Opinion: The Time Has Come To Discuss Leadership

We all say, “people are our greatest asset,” so why aren’t we investing in making them the best leaders they can be?

""Everything rises and falls with leadership.”—John Maxwell. Such a simple truth, yet such an overlooked one. 

For decades, Maxwell and other thought leaders have been espousing the virtues of leadership, yet only recently has corporate America begun to truly embrace it.

So what is leadership? It is influence; nothing more and nothing less.

Countless times from all sectors of the aviation industry I have heard: “We just can’t find good talent.” I am guilty of having said it myself, but after an extended period of research and reflection, I have changed my opinion. The talent is here; we have just failed to develop it.

How many times have you found yourself frustrated with an employee or team member and said, “If he/she just had that piece [skill], he/she would be complete”? Leadership isn’t taught in high school or college, yet most of us rely on it more heavily in our daily lives than, say, algebraic equations. We assume that as you age, you somehow develop leadership skills. I think we can all agree it doesn’t work that way.

Gaps in leadership are not isolated to a particular department or level within an organization. Unfortunately, gaps are as common in senior management as at the lowest level of management, from the warehouse to the back office and everyplace in between. The good news is, as with any skill, leadership can be taught, and in most cases, it truly is just filling in a gap here or there.

When I was a young salesman, I eyed the company sales manager role. Invariably, the person who exceeded his sales quota the most ended up being promoted to the sales leader position. It wasn’t uncommon for that person to fail in the role, simply because what made him successful as a salesperson didn’t necessarily match what it takes to be a successful leader. When this occurs, you either have a person who needs to survive a perceived demotion back to an individual contributor role or you have turnover of a very good salesperson, and you have to restaff. Neither outcome is acceptable. Had the company invested in some professional development for that new leader, it would have known if he were properly equipped to lead. There is a very good chance that with sufficient training, he would have developed the necessary skills, resulting in a win/win situation. 

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”—Jack Welch. We all know that no one can do it alone—you need a team. Teams need to be led—and inspired, which puts us right back where we started. Professional development opportunities not only increase employee effectiveness but also make people feel valued because the company has invested in them. 

I once worked for a rapid-growth business whose management was resistant to investing in employee training. As the company grew, so did the complexity of the business—but not the skills of the employees. The answer always seemed to be to work longer and harder. At one stage during the company’s growth and with little notice, several things went just right, and the company won several large contracts. However, because there had been a reluctance to develop people, the employees weren’t properly equipped. This not only caused the company to underperform with the new contracts initially, it also caused them to struggle to keep up with their routine business.  

“You manage things; you lead people.”—Rear Adm. Grace Murray
Leading is not the same as being the leader. Being the leader means you hold the highest position, but leading means that others willingly follow you—not because they have to, not because they are paid to, but because they want to.

Aspiring leaders need someone to model. For them to reach their potential, they need your most precious commodity: your time. Let them watch you in action. This will give them invaluable insight into your thought processes and help them solidify theirs. It also creates common ground, which leads to building rapport.

“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”—Steve Jobs. People at every age or stage of their career want and need leadership. While you will hear people say, “he/she is a natural-born leader,” experience shows that some people exhibit leadership traits early on and others learn them—and if they can learn them, so can you.  

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough that they don’t want to”—Richard Branson. We all say, “people are our greatest asset,” so why aren’t we investing in making them the best leaders they can be? Investing in your development and in your team’s development will not only make you both more effective, it will have a direct effect on morale, which drives performance.

As “the leader” of a business, department or team, it is your responsibility to make sure your leaders, current and future, are properly equipped, beginning with yourself. Remember that everyone is at a different point in their leadership journey, and it is a journey that never ends! 

Founder/president of Performance Innovation Training, Abelson spent 25+ years in the commercial aviation aftermarket.


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