Chart the Course

John Maxwell, leadership expert and author said this: “Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course.”

The aeronautical chart is the most important navigation tool that a pilot has.  It contains an enormous amount of information.  The whole process of planning a cross-country flight, from selecting a destination to drawing a line on the map to computing magnetic headings, fuel flows, and ground speeds, are all annotated on the chart.  The pilot also references the chart in flight.  He applies the clock-map-ground technique to determine aircraft position, and he corrects back to course accordingly.  After the flight, the information noted on the chart serves as a source of details for debriefing, follow on mission planning, and logbook entries.  To adequately describe all of the steps taken in planning, execution, and post mission debrief would take many pages, so the pilot’s map certainly illustrates the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.

More important to the aviator than a chart, however, is leadership.  Leadership is the most important tool that we have, as aviators, engineers, entrepreneurs, or scientists.  It is the most important skill, the most valuable resource, and the most critical technique in any endeavor.

There are three steps in the process of charting the course.  These steps are repeatable and scalable.  They can be used at a grand scale, to clarify vision for an organization or outline the general purpose of a cross country flight, and they can be used at the detailed level to pinpoint each leg of the journey or plan a project.  Furthermore, as illustrated above, the chart serves as a tool for planning and execution and validation.

Here are the three steps to chart the course:
1. Select a destination — develop a vision or purpose statement or a goal/objective.
2. Determine the starting point — assess where you are and what is available for the journey, including who will travel with you and their strengths and limitations.
3. Map out the route — outline the steps and schedule necessary to achieve your goal; identify milestones or landmarks and how you will hold yourself and the team accountable.


In our example, the destination is a work model, the Six Figure Pilot.  How do we get to that place? Let’s begin with an assumption that we have no clients–this is our starting point.  The next step, mapping out the route, will require considerable more analysis.  For example, one technique would be to establish waypoints based on time elapsed or even revenue earned. Another possibility is to use each task in the table (i.e., group consulting, product sales, etc.) as a waypoint. Yet a different way to approach is to identify sequential tasks that need to be accomplished.  Additionally, one could start from the destination and work backward identifying interim steps.  Each of these techniques has pros and cons, but let’s map the route using number of clients as the waypoints, or landmarks, of our journey, as illustrated in this figure.

The most elementary approach is to map out a plan to the first client, because then planning for successive clients becomes immensely more practical.  This step takes leadership: no one can say for certain what waypoints to use in any given situation.  It will depend highly on the particular details of each individual’s circumstances.  After a course is charted to the first client, the details about schedule and revenue begin to fall into place.

Another technique is to examine the journey from each of the three simple leadership perspectives, identifying first, a technical course of action, second, a business plan, and then management details last.  Having identified the first waypoint in the planned course, we begin further analysis within each of these three areas individually.

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