Most of my professional career has been developed in the international airline business. This is a unique, challenging and exciting industry that combines the dream of flight, cutting edge technology, many interdependent, highly skilled, labor groups, and it literally connects the entire world every single minute, every single day.
It is even more interesting when you consider that the airline industry, as we know it today, basically ‘took off’ after World War II: such a young industry, and yet, we could not imagine our lives today without the system where people and goods move constantly in thousands of aircraft crisscrossing cities, countries and continents.
As with any business people are a key asset: pilots, technicians, flight attendants, ground and support staff, airport related personnel, etc. But all this choreography of efforts and skills would be pointless without another prime asset: the aircraft.
One of the key metrics for success in the airline business is to have the aircraft in top airworthy and serviced status available for flight 100% of the time, or as close to that. The most successful and profitable airlines achieve this 99% of the time, simply because as with any man-made machine, aircraft are bound to break down for unplanned reasons.
Aside from the hundreds of millions of dollars lost when aircraft are not flying, the disruption caused to passengers, freight, crews and the entire air traffic system is one of the main reasons flying is no longer such a glamorous or fun activity.
This scenario, which I encountered many times as an executive and as passenger, led me to think about the personal journey many of us face when confronted between:
The discomfort, anxiety and despair of being left on the ground, unattended and prevented from achieving our top potential… and… the freedom, exhilaration and boundless opportunities that we can experience when cruising at top altitude (in a passenger aircraft, around 30.000 feet or 10.000 meters!), seeing the world from such a privileged viewpoint.
In this context, I propose the different applications of living as an AOG or taking part of the experience of life from Cruise Altitude.
Tom and Mary had joined the same company (let’s assume an international airline with a strong global presence) around the same time in different cities. Both had started at entry-level jobs in airport customer service and the reservations desk, respectively. Because they liked their jobs and worked hard, over a 10-year period, both got promoted several times to management positions including some exciting special assignments in different countries where the airline intended to start up new flights.
Now in their mid 30s Tom and Mary had good, stable jobs, more than fair compensation and benefits that included unlimited personal travel at almost no cost. As the company grew, so did its exposure to the global economy, increased competition and a cycle where demand became slow. Soon after a management change in the company’s headquarters, the new executive team submitted an aggressive plan to improve the airline’s finances and got approval to implement a cost cutting program that would reduce the workforce by a third. In spite of their excellent work records and performance appraisals, Tom and Mary were notified that they would be fired with an appropriate amount of severance.
Tom took the money, applied for unemployment benefits and calculated that this would give him a good 12 months of financial stability before making his next professional move. Over the first 6 months, after taking some deserved time off and traveling around the world, Tom became increasingly worried and anxious because his applications to a number of well-known airlines got rejected. After a while he stopped applying for jobs, seeing friends and family, and became reclusive. As he saw his savings thin out, he became depressed and found himself painted into a corner. Tom felt that the airline business was all he knew from a professional standpoint and did not even understand how to transfer those skills to another industry. His apathy and depression soon led to a complete breakdown and he entered into a lengthy and expensive therapy program not knowing what the future held for him.
Mary, on the other side, started to plan out how she was going to spend the next 12 months before having to generate new income. She researched the job market and the industry she was familiar with, and realized it was going to be near to impossible to get another job with the same conditions as her last position. She also reflected that, while the job and the business had been appealing, she had other interests that had not been pursued due to the demands of her schedule. With the time she now had available she researched different programs related to life coaching. Helping others and cultivating self-awareness had been a natural ability for Mary and she quickly enrolled to obtain a coaching certificate. Within six months she had completed the course in half the estimated time, and had started to build her own coaching business with a handful of clients retaining her new services. Less than a year after she started with the program she was making good money, felt energized, balanced and happy, and supported a long list of satisfied clients.
There are many events, most of them unplanned, that take place in our lives and lead us to a crossroad where decisions have to be made, change has to be either embraced or rejected, and the outcome will determine how we spend a significant part of our journey in the planet.
We can feel crushed under the weight of this process, sorry for ourselves, and temporarily seek apparent relief by means that only delay the inevitable. Sometimes our inability to look beyond the obvious, to make a concerted effort to repair our broken down parts, lead us to become a rusty, inoperative and disrupted piece of machinery.
On the other hand, we can face the challenge of an unscheduled stop and reflect about what our true passions and purpose are. Time is the most precious of commodities! While we’re engaged in daily life obligations, we seldom have the ability to visualize what this life would look like if we had the chance to start from scratch, to patch up and fix ourselves, and soar into the sky where fulfillment, satisfaction and gratification occur not as an exception but more like a rule.
As teenagers and young adults most of us imagine what our lives should look and feel like. For many these dreams or visualizations are interrupted or put on hold because obligations and responsibilities take over. Trying to reset a course isn’t easy and yet, when opportunities arise even when disguised as a tragedy or a major setback, we have gotten too cautious or complacent, and even discouraged to try.
Consider, on the other hand, those who can dive into their self-awareness, retrace their original values and principles, recover the excitement of a dream, and are willing to put their energy and effort to improve and fulfill their true state of being.
Indeed, the journey to transform our dreams and passions into a lifestyle is not easy, or readily available unless we take action. As Coaches we are privileged to support Clients in that experience. Our natural ability to listen, to display empathy, support and encouragement, and hold accountability for plans and results, is paired with a well structured process that leverages a trusted relationship in order for the AOG to get off the ground and reach its natural place in the sky.
In a Coaching relationship we must recognize that the Client’s aspirations (dreams, ideas, plans, goals) can be more effective when we also support the realization that hard work, persistence, healthy structures for living and working are not only necessary but also essential and sustainable. Efforts need to be made in order to ‘repair’ what doesn’t work well, and also to visualize the potential and the outcome when all the parts are in working order and the direction is clear.
Moments in the Coaching Process where Cruise Altitude vs. AOG can be introduced:
a) When a Client tells their story and our powerful listening and questioning lead to the acknowledgement that the current ‘state of being’ is not satisfactory or fulfilling. Cruise Altitude vs. AOG can be used to compare the dimensions of feeling empowered vs. disempowered in a call for action.
b) When a Client gets ‘stuck’ in negative, unproductive chains of behaviors and attitudes that promote a ‘victim’ position. Cruise Altitude vs. AOG can support the conversation by framing how will the Client’s life feel if we simply accept that the plane is broken down, static, unproductive vs. readily available to fly and be productive.
c) When a Client has worked hard to describe the desired state of being but is not clear on the actions that are required to attain it. Cruise Altitude vs. AOG is a good support mechanism to emphasize the need to work hard and ‘repair’ all the necessary parts in order to take off.
d) When a Client has invested time and energy to achieve results, no matter how small, Cruise Altitude vs. AOG can be used as an effective visualization of how gratification and satisfaction can feel if the course initiated is pursued vigorously and sustained beyond a one-off win.
Questions that can be used in support of Cruise Altitude vs. AOG:
- I understand you feel burdened and unhappy, how would you like your life to look, feel and sound if you were to have no significant limits to your potential?
- From what you told me you are tired and unhappy about not getting promoted. If you could work in another place, where the title and category weren’t important but your contribution was, what would that job be?
- After the last three sessions you have described a lot of interesting actions and ideas to get started in your new career. In addition to those, are there other actions you feel are necessary to proceed, in terms of your health and relationships are concerned?
- I want to congratulate you on having secured the interview for a new job in the company you always wanted to work for. That is an excellent step! Imagine now that you get the job and they actually offer you a better position and pay package than you expected, what kind of energy and excitement could you take from this vision to the actual interview?