Airline Crew Leadership: A new model structure is overdue

Crew Leadership is an important success aspect for every airline. However, crew leadership structures have so far received little attention by airline executives, as the optimization of other processes had a higher priority. Airlines operate in a harsh competitive environment. Their products are more and more comparable and therefore the need to differentiate through the overall service offered is increasing in importance. In order to cope with the multiple influences and challenges it is essential to have appropriate organizational structures and procedures in place, especially when it comes to crew management. Ensuring that the crew members deliver the expected service requires a solid leadership structure.

Many airlines, including global players, are still using leadership structures, which have been in place for a long time and are not trend-setting. They have evolved more slowly than the environment around them or even stopped evolving years ago, while the challenges in the day to day business have changed. These dated structures and processes are neither efficient nor effective and crew members often feel a disconnection between themselves and their leadership. There appears to be no clear, developed industry standard for crew leadership structures.

The majority of airlines have separated all operational leadership on board from the disciplinary leadership on the ground with minimal links between the two strings. As no long term functioning model to merge these two leadership aspects has been identified the two strings have worked in parallel with crews reporting to multiple leaders. This in turn leaves the crews in limbo trying to fulfill the demands of both leaders, or even ignoring the desires and working anonymously and independently. Airline leaders have identified the current separation of those leadership components as a main weakness and have come to realize that a new and fundamentally changed leadership model is overdue.

A different leadership mindset and a modernized and optimized overall structure will be required, as the classical, hierarchical, multilayer approach will not be effective enough to meet the organizations’ goals. To ensure that the structure is functional it is important to integrate  aspects such as time, quality and flexibility into the set-up, as these drivers are current deficits in leadership models. Another trend is the increased shift to virtual living. New leadership structures, which are more interactive and constantly present, correspond to the younger generations’ life style and behavior. Virtual leadership for teams or employee groups is growing in popularity.

Which leadership style would be the most suitable? A new model needs to incorporate a mixture of the “modern” types of leadership styles: charismatic, visionary, transactional, transformational and servant. Considering the organizational culture, a set of values and beliefs is also essential. The right leadership type is required to ensure that the group of people being lead will accept it and follow as well as finally live it.

Appropriate crew leadership will be an important competitive advantage for leading airlines as it will reduce costs and also allow differentiation to other airlines. A new structure needs to ensure that the overall administrative body is minimized and the focus is laid upon the crew members.
Lufthansa Consulting comprehensively analyzed the current airlines’ crew leadership situation and developed numerous optimization ideas. New effective and efficient solutions how to create a successful leadership model are the result of this research. If you are facing these challenges, please contact to discuss your options.