How Visual Flight Rules Apply to Business Leadership


Never does the need for vision become more apparent than when flying an airplane. Pilots have to land the plane at some point, so a vision of where it’s headed is critical before takeoff. 

This is a good lesson for business leaders as well. Starting a company or even pivoting one without a vision of where it’s going can be perilous. I recently earned my pilot’s license and through doing so, recognized four key parallels worth considering:

1. The higher the altitude, the better you can see where you’re going.

I learned to fly in late spring in Northern California, so the air was clear—and hot. I had two choices of altitude for my first cross country flight – 3,500 or 5,500 feet above sea level. My instructor asked which I preferred and why. 

I chose 5,500; I wanted the cooler air in my non-air conditioned plane. But then he asked me what another benefit might be. That’s where the vision came in.  If I’m looking for a landmark, say a lake, in the Sierra foothills, a greater altitude would enable me to see it sooner and keep my bearings better.

The same is true in business. When I climb out of the weeds of my business, I can see my circumstances, any obstacles, and new opportunities more clearly. One practical way to apply this is with planning to take time out of your business to work on high-level business objectives. For instance, blocking several hours every quarter to evaluate your progress and make any necessary adjustments to course correct.

2. You fly straighter when you have a marker on the horizon.

Flying from Lincoln, California towards the north quickly became one of my favorite compass headings during flight training because there were two distinct markers. The Sutter Buttes were first in my line of sight. This distinctive landmark was easy to pick out and focus on. Once we got beyond the smallest mountain range in the world, there were railroad tracks in a remarkably straight line heading straight to Chico, our usual northerly destination. 

When trying to maintain straight and level, either in an airplane or a business situation, that outside focus on where you’re going keeps you from fixating on micromanagements, like you can if you don’t have context.

One practical application of this in the business world, or even in everyday life, is to set a vision of where you want to be in a distinct time period (you know, before you need to refuel). At The Aviation Collective our vision is to be a driving force in aviation that improves workplace culture today to transform the impact of the industry tomorrow.

3. Having a clear destination in mind reduces fatigue.

In flying, if we have a clear, visual destination in sight, we aren’t constantly monitoring our heading or GPS tracking and making decisions about little adjustments. This means we have more clarity to react when something unexpected happens—and yes, the same concept carries over to business.

Think about the last time you had a really stressful day and then came home to eat dinner. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned you were at the beginning of the day about eating healthy…you either grab the most convenient thing at eye-level or you gravitate to comfort food. (C’mon, don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s eaten ice cream for dinner.) 

Decision fatigue as a leader in business is a well-documented phenomenon. We make better decisions when we limit the number of decisions we have to make. If we’ve set our destination and maybe even programmed the auto-pilot, we have fewer minute decisions to make in the air. 

4. When you have an uncloudy destination, communication becomes easier.

When flying with an instructor or an examiner or communicating with air traffic control, knowing where you are and where you’re going is essential. Pointing out that you’re on track becomes a check-in rather than a long, drawn out conversation, and keeps you moving efficiently in the right direction.

Check-ins for business, like those we do from the flight deck when we are transferred from one channel to another on air traffic control, remind everyone around us where we are, where we are heading and if something is off-track. This is less stressful for everyone when the leader (or pilot) has a clear vision.

There are many parallels between operating an aircraft and business leadership. I hope you can see that a clear vision for your company or life can provide perspective, create concerted effort efficiencies, and ease communications, thereby making your team more engaged, more productive, and ultimately more profitable.

As a Founding Member of The Aviation Collective, you will have access to the resources you need to get a clear vision for your future. Learn more about the perks of membership and take the next steps to creating a fulfilling, meaningful career in aviation.

You have to have a special license to operate an airplane without clear vision. You have to have a special kind of crazy to operate a business (or even your life) with no vision.

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