5 Steps to Embrace Change

recently gave a keynote to a group of senior leaders at a global construction company. Their theme was, “Leadership In Times of Transition, ” and my piece was to motivate them to embrace change during times of transition. I felt a bit overwhelmed. I am a good motivator, but how do I motivate a group of people who are in an industry (construction) that has taken a pounding since the bottom fell out in 2007, and there’s still no end in sight – sort of like trying to motivate a group of teenagers to embrace shuffle board for a leisure activity.
Always up for a challenge, I started by asking the group, “How many of you think change is good to stay vibrant and competitive as a company?” Of course, all hands went in the air – probably for one of two reasons:
1) the boss was in the room and he’s paying a professional mouth (mine) to run his soup-cooler for an hour on embracing change so you better raise your hand OR
2) you actually concur with the question.
With all hands raised, my second question was, “How many of you embrace change when you are PERSONALLY “Voluntold” to change your ways of thinking / operating / doing in order to stay vibrant and competitive as a company?”
All hands dropped. Ahhh-haaa!! Isn’t that interesting?
We all feel change is necessary in order to stay vibrant and competitive BUT when we are told personally voluntold to change our ways, we don’t like it!!!
Bottom line: there is a primal instinct in all humans to push back when change is pushed upon them. When a company feels change is necessary, leadership must be aware of this natural instinct to “push back.” A few thoughts to help others embrace change – start with yourself.
1) Include employee groups/committees to help create the process. Buy-in is critical and greatly reduces push-back.
2) Be sure the change you are asking has integrity and balance throughout the system. Who / What / Where is benefiting?
3) Communicate-Communicate-Communicate often.
Preach the need and sell the change!
4) At all levels Set Expectations – Monitor Performance through value based leadership!!
5) Have fun – smile often – ATTITUDE!! Even if you have to fake it wink

Risk vs Reward on a personal level

As an international airline pilot, I am often asked, “Is aviation dangerous?”  My answer is unequivocally “YES!”  Aviation today is just as dangerous as it was when the Wright Brothers first flew.  The only difference is, back then you crashed going slower than you would in today’s modern jets.

There are many professions that lull us into thinking they are “safe”, but they are in fact just as dangerous as they were decades ago.
Working with electricity is just as dangerous today as it was back when Edison first tinkered with it.

Manufacturing parts on an assembly line will rip an arm off or chew up a leg today just as quick as it did back when Henry Ford first pioneered the assembly line process.
We forget to realize that in nearly every profession (Aviation-Construction-Manufacturing-Utility-Refinery-Oil-Chemical) the DANGER is the one constant.  Danger lurks at every corner; it never goes away; it’s always present.

The variable that keeps us safe is how we as employees and leaders manage the risk associated with the danger.  How well we manage that variable is directly related to how safe we keep ourselves at the end of each day.  Technology and Training are key facets to managing the risk; however, we must throw in one more key variable – REWARD!
What’s in it for me?

What motivates humans to behave in a certain manner? REWARD!  What’s in it for me – more money, time off, pat on the back, job well done, no punishment, inner peace, charitable giving, team reward, profit/loss statement? The list can go on and on.

We as individuals, groups, entire companies are motivated by some sort of carrot at the end of our personal stick.  What do I get in return for acting or behaving in a certain manner?  Reward!

When working, the reward can be perceived as so enticing that we fail to manage the risk associated with the CONSTANT danger of our surroundings.  ZAP!!  We end up dead.  Often we die with the very best risk mitigation tools, equipment, and training lying right next to our dead bodies.
For example, in consulting with utility companies, I see that electrical linemen are killed every year when handling electricity.  A possible scenario is the mishap lineman decided the potential reward of taking a short cut to get the job done faster outweighed the risk management tool of checking for absence of voltage every time.  Instead, he assumed absence of voltage a made contact with electricity – DEAD!

In aviation, pilots are killed every year because aviation is dangerous. A possible scenario is the mishap crew decided the potential reward of chit-chatting in the cockpit outweighed the risk management rule of “sterile cockpit” procedures below 10,000 feet, which lessen distractions during high workload activity.  The airplane runs off the end of the runway because the crew failed to set the flaps properly for takeoff – 141 people DEAD!

Plant workers are disfigured every year because assembly lines are dangerous.  A possible scenario is the assembly line worker had her arm ripped off because management decided the potential reward to speed up production would help profits, which caused the assembly line to move faster, which increased worker fatigue which resulted in a her slower reaction time.  This ultimately led to mechanical amputation of her hand.
In everything we do, danger is constant.  However the RISK-REWARD question we must answer if something bad were to happen is, “WAS IT WORTH IT?”
For example, two people are late to work.  They are driving separate cars, driving down the same curvy road and each has the same driving ability.  The danger in both scenarios – automobile driving on a curvy road – is constant.

One driver may decide to speed while texting his boss to explain why he’s late, hoping for no punishment (potential reward).  Was it worth it to reduce safety in order to be on time?

The second adult decides to not text and drive slow.  The potential reward of arriving alive outweighed her personal decision to risk driving faster. Was it worth it to increase safety but arrive late?

Each driver chose to handle the risk associated with the danger of driving on a completely personal level.  Company leadership must keep their finger firmly on the pulse of their individual employees to understand and head off potential errant or unsafe personal behaviors associated with pursing risks beyond what the company believes to be “worth it” if an accident happens.

Odie meets Ozzie

I met Jeff in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Kensington in the spring of 2010. Our job that day was to fly 240 folks from London to Atlanta. In the course of nine butt-numbing hours across the Atlantic we shared interests and found some common ground.

Odie is the real deal. Commercial pilot, fighter pilot, and lifelong aviation enthusiast. But flying, as great as it is, leaves someone like Odie looking for more—more ways to engage people, more ways to share what he has to offer in insight and humanity.

My background is similar: Commercial pilot. Former F-16 and F-111 instructor pilot.  Cockpit philosopher. Video enthusiast. We will use the latter to bring Jeff’s unique perspective on leadership and effectiveness to a wider audience. After all, he’s only one guy, but we can press as many DVDs as necessary.

—Audie “Ozzie” Osborn

The Inspirational Leader

Leaders who connect with their people emotionally stand the best chance of leading their group, organization, or team to the next level of operational excellence. I call these types of leaders, INSPIRATIONAL LEADERS.

Some leaders push, cajole, or prod their people. The inspirational leader pulls by sheer force of personal example, commitment, and integrity.

Some leaders order their personnel to get the job done by building a fire under their butts. The inspirational leader motivates their personnel to get the job done by building a fire in their hearts and souls.

Some leaders cultivate obedience and compliance through fear, ridicule, and intimidation. The inspirational leader cultivates independence and resourcefulness through listening, open communication, and feedback.

Some leaders consider themselves elite, above others. The inspirational leader maintains perspective, and keeps the respect and camaraderie of the rank and file.

Some leaders take full credit for the success of the work. Inspirational leaders shine the spotlight directly upon those who deserve the credit.

When projects do not turn out as planned, some leaders ask, “Who is responsible?” The Inspirational Leaders says, “I am.”

People will physically work overtime for some leaders; they will work all the time for an inspirational leader.

Some leaders must physically be present so others will do the work correctly. Inspirational leaders inspire others to do the work correctly – even from the grave.

Calm Leadership on US Airways Flight 1549

Captain Chesley Sullenberger of US Air Flight 1549 and the rest of the US Air crew team did a remarkable job in safely executing their tasks in a very tense and time critical situation. Dual engine failure of a commercial airliner full of people, at low altitude over a densely populated area would certainly make anyone’s initial reaction one of “shock” and “disbelief.”

For those who have been in aviation long enough, many of us have faced emergency situations in the cockpit that required timely execution of tasks in an abbreviated manner. Staying calm “when facing the storm” is key in any emergency situation. Training, competence, and experience saves lives, and it saved the lives of everyone onboard US Air Flight 1549.

This underscores the importance of core competence, training, and evaluations in any profession. As well, individuals and teams who work in any high risk industry should always plan for and brief contingencies, the “what if’s”. Encourage everyone to think processes through to their worst logical conclusion, then brief a back up plan.

This attitude saves lives, and it saved my life one afternoon after the engine decided to quit in the airplane I was flying. Like the crew of US Air flight 1549, my initial reaction was one of “disbelief”! I remember the silence of no engine running was deafening. Competence and training kicked in. I already had an emergency field picked out “just in case” the engine quit. I reacted calmly but quickly, and after a safe landing, I was able to clean my drawers out to fly again another day. Your employees should always “scan the horizon” for emergency fields just in case their engine decides to quit. The attitude of always being prepared for the “what ifs” will soon become second nature. When an emergency does come up, the initial shock and disbelief will quickly be replaced with a calm deliberate demeanor to timely execute the contingency plan, just like Captain Chesley Sullenberger of US Air Flight 1549 and the rest of the US Air flight crew team!

Your Aptitude and Your Attitude determines THEIR Altitude

Leaders by definition influence the behaviors of those around them. At various times throughout the workday, each of us has the ability to influence the behavior of those around us! It does not matter that you hold a managerial position, or a formal leadership position at your compnay, each of you can be considered a leader of others at some point or another.

Our outlook on life, our mannerisms, our on-the-job-approach, our skill level, in short our ATTITUDE and APTITUDE that we exude daily to others carries tremendous weight when it comes influencing what they think, react, and behave towards us.

I say, “Your Aptitude and your Attitude determines THEIR Altitude”

Think about it: “Your Aptitude and your Attitude determines THEIR Altitude!”

You personally have the power to raise and lower the altitude of those around you!

As I look back on my days as a young fighter pilot, there were certain individuals that I really looked up to, I’d do anything for them, I’d run through walls for them, I’d leap tall buildings, when they said “JUMP”, on my way up I’m asking “How high?”. What was it about them? What did they possess?

What did they have as a person that I so admired in them that they had such extraordinary influence over my behavior, my thought patterns, my actions, my perceptions, my values, and thus my daily job conduct?

What was it about those people that influenced me in such a manner that made me want to rise to a higher altitude?

I believe it was two distinctive qualities they had. I think you’ll agree with me, in your company you’ll probably find the same distinctive qualities in people you consider as “people of influence.”

First of all, I looked up to their APTITUDE, their job competence, their skill, their experience, their knowledge. In short I perceived them to be great fighter pilots, to be great at doing their jobs! Not because they told me how awesome they were, but because of what I perceived. It was what I saw, what I heard, what I felt about how they did their job.

I saw that they embraced every opportunity to learn their craft; they kept themselves up to speed in the books; they listened to others. They were humble. They admitted mistakes; they had no problems saying “I don’t know”. They had no problems speaking up, or backing down if they were wrong.

Because of all these factors, they became very skilled aviators. They routinely had the highest bombing and gunnery scores in the squadron, and like I said, they NEVER bragged about how good they were. Their APTITUDE was beyond reproach, but being highly skilled and competent is only half of the equation.

Do you know what else it was that made them people of influence? Their ATTITUDE!

They had a genuine ATTITUDE about helping others become better, specifically me! They wanted me to do better on the gunnery range, to be a better bomb dropper, to become a better dogfighter, overall, they really wanted the best for me.

They always seemed to look out for my best interests. In turn, I trusted them, I wanted to be just like them, I’d do anything for them, I gave them 110% because of their ATTITUDE towards helping me do better.
Shouldn’t that be the attitude that we all have, to genuinely help others rise to a higher altitude; to be better overall, to achieve excellence?

YES!, But you know? We’ve heard leaders say, “I want my people to be successful, I help those who work for me, etc.”

Remember, it’s not what we say about ourselves, it’s what others perceive of us! Perceptions are reality. We’ve all heard people say one thing, but do something else. Every fighter pilot will tell you that he really wants his fellow fighter pilots to be better, but does he really?

Case in point, when we would fly to the controlled bombing/gunnery range, every bomb we dropped and every bullet we shot was scored and measured electronically (what gets measured gets done), the results of those individual scores – which measures our personal performance – are published in individual ranking order top to bottom, every week, for all to see. Individuals could see where they stood vs. everybody else.

Let’s say that because of your APTITUDE (skill, knowledge, experience), you consistently rank at the top of the list each week, and of course you are very proud to be at the top.

Your fellow fighter pilots see that your name is always at or near the top. So they seek you out, ask your advice, your help, to become better.

What is your ATTITUDE on sharing and helping? Are you really willing to HONESTLY give them your tips, tools, techniques, or methodologies in order help them rise to the top? To become better? Even if it means by doing so, they might surpass you on the top gun list?

Or will you say, “Sure I’ll help!”, and then secretly hold back just a little bit? Like having a fantastic recipe that everyone wants … Do you hold back a few critical ingredients, or do you give the entire recipe?

If we perceive that others have a genuine ATTITUDE in truly helping us as individuals rise to the top, to achieve excellence, then that becomes the norm of the squadron, which becomes the way it’s done around here.
The affect is synergistic. It’s what takes a squadron / company / business unit / organization from good to great!

Again, you do not have to be in a formal leadership or managerial position to have a genuine ATTITUDE to help others rise to your altitude and to pursue a higher degree of APTITUDE /skill at your job.
For each of us as “fighter pilots”, who work in high risk and sometimes dangerous work environments, the ability that we have to influence the work behaviors of others is a remarkable power to have. It’s a power that should never be taken lightly. It can be the difference between life and death for those we influence everyday!

Don’t require those that work around you to get lucky in order to fly / work another day!

We are our Brothers and sisters keepers; we all are people of influence.

Let’s agree to always keep three things in the back of our minds:

1) Acknowledge the power that we have to influence others.
2) Accept the responsibility of that power, and
3) Be accountable and responsible for the work results that comes from those whom we have influenced.