At first glance, it may not seem like the experience of flying a fighter plane has much to do with the corporate realm, but having a good wingman is essential in business and in flight.

Waldo Waldman, a professional sales and leadership speaker and former fighter pilot, believes the most important wingman is the inner one, and he uses this as a metaphor for how employees should conduct themselves.

“You have to help yourself and be confident in your ability to execute your game plan,” he explained. “That’s the inner wingman, knowing that you’ve done the hard work necessary to earn your wings.”

Before fighter pilots are considered mission ready, they spend hours studying and practicing, which helps them develop trust in their capabilities. The same must be true in business, and learning is a critical element in developing that confidence in employees.

“One of the keys to being a wingman is preparation,” Waldman said. “[Learning executives] have to create training environments where the resources and tools are available for employees to learn what’s necessary. [Employees then] have to take the time to learn, sweat and sacrifice. You do that through various training programs, simulations and team building.”

A training session should be followed with testing to ensure information is retained. Additionally, learning professionals must provide mentors for employees, Waldman said. Lastly, learning executives must develop a culture where it’s OK to say the simple words: “I don’t know.”

“If people don’t know who to go to for help, they feel like they’re flying solo, and you should never fly solo,” Waldman said. “There should always be somebody they can call ‘Mayday!’ to. In a learning environment, people need to say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out.’ As a manager, you need to create that open-door policy because people learn most when they feel like there’s a culture of trust.”

When employees have confidence in their abilities, they become more positive in their approach to challenges, according to Waldman, and that positive energy will spread through the business like a wildfire.

“Attitude is contagious,” he said. “If everybody is in touch with their inner wingman, they’re accountable, they know their job and they’re able to deal with the missiles of business that are being shot at them. When attitude is contagious and people are confident, they’re able to create an environment of mutual support within the organization.”

Providing learning to employees helps boost confidence, and employees then are able to overcome the tough times that invariably occur in business.

“Not only was I a fighter pilot, but I’ve been shot at,” Waldman said. “I don’t wear that as a badge of honor, but it’s a reality because lessons are learned when the missiles of life are being shot at you. It’s not when things are going great and the sales are coming in; it’s when the adversities of life come at you when you’re truly tested.”

Developing inner confidence in employees ultimately results in improved customer service, he added.

“By building trust in our inner wingmen, we’re really building better relationships with each other,” Waldman said. “When people work together and there’s an atmosphere of trust, the customer is always going to be the beneficiary. If I’m serving the customer and we have a challenge, we’re going to work together and make sure we meet this challenge and provide deliverables on time, on-target and on budget.”


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