Fighter Pilot Communication


If your people aren’t doing what you expect them to, take a step back and see if you’re being brief and clear enough in your communication with them.     

Instructor pilots in a fighter squadron learn early that brevity and clarity in communication are essential for mission success.  At the speed of sound, information must be passed quickly and accurately to avoid potential catastrophe.  On the ground, pre-flight briefings must eliminate cool-sounding but ultimately content-free sound bites or execution in the air will be compromised.  When fighter pilots walk out to their jets with unresolved questions in their minds from a poorly conducted briefing, lethal consequences are a possibility.  

In order to minimize superfluous chatter and to maximize understanding, fighter pilots use a variety of communication techniques.  The following are three of the most important:


Tell them what to do, not what NOT to do

When I’m briefing a wingman on his responsibilities, I always focus on explaining what I want him to do.  If I’m teaching him how to land, I’ll tell him to calculate and fly the proper final approach airspeed.  That’s a specific, clear and brief command that focuses his efforts on the two things I need him to do—calculate a speed and then fly that speed.  

What I won’t tell him is, “Don’t get slow on final approach.”

It’s true that being slow on final is bad and potentially dangerous.  The problem is that, instead of focusing him on the correct behaviors that will allow him to be on speed, I’ve allowed his brain to contemplate the vast universe of things that could cause him to be slow.  He might be thinking of a half dozen contingencies that aren’t even possible versus focusing on the things he must do to be successful.  

Additionally, all of the words after “don’t” describe exactly what you want the listener to avoid, and you’re planting those words in his brain.

Guess what happened when I told my son, “Don’t let the clutch out too fast,” and “Don’t be nervous,” while we were sitting on an incline at a traffic light during a driving lesson with a manual transmission…


Avoid platitudes

“Beat him down on energy” is a platitude that I was taught as a brand new F-16 pilot.  It means that to win a dogfight against an adversary jet, you have to stay behind him until he bleeds off his airspeed.  (Once he’s slow, he doesn’t have the kinetic energy to maneuver away from you.  At that point, he’s been “beaten down on energy” and you point your nose at him to press the attack.)

Here’s the problem—the phrase itself is useless because it doesn’t explain how to “beat him down on energy.”  

Job one for an instructor is to explain and demonstrate how to perform the correct behaviors to affect an outcome.  “Beat him down on energy” sounds cool, but it doesn’t explain or demonstrate anything.     

The workplace equivalent of “beat him down on energy” are statements like “work smarter, not harder,” “lift with your legs, not your back,” or worse “be yourself.”  To get your point across, you must determine what you want your listener to actually do to be successful and then explain how to execute those specific behaviors.  If you don’t define behaviors, you leave it up to the listener to figure out what you meant and their idea might be worlds away from yours.   



Fighter pilots use directive-descriptive comm (short for communication) to ensure that excess verbiage doesn’t preclude quick action.  

The directive portion of that equation spurs a wingman to execute a maneuver.  The descriptive portion fills in the blanks so he knows what to do as a follow-on.  

If I spot a surface-to-air missile guiding toward my wingman, I’ll yell at him on the radio to, “Break right!”  He doesn’t need to be bothered with the facts about the missile at first.  He needs to take evasive action NOW.  

Only after his airplane is moving do I add the descriptive details, “SAM, right four o’clock low!”  If I start the conversation with a long-winded description of the missile’s flight and location, it might hit him before he even figures out what I want him to do.  

If you need someone to do something, lead the conversation with the directive.  For instance, “Please call a roofing contractor to come and repair a leak in the office.”  Then, if necessary, provide a description: “Every time it rains, water pools in the reception area.”  If you try to soften the command by going into a long-winded explanation of the problems caused by the leak, your listener might zone out and miss the point entirely when and if you finally get to it.

These three techniques alone can make all the difference to your mission success.


About the author:

Lt Col Jeff Orr serves as a veteran F-16 instructor pilot for the US Air Force. An expert on high-stress training environments, elite performance, mindset management, and the development of unstoppable organizational cultures, Orr shares his many insights on panels, stages, and in workshops. You can reach him at

Susie Salesperson


As part of my research for a book I’m working on, I had a conversation with Mark Crowley, author of Lead From the Heart.  Mark tells a cautionary tale about a fictional salesperson named Susie who is an amalgam of hard-charging practitioners one would find in any industry.  Susie shines above her counterparts in the sales department, taking all of the annual awards for top producers as evidenced by the plaques on the walls of her cubicle.  

Eventually, management realizes that – considering Susie’s immense talents – it’s only a matter of time before another company swoops in with an offer for her to leave for greener pastures.  Not wanting to take the risk of losing her, they decide to offer her a promotion to be the sales department manager.  Now, instead of being one of ten, she’s in charge of the ten.

Clearly, Susie is a talented professional in her field.  No one in the department can compete with her competitive spirit and tenacity.  There’s a problem with the promotion plan, however.  Once Susie moves up the ladder, the skillset the organization expects her to possess differs substantially from the one she had perfected in her previous role.  

As a salesperson, Susie measures her success by how many deals she closes, meaning that she spends her time generating leads and relentlessly pursuing them.  Her fellow salespeople compete with her to be the biggest producers.  Rivalries arise.  Finishing at the top of the quarterly rankings means receiving individual recognition, awards to hang on the wall, and maybe even big bonuses.   No one wants to finish at the bottom.  This environment rewards hard chargers who are competitive.

Once she moves up the ladder, the attributes that fueled her desire to compete for recognition, awards, and money can actually work against her.  She has to realize that she’s no longer an individual generating leads and closing deals in competition with her fellow salespeople.  Now, she’s charged with being a source of motivation.  She must be able to provide training for her erstwhile colleagues so that they can develop the skills necessary to follow in her footsteps.

If she stays locked into her old mindset in which the other folks in the sales department are rivals to be beaten, she’ll likely alienate them, or worse.  

Hiring or promoting based on ability can be a productive strategy.  The old adage “how you do one thing is how you do everything” carries more than a grain of truth.  Folks who have demonstrated qualities like honesty and perseverance or “soft” skills such as diplomacy and relationship building in previous endeavors will probably continue to do so with new endeavors.  This is true even if the old and new differ substantially, such as selling products or services versus managing people.    

Susie’s not a dummy.  She didn’t crush it in sales because she suffers from a lack of ability.  That said, “ability” and “skill” are not interchangeable terms.  Ability refers to innate attributes, clay to be molded.  Susie clearly possesses next-level abilities as evidenced by her tenacity as a salesperson, but she may or may not have leadership skills.  It’s incumbent upon her bosses to ensure that she’s given the opportunity to develop them through a carefully planned out, scheduled and budgeted training plan.

This process plays out daily in fighter squadrons all over the world.  The newest fighter pilots in the squadron initially fly in the role of wingman.  Wingmen must be proficient in all of the individual skills required of any fighter pilot, but they don’t have to be strategic decision makers.   They have to make decisions on very individual tasks such as whether or not to drop a bomb on a target when that target is in close proximity to civilians, but they don’t have to make big-picture decisions about where to go and when to go there.  Flight leads make those decisions and wingmen follow.  

The upgrade from wingman to flight lead happens when a pilot demonstrates that he is proficient with all of the individual fighter pilot skills and that he has the ability to take on the added responsibilities of a flight lead.  Rather than promoting him straight away and expecting him to pick up flight lead skills as he goes, we put him through a long and intense training program in which we teach him exactly what we want him to do and how we want him to do it.  Not to do so would set talented wingmen up for failure.  

As good as Susie is with her “wingman” skills, if you want her to be a good “flight lead,” you need to help her develop flight lead skills.


About the author:

Lt Col Jeff Orr serves as a veteran F-16 instructor pilot for the US Air Force. An expert on high-stress training environments, elite performance, mindset management, and the development of unstoppable organizational cultures, Orr shares his many insights on panels, stages, and in workshops. You can reach him at

The Spiral Staircase


Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes life feels like a scene from that old Bill Murray movie: Groundhog Day. Every day the same thing. The progress we want to make, the goals we set… all seem to elude us.

What’s true is that, if we are mindful and earnest in our efforts, we really do make progress… it’s just sometimes difficult to see.

I am a fan of the religious writer Karen Armstrong who wrote a beautiful memoir entitled The Spiral Staircase. She likens her own growth (and the growth we all experience on this grand human adventure) as something akin to climbing up a spiral staircase… not necessarily repeating the ‘sins’ of the past… but turning back on those experiences, returning again and again, often from a higher perspective, to those certain lessons that continue to be necessary for us to learn. screenshot-2016-09-29-10-44-11

Places that feel like old ground; places that feel familiar… but are not the same.

Our journeys, lived deeply, sometimes – necessarily – take us through these places. In our relationships, in our studies, in our jobs.

Growth… maybe not in that linear way so many of us strive for… but growth none-the-less.

One of the great gifts of the coaching process is the ability of the coach to see across the stretch of the road, to see the grand arc… to see progress when it feels, in the moment, like quicksand. And to re-assure that the way is sound, the ground secure.

Fall can be a time of new beginnings. But, as we return to our routines, it can also be a time of re-assessment… and frustration.

If the road ahead looks uncertain, don’t despair. The twists and turns can feel quit daunting. And circuitous.

Stay the course. It’s the slow, steady steps over time that lead to those magnificent results.


The handsome Walt HamptonAbout the author:

Walt Hampton is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Book Yourself Solid® Worldwide, an internationally acclaimed motivational speaker, success coach, and bestselling author of “Journeys on the Edge: Living a Life That Matters.”

He delivers high-impact, multimedia keynotes at high schools, on college campuses, at corporate events and at gatherings of professional associations.

To find out more about Walt, click here to visit his website.

You Don’t Lack Resources. You Lack Resourcefulness.


It’s easy to think about “new leads” for business development and sales. Because it’s easy to find excuses for the outside influences.

“My articles are not generating enough leads”

“I don’t know how to effectively connect with these decision makers”

“Advertising is too expensive and it didn’t work for us”

So when we believe that we lack the resources, we’re stuck.


Here’s the good news

You don’t lack any resources. (more…)

A Simple Tool To Create Success On Your Terms


You’ve probably heard the adage that the secret of success is being in the right place at the right time. Which means, to improve your chances of success, you need to be in more places more often. That way, you can run into influential people, opportunities, and life-altering ideas just when you need them most. You couldn’t plan a more fruitful encounter than fate can provide, but you’ve got to show up for fate to do its work.

Creating a ubiquitous presence, however, can take an awful lot of time. For me, that meant going to networking events, broker caravans, and 3-hour-long open houses every Sunday morning because I’d decided to become a mortgage loan officer. The job had promised what I’d wanted in a career. I wanted freedom. I wasn’t going to be tied to a desk all day punching a time clock. I didn’t want someone dictating when I could go on vacation, or how often I could go on vacation. I wanted to be compensated for results, not tenure.

I didn’t want to sit there hoping I would get a raise. I wanted to be in a business that would keep up with inflation. So, I’d go to more meet and greets, golf tournaments, church potlucks, sporting events than you would think humanly possible. I’d visit more real estate offices in more towns; I’d collect more business cards than my pockets could hold.  

The goal, however, is not just to show up everywhere, but to make an impression. If you can differentiate yourself, turn the people you meet in to friends and clients, you can create success. Success on your terms, which means doing business the way you want, with whom you want. That’s the outcome we’re after.

Now here’s the real question: If you could do one thing that took under five minutes to do and made the biggest personal impression on someone, would you do it? If I told you that this one thing was the lynchpin to the kind of success you’re after, would you take on the task and work it like it’s your job?

I have found that the simple handwritten thank you note is the cornerstone of my business. It is the key to my success, a man with two strikes against him. This tool has allowed me to create valuable relationships, inspire loyalty, demonstrate integrity, prove that gratitude leads to abundance, set myself apart from the herd, keep me front and centre in the minds of decision makers, and add to my reputation of professionalism, consistency, dependability, and attention to detail.

That’s how you win this success game.

For the last 30 years, I have lived and breathed handwritten thank you notes.  I still write them every day because each day I meet or speak with someone over the phone whom I’m grateful to get to know. My daily practice of writing thank-you notes, of following the system I teach, has resulted in deeper relationships with my friends, co-workers, clients and business associates. It’s gotten me invited to exclusive parties and private events because people have developed a deep respect for me. They know I follow through on my commitments, and it all started with the thank you note.

This simple, effortless tool is the cornerstone of the multi-million dollar business I built funding over a billion dollars of home loans. When I taught this tool to my associates, their production doubled, and they too built deeper relationships with their referral partners and clients. The practice, the system I’ve created around the thank you note, works.

If you want to create a tribe of loyal, fun people, a handwritten thank you note is how you do it.

Send a handwritten thank you note every time you meet someone, every time you talk to them on the phone, every time you see an article that is relevant to them, each time they do something nice, or when you share a success. This practice will give you the opportunity to be more places more often and you’ll get to make more contacts in a shorter period of time.

Use the tool yourself, and watch your success grow, and the quality of your life expand. You can send me a thank you note later. I know you’ll want to.


About the author:

Steven Littlefield began orginating loans in 1986 and has since funded over one billion dollars worth of mortgages. As a certified BYS coach, he teaches mortgage loan professionals how to build an infinite pipeline of fundable loans.  Steven is also the author of The Business of Thank You to be published in April 2017. You can get in touch with Steven at

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