SUMMARY: F/A-18 Pilot, Chris Koelzer has been teaching me the Fighter Pilot Mindset. Here is how he defines it. The FIGHTER PILOT MINDSET, selflessly commits to normalized excellence, willingly chooses to be accountable, habitually accomplishes critical tasks, and continuously improves by using quality tools. Over the next few lessons join us as we discover how we can build this mindset into our spiritual life. Today’s lesson tackles topics of habitually accomplishing mission critical tasks.
BOOK: Tyranny of the Urgent, by Charles Hummel
Over the next few lessons, I want to share with you teachings I have been learning from a good friend of mine Chris Koelzer. Chris is a former F/A-18 pilot and today teaches leadership at T-6 Victory which is a DFW/Twin Cities-based leadership program that uses flight experiences to teach civilians leadership lessons. Chris’ thoughts on the fighter pilot mindset are profound and compelling. And for a guy like me who has only dreamed of being a fighter pilot, I have had the fantastic opportunity to learn from him. Chris is a remarkable man who both loves God and lives life with excellence. For me, he is a representation of the Resolute man. Over the next few lessons, we are going to be looking at what T-6 Victory teaches about the Fighter Pilot Mindset. Here is their definition of the FPM. “The FIGHTER PILOT MINDSET, selflessly commits to Normalized Excellence, willingly chooses to be accountable, habitually accomplishes critical tasks, and continuously improves by using quality tools.” Their definition of this mindset is composed of four factors which I want to address. The topic today is accomplishing critical tasks. To understand the fighter pilot mindset, we must keep in mind that the fighter pilots lives in constantly changing environments because military operations are always human endeavors. Engagement with an opponent never happens in a static environment. Therefore the pilot must adapt to his conditions and the moves and countermoves of his opponent. While a pilot will impose his will on the target, the enemy will resist, and this countermove is completely unpredictable. Therefore he is required to be constantly thinking and rethinking. Also, while engaging with the opposition, the fighter pilot must also act within the boundaries of his mission. His objective is to respond to the force opposing him but to also operate in conjunction with his team and mission. His team and commanding unit are relying on him to accomplish his critical tasks so that a goal can be achieved together. This is next level thinking. Not only does he think about the opponents moves and countermoves but how his team relies on him to complete the tasks are mission critical. In this, they are also synchronizing and integrating their goal and work into the larger mission. So when I was flying with Chris, I saw all this come into play. On the ground, Chris walked me around the plane and checked every inch and moving part of the T-6. He then had me suit up for the mission as he explained the particular mission and elements of the mission he and three other pilots had prepared for over a month. Chris then explained to me my critical tasks for the mission, including how to use the parachute strapped to my back, what to do in an emergency, a brief understanding of the instrument panel, along with items around me I was allowed to touch and things I could not touch. In all, it took about one hour of prep time, but I could tell there were years of training, and weeks of preparation put into this moment and every mission that he flies. Throughout all this, Chris held a checklist in hand and one-by-one he checked the critical task off the list. Perhaps one of the memorable moments for me was while we were flying. Chris met up skillfully with three other men from three different cities in Minnesota. In the lead was a former US astronaut, guiding the formation. And they each met up in strategic locations, one by one falling into formation. Our mission was to simulate a dive bomb scenario on a Minnesota lake get-to-gather. We took numerous passes, dropping smoke on the lake party using four different formations. As awesome as this all was, the most memorable moment was watching Chris, and the other pilots glued to the leader and observing their intense focus, not only to their formation but also their surroundings. As a civilian, I was stirred by the complexity and focus required by a fighter pilot. And remember we were not flying a jet breaking the speed of sound battling against an opponent. What I learned during my time was how important it is to perform critical tasks and how they relate to flying a successful mission. I am not too sure that most leaders could handle a complex set of tasks like this, which is why the fighter pilot must be one of the best at habitually accomplishing critical tasks. It is not an effort to just check items off a list, but to understand why the task are important, how they connect to the team and freely perform the mission at hand in constantly changing environments. So how does all this apply to real life? Well, I think my key takeaway from flying with Chris on this day was how particularly challenging it is to perform critical tasks with excellence in life consistently. And why? Well because we live in a world full of distractions. For example, I cannot recount how many times I have launched a web-browser only to become so distracted and entertained by social media that I close the browser only to realize that I did not complete the task I set out to dostarted. How many of you have done this? I have… many times. This distraction illustrates how hard it is, in our world today to habitually accomplish critical tasks and maintain an FPM. For the Christian man, I believe this translates into our spiritual life. While we each may know that our spiritual life is the most important mission in life, we rarely fulfill spiritual tasks as if they are mission critical. We are distracted by human vices all the time that keep us from our primary mission. These distractions can be both external and internal to us. Distractions which include things like the following Being overly self-focused and concerned with self. This internal distraction is always tempting us. When we get lost in our issues, problems, and distractions, we can lose sight of God and our mission with him. Lust is another major distraction for men. And while we might be carried away into sexual temptation, our lust is not always sexual in nature. Our lust could be a desire for more of anything outside the boundaries of God’s Will. For example, hunger for power, influence, success, possessions, and prestige. Another distraction is entertainment. We are entertained everywhere, including sometimes in our churches. And if this is not enough, our phones have become the incessant entertainment device. And we all know the average guy will spend about two hours a day on his phone, which means he is getting a lot of entertainment. And I think we could build a list all day long of things that distract us. And sometimes they can be good things, just not what is best. All this talk of distractions reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha in the New Testament. While we may know this story, let me read it again. It is from Luke 10:38-42 38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” This is a great story but I want you to notice one thing about this text. It was not that what Martha was doing was bad; we must recognize it was good to prepare a meal and be hospitable, as it was custom to greet travelers with certain accommodations in their culture. However, the distraction of preparing was taking priority over the critical task of the moment. What Martha is inferring in her desire to have Mary help is that she too wants to participate however the customs of the moment were taking precedence over the presence of Christ, and Martha wanted to draw Mary into this maybe for both their benefits. And Jesus helps us to see that these small distractions can lead to mission slippage from critical tasks that take priority. Mary lived on a mission and focused on Jesus and Martha had a different mission it was to work to please Jesus, and how we slip into the second mission and less important mission. The simple application of a message like this is to remove the distractions. Turn social media off, take a fast from television, close out the browser, shut off the text alerts, and get some focus. Order your priorities and stick to them, and remained focused habitually. And don’t give up. In our world, today there are too many distractions that enable us to lose focus on the one thing that should take preeminence in our life – Jesus Christ and his mission for us. Start your day with him and think about Him all day, and what he wants for and from you. Today I have a great short reading for you in the post on the website under this topic by Charles Hummel. If you have never read it then you need to read it today. It will turn your mindset upside down or maybe right side up. Just go to beresolute.org select the Ongoing Content tab, go to the series on the Fighter Pilot Mindset, and select this lesson. Members there are all kinds of great tools here that come with your membership.