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Make Everyone A Teacher

Yogi Bhajan wisely said, “If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.”

George Dom   |   11th November 2014
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George Dom George Dom

Captain George Dom, USN(Ret) is president and founder of NFS Advisors, an aviation consultancy...
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In naval aviation everyone is a teacher. Throughout a pilot's career, he or she is expected to train subordinates to become better officers, better pilots, better sailors, leaders and warriors.

Without the luxury of lateral-entry (i.e. we couldn’t simply hire a mid-grade officer and fighter pilot from outside the Navy), we had to continually develop our replacements, directly or indirectly.

Arriving in his or her first squadron with freshly-minted wings of gold, the newest pilot is given an area of responsibility regarding aircraft operations or tactics that usually includes attending a formal training course and study. Upon completion of training, Ensign Newbie is expected to give a training presentation to the rest of the squadron during an All-Pilot Meeting (APM) or All-Officer Meeting (AOM). Sharing his or her new-found knowledge with the rest of the team does five things:

1. The other new pilots learn something new.

2. The experienced pilots - including the squadron commanding officer and executive officer - get a refresher and maybe a couple of new insights.

(As fighter jets became more software-centric, with new capabilities arriving regularly with each software update, the roles in these first two points often reversed with the old guys learning something brand new while the younger guys experienced a refresher. I often used “reverse mentoring” to have a younger, less experienced, but tech-savvy junior pilot teach me how to use the new software functions.)

3. The new pilot begins the transformation from being a rookie to becoming a knowledgeable, trusted wingman.

4. The new pilot learns and retains so much more through teaching rather than simply absorbing new information. He or she must figure out how to communicate and explain to an audience that has a variety of experience and learning styles. This challenge deepens the pilot's understanding.

5. The questions and discussion allow everyone to add new insights that increase learning, helps the squadron achieve a shared perspective, and enhances standardization.

Establish Expectations

Whenever you schedule members of your team to attend a training seminar or conference, let them know they will be expected to present what they learned to the rest of the department. I guarantee they will pay closer attention, ask better questions, and realize greater value from the company's investment.

The best flight departments regularly invest in their most important assets - their people - by holding training sessions and meetings. It is not easy with so many daily demands, which is why many don’t bother. Productive sessions require discipline and commitment to a core value of continual improvement. Some of the responsibility resides with the individual to study on their own time and dime. But if the flight department doesn’t meet for collective training, it misses out on shared insights, enhanced standardization and camaraderie.

It’s the leader’s responsibility to ensure the training meetings are well-organized, well-run, and even fun. In my first squadron, we would periodically break-up into two teams (usually the “old guys” vs. “young guys”) for our version of the TV game show “Jeopardy” based on the NATOPS manual, the Navy’s version of the AFM.

Today, personal computers, digital cameras and presentation software make it much easier to deliver an engaging, interactive training event and not simply show Powerpoint slides filled with text and jargon. A few suggestions:

• Set standards well-above expecting the presenter to read from his or her notes.

• Keep the allotted time relatively short. Following that suggestion makes the talk palatable for the audience and forces the presenter to be succinct and organized (e.g. 10-12 minute TED talk format—see www.ted.com).

• Videotape the presentations for those who can’t attend, and keep the recording on file for future new-hires to view.

• Hold the training in locations that minimize distractions and enhance discussions. Place all cellphones in a bucket upon entering the room.

• Link the session to a follow-on happy hour and possibly an informal dinner with spouses invited.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” meeting template for every flight department. Be creative in planning, scheduling, developing guidelines and formatting to suit your department. But don’t use the worn-out excuse, “We don’t have time”.

There is a wealth of talent and capacity that goes untapped in nearly all flight departments, especially among the more junior members of the team. Most are looking for ways to make a greater contribution. And when they are viewed by the rest of the department as “our expert” in one or more areas, their esteem, loyalty, job satisfaction and commitment to the department grows.

Make continuous learning and improvement an uncompromised value of your department – “we are all teachers, and we are all students”. As usual, the aviation manager and/or chief pilot must lead by example.

Read more about: Pilot Training

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