5 Life Lessons I Learned As a Fighter Pilot, and How to Apply Them to Business

Roey Dor, co-founder and CEO of Obligo
Before devoting his work full-time to Obligo, Roey served as Co-CEO of ‘141 Group’ and co-founded ‘City-People’, an urban renewal company which was recently acquired by a publicly traded construction company. Roey served in the Air Force as a fighter pilot for 8 years (+12 years in reserve). Following his service, earned a B.A. in Economics.

The full interview by Marco Dehry can be read at Authority Magazine.

Authority Magazine: Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience?

Roey Dor: A few of these lessons I would like to share are adapted from the en “dogfight” lessons taught in the Air Force, which are often attributed to the “Red Baron” (Manfred von Richthofe), a German fighter pilot in WW1.

1. The airplane that you do not see is the one that will eventually shoot you down

In “dogfights with more than two aircrafts, pilots tend to focus too much on the enemy planes that they see, investing too little time searching for the ones that they don’t. More often than not, the plane that they don’t see is the one that ends up shooting them down. In business, we spend too much time focused on the competitors that we “see,” but we often fail to spot the company that will eventually run us out of business. By the time we do, it’s too late. Keep your eyes open…

2. Reduce your speed below 400 knots only when going for the kill

Every pilot knows how hard it is to shoot down a fast flying plane. If you’re flying very fast in a dogfight, you’re almost immune. The speed increases your survival chances, but it also makes you more lethal to enemy planes (speed translates to energy, which aircraft can use to either dodge a missile or close in on an opponent).

Our business is like a fighter jet. We should fly it as fast as we can and avoid reacting and paying too much attention to what our opponents or competitors are doing.

In a hostile and uncertain environment, flying fast becomes even more important and requires discipline. Pilots who are restless — or just too aggressive — end up over-maneuvering against the targets they see, wasting too much energy and slowing down. It’s that lack of speed that eventually gets them killed. Our business is like a fighter jet. We should fly it as fast as we can and avoid reacting and paying too much attention to what our opponents or competitors are doing. If we simply fly faster than them, we are very likely to win the battle.

3. Don’t deviate course (unless under direct order from a general)

This one is a bit hard to explain and it involves some humor. The humor here is that there’s no way, or time, to actually consult with a general on a decision to deviate from course. In other words, this figure of speech means ‘do not deviate from course,’ period. This is meant to emphasize how dangerous the decision to deviate from course can be and that any deviation should be weighed very seriously.

When a fighter pilot is in a dogfight, it is usually turning one way or the other. Let’s say you’re turning right, performing a right-hand circle in the sky. If that is the case, then it is very likely that your opponent is doing the same thing and he’s somewhere on that circle trying to close on you. If you decide to go into a left-hand circle, your opponent will have a major advantage as they will have a smaller angle on which to close the circle and will be able to position themselves closer behind you. That being said, turning in a different direction can also save your life because the opponent could react too slow or just get confused and, if you’re fighting against multiple opponents, deviating at the right time is what will save your life.

In certain situations, it makes sense to deviate; however, pilots tend to deviate impulsively more often than they should, finding themselves in a worse situation and wishing they had stuck to their original plan. The business lesson here is to respect your plans. Pivots are important — they could very well save your company’s life — but if you pivot impulsively and change your plans too often, you’re very likely to lose. Having patience and letting time work its magic can take you a long way.

The next two lessons are deeply embedded in Air Force culture as well, and I think we can all use them in our day-to-day lives.

4. The art of debriefing, and how to avoid making the same mistake twice

In the Air Force, we would debrief on literally everything. If we went on a field trip or organized a party, we would write a debrief, share it with our peers, and file it in a folder. At first it felt like a waste of time, but as soon as we got used to it, we couldn’t stand working without it.

The debrief usually consisted of three components: first, a very short description of the event. Second, mistakes that were made and things that could have been done better. Third, an in-depth look at what specifically could be done in the future to prevent the same mistakes from happening again. The bigger the mistake, the more it is shared. This is why success stories in the Air Force are kept relatively quiet while failures grab the majority of the attention. Relevant debriefs are read prior to additional attempts at the same mission and important lessons are incorporated into briefings

Debriefing is an art, and it takes time to master. At times, we probably took the practice too far, but we rarely made the same mistake twice and we were incredibly efficient. The lesson is to debrief, focus on failures and share what can be learned with other employees. If your organization doesn’t debrief, you are making the same mistakes over and over again and the worst part is you don’t even know it.

5. Truth telling as a core value

All human beings are potential liars’ It’s only a matter of the price we are faced with for telling the truth. To explain better, I would argue that your first response would be to lie if telling the truth meant a life in prison or the death of a loved one. Try to imagine a situation where you are a pilot who made a mistake and bombed the wrong target. The question is, are you going to tell the truth or are you going to come up with an excuse that would prevent everyone else from learning from your mistakes?

The answer has very little to do with the actual mistake you’ve made and a lot more to do with the punishment you think you will receive for telling the truth. If the punishment is death, you are very likely to lie because you have literally nothing to lose. If the punishment is missing the next flight, and you know that you’ll receive positive feedback for a thorough debrief, you are very likely to tell the truth. In the Air Force, a sincere debrief earns you respect and trust. You will often gain more than will you lose for a mistake that was properly debriefed. On the other hand, if your squadron commander doesn’t trust you, your jet-flying days are over.

In business, we might think we know what’s going on in our organization as managers, but we have likely been shielded from a lot of bad news. Bad news is extremely important in moving forward and improving, yet our employees are probably reluctant to share it with us. If you can encourage honesty in your organization, you will start hearing some bad news — but this is actually good news!

Authority Magazine: Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Roey Dor: My business partner and brother, Omri, and I are investing all of our time into Obligo. We feel that we can make a real difference by releasing hundreds of billions of dollars that are tied up in security deposits back to renters who can invest this money, or use it to repay some of the consumer debt, which has already snowballed into a worldwide epidemic.

What many people don’t realize is that landlords hate security deposits just as much as renters do because landlords cannot use this money and are forced to open separate bank accounts for each renter. This requires tons of accounting overhead and paperwork. We hope that Obligo will become the new standard for renting in the coming years and that our technology will improve the lives of millions of people.

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