By Bill Yeargin
The global community is dealing with a crisis unlike anything those of us alive have ever experienced. It feels like we are in some sci-fi movie with a pandemic slowly (or not so slowly) moving across the globe.
A crisis like what we are experiencing requires great leadership and, unfortunately, some leaders who are excellent in a stable environment can really, really, struggle in crisis.
If you think of it in terms of jet pilots, some leaders are like commercial pilots and others are like fighter pilots (a common analogy but bear with me).
Commercial pilots are necessary and have an important job, but in a crisis like we are experiencing right now, we need leaders who are fighter pilots. Fighter pilots can fly commercial planes, but commercial pilots don’t fly fighter jets.
So, what are attributes of leaders who are fighter pilots? Fighter pilots:
• Move toward problems – In times of crisis, leaders can either move toward problems, run away, or freeze. Fighter pilots fully engage and move toward the crisis. The worst thing a leader can do in crisis is freeze. If a leader runs away from a crisis at least they are getting out of their team’s way but when a leader freezes, they just become dead weight for the rest of the team to carry.
• Have a “can do” attitude – Fighter pilots who don’t have a “can do” attitude don’t live long. Fighter pilots don’t get emotionally hijacked by their environment; they see challenges as obstacles that can be overcome and then they do it.
• Solve problems – Fighter pilots don’t drop problems in the lap of others – they take ownership of the situation or problem and do what they need to do. They don’t wait for others to solve the problem.
Last week at one of our companies we had a great example of a team acting like fighter pilots. It started when we heard from a vendor that COVID-19 had unfortunately forced them into closing their business, not temporarily, but for good.
This was a critical supplier who provided material “just-in-time” so this closing was going to have an immediate impact on this particular company’s ability to build product. Within 24 hours some of our team had repurposed a bay, acquired the right equipment, built workstations, procured the raw materials, and started producing the product in-house. It was a great job by a group of fighter pilots getting the job done.
We are in an uncertain environment with our organizations and teams needing leaders who can function as fighter pilots. They need leaders people can trust to make good decisions on the fly while looking out for their team.