Emotional Intelligence: Driving Leadership in the Aviation Industry

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify, use, understand and manage emotions effectively in oneself and others. It is a relatively young construct that was first researched by John Mayer and Peter Salovey in the early nineties who coined the term. Nowadays, it is one of the most researched areas in psychology, especially in the field of leadership. Since then, several studies, books, papers, and assessment tools have flooded the market, and the challenge is to discern and pick out what is valid and scientifically sound.

Emotional Intelligence covers two principal areas. The first is the intrapersonal dimension. This looks at the competencies required for self-management such as self-awareness, emotional self-regulation, grit and resilience, and self-motivation. These competencies are critical to sound decision making and problem solving especially in high pressure situations.

The second area of emotional intelligence is the interpersonal dimension. This dimension addresses the more relational and social aspects of emotional intelligence such as empathy, assertiveness, managing and deescalating conflict, awareness of relational dynamics in a team, and the ability to give constructive performance feedback.

The aviation industry is one major area that attracted psychologists and researchers to look at the role that Emotional Intelligence plays especially in positions of leadership. The aviation industry tends to be a dynamic and high-pressured environment where effective leadership plays a critical role in ensuring safety, efficiency, and successful outcomes. 

On an intrapersonal level, emotionally intelligent people are aware of their emotions and how they may impact their judgement, perception, and decision-making. This helps them make informed, rational decisions and maintain a level of emotional regulation that enables them to maintain their composure, avoid impulsivity, and act in the best way possible in high pressure situations such as operational disruptions or emergencies.

Emotional intelligence is also related to resilience and adaptability. By gaining mastery over their emotional reactions, emotionally intelligent leaders find it easier to process their emotions in situations of adversity, adapt, and bounce back and guide their teams accordingly. This ability is critical in emergency situations where the leader must take decisive action in a brief period of time.

One important aspect of the interpersonal dimension of emotionally intelligent leaders is the ability to cultivate a deep sense of trust and cohesiveness between team members. This results in increased psychological safety where team members feel free to voice their opinions and concerns even when this means contradicting the views of people in higher authority. It also fosters an environment where people are not afraid to admit to their mistakes or errors of judgement.

By demonstrating empathy, respect, and understanding while maintaining high levels of performance expectations, emotionally intelligent leaders create an environment of open communication that impacts the efficiency of the operation and the safety of passengers. For example, a long-haul flight crew may be facing fatigue due to time zone changes and extended duty hours. By recognising their own physical and psychological state and the state of the crew, the captain may take the necessary actions to ensure support within the team, adjusting schedules and rest breaks to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the crew and the passengers.

Another example is in the case of conflict situations between ground staff and flight crew regarding boarding procedures. In this situation, the ability of the leader to listen calmly, understand both perspectives and mediate towards a compromise or a new solution is crucial for the smooth running of the operation.

In summary, emotionally intelligent aviation leaders create a healthy work environment, prioritise safety, and foster effective collaboration and effective teamwork. Whether in the cockpit, cabin, control tower, or ground operations, emotional intelligence plays a fundamental role in enhancing overall performance through sound decision making, impulse control, conflict negotiation, relationship management, and excellent communication skills.

Learn a thing or two about Emotional Intelligence!

PsyPotential has partnered with Raven to launch “Emotional Intelligence for Aviation Professionals” course.

“Emotional Intelligence for Aviation Professionals” Course

500.00 590.00

This course is intended for professionals in the aviation industry who hold a leadership position with a special focus on pilots. It will create a clear understanding of emotional intelligence and the associated competencies applied to aviation.

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