5 Ways to Become an Effective Organizational Leader

Author By Steve Brechter

Throughout the series on Leadership Essentials, I’ve made one point very clearly and consistently.

And that is, when moving from an individual contributor role to that of a people leader, a critically important chasm to cross is that of transitioning from “doer” to “leader.”

In other words, as a leader you need to be able to get results by leveraging the efforts of others,not by strictly doing things yourself.

That’s hard for some people to do. And it’s most definitely a skill that needs to be developed.

But there’s another chasm to cross as well, one that is vitally important.

When you step into a leadership role, you need to become an exceptionally good organizational leader, in addition to your role as a functional leader.

What’s the difference?

Organizational vs. Functional Leadership

Functional leadership means you’re solely focused on your own functional group or team. For instance, if you are the director of maintenance (DOM), you are functionally focused on the Maintenance organization.

But as DOM, you’re also likely a member of the department’s Leadership Team. With that comes another responsibility.As a member of the Leadership Team, you’re not only responsible for Maintenance,but equally responsible as a co-leader for the entire aviation department.

You need to expand your focus organization-wide. That’s called organizational leadership.

Many new or emerging leaders have a hard time wrapping their heads around being a co-leader of the entire department vs. strictly their own functional group. It’s often way out of their comfort zone.

But the truth is that now, as DOM, you need to be equally concerned about Scheduling, Flight Operations and Business Administration. Or as chief pilot, you need to be equally concerned about Maintenance, Scheduling and Business Administration.

You probably feel like your plate is already overflowing with your functional group responsibilities.

And it likely is! So how do you make the transition?

5 Ways to Become an Effective Organizational Leader

1.  Focus on the Greater Good

When you were selected for your leadership role in the flight department, I can almost guarantee that you had demonstrated a concern beyond your own self and your own team.

Let’s face it. The flight department is not constructed with your own functional group at the center. It takes a hub and all the spokes working together to make the wheel turn smoothly as intended.

So, to be an effective organizational leader, you need to become as interested and engaged in the other functional groups in the flight department as you are in your own.

Tip – Focus on the greater good of the department by sending the elevator “back down” to help others succeed as you would those in your own functional group.


2.  Think Horizontally

In the early stage of our careers, there was pretty-much one way we looked when we thought about career progression: Up.

Almost exclusively, we thought vertically. We were singularly focused on the next rung of the career ladder and how we would take the next step to get there.

But now, things are different. I’m not saying that you have to give up your own career aspirations. But, as a leader, if you don’t start thinking differently, you’ll never have a chance of stepping up to the next rung.

Now, think out and across the organization. Begin to look for ways to connect with and support the other functional groups.

How might that be done? Engage some of your own people on cross-functional teams with other functional groups. Or become a mentor to a high potential employee in another part of the flight department.

Tip – Ask your peers what you can do to help them achieve their goals and succeed. After all, if they don’t win, you don’t win either.


3.  Be Informed

Being an organizational leader doesn’t just mean expressing concern for others during the weekly Leadership Team meeting. It’s a daily priority.

You must be totally plugged-in to what’s going-on throughout the flight department. Make it a regular practice to check-in with your peers on the Leadership Team. See what they’re dealing with and figure out how you or your team can be of assistance.

As chief pilot, you may find out that the Maintenance department is in the midst of a time-consuming physical inventory audit. If the flight schedule is light, why not volunteer a pilot or two to help with the physical count?

As dispatch leader, encourage schedulers to attend the daily Maintenance turnover meeting. Or a maintenance technician could attend a monthly pilot meeting.

Look for opportunities for people at all levels of your functional group to stay informed and aware of what’s going on in the other functional groups.

Tip – Create regular “how goes it”opportunities to see how things are going throughout the department. Why not make it part of your people’s objectives as well?


4.  Live your Vision, Mission & Values Statements

Being a strong organizational leader should not be an exceptional or unusual role that a leader plays.

In fact, organizational leadership is a first cousin to the concepts of “partnering and teaming” and collaboration. These are surely embodied in your flight department’s Vision, Mission & Values (VMV) statements, or area part of your department’s set of Leadership Competencies.

What? You don’t have department Vision, Mission or Values Statements? Or Leadership Competencies? If not, we recommend that you adopt them right away.

VMV Statements are the beacons by which the organization sets its direction. Leadership Competencies are the statements of what leadership “looks like” in the flight department. They are applicable to every person in the flight department, are developed collaboratively and are expressed in your team’s own words.

They are powerful influencers of positive behavior and all top-performing flight departments have them.

Tip – Adopt powerful VMV statements that help make organizational leaders out of everyone in the department.


5.  Ask for Feedback

One of the most important steps in becoming an organizational leader is to ask for feedback on how you’re doing.

This can be accomplished informally or by means of a more structured process such as a carefully designed 360-degree feedback instrument.

Be a role model. Let everyone in the organization know that you hold organizational leadership as a top priority and you’re always looking to get better at it.

The benefit from doing so may surprise you.

Tip – Take a look at the “ripples in the pond” analogy in our Credible Influencer blog for further insight into how this works.


Your Turn

What techniques have you used to become an effective organizational leader? Share them with us in the comments section below.