First Woman Thunderbird Pilot, Combat Veteran, White House Fellow & Adviser, and Indomitable Spirit
A 21-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Colonel Nicole Malachowski (USAF, Ret.) wanted to fly military jets from the moment she saw them at her first air show when she was five years old. She achieved that goal – and then some. A leader, a combat veteran, the first woman pilot on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, an instructor, a White House Fellow, and an inductee into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, Nicole’s Air Force career exceeded her wildest dreams. Read More >
How to Handle the Unexpected
Some People Can't Stand Change
Pushing the Envelope for Maximum Performance
Beyond Resilience - Resurgent
Teamwork: Trust Fuels Performance
Failure is the Price of Entry
Becoming Thunderbirds Pilot
Yield to Overcome
Flying Loose in Turbulence
In flying, headwinds slow you down. At their worst, they cause you to change your plans and impact the effectiveness of weapons in combat. Headwinds demand that pilots be resilient and resourceful, literally on the fly. “Headwinds are the perfect metaphor for the change impacting organizations and individuals today,” says 21-year Air Force veteran Nicole Malachowski. A former fighter squadron commander and mission-ready pilot in three operational fighter squadrons and the first woman to fly on the Air Force Thunderbirds, Nicole has the perfect message to inspire audiences to think differently about the headwinds of change they face – organizationally and personally. Drawing on her extraordinary Air Force career, Nicole tailors her talk to suit each audience – offering lessons on leadership, followership, and overcoming adversity. Nicole weaves storytelling with breathtaking video from the cockpit of her jet as the Thunderbirds execute precision turns, rolls, and loops – all just 36” from one another at 400 mph just 300 feet off the ground. A passionate speaker, Nicole’s keynote has an unforgettable message to kick off or close any event. She helps audiences ignite their own indomitable spirit in order to succeed far beyond what they can dream. “Failure isn’t fatal,” she says, “it’s the price of entry if you want to achieve something great.”
What does it take to be the best? The individuals and teams who achieve at the highest levels have one thing in common: they push the envelope and go to the edge of boundaries. They accomplish as much as possible and do it to a standard of excellence. Pushing the envelope is an aviation term for taking an aircraft to the maximum limits of its abilities. In the business world, pushing the envelope means knowing yourself – certainly knowing your limits – all while using every bit of your ability to maximize your performance, be your best and be consistent. As a combat-tested fighter pilot and a member of the military’s most elite group of aviators (1 in 2,000 USAF pilots become Thunderbird pilots), Nicole Malachowski inspires audiences with lessons learned from a distinguished 21-year career – giving them the courage to push the envelope in their own lives. That means using inevitable failures to launch to the next level…preparing for turbulence, because change is unrelenting and it is hard, but you must anticipate it…trusting in teammates’ skill and precision, while developing your own…and being mindful of the over-control that leads to performance malfunctions and mutes achievement. Nicole’s presentation provides and an unforgettable and practical roadmap for individuals and organizations looking to make the most of their talents and efforts.
The best organizations and leaders create cultures that engage and harness the diverse ideas, talents, and abilities of every person; one where challenging assumptions and the status quo drives extraordinary success. Nicole Malachowski knows about high-performance cultures and challenging assumptions. As a member of the elite United States Air Force Thunderbirds flying demonstration team, the first woman to do so, Nicole was part of a team that demanded flawless execution under extreme circumstances because lives literally depended on it. Yet, it would be wrong to define Nicole by simply labeling her the first woman Thunderbird pilot – and that’s the point. In order to create a culture that challenges assumptions, it’s important to look beyond the obvious. In Nicole’s case, the Thunderbirds were just two years of an exceptional 21-year Air Force career during which she became a White House Fellow and adviser, served at the Department of Defense, was a mission-ready pilot in three operational squadrons and a fighter squadron commander, and served as a combat pilot. As an Air Force leader, Nicole constantly challenged assumptions by matching people’s values with the job to be done. In this talk, Nicole draws on her distinguished career to offer inspiring lessons for leaders and followers.
Nicole Malachowski has lived a life of service to others. Her commitment to making a difference was the foundation of a distinguished 21-year Air Force career and it continues to drive her work as an advocate on health care and veterans’ issues. First as a White House Fellow in the General Services Administration and later as the executive director of Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative launched by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, Nicole rallied around service members, veterans, and their families and supported them through wellness, education, and employment opportunities. When a health crisis unexpectedly ended her military career, Nicole viewed this as an opportunity to cultivate a new perspective. She is now making a difference in places she never expected – including healthcare – where she works closely with patients and their medical practitioners to find ways to focus on the whole person and not just the illness being treated. In this presentation, Nicole inspires audiences with her candor, authenticity, and humor, encouraging them to bring humanity back into their own work and make a difference in the lives of those around them.
"Days later I am still thinking about you and the unforgettable talk you gave to close our leadership conference. To say it was the highlight of an already exceptional conference would simply be an understatement. You touched so many people with not only your story, but the very essence of who you are as human being. You are a unique mixture of charm, vulnerability, humble strength and resilience…many of us in the audience, including myself, aspire to be more like you. You left us all with the gifts of inspiration and motivation…exactly what we needed to end a conference that was focused on driving performance and connections."
“You are a spectacular speaker and I have never been to a meeting with our entire team mesmerized by anyone like they were with you. Your story is unbelievable and you are able to deliver it in such a natural and powerful way that had me in awe for days after. I haven’t been so motivated or inspired by anyone in a long time."
“My team couldn’t have been more pleased to work with you. Your message of perseverance, determination, and overcoming roadblocks was incredibly moving and inspiring. Our group of hoteliers and developers embraced your courage, and your path resonated with the myriad of challenges we face in our industry. I was especially impressed when you joined us the day before, sat through our meetings, got to know various people, and mentioned them during your talk! I have to say that never before have I had our group rise and give a standing ovation to a guest speaker and then be asked to return to the stage for ongoing applause!”
"I heartily recommend Nicole Malachowski to anyone who is looking to produce a successful event. We hired Nicole to speak at a forum of investment management professionals from around the world. Her presentation was integral to the success of our event – we have heard over and over from attendees that her presentation was a home run. We were already excited to hear Nicole speak because of her impressive bio, but her presentation still blew us away. She has an compelling personal as well as professional story to tell. And she does it with a passion and vulnerability that create a strong connection with her audience. Five minutes into her presentation, you could tell that she had our group hooked. Nicole creates a three dimensional experience for her listeners – we had the sense that we were with her in the cockpit of her fighter jet as she recounted experiences of flying with the Air Force’s Thunderbird team. Her presentation resonated so deeply with our audience that people are still talking about her presentation a week later and employees who could not attend are asking to see the video of her presentation."
"Well it’s unprecedented for us, but I believe our leaders want to pay Nicole a bonus. Is that possible? I told her I would create a write-up about her. So that is coming. She is being considered for two other programs, so I have shared video footage and will connect the parties with you. In the meantime, it’s been shared by so many people that she was the absolute best speaker we have ever hired. With that, the leadership from Major Account Summit have asked, how do we give her a bonus? She was that good!"
"Nicole was exceptionally well received. She—truly—did a magnificent job. Connected with the audience, inspiring, thought provoking, funny, real, open. Our colleagues couldn’t stop talking about it. Was the highlight of our event."
"I want to thank you so much for being THE highlight of our Women in Specialty Pharmacy luncheon last week! Your keynote address was one of the most empowering and impactful that I have ever heard. Our attendees could not stop talking about how fabulous you are and I think the line of folks who wanted to meet you and have their picture taken with you is a testament of how well your message resonated with our attendees."
"An indomitable spirit whose life journey adds such warmth and depth to her powerful message. She is relatable to women and men with a fascinating narrative of overcoming trials and tribulations all while being an unwitting trailblazer in aviation, in leadership, in social awareness and in medical care."
"She is a powerful storyteller and extraordinary person… please convey to Nicole how well-received she was (although judging by the standing ovation and long ‘selfie’ line after the event, To say that Nicole was a huge hit would be an extreme understatement!, I think she may have realized!)."
"We cannot thank YOU enough for bringing your inspiring, moving, profound, vulnerable, INCREDIBLE story to our team. If your ears have been ringing it is 120 people saying you were the absolute highlight of the whole offsite. And many told me you were the BEST speaker they have ever heard. [And these people hear a lot of speakers.]"
"Most of us will never lead a squadron of F-15E fighter pilots, fly right wing for the USAF Thunderbirds or have our careers transformed as a result of a tick bite. But your storytelling took us there for a brief moment and the lessons they represent— failure and risk are the price of entry for achieving something great; plow your own path; nobody wants to lead a scripted life; etc.—resonate in a way that can change lives, personal and professional. You are one of the most engaging and effective speakers I have come across—a humble force that touches people emotionally. Without question, you presented exactly the message we wanted to share with our elite performers."
"Rarely have I found an entire room of business colleagues all so incredibly inspired and engaged by one speaker! Nicole’s story has the power of relating to all businesses as well as the individual journeys we are all on. Nicole’s compassion, determination and kind spirit shine through in every aspect of her presentation. The outpouring of support, after two standing ovations and many tears, made it clear her message resonated with everyone in attendance. We look forward to Nicole joining us for future conferences and highly recommend her for anyone looking for a truly exceptional experience!"