Four Ways to Lose the Trust of Your Executive Team

By Don Henderson | VanAllen

Every person relishes the feeling of being trusted by another.  Remember the first time you were able to take the car out by yourself when you were sixteen?  It feels good to be trusted!  Aviation leaders and their teams enjoy a level of trust rarely extended anywhere else within the corporate entity. The aircraft may be the only place in their life that a CEO or High Net Worth individual relinquishes control to another person (flightcrew). 


Gaining and maintaining trust is an on-going challenge within any organization.  We have observed four leadership behaviors in aviation teams that may compromise trust with executives and colleagues who function outside of the CEO’s office.


1.  Functioning as a Protected Class.  In their heart, every aviation leader wants to report to the CEO. They realize (either specifically or intuitively) that anybody who reports to the CEO gains an access and status rarely afforded the rest of the organization.  While this may ease the aviation leader’s daily job by getting direct input from the CEO, it may stunt their leadership within the business.   Leaders in this type of reporting relationship often do not have “peer” based relationships within the organization.  Because of their imputed authority inherent in the CEO reporting relationship, the key support leaders (General Counsel, CFO, CAO and their respective reports) may resent or distance themselves from the aviation leader.  The close relationship with the CEO may also put the aviation team in jeopardy when there is a change of CEOs.  Solution: The best place for an aviation team to report is to an individual that is privy and participates in the formation of the corporation’s overall strategy.  This is usually no more than one report level below a C-Suite executive.  Aviation teams that support a high net worth individual or family may be most effective when they report to a leader at the family office.

2.  Lack of an External Perspective.  Successful aviation leaders are open and take advantage of external perspectives.  Those without an external perspective are measuring themselves against nothing more than the FAA regulations and recurrent training.  The ability to articulate the team’s value is compromised.  Solution: Benchmarking with peers, use of internal audit (non-aviation), aviation and non-aviation consultants, executive coaches and alignment with external standards (IS-BAO, EASA, BASM, ACSF, etc.); these are normal disciplines of other business units within healthy organizations and this gives someone else an opportunity to tell your “good story.” 


3.  Using the Do-It-Yourself Approach.  Aviation teams are rarely staffed at a level to operate as a business unit.  Staffing levels are determined by aircraft activity and rarely quantify the time required to build support relationships within the organization or enhance business acumen.   This often causes aviation leaders to short cut company processes and remove purchasing/sourcing, legal, finance and human resources from aviation team projects because they don’t have time to build internal relationships and educate non-aviation professionals.  When a project has a setback, the executives observe that none of their internal subject matter experts are involved and the aviation team’s credibility takes a ding.   Aviation leaders often live with the misguided idea that they are expected to be the subject matter expert on all things aviation at all times.  Solution: Strong leaders understand who they need to choose as partners, both internally and externally. Establish those relationships well before the need exists.  Invite these partners to the hangar and learn about this business unit.


4.  Not Understanding the Company Value Proposition.  When asking aviation teams about their value to the enterprise, the most common answer is “we deliver safe and efficient travel to key employees.”  Strong aviation leaders can communicate aviation’s strategic value. They are able to show a direct link from their planned action to how it will help the company win in the marketplace.  “This is just a good thing to do” is not a business case.   Solution: Leaders should learn more about the “business” of their organization.  How does it win?  And what role can aviation play to support winning?


More ways to build and enhance trust:


  • If you are an aviation director, start small.  Learn who your peers are and sit down with them quarterly and find out how they function within the organization. You have an interesting story to tell and others will be excited to partner with you. 


  • If you are an executive responsible for aviation, encourage your aviation leader to broaden their connection within the organization.  Provide them with an internal or external executive coach.  Let them know that you expect them to be the group leader of internal and external partners.  Find them a peer coach within the organization.


  • If you are a trusted advisor to an organization or individual who operates an aircraft, share what you have observed in successful aviation teams.


  • If the aircraft serves a high net worth individual or family, these principles are valid. Usually there is a support structure around the individual or family.   It may not be as formalized as a large public or private entity, but generally exists.   Even a high net worth individual has a value proposition.



With the right behaviors, aviation teams can gain and maintain trust within their organization. For more information, contact VanAllen today.

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