Be a smooth leader

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What could learning to be a successful flight leader have to do with being a successful leader on the ground?


How many leaders do you know who, when promoted to become the “big cheese,” feel they now have the prerogative to change direction and shift gears whenever they desire and it’s up to everyone else on the team to keep up? They often horde information — either due to insecurity or insensitivity — so the team is always in a reactive state of partial understanding?  They think, “Hey, I’m the boss, everyone else needs to keep up with me and get aligned with my orders.” Without getting political, this is the leadership style of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

As the Blue Angels flight leader, my job was to fly high-speed aerobatics in the #1 jet as smoothly and predictably as I could, so my wingmen could fly as close as humanly possible and show the world what incredible pilots they were.

There were three keys to becoming a smooth flight leader:

  1. Standardization: We had an established flight routine that I adhered to unless there was a reason to make a change. Standardization drove predictability in routine matters and freed-up our precious attention for high-value opportunities.
  2. Transparency: I continually updated the wingmen on where we were and where we were going so they always had “situational awareness.” Armed with this awareness, they could take initiative to adapt and perform at their best.
  3. Communication: I was clear, concise, and direct in giving commands of preparation and execution during each maneuver.  And my actions exactly matched my words.

Being smooth doesn’t mean not being an agile or dynamic leader.

When you are a trusted, smooth leader you can make timely adjustments and rapid, positive changes, and your team will adapt and follow you in close formation.

But if you’re not smooth, your wingmen will hesitate, separate, resist change, and disengage. You may find yourself all alone and frustrated, wondering why your team isn’t following with full engagement.

Be a smooth leader and allow your team to show the world how great they are.