Why Managers Should Learn to Fly

Many of the qualities that make a good pilot also define outstanding managers and leaders. Product managers in particular can benefit from learning to fly. Taking your product off the ground is not an easy feat, and learning to fly can hone your skills and help you excel. Here’s a list of ten skills you’ll get better at while learning to fly:

1)      Risk management. Managers take calculated risks all the time, and so do pilots. The consequences of miscalculating business risk are often severe; pilot errors can be catastrophic. Learning to manage risk and optimize reward is an invaluable skill.

2)      Appreciating the value of time. You quickly learn that time is money when each hour costs you around $100 plus instructor fees. Plan wisely and make the most out of the time and resources you have at your disposal, or you’ll end up wasting loads of money.

3)      Healthy fear. When you’re the single pilot in a single-engine airplane, mistakes can be fatal or just very expensive. This is a good forcing function for keeping you on your toes and ensuring you do your absolute best at every situation.

4)      Attention to detail. Cutting corners, hoping for miracles, and ignoring the facts are all very dangerous when flying and while managing an organization. There’s no substitute for facing reality and paying attention to every little detail.

5)      Planning ahead. A flight plan is much like a product road map in that it deals with optimizing resource use in order to reach a well defined goal. Having a plan B in case something goes wrong is a good practice.

6)      Be flexible. Even the best plan often fails and has to be altered. Plan B may be obsolete by the time you need it. Being able to quickly adapt and correct your course is an essential skill.

7)      Coordination. Being able to control your aircraft at various conditions is key. Same with an organization you manage – coordinating the various functions and balancing the forces that act on it and within it is key to success.

8)      Technical aptitude. Understanding what’s going on under the hood is very important. Being hands-on is even better. The higher you are in the corporate ladder the less you’re expected to know about the technicalities, but some managers (like this guy) have been known for being very particular about them.

9)      Continuous Learning. A good pilot is always learning. You can never rest on your laurels and assume you know everything. This is true in any endeavor. It’s particularly important for managers to keep abreast of new information and trends.

10)   Stabilization. Inherently stable systems take less effort to control. If you manage to bring your organization to a state in which – just like an airplane – it follows the same trajectory when no force is applied on the controls, you gained yourself considerable peace of mind. When the route changes, course corrections have to be made, but a well structured organization will stabilize quickly again.