Saturday, September 22, 2007

Old Warriors / New Tricks

I had the pleasure of spending some quality time in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter this week, courtesy of the Arizona Army National Guard. We were flying the border, inspecting the fence between our nation and Mexico. It was an amazing flight in some beautiful country- rugged mountains, rolling hills, farms, ranches, and much more green vegetation than I would have thought for the desert Southwest. I was also educated about the need to operationally secure our boundary, and how important the on-going construction (roads, fence, towers, facilities) is to our national security. Great stuff and critically important work.

Equally impressive was my pilot. CW5 Tony Adolf is one of the Army's most experienced helicopter pilots, having over 8500 hours of flight time in nearly 35 years. The man knew his stuff. We were in good hands.

It occurred to me that with that much time however, one might get bored or worse, become careless. So I asked him how he avoided complacency. His response was two-fold. First, he joked that hanging out and flying with youngsters like his co-pilot (a First Lieutenant with about 200 hours of experience) kept him on his toes. And while at first this may have just been a light-hearted poke at his buddy, I found this to provide a great leadership insight. You see, it was Mr. Adolf's job to mentor the new lieutenant, to teach him the ways of the desert, to show him how to handle the aircraft beyond what he may have learned in flight school. The old warrior stayed fresh by teaching others. It kept him on his toes, forced him to constantly evaluate what he knew and why he knew it.

Secondly, he talked about his checklists. Poke your head in any aircraft cockpit and you will see the pilots going over their pre-flight, during-flight, and post-flight lists. There are some things too important to be dependent upon one's memory. Complacency is avoided by following critical protocols for actions that cannot be skipped. Even old warriors like Mr. Adolf needed the reminder of his checklists.

Great stuff. And a few leadership take-aways for me. I am inspired to take a look at my organization's mentorship program. I too have some old warriors - and some new interns who could benefit from their instruction. It is my intent to pair them up and see if the mutual growth that I observed in the helicopter cockpit could be helpful on my own team.

There are also a few checklists that might be appropriate for my folks as well, especially out in the field. Checklists for people before they move heavy machinery, prior to a meeting, or before closing out a project might help us from becoming complacent and skipping critical steps.

It was a great day. I enjoyed the flight - and the leadership lessons. He may not have realized it but CW5 Adolf, a national treasure given his service record and flight experience, taught this old warrior (me) some new tricks. I'm anxious to see my own team soar to new heights.

That's Leader Business!

No comments: