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Surviving The Leadership Challenge

British Airways (BA), one of the world’s largest international airlines, flying to 160 destinations (including 24 in North America), is renowned for award-winning products and service initiatives. The airline serves more than 36 million people each year, “bringing people together and taking them wherever they want to go.” BA is as committed to their employees’ professional and personal trajectories as they are to serving clients. The airline heavily invests in their personnel and their futures. One of the ways BA has done this for the past four years is through the Leaders of Tomorrow (LoT) training program. The overall goal of the LoT initiative is to identify individuals within BA who currently demonstrate leadership qualities and aspire to move into more demanding management roles. BA executives who possess the greatest ability and stamina are selected to participate in this multi-step process. Hats off to BABC Board Member Anthony J. Slade, Airport Manager, Philadelphia International, who successfully completed the LoT program this past year. Anthony’s team met with so much success that they decided to take their experience to the next level, outside of the organization. Anthony explains they hope to “apply their LoT learnings to something that will be challenging, but will also help others.”

Each year, people from within BA are nominated to join the LoT program. The nominees undergo a rigorous selection process, further pairing down the number of participants to 20 individuals. Once the 20 people have been selected, this group spends two days completing exercises led by ex-military personnel, away from their places of work. Most of the maneuvers are completed outdoors, and involve problem solving, using abstract items of equipment, such as ropes, netting, pipes, buckets, poles, oil drums, tires and wooden planks. Following these exercises, only 10 individuals are selected to participate.

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The LoT curriculum involves a one-year time commitment. Each month there is a workshop held at BA’s corporate headquarters at Waterside, near London Heathrow airport. The workshops are delegate driven and facilitated by an outside consultant. The consultant remains with the group for the entire year, and each session is designed to:

• expand leadership thinking;
• challenge comfort zones; and
• encourage learning through support and challenge.

Each LoT delegate is assigned a training buddy from within the cohort. The final session takes place outdoors, and this time a series of challenges are presented to the team at an on-shore British naval base. The exercises are designed to:

• test support and challenge theories;
• measure leadership growth;
• establish how each team reaches decisions, completes tasks, and whether critical thinking was risk averse.

The final challenge involves an overnight stay on a 60 foot yacht. The team is challenged with reaching as many buoys in the English Channel as possible, using charts and navigational aids, while safely crewing the yacht. After several hours of instruction at sea, the control of the boat is handed over to the team and they are left to complete the challenge as safely and quickly as possible.

Anthony sailed many years ago, however, this was a completely new experience for his cohorts. According to Anthony, “the most daunting element of the exercise was collectively being in charge of a large yacht in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. There was no room for error and everybody needed to be aware of their surroundings. Large ships can neither stop nor turn very quickly!”

Anthony and his LoT team deserve sincere congratulations for meeting the many challenges presented to them throughout the year. Not only has Anthony and his team met these problem solving obstacles with professional stoicism and success, but they should be commended on their future endeavor, collaborating on a special project designed to give to others less fortunate.

At the end of the LoT program, Anthony and seven of his cohorts who have remained in touch, (himself from the US and six others who work for BA across at Waterside and Terminal 5) decided to push the boundaries of their learnings beyond BA, and chose to link up with The Haller Foundation (also known as Haller), a UK-registered charity that works on environmental issues. Haller’s goal is to provide and promote a model for economic development that is sustainable and environmentally sound. Haller uses a model of environmental regeneration pioneered by its founder, Dr. Rene Haller, a UNEP Global Laureate, to bring economic security to poor, small holder farmers living on inhospitable land. Communities’ basic needs are addressed through an integrated set of programs in water, farming, education, health, alternative energy and nano-enterprise. Haller’s community partnerships offer long term, life-skills training which empower farmers and their children to lead self-sufficient and sustainable lives. Anthony explains, “we have committed to raise GBP6000 for Haller, and everything we raise will help build a rain-fed dam for a community in Kenya. This project will change the lives of that community forever, because the rain-fed dam will enable the dwellers to capture and retain rain water that would otherwise be lost.” Anthony and his colleagues hope to travel to Kenya and teach how to rehabilitate land and improve the quality of food.

To help raise the GBP6000, all seven BA LoT team mates have agreed to participate in the “Three Peaks Challenge” in the UK. In June of this year, Anthony and his colleagues will attempt to climb the three highest peaks in Scotland, England and Wales in a 24-hour time frame. The peaks they will ascend will be:

• Ben Nevis in Scotland;
• Scafell in England; and
• Snowdon in North Wales.

When asked what he is most looking forward to when meeting the Three Peaks Challenge, Anthony states: “it’s being able to utilize our leadership skills; learning about how we perform both as individuals and as a team; pushing our boundaries beyond British Airways; and helping support a community in a developing part of the world. Despite the time difference and various working locations, we have remained a cohesive group. There is a very strong bond between us and that’s what will help us complete this challenge.”

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