by Michael Holland    

In one of the highly tense scenes in the movie Top Gun, the fighter pilot scans his radar screen while working the controls of his fighter jet trying to line up the crosshairs on the enemy jet he’s chasing.  The crosshairs align, the screen changes color to red and a loud tone can be heard followed by the pilot almost yelling “I’ve got tone. . . I’m going to take the shot. . . Firing.

My good friend Glenn has “permission to fire” with me when he’s got “tone”, meaning he has clarity regarding something in my behavior or thought pattern for which he can provide constructive feedback.  We’ve built a professional and personal friendship to a level that we trust and honor each other and are willing to provide honest, direct feedback.  So here’s a recent, slightly modified conversation between us.

Mike:  “I had this thing that I didn’t follow up on with someone about a year ago.”

Glenn:  “what was the task, how important was it?”

Mike:   “Well, important enough I feel guilty and I still think about not getting to it.  I really should have followed through, but I didn’t.  And I’m not sure why.”

Glenn:   “OK, I’ve got tone.  Do I have permission to fire?”

Mike:  “Come on Glenn, at this point that’s a given.  Fire away.”

Glenn:  “It’s never too late to do the right thing.   Do it today, get it done and move forward.”

The power in the feedback comes directly from the allowance of trust and respect in our relationship.  That trust wasn’t there the first time we met or the fifth time.  But along the way we built a relationship that allows for mutual respect and honesty.

We all need people in our lives with whom we feel so comfortable that almost anything can be said.  In the end we must value the feedback and remember that the truth can be our friend.

Coaching Thoughts – For You and Your Peers

  • Make a list of your top five colleagues/professional friends.  Who on this list should have permission to fire back at you with feedback that can be as direct as needed for the situation?  For those who do have permission, take them to lunch and tell them they now have permission to fire when ready at any point in time they get tone.
  • If you’re having trouble thinking of people who can/should have this level of access, you are really limiting your potential as a leader.  Consider investing some time in building deeper relationships with a few key people.