Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Rob "Waldo" Waldman

Three R's for Reaching New Heights

Here are three ways you can maximize your lift and minimize your drag and still keep flying in any tough environment:  refocus, refuel, and retool.

  1. Refocus
    Focus on what you love
    . On my night combat missions when I would sense a claustrophobic panic attack coming on, I had a special contingency plan.  I would open up my check list and look down at a picture of my niece and nephew (Harrison and Jennifer.)  Looking at them got me focused on who I really loved and distracted me from my fear.  Love lifts, fear drags.  It also got me focused on who needed me.  It forced me to “think outside my cockpit” and got me out of my head. Looking at these photos gave meaning to my mission.

    What gives meaning to your mission?  When you put yourself in a service mindset, you’ll instantly shift your perspective and gain courage. So, focus on what gives lift to your life.

    Want to find what gives you lift?  Look at what drives your passion. Look at who needs you to perform. Look at the relationships and activities that get you excited and energized and ready to “push it up” in life. Then, pursue them relentlessly. Seek what gives you life: your children, your friends and family, physical fitness, music, animals, trusted colleagues, your work, God, etc.

  2. Refuel
    Fighter pilots have stringent rest requirements and they must have 12 hours of uninterrupted rest time before they can fly. If not, they are grounded. The reason is simple: performance is severely inhibited when one is tired. No one can go nonstop and give 100% all the time. We need to give ourselves a break.  Take time to refuel and rest.

    Burn out is a tremendous cause not only for lack of productivity in the work place but of stress and ill health as well.  If you feel you are literally dragging, maybe it’s time to step back and just take a break.  Take a short vacation, get a massage, go for a hike (without your cell phone!), or sleep in one weekend. Don’t worry if you have to put your work on hold. I guarantee once you get back into the cockpit, your performance and efficiency will go way up.

  3. Retool  
    Aircraft head into the hangars periodically for maintenance. Engines must get changed and systems must be upgraded.  We all need a tune up every so often—time to retool and revamp our approach, sharpen our tools, and improve our perspective on things. After a while, we’ll eventually burn out our engine and crash if we don’t upgrade our skill and attitude. For some this might mean exercising, meditating, attending professional development seminars or simply reading a book. Each of us is unique in the way we retool.

    Remember, you have the aircraft and are at the controls.  If something isn’t working in your life, you need to take action and fix it. You, and no one else, are ultimately the pilot in command of your own career and have to take the action necessary to grow. There may be times when you won’t be able to see how best to do this until you step back and take a closer look at the relationships, actions, and habits that define your flight path.

    Remember, your perspective can be limited. Sometimes it takes a wingman to check your six (watch your back), perform a battle damage check, and let you know it’s time to get to the hangar and do some work on yourself.  Don’t hold back from asking a trusted partner to do a maintenance check on you.  It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher from Never Fly Solo: Lead with Courage, Build Trusting Partnerships and Reach New Heights in Business, by Waldo Waldman, published by McGraw-Hill Professional. © 2010

About the Author(s)

Rob "Waldo" Waldman Lt. Col. Rob "Waldo" Waldman, MBA, is a former decorated U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, sales manager, and professional leadership speaker.  His Website is www.yourwingman.com