Leadership Essentials: Creating Relevance

Author By Steve Brechter

In a recent blog on collateral duties, I relayed the story about a senior executive who advised the flight department that the best way to get a seat at the corporate planning table was “to bring relevance to the party.”

If someone asked you how a flight department can “bring relevance to the party,” what would you say?

The Oxford Dictionary defines relevance as “the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate.”

That definition sounds almost like a dichotomy for an aviation operation.

Is it possible for a flight department, simply due to its geographical distance from the corporate office, to stay “connected?”

In the past, there was an overt strategy on the part of some flight departments to position themselves off the corporate radar screen. “Out of sight and out of mind” was considered a safe place to be.

Many of those flight departments are no longer in existence.

In today’s fast-paced business world, and given the intense competition for resources in today’s major corporations, that strategy turned out to be seriously flawed.

Importantly, a flight department team must understand that they need to stay connected with their parent company.

That connection will create relevance, and that relevance could very well be the deciding factor in earning the department its coveted seat at the corporate planning table.

So how is that done?

5 Ways to Go About Creating Relevance

1.  Don’t Wait to be Told

Most of us in business aviation are compliant by nature.

We live in a world of rules and regulations. They are there to ensure the safety of what we do. And thank goodness they are.

But that conditioning causes us to “stay within the guardrails” and never bend or stretch into areas for which we don’t have clearance or are not approved.

In this case, you need to let go of that mindset. If a flight department sits and waits for an invitation to the table, it will likely be waiting by the mailbox forever.

You need to take a risk, stretch yourselves, get outside your comfort zone and make your own way to the corporate table.

Tip – Start now, tomorrow may be too late.


2.  Know the Business

In business aviation, we’re trained very well. Whether we happen to be pilots,maintenance technicians or schedulers, our parent companies invest significantly in our training.

But that training tends to be narrowly focused around core job responsibilities. The consequence is that we often advance in our careers with limited skills and abilities.

The role of the aviation leader is changing rapidly. In fact, it’s changing so rapidly that the traditional role description for an aviation director almost doesn’t apply anymore.

These days, flight department leaders have to be just as comfortable walking the halls of the corporate office as they are walking across the hangar floor.

In other words, you must be as knowledgeable of the core business of your parent company as you are the aviation operation. You need to know the business as well as your senior executives.

How does someone in Aviation acquire that level of knowledge?

The best source of knowledge about your company is the company itself.Since you’re an “insider,” leverage internal sources to find out how the enterprise runs.

Company web pages, portals and annual reports are information-rich sources.

If your company is publicly traded, filings that the company has made with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), such as the 10K and 10Q, provide a wealth of information.

The advent of the internet makes outside research easier than ever. Sources such as Moody’s (now Mergent), Dun & Bradstreet company reports or Standard& Poor’s (S&P) industry surveys are highly valuable.

And don’t overlook the business media, such as Fortune and Forbes.

Tip – Don’t stop learning about the core business of your parent company until you can comfortably converse about the business with your senior executives—in their own language.


3.  Know Your Value Proposition

Are you building your aviation organization’s service delivery model in a way that creates maximum value for your parent company?

To understand the value proposition of your parent company (all are different) you’ve got to clearly understand the specific needs and the expectations that are placed upon your aviation operation.

Many business aviation organizations think they do, but, in our observation, it’s often unsubstantiated.

The comment, “Great job,” by a senior executive on the way from the aircraft into the FBO could merely be another way of saying, “Have a nice day.”

There could be far more beneath the surface. The only way to understand if that’s the case is to ask.

Conduct annual interviews with your executive travelers. Ask questions about how business aviation can help them achieve their business objectives. Use a structured interview process to ensure that you get consistent feedback from all of your interviews.

You may be surprised at what you learn.

In one instance when we were working with a West Coast corporate operator, we asked the Aviation reporting executive what Aviation could do maximize its value to the company.

His answer was, “Asia and back in 30 hours.”

While that may sound like a rather unachievable objective to deliver on a consistent basis, knowing what to solve for made it easy to get creative and structure a service model (with numerous options) that met the value proposition.

Tip –Fully understand the company’s value proposition for business aviation. It’s the best way to shape your destiny.


4.  Get on the Radar Screen

In many flight departments, the aviation director spends most of his/her time at the airport.

While some amount of time certainly needs to be spent there, think carefully about the power of presence.

There’s an equally important place to be and that’s at the corporate office. In fact, as an aviation director, if I had one place to choose to have an office, it’d be at the corporate office.

To be in the game, you need to be on the field. In order to be connected,physical presence, more than perhaps anything, is what will achieve that connection for you.

When I ran a Part 91 flight operation, getting an office at corporate was not in the cards, so, instead, I used Woody Allen’s advice that “80% of life is showing up.”

The corporate office was mid-point between the airport and my home, so several times a week I stopped there on my way to the airport or back home.

What did I do? For sure, I connected with the executive assistants to find out how we in Aviation were doing. I also connected with the executives themselves who were authorized users of business aviation.

When I connected with the executives, my objective was not only to find out how we were doing, but what was going on in their parts of the business.

It was a little awkward at first, as they were not used to connecting with Aviation in that way, but over time they became accustomed to it. The result was a wealth of information that we in Aviation could translate into even more ways to add value.

In short order, we became viewed as more than the airplane drivers at the hangar. We were seen as business partners who were located at the aviation facility.

Tip – More than most organizations within the company, Aviation has unique access to senior executives. Take the initiative and use it in an appropriate way.


5.  Become a Credible Influencer

Okay, so you’ve gotten proactive. You’ve expanded the perception of Aviation’s role within your parent company. You can speak the language business. You’ve defined the value proposition(s) of your flight department. And you’ve managed to get yourself on the corporate radar screen.

Now what?

You can do all of the above, and if you don’t take the final step of becoming a credible influencer, it may all be for naught.

A credible influencer is someone who acts with integrity and has earned the respect of those around them. S/he consistently demonstrates that they are someone who places the corporation’s agenda above their own.

Integrity is a hard thing to earn and even harder to keep. But in the highly charged political atmosphere of some corporations, it stands out. People always listen when a credible influencer speaks.

And in doing so, credible influencers are usually the ones who are identified and developed for more formal leadership positions in the company.

Tip – Take the advice that Don Miguel Ruiz offers in his book The Four Agreements and “be impeccable in your word.”


Your Turn

How have you elevated the relevance of your aviation operation? Share your approaches with us below..