Pilot Leadership's Colleen Hensley

Pilot Leadership - The Mission Pilot Leadership's Bill Hensley

Applying the principles of flying
supersonic jets to business and life.™

Bill Hensley

Bill Hensley

Bill is the co-founder of Pilot Leadership, an organization that addresses all aspects of both personal and business leadership. He flew supersonic jets in the military and  commercial airliners in the civilian world. After leaving the cockpit, he bacame an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is the author of The Pilot--Learning Leadership, and Success Simplified (with Dr. Stephen Covey).

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''I've never been a pilot, but I do know a few things about leadership. Bill and Colleen Hensley have written an exciting story that blends these two worlds. In this unique book you'll follow unforgettable characters through challenging situations, all the while learning important leadership concepts you will use throughout your work and life. Stimulating and significant, The Pilot is a great read.''
--Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager and Lead with LUV


I frequently ask powerful leaders whom I meet about their views on leadership, both in a professional and personal context (actually, it’s hard to separate the two).  A while back I asked a friend who was a Navy Admiral how he evaluated leadership characteristics in people. Without any delay, he said “I like to go to lunch or dinner with them and watch how they interact with the waiter.”  

He explained that as a senior officer, he had a pretty good idea of how people were going to treat him, but he was interested to see how they treated people who had no influence on their future.  What a great way to see what someone is really made of.

When I’m evaluating whether or not to do business with someone, I can learn so much more about who they really are if I see them in a relaxed, unguarded social setting. Whether it’s on the golf course, at an airline ticket counter when a flight is delayed or canceled, or in line at a grocery store, we all reveal the most when we think there is the least at stake.

How significant is the difference between a person who has the ability to memorize things easily and a person who has developed the ability to problem-solve at a high level? Which one would you consider more intelligent? Which one would you rather have perform surgery on you, or be your pilot the next time you fly on a commercial airliner? I’ll choose the problem-solver, but there’s more to it.

First let’s talk about learning, and how it relates to everything you do as an entrepreneur and leader. There are endless places where we could start, but let’s begin by talking about what’s involved when someone sets out to learn how to fly a jet. Flying a jet involves a lot of deep, intense learning over a long period of time. On the surface, it would appear to that flying is a highly technical and procedure-driven activity. True, it is. But, critical problem-solving ability comes into the picture the moment something doesn’t go as planned—no different from what happens in businesses every day.

So, getting back to the question posed above about the difference between rote memorization and the ability to problem-solve, it’s clear that both are critical. In order to problem-solve well, you must have a solid foundation of knowledge on which to base your decisions. Pilots do this by first memorizing all the procedures and systems on an aircraft. Business owners, managers, organizational leaders do the same by knowing everything there is to know about their industry. With information that is immediately available in today’s world, there’s no excuse not to be an expert in whatever you do. If all else fails, begin with a Google search! Build your basic and advanced knowledge.  Then, be able to articulate what you’re all about. Imagine that next week you’ll speak to a class of MBA students and explain how and why you do what you do.

The simple act of articulating what you’re all about can work wonders. When I was a pilot flying jets, it wasn’t until I became an instructor and had to articulate to a student what was involved in performing the perfect loop at 600 knots and six Gs that I really learned my craft. The same is true in business. It’s one thing to build a profitable business, it’s quite another to be able to tell others how you did it.

So, pretend that you will be the one talking to that MBA class next week or next month. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it will make.

Why is it important to be able to master something? Because it will change how you perceive yourself, even more than it will change how others perceive. And, a second benefit is Mastery is contagious. It goes along with the old adage of success breeds success.

In our books, we write extensively about Mastery of Performance. After years of seeking a way to articulate how extreme skills are mastered, we crafted something called the PEER Performance Model. I couldn’t do it justice in this brief format, but suffice it to say that its essence is combining simple elements, like Preparation, Smart Practice, and Evaluation. The result is a consistently repeatable process that will help you to make great inroads toward mastering any skill or task.  

One element of the PEER Performance Model involves something pilots call Chair Flying. Simply put, Chair Flying is practicing a given task in the most realistic setting you can create. For example, when learning the fly, students in military jet pilot training are known to don their flight suit, helmet, and gloves, to practice cockpit procedures at home.  They methodically, and ritualistically, run through their checklists until they can’t do it any more, but then they do.  They have set the goal of mastery, because when they strap into a supersonic jet, not only their egos, but their lives depend on it. You can adopt the same mindset in anything that you do, professionally or personally. 

When people step onto an airliner, they do so with confidence in the fact that their pilots have mastered the are of flying. When someone consents to a surgical procedure, he/she is confident the surgeon has mastered the procedure about to be performed. There is no reason why you can’t work to achieve the same level of mastery that others at the peak of their professions have achieved. Chair Fly the important things in your life and you’ll be amazed at the level of success that is within you grasp.


      As of the writing of this entry, the search continues for the pilot of the F-22 that crashed. Authorities report the weather and terrain are making it difficult to conduct the search, but they are pressing forward.

     As a former Air Force instructor pilot, I want to let you know about the extreme competence of the missing pilot, even though I do not know him. For those not familiar with what it takes to become an Air Force pilot, let me shed some light on the subject for you.

      First of all, to be assigned to fly the most advanced fighter in the Air Force inventory today, I can assure you that the pilot would stand out as a leader in any situation. He not only was successful in completing pilot training, but he made it through survival training, and the advanced training required to qualify him to fly the F-22. Without knowing him, I can tell you that he studied exhaustively, was fully prepared for any training evaluation, and ultimately passed them all with flying colors.  I know this because I know military pilots.

      I recently had a discussion with a two-star general and asked him what is the single element of military life he was most proud of. With zero hesitation, he said “the people.” He also told me he can’t believe the American taxpayers allow him to put two stars on his shoulders and command troops. And, he said, the troops under his command are the people he would choose to spend time with under any circumstances.

      Many of us have military backgrounds, and hearing the unfortunate story about the F-22 crash caused me immediately to picture that amazing pilot climb into into his jet with full confidence. In aviation, there are so many things that can go wrong, it’s literally impossible to list them. But, even though I don’t know him, I can tell you that his commander knows that if anyone could handle an emergency situation, it would be one of his squadron pilots.

       From knowing what he did to become qualified to fly the F-22, we know that he is one of the best among us. Let us all hope for the best outcome for the missing, brave F-22 pilot.


Would you let a salesperson in a shoe store use and X-Ray machine to check the fit of your new shoes? Really?

Well, in the 1950s, a type of X-Ray device was used in most states to do just that. It wasn’t until years later that one by one, individual states banned their use. Yet, research tells us that most of the general public viewed the use of such devices as perfectly acceptable.

That leads us to the new scanning machines currently used by the TSA (backscatter X-Ray, and Millimeter Wave technology). TSA and Homeland Security officials tell us that we, essentially, have nothing to worry about. Are you willing to bet your life on their assurances?

A group of professors at a University of California campus has voiced their concerns in a recent letter. If some scientists are concerned should we also be? If you are a parent, do you want your children to pass through these machines? I don’t.  And, if you assume that the machines are completely safe today, what happens when one malfunctions next month? Will the problem be detected immediately? How many passengers will pass through a defective unit until the problem is caught? 

This is not a politically partisan issue. It is a safety issue which, as do all national issues, comes down to a leadership issue. More specifically, did the leaders at  TSA and Homeland Security do everything necessary to ensure the safety of these new machines before installing them at airports and allowing young and old alike to pass through them? Would you want your 5-year-old to pass through them? How about your 15-year-old? If not, would you want your 15-year-old to be subjected to the new “enhanced” pat down (groping) procedure as an alternative?

These are questions that our national security leaders need to address, and they need to do it quickly. The discussion has reached a fevered pitch and proactive leadership is the only thing that will move us along in the right direction. Someone needs to inject common sense into airline security. For now, it is severely lacking. Unfortunately in the short-run, it’ll be left up to you to weigh the radiation issues, against the groping issues, against the overall security issues.

 After spending decades as a commercial airline pilot, I can assure you that when you step onboard an airliner, you are in the hands of highly qualified professionals who will do everything in  their power to ensure that you will arrive safely at your destination. I only hope that, in the near future, the same will be true of the security process that you go through before you get to the gate.

''A 30,000 foot perspective on leadership and followership brought down to earth in the form of a riveting story. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve their leadership, followership, or ability to complete any task with flawless precision.''
--John Donahoe, president and CEO, eBay

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