CEO Article: If I had wings…

CEO Article: If I had wings…

This past week I toured the Future of Flight Aviation Center in Everett, Washington.  It reminded me of those brave individuals who pioneered this relatively new (just a little over 100 years old) technology.  

Early in my life I learned of the Wright brothers and their initial flight on the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  I thought it was a nice feat, but was not enthralled by their story until I happened upon a 2015 book by David McCullough, 'The Wright Brothers.” It was not only a wonderful story, but one of the best books on leadership I have every read. Theirs is a story of a passion for manned flight fueled by persistence, courage, continual learning and teamwork.

We may not be the future of flight like the Wright brothers, but we have opportunities to leave our legacy as we tackle the challenges of our current businesses.  Let’s take a quick look at the qualities that led to their success and see what we can learn.


Their courage was driven by their belief and confidence in what they were doing. They knew how to deal with failure. Failure informed the process and thus spurred them on. Much like Thomas Edison who famously stated he didn’t fail, he just found 10,000 ways not to build the lightbulb, so also the Wright brothers got little support from others and found failure as a way to learn. They were ridiculed by neighbors and the establishment in Washington D.C. Their time at Kitty Hawk was physically challenging as they dealt with the elements—the mosquitoes, the heat, the winds—but they persisted. They were highly-disciplined and focused. They were motivated by their work and found joy in it.

Courage...they were willing to take risks

Their mission was exciting but it was dangerous. They were putting their lives at risk. “But the brothers, ever conscious of the risks involved, had already decided they must never fly together. That way, if one were to be killed, the other could still carry on the work.”  Our business does not require the ultimate sacrifice but it does require the willingness to take acceptable risks. 

Continual learning 

Although neither brother went to college or even finished high school, they were well educated. Their father, Bishop Wright, who was an itinerant minister, kept the house well stocked with books. He “heartily championed the limitless value of reading,” and insisted that the children learn to use the English language properly. Reading fueled their curiosity about nearly everything—Wilbur especially so. They never stopped learning. 


The brothers worked well together and played to each other’s strengths. They understood each other. “Not that things always went smoothly. They could be highly demanding and critical of each other, disagree to the point of shouting ‘something terrible.’ At times, after an hour or more of heated argument, they would find themselves as far from agreement as when they started, except that each had changed to the other’s original position.” It was their way of working out the solutions to the problems they faced.  Foster a culture of trust and critical thinking and don’t be afraid to create an environment where it is ok to challenge the status quo. Your team will be stronger for it.

I encourage you to take time to read and be inspired by the Wright Brothers…it could help you soar to your wildest dreams.