Shape the Space

blog Jan 25, 2024

By Ricky Brown

It was the first day of July, and the thermometer read a relentless 98 degrees on my first day of pilot training in South Florida. With a sense of excitement and wonder, I walked through the gate and onto the ramp on my way to an airplane that wore the tail number N54366. The ramp was covered in black pavement, the perfect complement to a 98-degree, bright, sunny day.

My flight instructor and I were wearing shorts, and we could feel the heat radiating from the ramp like we were walking inside a barbecue pit with fresh coals. I had waited for this day for so long, primarily because of the enormous cost, but it was well worth the wait.

My first day of pilot training was full of exhilarating first-time experiences, the first of which happened almost immediately. As we approached the airplane, I carefully studied its appearance and condition. I knew enough about aviation to understand that the captain or pilot sits in the left seat. The first officer or co-pilot sits in the right seat.

I remember looking at the left seat as we got closer to the airplane and thinking, I am years away from sitting in that seat. As I walked around to the right side of the aircraft, I noticed that my flight instructor had a questioning look on his face. He then said to me, “Hey bud, wrong side. You’re flying left seat.”

What!? Before you freak out like I almost did, I’ll let you in on something. Airplanes have dual controls, meaning everything on my side is also on his side through a connected system of pulleys and cords. So, at any point, he can yell, “My flight controls,” and take over in a split second. Though I felt like an impostor, I did what he said and strapped into the left seat.

As we taxied to the runway, I had the first-time experience of steering with my feet. The yoke, like a steering wheel, is only for turning in the air. The pedals on the floor are what pilots use to steer while on the ground.

If I were to drive in a car the way I first taxied the airplane, I would be given a ticket. I constantly swayed back and forth across the center line as though I were intoxicated, but the only thing in my system was anxiety and fear. I appreciated the intermittent interruption of my instructor’s voice telling me I was “doing just fine.”

As we approached the runway, I remember performing a series of checks on the airplane to ensure it was ready to fly. After our checks, we radioed the tower to let them know we were ready for takeoff. As we lined up with the runway, my instructor told me to give the airplane full throttle, and off we went down the runway.

After what seemed like only five or six seconds, we were airborne. The runway we used was runway nine, which points to the east. Taking off with an east heading gave me a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean almost immediately after takeoff. It was breathtaking. That was 20 years ago, but I remember the shimmer of the sun dancing on the ocean like it was yesterday. As we made our way across the shoreline during our climb, I noticed, for the first time, the beginning and end of a wave.

With my instructor’s voice in my ear, I was controlling the airplane. With the canopy of the beauty of creation surrounding me, I was greeted by the big sky. At that moment, I promised myself I would do this for the rest of my life.

During our lesson, he introduced me to various flight maneuvers that demonstrate the laws of aerodynamics in motion. It’s one thing to have a book-based knowledge of aerodynamics, but it is an entirely different thing for a pilot to demonstrate that knowledge by operating within the laws of aerodynamics to make the airplane perform.

Let’s just say that the sensation you feel on a rollercoaster can’t compare to what you experience doing wing stalls for the first time in an airplane. After we landed, we debriefed. This was our custom at the end of every flight lesson. Our post-lesson debriefs were times of open and honest discussion around what went well and what didn’t go so well, what was clear and what was confusing.

It wasn’t a time for egos. My flight instructor would praise me if I did well on a particular maneuver. If I didn’t do well or didn’t follow instructions, he was equally as faithful to chastise me. We would all agree that, at a bare minimum, a pilot should be able to follow instructions.


The Federal Aviation Administration has identified Five Hazardous Attitudes that every pilot must understand and know how to counteract.

  1. Antiauthority: says, “You can’t tell me what to do.”
  2. Invulnerability: says, “It won’t happen to me.”
  3. Macho: says, “I can do it.” It’s an overinflated sense of self-ability.
  4. Impulsivity: says, “Let’s do something, anything, now.”
  5. Resignation: says, “What’s the use?”

Today, I am a pastor and also a certified flight instructor. This means I get the privilege of teaching the greatest story ever told—and teaching people how to fly. I’ve been in both these roles for about 20 years, and I’ve observed some parallels between the two roles and the hazardous attitudes that lead to demise in both. I want to focus on the fifth hazardous attitude, resignation, and its impact on leaders and those they lead.

During my first day of pilot training, I noticed my flight instructor was doing something I didn’t understand. We were both wearing headsets, but he was having another conversation. As the student, I was flying the plane, but he periodically talked to someone else. Unbeknownst to me, he had adjusted my headset channel so that only his voice would come through to my ears.

All the while, he was receiving instructions from air traffic control that I knew nothing about. Why would he do that? For the first week of training, he tuned my headset only to hear his voice so I wouldn’t become distracted by all the other chatter on the radio. He had seen students become overwhelmed with the different voices you hear seemingly all at once over the radio.

Air traffic controllers talk to the other commercial airlines and private jets in the area, and these conversations happen simultaneously. My flight instructor told me that students sometimes behave like a turtle and slowly shrink back into their shells as the lesson progresses because they become overstimulated by the flight environment, plus the busyness of the radios.

Students silently give up because the environment is just too much for them. Sure, they still complete the lesson, but as an instructor, he could tell when someone had chosen to quietly resign because they were no longer applying the amount of effort that matched their potential.

If you haven’t heard what air traffic controllers sound like on the radio, I encourage you to go to YouTube and listen to a clip. To a person who is not a pilot, it sounds like absolute chaos. If I had to listen to my flight instructor’s directions and air traffic control simultaneously, all while learning how to steer with my feet and fly with my hands, I would have been doomed. I would have been overwhelmed, and I would have thought to myself that this was just too much. His simple but effective adjustment helped me maintain focus on the main thing and not become overburdened by the peripherals.

Not everyone who resigns from their responsibilities turns in a formal letter. Many people quit with their attitude. This attitude can bring a pilot to their demise. Resignation is the hazardous attitude that says, “What’s the use?” Resignation happens when people feel they can’t make a difference. How might the hazardous attitude of resignation be affecting your organization, ministry, or business?

As a pastor, I often see people withdraw from their church community when times are hard. Those same people admit that it is one of the worst things they can do during times of crisis. Likewise, as a flight instructor, I have heard students say they didn’t have time to study the next lesson, but they seem to manage to have time to fly. This means they are wasting time and resources because, if they haven’t done their homework on the ground, they won’t know what to do when they get in the air. They love to fly but don’t love to study.


You would expect a pastor or flight instructor to engage in these scenarios. But the most effective leaders do more than encourage and correct. They not only manage people, but they also manage environments.

My instructor did this for me on that first day in the cockpit by isolating his voice and removing distractions. Distracted people can become dangerous. Distracted sheep will go right into the snare of a wolf. Distracted pilots will go down the wrong taxiway or even land on the wrong runway.

People who have a split focus also can become overwhelmed. You can overcome almost any emergency if you just remain calm. Remaining calm amid chaos is a skill developed over time, but a good leader can nurture it. Helping people focus on what matters most is what good leaders do.

Because he had seen past students quit after being overwhelmed by the flight environment, my flight instructor made a slight but strategic adjustment to help me avoid the hazardous attitude of resignation. We were not created to fly, which is why we need airplanes. Spatial disorientation, sight adjustment, and processing decisions quickly are all skills that take a considerable amount of time to master.

I have preached and taught the Bible for 20 years in churches, conferences, prisons, mission fields, and to just about anyone who will listen. I am responsible if someone doesn’t understand something I taught them. Sometimes, top leaders in organizations don’t view teaching or instructing as a part of their responsibilities. They see themselves as more of a manager than a shepherd, so they abdicate the role of development to other people in the organization.

Let’s look again at some circumstances surrounding my first day of pilot training.

  • It was 98 degrees, which is sweltering in the South Florida humidity, a level of heat that makes it hard to focus.
  • I had waited a long time due to the enormous cost. Which means I had invested a lot.
  • I dealt with “impostor syndrome” by sitting in the left seat.
  • It was utterly foreign to me to steer a moving vehicle with my feet.
  • When we were airborne, I experienced the euphoria of the panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. But the euphoria was quickly met with the reality of the stress of learning new flight maneuvers.

All of this, and my flight instructor is supposed to teach me how to fly! You can see how his decision to block out the many outside voices in my headset was integral to me not crawling out of the airplane and never looking back on my first day. He was a wise teacher, and I have been licensed for 20 years and still refer to the story of what he did for me.


Resignation, whether formal or silent, is expensive for any organization. Not just because you’ll eventually have to train and recruit a replacement but because there is a great and unnecessary loss of untapped potential. I want to share five ways you can architect the attitudes of the people you lead.

  1. What uncontrollable, strenuous factor could affect the attitudes of the people you lead? Acknowledge it as a reality, and show your concern. It will help the people you lead have the mindset to move it from the forefront into the background. Since it is uncontrollable, it does not need our primary focus.
  2. Have you ever considered the time and investment a person has sacrificed to get to where they are sitting under your leadership? A “What’s the use?” attitude can arise when a person can no longer see the return on their investment. Remind them of the price they paid and why they paid it, while praising them for even the smallest benchmarks.
  3. How might we alleviate impostor syndrome in the people we lead and even in ourselves? I didn’t feel qualified to sit in the left seat, but my instructor said that it was my proper place. Encourage those you have given responsibility that you did it because they can handle it.
  4. Do you debrief with the people you lead? Debriefs after a project should never become perfunctory but should be times of open and honest discussion. Remember, people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their boss. If you’re the kind of boss who can’t answer a question straight or seems disinterested in a person’s long-term potential, someone is planning to quit you right now. Never underestimate the power of a debrief. It helps us stay on top of problems in our organization before they become a crisis and offers an avenue for regular feedback and validation.
  5. Are the people you lead applying an amount of effort that matches their potential? If not, they may be feeling “What’s the use?” How can this be remedied? Great leaders not only manage people, but they also manage environments. Are they having to work within an inflexible culture? Are they having to produce high-quality work with a shoestring budget? My instructor’s solution to solving the peripheral distraction was tuning my headset. If you manage the environment, they can become productive again.

Remember, a “What’s the use?” kind of attitude can come by way of silence or by formal resignation. Managers manage, but leaders lead. If I see myself as simply a manager, then when someone doesn’t perform, I move them or get rid of them and put another person in their place. A manager manages the resources and team members they were given when placed into the role. But if I see myself as a leader, that implies that I am not only at the front of the line, but I am also leading them to something or someplace. If I lead them to something or someplace, I naturally care that I don’t lose anyone along the journey.


Check out Ricky Brown's new book, The Five Hazardous Attitudes, here.

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