All aviators are taught early on to have a healthy respect for the power of headwinds. Headwinds can shift, they can dictate your route of flight, the altitude you fly at, how much fuel you require, your speed and your timing. At their very worst, headwinds can force you to change direction, they can cost you time, energy, and even take away options. Interestingly, there are two times aviators will always seek out and turn into headwinds: takeoff and landing. By harnessing the power of headwinds, we can make those transitions from the ground to the sky and back again, much more safe, more smooth, and more efficient.
Headwinds are the perfect analogy for the constant change, challenges, and adversity we all must overcome in our personal and professional lives. Sometimes our headwinds can be expected and welcome, but often they are unexpected and uninvited. Our mindset and attitude towards these headwinds will dictate whether or not we successfully navigate the hardship.
Do you see your headwinds as an opportunity to grow? Are your headwinds viewed as a moment to innovate and create something new? Are you harnessing the power of your headwinds to the betterment of yourself and your teams?
By choosing a “Harnessing Headwinds Mindset” you can turn adversity into personal and professional breakthroughs. Here are three tips towards achieving this forward-looking perspective:
Preparation is Key
Headwinds are going to happen, whether you’re expecting them or not. As a fighter pilot, we would practice endlessly for the day we were called into combat: repetition, discipline, attention to detail, commitment, striving for excellence in all we would do. Taking the time today to hone your unique skills, bolster your strengths, and acknowledge your weaknesses is vital. Do you have clarity on what tools and resources are available to you right now? Do you recognize gaps in knowledge or skills? Have you thought through the most probable contingencies on your journey to achieving a goal? Do you have a plan to mitigate potential risks along the way?The more prepared you are with foundational skills and daily behaviors, the easier it will be to harness headwinds when you encounter them. All too often, I have seen individuals and teams wait for a crisis to happen before they answered the above questions. Why wait for a crisis to force your hand? Do not wait for adversity to catch you off guard, be proactive today and prepare as best you can before you encounter major headwinds. How are you reinforcing your strengths today to serve you well during hard times? It is true, preparation will look quite different for every person across varying career fields, but preparation is the first step in mitigating the jolt of unexpected headwinds.
Grow before you have to. Oftentimes when we achieve a certain level of success, experience, or performance, we like to pause and bask in the moment. We are human after all, and it feels good and comfortable to pause. That said, there is a fine line in celebrating a gain and becoming complacent. Complacency lulls you into a false sense of security and reinforces the notion that what “got you here” is enough to “get you there”. It’s okay to be confident in your skills, but becoming too comfortable will inevitably cause the unexpected headwinds to sting a lot more when they arrive.Complacency also makes it very hard to remain humble. Actively pursuing personal and professional development opportunities that stretch your skills and experience has to come from within. It should not be solely dependent on what a company or organization offers its employees. A harnessing headwinds mindset requires you to actively seek networks, education, training, events and mentoring that force you to open your mind to new and different viewpoints and ways of achieving higher levels of performance. The bottom line: don’t ever rest on your laurels. By constantly tinkering with your own growth and by forcing a bit of discomfort, you will be better prepared to handle unexpected headwinds when they arrive.
Loosen Your Grip
As a pilot on the Air Force Thunderbirds, I had to learn to fly in extremely close formation alongside five other aircraft. Inevitably, we’d encounter headwinds and turbulence during our air show performances. During my training season as the newest pilot, when I first encountered turbulence in formation, my initial instinct was to tighten my grip on the aircraft control stick. This resulted in me over-controlling the aircraft, I fell out of my proper formation position. It was terribly inefficient, negatively impacted my performance, and it made for an ugly airshow. But, isn’t that our instinct as human beings when we encounter headwinds and turbulence in our personal and professional lives?Our instinct is to control things, resist the change, and react to each and every bump along the way. It becomes a colossal waste of your time, talent, and treasure to try and control things that are literally beyond your control. One of the more experienced pilots on the flying team encouraged me to actively “loosen my grip” when I started to feel turbulence within my aircraft. It was hard to do, it went against my instincts, but it worked. While the turbulence was out of my control, how I responded to it was within my purview. By over-controlling the jet in my fight against the turbulence, I was actually exacerbating the problem and making my circumstances worse. During a moment of instability, I was wasting my limited resources by battling something outside of my command.
The more you try to dominate the uncontrollable into submission, the more likely you are to experience disappointment, higher levels of stress, and negative impacts to your performance. The next time you encounter turbulence in your personal and professional life, take an honest assessment of what is within your ability to control and remind yourself to “loosen your grip”. This aspect of the “Harnessing Headwinds Mindset” will help you capture the turbulence to your advantage, it will invoke calm, and it will result in a much more efficient use of your time, talent, and treasure.
I hope these three tips empower you to harness the headwinds in your lives to work in your favor and to the favor of your teams. By adopting this mindset, you can use headwinds as a launching point to your next destination, to your next goal, and to your next level of performance excellence.