I haven’t written in a while, largely because real life has gotten in the way, but I’m going to try something new and see what kind of response it gets. The book idea referenced above is something I’ve been toying with for about a year but the ideas therein go way back. Here’s the draft of the introduction. If you think this idea has “legs” let me know!
Chief Pilot – A No-Nonsense Guide to Tactical Flight Department Leadership
This book is about reality and like reality, it has an edge. So if you’re looking for a carefully-worded, politically-correct treatise on flight department leadership, you’ve come to the wrong place. This book is largely based on experience, my experience to be precise, having spent some thirty years in aviation. It will be infused with my opinions and interpretations, often bluntly stated. It will have specific applications to specific situations. It will be a book you can read and then refer to. You may not always agree with the perspective you find herein, but I guarantee you’ll find it useful.
For the record, I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic of leadership. But after holding the position of assistant operations officer and operations officer in fighter squadrons (the USAF equivalent of assistant chief pilot and chief pilot), the position of chief pilot and director of operations in my own charter management company, acting chief pilot and director of operations for a large operator overseas, chief pilot for the what was, at one time, the largest charter operator in the world and chief pilot for a Fortune 100 flight department, I think I know what works in that role and what doesn’t. I also think I know what leadership looks like, at least in this context.
The sad fact is that that there isn’t much real leadership in our industry. There is plenty of politics, cronyism, brown-nosing, accession by seniority, and even some decent management from time to time, but leadership, real leadership, is hard to come by. In fairness, the industry doesn’t really encourage it. Corporate aviation is a lot about maintaining a low-key, low-visibility presence and isn’t about vision or bold decision making, so the environment doesn’t favor those who possess true leadership skills. It does, however, favor professional managers and politicians and these are the people who often ascend to positions of responsibility in our industry, just as they are the people who ascend to the top in corporations.
This is one of the reasons I have a love/hate relationship with our industry. A flight department or a charter/management company, when it is well led, reminds me of my time in a fighter squadron when the focus was on the mission and the unit members were there for one another. They followed the “boss” because they respected him and they believed in him. They enjoyed coming to work and they enjoyed serving others. But more often than not in our industry, the person in charge of a flight department is more concerned with politics than his subordinates and more concerned with how he looks to his boss than how he is respected and trusted by his people. And in the latter case, those in charge don’t understand how transparent their behavior is or how demoralizing it can be. So the potential that business aviation has for those who are able to lead and those who want to follow is enormous, but the reality rarely lives up to the potential and the industry plays along, pretending all is well.
Yet, these limitations notwithstanding, there probably isn’t another role that affects the morale potential of a flight department more than that of Chief Pilot, especially where flight crews are concerned. The role of Chief Pilot is a very difficult line to walk. It’s about between being one of “us,” a line pilot, and one of “them,” a member of senior management, and doing so in a way that inspires trust and not duplicity on both sides. It’s about being in “the trenches” with those you lead, close enough that they can see you, warts and all, but being able to sit comfortably with the Director in room full of corporate heavy-hitters. It’s about making a difference, not just for the future of the department but in the day-to-day lives of your people.
I’m hoping this book may be useful for those who want to rise above the typical mediocrity found in most of the leadership in our industry. This book isn’t about politics, although we’ll discuss it. It’s not about making friends, although that’s a bonus if you do your job well. It’s not about necessarily rising to the top, although that might happen too. It’s about standing your ground and speaking your mind, regardless of the consequences. It’s about doing the right thing and taking care of your people even if that comes at a personal cost. It’s about taking action when action is required and not giving a damn what other people think about it.
In short, it’s about being a Chief Pilot and a leader. Managers and politicians need not apply.