Former U.S. Navy Commander Guy Snodgrass shares leadership advice for Americans struggling with the ails of 2020 in his new book where he shares lessons he learned as a fighter pilot and Topgun instructor.
Snodgrass completed his book, Topgun's Top 10: Leadership Lessons From The Cockpit, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, he told The Christian Post he felt compelled to share “lessons that could offer help and support to millions of Americans searching for insight during this challenging time.”
The commander, whose faith plays a “strong role” in his leadership style, is no stranger to pressure. He's been celebrated as one of the most skilled fighter pilots in the U.S. Navy, where he directed combat jets over some of the most dangerous war zones in the world and has trained the top 1% of U.S. fighter pilots.
Snodgrass also served as director of communications and chief speechwriter to former Secretary of Defense James Mattis as a part of the Trump administration. During his tenure at the White House, he authored the 2018 National Defense Strategy for the Department of Defense.
Now, he's sharing all of the lessons he learned at the Navy's Fighter Weapons School, Topgun, in his new book, which is now available everywhere books are sold. In his writing, the Forbes contributor, who has been critical of the Trump administration (seen here in this BBC interview), sought out to offer wise, honest and practical analysis on current events and foreign policy.
The following is an edited transcript of Snodgrass' interview with The Christian Post. Now CEO of Defense Analytics, he says challenging times are when people should reinvest in themselves and the world around them.
CP: Can you share what inspired you to write this book?
Snodgrass: 2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges for Americans as we respond to a global pandemic. Mandated shutdowns and school closures forced millions of children to learn from home. Millions more lost their jobs. High school and college graduates not only lost their graduation ceremony — a traditional rite of passage — but have also entered a workforce facing significant pressures.
It’s exactly during challenging times like these that we can reinvest in ourselves, our families and communities, and our careers. I finished writing Topgun's Top 10 just as the pandemic was picking up, so I kept an eye toward sharing lessons that could offer help and support to millions of Americans searching for insight during this challenging time.
CP: We have a faith-based audience, can you share how faith plays a role in your life and writing?
Snodgrass: I begin the book with a description of the important role my church family played in my development as a young man growing up in North Texas. Readers will also recognize the strong role faith plays in my views on leadership and public service, to include references to scripture within the book (such as “Iron sharpening iron” from Proverbs 27:17).
I was very lucky to be raised in a family and with a community that shared Christian values. These resonated throughout my career, whether highlighting the importance of “doing the right thing even when no one is looking” or treating the military members I served with like they were a part of our family.
Most importantly, Christian values enable me to put service before self … to consider the needs of those I lead before my own. Christian teachings emphasize the value of ‘servant leadership,’ a reality that made all the difference in my career and which has helped to guide my writings.
I also used the Bible’s proven use of parables to guide my own hand while writing. Jesus knew that storytelling was a powerful way to teach. I sought to follow this wisdom in my own book — combining stories with powerful lessons that can apply to all of us in our daily lives.
CP: Were there restrictions on the things you were able to share in your book?
Snodgrass: None, other than what I self-imposed.
I wanted Topgun's Top 10 to be an uplifting book — a book that men and women from a wide variety of background could pick up, find fascinating, and put down feeling like they learned some valuable lessons that I, myself, was lucky to have learned early in my career.
A big part of finding the right blend for a book like this is to not only tell a good story in each chapter, but to also take the reader on a journey throughout the entire book. Much of our journey is about finding ways to make a positive impact in the lives of others, a thought which I kept in the forefront of my mind while writing it.
CP: What are some of the things the everyday person will gain from reading your book?
Snodgrass: Life is filled with personal and professional challenges, and we’ve seen these amplified in 2020.
I cover the key elements that successful people incorporate into their daily lives: remaining calm under pressure, the importance of making a positive difference each and every day, finding those ‘wingmen’ who can help you navigate the challenges.
Each chapter begins with a gripping story to explain how I learned the lesson, before drawing the thread outward to connect to our daily lives.
Having served at the highest levels of the military and in government, I can attest that these lessons are what a wide variety of successful people rely on to light their path in life.
CP: Can you speak to the importance of leadership in these tumultuous times?
Snodgrass: Leadership — solid ethical and values-based leadership — is absolutely critical. Leaders, by their very nature, can use their influence for good or for evil. The best leaders I’ve ever served with recognize the power of their words and actions, and they model appropriate behavior for those they lead. They call their followers to listen to their better angels. They create an atmosphere of collaboration and teamwork.
I’ve found it obvious when I’ve worked with leaders who are strong Christians or who follow strong values rooted in faith. Frankly, it’s easy to follow someone when you believe in them and when you can recognize that the team you’re a part of aligns with your own Christian values. These have always been, by far, my favorite teams to be a part of and the type of teams I’ve always worked to create.
CP: Can everyone be a leader?
Snodgrass: Yes, absolutely! So many in our daily lives are leaders: parents, siblings, teachers, community leaders, and many more.
One of the more interesting realities that leaders are aware of, is that people are always watching your actions as much — or more than — your words. Put simply, your actions speak far louder than your words ever can.
I think of this often, whether in a formal leadership role or when at home with my family. I can say the right things, but am I modeling appropriate behavior? Do my actions align with my Christian values?
So, yes, we can all be leaders … and I firmly believe that leaders can be made and developed. I’m light years beyond where I was as a shy high schooler. In my case, the military imbued me with terrific lessons and provided gifted mentors that I was willing to learn from. We can all do this in our daily lives.
CP: What do you want readers to take away from Topgun's Top 10: Leadership Lessons From The Cockpit?
Snodgrass: That the book is a quick, powerful, and easy to read story about some of the many terrific men and women I was lucky to serve alongside during my military career. Moreover, that these lessons were confirmed at every step along my own path: from an aircraft carrier sailing the oceans, to the White House, to my local community.
Top notch leaders follow a "code," and the purpose of this book is to teach what that code looks like for your readers. Anyone who likes good storytelling combined with powerful lessons will love this book!