Leadership Essentials: How to Gain ‘Followership’ in your Flight Department

Author By Steve Brechter

Much has been written about the competencies of great leaders. In fact, this Leadership Essentials blog series has been dedicated to becoming an effective leader in a business aviation setting.

But how do you know if it’s working? How do you know if your efforts are paying off and if your team members are following you?

I’ve always been in awe of the military.

While I’ve never had the privilege of serving, having been in the aerospace industry for most of my career, I’ve worked with some impressive military officers in government contract settings.

One thing I’ve always admired is the crispness with which directives are executed and orders are given to subordinates. When an order is issued, the subordinate salutes and immediately proceeds to execute the order.

But that’s not necessarily the case in the civilian world. While “followership,” the capacity or willingness to follow a leader, is a given in the military, it’s certainly optional in the civilian world.

Why is that?

It’s because people, in the civilian world, choose their leaders. The process is quite unspoken and can even be insidious, but the fact is that people are not always willing to become your follower.

You need to invest time and effort to earn the privilege of followership.

Here are five ways to make sure that your leadership skills are generating followers.

Five Ways to Earn Followership within Your Flight Department

1. Be Genuine

Is it any wonder why the phrase “get real” has become so pervasive in our vernacular?

The most powerful forces for developing followership are genuineness and authenticity. People are naturally drawn to those who are “real.”

I’m a big fan of Dr.Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0.  In the blog entitled “The 12 Habits of Genuine People,” Dr. Bradberry discussed the key traits of “real” people.

They include this nugget: “Genuine people aren’t desperate for attention and they don’t try to show off. They know that when they speak in a friendly, confident and concise manner, people are much more attentive to and interested in what they have to say than if they try to show that they’re important.”

He also notes that,“Genuine people are open-minded, which makes them approachable and interesting to others. No one wants to have a conversation with someone who has already formed an opinion and is not willing to listen.”

The clincher for me was that genuine people “. . . put away their phones. Nothing turns someone off to you like amid-conversation text message or even a quick glance at your phone. When genuine people commit to a conversation, they focus all of their energy on the conversation.”

Genuineness, then,is an “all-in” proposition. You can’t be half-way there.

TipTo gain followership, you must be genuine. Nobody will follow you if you’re not.        


2. Be Consistent

Consistency is a vitally important element of followership. Nothing will tank your chances of gaining followership faster than being inconsistent.

Decades ago in a prominent flight department, a select few pilots spent many Friday afternoons in the office of the chief pilot, door shut, windows wide open, smoking cigars. Notwithstanding our current smoke-free workplace, what image did that project?

If you are viewed as catering to “favorite sons and daughters,” nobody is going to follow you.

In his book, The Trust Edge, David Horsager indicates that consistency is one of the eight pillars of trust. Horsager notes that, “Little things done consistently make for leaders being followed, increased retention and a higher level of trust. Consistency is the way brands are built and character is revealed.”

TipAct in a consistent manner, even in the smallest things you do.        


3. Be Fair

A very good way to limit your chances of gaining followers is to treat people with varying degrees of fairness.

Equity among all your team members, and treating everyone as on a level playing field, are key ways to earn followership.

In one flight department we worked with, the chief pilot hand-picked all the plum trips.  Whenever an international trip hit the schedule, if the destination was attractive (for instance, trips to the Caribbean during the winter), he’d make sure he was assigned as a crew member.

The result? Many of the pilots felt left out and spent a great deal of time jockeying for position,rather than focusing on the needs of the department.

In contrast, in another flight department with which we worked, the chief pilot of the rotary wing operation took his fair share of all trips,both good and bad, weekends and holidays included.

He had the strongest followership among his pilots of any aviation leader I’ve known.

TipBe fair and do your share. Treat everyone the same.          


4. Be Trustworthy

Maya Angelou, the great American poet, once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

That’s how many chances you get to earn the trust of others. Once you lose your integrity, it’s very difficult to regain, if possible at all.

One of the most impactful leaders I ever had the opportunity to work with was a former president of Pratt& Whitney, the aircraft engine manufacturer. He had earned the followership of the vast majority of employees within the company, including those in the bargaining unit.  How did he do it?

He was truthful with everyone he met. Whether or not the recipient liked what they heard, they knew they were getting the straight scoop from him.

He was so trusted that one day a bargaining unit employee made an appointment to see him.  She was an office cleaner and came in to giveback her paycheck. Although she was a person of limited means, she felt that she did not earn her pay during the prior pay period, telling him that she had been convinced by her fellow employees to “slack off” and do as little as possible.

He told her to keep the check,redouble her efforts and show her peers by her actions the right way to approach her job.

How did she ever muster the confidence to ask for a meeting with the company president in the executive suite, especially with such a risky proposition?

She trusted him.

TipNever, ever jeopardize your trust or your integrity. If you do, you’ll likely never get it back. 


5. Be Positive

One of the key ways to get people to follow you is to exude a positive outlook.

I’m not talking about pumping sunshine, as nobody can be 100% positive all the time. But the ability to act positively in the face of formidable challenges or adversity is the stuff of which followership is made.

In today’s fast-paced business world, everyone experiences ups and downs. But how you ride those peaks and valleys determines if people will follow you.

If things don’t go well with a particular project or pursuit, positive people don’t lose their head of steam. They are confident in their abilities and the abilities of their people.

They learn from what did not go well, then forge ahead and take on the next challenge.

People naturally want to be around those with a positive outlook.

TipTake a tip from Colin Powell: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”   


Your Turn

How have you created followership within your flight department? We invite you to share your ideas with us!