Leadership

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Courage to Lead

It’s important for leaders to develop a culture that helps people step forward at critical moments.

Oct. 3, 2016

The typical definition of “courage” usually evokes mental images of scenarios involving heroic job roles, such as police officers, firefighters or soldiers. Against those heady assumptions, it’s doubtful many within business aviation would consider their day-to-day tasks to be particularly courageous – but that’s a misperception.

“You cannot move forward, evolve or lead without having courage,” explained Josh Mesinger, vice president of Mesinger Jet Sales and a member of NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee (BAMC).

“Every day, we make courageous decisions that directly affect employee safety, company productivity and asset management.”

While courage manifests in several ways, Mesinger emphasized that they all begin with recognizing the need to change “and to step outside your boundaries and comfort zone.”

“Regardless of your [job] title, you can embrace leadership qualities and positively impact your organization,” continued Mesinger. “That may mean choosing to go back to school, or pursuing CAM [Certified Aviation Manager] accreditation. Anything that changes your lifestyle will require stepping outside your own boundaries. Furthermore, it takes courage to engage with your company and your employees; to take risks and to own your mistakes.

“Making your voice heard, asking for a seat at the table, and making a difference all require courage,” Mesinger asserted.

BRINGING COURAGE TO YOUR FLIGHT DEPARTMENT

Those attitudes shouldn’t be exclusive to managers or those in leadership roles. Recent changes within the global economy and business aviation have created challenges for owners and operators of business aircraft. Facing these challenges and finding ways to navigate them requires courage to make difficult decisions.

“Our industry is rapidly evolving, and that can make it tough to be decisive on a course of action,” said BAMC member Reggie Arsenault, director of general aviation at Jeppesen. “People are often hesitant when making decisions because they don’t feel they have all the info necessary to take action. It takes courage to move forward based on the information at hand, and then adjust as needed as the business environment changes.”

That said, it’s important to note that courage is not about bravado, or – especially – a sense of recklessness.

You must create a culture in which staff members may bring forth recommendations and concerns, especially on what may be uncomfortable topics, and know they will be acknowledged and well-received.
– CHRIS ADAMS Regional Sales Manager, FlightSafety International

“The reality is there are very few ‘Braveheart’ moments in life where you rally the troops for a singular moment of epic proportions,” noted BAMC member Dustin Cordier, managing partner of jetAVIVA. “Courage is the long game, with incremental progress.” Cordier recommends getting specific on the values you need to embrace, and then defining small actions that help people exemplify those values.

One method of doing that, Cordier notes, is to empower flight department employees to be part of decision-making processes.

“The ‘command-and-control’ environment doesn’t work,” explained BAMC Chairman Chris Adams, regional sales manager at FlightSafety International. “You must create a culture in which staff members may bring forth recommendations and concerns, especially on what may be uncomfortable topics, and know they will be acknowledged and well-received. Creating a culture of engagement, and teaching those around you to embrace courage so that they can speak up, is a critical leadership skill for a successful operation or business.”

Adams related an experience from his time in the U.S. Army to highlight that point. “Our platoon was on a training evaluation exercise,” he explained. “As I walked to the operations tent, I over-heard a radio conversation with the weather forecasters, who were calling for severe turbulence, which we couldn’t fly in. There was pressure to perform the exercise, and our operations officer couldn’t give me a straight answer.

“I said we couldn’t go,” he continued. “And yes, there were consequences after that, but I can still look at myself in the mirror.”

Review NBAA Leadership Resources at www.nbaa.org/admin/leadership.

HOW LEADERS PROMOTE COURAGE

Among the resources available on how courage applies to an industry is The 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders, as identified by Susan Tardanico, CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance. Those tenets include

Confront Reality Head On – “Courage drives growth,” noted Dustin Cordier, managing partner of jetAVIVA. “Nothing in nature grows in a comfort zone – there is always a necessity to stretch, adapt and sometimes radically change. Why would our growth be any different? Courage is a necessary discipline, like excellence or motivation. Once the habit is formed, it becomes part of who you are. It takes commitment to form a habit, but it helps to consider another law of nature: what stops growing, dies.”

Communicate Openly and Frequently – “Airplanes are often among a company’s largest assets,” said Josh Mesinger, vice president of Mesinger Jet Sales. It is imperative for flight department managers to ask for their ‘seat at the table’ upstream from their department to best understand their organization’s objectives, and build a plan for the flight department to fulfill those objectives and add the most value possible.” The idea of the flight department sitting at the airport and waiting for direction no longer works.

Make Decisions and Move Forward – “A moment of courage [at my job] over the past year was the introduction of new business models,” said Reggie Arsenault, director of general aviation at Jeppesen. “The uncertainty of how the decision would impact the company was extremely uncomfortable, but I recognized that you must also move forward and try new ideas. There are no 100-percent guarantees, but leaders must also feel they’ll be supported when something doesn’t work out perfectly.”

Encourage Pushback – “Flight department personnel can’t feel pressure to avoid unpleasant conversations,” said Chris Adams, regional sales manager at FlightSafety International. “It takes courage to speak up and say, ‘I think we need to make a change.’ If there’s something wrong, or if there may be a better way to perform a task, the people in your department must feel empowered to be able to say so.”

COURAGE THE THEME OF NBAA’S 2017 LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE

The theme of the 2017 NBAA Leadership Conference in Miami, FL, will be “courage,” with the two-day gathering offering a diverse array of compelling speakers with tangible lessons, along with opportunities for attendees to expand their leadership expertise and network with other industry leaders.

Conference co-chairs Josh Mesinger and Reggie Arsenault decided to focus on courage after it came up in numerous discussions about leadership qualities. “This is a major time of transition in our industry,” said Mesinger. “It takes courage for a flight department manager to engage with the C-suite, or the principal, and ask for their seat at the table.”

Mesinger emphasized that the 2017 Leadership Conference will be open to anyone in the industry looking to further develop their leadership skills and gain tangible lessons about how to embrace and nurture courage. He also encouraged attendees to invite their employees and company executives, non-aviation reporting executives and principals.

In today’s environment, it can sometimes be difficult to justify cost of operating an airplane, Mesinger concluded. “We must find new ways to add value, which is one reason why the Leadership Conference is so critical for operations of all sizes.”

The 2017 NBAA Leadership Conference will take place Feb. 14-16 at the Hyatt Regency. www.nbaa.org/leadership/insider

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This article originally appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of Business Aviation Insider. Download the magazine app for iOS and Android tablets.