I just finished a fine piece of writing entitled The Outer Whorl, by Neal Schier. The whorl, he refers to, is one of those wispy arced feathery wings of a spiral galaxy. Neal views his job as an airline pilot as if from a whorl, looking in toward the core of the airline galaxy, essentially helpless to do anything but hang on for the ride and drink of the richness of his experiences along the way, despite the daily ration of gloom and doom that comes his (our) way.
He writes about the people with whom he has shared countless hours in the high flight levels, going the spectrum from bad company to good. As to the bad, he recounted his long trip with a paranoid captain named "JW." While JW was outside doing the walk-around inspection, Neal was in the cockpit testing systems. JW returned, seething but kept his silence. He didn't speak for the next two days, making for a nasty time for the both of them. At trip's end, JW turned to Neal and said, "Well, what was wrong?" Neal didn't know what to say. JW said, "When you tested the fire horn, it startled me. I almost dirtied my shirt on the tire." He told Neal he had given the matter long consideration and had almost decided to take the matter up with the chief pilot.
Neal wrote, ...he mentioned again those that seemed to be continually wishing him ill. Had I unknowingly joined this august band of miscreants? Had my inadvertent sounding of the fire test system been a plot to irritate him?...I had no real choice other than to take the ten-minute tounge-lashing--a period of time that seemed sufficient to slake his thirst for going to management.
Later, Neal wrote of a far different captain, an introspective, pensive, seasoned Viet Nam combat veteran, identified as only the "captain." The captain suddenly asked Neal, "What is the definition of leadership?"
Of this, Neal wrote, There was never much of a reason to be sudden in conversation while cruising along for hours, but those were how his questions, commands and requests spilled out. It was as if the thought had been percolating in his mind for a while, and now it needed to be set free.
After a long silence the captain looked at Neal and said, "I cannot tell you what leadership is....What I do know is that I can recognize leadership more by its absence than its presence."
JW was the classic example of the absence of leadership. His was an agenda of selfishness, fear and retribution. The captain led by applying his wisdom, communication, and experience and by imparting it to others who were hungry for it. It's a lesson we can apply to the affairs of the state, the company, and the family.
The Outer Whorl should be required reading for any aspiring airline pilot. To order it click here: The Outer Whorl.