How to be a more productive and successful cabin crew leader

15 minutes refresher

Emotionally intelligent people are said to be more productive and more successful than people with low Emotional Intelligence. Why? Those with high emotional intelligence can monitor and regulate their emotions to better guide their thinking and actions.

These skills help job performance in high emotional labour jobs: leading-managing, supervising, training, and roles requiring close and accurate communication with others in safety critical roles: in other words you and your cabin crew, ground crew and management colleagues.

According to the American psychologist Daniel Goleman, who helped to popularise EI, there are five main elements of emotional intelligence:

1. Self-awareness.

2. Self-regulation.

3. Motivation.

4. Empathy.

5. Social skills.

So, as a flight crew, you practice these skills every time you go to work, which means if you don’t have these skills, then your life might be a little more difficult than it needs to be.

We will now look at each element and provide some tips on how to improve them.


Let’s revise the first element, self-awareness. Think of a shift where you saw the names of other crew members and cabin crew on your crew report. Now think of a time when you saw a name on the crew report, or a certain trip or SIM check, or meeting with executive management or CASA on your roster and this created an emotional reaction: joy, fear, anguish, worry, disgust and so on, what triggered this reaction? Was it a memory, an association with a good or bad experience, a fear based on rumour or speculation on your part, or something else?

Presuming you didn’t run from the crew room screaming and swearing, you most likely dealt with the emotions and you got the job done. This is the interesting part: what did you tell yourself that allowed you to deal with your emotional trigger—how did you regulate your behaviour so that you could get on with doing the job? If you can identify your own emotional triggers, then you are well on the way to higher EI.

This is the first part towards your success: your ability to identify your own emotional strengths, weaknesses, stressors, emotional states and triggers through self-reflection and feedback from others.

What can you do to improve your self-awareness?

Try these strategies to help you begin self aware:

  • Keep a journal – Journals help you improve your self-awareness. If you spend just a few minutes each day writing down your thoughts, this can move you to a higher degree of self-awareness.
  • Slow down – When you experience anger or other strong emotions, slow down to examine why. Remember, no matter what the situation, you can always choose how you react to it. (Our article on Managing Your Emotions at Work will help you understand what your emotions are telling you.)
  • Try this: the next time you are on a break, halfway between here and there, passengers asleep, flight deck not bothering you for a coffee, take a moment in quiet spot and reflect on your ability to manage your emotions: what gets to you, what are your triggers? Not the superficial stuff, but the deep issues that are causing you stress and disappointment when you react to them.

Self-flection is what you have just done. The trick is be able to identify the root cause of your emotion as you reflect, and not concentrate on the superficial things you think trigger the emotion. Each time you sense a trigger (a person, an email, a text, a letter, a roster, a phone call with operations at 3am, a difficult conversation with a supervisor or a another member of your crew), and this event triggers an emotion that you don’t like, record facts about the event or situation. Then, when you have a moment to reflect, study the data from a different point-of-view, Look at the situation as if you were an actor and not a real person, or replace you with someone else and role play the whole scene in your head. How did you go? Did you say or do something you regretted later (maybe hit reply-all-send a little too quickly?). Or did you think things through, find the root cause of the issue and act rationally? What could you do better next time? The ability to recognise your triggers and be self-aware is the first skill.


The next skill, is your ability to self-regulate and model behaviours that demonstrate management of emotions. You wouldn’t be a crew member if you couldn’t manage your emotions and model the required behaviour of a professional flight attendant, but none-the-less, some of us are better at it than others. As a leader, this is critical. Your ability to model the appropriate behaviour is an essential task if you are to lead others through an emergency, through tough times and through the day-to-day challenges of a working life. To us, an emergency is an unprepared landing on water—hard work—but what about when the day comes when you leave the cabin and enter the office? Your ability to draw from your skills as a crew member, to model emotionally stable behaviour, even in the face of a crisis, will do you well. Let’s just stop and check that you are doing this critical element well.

How can you improve your ability to self-regulate and model professional behaviour?

Leaders who regulate themselves effectively rarely verbally attack others, make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people, or compromise their values. Self-regulation is all about staying in control. Try these strategies to help you begin self-regulated:

  • Know your values – Do you have a clear idea of where you absolutely will not compromise? Do you know what values are most important to you? Spend some time examining your “code of ethics.” If you know what’s most important to you, then you probably won’t have to think twice when you face a moral or ethical decision – you’ll make the right choice.
  • Hold yourself accountable – If you tend to blame others when something goes wrong, stop. Make a commitment to admit to your mistakes and to face the consequences, whatever they are. You’ll probably sleep better at night, and you’ll quickly earn the respect of those around you.
  • Practice being calm – The next time you’re in a challenging situation, be very aware of how you act. Do you relieve your stress by shouting at someone else? Practice deep-breathing exercises to calm yourself. Also, try to write down all of the negative things you want to say, and then rip it up and throw it away. Expressing these emotions on paper (and not showing them to anyone!) is better than speaking them aloud to your team. What’s more, this helps you challenge your reactions to ensure that they’re fair!


Self-motivated leaders work consistently toward their goals, and they have extremely high standards for the quality of their work. This is part of the third skill, the ability to self-motivate.

How can you improve your motivation?

Try these strategies:

  • Re-examine why you’re doing your job – It’s easy to forget what you really love about flying and aviation. We often think of the bad points, and forget the good ones. So, take some time to remember why you wanted this job. If you’re unhappy in your role and you’re struggling to remember why you wanted it, try asking yourself the ‘five whys’ to find the root of the problem. Starting at the root often helps you look at your situation in a new way.
  • Know where you stand – Determine how motivated you are to lead? Are you ready for a leadership role, or are you tired of it and need a break?
  • Be hopeful and find something good – Motivated leaders are usually optimistic, no matter what problems they face. Adopting this mindset might take practice, but it’s well worth the effort. Every time you face a challenge, or even a failure, try to find at least one good thing about the situation. It might be something small, like a new contact, or something with long-term effects, like an important lesson learned. But there’s almost always something positive, if you look for it


The ability to recognise and respond to the emotional states of others is the fourth skill: the ability to empathise with others. This is so important for leaders and managers. The ability to pick up on those subtle cues that someone is not comfortable in the workplace (or anywhere really), that someone is stressed, frightened, or confused are the critical navigational markers you need to understand if you are to be an effective leader or manager. Think of the worst boss you have ever met. Think of the time you tried to subtly suggest to a superior that you were not comfortable with the job you were assigned, and think of the time you felt overwhelmed but were too shy, or frightened or embarrassed to tell someone. Now think of how you would have felt if someone detected your emotions and offered you help and guidance—if they put themselves in your position and showed empathy? If you can master this skill, you will have the ability to manage people effectively. Without these skills, well, you are not learning and developing as a manager or leader. If you want to earn the respect and loyalty of your team, then show them you care by being empathic.

How can you improve your empathy?

Try these strategies:

  • Put yourself in someone else’s position – It’s easy to support your own point of view–after all, it’s yours! And it’s easy to lead from behind an SOP, isn’t it? Do this…why? Because I’m the cabin manager that’s why. But take the time to look at situations from other people’s perspectives—are you being fair and reasonable?
  • Pay attention to body language – Perhaps when you listen to someone, you cross your arms, move your feet back and forth, or bite your lip or start doing a task. This body language tells others how you really feel about a situation, and the message you’re giving isn’t positive! Learning to read body language can be a real asset in a leadership role, because you’ll be better able to determine how someone truly feels. This gives you the opportunity to respond appropriately.
  • Respond to feelings – One of your crew is not feeling well and you tell him to sit in the aft galley. You ask another crew member to clean a lavatory, again. And although she agrees, you can hear the disappointment in her voice. So, respond by addressing her feelings. Tell her you appreciate how willing she is to do the unpleasant work and that you and the other crew are doing extra to cover the sick crew member, that she is showing great teamwork.

Social skills

The final skill, is the ability to promote the development of emotional intelligence in others using good social skills. Leaders who do well in the social skills element of emotional intelligence are great communicators. They’re just as open to hearing bad news as good news, and they’re expert at getting their team to support them and be excited about a new mission or project.

Leaders who have good social skills are also good at managing change and resolving conflicts diplomatically. They’re rarely satisfied with leaving things as they are, but they don’t sit back and make everyone else do the work: They set an example with their own behaviour and coach others.

How can you improve your social skills?

Try these strategies:

  • Learn conflict resolution – Leaders must know how to resolve conflicts between their team members, passengers, management or suppliers. Learning conflict resolution skills is vital if you want to succeed.
  • Improve your communication skills – How well do you communicate?
  • Learn how to praise others – As a leader, you can inspire the loyalty of your team simply by giving praise when it’s earned. Learning how to praise others is a fine art, but well worth the effort.
  • Learn how to use coaching models – We have attached two common coaching templates that may be useful to you.
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