5 Ways to Eradicate Fear in Your Flight Department

Author By Steve Brechter

Do you sometimes feel you’re not getting the straight scoop from everyone in your flight department?

Is the hangar the only place where “the real opinions” are expressed?

When you conduct a meeting and only a few people speak up, take heart, you’re not alone. If you’re trying to figure out why, read on.

Gray Stone Advisors has the privilege of working with dozens of flight departments every year. In doing so, we learn a lot about how flight departments tick. Or don’t.

One of the dynamics we see in a great many flight departments today is fear. You may think, “Not in my flight department.” But think again.

Fear in the workplace is rarely visible. Yet its effects are insidious. Fear needs to be eradicated because it creates distraction. And distraction in an aviation operation creates elevated risk.

The possible causes of fear in a flight department are numerous and can include:

  • Years of a repressive command and control style of management.
  • A dominating personality with negative influence on the team.
  • Economic uncertainty around possible job loss.

Regardless of the reason,the only way to create and sustain a leading-edge flight department is to getrid of fear. Fear is a major inhibitor of organizational effectiveness.

As an aviation leader, you’llneed to model a new mode of interaction among your team members. You need to createan environment of open dialog, free-flowing ideas and diverse opinions.

Here’s how to do it.

How to Eradicate Fear in Your Flight Department

1. Set the Tone

One of the primary jobs ofa leader is to be a role model. And being a role model requires patience.

Old habits—fear among them—are deeply engrained and often die hard. Your objective is to create an environment of free expression–where there are no repercussions for anything that is said.

At Gray Stone, we call it creating a “safe space” or a “bully-free zone.”

This is an environment of honesty and openness, trust and respect, of listening without judgment. You’re trying to create a free-wheeling environment that is not filtered by fear.

You need to let everyone know there are no preconceived or right or wrong outcomes for any discussion in which they may participate.

You need to acknowledge that speaking freely may not at first be comfortable, but there is no need to hold back.

A very powerful exercise that we use to create a safe space is to request a “check in” at the beginning of a meeting. If you’re not sure what that is, let us know and we’ll fill you in.


2. Use Structured Brainstorming

One very effective way to eradicate fear (and set the tone for an environment of openness and honesty) is to introduce some structure to your meetings.

At Gray Stone, one powerful tool we use is called structured brainstorming.

Structured brainstorming:

  • Fosters an environment of freethinking, where there’s no such thing as a bad idea and where there’s no judgment or evaluation.
  • Levels the playing field and encourages all to participate equally.
  • Creates an environment where “I” statements are encouraged.

To start, establish the brainstorming criteria and have everyone around the table share one idea at a time.Clearly note each idea on a flip chart where everyone can see it. Do not evaluate the ideas, just get them out.

Let everyone know they can pass or ask for clarification. Keep going around the table, soliciting one idea from each person at a time.

Three times around the table with all passes means you’re finished with that round of brainstorming.

Be sure to have some fun.Fun helps eradicate fear. Let the team know that cheap shots are allowed, but they cost a dollar—all of which goes to charity at the end of the meeting.


3. Provide Focus to Tough Discussions

One of the reasons people clam up and are afraid to say what’s on their mind is that discussions frequently go off-track.

We therefore advocate the use of meeting agendas, especially for controversial topics.

A meeting agenda should be prepared and distributed in advance of the meeting. The agenda consists of predetermined discussion topics.

Review the agenda at the beginning of the meeting and modify it as necessary, upon request. But once it is ratified, the meeting proceeds according to the agenda.

Presenters are responsible for preparation and distribution of any required meeting materials prior to the meeting.

For decision-making, require a consensus of the team members present.

Why do this? Some people are not as quick on their feet as others and need to compose their thoughts in advance.


4. Adopt a Step-Wise Approach

One of the key steps in drawing people out and mitigating the effects of organizational fear is to approach tough discussions gradually.

Often, getting people to open up requires them to use different interpersonal “muscles” than they are accustomed to on a daily basis.

Just like a professional sports team prior to a game, your aviation team needs to exercise these muscles before a tough discussion.

We use a “what’s going right, what’s going wrong” process to ease people into the discussion.

For instance, if you’re going to discuss flight department compensation, or changes to pilot on-call scheduling practices, start by doing a round of structured brainstorming around “what’s going right” with the policy.

Then, as a next step,proceed to the tougher discussion of “what’s going wrong.”

With the practice obtained in the first round, the second and possibly more contentious round will be much easier.


5.  Provide Coaching

For some people, the fear of saying what’s on their mind because of the political risk or prevailing opinion runs deep.

Some people are wired to “jump into the fray.” Some are not. In these instances, use of a coaching tool such as The Birkman Method™ can be enlightening.

The Birkman Method is a self-awareness tool that illuminates a person’s interests, style and needs.

Within The Birkman Method is a component score called “Authority.” This indicates a person’s penchant for verbal dominance.

People with a high “Usual Style”score in Authority can exhibit persuasive, competitive and forceful behavior. A person with a high Authority score can appear to be argumentative and domineering.

People with low Usual Style scores in Authority can exhibit agreeable, easy-going and low-key behavior. These people tend to back off or disengage when confronted by perceived aggression or argumentation from others.

The type of coaching for someone who is afraid to speak up may be to build some range and exhibit a higher Authority style. It doesn’t attempt to change who they are, but simply to alter their interpersonal style when needed.

Let us know if you’d like to explore use of The Birkman Method with your Aviation team. It works wonders to improve team dynamics and effectiveness.

Interest is the Most Powerful Motivator of People

People are motivated by two things in life,interest and fear.

Fear is a short-term motivator. While it may produce an immediate result, its effects quickly decay, leaving behind a trail of retribution.

Interest is the only way to motivate a person or a team in a sustained way. If someone truly wants to accomplish something, as a leader, all you need to do is get out of their way.

So get rid of fear.


Your Turn

What have you done to eradicate fear from your flight department? Let us know in the comments below.