A few weeks ago I had the deliriously exciting opportunity to enter the flight deck of one of Kenya Airways’ (KQ) finest equipment mid-flight.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, but entering into those hallowed grounds with all the buttons, gadgets and gizmos is enough to silence a chattering monkey.
I mouthed my gratitude to the Almighty that there were two pilots because it is physically impossible to know what every single gadget does and surely these folks have to study how to fly a plane in instalments, don’t they?
I watched the ease with which the captain and the First Officer (FO) undertook their tasks with a healthy camaraderie and subtle respect, and I couldn’t help but ask the captain how long they had been working with the First Officer.
“This is our first flight together,” responded Captain X. “Wait, what?” Was my astonished reply simply because they acted seamlessly and in tandem, with the captain calling out for feedback on certain key readings and FO responding while making the necessary adjustments. Captain X chuckled, “FO has been working at KQ for 10 years and we have never bumped into each other. We’ve spent much of this flight catching up and learning about each other.”
Now I may have failed to mention that we were not riding in a devil-sitting-behind-the-wheel-Probox. This was an expensive piece of equipment flown by KQ’s finest, carrying human lives.
Meaning that this team of pilots had to work well together, whether they were friends or not. They had to have an unspoken protocol of command that was established the minute they took their respective seats on the flight deck, devoid of ego and showing off who had more flight hours logged under their belts. The captain was the captain. Period.
There are no ambiguities as one issues orders and the other does as directed.
I sat back and marvelled at their professional waltz through the flight, with no raised voices and no hubris-inspired instructions. It brought to fore that there are two kinds of leadership styles: command and control on the one hand and collaborate and influence on the other.
Different situations require different leadership styles. Say for example Mary has been promoted to become the head of a division in a manufacturing firm and is now leading people who used to be her peers.
Trying to command and control such a team will be extremely difficult in light of the fact that some team members may still be bristling at not being the ones to have gotten the promotion themselves.
Some team members may have had more years on the job and, therefore, a sense of entitlement and misplaced expectations of respect.
Mary has to navigate her leadership journey carefully, as trying to run the team through issuing edicts and driving hard for results may completely backfire on her. She will be better off trying to ensure collaboration within the team and influencing her former peers towards a common goal in order to establish her stamp of authority.
Joanne, on the other hand, has just been hired from another firm, to come and head a division whose performance has been dwindling, has low staff morale and has got numerous outstanding audit issues that need to be resolved.
Her leadership style in this case might have to first be command and control to establish new ground rules and set a certain standard, before moving into a collaborate and influence mindset once the division’s performance has been restored.
I came to learn that the command and control structure actually extends to the whole cabin crew when I spoke to one of the flight attendants. The flight purser and their team of flight attendants were most likely meeting for the first time as well.
The flight purser takes charge at the beginning of the flight when they have a team meeting before passengers board.
Everyone knows what to do, from simulating the instructions regarding emergency procedures to heating and serving food and drinks.
A command and control leadership style is required in highly repetitive, process oriented jobs with multiple team members who may never have worked together, such as a surgical theatre. Order and not hubris is what keeps people alive at the end of the day.