When Colleen and Bill Hensley saw their book The Pilot — Learning Leadership in Barnes & Noble, “it was like the first time you fly solo in a jet,” Bill recalls with a laugh. “Wow, it really flies.” Adding to the exhilaration, actor Richard Dreyfuss was leafing through the book. He left with signed copies not only for himself, but for old pal John Travolta, an accomplished pilot.
The Hensleys are former Air Force and airline pilots with more than 50 years of flying experience between them. The Carlsbad couple decided to start their own company based on lessons they’d learned in the cockpit, lessons they insist you can apply to your personal as well as business life. “Book shelves are lined with what you do when you are a leader,” says Colleen, a striking, well-spoken blonde, over coffee recently. “Most people are asking ‘How do I become one? What does the process look like?’ So we went back and thought, ‘What were the first six months of Air Force pilot training like, when you’re learning to fly supersonic jets in formation, doing aerobatics three feet off of another wing tip? How does that happen and for the people who succeed, what lessons do they learn?’”
The Hensley’s book follows fictional instructor pilots and students through flight training based on the couples’ own real-life experiences. As the story unfolds, readers learn such principles as mastery of performance, and the importance of following as well as leading. “When you master something, you go through the process of falling off a horse and getting back on,” says Colleen. “It’s that repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.” She also says that in order to become a leader, you also need to be a follower. “It’s that scenario that happens in the cockpit between the captain and the co-pilot,” she says. “It’s that dance that you do, where you’re on the same page, you know exactly what the other person needs, and you give it to them before they ask for it.”
Back in the ’80s, Colleen was among just a fraction of women who became Air Force pilots, later flying for Flying Tigers (now Federal Express) while husband Bill went on to fly for Delta Air Lines. After their flying careers, the Hensleys developed a leadership certification program for companies and schools, and also do speaking engagements. The lessons they’ve learned —and taught — are also paying off in a personal way. The Hensleys’ 15-year-old son is taking flying lessons and seems destined to follow in his parents’ contrails. (877/784-3745, www.pilotleadership.com) ANDREA NAVERSEN