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Meet TOPGUN and Keynote Speaker Patrick Houlahan

Kaitie Choo
Monday, Apr 24, 2023
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Get to know the man who does all of his own stunts - Patrick Houlahan. As our newest keynote speaker, we are honored to highlight his achievements in both the business world and his military career. 

One of the most memorable movie sequels, Top Gun: Maverick, has opened the eyes of the newer generations (and walked the rest of us down memory lane) to the riveting and challenging world of fighter pilots. Patrick has been an admirable member of the most elite group of Marine Corps pilots in the world: TOPGUN. As a keynote speaker and entrepreneur, Patrick shares his valuable insights on teamwork, resiliency, and optimizing leadership with companies large and small.  

Patrick has been all over the world, ran through the ranks of the Marines, and spent years cultivating his teaching skills. Guaranteed to captivate audiences, Patrick reflects on his time in the military and how that has translated to his company’s mission at Strategic Leadership Consultants LLC. 

How does professional and military experience contribute to success as an entrepreneur and keynote speaker? 

First, his experience has taught him that no one is perfect and you may fall short, but if you are willing to accept and grow from these failures instead of dwell on them, you can succeed. He has seen firsthand that even the best pilots in the world fail and teaches a message of resilience as a speaker and consultant.

Despite his admission to being a little nervous every time he takes the stage, he equates it to playing sports or delivering a brief in the military. ”Embrace the nerves, because if you’re too comfortable doing something, you might need a new challenge.” Confidence is the only thing standing between getting people home safely or in this case, successfully conveying your idea to a group. Your audience doesn't know what is supposed to come next and your confidence alone can influence a favorable outcome. 

To quote Calvin Coolidge, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Patrick has encouraged audiences to always give their best efforts because the obstacle blocking your path is what you need to overcome to become successful.

We all want to know—how accurate are the Top Gun films?

Patrick’s inspiration actually came from his parents who both served their country in the Marine Corps. His military background at home has fueled his ambition to “do things the right way” and work unselfishly for the betterment of the team.

Patrick shared that although the first Top Gun movie was only about 15% accurate to actual TOPGUN life, Top Gun: Maverick was about 80% accurate! Specifically, Patrick recalls that the dangerous mission in Top Gun: Maverick is actually a syllabus flight straight out of the TOPGUN course. He also gives credit to the filmmakers for their portrayal of the competitive dynamic, the diversity, and the day-to-day interactions between pilots. One pilot from the movie, Phoenix, was actually a spot-on representation of one of the first woman fighter pilots in the Marine Corps. 

What is Patrick’s call sign? 

Patrick’s callsign is “Hot Lips” Houlahan, often shortened to just “Lips.”

What was the best part of Patrick’s pilot career?

“It’s hard to choose - I’ve flown from South Korea all the way to the border of Iran and from Alaska to northern Australia.  It’s been a phenomenal career,” Patrick said. He reflected on how remarkable it was to watch the sunset and sunrise from the sky, fly through canyons, and extreme weather, and see the curvature of the earth. 

Despite the beauty and intensity of his flying career, Patrick concluded that the best part of his pilot career was being an instructor. Although he didn’t expect to love teaching as much as he does, he reflects that being an instructor was the most rewarding part of his career. At TOPGUN, you are a student, but the goal of the course is to “teach the teachers.” After graduating and a six-month deployment, Patrick went on to serve as an instructor in the F/A-18 Hornet. “When you become a teacher and have a teaching mindset, you begin to foresee future errors before they even happen. Thus, you are able to pivot in real-time and achieve the goal.” He concluded that he does not necessarily identify with the term “motivational speaker,” but rather is a teacher at his core.

In his experience as a leader and instructor, what skills and traits have had the most impact on his success?

Patrick believes that the best leaders are teachers. Reflecting on his time as an instructor and leader, he emphasizes that knowing your people and looking out for their welfare contributes greatly to the success of the mission. He wisely stated that adding titles doesn't mean we know it all. Instructors must take the next step to explain the “how and why” not just the “what.” 

Empathy is another trait that has significantly impacted his teaching style. He actively tries to remember what it was like to be at the beginning before being in the position he is in now. Patrick believes that leaders should show a sincere interest in the personal and professional development of their peers and subordinates.

A tip Patrick mentioned is to think about the person or mentor in your life that helped you the most and take on the morals you admire to this day.

Your success as a leader is reflected in the success of your team, so try to emulate the admirable people in your life and lead with your heart AND mind. 

What are one or two highlights/accolades Patrick is most proud of in his professional experience?

Simply being selected for TOPGUN was one of the most influential and qualifying achievements of his life. The purpose of TOPGUN is cyclical - the school serves as a way to teach future teachers, so being selected out of hundreds of pilots is a great honor.

Ultimately, he is most proud of his feedback from previous student pilots. He makes a point to ask for honest feedback from his past students to highlight the ways in which he could improve. This way, he was able to hear firsthand if the student honestly felt prepared to be the best pilot they could be. This practice has confirmed for Patrick that his time and effort set future pilots and instructors up for success. Cultivating his personal connection with each pilot and his lasting impact as an officer has been the pinnacle of his career. 

How did he decide to pursue speaking and entrepreneurship? 

After reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about MBA candidates who were sent off to learn about leadership directly from Marines, Patrick was inspired to seek out that intersection of the military and business as well. 

Speaking and business work in harmony with his extensive teaching career, and he saw this business opportunity as another way to educate. Patrick’s favorite parts about interacting with audiences are the one-on-one thank you’s and reactions after his presentations. The personal interactions after his speeches affirm that he is in the right place and answering his calling. 

Tell us about Strategic Leadership Consultants LLC.

Founded in 2019, just prior to the pandemic, Patrick set out to build Inspired, Compassionate, and Mission-Driven Leaders.

He noticed that many organizations teach a lot of processes, but they do not put the leaders in place to carry them through. This results in workers on the ground performing processes on top of processes and they are not being told why they are doing what they are doing. His mindset when founding his firm was to intertwine process and leadership.

Through Strategic Leadership Consultants LLC, Patrick delivers keynote speeches, workshops, and small breakout groups, and provides long-term consulting and coaching. Patrick draws on his military and business experiences to affect a positive change in every organization or team he engages. He always brings more to the table than expected and creates sustainable solutions for any challenge. 

What will audiences walk away with from Patrick’s keynotes? 

There are numerous key concepts that Patrick emphasizes during his keynotes. First, leadership is not reserved for the top 1%. There are “leaders of teams,” but there are also “leaders on teams.” Every day, individuals who show up and exceed past “good enough,” set the tone for their peers around them. You don’t have to have the rank, title, or position to be a leader.

Second, the goal of a leader is to create more leaders, not followers. A tool to do this successfully is the “art of the debrief.” Feedback should not be reserved only when things go wrong. Debriefing is not negative; it's a teaching and learning opportunity. To create this positive teaching and learning environment, Patrick states that calls the outputs of the debrief “goods and others.” The “goods” are what we should repeat, and “the others” are what we should change. Teams should debrief from a caring position and identify organizational systems or processes that failed, rather than focusing on an individual. “If we don’t drill down to the root cause and take the “WHO” out of it, we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.”

What’s next for Patrick in the world of speaking and business?

Patrick aspires to distill his wisdom and experiences into a novel. However, in the meantime, Patrick is excited to travel from Atlanta to all over the United States and abroad relaying his experiences and teaching others. Patrick always delivers customized keynotes and has spoken in front of groups as small as 20 to as large as 6,200.

Looking for an authentic keynote highlighting growth, teamwork, leadership, resiliency, and dedication that’s worth your client’s time? Then bring Patrick Houlahan to your next event!

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