Is a Leadership Role Really Right for You?

Author By Jim Lara

And if it is, what’s required to be a “Leader?”

First, you have to have a true passion for guiding people. Be very honest with yourself. Why do you want to be a “leader?” Is it just for the title or the money? That won’t be enough to carry you to success. In fact, you will probably fail or, at the very least, you will likely be miserable. And, if you are miserable, you will perform poorly in that critical role. Guaranteed.

Here’s another question: do the best “Doers” make the best “Leaders?”  Most often, the answer is ‘No.’ The takeaway: don’t thwart Individual Contributors by force fitting them into a leadership position.

Over the past 25 years, we have worked with hundreds of business and private aviation organizations.  We have met many outstanding Aviation Directors, Scheduling/ Dispatch Leaders, Chief Pilots and Directors of Maintenance.  Some had been promoted into their leadership role because they performed well as Individual Contributors in their functional areas.

Many times, climbing up the ladder sounded completely logical.  Take Flight Operations as an example. The individual contributor started as a First Officer, then Captain, then Senior Captain, then possibly an International Captain, and then …………… what?

Would a Chief Pilot position be next?

If you are thinking: “Yes”- then ask yourself: “Why?”

A Chief Pilot will be doing a whole lot less flying and a whole lot more administrative tasks including dealing with “People Issues.” Recognize that this is, fundamentally, a change of careers.  If this is consistent with your true passions – GREAT.  But, by all means, be honest with what’s truly motivating you.

Let’s take another example.

You may be a Functional Leader – Director of Maintenance, Director of Scheduling/Dispatch or Chief Pilot.  You might think that the natural progression is for you to become an Aviation Director.

Be careful! Do you really know what this would entail?  The Aviation Director’s role has changed dramatically over recent years.  It’s no longer the equivalent of a “Super Chief Pilot” or “Super Director of Maintenance.”

In fact, when you make the leap into an Aviation Director position, you will likely be changing careers once again.  So again, it’s time to examine your motivations.  Why are you doing this?  What are you expecting and, importantly, what’s going to be expected of you?

Today’s Aviation Director is more of a General Manager’s role who just happens to know a great deal about aviation.  The contemporary Aviation Director is just as comfortable interfacing with senior executives as discussing a technical issue with a maintenance professional on the hangar floor.

Secrets to Leadership Success

So, what’s the common link between each of these leadership roles that leads to success? One is passion to accomplish the mission of the aviation organization through the professionals in that organization.

It is completely understandable to ask: “What are the essential things that a successful Aviation Leader does whether it’s at the Functional level (such as Director of Maintenance) or at the Organizational level (Director or VP-Aviation)?”

Here is where is gets both challenging and fun.  We recommend tackling three considerations – right down to the ground. We call them ‘The Primal Three.’

Doing anything more (or less) from these three things will hamper a Leader’s effectiveness. Talk about a magic formula! When the Leader does these three things effectively, he or she will earn followership.  And, of course, one can’t be a Leader if one has no followers.

Here’s Action Step One of The Primal Three: Set Direction.

The leader must define where the organization is going. The Leader communicates a vision to the team, charting where they are going.  Ideally, this picture is highly inspirational.  It’s bigger than any one person.  It’s a destination that everyone wants to reach.  It’s aspirational in nature.

Remember, there are only two motivating factors that an astute leader has to work with – “Interest,” which is a long-term positive motivator, and “Fear,” which is a short-term motivator with the potential for severe, negative repercussions.

So, Setting Direction must conjure up the potential for outcomes which are very desirable to everyone in the organization. And, it’s even more powerful if this is done in a collaborative manner so that everyone has buy-in and enjoys the success. When the organization’s direction is set in this way, the Leader’s biggest job will be to stay out of the way.

Okay, that’s Action Step One.

Now, in order to reach the destination defined in Action Step One, we actually have to be able to “Get There.” How often have you been in an organization or group where the destination or objective has been well defined but you wondered “How the Heck Will We Achieve This?” And why was it that you had that negative reaction?

Well, I bet that your negative reaction was caused by either 1) barriers in your way or 2) a lack of resources to accomplish the objective …. or BOTH.

So, you guessed it.  Those two impediments – Barriers and Resources – set up Action Steps Two and Three in the Primal Three.

Action Step Two: Remove Barriers

It’s up to the Leader and the TEAM to identify what’s in the way to success.  Identifying the barriers which will impede progress may take some raw courage.  These barriers may be “undiscussables” within your organization or the corporation. Even if they are the ‘big stinkers of the week’, have the courage to start the crucial discussion about them.

The barriers might be cultural in nature.  They might be politically toxic.  Whatever they are, they must be dealt with.  And that starts with talking.  You may find that the most difficult step is just to begin the conversation. But once the conversation is started, progress is commonly swift. Reassure your team with this idea if things come to a halt: if you cannot remove some of the barriers you’ve identified, find a way to circumvent them.

As either a leader or a follower, remember that it is completely unreasonable to expect your team to reach a destination or achieve a goal if you haven’t removed or navigated around known barriers.  Additionally, expect previously unperceived barriers to become apparent as the team moves forward. Identifying and removing barriers will be an on-going activity.

Okay, that’s Action Step Number Two.

Let’s take stock of what we have done thus far.  First, we Set Direction.  We planted the “destination flag on the hill” well ahead of us, but clearly visible.  Then in order to get there, we had to identify and “Remove Barriers.” After all, you can’t expect to reach the intended destination with any barriers in the way.

So, those are Action Steps Number 1 and 2.  What’s Number 3?  It is: “Provide Resources.” Well, that’s pretty obvious, you might say.  I would agree. But, think about it.  How many times have you seen a direction clearly defined and recognized and the team in initial forward-motion, but when it comes to resources, it’s game over?

How reasonable is it to expect performance without resources?  There can be a good debate concerning the level of resources necessary to reach an objective, goal or end-state.  But, the allocation of resources cannot be an after-thought.  Consideration of requisite resources must always be one of the Primal Three.  Concurrent with setting direction, “Resources” must be provided while barriers are removed at the onset and throughout the pursuit of the objective.

There you have it.  The Primal Three Essentials of Leadership in Aviation and, truly, in every endeavor – personal or professional.

Set Direction, Remove Barriers and Provide Resources.

As a leader, what’s the next action that you should take?  Get out of the way and empower your TEAM to do their work.  Yes, continue to provide guidance, but don’t over control.  You will see remarkable achievement as the team moves forward with clear direction, adequate resources and obstacles removed or surmounted.

Please let us know how this works for you.  We are vitally interested to hear your stories and how you have applied our ‘Primal Three’ Principles.