Last week I gave you a little insight into some of my travails. It was actually the travails of my travels. It was a little tough to get home from a recent trip. And the whole experience provided some great leadership insights. I didn’t include all of them last week. This week I want to look at the real reason we had the travails in the first place.
The plane that was supposed to bring me home last week had multiple mechanical issues. There were actually two mechanical issues. Upon arrival, the flight crew determined that three of the seats were not able to be placed “in their upright and locked position.” A further pre-flight inspection revealed that one of the planes antennas were struck by lightning while en route to Detroit.
If we can all try to accept the premise that airlines actually are concerned about our comfort and that they design the seats to address those concerns, then that is a good thing. Certainly, we can all agree that some seats on the airplane are definitely more comfortable than others.
Three of them were broken. And although the passengers may have been concerned about the comfort, the airlines are more concerned about our safety. They are concerned because your seat is the one padded thing between your body and the fast approaching ground in the event of an “incident.” Therefore, you want it to be in its safest position. When the seat is secured in its upright position, you can get into the proper brace position, which the FAA says is three times safer than staying in the reclined position during a crash.
So, someone needed to get them fixed. But, if we had to, we could have put that cool yellow caution tape around the three broken seats and we could have flown off into the wild blue yonder and headed home to Houston.
Rumors floating around Gate D4 seemed to indicate that it was the antenna of one of the navigation radio systems. Uh-oh. This is no longer a comfort issue. We could take off and get lost up there and never get home. OK, not really. But, navigation and communication are a whole lot more important than passenger comfort. In fact, this crosses over very quickly into a safety issue as well.
We needed a full complement of communication and navigation equipment in order for the flight crew to get us from Detroit to Houston. Especially as darkness began to fall. I don’t know a lot about flying, but I know that pilots sometimes can navigate, take off, and land using VFR – Visual Flight Rules. VFR is a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in conditions clear enough for the pilot to actually see where the aircraft is going. Darkness and 35,000 feet are not ideal conditions for VFR. So, the pilots usually operate under IFR – Instrument Flight Rules. IFR is a set of regulations under which it can not be assumed that pilots will be able to navigate their aircraft around obstacles, terrain, and other aircraft by visual reference to features outside of the cockpit. So, we needed that radio fixed!
What is the leadership lesson in all of this? It is simply this. As a leader, if I have to choose between comfort and navigation, I will choose navigation every time.
A leader must sometimes take their followers somewhere that is distinctly uncomfortable. There may be change involved. There may be hardships. There may even be sacrifices that must be made. A good leader will do everything that they can to care for their followers. But, sometimes, there will be some pain. But, a leader must know where they are going and in what direction they must go in order to get there. A leader must be able to have all of the navigation tools in good working order and at their disposal.
One of my favorite quotes about navigation is this:
“Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”
Gen. Omar N. Bradley
Just think for a moment that such wisdom was so profound that it was attributed to an Army Field General and not an Admiral of the Navy. A truth so central surely is worthy to be remembered. And we must keep the North Star as the metaphorical moral compass that will help us navigate throughout our leadership journey.