Byron's Babbles

Are You Headed For Extinction?

Posted in Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, Leadership Development, Top Gun, Top Gun Maverick by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on August 7, 2022

It probably says something about a movie that I am now writing a third blog about in as many days. I just really enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick. Maverick (Tom Cruise), still a captain, is now in his fifties and after yet again demonstrating his rule breaking ways, is tasked with what is said to be his final mission. Maverick has been ordered to train a new group of pilots for what amounts to a suicide mission. As I referred to earlier, I have already blogged about this movie in “How Do I Teach That?” and “Top Leaders Are Single Faced Not Two Faced.” Maverick has matured since 1986, when he was a young hotshot pilot. In 2022, he is a much more mature individual with regrets and a level of humility. Maverick had mature, but still had the core value of helping others. In the beginning of movie a Navy general was looking to shut down a new Stealth airplane project unless Maverick could fly it at 10 Gs. Maverick’s friend, “Hondo” Coleman said to him, “You know what happens if you go through with this.” Risking his safety and career, Maverick responded, “I know what happens to everyone if I don’t.” He did fly the plane at 10 Gs, and of course went past 10 Gs. While I won’t spoil what happened if you haven’t seen the film, teams respect someone who can get results and performs.

A rear admiral tells Maverick, “Thirty-plus years of service. Combat medals. Citations. Only man to shoot down three enemy planes in the last 40 years. Yet you can’t get a promotion, you won’t retire, and despite your best efforts, you refuse to die. You should be at least a two-star Admiral by now, yet here you are. Captain. Why is that?… The future is coming and you’re not in it. Your kind is headed for extinction.” Maverick responded, “Maybe so, sir. But not today.” Maverick proved himself relevant by personally demonstrating how the mission he was training the pilots for could actually be accomplished. When leaders lead by example, it gives their teams hope and inspires them to do likewise. As Maverick said, “It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot.” Maverick also taught us with, “What is achievable comes down to the pilot in the box.” We learned that what is achievable in our organizations comes down the team and having the right people in the right seats on the plane (pun intended).

Top Leaders Are Single Faced Not Two Faced

Yesterday I blogged about the great movie Top Gun: Maverick. In “How Do I Teach That?” I discussed the great line from Maverick (Tom Cruise): “It’s not what I am, it’s who I am. How do I teach that?” Today, I want to post about the other great line that jumped out at me. Twice during the movie two different people said to Maverick, “Don’t give me that look.” Maverick’s response is so telling. His response showed his genuineness and was very endearing, when he simply said, “It’s the only one I got.” How about that for authenticity? Pun intended here; top leaders are single-faced, not two-faced.

Two-faced leaders are actually selfish. Unfortunately we all have probably experienced the two-faced leader who projects “My desire to take all glory and not be inconvenienced is infinitely more important than your personal and professional development.” Sometimes I’m not sure that’s how they truly feel, but that’s the message being screamed from the two-faced leader to everyone.

Maverick did not forget everyone is human. In the case of flying a fighter jet their must be excellence and perfection. Yet, we all know humans make mistakes. Therefore Maverick developed pilots to, in his words, “Don’t think. Do.” Now, that mantra got Maverick in trouble at times, but he was his authentic self. He also wanted pilots he would ultimately be flying with to be able to respond with spit second accuracy without thinking.

The other thing that showed Maverick’s authenticity was his genuine concern for people. The higher ranking officers would have considered the mission a success even if the pilots had not returned. This was unacceptable to Maverick. No one was dispensable. No one! We must maintain a painfully imperfect and human working environment that embraces excellence. This allows people to do their best because they can be themselves. Remember, like Maverick, we only have one face.

How Do I Teach That?

I’m not sure when I had last been in an actual movie theatre before last night for Top Gun: Maverick. It had been several years, though. My son was home and the family decided we would go. Great experience. Great movie. 🎥 Great popcorn with all the butter. 🍿 It really was a great movie. It was incredibly well-made and had many great leadership and teaching lessons. There were a couple of great lines that Maverick (Tom Cruise) made in the movie that jumped out at me. The one we will explore here is:

“It’s not what I am, it’s who I am. How do I teach that?”

Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell to Ice

At first Maverick rejects and dismisses the idea of being a teacher. In the end his students prove him wrong. The best leaders I’ve experienced have been teachers – they have worked to help develop me or give me development experiences. The leaders who are the worst at teaching or the ones that worry that someone will exceed them are the ones that have great talent slipping through their fingers. This idea of how to teach “who you are” is one I have contemplated over and over in education. In this movie it came down to the timeline of the mission being compressed so much that it sets off a wave of despondency and doubt within the ranks. The possibility of mission success seems hopeless. Maverick proves it can be done, however, by doing it. He stretches himself almost to the breaking point to serve as an inspiration to his young recruits, who now see what’s possible.

Do you model and set an example for those you serve? These are both great strategies for teaching.