Part of my job includes a lot of international travel. This means long hours on airplanes, including take-off, landings, turbulence, smooth sailing, and sometimes, bad food. Just a couple days ago, I returned to the US from Brazil. As the plane climbed up through heavy thunderstorms and some of the worst turbulence I have ever experienced, I started thinking how visionary leadership is like flying an airplane.
Flying Requires Energy
Getting an airplane off the ground and flying 5,000 miles while carrying 250 people requires a lot of fuel, and a lot of energy. Our Boeing 767 had two engines large enough to stand inside. Likewise, visionary leaders “fly” long distances towards their God-given vision and take along a significant number of people. Here are some practical leadership insights from flying:
A Lot of Energy is Needed to Start Moving
Have you noticed how the engines surge just to move the plane? This is a simple law of physics. Overcoming inertia requires more energy than pushing a moving object. The greatest effort required for reaching any goal is the initial push to move us in the right direction. As leaders, it is important we concentrate our energy and push hard. Don’t worry, this will get (a little) easier over time.
Even More Energy is Needed to Get Off the Ground
The loudest moment of flight is take-off. If you are sitting toward the back of the airplane, take-off can be deafening. In leadership, we must save energy for the moment when our team or project is getting off the ground. This may be the launch of a product, the grand opening of a store, or the first worship service of a church. Plan to use a lot of “leadership fuel” for take-off.
Keep Momentum on the Climb
Once the plane is off the ground, flying does not require as much energy as good piloting — with particular attention to the pitch, or level of ascent. If the pitch is too low, you will never climb high enough. If the pitch is too high, the plane can stall and crash. We greatly value leadership, often at the expense of management. Yet, one is not without the other. Organizations can grow too fast for their infrastructure or too slow to make a difference. Good management keeps our leadership plane climbing at the right rate.
Maintain Stability Through Turbulence
Last week, our plane climbed for over one hour through bad weather. I am sure our pilot didn’t leave the cockpit to use the restroom during that time. Instead, he was present, focused, and attentive during that part of the flight. There are turbulent times in leadership. Those times will require all of us, complete focus, and courage to push our organization through.
Reach Cruising Altitude
I often wondered why planes don’t just keep climbing into space. The reason is it takes more power to climb the last 1,000 feet because of altitude, and eventually, even the most powerful engines cannot climb any higher. The closer we get to accomplishing our goals and fulfilling our vision, the greater amount of energy is needed to climb higher. Organizations and churches plateau and stop growing if the amount of energy put into growth does not increase accordingly.
On my last flight, the airline showed a promotional video on the entertainment system with a simple, powerful video of a plane taking off the company tagline:
"Because there is no stop in us, or you. Only go."
- Where are you in the pursuit of your vision? Are you struggling to overcome inertia? Are you about to leave the ground? Are you pushing through to keep momentum? Are you needing to focus through turbulent times? Are you about to reach cruising altitude?
The airline commercial is right. I am no flight expert, but I am pretty sure no airplane can fly backwards.
Once you take off towards God’s vision for your life,
there is no stop, only go.
by Norival Trindade