How to Be an Effective Business Aviation Director

Author By Jim Lara

The first three months of any job can be challenging. But what if you’re hired to oversee one the biggest, most impactful collection of company assets: the business aviation organization?

Transitioning into the firm’s Aviation Director role can be a turbulent ride, especially if you’ve yet to align with the senior executive team.

That’s why Gray Stone Advisors recommends preparing an effective, measurable and impactful First 100-day plan.

This will ensure proper alignment with senior leaders who are, in effect, your “clients.”

A well-designed action plan will also ensure a smooth and seamless transition for you and the team, thereby increasing employee satisfaction throughout the flight department.

Two Areas to Tackle Before Day 1

Before the first day on the job even begins and then over the course of the year, consider these two critical areas:

1. Establish alignment with the senior leadership team.

Think about asking, and answering, this question, “Mr. Executive, imagine we are having a retrospective discussion a year from now and are looking back on our first year together. What would have had to happen in order for you to consider the performance of Aviation Group to have been a glowing success?”

As a leader, you must completely understand what the firm’s Executive Team was looking for you when they chose you over the other candidates.

2. Deliver what they are asking for.

What do the executives believe creates the most value? Who are the critical stakeholders, shareholders and/or high networth aircraft owners?

Repeat their priorities back to them to ensure you heard what they thought they said. Assume nothing.

Developing Success Criteria

How does a new leader develop success criteria and measurements for each functional role reporting into the Director of Aviation position? Easy.

It’s all about achieving alignment with the executive team! The goals for the organization should be developed alongside your Reporting Executive (RE).

These goals should reflect the priorities of the Enterprise—then they need to be translated by you and your direct reports into action steps and outcomes for each of the flight department’s functional areas, which will collectively yield the Aviation Department’s performance.

The performance goals for each of the functional areas (Maintenance, Flight Operations, Scheduling & Dispatching, and Administration) must be cascaded down to the individual contributor level. Once you define goals to this level, specific performance measures will appear obvious.

Metrics, Metrics and More Metrics

Know your numbers and where they are coming from! If you want to assess how an operating organization is doing, then follow the money!

To start, make a list of the five, but no more than seven, things that really matter and that are worth measuring.

1. Safety.

If you are not doing well here, nothing else matters.

2. Passenger Service and Meeting Expectations.

After all, service is, without a doubt, the last precious luxury! Do you understand each passenger’s expectations and how to meet them?  Does every team member really get it?

Are the Right Butts in Seats?

(Thanks to this reference from Jim Collins’ “Good to Great.”)

From the get go, involve your leadership team with the identification, development and articulation of the organization’s vision, mission and core values, and secure everyone’s buy in.

Attitude is the most critical ingredient. Skills can generally be taught. The requisite intellect of each of your direct reports is either there or it’s not.

Here are three tips:

1. Make your assessment early and often.

Have candid conversationswith each of your direct reports. And remember that they must also do the same with their direct reports.

2. Be honest and open.

3. Define the path leading to success.
Everyone will be watching to see if you have the courage of your convictions. Will you tolerate mediocrity? Or, are you committed to excellence? Walk the talk or you will be seen as a fraud.

Remember, people choose their leaders. If you’re not authentic, they definitely won’t choose you! And if you’re not chosen, you can’t be the leader. It’s that simple.

Each person will demonstrate whether they are in or out and whether they have it or they don’t. If it’s clear that it’s not working for an individual, they may self-select out. If they don’t and you’ve decided they can’t or won’t make a great contribution to the team, you must make a change.

Ensure Proper Staffing Levels

Do you see people scrambling all of the time? Are commitments and deadlines being missed? Do people seem overwhelmed? Is the organization process-driven (essential) or operating in a reactionary mode (a serious and limiting problem)?

When capacity needs to be increased, ensure that you do it gradually so you can measure the actual impact of each addition to capacity. When there is an excess of labor, reduce it quickly (and only do it one time) when the overcapacity is clearly established and sustained.

See how GSA helps flight departments determine their staff needs.

Are You Compliant?

Be cognizant of the most significant regulations needed for compliance with FAA, IRS and SEC reporting in small-to-medium-to-large flight departments.

Historically, what has been the department’s commitment to (as opposed to “compliance with”) recognized business aviation industry best practices initiatives?

What’s in place and what needs to be added? Look for objective evidence that each of these best practices initiatives have become part of the culture as opposed to being considered “credenza wear.”

Breaking Bread with the New Team

First and foremost, remember that you’re the leader, not a co-worker or friend. A certain distance is required and must be maintained.

You have to be perceived as clearly in charge without being overbearing. The best way to establish solid relationships is through honest, open and meaningful communications.

Be transparent in how you assess situations and make decisions.  Be available and approachable. Maintain a steady, predictable course.

Define high performance objectives and hold everyone accountable on a fair and consistent basis. Performance– both individual and team—is the measure of organizational effectiveness.  Pay attention to and remember the three basic elements of leadership:

1. Set direction
2. Provide resources
3. Remove obstacles

By utilizing some of the above recommendations, an effective Aviation Director should now be able to build and manage a sustainable and regenerative organization that bring great rewards and satisfaction to each person who contributes to the collective success of that aviation organization, and to the enterprise as a whole, upon reaching their milestone of 100 days on the job.


Next, check out part two of this series: I’m a New Director of Business Aviation — Now What?