Project Execution through Successful Leadership: How to Lead Like a Fighter Pilot
Practicing successful leadership seems fairly simple – one acquires the positional authority to lead, and does so by influencing or guiding others. But too often, “leaders” assume that just because they’ve achieved total project execution under their guidance that they deserve the title. To be sure, leadership is a concept measured by benchmarked success and achievements, but it is also a long-term manifestation of your actions and influence upon others. While innate values and personal characteristics lend themselves heavily toward the development of a leader, these traits do not primarily form the core of a true leader.
In military aviation, fighter pilots work within a high-risk environment where there is zero tolerance for error in project execution. The occupational health and safety of the pilots in the cockpit and ground crew rely upon a commitment to excellence and full communication throughout all levels of an operation. It is through successful leadership that the field of military aviation experiences one of the lowest error rates in any high-risk operation. Leadership throughout all levels do not only communicate with and train team members through a planning and debriefing process, but they also follow through with precision during project execution, and then work to identify improvements or root causes of error during a debriefing. When you are engaged throughout an operation, inspire others to improve upon their own actions, and exhibit behaviors that others deem valuable and seek to emulate, you are acting in a manner that defines true leadership.
Leadership is a Function of Your Behavior
Leadership by example is the most effective component of becoming a true leader. While the principles of business management are successful for directing a team toward a projected goal, ‘direction’ is not entirely the end-goal of true leadership initiatives. Successful leadership is about inspiration, and providing others with the ideas and tools necessary for crafting one’s own path to success – not merely prescribing a list of steps to follow and check off for one-off project execution. When considering the differences between leadership and management, it is important to note that successful leadership is evidenced by the provision of a transparent framework based upon good communication and full collaboration. In this way, each member of a team stays on the same page throughout an initiative and all participants reach a common goal.
A process of planning and debriefing is an essential action exhibited by leaders. When a leader fully communicates a plan of action and methods to execute this action to his or her team members, the group is prepared for success in a project. Execution through planning only covers the foreseeable obstacles, however, and leaders must additionally address contingencies. Essentially, successful leadership is not about micromanaging and assigning tasks for estimated results – it is about equipping a team with the focus and support necessary to flawlessly execute a task.
Indicators of Successful Leadership
Leadership is something developed over many years, through direct experience with a team and success in guiding individuals through a full-term mission, problem, or project execution. Again, indicators of successful leadership begin by examining one’s own personal actions. Are you exhibiting behaviors that others deem valuable and want to emulate? Strong teams are built upon trust, and leadership is dependent upon displaying forthrightness and is maintained with actions and words.
Additionally, setting the example is a key component of one’s leadership skills. Are you yourself successful in production and accomplishment, and do people tend to follow your example of being punctual and precise? Does project execution run flawlessly under your guidance, and does your team trust your decisions? Do you embody the qualities that you would want in a leader? The “Golden Rule” also applies when assuming the role of a leader – always lead others as you would want to be led by someone else. Drawing again upon the introductory thought to this article – many “leaders” think they are deserving of that title simply because they guide people to an end goal. Even if a project was flawlessly executed, it is not only the end result that defines the critical aspects of leadership; it is the thoughts and actions one employs in order to communicate with a team, identify and prepare critical actions, and execute through communication and teamwork.
Overall, leadership is more than just a word or a title. It is more than achieving a goal and calling yourself a “leader”. It is instead the long-term ability to encompass all of these elements: being engaged with your thoughts and actions, performing in a manner that encourages others to emulate your behavior, and inspiring others to improve upon their own actions.