4 Important Leadership Skills I Learned From Landing an Airplane

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Many people are enthralled with airplanes landing. While it may look easy when you’re standing on the ground watching, it is actually a very intense process that requires certain key skills to perform. These skills are also necessary for the leader of a business, organization or life!

A Stabilized Approach

Landing an airplane is one of the most dangerous activities of flying. It involves slow flight, close to the ground, likely with other traffic close by, environmental factors trying to blow it off-course, and involves a series of activities that can be overwhelming if not managed appropriately. The likelihood of a crash is high, if the pilot gets distracted or confused. 

Life and business can be much the same. It can be overwhelming, confusing, full of seemingly ineffective activities, full of distractions, affected by changing environment and economy, etc. The leader can miss the goal, or worse, crash and burn, if she gets distracted or confused. 

What the leader needs is a stabilized approach! How?

  • What is the intended result in this situation? Be clear and concise! 
  • What’s the next step I need to take?
  • Am I steady and on course, or am I being blown off-course?
  • What is causing me to get off-course?
  • Am I correcting adequately for changing circumstances?

Single Point Focus

When landing an airplane, the single focus on final approach to the runway is the “numbers.” These are painted numbers near the end of the runway that designate which runway the plane is landing on. The pilot will maintain that focus all the way down to just a couple feet above the runway, then transition to the flare for arrival at the intended result – landing on the runway.

Leaders must have a single point focus if they are to be effective and productive. If the leader is constantly shifting his attention and focus from one situation to another, or one intended outcome to another, the likelihood of missing all of them (or crashing) increases. If the leader finds herself “putting out fires” all day long, how can anything meaningful be accomplished?

The leader must continually ask: What is the intended outcome here?

Then focus on THAT outcome – no matter what tries to blow him off-course or distract him. Adjusting the approach so that that outcome is all but ensured. Once that outcome is achieved, then shift focus to the next intended outcome.

Energy Management

When landing, it’s extremely important to maintain the energy necessary to keep the plane in the air and moving forward. Too slow, and it may crash short of the runway. However, if the plane is moving is carrying too much energy, it will fly right on past its intended target.

The leader who moves too slow might lose the momentum to actually achieve the intended outcome. Progress toward the goal becomes increasingly harder to maintain. Opportunities may be missed. 

However, energy must be balanced. Too much energy, and things become harder to control. If the organization is slightly off-course and moving too fast, it’s likely to miss its target because almost impossible to rein it back and get it back on target. Even if it’s on target, it may blow right on past the goal (which can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances).

The key here is to plan and develop a stabilized approach, then maintain enough energy to accomplish that approach (without becoming frantic or paralyzed).

Make Small Adjustments

Again, when low and slow, over-correcting for changing environment can lead to a crash. Large, frantic corrections must be avoided. The key to making corrections is to make small adjustments, then evaluate their effect on reaching the intended outcome. 

The same goes for leadership – especially in times of chaos and uncertainty. Make small adjustments, then evaluate what that adjustment did. Large, frantic changes confuse everyone, and distract from the intended outcome. 

  • Did the adjustment get you back on-course? 
  • Are you getting closer to your intended outcome? 
  • What’s the next step to take to maintain your progress?

Obviously, there’s much more to navigating in a complicated business environment. But leaders who adopt these keys will find their efforts much more effective.

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