I have always wanted to be a pilot, although that dream never materialized in my youth. What can learning to fly teach us about leadership and management? Plenty. Here’s just a few.
I started training within a Boeing B737-NG800 (new generation) fixed base procedure trainer (otherwise known as a flight simulator), after my loved one gifted me once with a birthday present of a joyride within an Airbus A320 flight simulator.
On board the procedure trainer, pilots and enthusiasts can learn about how to handle the controls of a Boeing B737NG, one of the most widely used commercial jets in the world. I have passed License 1, Preflight Endorsement, and License 2, which means I can handle the flight simulator by myself (“fly solo”), from starting the simulator (jet) from a “cold and dark state” (or powering up the aircraft), programming the FMC (flight management computer), to pushback (which means getting the aircraft to the runway), taking off, auto-pilot, landing, and taxi to airport, and shutting down.
It is all very educational and realistic. Later on, I went on to take an Airbus Multicrew Cooperation (MCC) bridging course, that combined jet orientation, crew resource management (CRM), threat and error management (TEM), etc.
So, what are some of the things I learned when immersing within the flight training devices, facing different instructors every time, and learning a laundry list of controls no less?
The pilot and the co-pilot work in tandem, and there is a bond that is based on respect and the specific tasks at hand. When someone trails off or makes a mistake, the other will pick it up swiftly. Both persons in the cockpit rely on one another.
When we are running our businesses, discipline is paramount. We demand it more out of ourselves as leaders, even as we demand the same from our team mates. We have to work together cohesively without fail.
Flying a jet demands a great deal from the pilot. Every trip is important and critical. There can be no room for error, especially of a personal nature. If you intend to fly a plane, you have to have enough rest, be at peak physical condition. When I had a hip injury, I had to lay off for about 2 months before I could return to the simulator.
Running a business demands the same. We must be alert to our ecosystem, whether it is our competition, the global arena, the geopolitical situation, and our internal ecosystem. Every peg in the system, every bit of intelligence, can help us make better decisions.
Everything within a jet has redundancy, and the pilots should be too. There is ample preparation before every flight. Flight plans are to be studied before you even enter the cockpit, and your flight bag should contain all the documentation you need if there is a contingency. Every possible emergency should be prepared for.
There is no successful business that can last, unless the business is prepared to go to the proverbial battle of the marketplace. Everyone on the team has to be ready and prompt in handing in his contribution to help the entire business steer forward.
Every feature on a jet has a specific function, and a specific time in which it should be activated or deactivated. Nothing can be left to chance, or to whims. You prepare flight plans, and program the FMC (flight management computer). Then you check all the controls according to standard checklists, to make sure everything within the cockpit and the plane is in order.
Chaos may sound “romantic” to those rogues who imagine that only in chaos can creativity and innovation arise. However, the reality is that rogues, and chaos, have no place in a modern, fighting-fit enterprise. Everyone has to be respectful of the chain of command, and be ready to be team players, to converge on business goals.
There may be thunderstorms, a change in weather, or even engine failure. Frail and frayed nerves will not get us safely to the destination. Only calm nerves will. The pilots will keep each other calm, and go through all standard procedures to ensure that recovery is made.
Calm nerves are the hallmarks of a true leader, and running a business demands that a leader will be firm and steady in difficult waters. His people will rely on him to be the illumination before cloudy skies. Never lose sight of what you need to do as a leader.
When there are specific incidents that confront you, you not only have to keep calm, as a pilot, you have to take charge.
There will be difficult decisions to be made, and even if there may be small risks, you are the leader, and you will brave through it. You will of course, be completely accountable for your actions. It comes with being a leader.
Practice makes perfect. There is a saying that the minimum number of hours to master a skill, is 10,000 hours. Flying is the same, especially if you intend to acquire the ATPL (air transport pilot license), since you will be taking care of hundreds of lives in the air from origin to destination.
For businesses, there will be no short cuts. Everyone on your team must be empowered and educated to understand that repetitiveness can create muscle memory, and in turn, become second nature. In times of challenges, only those who have put in decades or years of practice will gain an unassailable advantage compared to newbies and those who took short cuts.
It costs more to become a commercial pilot (ATPL) then it costs to finish medical school. It is no wonder, since a commercial jet pilot takes care of hundreds of lives in the air, and has to be a person of steel, unmoving in any situation, including those of extreme duress. After I have completed these courses, I have a new found respect for our pilots in the air. They are true leaders, and we have lots to learn from them. Those values they carry with them every flight they make, are the same values we can adopt in our leadership positions every day.
We may not necessarily keep lives safe in the air every day, but we sure can keep jobs for our people, and keep our businesses afloat in this difficult and uncertain times ahead.