How Pilots Make Decisions

We last spoke of the tremendous responsibilities of people who hold positions of Authority.  They are often successful if they have made a habit of making decisions and taking stock on the outcomes of their choices.

Aviators are tasked to work in a complex environment that changes rapidly, and has inherent risks that require critical decisions having outcomes with major impact, including loss of life.

To operate successfully, pilots require training and skills that mitigate the risks and ensure optimum outcomes regardless of the challenges presented.

One of the skills involves decision making.  Rapid decision making is often the only option.  The correct choice can have a critical impact and needs to be taken with the utmost of care.  So, does this sound daunting and impossible?

If you are initially thrown into this environment then clearly the results would not go favourably. Training becomes the foundation for success.  In addition, a mindset of discipline, responsibility and priority action play essential roles as well.

As we explore these concepts, we discover that they apply to us on a daily basis.

Those who drive a car in traffic, adverse weather, unfamiliar freeways interchanges are called upon to make critical decisions involving limited time.

Workplace demands involving crucial negotiations may force you into positions where the response time is compressed and you are provided with little choice but the decision to act. Let’s not forget that taking no action is a decision in itself and will have consequences either way.

So, how do we train ourselves and our team to respond in the best possible way before the crisis occurs?   What principles and values do we absorb into our operations to ensure the most effective results at critical times? Effective leaders just as Aircraft Commanders, know the path – and lead the team to enhance their power throughout any challenge. Next post, we can share 6 steps to better decisions.

“Big Leadership” principles

Big Leadership is a term used by Major General Perry M. Smith, retired USAF.  General Smith is an author and speaking coach on Leadership.

His premise holds that many leaders in the high ranking positions follow not only the main principles of leadership but must exercise vision, long term thinking sometimes referred to as strategic planning, and take bold initiatives often with less than the full information on a problem.  They must also be motivators down through many organizational layers by developing a foundational culture of delegation and empowerment.

Another feature Smith holds high is the concept of Ethics.  Many senior leaders understand that their decisions have a significant impact on many people yet they are routinely challenged by ethical dilemmas to bend the high road for what is perceived to be for the greater good.  This seldom serves the leader or the organization and General Smith’s advise is to stop this ill perceived behaviour rapidly.  Greater long-term respect will result.

A vital behaviour demanded by these high positions involve avoiding micromanagement.  Learn to speed read and use dictation.  Ask for plenty of feedback.  Ask good questions.   For example, can you tell me from your perspective anything that I may have missed in this discussion that may lead to a better alternative – or cause further problems?

His article written  in the late 1980s still holds great value today.  He ended it with with these quotes.

General Smith’s favourite “one-liners” for senior leaders.

Proverbs: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Gen Matthew Ridgway: “My greatest contribution as

Chief of Staff was nourishing the mavericks.”

Max Depree: “We cannot become what we need to be by

remaining what we are.”

Jim Stockdale: “Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain

authority by giving it away.”

Benjamin Disraeli: “The secret to success is the constancy

of purpose.”

Anonymous: “I am interested in the future because that

is where I intend to spend the rest of my life.”

Times are changing more rapidly than ever but there are fundamentals of leadership that always pertain.  Leadership doctrine – immutable truths that transcend the passage of time.  Wow how’s that for a heavy testament?

Time to lighten up.  Next time….

Leadership and the Responsibilities of Authority

Leadership is a great topic for discussion.  Like it or not, we are exposed to many examples of leadership (or lack of it) in our daily lives.

So when we look at the highest level of who we call “leaders”, it is often with wonder and occasionally with contempt.  Why is that?

The responsibility of someone in authority carries a heavy burden and they are held in great accountability.  As social animals we accept that we sometimes require someone in charge. That individual who has the skills and competency to carry us as a group through challenging times.

The head of state – Prime Minister or President are the most obvious examples. They hold the power to direct the outcome of their peoples.  Their actions are viewed with a critical eye.  The perception held by their followers can have a profound outcome on their success.

As the previous post suggested, leadership is within all of our reach.  But being designated as ‘The Leader’ is often a positional assignment – or authority.

This authorization to hold a position and influence the outcome of an organization or even a society carries massive responsibilities.  Unlike the leadership practices that many of us provide to our immediate subordinates, peers or children, these high level assignments do not permit one to make errors without great risk.

Positions of authority often require the leader to take action without all of the information.  In Military terms, a General may be only given certain pieces of intelligence and must use every bit of knowledge he can muster in the time provided to be decisive and accurate.  ‘Risk management or the fog of war are terms that relate to what occurs for CEOs and Presidents and occasionally even those in lesser positions of authority when timely action is required without the benefit of full background intelligence or knowledge.

So, how does one become competent at holding positions of authority?

One way is to practice making decisions. This sounds odd but we conduct decision making everyday. We just don’t think about it. Good leaders, learn from their decisions. They practice this art and analyze what works and what doesn’t. They also appreciate the impact of their decisions. Not only on the objectives but also on the emotional impact of others.  This is not a ‘touchy – feely’ kind of emotion.  All people make their decisions based upon emotion – even if we couch it with terms like logic, analysis and objectivity.  The final action to execute a decision is an emotional one and – like it or not – it follows with an emotional impact on ourselves and on others.  Marketing people understand this.  They know that even if you decide to buy a beige Volvo for all of the safe and logical reasons; the purchase is an emotional one.  Successful leaders also recognize this.  That is how many of them have been able to influence their armies and their masses throughout the ages.

So I suggest you can practice and be conscious of your decisions.  But by all means make them.  Pilots are well trained in decision making and this serves them very well both in the air and on the ground.

Our next topic will bring some insight into what Maj Gen Perry M. Smith, retired USAF would term ‘Big Leadership’.