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I have gained a surprising amount of wisdom from female airline pilots.

Boeing Take Off

You see a plane. I see thousands of relationships.

I say “surprising” if only because there really aren’t that many of them. It’s still a male-dominated field. Yet somehow, not only have I met three of them (despite never having more than a distant relationship to the airline industry in any of my endeavors), but each has provided some insight into work, life, and everything.

The one I have in mind was a very nice lady I met at the lounge at the Doubletree in Denver near what used to be the Stapleton Airport. She worked for Big Traditional Airline and shared a story about how her company was very tight about expenses paid for food and entertainment, even if the expense would have greatly helped their operations in ways that just might not have been quantifiable.

The example she provided was how Southwest Airlines — when they moved into a new market — would invite all the dispatchers and air controllers and other airport people out for an evening of wine and song. They called it “Total Service Quality Encounter” or something else that sounds like a typical b-school disaster with charts and graphs and shit. The name didn’t matter. Everyone knew what it was about.

Anyway, guess whose planes got scheduled first for departure and landing from that point forward?

Deduct five points if you said Big Traditional Airline.

The Southwest people knew one thing: Business is about relationships. It’s what you do when you’re in business. Brands are relationships. Customer loyalties are relationships. Advertising is about relationships. The ways you work with service providers and facilities people are relationships. The wink and the nod that gets you through an audit is based on a relationship. If you don’t do relationships, you don’t do business. Don’t want to work with relationships? Get a job as a toll-taker, where the demands on your relationship-building skills are limited to “correct change only” and “thank you.” If you fail to build the proper relationships, you fail. Period.

So at the company I was working for at the time (let’s call them Big Traditional IT Company) they started doing the same sort of penny-pinching in regards to travel and entertainment. I didn’t like it. I talked to an Account Executive, and because I am just the sort of guy who never met a career-limiting-move he didn’t embrace with all his heart, I asked him what he did for a living.

“I’m an account executive,” he answered, a bit befuddled.

“No, I mean what do you really do? What do you really do for a living?”

“Well, I put together this spreadsheet-based model showing projections of technical capability and availability with yadayadayadayada. . . ”

“Ok, but anyone can do that. A business systems analyst could do that. What do you do specific to your pay grade?”

“I uhh. . . . I uhh. . . ”

“Does it have anything to do with relationships?”

“No! No! It’s technical! My role. . . uhh. . . . ”

See, he just didn’t get it.

I had worked with him long enough to know that all he did was nurture relationships all day long. His failures (that I had witnessed) weren’t failures of VLOOKUP routines in Excel sheets. They were failures in his ability to size up a situation and apply persuasion, or to convince others that he was truly present and aware. He just didn’t get it.

So of course they promoted him. For they were — after all — Big Traditional IT Company.


photo credit: Drewski2112 via photopin cc