The Captain is Not a King – Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit

Lesson #8: leadership lessons from the cockpit


Once upon a time in aviation, flight crews faced a culture of hierarchical command where it was considered disrespectful, if not insubordination, to question the captain’s authority. Doing so risked possible retribution.

But several accidents that experts attributed to ineffective communications and problem solving led to a new system in the cockpit called crew resource management (CRM). CRM developed clear accountability through roles and responsibilities, and supported the freedom for ANY crew member to speak up if they felt the safety of the flight was in jeopardy. Crews were empowered to voice their concerns, and the captain was no longer the sole authority. Following the rollout of CRM, the number of accidents in commercial aviation decreased dramatically.

Does your leadership team speak up?

Some companies still run like the “old” way of managing in the cockpit — their founders or CEOs dictate with little interest in opposing views.

EOS implementers can pinpoint this dynamic fairly quickly. If the founder/CEO is dominant while the rest of the team is typically quiet or docile, that indicates a potential problem. Healthy leadership teams see “conflict” as part of their jobs and no one, not even the CEO/founder should stifle healthy debate.

Yes, the CEO has the ultimate final word — just like the captain does in the cockpit. But only after he/she has participated and/or facilitated from the experts in the room (or the cockpit).

In my quest to get more businesses as successful as most commercial flights (50 percent vs. 99.9999 percent), I know that disciplines like CRM will get them there faster.

Just as captains don’t rule, successful companies promote honest debate among their leaders. Healthy debate during problem solving is a great place to start now.

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