Another Survival Tip: Find Your Wingmen

Dave Kilby

Just like many of you, I recently saw the new Top Gun movie “Maverick.” In the movie (and the original Top Gun), the term “wingman” is used often.

This got me thinking about the chamber business, the importance of surrounding yourself with great people and, basically, finding your wingmen.

So…being a collector of quotes, I went to my files and found one from 10 years ago from Tim Sheehy, the president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce:

“Pilot any chamber and you learn quickly that no one else in the community has a plane like yours. It’s what makes our jobs unique, and sometimes perilous. But you’re never really flying solo in the chamber skies because you’ve got such great wingmen among your chamber peers. They know how fast and far you can go because they’re always testing those performance limits. If they’ve bailed out or crashed, they’re willing to tell the story, and if they’ve shot down a troublesome piece of public policy, they’ll share the turn-by-turn maneuvers that made them an ace.”

Survive & Thrive

I think Sheehy hit the nail on the head; truer words have never been spoken.

Let’s face it — to survive and thrive in this often-crazy business, having someone (or several someones) that you can turn to who will listen, share experiences and, if asked, dispense advice is essential.

Selecting the right wingmen (or mentors or tribal confidants) who truly understand what you’re going through, and, that you trust, isn’t always an easy order to fill.

As I say often — CHOOSE WISELY. From my experience, it’s also highly likely that the best persons probably aren’t your next-door neighbors.

Ask any long-term chamber exec (aka tribal elder) how they survived all those years, and it won’t take long for them to refer to their mentors and the sage advice that they received. The stories and quotes often flow with an ease that is seldom matched because the relationships meant so much, made a huge difference and had such a lasting impact.

I strongly believe that a good wingman must also be an excellent “truth teller” — who is willing to tell you what you NEED to hear — even if you’re not going to like what you hear.

Don’t Wait

Attending Academy, our annual W.A.C.E. conference or engaging in a peer group can be a great way to start building relationships and seeking out those folks who could end up being your lifelines throughout your career.

I also strongly encourage folks to ask for help early…when the warning light goes on or your gut tells you something’s not right…and, definitely, long before you’re going in for a crash landing.

Trust me — there will be many more successful missions in your life if you find your wingmen.

Dave Kilby is president and CEO of W.A.C.E. and executive vice president of corporate affairs at the California Chamber.