Rafa Barreto

In the world of aviation, the figure of the captain is often seen as the ultimate authority. However, being a captain doesn’t always equate to being a true leader. This became evident to me when I moved to Vietnam and began to notice the distinction between authority and leadership. It was during this time that I stumbled upon an article which stated that to be a great leader, one must also be a great coach. This concept intrigued me and led me to pursue coaching certifications. Through this journey, I discovered the profound impact that embracing the COACH approach can have on leadership, both in aviation and in life.

C: Communicate

One of the first things I learned in my coaching training was the power of communication. As a captain, I was used to giving commands and expecting compliance. However, effective leadership requires more than just issuing orders; it involves sharing ideas and truly listening to others. By improving my communication skills, I started to build stronger relationships with my crew. I learned to value their input and create an environment where everyone felt heard and respected. This shift not only improved teamwork but also fostered a sense of unity and trust within the cockpit.

O: Observe

Observation is a crucial skill for any leader. In Vietnam, I realized that paying attention to the details of my environment and the behaviors of my team members could provide valuable insights. By observing, I could identify strengths and areas for improvement in both myself and my crew. This heightened awareness allowed me to make informed decisions and provide better guidance. It also helped me to be more empathetic, as I could see when someone was struggling and offer support before issues escalated.

A: Assist

Leadership is not just about leading from the front; it’s also about being there for your team. The concept of assistance was a game-changer for me. I learned that offering help and seeking it when needed is a sign of strength, not weakness. By assisting my crew members, I showed them that I cared about their success and well-being. This created a culture of mutual support, where everyone was willing to lend a hand. It also encouraged others to step up and take on leadership roles, knowing they had my support.

C: Challenge

Growth happens outside of our comfort zones. As a leader, it’s essential to challenge both yourself and your team. In my journey, I realized that facing new challenges and encouraging my crew to do the same led to significant personal and professional development. By setting higher standards and pushing boundaries, we achieved more than we thought possible. This approach not only enhanced our skills but also boosted our confidence and resilience.

H: Honour

Finally, honouring yourself and others is a cornerstone of effective leadership. Respect and appreciation go a long way in building a positive and productive environment. In Vietnam, I made a conscious effort to recognize the efforts and achievements of my team. This practice of honouring their contributions fostered a sense of pride and motivation. It also reinforced the values of respect and integrity, which are essential for maintaining a cohesive and harmonious team.


Embracing the COACH approach transformed my leadership style. By focusing on communication, observation, assistance, challenge, and honour, I became a more effective and compassionate leader. These principles helped me navigate the complexities of leading a team in aviation and beyond. They taught me that true leadership is not about authority but about empowering others and fostering a supportive and growth-oriented environment. As I continue to apply these lessons, I am reminded that being a great leader is a continuous journey of learning, adapting, and growing.

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