A former Wing Commander heeds a creative calling

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A former Wing Commander heeds a creative calling

By Nicola Field

 

When Chris Huet AFIML promises to help his clients speak with the precision of a fighter pilot and the passion of a poet, he’s not joking. This former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilot, award-winning poet, and now communications coach, has a career path that can rightly be summed up as ‘Top Gun meets the Bard’.

Huet kickstarted his career in the RAAF, completing a Bachelor of Arts through the Australian Defence Force Academy. It wasn’t long before Huet found his wings, climbing through the ranks to become a fighter pilot. It’s a role Huet describes as “lots of fun and very rewarding – it was an opportunity to fly and visit different places around the world.”

In a near-20-year career with the RAAF, Huet reached the distinguished rank of Wing Commander. In his final role, as a squadron Commanding Officer, he was responsible for a fighter training school, overseeing 200 personnel and 14 F/A-18 Hornet jets. Under Huet’s leadership, the squadron was officially recognised as the RAAF’s first Learning Centred Organisation.

Huet’s experience in the RAAF reinforced two critical leadership skills: the ability to galvanise a team, and the need for outstanding communication. He explains, “You may be flying alone in a single seater F/A-18 but you’re always part of a team. And across the Air Force you deal with a multitude of diverse people, each responsible for different roles. It makes good communication skills essential.”

Fast forward to 2006, and Huet was ready to hang up his wings. Having completed a Master of Management, he was keen to use his management skills in a broader sphere.

Huet gradually transitioned out of the military, initially consulting to the defence forces and later taking on the role of Business Development Manager at Lockheed Martin. It was here that he harnessed his communication skills to negotiate a A$1.2 billion contract for the Project AIR 5428 Pilot Training System.

 

FROM THE SKY TO THE STAGE

Behind the scenes, the right side of Huet’s brain was bubbling away. He had always been interested in poetry and creative writing, and a little over 10 years ago Huet’s alter ego, CJ Bowerbird, took to the stage.

Under the moniker of CJ Bowerbird, Huet has performed poetry at folk and writer’s festivals across Australia, Asia and the United States. He is a former Australian Poetry Slam champion (slams are competitive poetry readings), and a member of Canberra’s Sound and Fury Ensemble as well as a two-time TEDx presenter.

 

THE COMMUNICATIONS COACH TAKES OFF

Several years ago, Huet had a moment of epiphany – one that would see him fuse his management experience with his talent for the spoken word.

“I was writing my CV and trying to find the real story behind who I am,” explains Huet. “I realised that what I really enjoy most is communicating with others, and I wanted to combine my creative pursuits with my technical and business work.”

Although uncertain about the market for a communications coach, in 2017 Huet opened the doors of Understood Consulting Services. He reports being “pleasantly surprised” by the level of demand for his services.

Describing his role, Huet says, “It’s not solely public speaking that I teach. Often it’s one-on-one verbal communication skills that my clients are looking for.” Huet says his services are in particular demand among professionals such as engineers, whose career strength to date has centred on technical rather than communication skills.

Huet’s passion for poetry has proven a tremendous asset in teaching the art of communication: “Effective communication has energy and emotion. This lets you connect with the people you’re talking to. And poetry connects emotion with concrete images, motivating and exciting us.”

 

THE POWER OF FACE TO FACE

While Huet claims he hasn’t yet met anyone who couldn’t improve their communication skills, he has observed “the bland language used by some leaders – be it in politics or business.” Despite the growth of digital communication, Huet is a firm believer that there is no substitute for face-to-face contact.

“Communicating face to face is extremely powerful,” he explains. We communicate through tone, volume, pacing – and our entire body. Anything other than face to face is less effective and is more likely to be ignored.

“If you really want to motivate and inspire people to change, you have to do it face to face. Sending an ‘all-stations’ email is nowhere near as effective.”

Huet acknowledges that speaking, especially in front of large groups, is a common fear. “It’s perfectly normal to be nervous about speaking in front of others. I think it’s probably an innate thing – a fear of being rejected by the tribe. Even the best public speakers get nervous. The difference is that they direct that energy outwards, towards their audience and into the way they’re speaking.”

 

FINDING A PURPOSE

Whether it’s piloting military hardware at 30,000 feet or helping professionals find their inner voice, Huet has certainly notched up a high-flying career as a manager and leader. “I’ve been lucky to bring everything I enjoy into the work I do,” he acknowledges.

But luck has played only a small role in Huet’s career path. It’s been more a case of harnessing all of his skills and talents, and he encourages other managers and leaders to tap into their creative side.

“It’s important to find a purpose in the work you do,” he says. “Creativity isn’t just about poetry. It’s about solving problems and being able to see things from a fresh perspective. Being able to channel my creative side has been very beneficial in my work and in my life.”


This article originally appeared in the September 2019 edition of Leadership Matters, IML ANZ’s quarterly magazine. For editorial suggestions and enquiries, please contact karyl.estrella@managersandleaders.com.au.

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