About Joost ‘Niki’ Luijsterburg
LT COL JOOST ‘Niki’ Luijsterburg of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has become the first Dutch fighter pilot to achieve 4,000 flight hours on the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
After serving for a year in the Dutch Navy, Luijsterburg began flight training with the RNLAF in 1989. Two years later he graduated as the top of his pilot class and earned his wings, as well as the top formation pilot award. Luijsterburg completed F-16 training with the 148th Fighter Squadron at Tucson, Arizona in 1992. He moved to Leeuwarden Air Base, joining 323 Squadron, to begin his tuition with the Fighter Weapons School. He passed ‘cum laude’ and received further awards for best overall pilot and best airto- air pilot. On becoming the first Dutch F-16 pilot to pass the 4,000 flight hours landmark at Tucson, ‘Niki’ commented, ‘It’s also just a number a number that wouldn’t be possible without all the people that work behind the scenes to make every flight hour possible.’
Niki is a Senior Strategic Leader, Teacher and Diplomat. He has over 30 years of experience across a wide range of international and joint missions, teaching, test execution and 11 combat deployments in various roles.
He is a Keynote speaker. Military and technical advisor for various large movie and TV productions.
Lesson 1: There are only two intrinsic motivators in life. Love or Fear 08m 42s.
Lesson 2: Be Effective 11m 57s.
Lesson 3: The most important part of communication is the receiving (listening) part 12m 29s.
Lesson 4: Have self-confidence. Know what you can and cannot do 15m 34s.
Lesson 5: Be responsible 20m 02s.
Lesson 6: Sacrifice 24m 47s.
Lesson 7: Language, rituals, Leaders are storytellers 27m24s.
Lesson 8: Be Honest 30m 12s.
Lesson 9: Be a shit screen 33m 56s.
Lesson 10: Keep your peoples lives stable 39m 57s.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:00:00] And I like by the way, that you’re very concise with your lessons. It’s very clear and you have a great story behind it all.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:00:08] Well you told me I was on a time limit. So, I didn’t want to spend too much, or I’ll be sitting here for four hours.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:00:14] I’ll take the blame anytime.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:00:16] Well it took me 50 years to learn this. So, I could possibly talk for 50 years about it.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:00:20] Yeah, well, I like it. It’s wisdom for sure.
Hello and welcome to our podcast. 10 lessons. It took me 50 years to learn where we dispense wisdom, not just information, not mere facts. To an audience of future leaders at any age around the globe. In other words, we will be talking to interesting people. About their interesting experiences. This podcast is sponsored by PDF the Professional Development Forum, and PDF helps up and coming professionals accelerate their performance in the modern workplace.
My name is Siebe Van Der Zee and I’m your host. I’m originally from the Netherlands and I’m currently living in the state of Arizona in the United States. Also known as the Dutchman in the desert. My company is involved in executive search and performance coaching. And Oh yeah, in my career, I’ve had the opportunity to live in four countries on three continents.
I hope you will enjoy this program. Our guest today is the commanding officer of the F 16 fighter jet detachment of the Royal Netherlands air force in Tucson, Arizona, Lieutenant Colonel Joost Luijsterburg. Welcome Lieutenant Colonel. Welcome Niki.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:01:37] Thank you so much for the invite.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:01:39] Well, I’m very happy that you’re here and I definitely want to thank you for your service.
It’s quite impressive. And we’re truly honored to have you as a guest in our podcast. I just used your official name, Joost Luijsterburg, but you go with the name, Niki. And we’ll talk about that in a moment. Your background is very impressive as senior strategic leader, teacher, diplomats with over 30 years of experience across a wide range of international and joint missions.
Including 11 combat deployments, Lieutenant Colonel Joost Luijsterburg also known as Niki was recently featured in a book named Mission F 16, published in the Netherlands hopefully soon in other countries as well about the activities of F 16 fighter pilots while they were operating in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union in former Yugoslavia and in the Balkan.
Followed by deployments and missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It’s quite a, it’s quite a track record you have as commander of the F 16 detachment from the Royal Netherlands air force. Niki has a strong focus on improving performance while working together and keeping people motivated. Niki is also a well-known keynote speaker and a military and technical advisor for various large movie and TV productions.
Wow. That’s quite a list again. Welcome Nikki. We are very happy that you’re joining us.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:03:12] Happy to be here.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:03:12] I’m curious before we get into you. 10 lessons. I refer to you as Lieutenant Colonel, but actually as you mentioned, you prefer that I call you Nikki. And I’m very curious, where did Nikki come from? And how does that represent you?
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:03:28] Well, Niki is my technical call sign. Like Tom cruise in the movie. Top gun is called Maverick and the other pilots are his back seater is goose and some of his fellow pilots are iceman. Every pilot in the tactical air force, at least in the Western world.
As a technical call sign from what I’ve been told. And that stems from very long time ago when people are referred during flight by their first name and a lot of people at that time, in the Netherlands were called Jon or Pete, or that the same name, maybe in the U S it was all John or Jim or bill.
So, if you basically tell John to do something, you might have four jobs doing the same thing. So, at that point, they started to give people their unique names that were so since in our own culture, we can just know how many yeah, how many names are duplicates are out there. So that, that’s how we control names.
And then names are basically picked by either a Funny stint to your last name or a physical appearance that, that might be unique to you or a, or a situation that happened to you. So, we in our air force, we have a nose, somebody with a giant nose. We have the chin, we have twins one-time flying F 16s, and one of them was called twin and the other one was clone.
I know people in the U S that are, that, that their last name is cool and our tactical is not so. yeah. Yeah. We have a Gladys whose last name is Knight. So, we have a Gladys Knight, and I am a, and I am Niki when I was a brand-new Lieutenant joining my very first operational squadron and Leoart in the Netherlands.
We had a big party before we deployed on our very first combat deployment to Bosnia for the night flight. And we rented a bunch of go-karts and we rented a bunch of hay bales and we build a racetrack that got boring really quickly. So, we built a big tunnel and set it ablaze. And I was going to drive to the to the tunnel that was on fire and halfway.
I got stuck and burned kind of half of my face. Oh, wow. So, it was really quick to a, this one was really quick to decide to name me either evil, for Evil Knievel or Niki from Niki Lauda. Well, evil is not that known in, in the Netherlands and Niki Lauda, formula, race car driver that got burned all over his face during a big action in the 80 is very well known.
So, I ended up being Nikki from that point on.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:05:53] Yeah, maybe a favorite, maybe a good choice because Niki Lauda, I was very, very impressive right? As a race car driver.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:06:01] Very impressive. As a race car driver. Very impressive. After his career as a race car driver building his own airline and Obviously bringing Mercedes to the top of a formula, one racing where they, where they’ve been in the last four years since Niki has been their advisor.
So that’s big shoes, big shoes to fill.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:06:20] Well, it’s wonderful. And again, I know you as Niki but. Your, your track record is, as I mentioned is quite impressive. Before we get into the 10 lessons that you provided. I’m just curious with your background, your experience, and dealing in very serious situations in multiple countries, combat situations.
Nikki is there. Something that you would call the greatest lesson that you have learned.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:06:45] Wow. Wow. I don’t know. I think a lot of lessons are important. It’s difficult to rank that obviously you took, you asked me to write down 10 lessons or 10 things I think a leader should do, and I’ve done that. I didn’t rank them in a specific order.
When I left the weapons school as an instructor I basically my, my going away present, said at the bottom of it to be effective. And I think that’s probably one of the big lessons, whatever you do as a leader, whatever you do as a person or a somebody in an organization, you’ll always have to make sure that what you do is effective.
You, you have to realize what you want to achieve. And then go about the right way to achieving that. And that could be in a lot of different ways. So never stop learning, always ask the why question. That’s part of being effective. Know why you are doing stuff? No. Why, what your bigger goals are. But also, for us, I found out as a, as a teacher, people, teaching people how to learn, fly, to fly F sixteens, how to learn to fly fighters.
And there we have lots of procedures and techniques, but being able to explain why we do things in a certain order and stuff creates better understanding for our students for in businesses, better understandings for employees, I guess why you do things a certain way? And I think that will lead you to being effective.
And I think that’s probably the most important thing. So be effective and always ask the why question and always be able to explain the why question as a, as a leader.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:08:12] Explained the why question I liked that too. The lessons that we’re going to cover obviously I would say apply to life in general, but I’m sure a lot of it came from your experience as a fighter jet pilot.
And if I look at the first lesson it seems there are only two intrinsic motivators in life, love or fear. What do you mean with that?
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:08:35] Yeah, well, that’s not something that I came up with myself, I received a lot of lessons, so we get taught as well. And this came from one of my mentors Nose one of our former leaders that I truly expect respect.
He’s a, he’s a CEO of a big telecom company now in the, in the Netherlands, but he basically taught, told me that once. And I started looking at decisions that, that people all over the world take politicians just, you know, anybody from high or low in any kind of organization. And it appears to be pretty true that that we either are driven by negative thoughts or positive feelings and that’s kind of like the love, fear thing.
So, and I think it is it’s most important that, that you are driven by positive influences, which is, you know, being, taking decisions based on love. And I think that way you can never. Go wrong.
Love for what you do in my case maybe you love for my country or not maybe a love for my country. And those are very broad things, but also very minor decisions can be based on like focusing on negative consequences or focusing on positive consequences. And I think it, it kind of relates a little bit more to that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be taking decisions that scare you a little bit, which, which will broaden your horizon.
And I do, I think one of my later lessons, as well as be a risk-taker so that it’s not that kind of fear. It’s more like all kinds of negative feelings. Or being afraid of consequences, if you’re afraid of the consequences, probably it’s not the right decision to take. You know, if you’re afraid of like negative publicity, maybe you should take a different decision.
If, if publicity is a big, important, important part of your business life or personal life, things like that. I think it’s more it’s more focused on that, but yeah. Those two drivers. I think if you look at the core of decision-making are always one of those two things.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:10:29] It’s of course, when I think of being a fighter pilot the issue of fear to me, that’s, that’s a daily, occurrence, but perhaps after 30 years, you look at that a little differently.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:10:43] Yeah, you do. There’s obviously fear, and I mean, flying a single engine jet over enemy territory. Being shot at in, in bigger conflicts and stuff being, you know, being able to lose your life. You’ll always have that. I don’t know if it’s fear, fear is more of a mind numbing. What is it experience?
And I wouldn’t call it fear, but that there’s tension. And I think you need a certain amount of tension to do your job well in any job, you need a certain amount of tension to do your job. Well, since the same for us. But fear is very negative. I’m sorry if you’re truly afraid to do this job, then this job is not for you.
And, and, and we, we see that with, with people as well. That step into this world that then they may find out like, this is, this is not for me. You know, if you’re scared, that’s, that’s different. Different from healthy tension.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:11:30] Yeah. I hear you. Thank you, lesson number two, we touched on it a little bit with your greatest lesson but be effective. All your decisions as a leader should be with that in mind being effective.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:11:43] Yeah. I already talked to that a little bit, I guess. So, the why question, I think is part of that never stop learning have relevant knowledge is super important to, to be effective and be able to. That people follow you or are willing to follow you.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:11:58] It’s a great point. And, and since we covered already lesson number three, the most important part of communication is the receiving listening part.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:12:08] Yeah. That took me a while to learn as a young aggressive captain that was more transmitting than receiving most of the time. And as I got older and hopefully a little wiser.
I did realize that that receiving part is perhaps the most important part of, of any kind of communication. Because if, if you and I talk, I know what I know. So, it’s not important to transmit that, you know, I don’t gain anything by that. Hopefully you will gain something by that by listening. So, when I talk to you, The most important thing that I can do is listen to you and listen with empathy, not just listen and hear words, but try to understand what you’re saying.
And this is a different communication that we’re having. But if I look at our politicians or to politicians in the U S in the last, whatever X amount a year our listeners can fill it in, I only see a lot of diversity and people just digging in their heels. Just saying like, this is what I believe is true.
And we do that on both sides of the spectrum, and we only see people getting more and more extreme in their thoughts while I think the majority of. Of the people like to live in the middle and, and, and do that. But the less we listen to each other the less effective we’re going to be. You know, if I’m, if I’m flying and we’re not on the right frequency in the same frequency, I can say whatever I want, but if nobody’s going to hear me, then then I’m not going to be effective at all because I only, I’m only transmitting nobody’s listening.
And then only being on the right frequency is that first step but being on the right frequency is not enough if you’re too busy to listen, if you’re too engrossed in your own part of the world, because you’re just too busy with what you’re doing, you’re also not going to hear what I have to say, which might be very important in our life.
It’s super important. I might try to save your life by telling you to do something or trying to explain something to you. While we’re flying and we see that so that listening and trying to understand what the other person is saying, which comes with empathy, I think is the most important part of communication.
And, and we seem to have lost that in, in the world. I would say it’s not just here in the us and politics. It’s, it’s the same in the Netherlands. It’s the same anywhere else in Europe. I see. We, we tend to just transmit and transmit, trying to get our point across. But if people are not listening, if you’re not listening to other people, you’re, you’re never going to learn.
You’re never going to grow.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:14:25] I really like this point. And I’m thinking about it, that in your profession as a fighter pilot, which is, I would say a cutthroat type of exercise coming from you. The need for listening and empathy. Yes, I would easily agree. I think many people would, when it comes to politicians, they have a one-track mind most of the time, whichever track that may be, but definitely it would make sense.
And it’s good to hear this coming from you in, in your profession with your experience, the importance of empathy and the importance of listening. So, I, I, I appreciate you mentioned that. Lesson number four, have self-confidence, know what you can and cannot do.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:15:10] Yeah. I think that’s important for every leader.
It’s definitely important for fighter pilots. In general, even the young fighter pilots, you do have to know your own limitations because if you don’t, things can become dangerous or guess what? They’ll be ineffective. If you, if you say you’ll be able to do something and you’re not able to do that, then, obviously not going to achieve your goals.
But as a leader, I think it’s super important to, to, to exude confidence and you can’t exude confidence without, without experience. So, we do see we, we elect, or we choose our more experienced people to be leaders in the military. We don’t pick the youngest guy to, to lead the squadron, obviously, but when you take that position, it is, it is super important obviously to know what your own limitations are as well to not exceed those.
But. Also, basically speak with authority, be courageous and know your limitations, but also don’t be afraid to, I think I said it before, but you also need to know that there are certain risks you sometimes will have to take in your decisions if it’s leading your company or stuff. But you do need to know the risk reward scale.
It obviously needs to be the reward needs to be bigger than the risk. But yeah, and, and all of that stuff comes with confidence and taking decisions throughout your career.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:16:22] Yeah. Measuring risk. How do you determine that the risk is too high and I’m thinking, especially of your professional career, those are split second decisions, many times?
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:16:35] So that all depends on the mission, right? For us. When I, when I think about this, and I think it’s probably the same, if you, if you equate that to business decisions or maybe personal decisions, but if I’m basically talking from myself, being a pilot in peacetime, there are certain things that I probably wouldn’t do.
Because it’s too dangerous. What if I end up losing my life over a peacetime mission, trying to, to drop a bomb lower than I would want to, or should have to, or what is considered safe? There are always margins obviously to the numbers that we use. So how far should I press those margins, or shouldn’t I press those margins well, and peacetime, the correct answer is I shouldn’t press those numbers.
And one more time, it’s a, it’s a whole, it could be a whole different story. If it’s a, if it’s a target, that’s not super important that that I can also attack tomorrow, and I don’t make certain numbers. I can be like, you know what, I’m just not going to drop this weapon. I’ll try again tomorrow if I’m out of gas.
But if me dropping that weapon or of me not dropping that weapon in a certain situation causes 10 coalition soldiers on the ground to die because I’m not taking out the enemy, that’s almost overrunning their compound. Then that risk is probably a good risk to take because as long as I know what the margins are and maybe.
If I go to the extremes, if Russia is invading Poland and going through Poland and going through Germany and now are on the Eastern border of the Netherlands. And I’m the last line of defense, I’m the last F 16 standing. There’s nobody behind me anymore. And I am the difference between speaking Russian for the rest of our lives in the Netherlands versus speaking Dutch.
Then my life might be worth putting on the line as a bargaining chip and doing as much as I can do to protect our country. So, it all depends on, on what situation you are in and which risks you are willing to take or, or should be maybe taking to, to. Be effective again. In,
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:18:24] in your profession, obviously you’re talking about very extreme situations that most people luckily never have to deal with.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:18:32] Yeah. Life and death situations.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:18:34] Yeah, absolutely. And, and you’ve been doing this for over 30 years, so I understand how you, how you sort of evaluate that. But it is, it is heavy duty and, and but the lesson, as far as taking a risk or, or at least deciding how to take the risk, that’s something that can happen in daily life as well.
But in your situation, it’s on the extreme, but very helpful looking at the next lesson, lesson number five. And I like by the way, that you’re very concise with your lessons. It’s, it’s very clear and you have a great story behind it. All.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:19:08] Well you told me I was on a time limit. So, I didn’t want to spend too much, or I’ll be sitting here for four hours.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:19:14] I’ll take the blame anytime.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:19:15] Well it took me 50 years to learn this. So, I could possibly talk for 50 years about it.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:19:20] It’s wisdom for sure. Be responsible lesson number five.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:19:25] Yeah, own up to what you do. Yeah. Being responsible, take accountability. And it kind of goes hand in hand, I guess for us, when we go into debriefs, we’re extremely honest.
So, we own up to mistakes right away, everything gets recorded anyway, what we do. So, it’s very difficult to hide, to hide your mistakes. And so, the first thing you do. The first way to lose credibility is, is basically not owning up to your mistakes in a debrief because everybody will see it.
And then if you only. Talk about mistakes of other people, but don’t even point out your own mistakes that people can easily see on your, on your tapes. Then they’ll, they’ll walk out of the debrief and lose respect for you and all of that. And that’s the last thing you want, obviously, as a leader. So, I think it’s super important to, to take accountability with yourself.
It’s being an example, setting the example. And everybody makes mistakes even after 30 plus years of flying fighters and being and being alive for 52 years. I’m still not, I’m still not perfect. I’m, I’m always striving for perfection, but if I make a mistake, I try to own up to it. And I definitely don’t, I’m definitely not upset if people point out my mistakes.
You know, I, it’s never personal. You see it as a, as a. Growing experience besides that, I think as a leader, it’s also important to give other people tasks that you possibly could do easier yourself, but they need to learn as well. So, give them something to be accountable for and hold them accountable to, to the product that they’re delivering as well.
And if you will hold yourself accountable to, to what you deliver, then people will have no issues. Being held accountable equally.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:21:04] It sounds like you’re saying it’s something you can learn, or a person can learn. Yes. Being responsible. It’s not something that you’re born with. It’s something that you can really learn and apply.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:21:16] I think it’s quite the opposite. I think we’re, we’re all we, we all go through a phase, at least I did, and all my friends did, going through an adolescence phase. Where are your quite, irresponsible. And now I’m after lots of lessons learned and lots of making lots of dumb decisions, also in my professional life and now being a leader, I, I, I do realize I can’t do to things anymore.
Did I maybe did, maybe did when I was in my early twenties. It’s not, it’s not so far that it’s not at the point where you can get away with it, but it’s just setting the wrong example. It was bad, then it would be worse now.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:21:49] Yeah, it makes sense. And again, as a, as a leader, With your, with your team. It’s of course important that everyone acts that way by being responsible.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:22:00] Which doesn’t mean that there are not, that that cannot be anything like different standards based on experience.
We have that based on experience; our younger pilots have higher. Limitations to our, to what they are allowed to do in training and combat than our more experienced pilots. They in bad weather, they can fly to lower to the ground trying to land based on experience. So, it’s not an equal world necessarily, and people need to understand that as well as somebody that has been, for instance, our world flying for 30 years as different rules they have to abide by than My young students that I’m training, they can’t do the things that me and my instructors are doing for another 500 hours possibly, you know, or even more than that.
And, and that is just based on ability. So, and that’s also very important. But people need to realize, especially younger people need to realize like, Oh, why is he allowed to do this? I’m not, well, it comes with ability and ability comes with experience and experience comes with, with time.
So, people need to, I see a lot of people, especially the YouTube generation, we see this a lot of sports like, Ooh, especially extreme sports. I’m a, I’m a part-time skydiver and I’m an instructor and a coach as well. And I see a lot of people that want to progress really fast because they see stuff, but they don’t know what kind of experience lies behind what they see on YouTube for instance, and how many.
Test jumps and knowledge went into a certain, if you want to call it stunt or performance, and they’re like, Oh, I’m going to do this as well. And they end up killing themselves. So, I think that is a super important as well to realize.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:23:33] And I think it, it applies, let’s say also in corporate life where, where you hopefully get promoted, get more responsibilities, you learn over time and responsibilities in a way.
Yeah. Expand as you become a manager director, whatever it may be in terms of title in an organization. Good, good point lesson number six, sacrifice. And again, you keep it to the point sacrifice. I know there’s a story.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:24:03] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, sacrifice, I mean, being in the military, obviously you can be confronted with unfortunately we see that with brothers in arms paying the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe in.
If you, if you read the book legacy, it’s basically about all blacks, the rugby team of New Zealand and the so-called legacy of, of being top performers of being champions. They basically say find something you would die for and give your life to it. And they basically say, find a passion.
And for them it’s rugby. And I’m not saying they’re willing to die for playing rugby, but they basically put everything into it to give everything they got to be the best they can be. Champions do extra. We basically say in the fighter pilot business, we keep on striving for excellence. Even if, if a mission is perfect, you know, or near perfect.
We will find a little thing. And the debrief I say is always the same amount. And if everything goes really well, I’ll start hammering ourselves and you on the little things, because then if everything goes great, the big things go great, then we can perfect the little things and that’s important. So always strive to be that better person.
And that comes with a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of sacrifice. And it’s more like that. I think in a corporate role that I don’t think you should put your life on the line. Hopefully the risks and the rewards are not that great that people should die for a little bit of profit in my world.
It’s, it’s a little bit different obviously. And we have people that gave their life for, you know, to, to, to achieve a certain goal and, and to achieve their mission. And that is paying the ultimate sacrifice, I guess, but sacrifices is, is all those Little things, I guess it’s also a lot of sacrifices as unseen, I guess, work hard even.
Even when people are not watching. And that’s a little bit, if that borders on integrity, but I think that’s super important as well.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:25:53] I, I look at it sometimes again in corporate life that when people have a real passion for an industry or for a specific job, and yes, doesn’t compare to sacrificing, like in your trade.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:26:07] No, but they might sacrifice family lifetime, you know, they work 16 hours a day. People don’t see that. They’re like, Oh, look at this millionaire. I want to beat that as well, but they don’t see the sacrifice people put into their jobs to get that way. I don’t think anything big comes from taking it easy. It comes from
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:26:24] hard work.
No, I like it. Lesson number seven. Language rituals leaders are storytellers.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:26:31] Yeah. It’s kind of like way to inspire your team. And fighter pilots flying. We have our own language ritual wise. It’s, it’s super important that we create certain rituals and that, that, that creates a strong bond and a team.
Every Friday. For instance, we have to being from the Netherlands, our, our squadron, and it has to wear these name tags that go over this and I wear an orange t-shirt. And if you don’t do that and you show up wearing wrong, t-shirts you basically pay a beer fine. And you put a creative beer on the, on a list.
And at the end of the month, we end up having a, having a small get together and talking stories and consuming the beer of the people who make little mistakes. And it’s not just that t-shirt, if other people make mistakes in certain ways, you end up putting your name on there. Those, those are certain rituals that create a strong team.
We have our youngest pilots. They are responsible for keeping the kitchen in order and keeping the fridge stocked as well. And all of the cans need to be facing with the label forwards. And not the, the little a bar code or something. So, every can is standing in the same way, and that’s, that’s just a little bit of like eye for perfection, but also creates a, a team.
And, and, and then as a leader, I think is also important and not only as a leader, but as every team member it borders a little bit with, with the sacrifice part and creating the team, it says never. Be afraid to do the little things, you know, so if I’m bored and I’m standing in the kitchen, clean up the kitchen yourself, don’t be too big to, to clean up or to put cans in the fridge.
If you see that the fridge is running on empty and then also putting the labels forward you know? Being an example doing the right thing. If people see it or don’t see it, it doesn’t matter. That’s a little bit of a that’s not a little bit, that’s a lot of integrity. That’s a lot of authenticity. That’s a lot of character and all of that creates all of those things.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:28:23] I like it a lot for our viewers. Once we’re on YouTube with this podcast, as you know, I’m wearing an orange tie. And as, as we both know orange is the, the national color for the Netherlands. Right? So, for this interview, I thought it would be appropriate to wear an orange tie because you and I are talking about these things and, and yeah, right.
It’s, it’s just, it’s part of that. And it’s part of the ritual in a way, in that sense,
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:28:52] And rituals in the same language that creates a bond that creates, then you feel you’re part of a group and that, and you need that group. You need that strong team in the military. But I think also in business to be successful, to be effective back to lesson number one, I guess.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:29:06] Yeah, absolutely. A good point. Lesson number eight, be honest. I don’t think anybody will disagree with that, but I’m very curious about the story that you attach to being honest.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:29:19] Oh man, there’s a ton of stories. To being honest, I already hinted towards it in the briefing, you know, it’s really difficult to lie about things you’ve done.
If everything that we do get taped and recorded and being able to be played back on a big screen. But as I said, it creates integrity. It creates authenticity. I already mentioned it in my and I think in the previous point that we talked about a little bit of lesson seven, I think being honest in my context was more being honest to your team, explain to them what’s going on.
You know, a lot of people. Or a lot of leaders. I see, I have difficulty bringing bad news and I think that’s a really bad thing. I think people understand way more than we think as leaders, how the world works, how business works, how the business of the air force work, or what kind of things go on and leading a big corporation or something.
So, if you’re honest to your employees, especially. When you have to share bad news, they’re not going to like it, but they’ll understand. And you lying about stuff for one it will always come out. And then they will have zero respect for you. If they find out you knew in advanced already, if you have to lay off 25% of your, of your, of the people in your business and you basically tell them everything is okay, even though, you know, this is going to happen.
And then two weeks later, the news breaks. Those people are not going to like you any better. If you would’ve told them a week prior or two weeks prior, or as soon as you knew and explained them why this is going to happen. They’re also not going to be happy, but at least they hear exactly why you’re taking those decisions as a, as a leader.
And I think that is super important. They will not like you; they might even dislike you, but hopefully they will respect you if you have a good story. And therefore, you have to be honest, don’t, don’t take any shortcuts there because it will always bite you in the butt.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:31:08] And, and there is again, that level of empathy, right?
If you have bad news, you say, well, I don’t really want to let this person know because they’re not going to like it, but. To your point, if you’re straightforward. And I I’ve learned this from people as well, if you have bad news, mention the news, say the words, and then. Depending on what it is, have a few seconds where you wait for the response of that individual or, or the group of people that you’re talking to, just to see, give them a few seconds to respond.
And I’ve seen that when people were fired in companies.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:31:46] and then see if you can, you know, find a positive somewhere, if you’re able to do something for those people. And also, then don’t give them any false problems they should know, like, Oh, but I’ll make sure. That you’ll get a job, but in this company that I know.
And if you can deliver on that promise, that’s also not being honest. I mean, you can tell them like, you’ll do your best or you’ll talk to somebody that’s fine, but don’t cut them loose saying all kinds of things that you’re not going to deliver on. You know, all of those things we see way too often. I see that in my business where people get a promised.
certain things that end up not happening. And that creates such a big feeling of distrust with those people. And you’ll never regain that trust. You know, you’ll never get those people back you’ll you have lost them forever. And that’s, I think super important and in business and in our, in my job and being in the military trust is super important.
But also, just a life losing friends, family that don’t believe you anymore. It’s just. It’s just not worth it. Well said.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:32:45] ineffective. Absolutely. Lesson number nine, Nikki BA shit. Screen. I’m just reading your list, right? Yeah. Be a shit.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:32:56] screen. That’s a really big one. That’s really shit rolls downhill.
Right. That’s gravity for you. It’s super informed as a, as a leader, not to sidestep shit rolls down. It doesn’t mean that. That you can deliver some of that shit that you’re catching as a leader, further downhill. If you’re not, if people in your organization are responsible for creating that shit, but you should never, as a leader, you know, sidestep and let people above you just tear your employees a new asshole.
I don’t know if I can say all these words, but
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:33:30] You just did no, we’re good.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:33:34] But that’s super important it creates a lot of, if you do that as a leader, you’re basically lost for life. They will never trust you again. They’ll never respect you again. And that’s super important.
I have a great example, a great example of this. So, we have a solo in 16 demo. The solo display basically shows off the capabilities of the F 16 at a at air shows and big events and stuff. And we had a reunion of a, of a squadron and Leovardo. Where the solo display was being flown over the runway?
And the runway is quite far from where the squadron is. So, I’m the squadron commander set to the display pilots. Well, why don’t you just move your display line to the taxi track, which is really close to our building. And that way everybody can enjoy the solo demonstration way better, but then that solo flight, because of that, a lot of the parts of the solo flights ended up being over parts of the city of where and then subsequently a number of noise complaints obviously rained upon the base.
That landed immediately at the base commander’s office. And he came storming to the squadron and started yelling at the display pilots saying, how, how can you do this? Why didn’t you fly over the runway? Like you’re supposed to do, why did you move the display line to the taxi track? And now I have all these noise complaints from, from the people of the city that I have to create, have a good bond with to be able to do our jobs and everything.
And, and I know people, and I know other leaders that would have just stood there. And said nothing, but the squadron commander that told the display pilot like, Hey, why don’t you move your, why don’t you move the display line? So, everybody can see you immediately raised his hand and said, sir, that was me. I asked them to do that.
And that deflated the whole situation, the display pilot was not to blame at that point. You know, even though he could have realized that that would have been a problem, but the person responsible said Hey, that’s my problem. I I’ve been on the receiving end when every year we send a Christmas card. To everybody that there’s a relationship of us basically in the world and these Christmas cards go everywhere and to go to high generals, they go to our Royal family, et cetera, et cetera.
And this year they picked maybe a picture of the Christmas card that was let’s call the remotely inappropriate and nothing racist, but maybe some skin was shown where it shouldn’t have been shown. And, and by accident, this Christmas card went out to everybody on the mailing list, including our Royal family.
They basically the general that is in charge of the, of the Royal household, basically mailed back to our basic Amanda, like. Okay. Is this appropriate to send us as a Christmas card to the King and queen talking about shit, rolling downhill, fast, that one really fast. And people wanted the names of the responsible lieutenants.
And I said, well, I’m not going to give you the names. You know, I’m the commander. Eventually I’m responsible. This thing went by. I never realized who they were mailing it to, but I’m definitely not going to, if you’ve got to punish somebody punish me. And then afterwards, you know, I got, I got a lot of crap for it.
And then, you know, after that, Stopped. I definitely ended up my shit to the, to the low, to my subordinate and say, are you guys freaking insane for doing this? You know, I mean, you know who you send this to, you need to keep thinking as well, but I never sidestep and let them be splattered by the shit that came from, from, from very high levels.
You know, you as a commander, need to own up, take responsibility and say, I should have caught that and that’s all on me. And then I definitely handed out my amount of punishment after that. But like I said, you should be the shit screen.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:37:17] That’s a great example, by the way. Did it feel good to you when you did that? In other words, you stepped in front of your, your team created a barrier and said.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:37:27] It would have been a lot easier to sidestep it, right? But no, it felt really good. And I did not enjoy the amount of grief I got, obviously, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the team and, and the loyalty I got back from that squadron.
I can’t express in words, you know, how people repay you for that, and blindly will follow you wherever you go. And if you then say, we’re going to turn right here, everybody goes and turns, right. Because they know they can trust you. And that is so much more important. Then sidestepping shit.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:37:54] That is again, very powerful because that’s a lesson that we can apply anywhere in life in business.
Right. It’s taking responsibility in particular to protect your team and it takes some courage, but like you said, and that’s why I asked. It felt really good when you did that, right? It’s there’s no regrets and it may have taken a little bit of time no I understand, but let’s say right now it feels good that you did that.
You did that. You feel good.
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:38:25] Yeah. Right now, it feels even better. But even then, that reward came a lot faster than I thought.
Yeah, well, we’re, we’re moving quickly through these questions because we are already here at lesson number 10. That’s not a question by the way, it’s a lesson, keep your people’s lives stable.
And, and I think especially coming from you in, in your field, again, that is very, very important because there is, I’m sure a lot of emotion, a lot of. Stuff happening with people to keep your people’s lives stable. How do you do that
by, kind of, by being honest, by sharing information, I wouldn’t necessarily say as it comes to you because you need to figure out what’s going on as well and create a stable picture but as you gain.
Situational awareness about the situation that’s going on. You want to start informing your team at the earliest possible convenience, creating stability. You know, if I already know that we’re going to deploy to a foreign country to fight a war or something, and at some point, I need to start informing my people so they can inform their families.
And not just wait until the last moment to, to inform them about stuff like that and that, and that’s what I mean with that. Keeping people’s lives stable. And I think that’s if you really need to do a corporate role, it’s like when you know, layoffs are coming, you need to, you can sit on that information.
Forever, you know, and wait until the last moment. So, you have the least amount of pain as a boss to deal with because it’s just the shortest time you have to deal with it because you’re not doing your people any favors that way. And again, it creates this trust that you will not gain a lot of respect from the people that stay behind, I think it is very important again for that team building to let people know what’s going on.
So, they can also help you, it’s not just being a responsible leader, but also having the team. Help you. If I, if I inform my team early on and what’s going on, they could start thinking with me, they can come up with possible solutions that I have not thought about. And the, and that way we can work to a better solution.
And therefore, again, being more effective as a team.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:40:29] It, it creates a legacy, right?
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:40:32] That’s these things, all of these 10 lessons, if you do them. And sometimes they’re hard. They, they create, they create a legacy and legacy is not just that they will say like, Oh, that guy was a really great leader.
No, it creates an example. It creates followers, leaders, create leaders and that legacy will, will last more than a lifetime. If you, do it right long after you’re forgotten people will do these things and it will all, be your doing as, as a leader.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:41:02] I, I really hope that in future years, let’s say that there will be opportunities for you to be speaking to people, transferring your lessons, learned to audiences, because it is very unique what you’re doing, but these lessons apply to life in general. And clearly you have the experience. And I think it’s fair to say you have the legacy to be a very helpful resource in, in future years as well. But I’m also curious, Nikki, that all the lessons that you have learned, and again, in very, very challenging situations.
Multiple war zones. Let’s be honest, right? These were not just fly overs. These were very heavy-duty situations. I read the book mission F 16, and I really hope it will become available in English as well and other languages, because it’s very powerful to learn the details of. Your work. And of course, your colleagues and to commitment, as you said before, to, in this case the country of the Netherlands, but in, an Alliance with the United States
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:42:10] Yeah, with these stories, you can find anywhere in the military and our profession.
This is just the story about Dutch fighter pilots in combat. But there’s lots of books that you can read. History-wise and there are stories being written as we speak here on zoom somewhere in the world.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:42:27] Well, I was just thinking, perhaps we can add a lesson number 11, as far as modesty, because I hear that in you very clearly.
You’re a modest individual, but also Nikki, want to ask you that with all the lessons that you have learned, are there any lessons that you have. Un-learned,
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:42:45] Well, there’s lots of habits I’ve unlearned and let’s call it lessons and they turn into these 10 lessons. I guess if I would think there would be even more lessons.
But like I said, I was, I was not the greatest listener in my early in the early parts of my career. And I don’t think any fighter pilot is that is the best listener to stock with, especially if they’re young and, and aggressive. As they should be. They should have self-confidence from the very, very start and, and that makes them really bad listeners, I guess, because they need to believe in what they think is right is right.
And that’s not always the case, obviously. So that’s, that’s definitely one of the lessons that I’ve learned that I always thought I was right. Which I, I definitely believed in the beginning and not listening just transmitting it’s more important than listening. I don’t think I ever thought that, but I definitely.
Practice that. So, yeah, there’s, there’s. There’s tons of stuff that I unlearned, but it’s not necessarily lessons because lessons are lessons, you know, hopefully they’re always true they’re timeless, but there’s definitely things that I’ve, that I’ve unlearned. Yeah.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:43:48] Yeah. It it’s, it’s not always easy because in your profession, especially you have to be determined.
You have to be highly focused. But to hear from you again, with so many years of experience and as a leader to say, I’m not always right, and I need to improve my listening, or I need to
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:44:07] yes. Which is a fine line in our profession, you know, I can also never go. I mean, I still need to have that.
Self-confidence I still need to be able to take decisions right away and not keep doubting decisions and all of that. So, you do have to believe you’re right, because a split-second decisions matter, but we train people to make the right decisions are really short periods of time. We give them the tools.
We give them the techniques on how, how to do that. And we, we create a certain amount of self-confidence by, by training, by lots and lots and lots of training. So, they don’t have to second guess themselves anymore in combat. So, it does come with, even for the younger pilots, it does come with experience and knowledge-based decisions.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:44:52] Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us. It has been very helpful and unique perspective, again, as a, as a pilot fighter pilots as a leader in so many differs situations. So, I really appreciate that you joined our podcast today. So, I want to thank you again and. Thank you for your service.
It’s truly an honor to have you my
Joost_(Niki) Luijsterburg: [00:45:16] pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity to write down these 10 lessons that I never really, really thought about myself until you forced me to, to put them on paper it has been educational for me as well to really think like, what are the things that matter truly.
Siebe Van Der Zee: [00:45:30] Great point.
Thank you for that. And with that, you’ve been listening to the international podcast, 10 lessons. It took me 50 years to learn. Produced by Robert and sponsored by the professional development forum. PDF provides webinars, social media discussions, podcasts, and parties. You can find more information about PDF at https://professionaldevelopmentforum.org/.
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