The Energy of the Leader Determines the Success of the Team

Over the long 4th of July weekend I had the privilege of spending time in France – from Chamonix, to Dijon, to Paris. I’ve had lots of fun adventures and been able to travel to a lot of cool places, but the trip to France with my wife, Sarah, may just top the list (so far)! Of course, one of my favorite parts was flying in a fighter jet with the Brietling Jet Team in Dijon. I’ve had “flying in a fighter jet” on my Future Self for almost 5 years and when I was presented with the opportunity to actually do it, it was one of those, “Hell, yes!” moments. The experience in my mind was a little bit different than the reality…

On day five of our trip, we headed to a former military base to meet the jet team. The instructor walked me through a series of safety procedures and liability waivers. I learned how to eject out of my seat, in case of emergency. Good to know, but not something I wanted to do! I was given a custom jumpsuit and then we were ready to roll. When I climbed into the cockpit (which is much smaller than you’d think) of the fighter jet an hour later, shit got real. Tom Cruise made it look so much easier in Top Gun.

Within a few minutes we were wheels up. We hit 600 MPH very quickly, but you don’t feel the speed in a jet like you do in a car. You only feel the g-forces (or as we pros call G’s). We did a quick test on 2 G’s and I was feeling good until we started climbing, and climbing, and climbing. We hit 6-7 G’s and then it was pretty much lights out for me. I essentially blacked out, but only for a few seconds. The pilot knew just how much to push me. Then we rolled down towards Earth. The first time was the worst. I was just sweating like crazy and trying to figure out how to breathe in this new environment. We flew for about 30 minutes, during which time I was able to collect myself and get a little more used to the jet. At one point we held at zero gravity for 15 seconds, up side down. Eventually, the pilot let me take control of the jet and I actually performed some barrel rolls and then a straight climb up until I almost blacked out again – yes, the pilot took over.

It was an absolutely insane experience. As much as I’d like to tell you I was a total badass, I wasn’t. I was wrecked when we landed – dizzy and pale – and it took me a good 6-7 hours to recover. As incredible of an experience as it was, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it again. Okay, I could… but I wouldn’t willing choose to do it again. Once was enough!

When I was able to collect myself and talk to some of the pilots, they shared some really cool info with me about wild horses and fighter pilots, that I want to share with you.

When we were in the air and in formation with the other jets, one thing noticed was that the pilots weren’t actually looking in front of them. They had their heads turned slightly watching the wing of the plane in front of them. For those of you who don’t know, these planes are flying at 500+ MPH and sometimes only a few yards apart. How do they not crash into each other? Because the pilots have their eyes on the wing. Ever small movement in the wing, triggers the pilot to make their adjustment which in turn prompts the adjustment of the plane behind him. These are micro changes in energy and position and it means that the pilots have their eyes on their team mates and ultimately, on the leader. The leader has is head straight – eye on the prize – blazing the trail and setting the pace. The team watches, learns, feels the energy, and adjusts to keep pace. It was really fascinating to watch.

They also told me a story about wild horses. Wild horses don’t follow the strongest horse. Wild horses don’t follow the fastest horse. Wild horses don’t follow the youngest or the oldest horse. So who do they follow? Wild horses follow the horse that can feel the energy of the group the most. The wild horse that becomes the leader is the one that is emotionally intelligent and energetically in tune to the needs of the horses around him. How cool is that?

So, what can we learn from fighter pilots and wild horses?
  1. Energy is so important for a leader to pay attention to and to manage. This goes for their own energy first and then to use that ability to keep a pulse on the group or to change the energy of your team or company when you need to. But if you’re not in tune with it first, you won’t be able to spot when and where adjustments need to be made.
  2. The leader’s behavior influences everything. Yes, it starts with energy and then moves on to actions. Your team is watching you. They are watching what you say, and more importantly, what you do. Are you role modeling the behavior you want your team to follow?

Ultimately, the energy of the leader will determine the success of your team, your business, and your company. Have you checked your energy lately?

Need to get re-energized and recharged? Come join me and Tim Heyl at our event Think Big, Act Small in Austin happening before Mega Camp. You will get some fresh leadership ideas (hint: It starts by leading yourself first) and a lot more stories about how we failed, and failed again, and kept on going to build our businesses.

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