Leveraging the Pilot Mindset for Effective Leadership

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Leveraging the Pilot Mindset for Effective Leadership
Creative abstract success, leadership and business competition challenge corporate concept: group of arrows moving by highway over endless labyrinth

Aircraft pilot training is extensive and challenging. Gaining ratings on multiple aircraft types, including jets, is a complex process. The lessons and experiences gained by pilots in the cockpit create a distinct mindset that can be adapted by business leaders.

Faced with the need to adapt plans and make quick decisions, some of which could be life or death, pilots must learn to lead and trust themselves. With trust comes confidence to achieve mission success and overcome challenges.

Self-Reliance and Leadership

The first time I flew solo, I was 16 years old. This was not my first time in the pilot’s seat, but this time, I was alone. This was thrilling; my safety net had been removed, and the instructor was not there. When I took off, there was a notable difference; all the actions and responsibilities were on me now. I recognized the importance of rising to the challenge and clearly understood the need for self-reliance. Similarly, leaders need to rise to the occasion and gain the tools they need to achieve success.

A pilot, like a business owner, wears numerous hats. For leaders, there comes a point where they must delegate. Can a copilot or crew member complete tasks or solve problems? It is up to the pilot to make this determination and prioritize how tasks are managed. Leaders must identify actions that must be delegated and determine if team members have the skills and ability to complete the task effectively.

Businesses and aircraft have to keep moving to complete a mission or achieve a goal. This unstoppable momentum means challenges and issues must be addressed immediately and decisively. This alone is a powerful mindset to adopt. In business, waiting may mean the opportunity is lost, or the challenge becomes too great. In the cockpit, there is no time for vacillation. Pilots learn to think quickly and execute fast. When done in business, this creates a competitive advantage.

Clear and Deliberate Communications

In the air or on the ground, lives can be at risk if information and intentions are not presented clearly. It is for this reason that pilots and air traffic controllers have developed a specific vocabulary to aid in concise communication.

Communication begins with the pilots identifying themselves and their aircraft, followed by who they are addressing. Air traffic control will respond, acknowledging they have heard the statement. This recognition gives the pilot the cue to state their intentions. They may wish to taxi to the runway or ask for approach clearance. This request is made in a precise way, using an economy of words. There is no time for long explanations or confusing statements. The tower will then grant or deny the request.

This is a very deliberate and clear communications protocol that is a key part of safety and operations. Intentions are repeated back, demonstrating the message has been heard. This is an excellent approach for leaders to take. When staff members repeat back a request, it ensures they understand what is being asked. If unable to repeat what they are to do, that moment is the best time to clarify. With this strategy, the leader is more likely to get what he or she wants.

Standardized language should be adapted for business. Stating intentions and goals allows leaders to share their vision and how goals will be accomplished. When language is confusing and intentions muddled, a company will struggle to stay on course.

Decisive Decision Making

In the cockpit, pilots know exactly what the dashboard tells them. For each flight, pilots know what altitude they will be flying, approximate speed, weather conditions, arrival time and fuel levels upon landing. Any deviation in instruments readings, he or she will quickly make minute adjustments.

Businesses should leverage the power of dashboards that present real-time, critical information about sales, financials, HR needs and other metrics. It is just as important to decide what doesn’t need to be on the dashboard as what does. Keeping a watchful eye on those critical items also allows for small and quick corrections to be made and challenges to be prevented.

Determining all the worst-case scenarios, a response plan must be planned in advance. This is a critical exercise and a significant part of pilot training. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we don’t know what will be thrown at us, but total loss of revenue or a forced closure of our business is something we all could have planned for in advance of the pandemic.

Cockpit Culture

How pilots train in the cockpit is the foundation for good corporate culture. Leadership and clear communications, assigning of tasks and having a common mission are all key elements of a positive corporate culture. Ground crews, maintenance staff, flight operations, dispatchers and pilots all need to be in alignment to execute missions. Satisfying the customer, like pleasing the passenger, creates a common bond and shared purpose.

A well-developed culture is also a competitive advantage.

Looking Back to Move Forward

Military pilots examine their actions immediately after missions in an open forum where there are no ranks or hierarchy. This effort is designed to get honest feedback. Understanding what went right, what went wrong and what could have been done better is critical. In aviation, examining a mission allows pilots to sharpen skills. The process also identifies issues that must be addressed before the next flight. In business, talking with team members to assess a campaign’s success will provide leaders with information needed to modify approaches. Many managers are too busy executing on a plan that isn’t working and should instead constantly test their assumptions and compare its expected output to where they want to be a year down the road.

The pilot learns, through training and execution, how to plan, prepare, take off, fly and land at their final destination. This is done thousands of times by communicating clearly and effectively, developing checklists and protocols, learning how to make decisions and take decisive action, understanding how to work with others to achieve goals and by looking back to find ways to improve. Leaders in business will benefit from adopting the Pilot Mindset. These tools, tactics and approaches will allow them to navigate their companies through challenging storms and events, identifying strategies for increasing efficiency that will allow them to rise above the competition.


About the author: Nick Tarascio is the dynamic CEO of Ventura Air Services, a fast-growing aviation company focused on aircraft sales, maintenance and private air charter services. Based at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York, Ventura is a family business that was founded by Nick’s father more than three decades ago. In 2020 under his leadership, the company doubled the size of its charter fleet. Today Ventura’s fleet of 10 jets provides business and leisure travel services in North and South America and the Caribbean. Ventura is also a preferred “on-call” provider for rapid medical organ transplant teams that fly to hospitals in advance of life-saving surgeries. Ventura Air Services has been providing charter, sales and aircraft maintenance services for more than 60 years. In 2020 the company made a major investment in aircraft, doubling its fleet to 8. To learn more about Ventura Air Services, visit www.venturajet.com.

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