Reaching Your Full Potential Through Corporate Leadership Development


Improving Team Performance the Fighter Pilot Way

When I was a young wingman in the fighter pilot community I learned the value of a Debrief. As I gained business experience, I discovered how critical Debriefing was for corporate leadership development.

Sometimes I would land after a frustrating Mission and wonder where to start fixing all of the errors I committed in the sky. The team of pilots that flew the Mission would gather together to conduct a nameless, rankless Debrief. We always debriefed to identify root causes of mistakes and more importantly, the Lessons Learned for the next Mission. Our goal was to ensure we didn’t repeat our errors. The Debrief gave me the confidence to know I had a solid plan to strap on the jet the next day and fly more effectively.

Other times, I came back from the Mission feeling like I nailed it. I would hop out of the jet with fighter pilot swagger – right up until the Debrief. The unforgiving lens of a thorough Debrief would expose ways for our team to improve I hadn’t even thought of. It was humbling, but it was also empowering to know the Lessons Learned would sharpen the team’s sword to an even finer edge.

Corporate Team Building Benefits Greatly From a Leader with Equally Great Training

After seeing how the Debrief improved my skills to the point where I could fly in any environment with confidence, I decided to apply it to my professional corporate leadership development, too. I would conduct a Debrief with my peers to find out how I could be a better leader, a better follower, or just a better team member.

Most of the time my colleagues would laugh off my request for personal feedback and say, “Thor, you’re doing great. Don’t change anything.” But I would press them for a more insightful answer.

“Why won’t I be a General?” I would ask. This was the equivalent of asking why I wouldn’t be a CEO in corporate America. Only one in ten thousand servicemen would reach the rank of General.

Most of the time my colleague would pause at this point, considering how to answer. Finally, they would become serious, look me in the eye and say, “Do you really want to know?” After assuring him or her that I did, I often received the most insightful information about my career in the words that followed. This feedback bettered my personal performance and acting upon my peers’ feedback lead to stronger team performance. This same exact concept is equally as insightful for a team building seminar in the business world because the open and honest feedback from your peers allow for the team to get better and for you to become a stronger leader.

Accelerate My Team

Boost Your Team Performance by Becoming the Best Leader You Can

Legendary CEO Jack Welch credits Debriefs, or “Workouts” as he called them, with turning General Electric from a stodgy, slow-moving bureaucracy to a cutting-edge tech leader in the 1980s. He would use organizational and individual Debriefs as corporate leadership development to generate insightful Lessons Learned for his teams. Regardless of the size of your organization, you can use Debriefs to pursue Flawless ExecutionSM every day.

As you prepare to close out your quarter, I recommend that you Debrief your leaders and peers. Give them honest feedback on how they can be more effective team members. But set the tone by first soliciting feedback for yourself. Then – shut up and listen. The answers may surprise you and they may even frustrate you, but they will undoubtedly make you more self-aware and more effective in your role.

Joel “Thor” Need, President, Afterburner, leads our team of more than 70 elite military professionals. He has helped achieve strategic objectives and foster elite teams for Fortune 100 companies within the tech industry, pharmaceuticals, finance, medical devices, retail apparel and several NFL teams.As an F-15 pilot, Thor escorted the U.S. President through the sky and flew missions to ensure the safety of the country after the attacks of 9/11.