This article was published in my company’s newsletter in 2004. I was asked to write a leadership article. Carlo and I had just come from a harrowing flight where I thought that we would run out of fuel. I had been flying for a year, and had just over 100 hours under my belt. Just enough to be overconfident and underexperienced.
As a boy, I wanted to be a pilot. I read every book about airplanes and flying. I built dozens of model airplanes. But when I grew up, I became a business leader instead. Last year, my childhood dream came true — I learned to fly. I also learned that flying airplanes and leading people have similar risks, burdens and rewards.
As a Private Pilot I cannot fly in clouds or heavy rain. I cannot land at Manila International Airport [I lived in Manila then] unless I can see it from 8 kilometers away, from over Alabang. If the visibility at Manila was less than 8 kilometers, I would have to divert to the nearest airport with clear weather — Clark Field in Pampanga, nearly 100 kilometers away.
One day, I flew Carlo to Calapan, Mindoro, 120 kilometers from Manila. Another airplane delayed us. We had to fly in circles for an hour. When we reached Calapan, we had flown for 1.5 hours. We had only 2 hours of fuel left, barely enough to return to Manila! And if Manila were closed by rain, we would run out of fuel before reaching our alternate airport, Clark Field. Good grief. I had painted us into a corner!
As a leader, you can set a stretch goal, but it better be reachable. You must set your goal clearly in order to get to it. You must plan a precise and efficient course so that you don’t fall short of your goal. The stakes are high. People — sometimes many, many people — depend on your plan, and on your leadership.
And you must have a plan, a strategy. You can’t say, “Hopefully we will reach the target.” You will be surprised at how often business executives say sentences that start with, “Hopefully….” Hoping is not a method. You need exact plans, and milestones that will tell you if you are on course. And you must have a Plan B, and a Plan C. You must teach people, give them tools. You should encourage and fortify them. They are not just along for the ride. You must give them meaningful roles for the journey. They are your crew.
Flying home, I climbed to 3,500 feet, where the Cessna uses less gas. I called the control tower for weather reports. I asked Carlo to read the compass — he helped me fly a straight line home. I asked him to watch for the milestones — Tagaytay ridge, Bilibid prison, South Mall, to keep us on that straight line. We landed at Manila during a beautiful sunset, with an hour of fuel left, more than enough to have diverted to Clark.
“Were you worried,” I asked.
“No. I kept you on course, man. You followed my directions well!”
If there is a good leader, we don’t even notice who is leading.