Let Your Copilots Fly

May 10, 2021

In the airline business, the captain, by law, is in complete charge of the airplane. She has responsibility for the safe and efficient operation of the flight and the safety of the crew and passengers. Sitting right next to the captain is the trusted copilot. His job is to assist the captain and take over if the captain becomes incapacitated for some reason.

While the leadership responsibilities rest with the captain, the actual cockpit duties for both pilots are similar. In fact, at most major air carriers, the captain and the copilot switch most tasks every other leg of the flight. For example, when one pilot is flying the jet, the other pilot handles navigation and communication duties. On the next flight, the responsibilities reverse. 

This policy of the captain and the copilot alternating duties every other leg is a brilliant design that enables the copilot to gain flying proficiency and decision-making experience on the way to becoming a captain. Reversing roles allow the captain to observe and coach the copilot while helping him refine his performance, techniques, and decision-making abilities.

This leadership and expertise development process is one reason the modern airline business maintains such a phenomenal safety record and functions consistently with a high degree of operational excellence. A copilot who is under the tutelage of an accomplished captain is learning to make decisions. Making the right decisions increases his judgment capabilities and ultimately contributes to any flight's safe and efficient operation.

Implementing Empowerment

Unfortunately, in many other business areas today, leaders are not giving their people the opportunity to make meaningful decisions or sharpen their skills in a way that positively affects the outcome of the ventures. Yet, more recently, enlightened leaders have discovered the benefits of involving their employees in both the decision-making and implementation aspects of the business.

It is critically important to trust your people to make routine decisions within reasonable boundaries to become and to remain competitive in today's fast-paced business environment. Excellent leaders empower their people by giving them opportunities to be innovative, creative and contribute to the organization in meaningful ways. Not only does this motivate talented employees by expanding their horizons, but it also encourages them to do more, achieve more, and be more—which ultimately benefits the organization. 

Follow The Studies

Both psychological and business studies have documented the positive effect of empowering employees on both the enterprise and the employee/crewmember. A 2012 article published in The Journal of Applied Psychology described how empowered employees had greater job satisfaction, increased commitment to the organization, and performed at a higher level, with reduced personal stress. 

In a 2018 Harvard Business Review article, the authors discussed how leaders who empowered their employees found they behaved in a much more creative fashion and were more likely to be engaged by helping coworkers or attending work functions that weren't mandatory. The study also found that leaders who empower their employees were more likely to receive their trust. Trust is critical to any empowering effort because it enables a leader to create a secure and safe environment where employees feel assertive enough to make the most of the empowerment opportunity.

At the Summit Group, Inc., the company I founded, we empowered our unit managers to run their marketing campaigns rather than impose a "top-down" corporate operation. One of our Subway stores won the Subway systemwide award for the most innovative marketing program in a collaborative campaign with the hockey team at Northeastern University in Boston. The prize was an all-expense-paid trip for two to the Winter Olympics. Another store received recognition for the highest percentage sales increase in the entire Subway system at the annual convention. Indeed, the sky is the limit when you let your copilots fly!

A Quote To Consider!

Hire good people, train them, and trust them. They’ll soar and take you along for the ride.

--Captain William “T” Thompson, Esq.