Aviate, Navigate, Communicate: Lessons to Get Through the Crisis from an F-14 Pilot


Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatch™

The U.S. Navy’s first female F-14 Tomcat pilot, Carey Lohrenz, recently shared with the C-Suite Network’s Hero Club members the keys to flying through constantly changing conditions to complete a mission:

Aviate, navigate, and communicate.

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

Imagine you are flying a multi-million-dollar plane at Mach 2, landing at night on an aircraft carrier with your and the lives of your crewmates on the line, and, you are at war – people are shooting at you while you do your job.

Feel familiar? In the coronavirus pandemic, business and communications leaders are engaged in combat.

Aviate, navigate, and communicate captures the essence of what it takes to manage complexity for pilots as well as those dealing with the current crisis. 

The specific order of actions, outlined by Lohrenz, author of Fearless Leadership: High-Performance Lessons from the Flight Deck, motivational speaker, and a leadership coach, provides a valuable roadmap for a path through the coronavirus pandemic and other crises. 

Aviate:  As Lohrenz outlined, aviate is having the skills to fly the plane. In a business context, leaders must have the skills to run their business – whether it’s a corporation or client account. Since every business and market is different, there is no handbook. Like pilots, leaders have to make decisions based on imperfect knowledge and changing conditions to, above all, keep flying.  

Navigate:  We need to situate ourselves and our businesses or clients in the context of where we want to go. During this crisis, as I wrote in The Coronavirus Reset, we need to understand the greatest value we can offer clients now, and to anticipate will be needed down the line. One thing is for sure – it will be different than what it was before. Midair we need to recalibrate instruments, change strategy and positioning, and fly toward it.

Communicate: Planes have blind spots. When flying in formation or combat, communication is key. Pilots need to share with and receive input from wing mates or air traffic controllers to provide situational awareness and notice of directional changes. Simplicity of language, clarity and frequency of communication ensure that individual actions are aligned with the mission of the team – whether you are pilot, CEO, or communicator.

That communication is third in the list of a pilots’ core actions – but integrated with the other two – is instructive. Flying (managing) and knowing where you are going (navigating) are the building blocks upon which communication will help achieve the mission.  

The takeaways for leaders during the pandemic are that we need to get aviating and navigating right, and then communicate. Communication – no matter how good – will not solve fundamental problems with a business (or poor piloting) and where it is headed. 

If you or your team are struggling to aviate, it’s important to identify and fix what is wrong. Getting the perspective of others may well be required to provide a clear-eyed view of your or your clients’ blind spots.  

If you are headed in the wrong direction or the directional coordinates required for success have changed – as they have through the pandemic – taking the time to reset goals and mapping how you will get there is critical to achieving your objectives. Embracing uncertainty to ensure you can make decisions is equally important. 

If your team is lost, not aligned or onboard with the path you are taking, communicate, communicate, communicate. 

If you are flying the plane in a direction that adds value to clients, communicate, communicate, communicate.

And keep in mind one of the most important lessons from flying a Tomcat shared by Lohrenz: When focused on complex tasks, communications need to be simple and concise. Your mission to get through the coronavirus crisis depends on it.

CommunicationsMatch™ offers search tools and services to help companies find, shortlist, and hire agencies, consultants, and freelancers, and help agencies and professionals generate new business leads. During the coronavirus pandemic, CommunicationsMatch is leveraging its resources to help connect struggling not-for-profits and companies with Communications Volunteers willing to give their time to help others at no cost or discounted services. Through its partnership with the Marketing IMPACT Council™, it is offering communicators access to a unique low-cost telehealth services program from MDLIVE, as well as additional time and discounts on membership plans. Find out more at the CommunicationsMatch Insights Blog.