I like millennials.
There, I’ve said it.
And, before my inbox explodes with all the hate mail from my more ‘senior’ readers, let me explain.
I like millennials because they have so much potential and yet, they don’t even know it. They are today’s ‘underdogs’ and, once upon a time, I was an underdog, too – all the criticism aimed at millennials could have been aimed at me.
When I was young, I too was arrogant, self-assured and confrontational.
But, there’s another reason I like millennials.
Millennials have learnt from politicians that it’s wise to have a healthy disrespect for authority and conformity and that makes them similar to other people I also like.
The thing is though, unlike pilots, most millennials haven’t yet realised that just having ‘passion’ isn’t going to get them very far in life. And, that’s fine because it means that when they do work it out, they will be the ones who will go on to change the world.
Pilots understand this.
Whilst most millennials are still trying to ‘follow their passion’, there is a small cadre of young people who realise that it’s not the ‘following’ of a passion that is going to make them successful – it’s the ‘crafting’ of one.
Telling young people that only hard work and sacrifice will lead to success, is not always a popular message. That’s because it’s not easy to communicate with a generation that feel let down by their elders but, a great leader will always find a way to get his team to ‘go the extra mile’.
A great leader sacrifices her own time to grow her team.
A great leader uses the language of his team so he can be understood.
A great leader is very hard to find.
But, a few months ago I was forwarded an email from the Commanding Officer of a United States Marine Corps Harrier Squadron to his pilots. The email was so in-line with my own thoughts on leadership that I planned to write to him, thank him for his wisdom and cunningly find a way to make him my mentor.
The email was written exactly 6 years ago today and details his guidance to his pilots on a Squadron he’d just taken command of.
The Squadron was Marine Attack Squadron VMA 211 (the Avengers) and the date was 9, December 2011.
In all my time, serving in the UK military, I had never received an email or letter detailing my Commander’s intent.
I was intrigued and read carefully.
From: Commanding Officer, Marine Attack Squadron 211
To: Squadron Attack Pilots
Subj: COMMANDER’S GUIDANCE FOR SQUADRON ATTACK PILOTS
1. Professional hunger.
My goal is to identify those Officers who want to be professional attack pilots and dedicate the resources required to build them into the flight leaders and instructors that are required for the long-term health of our community. This is not a socialist organization. We will not all be equal in terms of quals and flight hours. Some will advance faster than others, and because this is not a union, your rate of advancement will have nothing to do with seniority. Your rate of advancement will instead be determined by your hunger, professionalism, work ethic, and performance.
If flying jets and supporting Marines is your passion and your profession, you are in the right squadron.
If these things are viewed simply as your job, please understand that I must invest for the future in others. Your time in a gun squadron might be limited, so it is up to you to make the most of the opportunities that are presented.
2. Professional focus.
Our approach to aviation is based upon the absolute requirement to be “brilliant in the basics.”
Over the last few years Marine TACAIR has not punted the tactical nearly so often as the admin. Sound understanding of NATOPS, aircraft systems, and SOPs is therefore every bit as important as your understanding of the ANTTP and TOPGUN. With this in mind, ensure the admin portions of your plan are solid before you move onto objective area planning. Once you begin tactical planning, remember that keeping things “simple and easy to execute” will usually be your surest path to success. If the plan is not safe, it is not tactically sound.
I firmly believe in the phrase “hire for attitude, train for skill.”
Work ethic, willingness to accept constructive criticism, and a professional approach to planning, briefing, and debriefing will get you 90% of the way towards any qualification or certification you are pursuing. The other 10% is comprised of in-flight judgment and performance, and that will often come as a result of the first 90%. Seek to learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Just as a championship football team debriefs their game film, we are going to analyze our tapes and conduct thorough flight debriefs. It has often been said that the success of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the plan and brief. The other side of this coin is that the amount of learning that takes place as a result of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the debrief.
4. Moral courage.
Speak up if something seems wrong or unsafe.
We all know what the standards are supposed to be in Naval Aviation and in the Corps. Enforce them! When we fail to enforce the existing standards, we are actually setting and enforcing a new standard that is lower.
If you average one hour per workday studying, 6 months from now you will be brilliant. That is all it takes; one hour per day. As you start to notice the difference between yourself and those who are unable to find 60 minutes, I want you to know that I will have already taken note.
Then, I want you to ask yourself this question: “How good could I be if I really gave this my all?”
6. When all else fades away, attack pilots have one mission: provide offensive air support for Marines.
The Harrier community needs professional attack pilots who can meet this calling.
It does not require you to abandon your family. It does not require you to work 16 hours per day, six days per week. It requires only a few simple commitments to meet this calling: be efficient with your time at work so that you can study one hour per day; be fully prepared for your sorties and get the maximum learning possible out of every debrief; have thick skin and be willing to take constructive criticism; find one weekend per month to go on cross country. When you are given the opportunity to advance, for those few days go to the mat and give it your all, 100%, at the expense of every other thing in your life.
To quote Roger Staubach, “there are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”
If you can be efficient during the workweek, give an Olympian effort for check rides and certifications, and are a team player, the sky will literally be the limit for you in this squadron.
C. K. RAIBLE
Lt Col Raible was also an instructor pilot at the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) and, as a former fighter jet tactics instructor myself, the compassion he had for his young pilots was all too familiar to me.
His email was a simple, no nonsense message to his team – work hard and greatness awaits you. It was a message that was designed to motivate his pilots who just happened to be millennials, the same millennials that I also taught.
In short, Chris Raible had unlocked the secret of millennial success and here it is.
‘…make the most of the opportunities that are presented.’
Often, millennials are labelled as ‘snowflakes’ and targeted for their lack of drive and motivation – ironically by the generations who, in the 60s and 70s, spent their time discovering sex, drugs and rock and roll. But we should be careful of labelling them as ‘snowflakes’ because when snowflakes get agitated, they form ‘snowstorms’ and ‘snowstorms’ can cause massive and sudden change.
Just look at the disruption caused in the UK when junior doctors decided to strike over newly introduced pay reforms.
‘We will not all be equal…your rate of advancement will have nothing to do with seniority…it will instead be determined by your hunger, professionalism, work ethic, and performance.’
Those who succeed will be the motivated, the disruptors and the energised. Those who fail will be those who choose to wallow in self-pity about the unfairness of life.
Nobody owes anybody a great career, it has to be earned.
Millennials have a solid decade at least with which to figure things out, success isn’t made overnight. Those who rush it will trip and fail, as Chris says ‘Our approach to aviation is based upon the absolute requirement to be ‘brilliant in the basics.’’
Brilliant in the basics – or, as I wrote about a while ago in my essay, ‘Why You Should Forget the Awesome for Now’ – look for the things that require little effort and do them really well.
Positive attitude, discipline, punctuality, the ability to learn from your mistakes, humility and the embracing of failure.
Millennials don’t need to rush, they can take their time to work things out, establish a foundation of solid ‘basics’ upon which to build their future temple of ‘awesome’.
You know why things grow?
It’s because they get fed.
’It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success’ – Lionel Messi, 30, Professional footballer for Barcelona and considered, by many, to be the best player in the world.
If a plant refuses nutrients, it dies. In the same way, Lt Col Raible tells his pilots that they should ‘..have thick skin and be willing to take constructive criticism..’ for this is the only way that they will ever develop.
‘Just as a championship football team debriefs their game film, we are going to analyze our tapes and conduct thorough flight debriefs.’
Honest self-reflection and the continual striving for excellence is what will push those millennials that choose to follow this guidance, above those who do not.
It’s just hard work and sacrifice – this alone will allow enterprising millennials to soar above their peers, especially when they learn to ignore external distractions and concentrate on their own journey.
Regardless of what you do, become a master of it – be so good that they can’t ignore you and always deliver more than is expected.
‘Focus on what you can offer the world not what the world can offer you.’ – Cal Newport
In my flying training, which took 5 years and a lot of pain – everyday was test day. If you failed a flight you’d get a chance to re-fly it – fail again and you were on a ‘chop’ ride.
Fail that and you were no longer going to be a military pilot. The only thing that got us through was hard work and sacrifice – many didn’t want to do that and that’s OK, they now do other jobs – we all have our limits.
But, if you want greatness, you have to develop a positive work ethic and this comes from a consistent and focused drive towards excellence.
‘When we fail to enforce the existing standards, we are actually setting and enforcing a new standard that is lower.’
Every day, I work with companies who fail to strive for excellence and it shows in everything they do, especially when held alongside the work of the Royal Air Force.
Sometimes we also struggle to achieve excellence, it’s true.
But, the difference between those who are successful and those who aren’t is the understanding that sometimes, when striving for excellence, we will stumble and fall. But, if you don’t shoot for the stars you will never reach the moon.
‘Good enough is the enemy of perfection.’ – Lt Col Chris Raible
That’s why being arrogant, self-assured and confrontational can make you successful in this world.
So, why are the millennials the luckiest generation, ever?
Because, they get to learn from great leaders like Chris Raible.
But, when I tried to reach him, I ran into a problem because on 14 September 2012, Lt Col Chris Raible was killed whilst defending his Squadron during an insurgent attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
He died fighting alongside one of his men, a millennial, 27 year-old Sgt. Bradley Atwell, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, Combat Action Ribbon and an Air Medal with Strike 15 Award.
Leaving behind a wife and three young children, he was buried on 3, October in Arlington National Cemetery.
A Warrior and a teacher, Chris’ personal sacrifice and his desire to push his team to ‘go the extra mile’, will continue to be his legacy.
‘Without hesitation in a moment of great uncertainty and danger, he ran to the sound of guns. He organized his Marines, and they fought like Marines have always fought. He was a Marine who embodied the courage and the bravery of this storied squadron. He was your skipper, he was your friend and he was like family to so many of you.’ – Gen. John Allen, head of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan.