Do You Need Pilots or a Flight Instructor?

by Rob Marchalonis.

Business owners, are you flying with “experienced pilots”? Not in the air, but rather on the ground in your business. Are your top leaders, those who are “piloting” the key functions of your organization, adequately trained, experienced, and supported? These questions may help you decide:

  1. How familiar are they with the critical tasks and outcomes you are counting on them to accomplish?
  2. How much experience do they have performing their roles?
  3. Are they qualified for the responsibilities that you are entrusting to them?
  4. What is their track record of success?

The pilot metaphor is relevant to every business owner, because you would never travel on an airplane with an untrained, inexperienced, or poorly equipped pilot. The reasons why are obvious. It would not matter if someone was extremely smart, physically fit, well spoken, a family member, a best friend, on your tennis team, sings in the choir, or otherwise familiar or attractive if they did not have the proper qualifications to trust them with your life, in a plane.

The stakes are just too high with air travel, to compromise who you select as your pilot. In a similar way, why do business owners sometimes trust critical roles and decisions in their businesses to leaders who have relatively little training, experience, or support? How much is at stake in your organization, and who are you placing at the controls?

Where Do Pilots Come From?

Talented leaders are difficult to find and expensive to train. What’s a business owner to do? Larger organizations have strong recruiting programs, generous hiring packages, extensive employee training, experienced mentors, and deep bench strength to draw from. Smaller businesses aren’t as fortunate. Somehow, they must overcome their limited time, money, and recruiting power when they need talent. One answer is to do what professional flyers (like the U.S. military, commercial airlines, and big businesses) do and invest in… “flight instructors”.

Need a Flight Instructor?

In an aviation context, flight instructors have the knowledge, skills, and experience to guide and train others, and occasionally fly alongside them. They coach and instruct clients to gradually transition “control of the plane” as they develop understanding, talent, and confidence.

Flight instructors are one example where professional guidance and support is called upon when the stakes are high. There are many others however, particularly when the situation is a first-time, rarely experienced, or high-stakes activity:

  • Flight Instructors : Pilots
  • Sherpas : Mountaineers
  • Accountants : Taxpayers
  • Coaches : Players
  • Lawyers : Clients
  • Captains : Passengers
  • Doctors : Patients
  • Driving Instructors : Teens
  • Architects : Builders
  • Designers : Decorators
  • Teachers : Students
  • Consultants : Leaders

Experience Matters

Did you ever find yourself in a situation where what you were about to see could be disastrous? Was it in your business? Quite often I find myself in these situations with a client or prospect, where the risk is often related to the experience and talent of the assigned “pilot”. Usually the intentions are good but, given the stakes, it’s not wise to put some pilots in the air.

Don’t expect untrained employees to assume high-risk responsibilities, at least without guidance, training, and oversight. In the absence of experienced pilots, consider who would be a good “flight instructor” and sign your employees up for some critical, and likely welcome, instruction.

Rob Marchalonis ( shares knowledge and experience with leaders to help them increase their organizational productivity and business results. Find more organizational Leadership, Strategy, and Process solutions at