How to Overcome 10 Lethal Organizational Threats in Aviation

Author By Jim Lara

You may have heard the age-old saying: If you aren’t sure what you’re looking for, odds are you won’t find it!

As current or aspiring business aviation leaders, do you ever look over your shoulder to see what’s lurking in the shadows? Doing so just might help you identify whether barriers exist within your flight department.

The key to leadership success is being able to overcome these ten lethal threats:

1. Poor communications.

Acrimony isn’t like fine red wine; it doesn’t get better with time.

Do members of your corporate flight department talk with (not “at”) one another? As a leader, do you take initiative to gather your team regularly to increase collaboration and resolve disagreements or issues promptly? Open (and in-person) communication may be old-fashioned, but it builds rapport and trust.

2. Failure to develop.

For regulatory purposes, aviation professionals spend a lot of time training. Yet, training only equips us for today’s job.

Assigning new tasks or projects will give the flight deck and maintenance team members the ability to learn new skills, grow and mentally soar. Taking the time to develop individuals prepares them, and your team, for the future.

3. Failure to empower.

The solutions to nearly every challenge already lie within your flight department. If you agree, are you creating a supportive atmosphere and empowering your workforce?

Most successful leaders today have transitioned away from the ‘command and control’ leadership style of the past and opt for ‘success coaching’ techniques. The millennial generation values this leadership style, so it’s another way to attract and retain the most talented aviation professionals.

4. Lack of alignment.

Staying on course doesn’t happen naturally. That’s aviation team leaders must take the time to achieve alignment and determine what the flight department will look like in 2 years.

Creating a departmental vision, mission and values requires strategy, hard work, time, resources and a top-down commitment, but the results are astounding!

Once this roadmap is developed, the senior leaders can then drive the message throughout the entire organization until the vision, mission and value are understood and become part of the culture.

5. Entitlement attitude.

In our hyper-competitive industry, each one of us plays a significant role within our team. And that means nobody has the luxury of resting on yesterday’s success.

There’s no room for a sense of personal entitlement. Those who continuously put forth effort and adopt best practices and/or new technology will be rewarded.

Those who do not often risk being outsourced, downsized or ostracized.

6. Lack of balance.

Aviation is a consuming profession.

How many times have you told your significant other, “I just have a couple more hours of work”?” I can tell you that my wife’s response is commonly “Is that aviation time or clock time?” Painful, but true!

The balance between our professional and personal lives can be difficult, but it’s a must. When imbalance persists, strife on the homefront is sure to follow which will affect your work performance 100 percent of the time.

7. Failure to confront poor performance.

When a non-destructive testing procedure fails, will the condition get better without attention? No!

So why do many leaders witness underperformers and think: things will get better if I monitor the situation and let this one go?

By failing to have prompt, and often difficult conversations, leaders hurt themselves, the underperformer and the organization.

8. Inability to “coach upward.”

Being able to communicate with your leadership team is an essential skill for all aviation professionals.

Why? Because successful people cannot lead in a vacuum; they need the benefit of your perspective and experience. Therefore, it’s a good idea to “coach upward,” guiding your leadership team to the correct answers that will impact your area of responsibility.

9. Tolerance of cross-functional strife.

Is guerilla warfare happening within your team? If so, this may be debilitating for the team and result in career-limiting implications for you.

Resolution of cross-functional strife requires communication, alignment and selection of the right people to be on your ‘leadership bus’ (per Jim Collins’ “Good To Great“). As flight department leaders, you have the responsibility for setting the tone, direction and cultural norms.

10. Program of the month syndrome.

A fascination with the “program of the month” is rarely sustainable because, in most cases, the requisite foundation is not established.

Thus, new initiatives create more ‘noise’ and are often ignored or not taken seriously. By setting clear direction and leading the organization by means of your mission, vision and values, short-term fads unnecessary.


Leadership, rather than management, is a rare and precious talent. As industry professionals, your personal and organization success is in your hands. I encourage any current or aspiring leaders to review this Top 10 list periodically, and ask your team members “How’s it going?” Then listen.


A version of this article also appears in Gray Stone Advisors’ column “Leading Indicators” in the Dec/Jan 2012 issue of Aviation Maintenance Magazine. To subscribe, visit: