Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Secret

How teamwork makes for the best job in the sky

Our bond was the airship, and that bond continues today in the capacity my crew and I serve for Goodyear. The airship is our “baby”—a cherished member of the Goodyear family, and it’s everyone’s job. We work with the intensity of a Nascar pit crew changing Goodyear tires, and with the same smooth harmony and grace of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Each team member knows his or her job and is watching the other team members’ backs. Guests of Goodyear often comment on how professional the crew looks and acts when we’re landing and launching the airship. The passengers can feel the quiet, intense and assertive energy that the crew has in the moments when the airship is in its most vulnerable phase: sitting on the ground being held by the 13 crew members.

Two years ago, I had the distinguished honor of moving from team member into a leadership role. I’ve found that leading a group of outstanding individuals isn’t unlike the process of making wine. You can have the greatest grapes, the best soil and the most favorable weather, but if the person blending those ingredients makes a mistake, the wine tastes horrible. The leader is the team member who gets to blend the outstanding individuals. The blend of our team is similar to the flavors of a pinot noir: very colorful, smooth and flavorful.

Some people relate our crew to a family, a commune, a football team or a company in the army (even a pirate ship). For an airship, many hands do make light work. Our common bond is the airship; our common goal is the safety of each other and the airship. We measure our success in terms of group wins or losses. We have our own values and norms, our own shorthand sign language and even our own inner competitive spirit.

I’d be leading you astray if I didn’t add that with every great secret, there are a couple of catches. One is the disappointment I feel when I’m asked by children if they can have a ride in the airship. It’s one of the most difficult moments in my day: tactfully explaining to them that rides are by invitation only, and that the invitation can only accommodate so many people, mainly adults. The other catch is the general public’s inability to see what happens behind the scenes with the blimp—the oversight of the special team of people who must work together like a finely tuned violin to allow me to take to the skies. My team consists of 25 dedicated individuals who are the very best at what they do. It doesn’t do them justice when they’re overlooked because everybody scrambles to talk to the pilot.

Years ago, I hung up my favorite Stetson hat and put away my broken Justin boots. These things aren’t fashionable in Hermosa Beach, Calif., but more importantly, I’ve shed the cowboy image and have been seduced by the idea of a team. Right now, I need to get back to tending my garden—my secret garden where I help people grow, pull the weeds of negativity and stand watch to make sure everyone on the crew is safe, as we collectively nurture the Spirit of America as a team.

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