Do you find yourself ready to lead a flight department? If so, how do you know that you’ve adequately prepared yourself to be successful? Being able to understand your true motive(s) is critical at this stage. Why? Because the next position you’re seeking might not be the “dream job” you’ve always seen yourself in.

Leadership often comes with a price tag, and it’s not always “glamorous” at the top.

The answer as to whether you’re ready to lead should largely rely on your ability—and desire—to work well with people. After all, by far, the number-one challenge a business aviation manager will face is “people-related.”

Whether it’s managing, coaching and mentoring, people can reveal themselves to be our greatest asset or our most confounding challenge. Complicating the situation is the fact that, more often than not, it’s a combination of both.

Here at Aviation Personnel International, we adopted our tagline, “It’s About People™” for good reason!

In fact, what our clients are typically seeking is someone who’s a great leader of people—someone with the versatility and knowhow to manage human resources up, down and across.

By “managing up,” I’m referring to your boss (e.g., CEO, CFO, or director of security), and by “managing down” I mean leading your team. It’s also important to “manage across,” and be able to work effectively with your cross-functional partners.

 

Know Your Environment

As you contemplate your next career move, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being prepared.

Know in advance whom you’re talking with, what the job requirements (the good, the bad and the ugly) are, what are the cultural issues that you’ll face with the team, along with how you’ll fit into that culture.

Also make sure that you know your audience and environment well in advance.

Will you be overseeing a five-aircraft department that supports corporate and report to the C-suite? Or will you oversee a smaller private aircraft operation and report to a high-net-worth individual?

Keep in mind that if you’ll be supporting a private owner, you’ll still require leadership skills, but, in many instances, the customer service skill set becomes elevated. Understanding the intricacies of a family office, for instance, and knowing that you’re there to support them and their needs (not a corporation) will be key.

Remember, too, that private owners may require a different type of customer service from start to finish. You have to know your boundaries.

A corporate-based operation means that you’ll have more layers to proceed through to get what you need—and you’ll have to be able to work with the finance department to put together budgets and other presentations to gain their support.

Again, with reference to corporate, a key skill is to know how to make your voice heard in what possibly will be a multibillion-dollar company. (Ask your interviewers during your meeting with them if they even want your voice to be heard.)

Will you be there to manage finances, make strategic purchasing decisions and work on long-term fleet plans? These are important factors to understand and consider.

 

Be a Versatile Team Player

If you’re planning for your next rung up the ladder into a leadership role, it’s important to be able to share with the hiring manager and/or recruiter the due diligence you’ve done to prepare for the new role.

Examples might include volunteering to take on new projects on your current team, or in some way demonstrating your ability to do more or take on more, or it might be taking classes that indicate your desire to get ahead by working for it. It could also take the form of working directly with the current leader on your team to devise a way to save the company money.

Another point of consideration: the aviation manager role—be it flight operations manager, maintenance director or aviation director—requires you to wear many hats.

There’s no ready answer—nothing written in stone—for what you might be called upon to do when you’re leading a team of people and managing all of the processes up and down your chain of responsibility.

In any case, preparing yourself for advancement will help you formulate the question, “What do I need to do to be a professional leader?” And it will also help you answer it.

As you progress in your aviation career, take time to reflect on your personal and professional motivation and experience. Only you know when you’re really ready to lead. I wish you the best of luck!

 

Your Turn

If you’re already a leader, what have you done to prepare yourself? When and how did you know that you were ready? What challenges did you face along the way, and what advice do you have for others following in your footsteps? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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