Insight article

Never fly solo

Each Christmas as the fire begins to burn low and the full impact of culinary over-indulgence takes its effect, I find myself perusing the presents of others. This is not to say that there is any dissatisfaction with my shiny stockpile of gifts – far from it. It is more a combination of curiosity, downright nosiness and the lack of physical ability to move further than the length of the sofa by the end of the day.This year, as I explored a nearby tower of goodies, I came across a book called ‘Never Fly Solo’ in which the author – Rob ‘’Waldo’’ Waldman – takes the reader on a journey through the lessons he learned in his military career as a fighter pilot.

Essentially, two key themes emerge from the book. The benefits of a ‘check-six’ culture (check-six referring to the six o’clock position where the jet is at it’s most vulnerable – the pilot’s blind spot) and the pivotal role of ‘the wingman’.

‘’A good wingman will give you mission-critical feedback, catch your errors, ask questions and propose challenging scenarios to push you forward’’

The best environments, he argues, are those where the different backgrounds, skills, strengths and experiences of those involved are combined in pursuit of a single shared objective. The worst (and sometimes fatal) are where a maverick pilot, team leader, or member of the crew operates in isolation.

Waldman argues that in today’s environment mutual support networks, the harnessing of combined strengths and clear communication are critical to success – not least because we’re only human. We make mistakes, we have limited perspectives and we have to work in volatile stressful environments that lead to tunnel vision, emotional decision-making and task saturation. This ultimately dilutes our ability to function at our best. Effective ‘check-six’ environments enabled by trusted ‘wingmen’ encourage discipline, allow us to take calculated risks, free up communication, and help us to focus our collective capabilities.

How much more decisive would we be if we knew that our strengths were being used to their greatest effect and that our own blind spots were being covered?

This takes nothing away from the individual strength leaders (from any level in the organisation) need to inspire others towards a common purpose. Nor does the theory lend itself to purist committee or consensus styles of operation, which can lead to a reduction in pace and decisive action. It simply demonstrates that more informed decision-making and direction setting can be achieved by a business that is able to harness it’s strengths and capabilities effectively – whatever the challenge or opportunity.

I admit, Christmas day is not usually the moment to get all excited about the prospect of some personal time with a business management book – regardless of the strength of the message. What hooked me into this one was the writer’s use of real-life stories to communicate his experiences of a life continually challenged by change, fear, volatility and tough decision-making, and how he applied these to his business and personal life.  His ability to tell a good story is powerful. Firstly, the very personal reflections of true experiences draw the reader inside the narrative so that we understand and connect to the challenge faced, the heroes involved, the drama, the action and the resolution. Secondly, the stories and anecdotes are a memorable mix of fact and emotion that any reader can relate to, apply the learning from or pass on to others. Finally, each story serves to build on the ‘why, what and how?’ that sits behind the overarching message of the book. They connect us back to the importance of us being, and having wingmen, and to the potential benefits that developing a ‘check-six’ culture could mean in today’s environment.

Nailia Tasseel