Actions are always the best determination of character. So many people can talk or boast about their accomplishments, or brag about how good a person they are. Often times you may hear about how charitable or how loving they are. They may claim to be the least racist, or the least sexist person out there. They may claim to be an expert in their field, or a genius in business. In the end, regardless of what you say about yourself and your accomplishments, your actions will always be what defines your character.
One particular example comes to mind. For aviation enthusiasts, like myself, you are most likely familiar with Robert “Bob” Hoover. Mr. Hoover was a mainstay on the airshow circuit throughout the 1960s up till his retirement in the late 1990s. Hoover’s skill as a pilot is legendary. Often referred to as the greatest “stick-and-rudder” pilot of the century. His aerobatic skills were graceful and elegant. He was simply a master of flight, performing feats thought to be impossible with ease.
Beginning his flying career in World War 2, Mr. Hoover remained with the service until 1948, and began work as a test pilot as a civilian. As a leading test pilot on many of the early jet designs in the 1950s, his work led to the development of new techniques and procedures. Many pilots would survive precarious situations by relying on his proven techniques to bring the aircraft out of danger and landing safely. Leading experts in aviation and elite pilots, almost to a person, name Mr. Hoover as the finest example of a pilot.
As respected as his flying prowess was, people equally admired his character and personality. He was not mean spirited, nor egotistic. A humble, quiet man, who preferred to let his actions speak louder than his voice.
In 1989, Mr. Hoover taxied his famous Shrike Commander onto the runway and began the takeoff procedure. He gently climbed into the air, but experienced power failure on both engines shortly after taking off. Pilots fear power loss at such a low altitude and slow speed. Altitude and speed are life, and experiencing loss of power when the airplane has neither, is often fatal. Mr. Hoover was not high enough to circle back around to the field, and had his only choice was a hard crash landing.
Mr. Hoover was able to get the plane down, and thankfully survived. Eventually he was able to resume his airshow flying career. The resulting crash investigation quickly revealed the cause. Both engines failed due to incorrect fuel used shortly before he topped off the tanks and took off. A younger, inexperienced worker at the airport simply used the wrong fuel type.
I cannot help but wonder the pangs of guild this young employee must have experienced. To make an error is one thing. To make an error that could have resulted in loss of life, I shudder to think of how bad I would feel. This young employee must have expected the worst. Not only was a mistake made, it almost killed a legend in aviation history. Mr. Hoover is among the elite of the elite in the aviation community.
Mr. Hoover did the exact opposite of what most people would expect.
Upon hearing the error made by the young worker at the refueling station, Mr. Hoover made a point to speak with the employee when he recovered. Instead of yelling at or demeaning this employee for endangering his life and damaging his airplane, he built up his confidence and morale by not just forgiving this mistake, but insisted this employee fuel his aircraft whenever he was there. He went one step further, and prohibited anyone else, with the exception of this employee from fueling his airplane. It was quite a remarkable example of class and character.
Mr. Hoover passed away in October, 2016. His legacy as a pilot will live on. The legacy left is so impressive. He was a true pilot, flying with grace and precision like few others. His flying was artistic. His legacy as a humble and good person is equally impressive.
As each of us go through life, both personally and professionally, we can all learn from his example. That is to forgive others when they make errors. In some cases the mistake can be egregious, but more often than not, a second chance can make a difference in someone’s life. Far too often someone makes an honest mistake and people seek to punish and demean them. Some mistakes are quite significant, but often times a valuable lesson can be learned, and the mistake will never happen again. Always focus on being up others. Let them learn and grow.
Live humbly, and let your actions speak on your behalf. To convince others of your charity, love, or general goodness by speaking and promoting yourself is not the way. Convince others of your goodness through your actions. Tell your story not through narrative, but through actions. The more you say, the less authentic you will be perceived. The more you do, that backs up your talents and character, the more authentic you will become. Praise others as often as you can.
You may not be an elite pilot, but you can still leave a good legacy by emulating Mr. Hoover’s example. He could have been angry and mad, and could have taken actions to have the employee who used the wrong fuel punished or fired. But instead focused on positives, and made a difference for the better. His positive reaction sets a standard for being a positive influence on everyone. Positive actions are part of the foundation for creating an enduring and lasting legacy. You do not need to be a celebrity or a supremely talented individual to have a rich legacy.
The world lost Mr. Hoover back in the fall of 2016, but his legacy as an elite pilot and someone with great character will always be remembered.