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After a bad day, a pilot gets a lift

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Part of the job of a military leader involves helping raw recruits gain confidence so that they feel like they belong in the unit. Otherwise, their self-doubt can make them a liability to the team.

As a new fighter pilot, JV Venable recalls the day he participated in his first operational fighter squadron. In poor weather, Venable was among four jets forced to fly a complex maneuver in the skies over Turkey. He did not execute well.

While he landed safely, he knew his squad noticed his shaky piloting. Because he was new to the unit, he worried that he had lost any chance to establish credibility.

In the van heading home, the most respected member of the squad, Bill “Blaze” Binger, exclaimed, “I got to tell you boys, that was one of the worst approaches of my life. I was all over the sky and never did settle into a smooth rhythm. It was mighty ugly!”

Venable suddenly relaxed. He figured that if the team leader felt so disappointed in his performance, Venable’s mistakes didn’t stand out as much.

“If someone with his experience and reputation could fly a bad approach, then maybe I wasn’t so bad after all,” Venable thought. 

Later, Venable realized that Binger had been flying right behind him—and could see Venable’s every bob and weave. It made Venable appreciate Binger’s self-criticism even more.

“To this day, I don’t know if he was really talking about himself,” Venable says. “Or if he was trying to let me know that even the best fall short every now and then.”

Venable went on to lead the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and a combat group of 1,100 airmen in the Persian Gulf.

— Adapted from “Building Commitment on Your Team,” JV Venable, www.greatleadershipbydan.com.

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