Snap Out of It and Fly

By Guy Higgins

I recently came across an article of the same title as this post. The key point of that article was that airplane pilots are becoming increasingly vulnerable to a potentially fatal distraction – focusing on determining the problem with the onboard-computer system/automation and neglecting to fly the airplane. The author speculates that, in fact, airplane pilots may be slowly becoming less adept at actually flying the airplane as they become more adept at manipulating the computer system. Why is this important to organizational leaders? Good question, let’s explore that.

I recently posted on Communication and Power. In that post, I listed the responsibilities of a leader. For the convenience of the Noble Reader, here are those responsibilities (cut and pasted from that post):

  1. To establish an organizational strategy and the associated goals – a good leader will not do this unilaterally, but will enlist her direct reports as I’ve previously posted.
  2. To create an atmosphere within which all organizational employees can succeed and achieve their professional and personal goals.
  3. To allocate the resources needed to achieve implement the strategy and achieve the goals.
  4. To obtain and allocate resources necessary to solve problems.
  5. To solve problems that cannot be solved except by the leader (this can be difficult since the temptation is to solve problems that can be solved by the leader’s team).

The traditional jobs of an airplane pilot are to “aviate, navigate and communicate” in that order. Nowhere does that say or imply, “figure out why Iron Mike or Alexa or any other pseudo intelligent piece of technology is going (or has gone) off the proverbial rails.” Do the important stuff first and the trivial stuff last (or maybe not at all).

My list of the responsibilities of a leader ends with solving the wicked hard problems that no one else can solve. This is the basic aviating of leadership – focus on the crucial stuff and leave the other things to people who have the opportunity to solve them while you (the leader) are dealing with that wicked hard problem. Don’t get sucked into fixing some perceived systemic problem while your airplane (your organization) has “departed controlled flight.” For example (since it’s in the headlines now), if you get a report of sexual harassment, investigate that specific report and take appropriate action rather than starting to wonder about potential systemic HR failings. Leave HR failings to be cleaned up after you get your airplane back in controlled flight.



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