Have you ever stopped to consider how much faith you place in the hands of airplane pilots and crews whenever you step aboard one of their company's vessels? You and your fellow passengers have paid for the privilege of arriving at your desired destination via the fastest currently available transportation method, but this speed comes at a cost doesn't it? You have to trust in the capability, expertise, reliability, and coordination of unfamiliar pilots, unknown technology, and a cadre of individuals who have to competently communicate and coordinate their way to a safe landing. Along the way toward your destination, turbulence is a given, and any number of circumstances could conspire to derail the plane's journey.
Now consider a new employee joining your team. They have signed up for the voyage based on their understanding of you and your company's reputation for success and they are entrusting their careers to you, a virtual stranger. They, just like passengers on a plane believe that you are the leader and this is the company that can get them to their desired career destination, hopefully faster than another company could. And as the leader who is largely in control of their career destiny, how seriously do you commit to getting each passenger (team member) to achieve their target goals?
It's an important question to consider as a leader:
Are you consciously piloting your passengers (employees) to places they all willingly signed up to go, or are you taking everyone on a joy ride for your own selfish gains?
Are you a servant leader or a selfish leader?
The leader as pilot metaphor is an apt one for servant leaders who live the inverted triangle model and exist each day to help each person arrive at their desired career destinations by coaching, mentoring, directing, and empowering them to success. Are you invested enough to manage the myriad personalities, motivations, and beliefs of each person on your team? For those of you not familiar, the inverted triangle (seen below) is a representation of a hierarchy turned upside down on itself where the leadership team takes on less prominence and the individuals closest to the customer or core of value creation take on greater importance.
This model is very similar to that of a pilot and their crew. The customers are the most important people on the plane - the top of the hierarchy. They, via their purchase, determine the destination of the vehicle - the pilot and crew's job is simply to deliver them to this agreed locale. The pilot and crew serve the passengers by diligently checking every element of the plane prior to take-off, stocking the vessel with enough provisions for each passenger, ensuring the cleanliness and hygiene of the aircraft, reviewing safety procedures, and then serving customer needs throughout the duration of the flight - alimenting them with food and drink, checking in on people to ensure their comfort, and giving reassurance and direction when unexpected turbulence arise along the journey.
Now compare this with your job as a servant leader:
Along the journey, the most important role of the leader is to test and confirm alignment with each employee - that they understand and agree with the team direction, objectives, expectations, reward mechanisms, and rules of the game. Unlike an airplane, if key talents start parachuting out of your company or worse, the actively disengaged faction start gaining traction, it will be virtually impossible for you to deliver the team to the promised land.
So next time you are on a plane - take a moment to observe, learn, and question your own leadership approach and effectiveness. And don't forget to enjoy the ride!
In what other ways does the pilot metaphor work for leadership? Let me know in the comments section below. And if you enjoyed this article, please give it a share with your networks!