The movie trailer for Top Gun: Maverick has just been released. It is a surprising, yet very much welcome sequel to the 1986 classic Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise as Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Although the sequel will not be released until 2020, I got so excited about the sequel that I rewatched the 1986 film over the long weekend.
As I rewatched Top Gun, certain decisions made within the film’s narrative bothered me. One of these decisions, and possibly my greatest concern with the movie’s plot is when the Navy leadership decided to include Maverick on the air support team to rescue a United States Navy ship that had ventured into hostile waters. Those who have seen the movie would recall that Maverick had yet to prove that he had recovered from his traumatic experience during training: his plane crashed in a flight simulation. Although Maverick is clearly one of the best pilots, it was a huge gamble to include him on the team. Maverick could be a danger to himself, to the team, and to the whole operation itself. But, as in most Hollywood movies from the 1980s, the protagonist of the film came out as a hero at the end.
Can you imagine, however, the burden on the shoulders of the Navy leadership? They have arguably one of the most talented pilots, who clearly had not yet recovered from a traumatic experience, and to whom they trust to excel under an intensely stressful mission. The mere notion of the mission failing would surely put most people under severe stress. Imagine the exponential increase in the stress and potential consequences if the mission failed, because of the wildcard that is Maverick.
That burden is not for the faint of heart. The decisions leaders make every day are not for the faint of heart. The decisions leaders make not only define the trajectory of their organizations, but also impact, in varying degrees, all stakeholders.
Leaders have to think about investors and stockholders and the return on their investments, about employees and their well-being, about customers and their needs, about suppliers and the mutuality in benefits, about the environment and sustainability, and much more. So many stakeholders have to be considered when reaching important decisions.
Going back to Top Gun, we as the audience are like the other stakeholders: we are not privy to all the discussions among the Navy leadership before they decided to include Maverick in the air support mission. The other pilot that was part of the team, Lt. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, expressed his concern about the inclusion of Maverick. Iceman’s concern, although valid, was brushed off by the commanding officer. Is this situation not similar to what happens in our organizations: employees voicing out their concerns through various feedback mechanisms? There are times when the leadership would listen and heed to their concerns; at other times, employees are simply asked to accept the fact that decisions have already been made, with minimal or no explanation at all.
Leaders oftentimes decide without a complete set of information. Leaders have to make the call, regardless of how incomplete the information. A non-decision is in itself a position that a leader can make. A non-decision carries its own set of consequences as well.
Leaders are in a very precarious situation. They have numerous thoughts, multiple scenarios buzzing through their heads, unknowns here and there. At the end of the day, however, they have plenty of decisions to make.
Failures are, thus, inevitable. Not all decisions would have a payoff in the end. If failures are inevitable, leaders should be always prepared to receive criticisms, fairly or unfairly, and to accept the consequences of their decisions and actions. I can only assume of what could possibly happen to the leadership of the US Navy if Maverick cost them the success of the mission. Heads would probably roll.
Leaders that are in a position to affect many people’s lives are not that many. Imagine the burden entrusted upon them, but with very few options in terms of who they can discuss those decisions with. Who would act as their sounding boards? Who would give them sound advice?
Leadership definitely has its merits and drawbacks. It can swing from one extreme to the other with a single decision. Leadership is not for the faint of heart.
Anton Ng is a Partner of the Audit & Assurance P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading Audit, Tax, Advisory, and Outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 23 Partners and over 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @PAGrantThornton, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit our Website: www.grantthornton.com.ph.
As published in The Manila Times, dated 14 August 2019