4 Communication Lessons I Learned From Real Top Gun Fighter Pilots

By placing six IMAX-quality cameras in the cockpits of F-18 fighter jets, Tom Cruise and the producers of Top Gun Maverick guaranteeing the public the closest thing most of them will ever see in a real fighter jet.

I know how hard it is to explain what it’s like to feel G-force on your body while traveling up to 700 miles per hour – upside down.

I had the rare opportunity to fly an F/A-18 Hornet with a Navy Blue Angels pilot. I’ve been behind the wheel of a multimillion dollar flight simulator used to train pilots to fly the world’s most advanced combat aircraft. And I’ve been invited to speak with U.S. Navy fighter pilots and Marines who are so good at what they do that they’ve been selected to teach other aviators.

These pilots taught me that they don’t have time to read detailed instructions while racing through rough terrain at supersonic speed. Instead, their responses are based on years of experience, thousands of hours of practice, relentless feedback loops, and clearly stated mission objectives.

The following communication strategies required to be a top fighter pilot will help you rise in every field.

Lifelong learning.

The pursuit of lifelong learning is deeply rooted in military culture. Flight commanders are among the most voracious readers I’ve encountered in any field.

When I was invited as a guest speaker to address pilots at the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course in Yuma, Arizona, I was impressed with the variety of books they read in addition to the required textbooks. Some students had read my books on communication skills, while others focused on history, biographies, and psychology books. But they are all readers.

Pilots and instructors become subject matter experts in certain specialties, but they all share one quality above all others: leadership. And leaders are readers.

Debriefs and feedback loops.

Debriefs are the hallmark of a successful mission. A debriefing takes place after a training mission (or a real one) and often lasts longer than the actual flight.

In most cases, the lead pilots are responsible for conducting the debriefing and begin identifying their own mistakes. Even if the mission went smoothly, there is always room for improvement. By acknowledging their own mistakes, leaders tacitly authorize the rest of the team to identify those areas where they could have performed better.

Hold debriefs with your team. For example, if you’ve launched a new product or service, ask the following questions: What went well with our product launch? What have we learned? What mistakes have we made that we can avoid next time?

Above all, encourage yourself and others to acknowledge their mistakes and express a commitment to correct them next time. It is inspiring to see a team of people committed to constant and never-ending improvement and all aligned to achieve their full potential.

Mission clarity.

The debriefing takes place after a mission while a mission briefing takes place before the planes take off. The briefing is a skill that takes practice to hone. Distilling a mission that took months of preparation into a 45-minute summary just before takeoff is a task that sounds easier than it actually is. And it is essential for combat leadership.

Clarity is the core of a mission statement. Clarity is achieved by the acronym BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front). BLUF is a succinct summary of the essential message and is always ‘at the front’ or at the beginning of a discussion.

Every person on the flight team must be crystal clear about the goal. For example, if the goal is to destroy a target, and if someone gets separated, the rest of the team will know to go to the target. Although the pilots are highly specialized and understand their role, they need to be reminded of the target: the big picture.

Apply BLUF to your emails, memos, and presentations. Start with the big picture before diving into details.

Presentation Practice.

While the best flight instructors are chosen in part for their presentation skills, they constantly hone their ability to communicate complex ideas.

In a book called Top 10 Leadership Lessons from TOPGUN, Commander Guy Snodgrass, a TOPGUN instructor, recalls the intense training he received to become an exceptional presenter. His assignment was to give a four-hour presentation by heart—no notes or slide readings. At first it seemed an impossible task, but practice lectures made it possible.

During eight practice sessions with a smaller audience of instructors, Snodgrass received specific feedback. Instructors mentioned areas that were unclear, typos or misspelled words. They provided performance feedback such as “using too many filler words” or “you sounded robotic until slide 14.”

The practice paid off. Snodgrass passed with flying colors and joined the elite group of TOPGUN instructors.

Why did Snodgrass do this to himself? “Because nothing is worth doing is ever easy,” he writes.

Becoming an exceptional communicator and inspiring leader is rewarding, but never easy. It requires passion, dedication and an unwavering commitment to excellence.

The opinions expressed here by businesstraverse.com columnists are their own, not businesstraverse.com’s.

Shreya Christinahttps://businesstraverse.com
Shreya has been with businesstraverse.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider businesstraverse.com team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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