This briefing note discusses the concept of leadership and its underlying elements of discipline, skills, proficiency, knowledge, decision making and judgment. Every pilot should understand the basic concept of leadership because it is a personal quality that can profoundly influence flight safety.
Leadership is a quality that is easy to recognize but difficult to define. When an individual exercises good leadership, others want to follow him/her because they recognize that the leader is improving the chance for team success. Leadership is both an inherent personal quality and a learned set of skills. In order to achieve good leadership, each pilot must understand both the elements of effective leadership and the consequences of poor leadership.
Poor leadership is a contributor to accidents and incidents. While it is difficult to quantify specifically which events were caused by poor leadership, it is not unreasonable to consider leadership as one of the causal factors in the 70 percent of accidents and incidents that are attributed to human factors. In addition to safety consequences, poor leadership is likely responsible for many other weaknesses and inefficiencies in aviation operations that lead to poor performance and wasted money.
Additional detailed data associated with the components of leadership can be found in the following briefing notes: Discipline, Pilot Judgment and Expertise, Communication, Decision Making, Introduction to Airmanship and Risk Assessment.
4 Leadership Defined
Pilots and other members of the aviation community vary in their definition of leadership. Some believe that leadership involves influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. Others believe a person with outstanding leadership possesses the human qualities required to make good judgments and decisions. Still others define leadership as a professional attitude or a personal aptitude similar to decision making. Finally, leadership can be defined as an outcome — if others willingly follow you, you are a leader.
All of these definitions have merit, as does a more comprehensive view of leadership that is a composite of values, attributes and principles.
4.1 Military views on leadership
Leadership has historically been an important concept to the military, particularly in wartime. The U.S. Army has based its leadership training on what an individual must be (values and attributes), know (skills) and do (actions) to be a good leader. It is important to note that the values, attributes, skills and actions put forward by the military (see Figure 1) are equally applicable in non-military settings.
Figure 1 - Army Leadership Framework
“Be” a leader
Being a good leader involves developing and displaying good character. The military, like most goal-oriented institutions, is values-based and emphasizes the need for an individual to set high standards, lead by example, do what is legally and morally right, and influence others to do the same.
“Know” the right things
An effective leader must possess certain skills and knowledge subdivided across four domains:
- Interpersonal skills: knowledge of your team members and how to work with them.
- Conceptual skills: the ability to understand and apply prescribed doctrine and procedures, as well as relevant theories and ideas to get the job done.
- Technical skills: how to use your equipment effectively and safely.
- Tactical skills: the ability to make the right decisions concerning the use of resources including personnel and equipment.
“Do” the right things
Good leaders choose the most appropriate actions for the circumstances they are facing. Leadership actions can be subdivided into three categories:
- Influencing: making decisions, communicating those decisions and motivating people to do the right thing — whatever it takes to get the job done safely and effectively.
- Operating: executing correctly those actions needed to accomplish a team’s immediate mission.
- Improving: continuously seeking ways to do things better (safer, faster, cheaper), rather than being satisfied with the status quo.
4.2 Business management leadership
Business theory on leadership has evolved over time. In 2003, McKinsey & Company produced a study that summarizes the evolution of leadership theory. When looking back (see Figure 2), one sees a succession of theories about what makes effective leadership, as well as a wide range of proposed leadership “styles” that describe how effective leaders operate.
In their 2003 book Leadership Challenge, Kouze and Posner describe a leadership model (based on data collection from thousands of successful and effective managers on their common practices and behaviors) and introduce the concept of network leadership — that is, focusing on how leadership occurs across members of a network and how leadership is enacted as a distributed responsibility. Five competencies were identified:
- Model the way
- Inspire a shared vision
- Challenge the process
- Enable others to act
- Encourage the heart
Figure 2 - Leadership Research Evolution (McKinsey & Company, 2003)
Model the way
Leaders establish principles concerning the way people should be treated and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and set an example for others to follow. When appropriate, they set interim goals so that people can derive encouragement from small “victories” as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action and create opportunities for success.
Inspire a shared vision
Leaders believe they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Through quiet persuasion, they enlist others into their dreams and get them to see exciting possibilities for the future.
Challenge the process
Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization or team’s performance; and, in doing so, they may experiment and take reasonable risks. Because they know that risk-taking involves an increased chance for mistakes, they accept any resulting disappointments as learning opportunities and also accept responsibility for their decisions.
Enable others to act
Leaders foster collaboration and build team spirit. They actively involve others and understand that mutual respect is needed to sustain extraordinary team efforts. They strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.
Encourage the heart
Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations can take hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders regularly recognize contributions made by their team members. They view success as a team accomplishment and willingly share praise with all involved. A good leader of a successful team makes his or her team members feel like heroes.
4.3 Leadership qualities
There are many qualities other than pure intelligence or technical know-how that determine whether or not a leader is successful and effective.
Daniel Goleman, in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, states that human qualities such as self-awareness, self-discipline, persistence and empathy are of greater consequence than intelligence quotients in much of life. He defines those factors as “emotional intelligence,” which contains the following five components:
- Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s emotions and their effects. Knowing one’s strengths and limits and their consequences: sureness about one’s self-worth and capabilities.
- Self-regulation: Managing disruptive emotions and impulses, maintaining standards of honesty and integrity while taking responsibility for personal performance. Being comfortable with and open to novel ideas and new information, flexible in handling change.
- Self-motivation: Striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence. Aligning with goals of the group while maintaining readiness to act on opportunities, and maintaining persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks.
- Social awareness: Sensing other’s feelings and perspective, and taking active interest in their concerns. Anticipating, recognizing and meeting customers’ needs. Sensing what others require to develop their abilities by cultivating opportunities through diversity of people. Reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationships.
- Social skills: Employing effective tactics for persuasion, sending clear and convincing messages, inspiring and guiding groups and people, initiating and managing change, negotiating and resolving disagreements, developing relationships, working with others toward shared goals, and creating group synergy in pursuing those collective goals.
In summary, one does not necessarily have to be the smartest to be an effective leader, nor is intelligence alone sufficient to ensure effective leadership qualities. Emotional maturity and credibility also play important roles in how well one provides leadership inside an organization.
5 The “Building” of Leadership
Figure 3 demonstrates how the elements of leadership are analogous to the components of a building. The figure illustrates the inter-dependencies among the elements that determine leadership and shows that while all elements are necessary, none alone is sufficient to ensure excellence.
Figure 3 - Building of Leadership (U.S. Army development model)
The development of leadership has a foundation of values and ethics which support expectations and standards. These form the basis for effective improvement through training, operational experience and self-development.
Self-development enhances a leader’s previously acquired skills, knowledge and experience by focusing on areas that need improvement. Self-development is based on personal motivation, is performed continuously on a day-to-day basis and relies on the individual’s self-discipline.
Progressive operational assignments (on the job training), increasing in terms of responsibilities and difficulty, are an important part of leadership development. These opportunities allow leaders to broaden their knowledge and refine the skills they have learned from institutional training and previous assignments.
6 Key Points
- Leadership requires you to:
- Know yourself and seek improvement
- Be technically proficient
- Know your team members and look out for their welfare
- Keep your team members informed
- Set an example
- Make sure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished
- Train as a team
- Make sound and timely decisions
- Develop a sense of responsibility among your team members
- Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
- Be fair and consistent
7 Associated OGHFA Material
8 Additional Reading Material and Website References
- Garcia, J.; Klingel, J.; Mull, J.; Summers, D.; Taylor, V. September 2006, U.S Army Transformation Leadership, A study of core competencies for civilian leadership. Naval Postgraduate School Thesis, Monterey, California, USA.
- Goleman D. Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.
- Kouze, James M.; Posner, Barry Z. 2002. The leadership challenge, third edition, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, California, USA
- McKinsey & Company. 2003.