Whew! That was Close: A Leadership Lesson from a Crash

B1 BomberLiving within earshot of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, it is common to hear fighter jets roaring by overhead.  I’ve gotten used to it.  On Monday, August 19, 2013, Ellsworth was in the national spotlight when a B-1B Lancer Bomber crashed in southeastern Montana.

Fortunately all four people, including the two pilots and two weapons system officers ejected and parachuted to safety.  No one on the ground was hurt.  The aircraft was not so lucky. It was a total loss. Or was it?

For the men who flew the plane, I imagine they were not thinking of having to rocket  themselves out of it on a high powered ejector seat. They were prepared should something happen, but it was to be a routine training mission.  When I saw the news reports I thought, “Whew! That was a close one!  It could have been much worse.”

I thought about the times in leadership when we’ve narrowly escaped a disaster that could have taken us out of the game but didn’t.  For example, when we almost hired the wrong person for our team.  Or when a deal broke down in negotiation and we found out later the other party in the deal was caught cheating.  Narrow escapes and dodging bullets, such is the life of a leader.

Sometimes we get lucky in leadership and that’s okay.  But we need more than luck to be a successful leader.  We need skills to adapt when crisis occurs.

There are times in our leadership life when a seemingly routine event goes wrong.  In those moments, we have to adapt our mode and style.  As Todd Henry says in The Accidental Creative, we need to be “brilliant at a moment’s notice.”

The training mission suddenly changed when the plane went down.  It went from a training mission to search and rescue to recovery of the parts of the plane to an investigation as to why the crash occurred.

Yes, it could have been a lot worse, but it can be a lot more because of what we can learn from the crash.

This is what it means to be a creative leader: when crises occur, we adapt to the changing mission and learn all we can from it so we can be better in the future.

Our mission may change today.  Are you ready?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you have developed your adaptability skills.  Leave your comment below.

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