Career advice from the cockpit

Air Force Lt. Col. Rob “Waldo” Waldman, the best-selling author of “Never Fly Solo: Lead with Courage, Build Trusting Relationships and Reach New Heights in Business,” never expected to find a business lesson in the cockpit of an F-16 jet fighter at 20,000 feet and Mach 2. But during 65 combat missions in Iraq and Kosovo, he learned survival skills that will help any executive or entrepreneur dodge the missiles of lay-offs, budget cuts, and performance pressures that have become typical during today’s recession.

Here, he offers “5 tips to keep you mission ready in a turbulent work environment and rapidly changing economy:

  1. Walk the flight line: Get out there and connect with different departments on the job. If you’re in sales, grab a cup of coffee with tech support or customer service. If you’re in marketing, spend an hour or two in finance or in research and development. Make your objective not only to get to know the job of your fellow wingmen at work, but to get to know them personally. When you treat you co-workers as people first and employees second, they will go the extra mile for you when you call out “mayday” and ask for help when the missiles of business are launched.
  2. Seek out an informal mentor: We always learn more when we get authentic (and timely) feedback on our performance. Ask your supervisor or a trusted colleague to sit in on your sales call or presentation. Politely ask for their honest feedback, but be willing to be humbled. Then, thank them and take immediate action to work on the areas that need improvement. Finally, offer to do the same for them. Wingmen naturally want to help others in their formation.
  3. Find new wingmen, and jettison the wing nuts: The relationships you have outside of work are almost as important as the ones you have at work. Who do you hang out with after hours and on the weekends? Are they wingmen who challenge you to grow and lifting you to new heights? Or are they wing nuts — dragging you down and holding you back? If you want to grow personally and professionally, spend time with wingmen of character who will hold you accountable for meeting your commitments and won’t “yes” you to death.
  4. Be a wing-giver: Think outside your cockpit. When a volunteer opportunity at works presents itself, raise your hand and take it on. Help lead a company fundraising initiative or volunteer to serve on a committee that plans the annual holiday party. Be the type of wingman others can come to for help. These behind the scenes missions that often go unnoticed are great opportunities to showcase your leadership and planning skills. Most importantly, it will give you a chance to build relationships with other employees in your company from different divisions.
  5. Sharpen your sword: Don’t rely on your company to provide on-the-job training. Seek out opportunities to grow outside of work. In addition to finding wingmen that are committed to excellence, attend a skills seminar or personal development course that may not have anything to do with your immediate job requirements. Attend a public-speaking class, a weekend seminar on communication skills, or a local three-hour course on Microsoft Excel. These will pay off huge dividends on the job as you become more professionally balanced and flexible enough to handle additional tasks.

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