My father taught acrobatic flying, served in WWII, and worked many years as a corporate pilot. Therefore, I grew up with a love of travel and a fascination for airplanes. The influence of my father’s words and my frequent travel as a corporate trainer have given me a repertoire of leadership lessons based on flying.
These lessons were especially valuable to me in running my business and in leading others. One of the most important “flying lessons” revolved around goal setting and how to stay on track during my “flight” to each destination. I share with you in this post, the five key lessons my father shared with me.
Lesson 1: Identify Your Destination
Every pilot needs to identify a specific landing location before take-off. They also need to reaffirm to their passengers where they are headed, how the weather conditions are enroute and the estimated arrival time. If the pilot has no destination, the plane could end up anywhere! As a supervisor, you will need to clearly define the goal and keep your staff abreast of progress along the way.
Lesson 2: Develop a Flight Plan
Every pilot needs to file a flight plan before take-off so air traffic controllers can guide them safely to their destination – or redirect them in case of an emergency. When you have a plan in place, your team will be more willing to buy in and to follow you. A plan will also keep you moving toward the goal regardless of the bumpy flight and high winds.
Lesson 3: Flex with the Winds
Aircraft are often thrown off course because of weather and other non-controllable variables. The pilot announces these changes so passengers will know why the aircraft is changing direction. During my father’s flying days, the aircraft was thrown off course as much as 80% of the time! This is also common in the workplace because things change along the way for many reasons. As the supervisor, you need to be willing to adjust your “flight plan” in order to reach the goal – and to let your team know why things have changed.
Lesson 4: Stay the Course
The fourth lesson my father taught me was to not give up on my goals just because the flight plan was off course or the aircraft had low visibility during inclement weather. Remember where you are going and why you want to get there. Just because storms surround the team, it does not mean the goal is unreachable! Help staff focus on the goal during the blind spots along the way.
Lesson 5: Abort When Necessary
Every pilot faces the decision of whether to abort a flight during an emergency: from fighter pilots ejecting from aircraft, to mechanical failures on take-off, to in-flight emergencies. I think of the tough decisions Chelsey Sullenberger had to make during the emergency landing of flight US 1549 into the Hudson River in 2009. You will face difficult decisions as a leader, and it is important to know when it is necessary to abort the plan. Like Sully, you may face some repercussions, but you also may save lives, money or reputations!
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Questions to Ponder…
- Do you and your team have a clear picture of where you are going and why?
- Is planning a key part of your process in reaching goals?
- Are you flexible to abort when circumstances call for it?
- Do you keep your team informed of progress and difficulties along the way?
Author of The Supervisor’s Safari Guidebook Series