"Blue Angels": High Reliability in Action

This short piece focuses on the source out of which fundamental attitudes such as envy, love, affection, gratitude, admiration, cooperation, agreeableness, and effective teamwork arise. The framework from which these emerge is the psychological “personality.” This analysis has been configured with an emphasis that gives significance to the dimensions of reliability and values. A downstream goal prefaces changing behaviors.

Behavior change must always begin with self-change, the first step of which is self-reflection. If this stirs the motivation for self-improvement, the process of behavior change has been launched—but only launched. It cannot sustain itself on autopilot for long but requires a persistence calling for curiosity, exploration, and refinement. A higher quality of life is the payoff. Individual work typically helps the self—at first—and then has a halo effect that engages others, particularly if teamwork becomes a dedicated value along the line of self-improvement. So, let’s begin this psychological journey!


The human personality is a complex organization that develops from early childhood into emerging adulthood. It is an organization of inborn traits, infantile temperament, early childhood attachment patterns, developing coping skills, and emotional defense mechanisms. Thus, personality has a dispositional base that is innate but with a great deal learned through interpersonal and social interactions. This makes it virtually impossible to categorize personality into “types” since the variety is immense. When so-called personality types are described, it may be that the rudimentary, dispositional temperamental underpinnings of personality are being recognized (e.g., avoidant, fearful, novelty seeking, affectionate, persistent, and so forth). One’s temperament, therefore, is a basic predispositional style that characterizes and guides an individual’s attitude and behavior throughout life.

Personality is one’s personal “culture”—a performance style that is skill-based (built up through subliminal, implicit, automatic learning and memory), rule-based (built up through conscious trial-and-error experience), and knowledge-based (built up through conscious and intentional critical thinking). Emotions give an affective tone to the cognitive and physical gestures that make up personality.

An important dimension of personality is “mind.” This is the nidus of communication both to self and others. To others, communication reflects the capacity for interpersonal and social perspective-taking and empathy. This is a core, typical human faculty. It humanizes individuals and civilizes larger groups to behave with one another and with others in an understanding, cooperative, and nondestructive manner.

The center of the "biomental" self (Ninivaggi, 2013) is the brain-mind. It functions as the executive problem identifier-solver. In healthy people, emphasis in thinking about problem situations shifts raw guilt and blame scenarios toward more constructive frameworks that ask: “Why did I act this way and how can I refine my thinking and feeling to perform in more ethically just and beneficent ways in the future?”

A healthy personality is relatively stable---cause and effect are reasonably dependable---in this sense, “reliable.” Reliability here denotes consistency, resilience, dynamic stability, minimizing and eliminating errors and adverse events, and a default homeostasis: pause, think, then act, review, and refine. Reliability is the probability that a system, structure, component, process, or person will successfully provide the intended function. Reliability emanates out of a deep sense of trust in the self as being good, worthwhile, and of value. An important pragmatic feature of reliability is the capacity for mood maintenance, particularly in the face of ambiguous and stressful events. Safe values and resultant behaviors expect the "unexpected." Maintaining a safe environment is the first priority. All the aforementioned are predicated on a preoccupation for improvement.

Values denote that which one strives to attain since they are perceived to have intrinsic worth and are beneficial. Along the course of personality development, values are recognized, sometimes consciously and sometimes unwittingly. They are then incorporated into the framework of one’s personality, structure its form, and direct its functions. Values act as reference points. Values hold meaning; this ranges from abstract to more concrete with many overlaps.

Core values include safety, avoiding harm, seeking pleasure while considering consequences, pausing before acting, treating others fairly and justly, nonviolent conflict resolution, attitudes that show compassion, mercy, helping, and justly forgiving a wrong, to name just a few. Biases, prejudices, and preferences can also be considered to contain values. Their content derives from multiple sources: genetics, upbringing, learning, society, culture, habit and personal choice. As a greater sense of self-efficacy is experienced, values may become more consciously considered, decided upon, refined, nuanced, and commensurate with one's current life situation, needs, and culture.

Rooted in early infantile proclivities/temperament, the adult personality has been the subject of scientific investigation for many decades. At this time, the prevailing theory or model is called the “Big Five.” It is a descriptive system composed of five factors or domains, all of which every personality has a share, but only one or two of these factors seem to dominate. Personality refers to the relatively stable pattern of functionally interrelated processes that include cognition, emotion, interpersonal relatedness, behavior, coping, and emotional defenses. Both genders share, in different ways, the basic qualities that form personality. Personality can change. This means that features or emphases within one's already structured adult personality may become highlighted, refined, and more efficient---with enough motivation and intentional work on the self.

The Big Five personality domains are the following: 1. Openness to New Experiences; 2. Conscientiousness; 3. Extroversion or Positive Emotions; 4. Agreeableness; and 5. Neuroticism or Negative Emotions. In my recent book, Biomental Child Development: Perspectives on Psychology and Parenting  (2013), I have discussed and explained both temperament and the Big Five personality domains and their meaning at length. They are traced to their origins in childhood and their effective emergence in adulthood.

Research has consistently shown that agreeableness and conscientiousness are the two outstanding factors associated with mental health and well-being.

Agreeableness includes features of personalities that are sympathetic, kind, affectionate, helpful, empathetic, cooperative, able and eager to share, friendly, and forgive others with compassion. Envy, jealousy, vengeance, staunchly holding a grudge, and negative competitiveness (neuroticism) are recognized, worked through, and diffused.

Conscientiousness denotes awareness to details and their follow through. It includes being organized, responsible, reliable, watchful, and efficient. Tendencies to show self-discipline, act dutifully, show ethical behaviors, aim for achievement, and demonstrate pre-planned behavior without inordinate impulsivity are outstanding. Underlying themes of being self-directed, motivated, and cooperative (successfully engage in teamwork) appear to drive those who are both agreeable and conscientious.

Becoming A High-Reliability Personality: Action Plan

An action plan denotes identifying problems, assigning ownership to a problem solver, setting goals, outlining steps toward goal accomplishment, and charting timelines for tracking progress and resolving problems. As mentioned previously, each individual who wishes to change for the better, must first become his and her own leader, that is, take ownership and accountability for his and her life. Next, self-reflection on one’s core values is essential. Seeing in what ways these either facilitate or hinder one from attaining a higher quality of life for both self and others is an important metric that reflects success or nonprogress. Looking outside the self for guidance, direction, and mentoring from others deemed to have greater expertise is always useful, if not essential to promote further advancement.

Authentically inspired motivation drives action. Reasoned belief (one's set of values) is the background for effective performance. True belief drives motivation, then intention, then action. Transformational motivation is both personal and social---maximizing safety for self and one's team. Motivation is essential. It requires authentic belief in the values described in this discussion. Without genuine, heartfelt motivation, traction and going forward is difficult; with motivation and enthusiasm, advancement and success are adventurous and risk-adverse.

In all these endeavors, good to great communication skills is a needed asset. One must pause, think before speaking, speak slowly and meaningfully, pause, listen carefully to the meaning that others are trying to convey, foster informative, cooperative dialogues, ask for clarification when necessary, and give constructive positive feedback. The ratio of positive feedback to negative constructive feedback should be 5:1, and always in a tempered, helpful tone.

Last, important to realize is that human error in any endeavor is typical. Honest mistakes are inadvertent slips. Identifying these and applying self-discipline---emphasizing what is better, good, and low-risk, now and in the future---is fair and just self-improvement. For example, in striving for personal behavior change, realizing that one's values are guidelines, that is, 'goals to strive toward, but goals frequently strayed from' is realistic and sobering. A great example for everyone is hand washing. No one can argue that conscientious hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers is universally beneficial. Doing this routinely is a safety must. Implementing safe behaviors integrate itself best into one's life when titrated upward slowly and over time.

Major tools to safeguard a trajectory toward success are 1. maintaining an ongoing sense of conscientiousness: reasonable self-reflection, self-assessment, and self-realignment toward self-improvement; and 2. maintaining an agreeable cooperativeness whose aim is mutual team improvement: an embedded social engagement.

 Blue Angels: High Reliability in Action

An outstanding example of the high-reliability personality can be found in the Blue Angels. The mission of these United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadrons is to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach. It is only through intensive personal work and integrated teamwork that such precision and safety can occur. This model of excellence demonstrates what individuals can accomplish as individuals and as teams and is inspirational for all to share in and learn from.

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