The Inspirational Leader

Leaders who connect with their people emotionally stand the best chance of leading their group, organization, or team to the next level of operational excellence. I call these types of leaders, INSPIRATIONAL LEADERS.

Some leaders push, cajole, or prod their people. The inspirational leader pulls by sheer force of personal example, commitment, and integrity.

Some leaders order their personnel to get the job done by building a fire under their butts. The inspirational leader motivates their personnel to get the job done by building a fire in their hearts and souls.

Some leaders cultivate obedience and compliance through fear, ridicule, and intimidation. The inspirational leader cultivates independence and resourcefulness through listening, open communication, and feedback.

Some leaders consider themselves elite, above others. The inspirational leader maintains perspective, and keeps the respect and camaraderie of the rank and file.

Some leaders take full credit for the success of the work. Inspirational leaders shine the spotlight directly upon those who deserve the credit.

When projects do not turn out as planned, some leaders ask, “Who is responsible?” The Inspirational Leaders says, “I am.”

People will physically work overtime for some leaders; they will work all the time for an inspirational leader.

Some leaders must physically be present so others will do the work correctly. Inspirational leaders inspire others to do the work correctly – even from the grave.

Calm Leadership on US Airways Flight 1549

Captain Chesley Sullenberger of US Air Flight 1549 and the rest of the US Air crew team did a remarkable job in safely executing their tasks in a very tense and time critical situation. Dual engine failure of a commercial airliner full of people, at low altitude over a densely populated area would certainly make anyone’s initial reaction one of “shock” and “disbelief.”

For those who have been in aviation long enough, many of us have faced emergency situations in the cockpit that required timely execution of tasks in an abbreviated manner. Staying calm “when facing the storm” is key in any emergency situation. Training, competence, and experience saves lives, and it saved the lives of everyone onboard US Air Flight 1549.

This underscores the importance of core competence, training, and evaluations in any profession. As well, individuals and teams who work in any high risk industry should always plan for and brief contingencies, the “what if’s”. Encourage everyone to think processes through to their worst logical conclusion, then brief a back up plan.

This attitude saves lives, and it saved my life one afternoon after the engine decided to quit in the airplane I was flying. Like the crew of US Air flight 1549, my initial reaction was one of “disbelief”! I remember the silence of no engine running was deafening. Competence and training kicked in. I already had an emergency field picked out “just in case” the engine quit. I reacted calmly but quickly, and after a safe landing, I was able to clean my drawers out to fly again another day. Your employees should always “scan the horizon” for emergency fields just in case their engine decides to quit. The attitude of always being prepared for the “what ifs” will soon become second nature. When an emergency does come up, the initial shock and disbelief will quickly be replaced with a calm deliberate demeanor to timely execute the contingency plan, just like Captain Chesley Sullenberger of US Air Flight 1549 and the rest of the US Air flight crew team!

Your Aptitude and Your Attitude determines THEIR Altitude

Leaders by definition influence the behaviors of those around them. At various times throughout the workday, each of us has the ability to influence the behavior of those around us! It does not matter that you hold a managerial position, or a formal leadership position at your compnay, each of you can be considered a leader of others at some point or another.

Our outlook on life, our mannerisms, our on-the-job-approach, our skill level, in short our ATTITUDE and APTITUDE that we exude daily to others carries tremendous weight when it comes influencing what they think, react, and behave towards us.

I say, “Your Aptitude and your Attitude determines THEIR Altitude”

Think about it: “Your Aptitude and your Attitude determines THEIR Altitude!”

You personally have the power to raise and lower the altitude of those around you!

As I look back on my days as a young fighter pilot, there were certain individuals that I really looked up to, I’d do anything for them, I’d run through walls for them, I’d leap tall buildings, when they said “JUMP”, on my way up I’m asking “How high?”. What was it about them? What did they possess?

What did they have as a person that I so admired in them that they had such extraordinary influence over my behavior, my thought patterns, my actions, my perceptions, my values, and thus my daily job conduct?

What was it about those people that influenced me in such a manner that made me want to rise to a higher altitude?

I believe it was two distinctive qualities they had. I think you’ll agree with me, in your company you’ll probably find the same distinctive qualities in people you consider as “people of influence.”

First of all, I looked up to their APTITUDE, their job competence, their skill, their experience, their knowledge. In short I perceived them to be great fighter pilots, to be great at doing their jobs! Not because they told me how awesome they were, but because of what I perceived. It was what I saw, what I heard, what I felt about how they did their job.

I saw that they embraced every opportunity to learn their craft; they kept themselves up to speed in the books; they listened to others. They were humble. They admitted mistakes; they had no problems saying “I don’t know”. They had no problems speaking up, or backing down if they were wrong.

Because of all these factors, they became very skilled aviators. They routinely had the highest bombing and gunnery scores in the squadron, and like I said, they NEVER bragged about how good they were. Their APTITUDE was beyond reproach, but being highly skilled and competent is only half of the equation.

Do you know what else it was that made them people of influence? Their ATTITUDE!

They had a genuine ATTITUDE about helping others become better, specifically me! They wanted me to do better on the gunnery range, to be a better bomb dropper, to become a better dogfighter, overall, they really wanted the best for me.

They always seemed to look out for my best interests. In turn, I trusted them, I wanted to be just like them, I’d do anything for them, I gave them 110% because of their ATTITUDE towards helping me do better.
Shouldn’t that be the attitude that we all have, to genuinely help others rise to a higher altitude; to be better overall, to achieve excellence?

YES!, But you know? We’ve heard leaders say, “I want my people to be successful, I help those who work for me, etc.”

Remember, it’s not what we say about ourselves, it’s what others perceive of us! Perceptions are reality. We’ve all heard people say one thing, but do something else. Every fighter pilot will tell you that he really wants his fellow fighter pilots to be better, but does he really?

Case in point, when we would fly to the controlled bombing/gunnery range, every bomb we dropped and every bullet we shot was scored and measured electronically (what gets measured gets done), the results of those individual scores – which measures our personal performance – are published in individual ranking order top to bottom, every week, for all to see. Individuals could see where they stood vs. everybody else.

Let’s say that because of your APTITUDE (skill, knowledge, experience), you consistently rank at the top of the list each week, and of course you are very proud to be at the top.

Your fellow fighter pilots see that your name is always at or near the top. So they seek you out, ask your advice, your help, to become better.

What is your ATTITUDE on sharing and helping? Are you really willing to HONESTLY give them your tips, tools, techniques, or methodologies in order help them rise to the top? To become better? Even if it means by doing so, they might surpass you on the top gun list?

Or will you say, “Sure I’ll help!”, and then secretly hold back just a little bit? Like having a fantastic recipe that everyone wants … Do you hold back a few critical ingredients, or do you give the entire recipe?

If we perceive that others have a genuine ATTITUDE in truly helping us as individuals rise to the top, to achieve excellence, then that becomes the norm of the squadron, which becomes the way it’s done around here.
The affect is synergistic. It’s what takes a squadron / company / business unit / organization from good to great!

Again, you do not have to be in a formal leadership or managerial position to have a genuine ATTITUDE to help others rise to your altitude and to pursue a higher degree of APTITUDE /skill at your job.
For each of us as “fighter pilots”, who work in high risk and sometimes dangerous work environments, the ability that we have to influence the work behaviors of others is a remarkable power to have. It’s a power that should never be taken lightly. It can be the difference between life and death for those we influence everyday!

Don’t require those that work around you to get lucky in order to fly / work another day!

We are our Brothers and sisters keepers; we all are people of influence.

Let’s agree to always keep three things in the back of our minds:

1) Acknowledge the power that we have to influence others.
2) Accept the responsibility of that power, and
3) Be accountable and responsible for the work results that comes from those whom we have influenced.

Parenting and Leadership – Not Much Difference

Someone once told me that you never live until you experience a “Significant Life Event.” There are many significant life events: marriage, divorce, job change, moving, buying a new home, accidently dropping your cell phone in the toilet, raising kids…

Certainly, these significant life events shape our lives, especially parenting as it relates to leadership.

Parenting has helped me understand what it takes to get results as a leader. If you think about it, being a parent is not much different than being a leader of a team, work group, or even CEO of a major corporation.

Many lessons we learn as leaders / managers at work can translate directly to home as parents and vise-versa. Am I taking considerable risk here when I hint to compare employees and/or employee groups to raising kids? Probably not.

I’ve heard some parents say, “My home is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship!” Consequently, I’ve heard supervisors (airline captains, flight leaders) at work say the same thing about running their jobs or flights. Whatever your parenting or leadership style, I maintain there probably should be a healthy balance between the two.

The older and more wiser our children (employees)become, we should engage them more in soliciting their opinions when faced with issues/challenges at work and home. Often, the best solutions come from implementing the very ideas of those who are involved in and closest to the problem – the people we supervise!

For example: My son, Michael. Great kid! Wants to be a pilot when he grows up – imagine that! He soloed at 16, obtained his Private Pilots License at 17, doing great school, but he has his shortcomings (like we all have). One of his is downfalls is housekeeping! Do you have any “Housekeeping” issues at home or work? Yup, that’s what I thought. Anywho, Michael leaves his stuff laying around the house, and I end up having to nag-nag-nag him to keep his stuff cleaned up. “Michael, are these your shoes?” “Whose shirt is this?” “These your dishes in the sink – they go in the dishwasher” “Wipe off the table please” (nag – nag – nag) Finally, I had enough. I simply dictated a solution without soliciting his input involved.

I dictated a solution, and here’s how it turned out. When Michael came home from school that day, I gave him the deal!

I said “Michael! I’m through nagging you about keeping your stuff picked up. At the end of the day, if I see your stuff out ,I’ll pick it up for you and put it away. No fuss at all”

He cocked his eyebrow slightly as the small grin on my face widened.

I continued, “My new business is called, ‘Dad’s Maid Service With A Smile!’”

Michael nodded apprehensively as he waited for “the catch.”

I said, “I’m going to charge you one dollar for every item I pick up and put away!” For emphasis, I slapped my right hand against my open and outstretched left palm as I proclaimed, “At the end of the week, I’m going to submit an invoice and collect my money!”

He nodded hesitantly at my proclamation, but what choice did he have? I’m the boss, and what I say goes! Right?!

With new marching orders in hand, I gave him confident pat on the back, and confidently strode off with our new agreement firmly understood.

At the end of the first week, “Dad’s Maid Service” had picked up and put away eight of his items. Sweet! According to the agreement, Michael owed me eight bucks, eight big ones, eight smackers!! And I can’t wait to collect!

I print up an invoice – I saunter into Michael’s bedroom to collect my hard earned cash! “Hey Buddy!” I state vociferously, “It’s the end of the week, and Dad’s Maid Service With A Smile has an invoice for you!”

I nonchalantly flip it on his desk and declare, “It’s time to pay! You owe me 8 bucks!!”

Michael looks at my hand, and without a word, he dutifully pulls out his wallet. The grin on my face grows bigger as he pulls out a crisp 10 dollar bill and places it in my waiting palm. He looks at me with a grin bigger than mine, and says, “Keep up the good work dad; keep the change.”

I’ve got my hand stretched waaaaay out, my fingers are making an obnoxious gimme-gimme motion.

As I stood there, chuckling to myself like a hoodwinked fool, I was once again reminded that dictating solutions to others without their input can backfire on you.

When you dictate solutions to your eomplyees, are they really “onboard” when they nod their head in “agreement”?

Being a parent/ leader / manager is never easy. Just because we have “authority” over someone doesn’t mean they can’t provide us with solutions or ideas to problems in the work place.

As leaders, there is a balance to strike between dictating and actively soliciting and implementing ideas from those who work for us.

You might be surprised at their ingenuity!

Balanced Qualities of Next Level Leadership

Next Level Leaders in any profession, whether in aviation, utility power companies manufacturing plants, petroleum refineries, or in hospital ERs all a have similar objective. That objective is to influence and motivate employee groups and individuals to get the job done safely and with operational excellence!

As a USAF fighter pilot and international commercial air line pilot, I know firsthand what it is like to operate lead others in a high risk and sometimes dangerous and international commercial air what it is like to operate and lead others in a high risk and sometimes dangerous work environment. Also, as a safety-leadership consultant having worked with many of our nation’s top manufacturing, utility, construction, petroleum, safety, and medical organizations, it is my good fortune to witness a wide range of effective leadership traits, styles, and behaviors. Each organization brings different challenges, but the common concern among next level leaders is, “What can we do to take our employees to the next level in safety and operational excellence?” My tongue-in-cheek answer is, “Get rid of all the employees! Short of that, you must successfully manage the threats and errors that lay before you.

This article is my attempt to encapsulate a aviation, safety, teamwork, and leadership. In that time, I have noticed the following constant:

Organizations that desire employees get the job done safely and with excellence manage to promote exceptional leaders to positions that are best able to:

1) Emulate the organization’s values and beliefs to make safety and operational excellence the overriding priority among the employees.
2) Maintain a balanced and healthy working relationship between the company and the employees doing work.

These two traits yield certain work behaviors from your employees that ultimately define your organization’s culture.

Dr. Edgar H. Schein, a professor at the a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, is generally credited with inventing the term corporate culture. He asserts that leadership establishes and maintains the culture of an organization, and the workers will work within the norms of the culture.

Healthy Safety Culture: A Fighters Pilots Perspective

As a USAF fighter pilot, air show pilot, and international airline pilot I have seen what it means to have a healthy safety culture in the workplace.

Having personally worked with many Fortune 100 and 500 companies on safety, I have seen a wide range of behavior based safety cultures. Companies that do better than their peers in safety have what is known as a healthy safety culture, which I define in two parts as:

1) Company leadership establishes the frameworks and set expectations that give SAFETY the level of attention warranted by its level of importance and consequence, in turn… 2) Each employee believes in, takes personal ownership, and will monitor work performance to behave within the safety norms and values created by company leadership.

This dense definition of what I believe to be a healthy safety culture can be broken down into easier language.

Getting to that next level in safety involves two basic components – Setting Expectations and Monitoring Performance. Leadership hierarchy is responsible for creating the framework of the safety culture. Over time, the individuals will respond and work within the norms of the framework created by leadership. Creating this “culture of safety” is easier said than done, but in order to rise to the top, it must be done.

Setting Expections

To achieve safety excellence, one must pursue safety perfection! Expect ZERO accidents and incidents every day.

– State your expectations and believe it, live it, breathe it. – Create a system of recognition and rewards for safety. What gets measured gets done. – Raise competence and skill levels of employees by providing more training and education. – Keep equipment updated and repaired. -Clearly define employee roles and responsibilities by formal descriptions of duties and assignments. Advocate them to BE accountable, not HELD accountable.

It is up to managers, leaders, and employees at all levels to monitor the work behavior of their peers and themselves. It’s an attitude. Attitudes influence behaviors. Companies must monitor the overall safety performance of employee groups, however the real traction in safety performance is the worker themselves.

– Develop a healthy questioning attitude. – Speak up! – Stop the work. Listen to and respect each other’s questioning attitude. – Hold a thorough job safety briefing. It sets the tone. Listen to others thoughts, comments, and suggestions when discussing work procedures and hazards. – Take opportunities to coach and mentor which teaches “this is how we do it around here.” – Lead by example. Be careful not to unwittingly or purposely show “how to break the rules and still live.” – Encourage near miss reporting. If it happened to you, it probably happened to someone else.

Because we are human, we will make mistakes. At times, we will take short cuts, assume, get complacent, fail to communicate the hazards, get distracted, lose mental focus, overlook procedures, or sidestep company policy.

A healthy safety culture can be summarized as having individuals who collectively believe that safety is a core value by instilling a

– Healthy Questioning Attitude – Diligent and Informed work ethic – Open Communication

A Healthy Questioning Attitude is paramount to safety excellence. Often, many accidents were avoided because someone asked a question. Thus the question we ask might be the answer we are looking for. Asking questions on the job (or in the cockpit) can be difficult for many reasons, especially if we have a “know-it-all” or overbearing supervisor. We may be unsure, or can’t quite put our finger on it. We don’t want to appear stupid. We might assume everything is OK because no one else is saying anything. Supervisors must encourage everyone to ask themselves:

Do I understand the job and my role?
What are my responsibilities and how do I relate to others?
Do I have the necessary equipment and tools to continue?
Are there any unusual circumstances?
Do I need help?
What is the worst logical conclusion of my error, shortcut, or omission?
What is my action if a problem occurs?

A Diligent and Informed work ethic for the most part means understanding and complying with the rules, policies and procedures set forth in company training and manuals. Be diligent. Understand your role and your job. Stay in the books! Be alert for policy changes. Plan for contingencies and always proceed with deliberate care.

Open Communication is the final yet essential ingredient to safety. This involves soliciting feedback and information from others; transmitting lessons learned to others; report and document results of work, suggest new ideas safety initiatives and work practices. Allow others to feel comfortable speaking up, to say what needs to be said. Take time to debrief each job. Reflect inward. Listen to others; repeat back their concerns. Ask, “is there more?” Do something about it. Follow up.

I firmly believe that any road to perfection requires much inward reflection. When we reflect inward, others will do the same. Start with yourself. Instill an individual attitude of process improvement with safety being a core value. Companies with the best safety record are companies whose individual employees behave by doing it right even when no one is looking over their shoulder!