“This is your captain speaking. We’re experiencing some turbulence right now. My first officer and I are working with air traffic control to find a smoother altitude for you. In the meantime, please keep your seat belts securely fastened.”
How many times have you heard language like this? And have you ever wondered what goes on
behind the scenes on the flight deck and contemplated using that as an example
of how we all can lead our organizations in times of turbulence?
As a coach I often use metaphors to help clients build their
awareness. And as a former professional
pilot, I have to admit that I very often use metaphors that are aviation
Turbulence. We’ve all
experienced it in flight and no doubt we’ve also felt metaphorical turbulence
in our personal and professional lives.
And we have each reacted to it in a multitude of ways.
A captain of an airliner has a role not unlike a corporate
leader. Even more than in a company,
though, the captain is literally strapped to the airplane and controlling its
every movement. What does a captain do
that a corporate leader can emulate?
Understand that your company, like an airliner,
is constructed to withstand the rigors of turbulence. As you built your company, you used many of
the same ideas an aeronautical engineer utilizes, including strength,
flexibility, ability to handle the stress of turbulence, and strong materials
to build the structure. An able leader
in a company builds a balance sheet and internal processes that can cope with
the ups and downs of the marketplace and the worldwide economy. An able leader also build a team that is
and capable of adapting to any situation.
When the going gets rough in a company, a
corporate leader, like a pilot, needs even more focus
than normal. When you encounter rough
air, you can’t worry about the small stuff – you have to deal with the
situation at hand. My twin brother was a
ship’s captain. He echoed my thoughts
about this article – when you’re on the bridge of a ship or the flight deck of
an airliner, you deal with the current situation, not yesterday or tomorrow.
You need to develop options. A captain and first officer are constantly checking
with the dispatchers about turbulence reports, asking air traffic control about
ride reports above and below them, and then carefully, but deliberately (in
real time) considering their decisions. This is no different than working with
Executive VP’s and Direct Reports to understand issues inside the company and
making collaborative, real-time decisions.
A leader has to emulate the captain in communication skill. That includes working with your subordinate
leaders in developing a plan. A captain
does that with the first officer, dispatchers, air traffic controls, and the
flight attendants who are the direct interface with the customers. A corporate leader does that by leaning on
the strengths of team members, drawing on their capabilities and ideas. Times of crisis demand even more
communication and collaboration than usual.
But it must be focused and decisive.
There are not times for committees on a flight deck, or, during times of
crisis, a corporate boardroom.
A leader needs to remain calm and exude a quiet
confidence. It takes some practice and a
very real need for compartmentalization.
Captains stay cool and keep the others around them calm as a
result. So can a corporate leader. Be the calm
in the center of the storm.
When a business runs into bad weather and turbulence, it can
shake everyone. Like our metaphorical
passengers, that voice of calm from the “captain” of the business is so very
important to reassure everyone on the team that the “aircraft” is built to
weather the storm and get us safely to our destination.
It always will.
Dave Bushy of Boston
Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a former U.S. Army officer
and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American
Photo Courtesy of Jan-Mallendar at Pixabay
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