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

More Business Advice

Business owners, employers, and leaders can sharpen their skills with the content below.

Scale Up Talent

Scale Up Talent

12 Talent Options for Business Leaders By Rob Marchalonis. Business leaders, what talent do you need to tackle your current challenge or project? Do you have the talent in-house? If not, what's your plan? If you are thinking about hiring a person full-time, hold on!...

12 Steps to Launch Your Leadership

12 Steps to Launch Your Leadership

A-Team Advice for “Young” Leaders by Rob Marchalonis. Are you a young leader? Regardless of your age, have you recently accepted a new leadership role? Perhaps you’ve done well in a job and were moved into a different position with more responsibility. Did someone...

Three Legs of Leadership

Three Legs of Leadership

By Rob Marchalonis. As I work with top leaders, I find that their role is often different than what others may think.  Which of the "three legs of leadership" are you experiencing right now? Perks From the outside, it may look like being the leader is quite glamorous...

What’s My Face Doing?

What’s My Face Doing?

What you think, you communicate. Leaders, when you interact with others please realize that most of your communication is non-verbal. Regardless of what you say, be mindful of what you are communicating. What's really on your mind? When leaders say one thing but think...

C-Suite Time Management

C-Suite Time Management

Virtually every C-level executive that I work with suffers from a critical shortage of one precious resource - time!  Nothing they can do will produce any more of it in a given week.  The only solution is to manage the time they have available very deliberately and...

The Role of Leaders

Great leaders develop smart strategy, establish processes for they're workgroup, and then use their wisdom, experience, and authority to deal with exceptions.Read for More Business Advice Whether you're a C-level leader, entrepreneur or looking to sharpen your...

Congratulations to AL and LSP!

Congratulations to AL and LSP!

I'm admittedly not the biggest Alabama or even sports fan, but I'm continually amazed at the display of world-class LSP in televised football. Live, up close, HD, plus slow-motion replay and analysis. Leadership, Strategy, & Process in 1-2-3 order is a simple...

Who’s In Your Trusted Inner Circle?

"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." Jim RohnRead for More Business Advice Whether you're a C-level leader, entrepreneur or looking to sharpen your leadership skills, the content below will help you level-up your business leadership....

Subscribe for Updates & Resources

13 + 8 =