Business aviation excels at customer service, and that expertise is proving pivotal in the industry’s recovery from COVID-19. But as NBAA’s 2022 “Return to Service” Leadership Conference will identify, industry leaders must also channel this service mindset inward to become champions of their colleagues and ensure that co-workers are provided a dynamic workplace where innovation and open communication thrive through the principles of “leadership through service.”
Leadership through service is not a new idea. Indeed, many of the fundamental concepts in Sun Tzu’s classic treatise, The Art of War, are based on this philosophy.
As a management theory, leadership through service emerged some 50 years ago under the guise of “servant leadership,” which promotes the tenets of empathy, teamwork and community over more orthodox leadership styles. But while practitioners of servant leadership are often recognized as some of the most successful leaders in their fields, this approach has continued to be overshadowed by more traditional, top-down management philosophies.
COVID-19 may have changed that dynamic. The pandemic not only dismantled conventional workforce practices; it also prompted workers to reassess their priorities. Many people no longer want to work for just a paycheck, they want to be fulfilled by their careers and feel part of a deeper, shared mission and community.
“For business aviation to be attractive to the future workforce, we must understand that active employees are looking not just at compensation and work-life balance, they also are looking to be part of a culture that makes sense to them,” said Jo Damato, CAM, NBAA’s senior vice president of education, training and workforce development.
“The characteristics of leadership through service – where the focus is on an employee-first culture and a culture of caring – provide us with the management tools to help our community at a time when recruitment is a core issue,” continued Damato. “If we don’t address this as an industry, we could lose the opportunity to attract this new generation of professionals.”
Addressing Inequities, Reevaluating Hierarchies
Leadership through service addresses an inequity that pervades many management styles, according to Dustin Cordier, chair of NBAA’s newly formed Essential Leadership Skills Subcommittee of NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee.
“Servant leadership corrects decades of leadership by title, where rank provided privilege and leaders received all the benefits. This has left many people with no hope,” said Cordier.
“As in all aspects of leadership, you still hold people to account, but servant leadership distinguishes itself by committing to the values of the group, and that is what draws people in,” explained Cordier. “You create legitimate power by committing to values. It sounds simple, but it takes courage to take that stand, especially when pressured by events like a global pandemic.”
“For business aviation to be attractive to the future workforce, we must understand that active employees are looking not just at compensation and work-life balance, they also are looking to be part of a culture that makes sense to them. ”
JO DAMATO CAM, Senior VP of Education, Training and Workforce Development, NBAA
To understand leadership through service, organizations will have to reevaluate corporate hierarchies, said Dave Salvador, aftermarket channel vice president at Gogo Business Aviation and co-chair of the 2022 NBAA Leadership Conference.
“Some leadership styles sit front and center and pull the team along with them from the front,” said Salvador. “The converse is true with leadership through service. I see it as more of a captain’s role, where each team member has a role and responsibilities, and the manager steers by pushing the team forward.”
This empowerment gives employees a sense of ownership of their job, rather than fulfilling a duty, says Mike Hushek, FBO Manager at Naples Aviation.
“I’m passionate about servant leadership because empowering your staff contributes to them becoming passionate about their jobs,” declared Hushek. “Passionate people are motivated people, and motivated people are more productive and more engaged,” he notes.
“If a manager can also provide a safe environment where their co-workers’ ideas are heard without judgment, help nurture the good ideas and celebrate an individual’s success, that manager has embraced the fundamentals of great servant leadership.”
Trust Is Essential
“In order to succeed as a department, trust must be at the forefront,” said Brad Self, CAM, chief pilot at VF Corporation and co-chair of the 2022 NBAA Leadership Conference. “Leadership through service requires that all roles, responsibilities and expectations be clearly defined,” he explained.
“Micro-managing is not the goal,” added Self. “The goal in leading a team is to create a healthy work environment where an associate and manager have mutual trust. This style of management encourages confidence within the department, and the associate has the freedom to be creative and productive but still be held accountable. Associates should be comfortable approaching management for any reason. They should also know that we are there to provide support.
“Trust creates a safe work environment,” Self noted. “Mistakes will be made, but they must be addressed and used as positive learning experiences. Leaders should be receptive to feedback from anyone within the organization. It makes us better, and in business aviation that means we create a safer environment within our flight department.”
Leadership through service also distinguishes itself by raising the profile of workers within an organization, says Gogo’s Salvador.
“Empowering your teammates to achieve more and openly celebrating their successes builds employees up to be looked at differently within an organization,” said Salvador. “Rather than seeing employees as people who work for you, leadership through service changes that perception to seeing employees as people who work alongside you. That recognition creates a community.”
Leadership through service requires effort and, importantly, patience, noted Hushek.
“For an industry like business aviation, where so many things are on demand, it can be difficult to take the time to listen to your teammates and work with them to bring their ideas to life,” Hushek explained. “It takes time to create a positive work environment, and it takes effort to work on your empathy.
“The benefits of servant leadership don’t happen overnight,” Hushek added. “The changes can be incremental, and sometimes having an open-door mentality results in a lot of conversations. But if you remain committed to the goals of servant leadership and dedicate yourself to the collaboration of ideas, the results can be phenomenal.”
Organizations, too, reap the benefits of leadership through service with increased productivity, higher retention rates, improved customer relations and potentially higher profits. Indeed, the true reward of servant leadership is a stronger, more viable business.
“The last thing an organization wants is a hierarchical, dynamic single leader that’s in charge of everything right up to the moment they are no longer in charge,” said Cordier. “The strongest organizations are those that have no-name leaders because the true leaders are already baked into the organization; they are the people who are actively seeking the responsibility for carrying on the values of the organization.”