“Remember one thing….
you screw up just this much and you’ll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog-doo out of Hong Kong.”
Commander Tom “Stinger” Jordan
For me, one of the best scenes in the whole Top Gun movie is the dressing down that Commander “Stinger” Jordan gives Maverick as he sends him off to Top Gun with the admonition that if he messes up he’ll be “flying rubber dog-doo out of Hong Kong.” Maverick’s behavior draws another serious counseling session from “Viper”, shortly after buzzing the tower at Miramar.
Let there be no doubt that we should all strive to be positive leaders. Each of us, as leaders must strive for our own authentic style of leadership based on our personality, honed by experience, and hopefully continued effective study in leadership techniques.
“You took it, and broke a major rule of engagement. Then you broke another one with that circus stunt fly-by. Top Gun rules of engagement exist for your safety and for that of your crew. They are not flexible, nor am I. Obey them or you’re history. Is that clear?”
Commander Mike “Viper” Metcalf
But there will be times in the life of every leader at whatever level she operates in an organization where the calm fatherly approach or the motivational cheerleader approach simply are not the best leadership tools. Some may argue this point with me, but a well-rounded leader must know how to give a dressing down, for the purpose of getting a subordinate’s attention and to correct errant behavior. It should be a leadership tool in everyone’s bag. Mark my words, as positive as one tries to be, I guarantee that there will be times when a solid dressing down is the best and only means of communicating. The butt chewing must be used only sparingly, and only if needed.
The dress down may have to be given to some of your marginal performers, or it may have to be given to some of your exceptional leaders who may have stepped aggressively out of their “lane” as enthusiasm overcomes judgement and they attempt to find their own leadership styles.
As a leader you must address behavior that is unsafe and could lead to injury or death, or behavior that is questionable and could lead to illegal or immoral actions. You are in charge of maintaining and enforcing standards.
I must confess I have been the recipient of some pretty sensational “dressing downs.” In most of those cases, I was clearly way ahead of my headlights, and the timely butt chewing and subsequent second chance gave me helped me to have a fulfilling military career that I did. But everyone has a different style in the delivery of the dress down. I remember once leaving a boss’s office after a counseling session that was firm but fair, and my coworker said, “I’m not sure but I think we just got our butts chewed.” And I have received a counseling session that was complete with frothing mouth, plenty of explicatives and the equivalent of the threat to be flying rubber dog do out of Hong Kong.
And as an air boss myself I once delivered the “Rubber Dog do” speech and gave administrative action to an officer who was one of my best friends, with unsurpassed flying skill in his particular airplane. His skill made for an exciting controlled fly by in his gifted hands but could have led to a loss of control and crash by a lessor pilot. Friend or not, his behavior was out of standards.
The dress down that Maverick receives are delivered in two distinct methods. Stinger’s butt chewing is a cigar chomping, mouth frothing, screaming fit. While Viper’s dress down is an armed crossed, thousand-mile stare with voice low and modulated but similar consequences.
In this series we will examine the methods that the dress down is presented, and point to effective communication in both cases.
But here is the overall takeaway: There will be times when a corrective butt chewing must be given. So be prepared to deliver it.
It is in fact imperative that you move to counsel your subordinates behavior if:
- The behavior is of such an egregious nature that his continued performance in this vein endangers himself, others or threatens destruction of equipment.
- There could also be behavior, that if not stopped will lead to breaking laws, drastically hurting and organization and its mission and destroying the reputation of the company or individuals.
- And of course as a leader you must enforce standards and punish lawbreakers. Usually by this time the efficacy of a butt chewing is nothing but “water under the bridge.”
Should you find yourself in the situation three important items must govern your behavior. It should be delivered immediately, and communicate what the standards and expectations of future behavior should be and it must communicate the consequences for continued misbehavior. For Stinger he promised Maverick a cargo plane in Hong Kong; and Viper promised that should Mav not clean up his act he
In the next two articles we will analyze the various butt chewing styles demonstrated by Stinger and Viper.