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Shared leadership: a fairy tale come true

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Carmine Romano, who manages the world’s biggest aircraft maintenance facility, wasn’t thrilled when told in 2004 that the only way to avoid bankruptcy was to start sharing power with his American Airlines mechanics. Things hadn’t gone real smoothly over the years.

The deal: major cuts in salary, benefits and vacation in exchange for equal input in running the place.

The key: Let employees design and run the operation to meet your goals. In Romano’s case, that meant his union mechanics would have to cut in half the time it took them to overhaul an airplane. If they could pull it off, they’d all keep their jobs.

What they did: The mechanics designed a “gantry rail system,” top to bottom, in which a jet rolls in and a swarm of highly experienced mechanics sets upon it. Now, instead of 800 mechanics working 25 days, American can do an overhaul with 450 mechanics in 13 days. The cost dropped by 55 percent.

In fact, the turnaround time has become so fast that other airlines now fly their jets to Tulsa for overhaul. The unit claims 50 customers and expects to bring in $100 million in third-party revenue this year. The target for next year: $175 million.

Today, Romano is a true believer in sharing leadership. “It’s so much more powerful because now we have a work force that basically works with us, making decisions together. And when we go and implement, it’s a much quicker success.”

Adds Dennis Burchette, the mechanics’ union leader: “When I have my union meetings now, and I’ve got 200 guys in there, instead of complaining about management, they sound like business people.”

—Adapted from “American Airlines ‘Insources’ Maintenance Work,” Wade Goodwyn, All Things Considered, National Public Radio.

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