Business consultants and fitness gurus Adam and Jordan Bornstein interviewed various corporate leaders for Entrepreneur magazine, asking each of them to mention their most valued characteristic in a leader. They came up with a list 22 items long, including:
focus, confidence, transparency, inspiration, integrity, passion, innovation, patience, stoicism, wonkiness, authenticity, open-mindedness, decisiveness, personableness, empowerment, positivity, generosity, persistence, insightfulness, communication, accountability, and restlessness.
While Elliott Ness might have been proud of how many of his progeny made it into the list, I, personably, would be thrilled to at least eliminate “personableness,” if for no other reason than that there is no such word. (I don’t think “insightfulness” is a word either, but if it is, it shouldn’t be.)
It is not at all surprising that most of the words on the list describe the elements of what I think make a great pilot in command, although I might eliminate wonkiness. Then again, without a bit of wonkiness I am not sure anyone would become a pilot to begin with.
Nor am I am surprised that the authors of the article failed to mention that, along the lines of Harvard Business School researcher Robert Kelly, these same characteristics also describe the ingredients of a good follower. Great leaders want followers who are passionate, patient, innovative, inspirational, positive, accountable, and dare I say it, even personable and wonky.
So if great leaders have the same characteristics as great followers, what really does all this mean? I would venture the obvious: these are simply the characteristics of people who are good at whatever they do—be they great leaders, great followers, great pilots, great anythingers. I might be inclined to add “humility” to the list, although accountability and authenticity get pretty close.
If what goes into making a pilot a great leader are the same elements required for anyone to be good at what they do, then it might be more accurate to call this a mensch checklist. While technically the word mensch translates to “man,” it figuratively translates into “the kind of person you would want to be married to your daughter.” No gender bending is needed here because, according to Google, mensch in German is similar to man in English, i.e., it can be used for both man (as in mankind) and woman. In other words, German is just as sexist a language as English in that there is no word for “woman” that can apply equally to men. But I digress.
Mensch checklists are not only useful for assessing the qualities of potential in-laws, but they can also be useful as a self-assessment tool. Note the characteristic of “accountability” on the list.
As the leader of a company for nearly three decades, I can easily point to a few things I did poorly. I often lacked both focus and patience, and the older I got, the more I lacked decisiveness. Overall, though, I think I did pretty good, if I must say so myself. Unless I was having a bad hair day, I don’t think I lacked personableness, whatever that is, although I probably was way too wonky for my own good.
What I lacked as the leader of a company, however, I found I could make up for in the cockpit. There, it seems, I have little choice but to exhibit most of those characteristics, because in the cockpit a lack of generosity might not kill you, but a lack of focus, confidence, decisiveness, and accountability just might.
Most pilots will tell you that checklists are good things, although many pilots I know are reluctant to apply them to their attitude and personality. Aviation safety experts often cite this failing as problematic, and I agree. As a psychologist who took up flying relatively late in life, I am certainly in the ranks of those who think that an unexamined life is indeed a dangerous one. Or, possibly, I am just letting my wonkiness get out of hand.