Monday, January 03, 2005

Leadership Development and the 8 Principles of TopGun Communications LLC

Networking is a wonderful thing! On a recent train ride from Grand Central Station to Westport, CT, my good friend, Sean Cross of Harper Collins Publishing, noticed a fellow passenger wearing a jacket emblazoned with the phrase “TopGun.” As would be characteristic of many of us, Sean’s first thoughts turned to the movie, starring Tom Cruise, that brought into popular parlance the U.S. Navy’s legendary training school for elite fighter pilots. So, Sean engaged the jacket’s owner in conversation.

It turns out that Tom Glass is not himself a former TopGun pilot, but the Managing Director of a corporate training and performance enhancement firm called “Top Gun Communications, LLC.” He develops and coordinates the training events that bring the leadership insights of several former TopGun instructor pilots to corporate clients. The cadre of TopGun Instructors is enhanced with additional talent from a variety of business fields. The programs are designed to teach senior executives, sales teams, marketing teams and product development teams to apply the principles honed by the Navy at TopGun to the unique challenges of their particular business environment.

It did not take Sean long to realize that there may be some synergies between the kind of training that TopGun Communications offers its corporate clients, and the kinds of leadership talent I specialize in finding for my client companies - Renaissance Souls and military leaders who have performed at the highest levels. Sean was kind enough to suggest and then to facilitate a meeting among the three of us. Tom, Sean and I met last Wednesday evening in Westport.

Tom Glass is an engaging retired Wall Street Journal executive who seems even more productive and peripatetic in his “retirement” than he must have been during his very successful run of leading many of the WSJ’s training and marketing initiatives over the course of a long and illustrious career. In addition to helping to build the organization of TopGun Communications, he is developing his own skills as a builder of traditional New England free form stonewalls, and as a chef trained by the Culinary Institute of America. Talk about being a Renaissance Man!

Tom was kind enough to share with me and with Sean the eight principles – culled from Navy TopGun experience – that make up the backbone of the corporate training and performance enhancement curriculum offered by TopGun Communications. With Tom’s permission, I share them with you for several reasons:

1) The principles are sound and proven and immediately applicable to the challenges that many of us face as business leaders.

2) I want to make you aware of TopGun Communications as a resource and as potential tool that you and your company may choose to use in preparing leaders in your firm to be even more productive in 2005 than they have already been until now.

Eight Key Elements for Organizations to Change, Adapt and
Form a Culture of Success

1) Gathering the Best and the Brightest – In any organization, the potential for change, for growth and ultimately for success rests in its people. The goal is to make good people better.

2) Committing to a Core Belief – It is mandatory to focus the energy of your best people. The leadership group (your best people) must agree on what defines success, then agree and commit to your company’s goals.

3) Unwavering Professionalism – Committing to the core belief and then working harder and smarter than you have ever worked before is a start. Your people’s professionalism will establish your brand and will not only motivate your best and brightest, but also attract more people wanting to be part of something special.

4) Training – We stress the concept of reaching beyond the ordinary. No one comes to work hoping to be mediocre – but many lack the skill set required to succeed. Training and the dedication to apply what you learn to reach the next level become part of the culture.

5) Relentless Preparation – Being prepared is just the beginning. Understanding what works and why it works enables you to be a leader.

6) Briefing and Debriefing – Briefing is a skill designed to help pre-plan for great performances. Debriefing is a skill refined by the Navy, to review events, reinforce positives and professionally analyze mistakes and turn them into positives.

7) Standardization – Clear and consistent standards form an envelope of success. Identifying which processes need to be standardized, and which do not, forms your springboard for constant improvement.

8) Creativity – We push the creative envelope. Our programs and classes are designed to think beyond the norm.

* * * * *

My first reaction in hearing this principles was to exclaim: “This is why the New England Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls, and may be poised to win a third! These are the principles that Kraft, Belichek et al. have applied and raised to an art form!”

My second thought was: “And this is what the Red Sox organization is trying to emulate under the leadership of Henry, Lucchino and Epstein.”

If you feel that your company could benefit from exposing a team of leaders to training based on these principles, led by men who have applied the principles under fire and in combat, I would be happy to put you in contact with Tom Glass and TopGun Communications.

I close with this quotation from the movie “Top Gun”:

Viper: In case some of you are wondering who the best is they are up here on this plaque.
[turns to Maverick]
Viper: Do you think your name will be on that plaque?
Maverick: Yes sir.
Viper: That's pretty arrogant considering the company here, don't you think?
Maverick: Yes sir.
Viper: I like that in a pilot.

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