience as an aviator, Tony defines the OODA loop—an emergency response checklist. He explains that the OODA loop stands for observe, orient, decide, then act. This decision-making process is used during emergencies or war and often has to happen in as little as 5 seconds. Tony explains that the OODA loop is “valuable, not just to businesses, but to CEOs themselves and how they react to certain events that might affect their business.” Because CEOs sometimes are required to make fast and calculated decisions that can affect their business and their employees, the OODA loop can be a useful tool for necessary decision-making.


Strength and knowledge from scars

Timestamp 20:28


In a discussion about current economic challenges, Tony shares that leadership is an important skill for business leaders to develop. He explains, “I know I have a lot of scars on my back and those scars tell a story of the experience of making mistakes… A lot of the young people will get through it, but they don’t realize that making those mistakes will make them stronger as they grow older and wiser. Those mistakes and experiences will turn into wisdom just like it did for myself and many people that I know.”


The three parts of courage

Timestamp 24:14


Tony shares what he believes are the three components of courage: “the courage to fail, the courage to learn, and the courage to think through your actions.” All three of these components of courage are essential in business, on the “battlefield,” and when flying an airplane.


Keeping your brain exercised

Timestamp 34:33


Tony’s two favorite sayings are “It ain't what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know from Mark Twain and “I didn’t climb the mountain to conquer the mountain. I climbed it to conquer myself” from Edmund Hillary. He uses these quotes as inspiration to “keep young, keep learning.” He shares a story of taking his father to the doctor. When talking with the doctor about his father’s longevity and how he still worked as an attorney in his 90s, the doctor shared that “every cell in your body is attached to your brain and your brain is the biggest muscle in your body and you got to keep it exercised.” Because of these learnings, Tony is “trying to follow in” his father’s “footsteps” and keep his “brain exercised.”


“Opportunity is nowhere”

Timestamp 38:15


When asked what powerful question he uses in his coaching Tony shares that “questions are powerful, but silence is maybe more powerful in certain situations.” He explains that in his coaching, he helps his clients find the solutions to their problems by helping “them see through the clouds,” not by giving them the answers. He also shares a saying that he often used as an executive, “opportunity is nowhere.” When people would come into his office with challenges looking for advice he would direct them to the sign and explain that the sign actually said: “opportunity is now here”. He explains that “once I could lead them to understand that, then I could ask the right questions and usually they’d solve their own problem.


To coach is to nudge

Timestamp 46:04


Tony’s best days as an executive coach are the days when he gets to watch his coaching clients solve their problems together without much assistance. Tony shares a time when this happened and that he “was amazed when they did that.” For his group, “the learnings were extraordinary and the feedback and the engagement were extraordinary because it was instantaneous.” Tony shares that “they did the work and it made me feel like maybe this coaching isn’t about having to drag things out of them… they just need a little nudge once in a while.”


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