As I’m driven to the airport to catch my early morning flight to Joburg, I’m suddenly 6 again. I look left, searching for the first sight of the sun – the “Crack of Dawn”. It kept my brother and I quiet the length of the airport road – looking for the sun – on many early morning trips to fetch my father as he arrived home from his flights (as an Air Zim, Air Rhodesia, Central African Airways pilot/guru). Then I’d look right to see whether I could see Dad on final approach – pilot-fathers make for child-hood-heroes. Even now, I instinctively look to the now-Air Zim hangar to see what’s sticking out of it. In my mind’s eye, the 6-year-old still sees the curve of the Air Rhodesia emblem on the hangar and the thought of our present, magical Zimbabwe brings me back to the present.
As I complete the processes that culminates in me sitting in my SAA passenger-seat, it occurs to me that between my heritage and my own flying career, I probably see this whole arena slightly differently to most passengers.
Have you every stopped to consider how your heritage and life experience come together to give you a perfectly unique blend of perspective? These unique blends in each of us are what fascinate me, and I cannot believe it’s accidental. In fact, I believe that we’re all expertly crafted, and planted, for a purpose. Whatever you believe, we’re all coloured by our own perspectives – in the words of Stephen R. Covey, “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”
How does your heritage and your life experience influence you as a leader?
Do you make use of that perspective? Respect it, own it, share it? Make use of it in the position you’re currently “planted” in?
As my SAA flight taxis to depart Harare on this bright morning and pivots smoothly to point itself down the runway, I ask myself what the unique blend is that I’ve been gifted with and how I honour it.
Considering I’ve piloted aircraft myself for over 18 years, being a passenger always brings home that sometimes you’re a leader and sometimes you’re a follower. I ask myself how I see this particular world differently from the average passenger and what I’ve gained from that viewpoint.
The sometimes-harsh smells, sounds and surfaces of an airfield and its craft are a warm cloak of familiarity to me. The greasy almost-diesel-smell of JetA1 fuel, the smell and feel of hot exhaust gas, the engine noises, the bells and whistles, the wind and its direction, the tarmac. Tarmac that’s left its mark on countless pairs of sunglasses and turned numerous thermos flasks of coffee crunchy on freezing-2am-Joburg-cargo-apron mornings (Do thermos flasks still have glass interiors these days? Perhaps someone came up with a better plan?).
I see hangars I know the inside of, and terminals that have lived other lives. The old Domestic Terminal where we stood many Sunday evenings with my brother in his Falcon College blazer and that back-to-school feeling. The now-Domestic Terminal where we waved hello and goodbye to countless International flights from a totally open and unprotected balcony for many years before the new International Terminal was built and the old balcony caged and restricted. At least the new International Terminal provides a good marker when trying to identify the field from the air. I’m fairly certain it can be seen from space…
I see aprons that I’ve flown both cargo and passengers from with many different captains and co-pilots.
I know what it’s like to make a change in the power or direction of an aircraft and have your ears, eyes, and the “seat of your pants” holistically confirm those changes. As an SAA passenger I can only listen and feel, not input. Listen, feel and critique.
I don’t fear the bumps and subtle-not-so-subtle undulations of the air. They’re nature’s stamp on that particular piece of air we just miraculously flew through – and even though I’m fully familiar with the theory of flight and have tested the extremities of its envelope myself, it still seems like a miraculous feat. Nature is a powerful lady, to be sure. But a respectful understanding can be reached if the rules are understood and abided by.
We all have our own unique blend. We all see the world slightly differently because of that blend. We all bring different strengths, weaknesses and perspectives to the table as a result – and that’s valuable.
As leaders (of a home, of a business, of a school, of a team, of a country), do we not have a responsibility to use our particular blend, our big-picture knowledge and perspective to lead? To acknowledge the unique blend in each team member and to ask them for their contribution therefrom?
What is your blend? What is YOUR big picture? What are your resulting strengths? Why are you where you are and what do you bring to the table? And have you asked your team members these same questions? What is their contribution?
As far as my own unique blend goes, my heritage and life experience help me understand that each role has its responsibilities. I understand the consequences of how, or whether, you fulfil those responsibilities and I understand how it reflects on your team as a whole. I understand what it is to “captain” a team and to therefore take final responsibility for its outcomes. I understand what it is to take ownership of that final responsibility and make hard, sometimes unpopular decisions. I know how important it is to have full perspective on the big picture around you.
I understand that effective communication, despite human barriers, is imperative and possible. Sometimes lives depend on it. I understand what it is to embrace and bridge diversity with commonly agreed values and goals. (In a cockpit we by-passed agreeing to “survive” the moment we admitted to ourselves and another human being that we wanted to master flight. Survival is now an agreed upon baseline. Professionalism, camaraderie and the pursuit of excellence are what we aim for now. Every. Step. Of. The. Way.)
What is it that you see? What intricacies do you notice that pass others by? What do you understand the feeling and consequences of because you’ve been there, and how can you use that experience to help others?
As we line up on the runway that disappears over the curve of the earth in front of us, I think of the cliché quotes that are always typed over a such a picture. Where will this trip take me? Where will 2018 take me? Take Zimbabwe? This magical and yet-undefined space Zimbabwe is in that has a shimmer of hope and holds all the promise in the world.
Hopefully, it will be a space to do things differently. Already, some of the psychological limitations we didn’t realise we were living under have lifted. Perhaps other limitations will continue to lift too. Freedom to grow – what will we be? Who will we be as leaders? What can we contribute?
Why are you where you are? And what is your unique blend of heritage and life-experience that you bring to the table?
By Christen Killick
Photo credit: William Whaley