By Dan Wolfe

October 10, 2023

Leadership is one of those words that has become generic, but its true meaning can open a world of possibilities within your team. One of the best definitions I’ve found of the word comes from Forbes, which describes it as a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal.

In 40-plus years working in business aviation for Part 91 flight departments – and now ServiceElements – I’ve come to understand the influence of being a leader and how to use it to maximize the efforts of teams so to achieve our professional goals day in and day out.

Flight dept management assess talent and mentor younger pilots to ensure leadership succession.

During my years as a leader of a Fortune 100 company’s flight department, I focused on building a strong culture of highly engaged employees.

One of the main foundational pieces in developing a great culture is trust and transparency, and it must start with you! You must invest in developing each person on your team.

Take time to discuss their goals and identify objectives, prompt them to take advantage of available resources via education and mentorship, and urge them to be an ally for their fellow teammates’ growth, too.

ServiceElements is both a leadership training and an employee engagement company, and we often hear the concern, “What happens if I invest in my employee and then they leave?” Our immediate response is, “What happens if you don’t and they stay?” Investing in professional development (ie, attending conferences, participating in certification programs, team enhancement workshops, etc) increases competency, safety, teamwork, employee loyalty, and more.

Are we okay without this for fear an employee might leave? Even if talent does leave your department, rest easy knowing they’ve left their positive footprint behind and are making the industry better elsewhere in their new position.

A high-performing team will not accept mediocrity. Engaged associates make your department safer and more productive, and people enjoy coming to work. As we all know, business aviation is struggling to hold onto experienced pilots and technicians, primarily due to the airlines’ aggressive hiring tactics, which is forecast to continue into the near future.

Really, the only place to get top talent, other than the limited number of military personnel leaving the services yearly, is business aviation. This drain of talent over the past 5 years has put significant pressure on our whole industry. The question is, what are we doing to build future leaders within our industry? In addition to establishing a strong foundational culture of engagement, you must identify potential leaders within your talent pool and create a succession plan. Remember to continuously coach and mentor your leadership pool, as even the most talented workers can fail at leadership when it’s time to step up.

As a mentor within the industry, and now working for ServiceElements, I get numerous requests from pilots, technicians, and schedulers that I meet at conferences who ask if they can run something by me – off the record. They often openly ask for guidance on some of the department issues that they’re experiencing, and almost all the issues discussed are directly due to a lack of leadership from the top.

They are usually very fixable issues, such as department personnel who have great ideas but are shut down by the chief or director, who show little to no interest. These associates are frustrated and feel like they have no voice within their department, which ultimately leaves them disengaged because their value and potential are repeatedly not being recognized or encouraged.

Poor leadership leads to disengagement. You see this with high turnover (which results in excessively high hiring and training costs), a noticeable lack of commitment to the extraordinary care of your customers, and a deficit of teamwork in your department. Many times, pilots and technicians will start openly complaining to senior leadership when they have the opportunity. Pilots often corral senior management while inflight, and you can imagine the internal disconnect this causes.

A CEO will feel that they have the best aviation department, until they realize they don’t. This awakening comes in different ways. It is not uncommon for C-suite executives to travel on other companies’ corporate aircraft, and one thing I can assure is that they compare their own flight operation every time they fly on these other aircraft – from how they’re first greeted to the cleanliness of their cup holder.

You are only kidding yourself if you think otherwise. It is likely the executives will only tell you what you’re doing better and will seldom, unless you ask, ever say what you’re not doing. However, they are taking notes. Benchmarking your operation and service to ensure your team provides extraordinary care will allow you to find new ways to make your services indispensable.

My passion for leadership, people development, and improving our industry has led me to recently join the ServiceElements team. As part of this group, I continue to mentor and coach other professionals in the industry, share my experience, and help them build high performing, engaged teams.

We all have heard of flight departments that have closed down because they were the problem child, where “downtown” felt the problems exceeded their value. We must push continuously that edge of excellence through honest and transparent leadership to remain a valued, high performing team! Take advantage of core skills training, such as those we offer at ServiceElements, so your organization stays ahead of the value proposition, having a fully engaged team, and enjoying going to work every day.

As part of our commitment to improving our industry and providing professional development training and coaching, ServiceElements has partnered with FlightSafety International to offer 2- and 3-day leadership workshops for current and emerging leaders at various US locations throughout the year.

During these programs, we leverage our decades of experience to dive deeply into what it means to be a leader, address critical challenges and opportunities, and provide participants with skills and tools to build a culture of service and teamwork.

In addition, we will be at NBAA-BACE presenting a 2-day PDP – Effective Teamwork and Strategic Goal Management. During this workshop, we will explore sharpening your leadership skills and building a high-performing team that people hate to leave and others seek to join.