Pilot Leadership

This is a great question and it really is aimed at more experienced pilots.  I have talked to a lot of people about this and the answers vary widely.  One of the most common answers is that you can’t really train leadership, you either are or you are not. 

Developed Leadership

I am under the belief that you can develop someone to be a leader and they will either “get it” and apply it in their career or they will not.  The aviators that do not know how to lead tend to struggle in their flying especially when it comes to upgrading to the captains seat.  It is not really about the flying anymore so much as it is about managing situations and leading people.

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So how do you teach pilot leadership?  A lot of time it comes from the school of hard knocks and experience is the best teacher.  If you have never had any type of “issue” occur while flying then you really have not had a chance to put your decision making skills to the test. 

Experiencing a problem with an aircraft is how decision making is developed and learned.  A lot of airlines now tailor their training around instances that help crews develop good processes.

Most pilots want to become the captain; anyone that does not, you would have to question their motive.  So that natural drive moves most pilots to study scenarios that help them learn to be in charge and to make decisions that keep them safe. 

Working in a passenger operation can also help develop leadership skills.  This is because anytime you carry passengers there is bound to be someone who will push you to think about or execute a decision based on the safety of the flight.  People do very weird things and it’s a constant amazement for me of the stuff they come up with that you have to eventually address.

Common Sense

It’s not really that common, but it should be.  You know the people that have it, and the ones that do not really stick out.  Relying on it seems to be a great start to leadership.  I have found that there are lot of good books written on the subject of leadership that can easily help you shape your character and your decision making skills.  By reading several of them, you can take a lot of points and combine them to develop your own personal style.

Real leadership seems to come from within, it’s the urge to manage today’s airline cockpit environments.  But the best leaders are ones who know how to talk to people.  When i say talk, I don’t mean give orders or necessarily lead.

teamwork, leader, leaders, leadership

Effective leaders know how to communicate and empower their crews to be great.  Unfortunately no one will ever teach you this in flight school.  The basis of that character has to come on your own quest to improve your leadership through communication.  That can usually happen through a mentor or even through books about people that you admire.  Have you ever been around that pilot or co pilot that just had something about them that made you aware they were different?  

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Most people are not aware of their own image, much less the fact that we all need to work on them.  We naturally do not better ourselves without some sort of introspection that becomes motivating.  Like learning a new skill or hobby it takes tome to become influential on others and have them earn your respect.  Respect really is the byproduct of natural leadership and is not the reason why we strive to improve.  

FAA Focus

So what do we mean by the new focus the FAA is putting on professional pilot development?  Cockpits are evolving and I am thinking so is the FAA.  Slowly the wheels are spinning about figuring out what is more important.  Everyone can fly, and if you are at the commercial level it is really not about skill.  Its about how you work in a team environment especially in a small crew.  Cockpit management is now more than ever about talking through scenarios and thinking out loud more than the actual performance of flying the airplane.


The why behind that question can be answered by aircraft automation.  Automation takes a lot of the work of the mundane flying chore from the pilot.  This allows them to think a bit more clearly when they are not hyper focused on keeping the airplane safe.  This is a good think and aircraft automation will only get better over time. 

Times they are a changing

Crew philosophy is changing the way we fly and it is a welcome change.  When we shift from the performance matrix to the management matrix it allows for a better experience for flight crews.  This also teaches the next generation leader skills in real life, and that is the name of the new game we are playing.

There is always opportunities to hone our leadership skills whether we work for an airline or if we just fly socially on the weekends with family and friends.

Interested in reading more great content on pilot leadership? 

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