As a young fighter pilot, I metaphorically held two bags in my hand each time I took to the skies; a luck bag and an experience bag. As I found myself in difficult situations, I could pull wisdom from either bag to help extricate myself and be successful in my mission. As one might guess, the experience bag starts empty and can only be built by time in the jet. Thus, the only bag at my disposal in the beginning was the luck bag. The goal of every fighter pilot is to build-up his experience bag before his luck bag runs dry and he is put into a position from which he cannot recover.
There is only one way to refill your luck bag…learning! Spending time learning from the available resources such as technical manuals on the operation of your aircraft, capabilities of the threats you may face and the tactics used to defeat those threats. The information you store in your luck bag (also in your brain) can be utilized in a critical new situation, creating a “lucky” outcome even in an area you have never personally experienced.
This same model can be applied to leadership. As a new leader, I needed my luck bag pretty full to keep from making a big mistake. Even today, after 22 years of military leadership, despite having a full experience bag, I still need my luck bag occasionally. The same learning habits I developed in flying stand me in good stead when practicing leadership.
Despite decades of experience, the art of leadership is continually evolving. What was in vogue when I was young may be passé now. As Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
A wise woman (my wife) once told me not to pretend I had all the answers. As a leader, do not fall into the trap of thinking you know everything there is to know about leadership. You may find yourself needing to pull from your luck bag, only to find it is empty. Keep it full by making time to learn new leadership theories. Read books, comb the numerous blogs (such as our personal favorite, Generalleadership.com) and talk to your mentors about emerging trends or past experiences. Being a good leader means being a life-long learner. Here are just a few other examples of learning resources:
- Warren Bennis is an amazing leadership writer and scholar. His 27 books and almost 57 years of study make for reading that is timeless and relevant. He is the founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at USC and is a leadership expert.
- Daniel Pink is the author of multiple books about leadership and interaction in the work environment. His book Drive is an excellent look that describes what motivates us and the struggles with the realities of the business world.
- John Maxwell has written over 70 books on leadership and his company “believes leadership is a privilege. It’s also a responsibility. It demands risk and accountability.”
- Seth Godin is a prolific blogger and author on the subjects of leadership and change. His current thinking challenges you to question your own assumptions and create new paradigms.
- And finally, the Harvard Business Review is a trove of material just waiting to challenge your thinking. For example, the 2014 book Collective Genius; The art and practice of leading innovation, by Hill, Brandeau, Trulove and Lineback, investigates the art of leading innovation and provides practical guidance to turn theory into practice.
A leader cannot lead forward by only looking over his shoulder at the past. Strive to incorporate new ideas into your repertoire as a leader. Continual learning and the willingness to change one’s views are hallmarks of a highly successful leader. Keep your “luck bag” full by learning new ideas and you will never find yourself, as we say in the flying business, out of airspeed and ideas!