Lessons of Leadership | A Q&A with Former-RAF and Pilot Matt Lindley

10 January 2019

We caught up with former-RAF and current airline pilot, Matt Lindley , after his memorable visit to the Speakers Corner HQ. Thanks for chatting to us, Matt!

Have you always wanted to be a pilot?

Ever since I was a 3 year old, I have been obsessed by flying.  My mother says on a holiday flight to Malta we flew through a bad storm.  As everybody was screaming onboard, I was bouncing up and down giggling.  I never wanted to do anything else.

How has the aviation industry changed in the past couple of decades? (Particularly with regards to risk and safety)

Aviation has a rich military heritage.  As a result traditional rank and step hierarchy gradients dominated the industries.  In the 1970's and 80's a series of completely avoidable horrific crashes forced the industry to reflect and admit that these traditional leadership and cultural models were inherently unsafe.  Large personalities, egos and fast intuitive decision making were the root cause of over 75% of all flying related accidents.  Something had to change.  NASA and some of the leading airlines introduced crew resource management training together with awareness programmes focusing on human error.  As a result of flattening authority gradients, empowering junior team members to speak up and a greater understanding of the psychology of error, accident rates plummeted.

Are there lessons other industries can learn with particular regards to cultural change within management levels?

Any industry where risk exists can learn from aviation.  I have been teaching Doctors and Healthcare professionals for the last 7 years for example, how to avoid mistakes in hospitals by using the same techniques deployed in the flight deck. Sectors where there is top down management, hierarchies and steep authority gradients also benefit from studying the aviation model. The empowerment of juniors is vital in my world from a safety point of view, but new emerging sectors, which require innovation and disruptive thinkers also need to allow all employees the authority to speak up.

How do you cope with the sheer amount of responsibility when flying hundreds of passengers?

TRAINING! We go in the simulator every 6 months and practice the worse case scenarios that hopefully we would never have to experience.  We plan for the expected, and train for the unexpected. The pilots also have a vested interest to perform to their very best ability because they themselves are actually on board!  Its just part of the job.

When you get to the cockpit, you are often flying with people you have never met before. How do you build a trust and relationships with your crew and co-pilots?

Its called 'setting the tone'. We have a very short wind of 5 - 7 seconds to make the correct impression.  If we get off on the wrong foot with somebody, It takes a further 7 transactions (meetings) to undo the mess.  So vital skills are awareness of the extremities of your own personality, so you can shave them off.  Awareness of the window of opportunity and then you have to PERFORM!

From your extensive experience, what makes an effective leader?

The leader needs to flatter the perceived authority gradient whilst crucially still staying in charge.  Empowering people to speak up and humanising him/herself so that they are approachable.  This is a tricky combination.

If your audience could leave with one keep takeaway, what would it be?

Your leadership or style is contagious in a team. So, PAUSE, PERFORM and lead by example.

It was great to hear the insights from your career  Matt !

For further information or to book a speaker, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070  or email  info@speakerscorner.co.uk .

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