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Two aviators: one brash, one calm

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Hiring,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Sometimes it’s hard to absorb how two leaders in the same field can have such different leadership styles. Take these two female aviation pioneers:

Jackie Cochran, a brash and uncompromising businesswoman, won many air races and broke records. (EL, November 2006) She badly wanted to run a U.S. military training school for women flyers.

Nancy Harkness Love, who snagged her private pilot’s license at 16, defied “no-flying” rules at her private boarding school but disliked the speed and chaos of racing.

Among their leadership differences:

Cochran pressed her friendship with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1939 to urge using women pilots in the coming war. She even anticipated a need, recruiting women to fly. When the generals stalled her, she exercised raw political power. She got what she wanted, but often at great cost. Cochran alienated the people who might have been her allies.

Love, on the other hand, washed her hands of infighting. She calmly waited for the Air Force brass to notice women’s ace flying skills. Not only were her flying credentials impeccable but, unlike Cochran, she came from the same social elite as the higher-ups. She used her diplomatic abilities to make deals and put women in the air.

Love was less concerned with militarization. She aimed to get a foot in the door now and work out the details later. Unlike Cochran, she saw a need for flexibility and compromise. Cochran risked the entire WASP program (Women’s Air Force Service Pilots) in her campaign to militarize it.

In the end, both women succeeded and failed. The WASP training program ended and a lack of military commissions denied women equal status, including death benefits. It outraged Love that she had to pass the hat to transport a woman’s body home.

Both women also accomplished great things, Cochran through sheer will and Love through skilled negotiating. They both understood before almost anyone else that airplanes don’t recognize the pilot’s sex.

Lesson: Exploit your own style. Many paths lead to success.

—Adapted from “Nancy Harkness Love: First Female Pilot and First to Fly for the U.S. Military,” Deborah G. Douglas, The History Net, www.historynet.com.

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