That Moment During My Pilot Test

August 27th, 2015 — 5:30am

It was a quiet moment between me and the FAA examiner. He was a veteran pilot, and much older than I. The airplane I was flying was pointed back toward Champaign, the airport we had taken off from almost 2 hours earlier. My voice sounded strained and shaky as I made the routine radio calls to Champaign approach. I was sweating from the heat, and from the stress.

The check ride I was on is the last step in getting a private pilot’s license. It was a Saturday, and my only chance to take the check ride in time to carry out my plans to travel for this project. I had just performed a range of maneuvers — steep turns, s-turns, lost procedures, navigation by map and compass, simulated engine failure, short-field landing, etc.

The first half of the ride went great — some of my best flying to date. Then I made some small mistakes on my short-field landing, and some big mistakes on my soft-field takeoff. It was ugly and I knew it. A few minutes later I got flustered when he asked me to combine an unexpected maneuver with my simulated engine failure procedure. I forgot some steps and missed my planned landing area. By that time any feeling that this was going well was gone, and a sinking feeling of failure was setting into my gut.

Once all the required maneuvers were done, the examiner gave me a second chance at the engine failure procedure. I knew it was make or break. I was hot, exhausted, and out of adrenaline. I didn’t see a field that looked good. I turned left to look behind me, and I didn’t like my choices there either. I said to myself “Get it together or you are going to fail this test RIGHT NOW.” I made a choice, but it wasn’t a good one. I barely cleared a couple of obstacles on the way to it. The sinking feeling was increasing.

After that second chance on the engine failure, we headed back to Champaign. So there we sat, in quiet except my radio calls. The test was harder than I expected. I was pretty sure I had failed. I was exhausted and discouraged.

In the noisy silence of engine rev and radio static, I was surprised to feel the examiner’s hand rest on my shoulder for just a few seconds. It was as if he was saying, take a breath, it’s ok. Relax and finish this. I didn’t expect that from the man judging my performance against the standards.

I landed gracefully at Champaign, parked, and shut down the airplane. As the propeller sputtered to a stop, I flipped off all the switches and waited to hear the worst. Instead I heard, “Congratulations. Meet me inside.” I was pretty sure that meant I passed, but I didn’t quite believe it until he handed me my temporary pilot’s license.

As I drove away from the airport, I remembered that moment and his hand on my shoulder. Celebration would have made sense, but tears rolled down my face as I steered my car toward home. Working toward my license over the past year was harder than I ever thought it would be. The final check ride stretched me to my limits. And this quiet old man who could have failed me showed me kindness. He helped me do a hard thing, and it moved me deeply.

We all need a hand on the shoulder sometimes, and we all have a chance to be that for others when they get shaky. Moments like these bring a whole lot of meaning into life and leadership.

What It Feels Like

August 20th, 2015 — 5:30am

What does it feel like to work here?

What does it feel like to be a customer there?

What does it feel like to spend time with you?

Everyone needs to feel competent, included, and cared about. If someone or something makes us feel stupid, left out, or rejected, we will avoid it like the plague. These are the real reasons employees quit and customers go elsewhere.

A good paycheck or a good price are not enough to overcome a bad feeling. Pay attention to what it feels like for them.

I Need You

August 13th, 2015 — 5:30am

Relationships work best when you respond to what the other asks for and ask for what you need.

It might be easier for you to say “let me help you” than to say “I need this from you”. Perhaps one feels generous and strong, and the other selfish and vulnerable. Great relators do both.

Your co-workers, your friends, and your family members need to know you’re human like they are. They need to know how to please you. They need you to participate in a two-way street of give and take with them. And you need the connection and the energy that come from asking for what you need and receiving it.

Clear asking makes things better.


August 6th, 2015 — 5:30am

When you stay inside your comfort zone, it gets smaller. Staying where you are most comfortable is an unhealthy habit. Like eating junk food or smoking tobacco, it feels nice in the moment and makes life harder in the long term.

When you forge out into new and uncomfortable territory, your comfort zone gets bigger. Like getting exercise, it’s hard in the moment and rewards you in the long term.

Doing the uncomfortable thing that makes everything better is an investment in your future.

Bite the bullet, step into the discomfort, and expand your horizons. Make the change, try the new thing, confront the issue, upset the apple cart. You’ll be glad you did.

Inertia Mistakes

July 30th, 2015 — 5:30am

Organizations and relationships are like a big stone wheel that’s spinning. They have huge inertia in them. You must work hard for a long time to get them spinning well, and they keep spinning on their own for a while when we let go. There’s a lag time between effort and outcome.

Human nature tends to make mistakes around lag times. Thinking it will never get up to speed, we might not keep pushing hard on that heavy wheel when it’s new and not spinning very fast yet. Or we might neglect it after it gets going, assuming it will keep on spinning forever.

Keep your eyes on the future. Make sure you’re pushing in ways that help. Keep pushing the wheels that will lead to the outcomes you want.

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