Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, likened the figure of an entrepreneur to that of a pilot by stating “Starting a company is like jumping off a cliff and trying to assemble a plane together before you hit the ground.” I’ve expanded on this image in the past, specifically in relation to passion and risk-taking, but the metaphor doesn’t end there. Rebel entrepreneurs can learn so much from pilots, particularly when it comes to leadership.
Inside the cockpit of any aircraft there is a hierarchy. The pilot – who is generally the most experienced – takes charge and is supported by his or her first-officers or co-pilots, who may be less experienced but qualified to fly the plane. This dynamic is crucial to the safety of everyone on board, but if fear or ignorance taints this cockpit, disaster will ensue.
‘Cockpit politics’ were responsible for the crash of a Korean Air cargo flight in 1999. The captain had made a serious error, but the first officer stayed silent, fearing the repercussions of correcting a senior, former military pilot. The flight’s engineer tried to bring the error to the captain’s attention four times, but was ignored. When the plane crashed into the ground shortly after take-off, it exploded on impact, killing everyone on board.
So what can a rebel entrepreneur glean from the cockpit? Well, from a starting point, rebel entrepreneurs should treat their business with the same sense of urgency and importance that pilots treat their aircraft. They approach flights fully aware that the well-being of people are at stake. Moreover, lessons in leadership from pilots demonstrate that a totalitarian approach in leadership can make team members fearful of offering feedback, even if their own well-being is at risk. Rebel entrepreneurs will not dismiss the advice of their employees simply because they lack experience or are on a lower pay grade. Instead, they will communicate to their team that they are approachable and willing to listen to feedback. Their team members must not be fearful of the repercussions of telling the truth. Rebel entrepreneurs, while assertive when required, will consider the opinions of others rationally, and in relation to the bigger picture.