Oct. 17, 2023

How can leaders establish and maintain trust, and, when necessary, rebuild the trust necessary to keep their flight departments running smoothly?

That issue was examined at the Small Operators Symposium, taking place prior to the opening of the 2023 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE).

The ability to cultivate leadership is particularly important for smaller operations with fewer team members, noted Solairus Aviation’s Mark Lusnar, PhD. However, it’s equally important that leaders avoid common pitfalls that, while often made with good intentions, may lead to more harm than good.

For example, “I would strongly dissuade you from ever saying your flight department is like a family,” Lusnar said. “First of all, show me a family that’s not completely dysfunctional. Why would you want another family?”

A more apt analogy, he continued, is to think of your flight operation as a band. “Everybody can play an instrument. Everybody can do their basic job. The question is, can we play together? Oh, and things get really complicated when one of the band members leaves and you need to hire a new drummer.”

Nurturing an open, honest and trusting environment also means more than simply using those words; it requires the ability to provide genuine feedback, “which doesn’t mean praise,” Lusnar clarified. “Praise is nice, but let’s not confuse it with feedback, which hinges on behavior.

“If I’ve set expectations, and we know what the standards are, then when we’re delivering feedback, everybody knows what we’re talking about,” he added. To that end, Lusnar also emphasized the importance of responding to such feedback versus reacting, which tends to be grounded in emotion.

If uncertain how to respond, Lusnar recommended asking, “‘What does that look like?’” to prompt further guidance. Similarly, “never end a meeting or interaction with, ‘any questions?’ That’s a yes-or-no question that really just is a sign that the meeting’s almost over. Be open-ended. ‘What questions do you have?'”

Becoming an effective leader also hinges on trust, which can take years to build and only an instant to destroy. “One of the big challenges is, how do you rebuild trust once it’s broken?” he said. “We have to try to level the playing field. We must acknowledge the behavior, apologize for it and promise accountability.”

Transparency is another important aspect to both building and maintaining trust.

“We must be as transparent as we possibly can and tell everybody as much as you can, as soon as you can,” Lusnar said. “Look at those communication flows and make sure that they’re working the way they’re supposed to, so that transparency is going both ways.”

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