Byron's Babbles

Leading Like A Thunderbird!

thunderbirdsRVMOn our way home from The Gulf on our spring break with my family we saw the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber flying over Maxwell Airforce Base in Montgomery, Alabama. This was an awesome sight of power and technological superiority. We then saw the US Air Force Thunderbirds. We were memorized by the many formations, maneuvers, and acrobatics. This was all part of the Maxwell Air Show & Open House held April 8-9, 2017. We were fortunate enough to be traveling through at just the right time.

The pilots of America’s military demonstration team, the US Air Force Thunderbirds, are some of the world’s best, performing death-defying tricks in fighter jets. While the individual skills of each pilot is admirable, what sets the pilots of the Thunderbirds apart is their ability to work as a synchronized team.

img_0136-2-1024x684I did a little research and found the mission of the Thunderbirds. Officially, the Thunderbirds are known as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron. The squadron’s mission is to plan and present precision aerial maneuvers to exhibit the capabilities of modern, high-performance aircraft and the high degree of professional skill required to operate those aircraft. Within this broad mission, the team has five primary objectives:

  • Support Air Force recruiting and retention programs
  • Reinforce public confidence in the Air Force and to demonstrate to the public theprofessional competence of Air Force members
  • Strengthen morale and esprit de corps among Air Force members
  • Support Air Force community relations and people-to-people programs
  • Represent the United States and its armed forces to foreign nations and project international goodwill

The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon represents the full range of capabilities possessed by the Air Force’s tactical fighters. This highly-maneuverable multi-role fighter has proved to be one of the world’s best precision tactical bombers and air-to-air combat aircraft. The only modifications needed to prepare aircraft for air demonstrations are a smoke-generating system and painting in Thunderbird colors. The Thunderbirds are actually part of our combat force. This squadron must be ready for actual missions at a moments notice.maxresdefault

As I watched the precision of the maneuvers, I was awestruck by how this team of pilots could fly just one or two foot away from each other at MACH 2 speeds. It was amazing! Then I thought about how this was the ultimate example of leading teams and team cohesion. This team of pilots must be both familiar with each other and trust each other. Trust is about reliability and doing the right thing. Trust is a characteristic that builds respect and loyalty, as well as a supportive and safe work environment. I can only imagining the practice that it takes to build the familiarity and to fly as Thunderbird or be a part of the team on the ground.

Even though most of us do not have the thrill and danger of travel inches apart in aircraft going at MACH speeds, all leaders and teams must study fear, understand it, and be prepared to cope with it. I say it all the time – we must have some fear and be uncomfortable in order to grow professionally. Like fear, courage takes many forms, from a stoic courage born of reasoned calculation to a fierce courage born of heightened emotion. Experience under fire generally increases courage, as can realistic training by lessening the mystique of what we are doing.

So, just as I imagine all the practice and real-life maneuvering that goes into the Thunderbirds work, we must all strive to learn in the real time/real world context of what we do. Strong leadership which earns the respect and trust of team limits the effects of fear. Leaders should develop unit cohesion and the self-confidence of individuals within the team. In this environment a team member’s unwillingness to violate the respect and trust of his peers will overcome personal fear. This is why we must help our team members to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and get out of their comfort zone to learn new maneuvers and give great performance. Are you leading like the Thunderbirds?

 

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