How do you like to spend your leisure time? Maybe you enjoy reading or exercising? How about fishing or shopping? My husband and I love going to the movies. It’s one of our favorite activities. Recently, we went to see the sequel Top Gun Maverick. (music starts playing…)

Top Gun Maverick is the sequel to the 1986 film Top Gun. It is one of my husband’s favorite movies, so he was excited about the sequel. I must admit it did not disappoint. It is a feel-good summer movie for all to enjoy.

While the movie is fictional, there were several leadership lessons we could learn from the film. First, let me clearly state that as a retired 20-year military officer, I’m not advising you to go out and break the rules because you think it’s fun. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell made several questionable decisions, and he struggled with the consequences of his choices.

However, he was single-minded about his purpose. One of my favorite lines in the movie was spoken during a meeting he was having with his guardian angel, Iceman. Maverick said, “Being a fighter pilot is not what I do; it is who I am.”

So, what are the leadership lessons we can learn from Maverick? The first is to have a clearly defined purpose. His passion fueled his purpose. For all his faults and failings, Maverick was a great fighter pilot.

Maverick was very self-aware, which is the second lesson. He embraced his strengths. While most of his peers were promoted to higher levels in the organization, Maverick was content to stay in the cockpit as a fighter pilot. During a scene early in the movie, Maverick is being chewed out by an Admiral who points out, “you should be a two-star general by now, yet here you are.” Maverick’s response, “I am where I belong,” demonstrates his self-awareness. He understood his strength and leveraged it to achieve the organization’s mission.

Because he was a great fighter pilot, he also recognized what it takes to be great. His commitment to excellence was reflected in his work ethic to never settle for good. Maverick embraced the principle good is the enemy of great. Additionally, he understood if you think you are the best of the best, then you don’t feel the need to improve.

As a leader, Maverick recognized it was critical to mission success to have team members in the right roles. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins reminds leaders to hire great people to get them on the bus and get them in the right seats on the bus. As a leader, you must lead from a mindset of strength. Therefore, one should leverage people’s strengths and empower them to excel.

The last and most important leadership lesson was that Maverick put his team first. He was willing to sacrifice himself to ensure all team members survived. Great leaders understand their success is the result of others. Organizations do not do work; their people do. Therefore, great leaders take care of their team.

“It’s not the plane, it’s the pilot.”

-Pete “Maverick” Mitchell

It’s not the organization; it’s the people! As the leader, your actions will determine the success of your team and organization.

What leadership lesson did you learn from Top Gun Maverick?



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  • One of the lessons I took away from “Top Gun: Maverick” is that there are times great leaders must show their people that even the impossible CAN be done, and that they must be the ones to take great risks to help their team believe in themselves. Even your highest achievers sometimes need that extra push to go the distance. (And yes – what a fantastic movie!)

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    About the author

    Hi, I'm Kim, Your Leadership Guide. I equip aspiring leaders to lead with confidence, emerging leaders to expand their influence, and accomplished leaders to achieve significance!