Case Study: Bill Collins

How Bill Collins of American Airlines was selected to run the largest private aviation Maintenance Repair and Overhaul organization in the world.

It wouldn’t have happened without the Mutual Learning approach.

Where Bill Started

Bill Collins began his career as an electrical engineer, working for companies like Texas Instruments. As he gained more responsibility, he started hitting some roadblocks:

“I’m a recovering unilateralist. I used to think my opinion was the only one that counted. When I was leading an initiative I assumed that I had all the information I needed. I would leave discussions thinking we were all going to march in the same direction. It didn’t work. People would go off and do their own thing. They did things I would not have chosen or didn’t understand. I thought we had alignment, when we really didn’t.

I came to this conclusion: My style held me back in my career. It negatively impacted my promotability.”

The Work

Bill first worked with Roger Schwarz & Associates (RSA), while he was Director of Business Development for Moog, a manufacturer of precision instruments for the aerospace and industrial markets.

“It was a real eye-opener. It’s difficult to find out you don’t know everything! I learned I was doing some things very, very incorrectly. I would make a statement or a command without checking in to see whether I was understood or if there was a better way to do it. Because the culture at Moog valued Mutual Learning, people would point out my unilateralism. I would be asked: ‘Are you going to check to see if there is a different opinion?’ I learned how to ask people about how they’re truly seeing things.”

The Results

After Moog, Bill joined Smith’s Aerospace, which was acquired by GE where he was promoted to VP of the Aviation Power group much faster than expected. He attributed the work he did with RSA as a major factor in his career advancement. Recently Bill joined American Airlines as VP Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul.

“Here’s the biggest benefit from the Mutual Learning approach: It gives you the ability to correct what’s wrong in an organization in short order by asking the right questions to find out what the real problems are.

When I interviewed for the American Airlines job, rather than making any assumptions, I asked the right open-ended questions to understand, from senior leadership all the way up to the chairman, exactly what they were interested in doing and what was really bothering them. I was able to communicate precisely what the 100-day plan looked like and what the key objectives were. Without the Mutual Learning approach, I wouldn’t have asked the right questions. I would have walked away with incorrect inferences. I don’t think I would have been selected for this role.”