Top Gun Day for Business


National Top Gun Day (May 13, the anniversary of the movie release) is a great opportunity to request a fly-by, play some shirtless volleyball or fly inverted 5 feet above a MIG.

If your fighter is grounded, or those activities are a bit outside your comfort zone, turn down your collar and take a moment to draw some parallels between the successful culture and activities of a real Navy fighter squadron (not the Hollywood version), and your business.

Ten years of flying in an F-14 Tomcat on and off the decks of nuclear powered aircraft carriers, followed by 20 years of sales and marketing experience at both Fortune 100 and startup firms has allowed me to study, teach and apply the many lessons from a fighter squadron that are adoptable in our business squadrons.

Here are just a few to share on this 2015 Top Gun Day:

Work from a smart strategy that makes sense, is well articulated and understood by all

Navy fleets, aircraft carriers and fighter squadrons all understand their objectives during a deployment, and the strategy designed to help accomplish missions and objectives. They may change or be augmented, but all are aware and know when/how to shift tactics, remain on-strategy and accomplish the objective.

Companies must exercise the same discipline. Have you communicated your annual objectives and strategies to all employees? Can they recite it back to you today? Are they sanity-checking their tactics and activities to ensure they are on-strategy?  Are your personal and organizational KPIs in line with executing your strategy, or do they allow for a Strategy of Personal Agendas?

Management teams that believe their strategy is top-secret, with a need-to-know communication plan, or who exercise an Idea-of-the-Week approach to leadership usually struggle to succeed.  Operating off-strategy, or with no strategy at all is like flying without a compass.

Build employee engagement, purpose and confidence in your team. Set smart objectives and strategies, and your wingmen will keep the right formation to and from the target.

Effective training starts with individuals, and ultimately creates high-performance teams

Fighter squadrons know that training begins and continues in the classroom and cockpit with each individual pilot. Once a Navy pilot has mastered the aircraft, its weapons systems and its competition, he/she can become a valuable contributor to larger operations and the team as a whole. Without a mastery of the jet, they offer little to the team and the mission.

Sales and marketing professionals are no different. They must master their products, services and the marketplace by experiencing first-hand how customers and prospects have positioned their brand and employ it for success. A smart training program that efficiently brings individuals up-to-speed creates a powerful team to grow the business.

If you wing it on training, you’ll collect a group of Mavericks buzzing the tower, or even worse: an unmotivated, misinformed group that fails to meet the number.

Encourage a culture that embraces continuous improvement

Fighter pilots realize every mission creates a learning experience. They must continuously improve to stay alive and ensure success. To that end, their culture evolved and continues as one of disciplined, continuous improvement.

Both in training and in combat military pilots DEBRIEF  every campaign or mission thoroughly, document lessons learned, and build new training plans to reinforce successes and correct for mistakes. It’s an open and honest process that rewards humility and honest feedback, and sets the bar higher every day. To fail to debrief a mission following a military flight would be considered highly unprofessional.

It’s challenging for companies to embrace debriefing and gap assessment like a fighter squadron, but effective continuous improvement cultures do exist and flourish. Sales and marketing professionals that collaborate, continuously learn and share both successful and unsuccessful experiences are far more likely to evolve into a high-performance team.

Bring back that Lovin’ Feelin’ and catapult your team towards successful results with strategic leadership, effective training and a spirit and culture of continuous improvement.

Jack Liles is a Partner at TechCXO, providing on-demand Chief Sales Officer duties to client companies in need of go-to-market plan development, improved sales performance, leadership and structure. Jack is a veteran Naval Officer and recovering F-14 Tomcat flyer. Following his service, Jack earned leadership roles at the ad agency Leo Burnett, Coca-Cola, UPS and at numerous successful (and unsuccessful) start-ups. Connect with Jack at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s