How to Become a Trusted Partner at Work

By Rob “Waldo” Waldman, Lt. Col., CSP

Imagine you’re at an air show.  It’s a crisp spring day and you’re waiting in anticipation for the next fly-by of aircraft.  Next on the list is the world famous Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team.   Suddenly, you hear the distant roar of jet engines as a 4-ship of F-16 jet fighters approaches the horizon. Within seconds, the sound becomes deafening as they scream by at 1,000 feet in absolute perfect formation – their wingtips separated by only 4 feet!

How do they do it? What kind of intense training, discipline, and skill does it take to fly these 30 million dollar, technologically advanced aircraft at such high speeds with such precision? What does it mean to be what fighter pilots call, a wingman?

As a former combat decorated F-16 fighter pilot, I am intimately familiar with this world.  I know firsthand that while flying fighters is one of the most rewarding jobs you can have, it can also be unforgiving. One small mistake can be disastrous. Operating in such a demanding environment requires constant training, attention to detail, focus, and commitment.

There’s simply no room for error. This is the world of the wingman.

You may be asking yourself, what does the world of the fighter pilot have in common with your world? Well, if you look closely, the similarities are more common than you may think.  You see, it’s what goes on behind the scene that guarantees a successful mission, regardless if you’re on a combat mission, leading on the factory floor, making a cold call, or running a board meeting. It’s the training, teamwork, discipline and commitment to excellence that together create an environment that fosters mission success…an environment based on integrity, where people aren’t afraid to take risks, and where employees are loyal and enthusiastic about the mission.

And if there’s one thing above all else that contributes to success in the air and on the ground…it’s Trust.

  1. Trust in Yourself
  2. Trust in your Wingmen
  3. Trust as a Leader

As we explore these traits of a Wingman Leader, take a moment to explore how they relate to you as a leader. More importantly, examine how striving to become a more trusting leader can foster a safe, healthy, and productive environment at your workplace.

Trust in yourself means you:

  1. Prepare relentlessly for every mission.  You understand the procedures, study the threat, analyze the environment and contingency plan every emergency.
  2. Chair fly every mission before doing it for real. This mission rehearsal process is critical to troubleshoot and overcome the fear of failure or change.
  3. Focus first and foremost on your organization’s mission. You are 100% accountable to this mission and have the courage to own the results!

Trust in your wingmen means you:

  1. Know who to go to for help. No fighter pilot flies a mission solo, and neither should you. We always fly with wingmen, our trusted and reliable partners in the air and on the ground who help us to win.
  2. Check Six to promote an environment of mutual support. By backing up your wingmen and being another set of eyes, you provide perspective, guidance, and feedback to your wingmen.  When helping each other see our blind spots, we can help mitigate the inherent risk that is present when accomplishing the mission.
  3. Brief and de-brief every mission and continuously work with your wingmen to improve training, standards, and processes. You set objectives, assign responsibilities, hold everyone accountable, and contingency plan as a team.

Trust as a leader means you have:

 A focused vision for the future of your organization, for yourself, and for your wingmen.  When you take the time to see the world through the eyes of your wingmen, you promote loyalty which leads to performance which leads to results.

– Values that are the core of who you are. Integrity, reliability, service before self, and a commitment to excellence all serve as the fuel which powers your behavior.

– Excellent communication skills. Above all else, you listen to your wingmen and allow them to say the 3 most important words when it comes to peak performance – “I need help.” ‘Mayday’ is the wingman’s call to action.

– A Train to Win attitude. In the business world, you have to be focused on winning, not surviving. As a trusting wingman, you must sharpen your sword every day by relentless study and practice. You reward and encourage those who do the right thing at work by promoting performance in the workplace.

We have a saying in the fighter pilot world – “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in battle.”  Getting the mission done right so that every wingman makes it home to dinner is not easy.  And it’s definitely not all the glory you may see in the movies. It’s the consistent sacrifice and dedication that lay the foundation for mission success when our country calls us to action.

Each day, you too are called to action by your company, your co-workers, and your customer to accomplish the mission with honor and a commitment to excellence. You must ask yourself if you’re willing to sweat and sacrifice to get this mission done. While it’s not easy, the rewards are well worth it.

Remember, your customer rewards your actions, not your attitude.  You ultimately are responsibly for your actions and nobody can fly your jet but you.

This is the mindset of a Wingman Leader. It’s a mindset that leads to mission success and you don’t need to wear a flight suit or fly an F-16 to live it each day.


One Response to “How to Become a Trusted Partner at Work”

  1. john grimes says:

    WOW thanks Col. I fly in scholl a long time ago and never lost the feel of the great reward of a flight well planned and executed.

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