5 Leadership lessons from the movie “Top Gun Maverick”

Yes, a movie can have revelations for business, entrepreneurship, marketing, branding, and leadership. The latest craze is Top Gun Maverick, featuring the long-awaited return of Tom Cruise reprising his role as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a test pilot and then Top Gun instructor for a suicidal stealth mission. It is a great adrenaline rush for many of us aviators, and many who aren’t. So, what did I connect the film with in terms of business and leadership?

1) No guts, no glory

Maverick was a test pilot for a fictional hypersonic plane. He could do everything by the book, and of course he didn’t. He pushed the envelope so that limits could be broken, and new heights could be reached. This is the same thing as demanded from an entrepreneur. As the saying goes, “go big, or go home”. So, as a leader and entrepreneur, don’t be afraid to kick your courage into the stratosphere, and go where no man has gone before. The best of the breed never followed the rulebooks, whether that be Steve Jobs of Apple, or Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla. If you have no guts, and you confine your imagination and limits, do something else.

2) Make friends from enemies

30 years ago, Maverick and “Iceman” were rivals. They bridged their differences, and became best friends. Their careers took decidedly different paths, with Maverick still a captain who insisted on flying rather than move up the corporate ladder, while Iceman became a 4-star full admiral. When Maverick landed in a career blackhole, Iceman intervened and Maverick retained his wings. So, at work, in the business arena, and everywhere else, there are no permanent enemies. Lord Palmerston, former British prime minister in the 19th century, once famously said, “We have no perpetual enemies.” Well said. Make friends even from enemies and rivals, and you have just expanded your field.

3) First is not (always) best

When Maverick received his last gig as a Top Gun instructor, the two senior officers who interviewed him were Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, and Rear Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates. VAdm Simpson was first in his batch, while Maverick was second place in his own. And yet, truth be told, Maverick was the best pilot, bar none, and he could prove that there was a way to succeed in an “impossible” mission. So, in the business world, being first to market or even first, does not mean you are the best. The second (or third), may have something better, or, in time, surpass the first. Without naming which, we have seen big names that seemed insurmountable, collapsed into obscurity. The true arbiter of success is never the rank or position, but what matters to you at the finish line. Keep doing your best, and always only see YOURSELF as your competition, not others.

4) Play is key

Maverick had to build a team capable of succeeding in a suicidal mission, and yet the crew were not cohesive. He engaged them in play, and bonding began to happen. You can NEVER excel in something unless you have an undying love for it, and that compels you to do anything to succeed. Therefore, to love something, it must be FUN to you. If you consider coding as a chore, you can never excel as a great coder. If you think flying is just a job, you can never be a great pilot. And if you consider a venture as just a “side hustle”, I suggest sticking to your job. A business venture must be the one and last thing on your mind, no two thoughts about it. Imagine Jobs or Musk treating their ventures as “side hustles”, their businesses would have tanked. So, enjoy what you do, love what you do, and you will have a higher chance to succeed.

5) Don’t assume, confirm

In the movie, just when everyone thought Maverick was dead, Rooster, a young pilot, did not believe it. As the military would tell you, NEVER assume, always confirm. If you believe something to be true, make sure of it. In business or leadership, never allow your complacency to be your modus operandi. Always keep your pulse on all things, so that you know how best to react to sudden incidents, and be always decisive when solving problems. In these circumstances, your situational awareness will save your crew.

There is nothing wrong being the Maverick, just as there will always be those who would rather be Iceman, Cyclone, or others. Choose your path and destiny, and stick to it. In that conviction, you will find yourself, and succeed.

PS – Do watch the movie “Top Gun Maverick”. It is totally worth watching.

 

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