Timing is everything.
Updated: Jan 17
As a loop, being on time mattered. I have already discussed the importance of being on time and an occasion when I was embarrassingly late.
Punctuality was critical to the job. If the Admiral was the senior officer arriving at an event, the entire schedule was choreographed around his arrival time. No one likes standing around wasting time waiting for someone, especially a late leader. Being on time shows respect for others.
This is a blog about leadership and business principles that I learned as a loop.
As a leader, being on time is important.
While I am a big fan of being early, being early as the senior leader might be problematic.
Here’s a story about leadership timing, which is not quite the same as being on time, but is just as important.
Spain to Florida on a P-3
On one of my overseas trips with the Admiral, we were flying from Rota, Spain, to Naval Air Station Jacksonville on a squadron P-3. We flew on squadron P-3s often. It was a great way for the Admiral as a pilot to get some stick time and interact with the troops.
Pilots love to fly. They prefer doing that any day rather than being in the office.
We had some fairly strong headwinds at the start of the flight as is often the case on a westerly flight from Europe back to the continental U.S. Based on our groundspeed and the wind predictions at altitude, I calculated our arrival time at Jax to be 1500 and confirmed that to those at our home base and in Jacksonville. For me and others there in Jacksonville, that meant the Admiral would step off the aircraft ladder onto the airport tarmac at Naval Air Station Jacksonville at 1500. That was the exact time that his feet would hit the deck and on this arrival, that time was critical.
Without going into all the details, I told the squadron pilots, both of whom were lieutenant commanders who outranked me, the importance of our arrival time. I told the Patrol Plane Commander or “PPC” that 1500 was the exact time that I wanted the Admiral to step off the airplane and for them to fly the plane accordingly.
As we made our way more than halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, I continued to monitor our estimated time of arrival with the navigational equipment in the back of the aircraft. After a couple hours, the strong headwinds had died down significantly. Our groundspeed was increasing as a result, and our ETA into Jacksonville was creeping earlier than 1500.
The Admiral already had a few hours at the stick and was snoozing in the TACCO seat in the tube. I went into the cockpit. The plane was on auto-pilo. The copilot was reading the newspaper. The pilot who was "flying the plane" was chatting with the middle seat flight engineer. I reminded the pilots that we needed to land at 1500.
“Sir, the Admiral needs to step off the plane exactly at 1500. If you could please adjust our airspeed and plan accordingly,” I reiterated.
“Yeah, we go it,” the PPC said. He quickly returned to his conversation with the FE about Florida college football.
I went back to my seat in the tube of the P-3 and dozed off for a short while, never really fully resting or sleeping comfortably because I never did that as a Loop when I was with the Admiral. About an hour later, I glanced again at the navigational equipment. To my dismay, it appeared to me that we were heading for an arrival that was about 30 minutes earlier than what I had requested.
Slow this bus down
When traveling by air, depending on the arrival party plan and the reason for the travel, I could adjust an arrival time and communicate that in flight, but not this time. I knew that a three-star admiral was going to meet the plane as an old-time friend of the Admiral. I also knew that the three star’s loop was counting on the exact arrival time because I had communicated that “loop to loop.” Getting there early would be a disaster because my boss would have to wait around for 30 minutes for the senior admiral to arrive. When the three-star did arrive, it would have been an embarrassing situation for both admirals.
By now, the Admiral was awake. He glanced at his watch. I knew my boss very well. That was part of the job as I have discussed earlier. He was thinking the same thing I was thinking. Although I had kindly reminded the lieutenant commander pilots of the importance of arriving at 1500, they continued to disregard my request. I was running out of time. At this point, I no longer had the time to be cordial.
Time to use the stars. I glanced up at the Admiral as I walked back to the cockpit.
A little extra stick and rudder
I tapped the PPC on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, just to be clear again, so there is no confusion, the Admiral wants to step foot on the ground at 1500. That's exactly what the Admiral wants. No deviation. If that does not happen, the Admiral will be upset, a three-star admiral will be upset, and when I explain the situation to your commanding officer, it’s going to roll downhill real quick to you as the Plane Commander. I really need your help here."
My volume and directness caught the attention of not only the plane commander, but also the senior enlisted flight engineer and the copilot.
The PPC stated, "Mark, we were just trying to make up some time to get you there early."
Doing my best not to lose my temper, I stated "Sir, there's no need to make up any time because the only time that matters is our exact arrival time, which has to be 1500. I’m going to leave the cockpit now and let you gentlemen execute accordingly. When I go back in the tube, I'm pretty sure the Admiral will ask, ‘How's it lookin’?’ or ‘We gonna be on time?’ I will respond with ‘yes sir.’ Please work with me on this."
At this point I'm sure these pilots, who were senior to me, were thinking some pretty crude thoughts about me. However, we had reached the point when I could no longer worry about hurt feelings because I did what I had to do to make sure a number of us would not get a good butt chewing the next day. In fact, I had used the admiral’s stars in a direct fashion.
As I left the cockpit heading back to my seat, I felt a marked deceleration in the aircraft. In the P3 with its four Lockheed Electra turbo prop engines, it was abundantly clear in the back of the tube when the plane accelerated or decelerated based on not only the inertial movement, but also the distinct frequency and humming sound of the four Allison 56 turboprop engines.
I sat down in my seat across from the Admiral.
He leaned over to me and said, "How's it looking, Loop? We gonna be on time?"
I stated, "Yes sir."
He grinned, looked at me and said, "You told them slow down, didn't you"? He winked.
The Admiral was a P-3 pilot with thousands of flight hours. He could probably guess just by the hum of the engines what our true airspeed was at the time.
I just smiled because I knew our timing was going to be as planned and communicated.
We flew over the beautiful Saint Johns River at end of the NAS Jax runway, and the wheels hit the deck about 1452.
As we were taxiing in, I stuck my head back in the cockpit and shook the hands of the two pilots and the FE.
"Thank you, commander, great job, sure appreciate the lift and we’ll pass that along to your Skipper," I said.
In the Navy, especially in naval aviation, it's a small world. The P-3 community was a really small community. It was important for me to leave on good terms with these pilots because I never knew when I would see them again. And I did see one of them again years later when he was a squadron Commanding Officer. I’m fairly certain he remembered me.
After an intentionally slow taxi, including a trip through the aircraft wash station or “birdbath” to burn an extra minute or two, we pulled up to the VIP spot at the air terminal at 1457. The engines shut down. The Admiral stuck his head in the cockpit and thanked the pilots and FE. The ladder went down. The Admiral's foot hit the tarmac at 1500.
Waiting to greet the Admiral was the official party and the three-star vice admiral whom I understood had arrived at 1455.
In addition to his saying goodbye and thanking them for a job well done, the Admiral always wrote thank you letters after every trip. On our trips, I kept a list of names and notes of all those who should receive thank you letters.
About 10 days later, the flight crew's commanding officer received a personal note from the Admiral on his official letterhead thanking the them and acknowledging the exceptional job that the two pilots had done. I knew that the CO would share that note with those named in it, so I always included names.
I wrote the letter. It went like this:
Dear Skipper Bryant,
I wanted to thank you for the recent ride from Rota to Jacksonville on October 28th. The professionalism and pride in your crew was clearly evident, and that is a tribute to your outstanding leadership. In particular, I wanted to thank AW1 Dewberry for the exceptional hosting. Additionally, LCDR Eberson and LCDR Peterson did a phenomenal job getting us there safely and on time - down to the minute!
Brazo Zulu to the Pelican crew on a job well done!
Respectfully, Admiral Johnson
If you are the leader, people depend on you to be on time and your timing. They intentionally get there in advance of your arrival time and wait for you. If you are late, you keep everyone waiting. When I was in the squadron as a junior officer, I hated standing in the ranks on a hot hangar deck with a cover on waiting for a late admiral. When I was the Commanding Officer of a squadron, I hated keeping the troops standing in ranks as we waited for a late admiral.
However, if you are the senior leader and you are early, know that your timing could be problematic as event planners develop the schedule around your arrival time.
These lessons are the same in the corporate world for a visit by the CEO, an elected official or some other "muckety muck" VIP. Folks start to gather in the large theater or conference room 15 minutes before you arrive.
On this trip. I used the admiral's stars when I was direct to the flightcrew. I did the dirty work, so he did not have to and to ensure that we avoided an unpleasant situation upon landing.
Finally, it is worth repeating. Always say thank you at work. I learned that from the Admiral!