What is Leadership?

It's a Process

Leadership is a process whereby the individual has the confidence to take on tasks or situations at the right time, analyze the objectives, organize the process appropriate to the situation, and motivate people to achieve the desired outcome. 

In aviation, this means enhancing the flight experience in all aspects of the logistical operation, mechanical manipulation, mission progression, and, most importantly, crew performance. In business, this means moving a company forward in the industry in response to the current environment. In education, this means shaping minds and processes in a way that enhances learning, knowledge acquisition, and information sharing. Other industries face different objectives and require direction and governance appropriate to their goals.

The leader must demonstrate confidence, charisma, and drive. They must be worthy of the position not only by technical ability but also psychologically with situational awareness, empathy, and communication skills. 

The Good and the Bad

We’ve just discussed the positive aspects of leadership and accomplishment. Unfortunately, leadership is a neutral term. Leadership is about getting something done. We can gain interesting insights into leadership by looking at the dark side of leadership as well. 

If one is a leader, they are by definition getting something done. This doesn’t have to be something positive. There are (unfortunately) leaders who achieve outcomes (again, the outcome doesn’t have to be positive, good, or respected) by means of coercion, force, or nefarious ways. They are still leaders. Hitler was a leader. Genghis Khan was a leader. Osama bin Laden was a leader. Certainly, they all had traits which should be avoided. Every leader has traits that wouldn’t work in certain situations or traits that are undesirable in a friend or teacher. We typically discuss subjective attributes and traits and their positivity. It would be impossible to understand leadership without identifying  a specific setting and a specific audience, because managing situations and people requires different techniques at different times. And not everyone has the same skills and processes for leading. Certainly, one must work with their best tools and use the talents that they have developed with training, experience, and knowledge. Personality has a lot to do with leadership execution.

The Intangibles

Can one’s faith or spirituality affect leadership? Does motivation affect leadership? It depends on the situation. Spirituality and faith are different things. Motivation is a driver of action. Some people have no faith but they are very spiritual. The reverse is also possible. Each of us is differently motivated. As far as bringing one’s faith (as an institution) or spirituality (sense of connection or belonging to more profound matters) into the cockpit, I personally find that I am a better leader (and crewmember, employee, or student) when I’m spiritually content. And I only perform in accordance with my motivation. 

But this is likewise true in life: the adage “if you didn’t bring it with you, you won’t find it here” is applicable. If people don’t feel connected, peaceful, fulfilled in faith, and in tune spiritually, they won’t treat others as they would want to be treated. Therefore, the leader (and this could be anyone at any given time) would be wise to recognize this spiritual state of their associates, their motivation for the task at hand, their responsiveness to the leader’s motivation, and influence or utilize them as they are able for the situation at hand.

Getting Better

How do you become a better leader? The answer is the same as any other task you wish to improve: study, practice, critique, evaluation, feedback, and repeat. Leadership is not a linear process, as each situation is different. Tensions change. Motivations change. People change. A leader must therefore be adaptive, agile, willing to change, and open to trying new things. Leaders who ask questions and try to look at things through a different point of view are the ones who grow. 

Offering Support

To be in a support role is also a position of leadership. We overlook the people who help others lead. Great leaders need great teams. Great leaders are also great teammates. Teammates support by asking questions to clarify the situation, providing input appropriately to how it will be received, accepting the responsibility of gathering research/evidence/documentation, and being an open communicator. Learn, listen, assist.

The Learning Doesn't End

Finally, strive to be more situationally malleable and to purposefully look at things from a psychologically motivated viewpoint. Leadership is about personal interaction. Read a lot. Ask a lot of questions. Meet a lot of people and learn from their experiences. Leadership is about being an influencer, not an authoritarian.  

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