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4 Reasons Why Leading a Business is Like Piloting a Plane

Updated: Nov 15, 2020



Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn, November 2nd 2017.


In 2017, I’ve been lucky to experience the thrill of piloting a plane. It was only for half a day, but that's enough to be hooked!  It was a beautiful, sunny day in Canada - one of those perfect blue skies with just a few fluffy clouds (cumulus, to be exact). With attentive coaching from the real pilot, I was able to complete a few take-offs and landings. It was very fun and satisfying, but also quite nerve-racking!

And it dawned on me that while technology has helped making pilots’ jobs easier, there’s still a ton of manual maneuvers. For example, during landing, at every moment I needed to check the gauges, adjust course, check gauges again, adjust throttle, adjust course again … Definitely made me thing of how a successful Leader runs a business.

With my return to entrepreneurial ventures full-time in 2017, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside many bright entrepreneurs that both inspired and challenged me.

Here are 4 reasons why Leading a business successfully is just like piloting a plane.


1. You need to be present.


Your mind needs to be focused. You can’t be thinking about your next trip, your last failure, your concerns with an employee.. Focus is extremely important. A pilot needs to be focused on the present, sensing every detail of their environment at that very moment.

A lack of focus can be fatal - and in the case of a business it can cause its downfall. As a Leader, if you’re not bought in, get out. Be there 100% or don’t be there at all. Life’s too short.



2. You need to have gauges.


Like in a plane, you need to be able to see what’s going on in your business. In a company, it can be a CRM, with Dashboards, metrics and clear measures of success for every contributor, Leader, department… including you! As a business Leader, it’s the sum of indicators that truly indicate if you’re on course. It’s cash burn rate, your cost of acquisition, your Lifetime customer value, your churn, you sales cycles, your operational efficiency, your employees NPS, just to mention a few.


Adjust your measures with the size of your organization, so don’t overcomplicate things. But even with the smallest business, there’s basic metrics you can’t go without. How much gas you’ve got left will: cash reserves! Your speed: are we in expansion or contraction? 

Ask a pilot: altitude, airspeed and attitude indicator are all essential to get to destination.



3. Perfection is in the fine tuning.


“A company’s success is the result of the accumulation of outstanding delivery, at every level, with continual fine-tuned adjustments in Leadership.”

Landing a plane isn’t for the impatient. You need to act with care, for every detail. It’s constantly readjusting - gently - at every moment. There’s no 1 action that brings you to success (a safe landing): it’s the combination of all those small adjustments together.


I’ve been asked: what’s the 1 thing we can do to be successful? Or: what’s 1 freebie we can give our clients / employees so they’re happy? The problem with those questions is assuming we need just ONE. That one big change of course isn’t going to produce magic.


A company’s success is the result of the accumulation of outstanding delivery, at every level, with continual fine-tuned adjustments in Leadership. Treat people like partners, not resources. Aim client happiness, not satisfaction. Empower your contributors, don’t manage them. Fine-tuning will make a company truly outstanding.

4. Nothing ever stays still.


It struck me how quickly a plane can fall off course. The winds change fast, and you need to react quickly. Let go of the controls for just a moment, and things go sideways!

Same goes for business. The world is evolving faster than ever, but it makes things fun. As a Leader in this brave new world, your competitive advantages will not be what you know, or what experiences you have.

It will be how fast you can learn and adapt. Enjoy the ride!

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