Debrief Like a Pilot: Secrets for Business


Our Air Force is, hands down, the best in the world. Have you ever wondered how military leaders ensure the continued success of our nation’s fighting force? The answer lies in a simple, scalable, repeatable experiential learning accelerator known as The Debrief, which reveals Lessons Learned. Let’s learn how to debrief like a pilot.

Epiphany at 50,000 Feet

One gloomy summer day, with a storm bearing down on the Gulf Coast, I strapped into my F-15C Eagle. As I ascended through rain and clouds, I emerged into a sunlit sky, leaving the storm behind. At 50,000 feet, I could see multiple states, a view that always amazed me. As my focus returned to the cockpit of my Eagle, I scanned its 350 dials and switches, reflecting on the clarity from this altitude. Most people see only what’s immediately around them, limited in scope and distance.

From 50,000 feet, I realized my followership had developed similarly—seeing the bigger picture and understanding how leaders and followers interweave for success. The horizon’s layers, each a distinct color, and the blackening sky with visible stars even during the day, inspired me to examine every aspect of military leadership development. This flight highlighted the limitless potential within us and the importance of understanding that today’s actions shape tomorrow’s success. The key to this continuous evolution is the Lessons Learned through debriefing.

The Power of the Debrief

What makes the debrief so powerful? It’s an experiential learning accelerator that enhances experience through systematic reflection. By identifying problems and spreading solutions, the debrief accelerates learning. Harvard Business Review suggests, “Debrief every mission to review lessons learned and reinforce training.” This principle isn’t limited to the military. Surgeons also benefit from structured debriefing, which reduces time to insight and accelerates learning.

If fighter pilots and surgeons devote time to learn from their actions, how can your business afford not to? Debriefs and the resulting Lessons Learned allow individuals from diverse backgrounds to achieve a high level of execution. The two secrets of fighter pilot expertise are, in essence, simple: the Debrief and the Lessons Learned. By implementing these strategies, your team can systematically unlock the skills needed to excel. Take a page from the fighter pilot’s playbook and integrate debriefing into your business practices for continuous improvement and success.

Ready to elevate your team’s performance to new heights? Contact us today to learn how to implement debriefs and experience unparalleled growth!