The Art of Influence Has Never Been More Important—or More Overlooked

Tony Kern, Ed.D

By Tony Kern, Ed.D
Chief Executive Officer, Convergent Performance

Posted on April 29, 2024
Young aviation mechanic studying with veteran mechanic to repair engine

As our industry continues to grind through the growth pains of a generational handoff, the art of peer-to-peer influence has never been more critical. While executive leadership is important, attitudes, values and culture are shaped informally by experienced line employees and first-line supervisors operating far, far away from the C-suites.

As we continue to turn over vast numbers of pilots, air traffic controllers, maintenance workers and ground support personnel, we have the opportunity—and responsibility—to shape the culture of aviation for the next several decades. But we must act intentionally, and we must act soon to make this a positive change. As we struggle to “fill the ranks,” there are leverage points we are not yet recognizing or using.

The Crucial Role of Quiet Professionals

Every organization has a group of rock-steady professionals who do their jobs quietly and well. They show up on time, do quality work, and don’t rock the boat. They aren’t criticizing management, complaining, bucking for a promotion or looking to leave for greener pastures. They are too busy getting the job done. We used to have a lot more of these than we do today.

“B players” are the heart and soul of your culture. As role models, they show the way for the new generation through their focus, workmanship and attention to detail. As the numbers of these experienced workers shrink, we are left with a “professionalism vacuum” that is filled with a lot of less worthy new generational norms such as “quiet quitting” and a “What is in this for me?” attitude towards compliance. When we add in the operational demands of an expanding market and production concerns, is it any wonder why we are seeing high-profile and very public mistakes at an increasing rate?

Filling the Leadership Gap

This situation begs for the type of informal leadership our long-term professionals used to provide. But as they age out of the fight, we must fill this informal leadership gap. If we do not, we will be unintentionally shaping a culture of new, less noble norms for decades to come. Our indecision will become a decision—one we will have to live with for a long, long time. So, what can be done?

  1. Find new leaders. While there are certainly important differences in the values and expectations of millennials and Gen Z workers, there are many who arrive with the work ethic, compliance, and attitudes to become the new generation of Quiet Professionals. We must find them, recognize them for their steady performance and develop their potential as informal influencers. As we chase the last quality escape or safety incident, this imperative is too often overlooked by overworked managers.
  2. Hold the line on quality and safety. These new professionals are not immune to cultural influence. If all they see and hear from senior leadership is production goals, we will soon see them bending in the direction of doing “whatever it takes” to stay off the radar and meet these demands.
  3. Train them in the art of influence. We can and should develop and resource an “Emerging Leaders Program.” Beginning with the “why” this moment in time is so critical, we can provide new tools, skills and abilities such as psychosocial strength, communication skills, and emotional intelligence.
  4. Promote them when they are ready, but not before. The average age and experience of first-line supervisors have dramatically decreased over the past few years. While this is great for advancement, it comes at a cost to our cultures. This is the reason behind the Emerging Leaders Program, offered to line employees as a way to prepare them to enhance their influence at the next level.

In the shifting sands of our rapidly evolving industry, the role of peer-to-peer influence stands as a beacon of critical importance, yet it remains starkly underutilized. As we face a dwindling pool of seasoned professionals, the urgency to act is paramount. The art of influence, once the hallmark of experienced Quiet Professionals, must be revived and taught anew to emerging leaders. These individuals are not merely filling roles; they are crucial to shaping a resilient culture that prizes quality, safety and integrity over mere production goals.

Indecision Must Not Be Our Legacy

The future of aviation depends not on the whims of the market or the pressures of production but on our commitment to fostering a culture where excellence is passed down through the ranks, safeguarded by those who understand its true value. The time to act is now, lest our indecision become our legacy.

Let us seize this moment to affirm that the art of influence is more than a skill—it is an essential stewardship for the future of aviation.

For more information on how we can accomplish this, contact me directly at and tune into my podcast “Only Human with Dr. Tony Kern,” available on your favorite podcast platform.

Convergent Performance Convergent Performance
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