Leadership in practice...

From an early age I have been interested in aviation and becoming a fighter pilot seemed to be the pinnacle. And it was! After my Royal Military Academy training and fighter pilot training, I had a career in the Royal Air Force for 38 years. I flew jets for 20 years and another 10 years I flew transport aircraft. I have been commander of a flying squadron twice, I have been commander of an air base, had some interesting staff positions and twice I had a nice job in a NATO organization. Currently I work for a public transport company, thanks to mediation by M4B.

During my career I had a lot of explicit education and training. But during my career in the Royal Air Force I also gained many skills, without explicit training. These skills you gain almost unnoticed, but at some point you realize that you actually created them yourself. I want to discuss three aspects and explain how these skills came in handy in my current (civilian) job. I am referring to leadership, dealing with reorganizations and improving efficiency.


During my career, leadership was definitely paid attention to. When I enlisted in 1971, an officer had to be a manager. However, soon the magic word "manager" left and an officer needed to be a leader. Although it is good to have some theoretical leads, leadership is something you acquire in practice. As an officer you have a different position every three years, so there are plenty of opportunities to gain experience. Each time you face a new group with a different culture and different circumstances. This forces you to frequently adapt your leadership style. ‘Situational leadership’ as propagated by the Royal Air Force, helped me tremendously. In my new civilian job, I still benefit. Although the nature of the organization is totally different from Defence, the staff are also just people. Many people-related issues in civilian life are no different from what I was used to in Defence. Therefore it was easy to take over in my new organization and manage.

Deal with reorganizations

Since I enlisted in 1971, I have seen many alternations of government and had to deal with lots of Defence cuts. Almost always this led to reorganizations, lifting units, closing air bases and in one case the construction of a new unit. These changes always lead to uncertainty and unrest among the employees. As a manager, you are appointed guide the staff through the reorganization. This goes rarely without a fight and everyone looks at you in order to cope with the change issues. The experience I have gained at Defence, comes in handy in my new position. In business there are changes and reorganizations constantly. People become uncertain about their future and must be encouraged for the changed organization and / or their new way of working.

Improvement of efficiency

Each cut I experienced in the past had the same question: "Can we save money by working more efficiently?" Every time I had to deliver (almost) the same output with less money and less staff. If this happens often, it becomes your second nature. This taught me to look at the processes very critical and to optimize them. Each step, asking yourself, "What does this contribute and to which costs?" This experience is very useful to me now. Companies try as much as possible to reduce costs and it is important to think effectively. I think it’s great, to enter a new business and being able to improve efficiency immediately.  

In short, during my time at Defence I gained a lot of skills and experience in areas I'm not explicitly trained in. In my position in the industry they prove to be extremely valuable and can I use them every day.


This M4B candidate is currently employed as Operations Manager ad interim at a public transport company.