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Leading from the Core

What Business Leaders Can Learn From a Flight Debrief

Lesson #27: Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit
Posted on October 6th, 2020 by Randall Taussig

In aviation, every flight ends with a “debrief.” Pilots evaluate what happened during the flight, document it, and use it to improve future outcomes.

We ask ourselves a series of questions, such as, “What went well?” “What could we have done better?” or “What happened that we didn’t plan for?”

The flight debrief gives us the opportunity to reflect on the event, learn from it, and identify trends. This applies to your business as well.

For pilots, the event we’re debriefing is always the flight. For business owners, the event could be a quarterly meeting, your quarterly Rock Review or a key meeting with a potential client. It could also include one-on-one conversations with employees, or anything else that has a significant impact on your business success.

Pilots typically conduct a debrief in the context of safety, because that’s our core focus. As a business leader, you will need to decide what takes the place of safety for your particular event. The context of the debrief will be whatever the event was supposed to accomplish.

Here are the benefits to using a debrief in business:

  • Every event is an opportunity to improve the next one. Even if the event went horribly wrong, a debrief is an opportunity to objectively gain insight on how to have stronger outcomes in the future.


  • It builds confidence that we are getting better. We track, measure and document debrief results so we can spot patterns and identify ways to improve. We can see progress—and this brings about confidence.


  • It helps us pay more attention. When we know we will be held accountable to the debrief, we will be more focused on our systems and processes.


Sometimes business owners are so focused on finishing an event and moving to the next one that they don’t think to debrief. The threat isn’t as obvious as it is in the cockpit.

But the event is not over until we’ve had the debrief. A debrief brings those subtle business threats—those looming problems that can lead to a death of a business—to the forefront.

I challenge you to think about the events in your business. How can you begin debriefing after each one, and what will you look for? Safety is the frontrunner in aviation. What’s the frontrunner in your business?