Lawyers and Aviators: planes and the law
Updated: Jan 17
In many respects, lawyers and aviators are alike. They think quite differently than most others. Both lawyers and aviators perform in high-stress environments in the courtroom or in the aircraft. Planning, analysis, judgment, execution, and performance are critical. Those skills allow some of the best lawyers to become CEOs, and likewise, many aviators become highly successful in business ventures.
I have a unique perspective in that I have been both for many years at the same time. After six years on active duty in the Navy, I transferred to the Navy Reserve where I continued to serve another 24 years as a naval aviator. I retired from the Navy as a Captain, having been the commanding officer of three units including an aviation squadron.
At the same time I was advancing in the military, I pursued my passion for law becoming a lawyer. I worked tirelessly to build an aviation law practice at a major law firm and have worked as a senior corporate lawyer for both a major air carrier and the world's largest aircraft manufacturer. I have had the unique perspective of observing military and corporate leadership styles at the same time for many years.
I can explain most of the lessons I have learned from memorable stories that I have told others. We call such stories "sea stories" in the Navy as they happened while on active duty and usually got better with age. I have learned that the playbook for success in the military as an aviator is guided by the same principles for success as a lawyer and ultimately as a leader in a corporation. Likewise, business and civilian leadership lessons can be equally deployed in the military. The lessons are transferable. For me, there were tremendous benefits in being in both environments at the same time and many times during the same week.
The lessons started by observing the leaders and who was the boss.
This blog will explore lessons I have learned in many "follower positions" as an aviator and a lawyer and how I have gathered those lessons over the years and applied them later in life in leadership positions.
There are hundreds of books from senior military officers and corporate business leaders on leadership and how to be successful. Military leaders and some of the best combat veterans discuss how to apply the lessons learned from leading soldiers, sailors, and airmen to the business world. Well-known CEOs discuss how they have successfully led Fortune 500 companies. These are top-down lessons from the leaders.
You cannot lead well unless you have followed successfully. Watching and learning from a good leader who is your boss provides some of the most beneficial, lifelong lessons. You can even learn from the most miserable, demanding, profane, and demeaning bosses. (You know who I am talking about.) If you combine the wisdom you learn as a follower with the lessons you learn once you become the boss, you have a powerful playbook for success. That is what I will try to do here as a naval aviator and lawyer.
In my over 36 years as a military officer and a civilian lawyer in a multitude of following and leading positions, I have watched and learned from some great - and some not so great - leaders. I have worked closely with and observed senior admirals in the Navy and top executives of two major corporations.
There are not many playbooks that start with lessons learned as a follower and add and build on that wisdom garnered over many years in both a civilian and military environment with lessons learned as a leader. This is a compilation of those lessons that I have learned as a follower of leaders and ultimately as a leader of loyal followers - both in the military as a naval aviator and in my civilian profession as a successful lawyer.
My hope is those who never spend a day in the military can benefit from these lessons, that those who are transitioning from the military to civilian careers can do the same and that those in the business world can learn how the mindset of a naval aviator and lawyer can bring added success to their careers. Finally, I hope that the lessons can be memorable and enjoyable through the stories. So, here we go.
I welcome your thoughts and feedback along the way!