Sean D. Tucker is the world's best aerobatic pilot. You don't get to be the world's best without respect. Respect for the work that you do and respect for those around you. That was the message I took away from Sean's presentation at Santa Clara University where 440 Oracle new hires were hosted while learning the tools of their trade.
Sean's actual words were “I’m not afraid of much, but I respect it all.” He talked of pilots who had not shown respect; pilots who had crossed the line. He said they might get away with it today, but not forever.
I had wondered what an aerobatic pilot, even a great one sponsored by Oracle, would have to offer 440 new sales professionals. (I was there as the SCU program dean, a pilot, and a fan of Sean's flying - he kindly autographed a copy of a monthly magazine where he graces the cover as the new honorary chair of the Young Eagles program.)
Wisdom About Taking Risks
What he had to offer was wisdom. Yes, what he does has risks. But he has the right tools, training, and team for the job. He pointed out that we all need those same components: the tools, training, and team around us. With the right mix, and respect for the task, you can work to the edge of acceptable risk.
He talked about the physical costs of the work he does. It takes him significant time to work up to the extreme G-forces he takes during an airshow. The first weeks of the season are gruelling and even he gets sick if he doesn't keep up his practice. He offered that all jobs deserve that respect. You have to commit to all it takes to do the work well, and know when you've reached your limit.
Respect for Others
He showed a video of a fun flight (to a point) he'd given to a niece's friend. Great aerobatics, laughter from the passenger, but then the propeller comes off. No, not figuratively like "the wheels fell off the project." The propeller actually went spinning off the plane.
The video shows a beautiful deadstick landing. No crash. Since it wasn't a crash, the insurance company wouldn't pay -- it was declared a mechanical problem... Sean took the video to the propeller and engine companies and worked out relationships that resulted in improved overall safety of the system's mechanics and shared support for his charities and team. This was negotiation as problem solving, not a battle.
The point: relationships are better than battles and finger pointing. Respect and work with your partners to find solutions to difficult situations.
Don't Let Go of Everything
I've been talking about how you can lead by letting go. Sean D. Tucker put some boundaries around those ideas. Don't let go of respect for your work or for the work of those around you. In fact, perhaps hold on tightest to your work and your relationships. As organizational boundaries become thinner and more responsibility is placed on us as individuals, Sean's approach becomes more salient. We may be out there, upside down, but we still have our tools, our training, and our team.