Leadership Essentials: How to Gain Commitment from your Flight Department

Author By Steve Brechter

Recently, Jim Lara and I facilitated a meeting called The Way Forward™ for the leadership team of a hard-charging Part 91 flight department.

The Way Forward is a two-day, direction-setting offsite designed to help flight departments define the means of achieving the next level of operational excellence.

The leadership team developed new Vision, Mission and Values statements for the department, as well as a stretch 12-18 month operating plan.

They also developed a set of Leadership Competencies for the department. Leadership Competencies are a vitally important means of helping everyone understand and demonstrate the behaviors of a leader.

In today’s business environment, everyone is a leader, regardless of job title.

One of the key Leadership Competencies identified by the group was the need for a leader to gain commitment for key decisions made within the department.

In other words, once you have made a decision or announced a direction, how do you get the organization to follow?

5 ways to Gain Commitment from your Flight Department

Here are the top five ways that you can gain the commitment of your aviation team.

1.  Provide a Superordinate Objective

Everyone likes to be part of something that’s “larger than life.” In the fast-paced, texting and tweeting digital world of today, meaning and purpose are sometimes lacking. As a leader,you often must provide it.

The story of the stonemason comes to mind. When asked what he’s doing, he answers, “building a cathedral.”Not simply laying stones.

If you want to gain commitment within your aviation organization, you must help your people connect with the larger purpose.

For instance, is your flight crew arranging the catering order or are they helping facilitate the successful closing of an acquisition deal by the senior executive team?

The extent to which people can see the larger purpose will always increase their level of commitment.

Tip:  As Paul Harvey would say, always provide “the rest of the story” to your team.


2.  Plant a Flag on the Hill

At Gray Stone Advisors, we have long advocated that leaders primarily do three things: 1) set direction, 2) break down barriers and 3) provide resources.

In order to move the organization toward the achievement of a complex goal or long-term objective,such as "reaching the next level of operational excellence," you’ve got to set the direction.

And to set the direction, you’ve got to be able to clearly point to the next step along the way.  We call this "planting the flag on the hill."

For instance, if your aviation organization is set upon a multi-year quest, such as a major fleet change, the first step would be to analyze the current and projected demand imposed upon the current fleet.

So, achieving the goal of fleet replenishment (new aircraft on the ramp) starts with a demand and capacity analysis. This is the first flag on the hill to be pursued.

Merely pointing to the endgame very early in the process is often akin to “taking the first bite out of the elephant.” Where do you start?

You need to start with a first step that everyone understands and can relate to.

Tip:  To gain commitment within your flight department, break down complex business goals into bite-sized pieces that everyone can understand. Plant a “flag on the hill” for each phase.


3.  Seek Involvement from Everyone

There’s a famous Harvard Business Review article from 1974 entitled, “Who’s Got the Monkey?” that makes the case for effective delegation. The premise is that a leader should delegate effectively to keep most monkeys on their subordinates’ backs.

A byproduct of effective delegation is involvement. There’s no way that an organization can make the transformational changes needed to get it to the next level of operational excellence without engaging the brain trust of everyone.

To engage the collective brain trust, you must get everyone involved.

Nobody plays the game from the sidelines. Everyone has to be invested in the outcome, and the only way to do that is to put everyone into the game.

Look for ways to involve everyone. And don’t be afraid to cross functional boundaries when doing so.

In one flight department with which we worked, collateral duties needed to be formalized to align the flight department around the objective of IS-BAO registration. Since the requirements of IS-BAO are largely flight operations-oriented,the Maintenance organization felt somewhat marginalized.

But who’s to say that a maintenance technician can’t be an effective contributor to a Standards or Safety collateral duty team? Or maybe lead one of the teams themselves?

The client did so, and the Maintenance team instantly became invested in achieving theIS-BAO registration goal.

Tip:  Ignore convention when seeking involvement.         


4.  Publicly Praise, Privately Coach

If you want to gain the commitment of those on your team, find ways to praise them in very genuine and visible ways.

For instance, we urge many flight departments with which we work to up their communications game by publishing a weekly newsletter.

The newsletter should report items of interest to all department employees and, most importantly,should go to great lengths to highlight people’s accomplishments.

Who’s gone above and beyond in some way? Want to see someone beam with pride and commit themselves to a cause? Mention them by name in the newsletter.

On the other hand, one of the best ways to shut an individual down is to embarrass them in public. I don’t like it when it happens to me.  And I don’t think I’m alone.

If someone needs to be redirected or otherwise coached about a performance issue, take it offline.

In private, acknowledge the good things they’re doing and be very clear about what needs to be changed. Let them know you’re committed to helping them do so.

And when they’ve made the change and are exhibiting the commitment you need, look for a bona-fide way to publicly recognize them for it.

Tip:  As Dale Carnegie once stated, the sweetest sound to a person is the sound of their own name. Use that basic element of human nature to help people make the decision to commit themselves to a cause.    


5.  Show Everyone How They Win

There’s a basic tenet of continuous improvement that I learned from my days in manufacturing, and that is to explain the WIIFM.

WIIFM is an acronym for “what’sin it for me.” If you want to get someone to commit themselves to a cause, be sure they’re clear on the benefits for them. Find a way to explain how they’ll personally win by supporting a cause.

For instance, you may make the commitment to have your flight department IS-BAO registered within six months. There’s a lot of hard work—and commitment—necessary for that to happen.

So do you merely make the pronouncement that “We’re going to achieve IS-BAO registration in six months?”

That doesn’t excite me. Nor would it make me want to commit myself to the cause.

Instead, say “We’ll be aligned with industry best-practices in safety and earning an increased level of trust with our executive passengers by becoming IS-BAO registered, and we’re going to do so within six months.”

Now, that would make me excited! I’d certainly want to be a part of that noble cause!

Make sure you answer the question “so what?” when you make the case for a course of action.  And be sure to include the benefit.

Tip:  It’ll be much easier to gain commitment from your team if you clearly make the connection between the goal and the benefit.


Your turn

How have you gained commitment within your flight department?

Share your approaches with us and we’ll share them in a future blog.