Hang Gliding Tips for Your Business

My wife and I went hang gliding one beautiful weekend in May.

Years ago, we stopped giving each other “things” as gifts because things get lost, things get broken. Things become outdated or out of style. Things get loaned out to people who don’t always return them. Things get thrown into that spare closet that you’ve promised for years to clean out but the truth is you’re afraid to open the closet because you have no clue what really lives in there.

Instead of “things” we started giving each other experiences. I gave her a trip to Corvette Racing School at the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving. She gave me flying lessons at Falcon Aviation Academy. We give experiences because those last a lifetime, they can’t be taken away from you, and it forever changes who you are.

Our families know that we prefer experiences, so they gave us hang gliding certificates for our birthdays and we finally got to use them.

The weather was perfect. Mid-80’s with a very light breeze. We arrived at the park and got checked in, then went to the field that serves as the departure point as well as the landing zone for all tandem flights.

We step into our safety harness and then our pilot/instructor connects us to the kite. An ultralight vehicle (basically a powered hang glider) is used to tow the tandem kite to an elevation of 1800-2000 feet and then the tow cable is released and the kite flies in silently around the field, circling, catching random thermals to climb and stay aloft until it’s time to land.

Hang gliding is exhilarating and I highly recommend them. Great experience for the whole family or even a team-building exercise for your business.

Which brings me to the point of this blog: While aloft, I was thinking about how I could apply the lessons learned from hang gliding to business.  There are some illustrative key points about piloting a hang glider that parallels running a business.

1. You Need a Strategy

The Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding company is one of the largest, if not THE largest, hang gliding operations in the US. They are based in the North Georgia mountains near the Alabama and Tennessee borders. They set out to be the premier hang gliding destination and they have done a pretty good job achieving that pinnacle.

One of the main reasons for their success is that they have multiple strategies to achieve their goals: flight training, discovery flights (tandem), kite sales and maintenance/service, gift shop, accommodations (for out of town pilots), etc. They aren’t just relying on one strategy or path to their success.

Many small business owners are so focused on the one business strategy that they don’t see opportunities that can complement or supplement their current business. There are always multiple ways to achieve your long-term goals. Make sure you have multiple strategies in play.

2. Trust the System

I talk a lot about creating systems to run and operate your business. All businesses operate on a set of systems, a series of processes that, when followed, produce an expected result.

In hang gliding, the kite itself is a system. It is designed to fly and will do exactly that without input (or very little input) from the pilot. At 1800 feet, the pilot/instructor and I took our hands completely off the kite and it flew straight and level, exactly as it was designed to do. Through slight shifts in our weight and manipulation of the flight controls, we maneuvered and flew without incident. We have to be able to trust the system and use the system as designed in order to get the results.

In business, you have to have systems in place so you can take your hands off the wheel and trust that the business will perform and produce the expected result. You can only do that through defined systems.: the ordering process, the billing process, the installation process, the manufacturing or delivery processes. Once these processes are defined and employees are taught how to follow the process, you can step back, let go of the controls, and know that everything will work out as planned.

3. Control with a light hand

Once the hang glider is at the proper altitude, the pilot/instructor demonstrates the control aspects of the kite. You don’t really steer a kite, you shift your weight against an aluminum control bar to make the kite move left or right. Pulling back on the control bar dips the nose of the wing and the kite picks up speed. Pushing forward on the control bar slows the kite down.

The pilot/flight instructor took his hands off the control bar to let me, the student, take control of the hang glider. Most students react by putting a death-grip on the controls, their fear taking over for the moment. The pilot/instructor has to coax them into loosening their grip and touching the bar very lightly to maintain control but to also read the subtle cues from the kite that tell the pilot what the kite is doing, how it’s performing, and what changes to make to maintain the desired flight profile.

Business is much the same way. New entrepreneurs and business owners hold on too tightly to every aspect of their business. So tightly that they sometimes lose connection with what’s happening with the business, unable to read the cues. They try to force the business to their will rather than reading how the business is moving with the flow of the market and they end up missing opportunities. By controlling with a light hand – feeling how the business is responding to subtle, micro-changes, you can stay on the right flight path towards your destination.

When working with my coaching clients, we talk a lot about Strategies, Systems, and Controls. Without those, a business will just plod along, making some forward progress but chances are not at the level or speed that the owner intended. By implementing strategies, identify the systems required to achieve those strategies, and making sure there are controls in place to measure, monitor, and evaluate your progress, your business will achieve its maximum potential.

Want help developing your strategies or identifying the right systems and controls to grow your business? Schedule a FREE Strategy Session with me and let’s get started!


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