In the aftermath of the Boeing 737 Max tragedies, I read an excellent article in The New York Times comparing the difference between classroom piloting vs. airmanship. “Airmanship,” the author wrote, “includes a visceral sense of navigation, an operational understanding of weather and weather information, the ability to form mental maps of traffic flows, fluency in the nuance and wings. Put in other terms, airmanship goes beyond the perfunctory process of piloting an aircraft. Not everyone who pilots an aircraft can be said to practice airmanship.”
So, too, it is with leadership.
Holding a position of leadership does not in of itself make one a leader. We’ve heard of the Presence of Leadership and the practice that separates leaders from managers. These include motivation, inspiration, connecting, communicating, making an impact, and so forth.
But, how do those we are accountable for feel about our presence? Does our presence make a positive difference, a negative difference, or no difference at all? In terms of leadership, are you a pilot or an airman? The answer may surprise you.
‘Miracle on the Hudson’ pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger understood airmanship when, from his years of training and of being a glider pilot, he safely glided his Airbus and 155 people onto the Hudson River when the engines on the plane he was piloting were rendered ineffective. British Airways pilot and author of Skyfaring, Captain Mark Vanhoenacker, describes this difficult definition of pilotage as, “Flight is the cartographic, planetary equivalent of hearing a song covered by a singer you love, or meeting for the first time a relative whose features or mannerisms are already familiar. We know the song but not like this; we have never met this person and yet we have never in our lives been strangers. Airplanes raise us above the patterns of streets, forests, suburbs, schools, and rivers. The ordinary things we thought we knew become new or more beautiful, and the visible relationships between them on the land, particularly at night, hint at the circuitry of more or less everything.”
So, too, is the present of your leadership.
For those of us in positions of leadership, “presence” is so much more than being “present.” I know managers who are “present” daily but are often not engaged. And, there are many managers remote from their teams who are very “present.” Yes, being physically present is important, but being present for your team, physically or not, is the game-changer.
The Present: Your maturity as a leader, over time, drives destinations, safety, and success to those entrusted to you and those who choose to be entrusted to you.
Presence ≠ Micromanaging or Criticizing
Like leadership, the wrapping and the gift box are not what is important. Rather, what is important is the intent and purpose of the present.
New managers are exciting to work with. Much of their development comes from those they have worked under and experienced. I was grateful for those I have worked under, and who allowed me to learn from mistakes and were not critical but complementary. There is something to be said about taking on a new management role or bringing on a new manager and the anticipation of what sort of leadership they will bring.
The Five-Minute Manager, Measure What Matters, and 1776 are wonderful examples of interacting with those who work under your management. Setting clear objectives, focusing on the job to be done, the results, and ensuring your team members feel a sense of safety are presents of leadership.
I have worked at companies where I was followed by my superior, a leader wanted to be copied on all emails, present at nearly all meetings, changed most decisions.
The worst-case scenario is the manager who is critical of their team and superior, those who instill fear, dread, and cause separation between their team members. This form of presence is death to a culture.
The Present: How do your teams feel at work, not every day, but generally? Are they passive and checked out? Or, do they feel safe, engaged, and innovative?
Authenticity is More Than Skin-Deep
Have you ever received a Trojan gift? Something like a big box present that turned into a small gift. Or, a little box that was a huge gift? How about boxes inside of boxes that make finding the gift complex? Poorly wrapped boxes? Boxes with a HUGE announcement? Intricately wrapped boxes? Gifts in bags? A hastily written note card? A thoughtful and meaningful note card that meant more than the gift? I have. All of these.
And, I’ve seen managers who exhibit the same behaviors. Understated sometimes. Overstated. Nicely dressed and every day is a dress-down day. Coifed and disheveled. Or, their presence is a present. I love that kind of boss.
In Bob Iger’s recent book, Ride of a Lifetime, he describes Authenticity as being genuine. Being honest. Not faking anything. Truth and authenticity breed respect and trust. He reveals that these principles are necessary for authentic leadership: optimism; curiosity; courage; integrity; focus and respect; risk-taking; fairness, and the importance of embracing change rather than living in denial of it.
Authenticity comes all the way from the core, not part way. For sure, over a short period of time, what is in the core finds its way out and one’s true character is put on display.
The present is unwrapped.
The Present. Working backward, if you don’t have respect and trust in your organization, ask if the core of your presence includes truth and authenticity.
Integrity Takes a Team
In the Air Force, we had Aircraft Structural Maintenance specialists who maintained the structural integrity of aircraft and the safety of the crew who flew them. Aircraft structural integrity is “the ability of a structure to withstand its intended loading without failing due to fracture, deformation, or fatigue.” Commercial airplanes require the same integrity.
So too, are our businesses.
When I think of integrity, I think of the entire system, not just a word on a wall nor an individual who espouses they have integrity.
Integrity is how the strategy, the marketing, finance, technology, HR, product, sales, operation and service organizations work together. If part of it doesn’t work, the integrity of the system is broken.
The US Marines and Navy Seals describe the critical importance of integrity in their fighting units.
While discussing Covid-19 testing, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said, “Generally, the smaller the unit, the easier it is to preserve the integrity of the unit.”
Cohesion also refers to the attitudes and commitments of the individual soldiers to the integrity of the unit, the will to fight and the degree to which these are in accord with societal values and expectations.
The Spartans placed great importance on their shields as their primary purpose was not personal protection but to maintain the integrity of the unit.
Bob Iger in Ride of a Lifetime writes, “Nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of an organization’s people and its product.” He should know. He was the CEO of ABC and The Walt Disney Company.
Integrity is not a word. It is a system, and everyone plays a part.
The Present: If your business unit isn’t working cohesively, look for gaps in integrity between teams and team members. Ask yourself if your presence includes having a working knowledge of how these systems work together.
Good & Bad Credit
Nothing kills the buzz more than when a manager takes back the present of giving credit where it is due. To this, the credit goes to Steve Jobs, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
In a recent leadership position, we paid off tens of millions of dollars of debt, improved margins by double digits, cut development time from months to weeks to days and still improved service levels. All of that was through the leadership of the excellence of the teams and their managers. At times, in spite of corporate bureaucracy. At times, in spite of me.
Lao Tzu in the Tao te Ching wrote,
A leader is best
when people barely know that he exists,
not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
worst when they despise him.
Fail to honor people,
they fail to honor you.
But of a good leader,
who talks little,
when his work is done,
his aims fulfilled,
they will all say,
“We did this ourselves.” (Ch17)
Insecurities drive fear and the need to take credit for someone else’s work. As a leader, there is no greater feeling than when someone feels acknowledged and appreciated.
Sometimes, acknowledgment is the greatest reward.
The Present: The times I am most fond of are when previous staff members share a sense of pride in their work, without me (or anyone else) taking the credit away from the work they performed.
A Career Takes a Network
I love people and spending time with them on their careers. If there is a fit where we work, awesome. If they’ve outgrown our company my goal is to help them prepare for what’s important in their next role or at their next company.
People’s careers are personal to them. Helping them figure it outlasts a lifetime.
I have learned to appreciate the axiom, “People don’t quit companies, they quit people.” While there are few exceptions, a narcissistic boss will find excuses for why their management team has resigned, argues, or does not deliver.
There is merit when employees follow each other around from company to company because the network is stronger than the job or the company. And those who refuse to stay when they recognize a career-limiting role demonstrate leadership in their careers.
In Winning, by Jack Welch, he writes of the pairing between a great company and your career, “Working for some companies is like winning an Olympic medal. For the rest of your career, you are associated with great performance and success.”
To that, I would ask if your manager helps your company, and you, achieve great performance and success.
Only you know.
The Present: You will know a tree by its fruit (and branches). Small branches, small (or no, or lessening) fruit, narrow trunk. Thriving trunk, significant branches, much fruit.
And, shade for passersby.
As managers, leaders, supervisors, and team members, we bring ourselves to a place of work, every day. As managers, leaders, and supervisors, our teams entrust themselves to us, every day. Whether you have a presence of leadership, or not, our teams should feel that our leadership is a present.
And in the end, maybe they will have done it themselves.