Top Gun Shares 11 Facts of Life for HR

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 20, 2016
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2016 Annual Conference & Exposition
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Former U.S. Navy jet pilot and best-selling author Cmdr. Drew Brown steered a packed ballroom through a discussion of “The 11 Facts of Life for an HR Professional” that stressed the importance of knowing when to listen and when to take action and treating others with respect.

Brown’s remarks came during a Sunday Session on June 19, the opening day of the Society for Human Resource Management 2016 Annual Conference & Exposition, being held in Washington, D.C.

Brown joined the Navy with an eye toward becoming an airline pilot and also because of an admitted fondness for the uniforms worn by members of that military branch. He was assigned to Attack Squadron 35, nicknamed The Black Panthers, the oldest attack squadron in naval aviation history. At one time, he was the only black Navy jet pilot flying attack aircraft. He flew missions from aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and now flies a Boeing 777 for FedEx.

He is the author of the autobiography You Gotta Believe! The Inspiring Life Story of a True American Hero (Quill, 1992).

He shared the following life lessons with session attendees, noting that “if your employees knew some of these facts of life, your job would be easier”:

Wake up, show up, and pay attention to the details. “Time is everything. The only thing we don’t get back is time,” Brown said. If the workday starts at 9 a.m., he remarked, that’s when you should be at your workstation, ready to go.

Additionally, he advised HR professionals to communicate with employees about the details of what is expected of them, to take responsibility for their actions and to control their emotions.

“If you do something wrong, name it. Take responsibility,” he said.

Be happy, have fun, and be nice. “The goal is a long, healthy and happy life. Success is waking up every day and doing something you love and doing it well,” Brown said. He urged attendees to “be better than your parents and make this a better world for your children.”

Everything you do comes back to you. “You get away with nothing,” Brown pointed out, and he urged attendees to learn from the past and find the positive. He recalled how everyone got a nickname in the military. His was “Dark Gable,” but instead of being offended by what was supposed to be a joke, he proudly embraced what he considered “the coolest nickname.”

Have purpose—find your gift and use it. “If you love HR, you are so blessed because you’re doing something every day that you love,” Brown said. “If you ever get an employee to find his purpose, you don’t have to motivate him anymore.”

Continue to learn. Brown encouraged attendees to continue to learn but to season knowledge with wisdom.

“Education is necessary, but wisdom is mandatory,” he said; for HR, “wisdom means the ability to teach.”

He also stressed the importance of hard work.

“Some people are looking for the easy way out; there is none,” said Brown, who mentioned that he couldn’t even spell “aerodynamics” when he began learning to fly. “The only reason I’m an airline pilot is because I never quit.”

Good will overcome evil, but it requires avoiding the eight deadly sins. The eighth sin—drugs, alcohol and tobacco—Brown added to the biblical seven deadly sins of pride, envy, anger, sloth, lust, greed and gluttony.

“There are people with serious, serious [addiction] problems, and you might be the only person that can come between them and death,” he said. “Drugs and alcohol can ruin a company. It’s very important we start understanding these diseases.”

Use common sense and moderation. Too much of anything is unhealthy. “Everyone here needs to take a day off in the week,” Brown said. He also noted a common sense approach to handling issues: “Sometimes you have to surrender to win ... the war.”

Demonstrate integrity and respect. “You don’t lie, cheat or steal”—and that includes stealing time, Brown said. Create an atmosphere where people are comfortable asking for help and treating each other with respect, including how they address each other.

Practice self-discipline. “Do what you’re supposed to do, not what you want to do,” he said. Learn to be still, be quiet and be at peace with yourself. Learn to meditate so as to let your mind be free.

Follow the golden rule—treat others as you want to be treated. Don’t be judgmental; practice the virtues of patience, tolerance and forgiveness.

You gotta believe. “Help people learn to believe in themselves,” he said.

Brown has received numerous awards, including the Meritorious Service Medal from the President of the United States, the Freedom Foundation Medal from the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Congressional Black Caucus Male Achievement Award.​​

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor of HR News. Follow her @SHRMwriter.

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