Business Aviation Leadership Development–Are You Committed?

Author By Jim Lara
Business Aviation Leadership Development

One of the hallmarks of a great Leader is his or her ability to motivate performance out of the organization.

Gone are the days of “doing it all by yourself.”

You’ve got to empower your people and develop the capability of “getting things done through others.” And you’ve got to help the Leaders in your Aviation Organization develop that ability as well.

The challenge is getting away from “doing” and moving towards “leading.” That’s the essence of Leadership Development.

Those of us who are leading (or have led) organizations, be they large or small, we know very well the old adage: you’re only as good as those around you.

Let’s face it, regardless of your sense of personal bandwidth, you just can’t be everywhere all the time.

To cover all the bases and meet your organization’s performance objectives, you’ve got to surround yourself with the best people you can find and then empower them to do their jobs.

This is especially true in Business Aviation, where the typical organization consists of fast-paced and fairly complex technical disciplines.

Where do  stand in developing future leaders in your aviation organization? Let’s start with a short self-assessment. Consider the following questions:

  • Do you really “let go” and empower your people to “own” their processes?
  • Are you truly comfortable in “leading” vs. “managing?”
  • Can you differentiate between “training” vs. “development?”
  • Do you have actionable development plans in place to help your employees grow?
  • Do you provide the resources they need to actualize their development plans?
  • Do you have a way of “early identification” of those with Leadership potential?

If the honest answer to any of these questions is “No,” take heart. You’re not alone.  Don’t stop here, read on! There are straightforward yet highly effective ways to do the job.

The Role of a Leader—Making the Commitment to Lead Rather Than Do

First, let’s be clear on what a Leader really does. Sure, we’ve all gotten where we are in our careers because we have highly developed technical skills in our area(s) of specialization.

Technical abilities are usually in fair abundance in Business Aviation organizations. Some of us have risen through the ranks in flight operations, some maintenance, others dispatch & scheduling and some through administration or regulatory oversight.

This grounding is very important, but as Leaders, we need to acquire additional skills, more EQ-related (emotional intelligence) than IQ. Simply put, we must excel at drawing performance out of the organization, rather than trying to do everything ourselves.

In our view, a Leader does three things:

Sets Direction: Establishes the Vision, Mission and Values of the organization, as well as near-term boals and objectives. It’s akin to pointing into the future and motivating the troops to “take that hill!”

Breaks Down Barriers: Removes whatever is in the way of people accomplishing the goals that have been set for the organization.

Provides Resources: Provides the means for people to do their jobs

While this may sound overly simplified, if you do much more, you’re in the way.

Ask yourself, “Am I really ‘leading‘, or am I still ‘doing?'” Am I truly “developing” the next generation of Leaders in my Business Aviation organization…or just training them?

Training vs. Development—A Distinction Without a Difference?

Many of us confuse these terms, so let’s also be clear in this area. Training increases an employee’s proficiency in the job they already have, while Development gets them ready for their next role in the organization.

Many aviation organizations mistakenly label training as development. Let’s face it, recurrent flight or maintenance training is…well, it’s “training!” It helps a flight crew member or maintenance technician succeed in his or her current position.

While this is vitally important for safe and compliant operations, it must be balanced with development for those who aspire to Leadership positions.

Leadership is a career choice, not just a means to higher pay grade or compensation level.

It’s got to be something an employee aspires to.  And in most cases it requires significant development and on-the-job experience.  It must be done in a measured and focused way. It must be given high priority.

And it’s largely an issue of “fit” vs. “fitness.”

Fit vs. Fitness—Both Are Essential

You can help increase an employee’s “fitness” to do a job, but it’s really up to the employee to determine where they “fit.” Training addresses the “fitness” aspect and development, the “fit.”

In our coaching practice, much of what we do is to help employees get clear on where their strongest career interests lie and, therefore, their best area(s) of “fit.” Some come readily equipped with that insight, while others need guidance in articulating it.

“Fit” is the first step in the employee development process and is a vitally important component of deciding whether an employee should pursue a Leadership career track.

At various points in our careers, we’ve all worked for people who were good Leaders, and some who–well, let’s just say–we’ve wondered how they got where they were!

How can  tell if someone has what it takes and is a good fit for a leadership development track?

Know Thyself

The single most important aspect of the Leadership Development process is self-awareness. One needs to be clear on passions and interests in order to discover or realize those career paths of greatest “fit.”

A self-awareness component in the Leadership Development process differentiates those employees who would be more fulfilled (and successful) in a technical career vs. a Leadership track.

We have found that the use self-awareness tools are invaluable to this end.  There are several good ones out there and the investment is worth its weight in gold. This step must be given all the time it requires as a Leadership Development Plan without a self-awareness component is like building a house on shifting sand.

And it’s wise to have a good coach available to help the employee through the discovery process.

One of the first and highly acclaimed practitioners in the area of self-awareness was Sun Tzu, author of “The Art of War.” He put it this way:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.  If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Have a Business Aviation Leadership Development Plan

Once the employee has achieved a higher level of self-awareness and a clearer sense of “fit” and direction, it’s time to take a Leadership Development inventory.  Doing so is much like the Manufacturing Resource Planning (MRP) processes that factories use to acquire inventory.  It’s a simple formula:

(What Do I Need?)—(What Do I Have?) = (What Do I Have to Get and When Should I Get It?)

The left side of the equation establishes the need, while the right side establishes the skills the employee needs and when and how they will be obtained. In other words, the right side becomes the leadership development plan.

There are many ways to acquire the needed elements of the leadership development plan and most are free. An effective plan should be:

  • Brief and fit on one piece of paper
  • “Owned” by the employee with the sponsorship of the manager
  • Actionable in the short-term and balanced with the resources of the organization
  • Given the same level of importance that the performance appraisal process holds
  • Used to follow-up during regular intervals
  • Motivating to the employee

A Final Thought

Do you know the number one reason an employee voluntarily leaves an organization? Did we hear “compensation?” No, that’s incorrect. Check any HR survey on employee attitudes. The number one reason an employee voluntarily leaves an organization is because they feel they cannot grow and develop where they are.

So, get on with your leadership development process and let your future Leaders know there’s “plenty of runway ahead!”

We invite your comments, questions and examples of how you are effectively developing your future leaders.  You can reach us here.