Colin’s Cockpit Recordings, Leadership: Learned or Inherited
Leadership. Is it some magical part of our DNA? Is it something we are born with? Do we inherit it from our parents? Or, is it a skill, like playing a sport that can be learned, honed and perhaps even perfected? These are the questions that have been plaguing my mind ever since I began to take a more serious look at my own leadership abilities. These seeds of doubt were sown the moment I began working in a very different culture with significant language barriers. Although, I still believe that I have adopted well to my new surrounding and can see some of my leadership efforts beginning to bearing fruit, it was podcast from the likes of Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar that truly opened up my mind to the prospect that perhaps there was a significant gap in my leadership that needed filling. After thirty (30) years of aviating the globe, I am wondering why am I now doubting my leadership abilities, and frankly, do I really need to care? The answer is a resounding YES! because I know there is more to learn and more that I need to improve upon. One of my weak spots stems from my belief that I was not born with the leadership gene. In all likelihood this grew from growing up with a father that was the Captain inside the home and at work (literally). Reflecting back, as a young and very naive boy, I instinctively believed that just because my father was a well-respected airline captain, then darn it, I must be too. The first bitter realization that this faulty thinking occurred when I was 10 years old and given my favourite hockey jersey number 4 - with the ‘C’ attached. I sulked at the thought of not having the captaincy, so the coach gave it to me. Regardless of how hard I worked to impress my teammates, I would never earn the respect that came with this distinction. It was a hollow victory and a very valuable lesson learned. I knew from early on that I while I wanted to lead it was something to be learned and earned and not a right.
My first foray into leadership would begin in earnest the summer of 1988 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Although only flying professionally for twelve months, the experience I gained from working for and with virtual criminals to true professionals would make a profound impact on how I viewed myself. I had gained confidence I didn’t know I had when confronted by an owner that would end up in jail and then in the grave. I would routinely be called into his office for not doing things such as flying the aircraft over-weight or breaking other regulations. Learning to stand my ground in the face of being fired was instrumental for me to develop the confidence to know that ‘might is not always right!’ As I was saying, twelve months later I was now with a new airline and better run airline but with many of the same underlying problems; bullying management and many deeply entrenched ‘old school’ thinking pilots (ironically many of them my own age). In order to quell the building anxiety and tension in the airlines, our management decided to hire consultants from Continental Airlines to put on a three-day CRM course, a brand new and leading-edge interactive tool to improve flight safety. The course was a defining moment for me as I began to learn how to effectively manage fellow pilots through better communicating techniques. It would also highlight my own weaknesses which I could work on. I recall the resentment many of my colleagues felt by the end of the course. Pilots with large egos don’t handle having their weak spots exposed to the world.
The answer of whether or not leadership was inherited or learned was still evading me as I progressed through my career. When witnessing such naturally inspiring leaders such as Jason Maennling, Mauro Nardi and Gordon Perdue to name only a few, it is easy to feel as though they were handed a gift and that no matter how hard you tried you would never ‘be like them.’ Yet, as I began to understand my own strengths and weaknesses, I realized I was forging my own style of leadership by taking in the best and discarding the worst of all that I had the fortune of working with. Leaders such as Kelvin Plett showed me the importance of doing the extra 10% than what most leaders would do. My very close friend James Micheal would forever be my favourite example of taking even the most menial job and doing the best you can, every time; always leaving a positive impression on those that he encountered.
The common trait of every great leader that I’ve encountered is that they are ALL authentic in their own way. True leadership mandates ‘authenticity,’ and this is one are that I feel that I have learned over the years. I believe many young and new leaders try and put their ‘stamp of authenticity’ well before they have truly earned that right. By reflecting on my past, I can see how I have worked hard at letting go of leadership traits that simply didn’t fit my personality while working harder on my strengths. Leadership to me is not about being the “BOSS”, it’s about influencing people and creating environments where those under you flourish and hopefully one day will be inspired by what they have learned to become the best leader they can be.