NBAA 18th Annual Leadership Conference

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Conference Highlights

The 2010 NBAA Leadership Conference was held at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina on February 24–25, 2010, gathering 220 aviation professionals from across the country for program of thought-provoking sessions focused on creative thinking, innovation and new models of collaboration.

For a striking start, the Drum Café engaged attendees with an out-of-the-box experience, displaying qualities from the conference theme “Beyond People, Planes and Passion.” This rhythmic, percussive event demonstrated the spirit of teamwork, harmony, communication and passion for collaboration that would be discussed in education sessions later in the event. NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen remarked, “I don’t think we’ve ever started a conference this way.”

In his presentation, “Breakthrough Thinking: Challenging What We Know,” physicist and string theorist Dr. Brian Greene looked at scientists through history, discussing the ways in which today's leaders can learn form their approach. Dr. Green showed how the advancements of Newton’s Law of Gravity, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory were made possible only through efforts of leaders – the scientists who persisted with big ideas, challenged the status quo and endured criticism during eras of scientific stagnation. These innovators were willing to be profoundly wrong because they knew it was the only way to be profoundly right.

Dr. James Clawson of the Darden Graduate School of Business presented two engaging education sessions over the course of two days. The first session, “Fundamental Challenges of Sustainable Leadership,” discussed avoiding the pitfalls of leadership in the following categories:

  • Focusing on Problems
  • Lack of Self Awareness
  • Living “Outside-In”
  • Succumbing to Habituality
  • Living in Obligation
  • Suppressing Feel
  • Assuming Buy-In
  • Focusing on Time
  • Underestimating Daily Interactions
  • Tolerating Fuzziness

The second session, “Six Steps to Rock Solid Leadership in Turbulent Times,” used a historical vignette about Colonel Joshua Chamberlain commanding the 20th Maine regiment at Gettysburg during the U.S. Civil War to provide clear, concrete examples of how a true leader can motivate in the most challenging times. Through a role-playing exercise, Dr. Clawson gave conference participants the opportunity to step into the shoes of Col. Chamberlain as he confronted 120 deserters before a battle to convince them to return to the fight. He did this by:

  1. Clarifying his center – telling the men where his beliefs were on that day.
  2. Clarifying what was possible – that these prisoners conditionally could be set free.
  3. Clarifying what others could contribute – that they were needed to bolster his ranks.
  4. Supporting others so they can contribute – he provided them with the limited supplies he possessed.
  5. Being Relentless – Col. Chamberlain was not willing to give up, even when his ammunition was exhausted.
  6. Measuring and celebrating progress – Col. Chamberlain was selected to receive Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, was awarded the Medal of Honor and led the victory parade in DC.

George Dom and Ron Mumm, both commanders of U.S. Military Precision Flying Teams – the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, tag-teamed on their presentation, “Lightin’ the Fires! – Tales of Engaged Leadership.” They explained that in order to build the highest levels of trust you have to show you are trustworthy in the five C’s:

  • Character – Do you walk your talk? Do you demonstrate integrity?
  • Commitment – Will you be there when the going gets tough? Are you playing to win?
  • Competence – Do you have a passion for performance and critique? Not “practice makes perfect” but “perfect practice makes perfect.”
  • Connection – Trust is about winning hearts. Do you show empathy?
  • Communication – Are you clear, concise and direct?

The “Networking for Knowledge” session, presented by Angela Piero and Sheryl Barden, discussed how Internet-based social media – such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter & are reshaping the ways Gen-X and Millennial generations communicate, both professionally and personally.

One participant asked during the Q&A session for attendees to raise their hands if they had at least one social networking account. With most hands raised he exclaimed “Wow, I’m a dinosaur!”

However, even leaders experienced with social networking were encouraged to challenge the way they view social networking in order to harness this growing medium for constructive, business aviation purposes. Supervisors that don’t take the time to understand these new tools, and empower their employees to use them productively, may find that subordinates will use such networking to find another job.

Lou Seno from JSSI, Shawn Vick with Hawker Beechcraft Corp, and Bill Garvey of Business & Commercial Aviation magazine participated in a panel discussion on the state of the business aviation industry after the turbulence of last year. Although their perspectives were varied, they were in unanimous agreement that that we are in “times not seen before” and that fresh and realistic leadership is essential for companies to success in this new era.

The final keynote speaker of the 2010 Leadership Conference was the iconic Captain “Sulley” Sullenburger. He provided a quiet and personal recounting of the “Miracle on the Hudson” of January 15, 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 suffered total engine failure and the crew successfully ditched the aircraft into the frigid Hudson River saving the lives of all those on-board. Through this story, he emphasized the importance of training and communication in both aviation and in leadership.

Next year, the NBAA 19th Annual Leadership Conference will be held in San Diego, CA on Feb 23-24, 2011. More information will be published on the Association's web site at as it becomes available.

For more information on the Leadership Conference, contact NBAA’s Jay Evans at

Review the Attendee Brochure (PDF, 1022 KB)

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