UMaine Alumnus and USAF Fighter Pilot Speaks about Leadership Under Pressure

The following is an article from the University of Maine Business School publication, MBS Connects about 1989 graduate, Martin Richard. Mr Richard was a fighter pilot for the US Air Force on a training mission over Cape Cod on September 11th, 2001 and came to Orono to present to adjunct professor Shawn McKenna’s Business Leadership class.  Mr Richard also authored a book called “Scrambled: Top secret tools for High Pressure Leadership”. 

Martin Richard ’89, Fighter Pilot, Business Consultant and Author, Talks With MBS Students About Leadership Under Pressure 

By RuthEllen Cohen

The leadership skills he gained as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot can be used to achieve success in high pressure business situations, said business consultant and author Martin Richard, a 1989 University of Maine alumnus.

“Combat aviation consists of three axioms – “speed is life;” “lose sight, lose fight;” and “check six,” said Richard, who spoke last January to Maine Business School students in the leadership class taught by adjunct Professor Shawn McKenna, a member of the MBS board of advisors.

“These three principles are translatable to business as well as to life,” said Richard, who was among the first pilots dispatched to chase down four hijacked civilian airliners during the 911 terrorist attacks in New York City.

Richard, author of the book “Scrambled,” uses his fighter pilot experiences to teach people how to think strategically so they can lead under pressure and determine how to take control even in the most stressful situation.

A leadership expert who advises businesses throughout the country, Richard is vice president of business development with Lucid Government Solutions and chief strategic officer for Zulu Capital, as well as a special advisor on OnlineSmall, an internet marketing company.

Explaining the first axiom – “Speed is Life” – Richard told students that in aviation combat, “speed represents opportunity.

Photo from AIRMAN Magazine, the official magazine of the US Air Force.

“But it’s not necessarily who goes fastest, it’s who maintains the energy level needed to complete the task,” he said. “As a pilot, when safety is involved, you need to stop and make sure the situation doesn’t spiral out of control.  It’s the same in the business world.  You’ll find there is a vast conspiracy to take you off the objective you have for the day. So you need to push things up, keep the momentum and maintain the energy level needed to complete the task and ensure it’s done right. But sometimes the situation demands that you slow down so you can take control, assess the situation and make a new plan. Slowing down can pay dividends in the end.”

The second axiom of a fighter pilot, “Lose Sight, Lose Fight,” also is critically important. “In a dog fight, my goal is to keep sight of my adversary’s plane,” Richard said. “If I completely lose sight of the enemy for a long period of time, I’ll probably lose. Can I continue to fight? Yes, but I won’t be as effective because he’ll likely end up behind me.  It’s the same in business. Eventually your competition will figure out your plan if you lose sight of him.  So when you’re given a task, you need to keep track of your vision, goals, objectives, the U.S. economy, the world economy, elections, Congress, etc.

“If you are in construction, you have to keep sight of the weather, building codes, land acquisition, interest rates, etc. If you are in finance, you must keep sight of your client, new products, regulatory restraints, market conditions, consumer sentiment, etc. So as you go out into the business world, think about keeping track of the variables that affect your business situation.”

The last axiom, “Check Six,” refers to the value of mutual support and the importance of having a good wingman. In aviation combat, the wingman flies in a position to be able to see behind his flight leader in the six o’clock position so he can keep a lookout directly behind his partner and provide another set of eyes, Richard told students.

“In all the times I went into combat, I wasn’t worried so much about being shot down, but about messing up and having the wingman shot down,” he said. “In fighter aviation culture, our responsibility is to check each other’s six-o’clock.  This principle applies in the business world as well.  You’re going to be presented with professional issues and ethical issues – different situations which cause you to pause and figure out whether to say something or let it slide. If you think about “Check Six,” it changes your mindset. You do have a responsibility to check your people’s “six,” to look out for them and make sure their actions are in line with the company’s vision and goals. At some point, it’s their choice. But you don’t want to be the person who says afterward, ‘man, I should have said something.’ So, say it and let them have that affirmation so they can make their decision.”

MBS Article PDF article can be found on page 8.

Purchase Mr. Richard’s book here.

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