Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Top Gun: Maverick

A Reel Leadership Article

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The new Top Gun: Maverick flew into theaters on Memorial Day weekend in what could be the best sequel ever to be released. After years of days due to COVID-19, we were treated to a masterpiece of a movie.

Tom Cruise reprises his role as Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell. Maverick is a former Top Gun student. He’s also spent 30 years as one of the Navy’s top aviators, though he has always found trouble.

Tom Cruise in a fighter jet in Top Gun: Maverick

Maverick is tasked with a mission. He is to train a group of Top Gun recruits to fly a mission so insane it is almost a suicide mission. The mission is to bomb a uranium enrichment facility in an unnamed country. These young recruits must be taught how to fly and survive. There’s only one man that can do this: Maverick.

The young recruits include:

  • Lt. Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of the decease Goose from the original Top Gun
  • Lt. Mickey ‘Fanboy’ Garcia (Danny Ramirez)
  • Lt. Robert ‘Bob’ Floyd (Lewis Pullman)
  • Lt. Reuben ‘Payback’ Fitch (Jay Ellis)
  • Lt. Natasha ‘Phoenix’ Trace (Monica Barbaro)
  • Lt. Jake ‘Hangman’ Seresin (Glen Powell)
  • Lt. Neil ‘Omaha’ Vikander (Jack Schumacher)
  • Lt. Javy ‘Coyote’ Macado (Greg Tarzan Davis)
  • Lt. Brigham ‘Harvard’ Lennox (Jake Picking)
  • Lt. Logan ‘Yale’ Lee (Raymond Lee)

You’ll get to know these pilots and more in the new film. More than getting to know the pilots, you’ll get to learn some Reel Leadership lessons from Top Gun: Maverick. The movie is filled with lessons, if you’re open to learning.

Let’s get into the leadership lessons in Top Gun: Maverick!

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Top Gun: Maverick

1. On-screen Text:

The Navy calls it Fighter Weapons School. The pilots call it Top Gun.

The movie begins with on-screen text stating the above. It’s interesting to see what the Top Gun Academy is actually called.

We’ve been trained to call the elite Navy pilot program Top Gun. Officially, this program is called Fighter Weapons School. Only the pilots in the program call it Top Gun (along with the rest of the world).

There is something that happens within organizations. Official names are there for those within the organization.

Externally, you may hear things called something else. Just like with Top Gun.

What terms are you using that the general public is not? Should you consider changing your vocabulary to match the general public? You may want to.

2. Maverick:

Mach 10. Let’s give him Mach 10.

Maverick’s been a part of a project for the Navy. Titled “Darkstar,” the team was trying to create a hypersonic scramjet program to create the world’s fastest fighter.

The original goal for Darkstar was to hit Mach 9. The goal changed as Maverick was told Rear Admiral Chester ‘Hammer’ Cain (Ed Harris) was shuttering the program because they wanted to see the plane reach Mach 10.

Maverick decides to give the Rear Admiral what he wants. He pushed the Darkstar scramjet to Mach 10… and beyond.

The push resulted in the plane being destroyed.

There are a couple of leadership lessons here. However, I want to focus on how a leader pushes their team.

Leaders expect more and more from their people. They believe this expectation will get more from their employees.

It may. However, these expectations may also result in the destruction of property or the employee.

Be cautious in what expectations you set.

3. Maverick:

I know what happens to everyone else if I don’t.

Rear Admiral Cain asked Maverick if he knew what would happen to him if he went through with the test flight. Maverick responded that he knew what would happen to the others on the project if he didn’t.

Maverick was reckless. Yet, he still cared for others. He saw the potential hurt of the Darkstar project being shut down on the employees working on it.

Do you have the heart of Maverick? Do you look at your employees and wonder what happens to them if you fail?

Great leaders have a heart for their people. They understand what they do impacts the lives of those they lead.

Lead with others in mind.

4. Your reputation isn’t always a good thing:

Adm. Beau ‘Cyclone’ Simpson (Jon Hamm) told Maverick that his reputation preceded him. Cyclone followed up this comment by saying it wasn’t a compliment.

Maverick was a wildcard. He could have been so much more. However, after 30-plus years, Maverick was still a Captain.

The actions Maverick took preceded him. They were not good.

We think if we have a reputation, it’s a good thing. People know who we are.

But, if we’re known for the wrong things, is it worth it?

Work on building a reputation you can be proud of. Build a reputation that is true. Build a reputation that people will respect.

5. Other leaders will impact your future:

Maverick was not Cyclone’s choice to lead this campaign. He wasn’t even on Cyclone’s radar.

Cyclone chose Maverick because of Adm. Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer)’s request.

Cyclone admired Iceman. He listened to his recommendations. Iceman’s recommendation got Maverick into the program.

Who are you connecting with? Are you building a network of people who have your back?

The leaders you worked with yesterday, work with today, and will work with in the future will impact your future possibilities. Make strong connections.

6. Rooster:

The only place you’re going to lead anyone is an early grave.

Rooster, the son of Goose (Anthony Edwards), was a part of the new mission. Hangman, another pilot in the program, was high on himself.

Hangman thought he was going to be the leader. He was hot stuff. So he thought.

Rooster had to knock him down a few pegs. Hangman’s attitude and abrasiveness wouldn’t lead anyone anywhere positive. In fact, his attitude would lead many to their deaths if things didn’t change.

Your attitude will impact a lot of people. You have to make sure you keep yourself in check.

The world tells us that leaders should be hotshots. They’re the ball callers. Be bold and brash.

But that’s not leadership. Leaders don’t have to be brash, rude, or arrogant.

Leaders need to learn how to keep their cool under pressure. They have to be willing to go fast or slow when needed.

Make sure your attitude and drive are not leading you somewhere dangerous.

7. Your capabilities will differentiate you:

The mission to destroy the uranium enrichment facility called for the Top Gun pilots to fly F-18s. These planes came with massive instruction manuals.

Maverick pulled out the manual for the fighter jet as he began to teach the class. Everyone in the class knew what the manuals were.

Guess who also knew? The enemy.

What didn’t the enemy know? The pilots’ capabilities.

Do you know what your competitors know? Your competitors know the business. They know how to produce. They know how to hire.

What don’t they know? Your competitors don’t know your capabilities.

Make sure you know your team’s capabilities. Make sure you know your capabilities.

Your capabilities are what will differentiate you from your competition.

8. Your people won’t care for you if you don’t care for them:

During a training flight, Maverick took to the sky. There was going to be a dogfight.

Hangman took off and left the other pilots. Phoenix and Bob were sitting ducks for Maverick.

Hangman comes back. He asks Phoenix where Maverick was. Her response? “Sorry, I’m dead.”

Your team cannot help you if you don’t care for them. Leave your people out to dry, toss them to the wolves? They’re not going to be around to care for you.

Your mission as a leader is to tend to your team. These are your people. They depend on you. Give them the care and attention they deserve.

9. Maverick:

I don’t sail boats, Penny (Jennifer Connelly). I fly planes.

Penny was a love interest of Maverick’s from the original Top Gun. She was never seen on screen in the original movie but she was mentioned. In the Top Gun sequel, we finally got to meet Penny.

Penny and Maverick took a sailboat out. Penny thought Maverick should know how to sail. He was in the Navy, after all.

This brings up an interesting point.

People are in various industries. These industries have various roles.

Just because you’re in an industry doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know about the industry. Maverick was a pilot, not a seaman. This meant he didn’t know how to sail.

You’re in an industry you may not know all the ins and outs of. Not knowing all of the roles doesn’t make you a bad leader.

What you need to do is to know what you’re good at, do what you’re good at, and help place others into positions they’re good at.

10. Great leaders help their teams anticipate change:

During a simulation, Coyote slowed down. His change in speed caused Bob and Phoenix to crash.

Coyote missed the importance of signaling to his team. Had he signaled, they would have avoided failure.

Leaders move so fast that they can forget to communicate changes. These failures hurt the team. The team cannot anticipate change if the change is not communicated.

Help your team anticipate change. Give your people the information ahead of time. Let them know so they can change while you’re changing.

11. Play can be instruction:

Cyclone went to the Top Gun classroom to see how the training was going. He couldn’t find Maverick or the students. They weren’t there.

Where were they? The class was outside on the beach playing dogfight football (in a scene similar to the volleyball scene in Top Gun).

Maverick had a reason for this. Dogfight football wasn’t just fun. Dogfight football was a teambuilding exercise.

He knew that the team would bond by playing together.

How can you make some of your work play? Play will teach and bond.

12. Bad leaders can change:

Hangman was the hotshot of the team. His actions could get other pilots killed.

Yet, there was redemption for Hangman.

After Rooster and Maverick took out the facility, they were both shot down. They had to commandeer a decommissioned plane and get out of dodge.

When they did, the enemy put two advanced fighter planes on them. The duo was able to take out one plane. There was still one more pilot after them and they were out of ammo.

The situation looked grim. Just before the enemy would shoot down Rooster and Maverick, Hangman entered the fray and took out the enemy fighter.

Selfish leaders, arrogant leaders, and leaders you wouldn’t follow can change.

Don’t write someone off because of how they were. Get to know who these bad leaders could be.

13. Rooster:

It’s what my dad would have done.

Rooster saved Maverick’s life. Maverick thanked Rooster.

The reason behind Rooster saving Maverick’s life is because Goose would have done that.

Goose’s positive behaviors impacted the way Rooster behaved. He did what he saw.

You will do what you see. The people you lead will do what they see you do.

Make sure you’re setting the right example. Be a positive role model for those you lead.

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