When Everything is Going Well – The Duty of a Leader by Guy Higgins

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As I was doing a little research for one of my posts, I came across an aviation accident report that I shared with some old squadron mates (ahem, I mean squadron mates of long standing). The accident was a real heart thumper, and the flight crew is very lucky that they survived – the airplane did not. It’s not useful for anything more than being recycled. One of my friends replied, and, based on his personal experience, observed (clarifications are inserted in italics):

“[There was] way too much time before recognizing when the training stopped and the NATOPS (Naval Aviation Training and Operational Procedures – the airplane’s user’s manual) IP (Instructor Pilot) took over. Possibly caused by the checkee’s doing such a good job that the checker was ‘sitting on his hands.’ That happened to me at Cecil Field (a Naval Air Station that crews from NAS Jacksonville often used for training) when everything had been going above average and it was time for an engine failure after refusal (the airspeed at which there is not enough runway in front of the airplane to enable the pilot to stop and remain on the runway). I simulated #1 (engine) failure and the kid stomped on the LEFT rudder (Number 1 engine is on the port [left] side of the airplane and stomping on the left rudder commands a left turn – into rather than away from the yaw induced by the engine failure), producing a pronounced left yaw. We were clearing the left runway lights (running off the runway) when I finally took (control of) the plane.”

What my friend recognized is that he should have not been relaxed and so comfortable in assuming that the pilot under instruction would not make any mistakes.

As leaders, it’s important that we also recognize that members of our team can also make mistakes. The trick, of course, is to recognize those mistakes and take appropriate action. Heavy “foot-stomp” here on appropriate. Sometimes, the appropriate action is to let them get their fingers burned. Sometimes, the appropriate action is to immediately step in, take control, and fix the problem (as was the case when the airplane was a fixin’ to go off into the woods). And there is a broad continuum of appropriate actions between those two bookends.

This means that, as leaders, we need to stay aware of what’s going on and be prepared to act in the best interest of the organization and our team. There isn’t a recipe for making that determination – it has to be based on awareness, experience, knowledge and insight – all those things that led to our being put into leadership jobs.


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