How flying Blackhawk helicopters formed my leadership career
For the first five years of my career my life was flying Blackhawk helicopters. Many years have passed, but I still look back on those exciting, grueling and intense days as the most formative time of my leadership skills.
Emergency situations call for true leaders
The fuel gauges suddenly began to flicker. The LED lights indicating the amount of fuel remaining in the tanks began to run in a loop from red to yellow to green and then back again…. When my eyes trained in on the gauge, two words floated slowly from my mouth… Oh sh…t…
I quickly checked my surroundings… Thick, dense, triple canopy jungle of Honduras as far as the eye could see. Putting the helicopter down in this area would be like dropping a pin into a haystack – never to be found again.
Instincts kicked in and logic told me that this was simply an electronic failure – the tanks that were topped off full before we took off were still full and the amount of fuel used at this point was minimal. But still, emergency procedures dictated that I make a precautionary landing… but where. With the full responsibility of all passengers on my shoulders, my co-pilot and I referenced the map and found the closest clearing we could find to safely land the aircraft and properly check out the situation.
Allow me to share with you four key learnings from situations like this that have served me well through all the years:
1. Timing is everything
Plan as you may, the rest of the world is not necessarily on your time schedule. Opportunities will come at unexpected times and when you least expect them. You can work really, really hard at making things happen for yourself… sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But my lesson is – always be prepared for the unexpected… and don’t lose sight of your ultimate goals when things don’t happen when you want them to. Perseverance is key.
2. Opportunity only knocks once
The message here is be prepared to make a short-term sacrifice to achieve your long-term goals. Certain experiences in your career are critical – and they can come when you least expect them (see #1 above).
But if you are serious about what you want in your career, in your life – go for it.
A company will knock on your door once with an opportunity… if you are not ready (for whatever reason), you may be lucky to get a second knock. But the third will never come….
3. Do what others don’t
Following the path of others is easy, just do what everyone else does. But that won’t get you noticed – that won’t give you the experience as it just puts you in the same category as everyone else. Step outside your comfort zone – make yourself noticed; think outside the box; have courage to do what others don’t. But be prepared for the opportunity when it knocks… (see #2 above).
4. You are the only one looking after you
No one else cares more about your career and what you achieve than you do. Don’t make the grave mistake of thinking that someone, i.e. ‘the company’ or your boss, will plan your path for you. You have the first-hand knowledge – you know what you want. Take matters into your own hands. Define for yourself what it is you want to do with your life, how you want to do it and where you want to do it.