Charlotte, North Carolina
C-5 Instructor / Aircraft Commander
Vice Wing Commander; 302nd Airlift Wing; US Air Force (Ret.)
"Training makes missions successful ..."
Why they're a Crisis Leader:
Jeff’s leadership roles have spanned the majority of his life. Really.
As an Eagle Scout, he served as a leader of other boy scouts both during meetings and during friction-filled campouts and long hikes.
As a cadet in the Air Force Academy, he served as a leader among his classmates and spent his off time leading treks up and down the Rocky Mountains on multiple day hikes and mountaineering trips.
As a mountaineer, he led himself and others to (and from) the highest peak in North America (Mount McKinley) and returned with nary a scratch.
As an officer in the Air Force, Jeff has flown and commanded missions critical to our nation’s defense.
As an expert in aircraft ergonomics, he led improvement efforts to make the piloting some of the world’s most complex machines a little bit more user-friendly.
As an international commercial pilot, Jeff routinely makes leadership decisions that instantly impact the 100’s of passengers in his charge.
Did I learn this from my short interview with Jeff? No. I’ve known Jeff Armentrout since junior high (we also earned our Eagle Scout rank on the same day).
Not only is he one of my oldest friends, but he is one of the first people I wanted to speak to when I first started this interview project.
Read on, and you’ll see why.
#1 "What is a Crisis Leader?"
Click to read a transcript of the answer "What is a Crisis Leader?"
So, to me a crisis leader is someone who is prepared to deal with the crisis for which he's trained, or he or her is trained.
It's someone who people look up to typically I would say they are the calm in the storm if you will.
In my profession both military and civil aviation, all of us are highly trained so that when we are faced with a crisis, we are able to react appropriately without panic setting in, or derailing us from taking the correct actions to deal with the crisis that we're facing.
In terms of team leadership, I think a crisis leader has to instill trust in his team and more importantly has to empower the team.
In the current leadership team that I'm a part of we use the three words empower, trust, and accountable, or to shorten that E.T.A.
So, we empower the team, we trust the team to do the right thing, and to do the thing that they're trained to do, and then we hold them accountable for their actions.
And I think that's a critical piece of crisis leadership is empowering the team, trusting them to do the right thing, and then holding them accountable at the end of the day.
Something that I think is really critical for crisis leaders is the ability to remove barriers for others. And I think that applies to any leadership role, but that is one of the things that the team really needs the leader to do is to tackle those obstacles that are standing in their way of getting their job done, and the leader is responsible for trying to remove those barriers.
A crisis leader that is at the top of his or her game is going to practice his craft as often as he or she can, and will always seek to improve, and you see that in what we do in the military where we're continuously practicing and exercising and always trying to get better.
And also in aviation, we're always training, we're always trying to improve our skillset, and always refreshing our skillset so that we're not ever caught off guard or by surprise when we're faced with a particular crisis.
#2 "What's an example when you relied on your own Crisis Leadership?"
Part 1 of 2:
Click to read a transcript of the answer to answer 1 of 2 of "What's an example when you relied on your own Crisis Leadership?"
So as an aircraft commander in the Air Force, I was flying the C-5 Galaxy which is a large cargo airplane.
And we were flying a mission from the East Coast of the US over to Europe. Crossing the Atlantic, roughly about halfway across the Atlantic, we had a, strong smell of fumes from the back of the airplane.
So one of my loadmasters, and a loadmaster is someone who's responsible for both the passengers and the load on the airplane, we carry three loadmasters and a total crew of about 10 people plus we had probably about 70 passengers on the airplane plus all the cargo.
But loadmasters went down into the cargo compartment to investigate the source of the fumes and they found that, there was a, fluid leak coming from one of our cargo pallets and it was leaking fluid all over the floor, so.
The smell of fumes was very strong and it was starting to overwhelm the loadmasters so at that point, as the aircraft commander I started looking at options as to where we could go with the airplane. Our best option at that point would've been to divert into the Azores which was probably a couple hours away.
And so, the up front crew started looking at what those options would look like.
And the loadmasters went to work, they donned their portable oxygen bottles. And started dealing with, the leak in the back. They were able to break apart one of the cargo pallets and they discovered in the middle of the pallet, several containers of paint thinner that were leaking all over the cargo compartment.
So at that point, I directed them to do the best they could to clean up the leak. And the flight engineer was directed to start performing the smoke and fume elimination checklist. Which basically ventilates the airplane and helps get the fumes out of the airplane.
The loadmasters were able to isolate all the leaking containers and put them in some garbage bags to isolate the leak and then they were able to, get the rest of the fluid that leaked on the cargo compartment cleaned up with some pads and some rags to get all that off the floor. Fumes dissipated and, we talked as a crew about what we wanted to do, the loadmasters felt that they had sufficiently isolated the leak.
And, we made the decision to continue on to destination and had no further issues with the cargo at that time.
In terms of the crisis response, what made it successful was really, the training that the crew had received throughout our career.
And me as a crisis leader, letting them do their job and trusting them to do their job and everybody did an outstanding job and we train this way, all the time.
To work as a crew and to let everybody take a functional leadership role based on their expertise. It can be fairly complex 'cause it's a fairly large airplane and me as the aircraft commander, I can't see what's going on in the back, I have to rely on the loadmasters to tell me what's going on.
So communication is vitally important to help everybody get a common picture of what is going on. And once everybody has a common picture to work from the crew is able to effectively work towards, achieving the goal or the end goal that we're going for. Which in this case is, get the airplane back in a safe configuration and safely execute the mission as planned.
So I guess I chalk it up to good training, good communication, and me trusting my folks to do their job, which they all did.
And a successful outcome as a result.
Part 2 of 2:
Click to read a transcript of the answer to answer 2 of 2 of "What's an example when you relied on your own Crisis Leadership?"
A little less of a crisis, but some of the same principles apply.
I was a leader on a scout trip. We were doing a backpacking trip in Colorado. We were climbing a 14,000-foot peak.
The plan had been to start early in the morning, summit the peak probably around ten o'clock, and then spend a couple hours descending the peak by a different route than we actually climbed the peak.
That would get us, basically complete a loop, and get us back to our camp around noon hopefully, so we could get on with the rest of our itinerary. So, we were able to get up the peak and got to the top. I'm looking at the map, we had decided or, I guess, I had decided as the leader of the trip, that we would take what appeared to be a trail going down the backside of the mountain, that would complete the loop.
So, as we were coming off the summit, there was a faint footpath leading through a scree field. After about two or 300 feet of descent, the trail essentially disappeared and we find ourselves in a very large scree and boulder field, with no clear path down off the mountain.
At that point, we were faced with a decision to climb back up or continue down, and we talked about it. I was convinced, at the time, that we would pick up the trail once we got off the scree field, based on the map that I had, there was a very clear trail and clear route back.
Nobody really wanted to go back up the three or 400 feet that we had already lost. Everybody was pretty tired from the climb, at that point. So, we elected to continue down.
About halfway down the scree field, it became very challenging, lots of loose scree, and rocks were coming loose and rolling down the field. I had one come within probably a foot of hitting a scout.
That boulder was moving, it was probably about a foot in diameter, and it was probably moving about 20, 30 miles an hour as it went zooming by one of my kids. Very scary, at the time, thinking that if he had been hit, it would have taken us a very long time to get any kind of emergency response back there.
We managed to get off the scree field after, probably about two hours of very slow-going. It was probably noontime. Everybody was hungry and tired. We paused once we got off the scree field, finished off what water we had, and ate some lunch, and then continued down. Tried to find a trail.
Could not find a trail, so we just did some map reading, got ourselves into a dry spring bed, and then followed the spring bed back around until we were able to intersect a trail that got us back to our destination.
Couple things about that whole incident, number one, the preparation was key to keeping us from getting into a true crisis situation.
We had plenty of water, we had plenty of food, and we had plenty of daylight to give us time to navigate back down that side of the mountain, and back down to where we knew our camp would be.
I think, some of the other things that helped prevent that incident from getting more serious, was the preparation of the boys and the adults. Everybody had prepared very well, in terms of their fitness. Everybody was very deliberate and very careful in getting down. We gave ourselves lots of time, we didn't rush, and were able to keep everybody calm and not too worried about the fact that we weren't on a trail.
Cool heads prevailed and everybody was a little bit better for having had the experience, but, nonetheless, the lesson learned was, if you're not sure the path down, go back down the way you came up.
#3 "What do you know now that you wish you knew then?"
Click to read a transcript of the answer "What do you know now that you wish you knew then?"
As I get a little more senior and a little more into higher levels of leadership, probably one of the biggest challenges I have is learning how to delegate things better.
And I think that's essential to crisis leadership, especially when you're leading a fairly large team. And so, I think at the point I am right now, one of my big lessons learned is that you don't have to do it all and you don't have to know it all.
And that really comes down to knowing your team and using your team, and leaning on the expertise within your team, because a leader can't know everything and is certainly not a subject matter expert in everything.
So, clearly, using that functional leadership and empowering those functional leaders to do the tasks that they're the best at is one of the key things that I would suggest to anyone that's taking on leadership roles for larger teams.
And it goes back to that ETA, empower, trust and accountable, in terms of how you lead your team and how you're successful in dealing with any crisis that a team is facing.
#4 "What advice would you give someone who wants to improve their own Crisis Leadership?"
Click to read a transcript of the answer "What advice would you give someone who wants to improve their own Crisis Leadership?"
Anybody who wants to improve their own priceless leadership has to embrace continuous learning, and I think one of the most critical things is always exercising your skill set.
And the way we do it in the military is we train like we fight. So making it as realistic as possible, as close to the real thing as possible, is critical to improving your leadership skills.
So any opportunity you have, whether it is a small-scale exercise or a large-scale exercise, to put your team in the situations to challenge yourself, and don't be afraid to fail in those exercise scenarios, because that's where the learning occurs, by identifying your weak spots, both personally and amongst your team.
I think it's important to learn your resources, know your resources, know your team as best you can, and always seek to improve your knowledge and your expertise.
As I said before, don't stop learning and always seek to learn more.
#5 "Who is a Crisis Leader that influenced your career?"
Click to read a transcript of the answer "Who is a crisis leader that influenced your career?"
I've had several leaders that I thought were outstanding crisis leaders and influenced both my development and my career.
One of them I can recall is a man named Mike Cox. He was an instructor pilot that I flew with when I was a young pilot in the Air Force.
I was on a mission with him when we were in Europe and got re-tasked to do a crisis response into Africa for a developing situation where we had to evacuate US citizens from a country in Africa that was evolving into chaos if you will.
One of the things that impressed me about him and that I took away is that he put the mission at the forefront.
He put everybody on the team into action in terms of doing their piece of it to ensure that we got the mission off on time, that we planned the mission appropriately, and that we got the assets on the ground, which were, essentially, Special Forces with helicopters and ground vehicles, to go in and evacuate the non-combatants.
Some of the key things that he did, and it goes back to some lessons that I've learned and the things that I think are important in crisis response, is that he empowered the entire team to go off and do their things because time was critical, so everybody had to take a piece of it.
He couldn't do it all. Everybody had to do their part. He made it very clear to the team what had to be done and why it had to be done and why it had to be done in a timely manner so that we could execute the mission rapidly and effectively.
We got the mission off the ground, we got our team into the airfield that we were going to ahead of schedule. We got them off our airplane and we got out of there as quickly as we could. It was an impressive turnaround and it was one of those things when you see all the pieces come together, all the piece parts, and everything works like a well-oiled machine because of our training, our expertise, and the leadership that was on the various teams that were executing at that time.