Feb. 8, 2016

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast interview with Dr. Tony Kern on leadership in a time of crisis.

The generational change in business aviation is so vast, and will happen so relatively fast, that leadership expert Dr. Tony Kern believes it will be “the single question by which our industry is defined among future historians.

“It will be the largest generational handoff in aviation history,” said Kern, CEO of Convergent Performance in Colorado Springs, CO. “In fact, my analysis leads me to believe it will be the largest in the history of any industry.”

Kern’s company is devoted to applying human factors research to the workplace in industries like aviation, firefighting, health care and law enforcement. The goal is to reduce errors, increase professionalism and optimize the interface between humans and machines. Kern, a flight veteran and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, is considered an expert on topics pertaining to leadership.

Whether it was a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the Great Recession or fuel prices that put a deep dent in the aviation economy, Kern noted that for a decade, few aviation companies were hiring. While companies are hiring again, he said, the “lost decade” helped create a generational gap in the aviation industry that puts personal and professional leadership to a test.

“It creates two essential leadership elements: conducting and managing the transfer of wisdom from one generation to another and doing so without cynicism on the part of those about to retire,” he explained.

Kern recalled a recent visit to a professional cockpit. The captain was approximately 40 years older than the first officer. How, Kern wondered, did they flight crew transfer information across that wide generational gulf?

“They have different value sets. They have different ways of communicating. But this [knowledge transfer] is all-important, and while people have good intentions, they need to be led in overcoming that distance of three or four decades,” he said.

It is his preference to ask questions and then let the answers flow from the people he is training, said Kern. How leaders can help bridge this historic generational gap will be one of the questions he asks – and answers – when he speaks at the NBAA Leadership Conference, which will be held Feb. 22 to 24 in San Antonio, TX.

“We not only have a huge influx of new, young people coming into our industry,” said Kern, “but we’re also dealing with the advent of NextGen. There’s an ongoing evolution in aircraft automation. These are powerful forces and it will take a lot of creative leadership to deal with this churn.”