5 Ways to Lead Up in Business Aviation

Author By Steve Brechter

“It takes years to build up trust and only seconds to destroy it.”

That’s a saying we’ve all heard in business aviation, but I cannot think of a single aspect in life to which it does not apply. Among the important relationships that we build in our professional lives, the relationship with our boss pretty much trumps them all.

Take Charge

In the business aviation industry, though, there are some unique barriers to overcome in creating and sustaining a solid working relationship with our reporting executive.

For starters, the flight department’s remote location at the airport and the fact that aviation is often a non-core business of the parent company create some very real challenges.

Regardless whether the interaction with your reporting executive creates inspiration or perspiration, you need to take charge. You must invest whatever time is necessary to shape the relationship into one that advances both your cause and your career.

‘Leading up’ or ‘managing up’ is a familiar term in business, and for good reason. Your relationship with your boss can make or break your career. The most positive relationships we know have one thing in common: they are built on trust.

Coupled with the techniques outlined in our blog about communication with corporate, a win-win relationship is entirely possible,no matter to whom you report.

How to ‘Lead Up’ in Business Aviation

Here are five proven ways that you can take the initiative and build a relationship of mutual trust with your reporting executive at corporate.

1.  Speak Your Boss’s Language

Like most industries, aviation is loaded with acronyms. Yet once you leave the airport, hardly anybody understands them. Many in our profession don’t realize that the use of unfamiliar terms at corporate can actually hurt your cause rather than help it. Obfuscation, however unintended, never helps make an effective business case.

If you want to win someone to your side, speak in language that they understand. Don’t make your boss ask for clarification. Your objective is to make him or her feel like an insider, without having to fully become one. They need to rely on you as their trusted advisor for aviation, and that’ll happen best if you’re communicating clearly and speaking their language—the language of business.


2.  Understand Your Boss’s Style

Everyone processes information differently, and you must understand how your boss does so. Do you understand what’s important to your boss, what he or she wakes up at night worrying about? Does he prefer written emails or verbal conversations? Does she like structured, one-on-one meetings or informal chats? Ask yourself, what makes my boss tick?

At Gray Stone Advisors, we use The Birkman Method® to help understand an individual’s interests,style and needs—their personal ‘wiring diagram.’ Armed with this understanding,you can pick up on visual or verbal cues and tailor your delivery for maximum receptivity.


3.  Present Solutions, Not Problems

It would seem that the higher one is positioned in an organization, the more control one has over one’s time and how to spend it. In fact, the converse is true. These days, in the corporate world, the demands on an executive’s time are at an all-time high, resulting in far less bandwidth to become involved in issues ancillary to his or her primary responsibilities.

Nobody is saying that you won’t have problems in business aviation, but when you do and you need to discuss one with your reporting executive, bring a solution or some recommended options with it.

Senior executives like to see alternatives and the potential consequences associated with each. So frame the options, provide the facts to support each option and make a recommendation. Given the right preparation, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you get your answer.


4.  Never Surprise Your Boss

By far the worst thing you can do to your reporting executive is to blindside him by springing a problem on him of which he had no prior knowledge. This is especially true at the end of a financial reporting period.

There’s just no way that your boss is going to be happy having to accept a problem without having had the option to help influence it before it spun out of control. There’s no way he or she is going to accept the fact that your fuel spend was higher than forecast last month without a prior heads-up.

That’s one reason that we at Gray Stone encourage flight departments to embrace a system of predictive reporting metrics. Such metrics help you look forward to the end of the current reporting period as much as they look back at historical performance.

With prior warning, you and your reporting executive can work together as a team and influence future outcomes before they become big problems.


5.  Make Your Boss Look Good

In many companies that operate business aircraft, having reporting responsibility for the flight department is looked upon as a liability. The reporting executive in many cases feels like a stuckee.

Why? It’s often because aviation is outside of his or her experience base. What you must do is to make aviation shine, because that makes your reporting executive shine. If problems at the flight department used to bubble up to corporate, resolve them locally.

When an aviation team member goes ‘above and beyond’ for an executive traveler or a specific flight, make sure your reporting executive knows.

Most importantly, begin to quantitatively express the value that aviation provides to your parent company, and arm your reporting executive accordingly.

Next Step

At Gray Stone, we frequently work with aviation directors to establish value creation metrics for the flight department. If you want to hear your reporting executive become a vocal advocate for aviation at corporate, provide him or her with monthly metrics that express in hard dollars the value that aviation delivered to the corporation last month. And what you intend to do next month.


Your Turn

We’re sure that there are many more things that you can do to lead up and create a winning relationship with your reporting executive, and we’ll share more in future blogs.

We’re also sure that you have some creative approaches yourself. We’d like to know what they are. We invite you to share them with us below in the Comments section.

If you’re looking for specific guidance on howto establish a win-win relationship with your reporting executive, contact us for a no-obligation discussion.