Heroes Among Us: “Don’t let pride get in the way of your willingness to roll up your sleeves and help.” With Bob Seidel and Marco Derhy

Don’t let pride get in the way of your willingness to roll up your sleeves and help. At my company, I’m not above washing a sink full of dirty coffee cups. Show them that you care about them as individuals. Help them achieve their personal goals. When you develop the trust and respect of your […]

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Don’t let pride get in the way of your willingness to roll up your sleeves and help. At my company, I’m not above washing a sink full of dirty coffee cups. Show them that you care about them as individuals. Help them achieve their personal goals. When you develop the trust and respect of your employees, there is no limit to what they can achieve for you.

As pat of my series on “ Life and Leadership Lessons Learned in the Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Seidel of Alerion Aviation.

Marco: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When I was in elementary school my parents relocated to the Washington, DC area, where I remained through high school. When I was thirteen, my father took me to an air show at Dulles Airport. I was fascinated by the airplanes and blown away by the Blue Angels performance. It was at that moment I decided I wanted to fly Navy jets, and when the time came, I applied to the U.S. Naval Academy. After four years at the academy I graduated with a degree in engineering and orders to Pensacola, Florida to begin flight training.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I am the CEO and managing partner of Alerion Aviation, an aviation services company providing aircraft management, charter, maintenance and FBO services to owners and operators of private jet aircraft.

What makes Alerion is unique is its laser focus on client satisfaction.

Over a decade ago, when I first started as an aircraft manager, I met with a very wealthy Boston sports team owner. To my astonishment, he stormed into the meeting and pulled out a paper calendar. “This is how I keep the schedule on this airplane,” he said. His assistant had been marking down his aircraft’s schedule in green, orange and red crayon. I couldn’t believe it. A modern, private business jet was being managed by crayons!

Since that moment, I’ve invested hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in creating an online owner portal that I am very proud of. It’s used to manage accounting, scheduling, maintenance, aircraft location and other records. My clients can access it from anywhere at any time.

My clients love it because it’s reliable and personalized, which is indicative of the work we do at Alerion Aviation. We pride ourselves on catering to each client based on their individual needs and preferences.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in Industrial Engineering, I became a naval flight officer and was stationed in the western Pacific Ocean, tracking Soviet submarines in a P-3 Orion aircraft. After two “sea tours”, I became an instructor teaching anti-submarine tactics and navigation skills. I retired as a lieutenant commander.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

When I was a lieutenant junior grade, my squadron’s commanding officer was a brilliant man, but had a very hard time containing his emotions. In fact, we all knew how he upset he was based on the size and number of veins that would pop out of his forehead. A “three veiner” meant real trouble.

I was in a big meeting with him, trying to report information regarding an important project, and I could tell he’s not listening at all. Instead, he was fixated on watching somebody buff the floors outside his office! He actually walked out, started reprimanding the man and proceeded to show him how to properly buff the floor.

Of course, I kept my cool out of respect for authority, but I learned an important lesson that day: as a leader, know your priorities. Don’t get caught in the minutiae. You will be more respected for it.

I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

My service period was one in which we, fortunately, were not involved in a “shooting war”. I did spend a good deal of time in some potentially dangerous places like Mogadishu , Somalia and Karachi, Pakistan; however, one of my academy classmates, Kirk Lippold, was the Commanding Officer of the USS Cole, which was attacked in Yemen while being refueled. My greatest observation of heroism relating to my Navy experience would have been observing him and his entire crew fighting for days to save the ship, which had been bombed at the waterline by terrorists. Sailors sacrificed their lives to save the ship and they did.

To this day, Kirk has never lost touch with the family members of those who were lost. He regularly visits the families and discusses terrorism and International Policy on national cable television programs. The crew of the Cole, who went in harm’s way so that others might survive, are heroes.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

For me, a hero is someone who puts protecting the lives of others over self-preservation. They are people who put others first, whether brothers and sisters in arms or civilians.

Heroes act selflessly with decisions required to “save the day”.

Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?

I thought about the question long and hard, and my final answer would have to be yes.

Some people take great career, political and financial risks that defy the idea of self-protection. These people are certainly brave and have my admiration.

But because I am a military man, for the purity of the concept, I believe true heroism does involve an element of putting your life at risk in favor of another. When I think of a hero, I think of Medal of Honor recipients.

Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Praise in public, reprimand in private. This goes back to my story about my lieutenant junior grade years.

2. Make your mission clear. There should be no uncertainty of what your organization’s priorities are. In the military, having a clear understanding of your mission could mean the difference between life and death.

3. Train as if you are in battle. This is especially important in the aviation industry. I expect Alerion pilots to be trained at an intensity level that replicates the realest conditions they could face one day.

4. Lead by example. Through my commanding officers, I learned that when you lead with a sense of optimism, others will follow in that sentiment.

5. Above all, maintain a sense of integrity and dignity.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?

Absolutely. Being a flight officer, of course, has important foundations for aviation. I don’t take safety lightly. Witnessing deaths and injuries is a warning of what happens if you’re not at 100%.

In the military, you can’t hide the fact that you’re slacking or not a team player. Similarly, in business, if you’re a leader who expects people to work long hours, miss family events or work through the weekend, you have to be willing to do the same.

I learned to instill in people a sense of duty is to convince them that you’re willing to do it too. That you’re there with them and for them.

As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?

I am lucky in that I left the military without severe mental scarring. There are moments, though, that I carry with me forever. I saw classmates killed in training accidents before getting to the fleet. I have seen classmates killed in terrorist attacks and in military operations. Out of respect for those classmates and others who have sacrificed, I hold with me the importance of living a good and honorable life. I stay very active with my family — they are my greatest comfort and my greatest source of happiness.

My experiences as a naval flight officer led me to where I am today. I took my passions and experience, and turned them into a career.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Alerion is always using technology to improve our service and products. Right now, we are trying out a new customer service training program with an app called Traena. Instead of sitting through annual, all-day (yawn) seminars, employees will receive thirty-seven 4 to 5minute vignettes over the period of a few months. The theory is that this kind of training, one bite at a time, has the potential to be more effective. My hope is that not only will my employees like it, but also that our clients will benefit from the more productive customer service.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

Don’t let pride get in the way of your willingness to roll up your sleeves and help. At my company, I’m not above washing a sink full of dirty coffee cups. Show them that you care about them as individuals. Help them achieve their personal goals. When you develop the trust and respect of your employees, there is no limit to what they can achieve for you.

What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

My advice would be to provide clearly defined objectives, communicate clearly, remove obstacles, invest in good tools, eliminate politics and let your people shine. Think of yourself as serving your team, instead of the other way round.

Do not micro-manage. Let people know your plan, provide helpful feedback and hold people accountable — but give them the authority required to fulfill their responsibilities. These acts are especially important in my field, as there is very little room for error or miscommunication in aviation.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father took me to airshows as a child, and then encouraged me to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy, because I showed an interested in aviation. I’m grateful that he responded to my passions with such enthusiasm. Who knows where I would be if he hadn’t done so.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to give back in ways I can, such as financially supporting the Naval Academy mission of preparing midshipman morally, mentally and physically, to be superior leaders of our nation. I also support the USO who provide comfort and entertainment abroad and at home for our service members.

I am a financial supporter and an advisor to a wonderful non-profit called Able Flight (www. Ableflight.org), who provide scholarships for people with severe disabilities to learn to fly and to train for jobs in aviation. Over the last ten years, they have successfully trained about 90 pilots, including many service members who were injured in battle.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Like most people, I imagine, I am terribly frustrated and disappointed at the childlike, selfish behavior of people both in and out of the public eye, and the way they rant and rave about everything which challenges their myopic views of the world.

If I could rub a lamp and have a genie grant me one wish , that wish would be for a return to civility in public discourse, and the paying of respect by people toward others, regardless of their political or religious viewpoints. Good people can and should debate important subjects, but no one is entitled to declare their opinion the only one valid, and dismiss the concerns and views of others by mocking and name calling.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

During times of stress, I like to think of the Serenity Prayer: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s relevant to my life because the job of CEO is sometimes emotionally draining, and it helps to keep me in check.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’d really like to have lunch with Richard Branson. He seems to have won the game of life. I admire that he does good things with his wealth and celebrity. Mostly, he just seems to be a very happy guy. It would be great to ask him how he manages to accomplish so much while seemingly at ease. To me, he’s the definition of success- being totally secure in your accomplishments while making others feel great.

Marco: How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow us on Linkedin –https://www.linkedin.com/company/fly-alerion/

Marco; Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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