Pilot Performance - "In Command"
by Henry K.

The series of articles on Pilot Performance explores a metaphor for business leadership based on techniques in aviation and the performance of pilots. The metaphor of executing with skill and precision in “turbulence” seems particularly relevant within the challenging environment we face in business and organizations today.

The concept of pilot-in-command conveys the essence of the ultimate and singular sense of responsibility, stewardship, and accountability of personal performance. It’s a powerful expression of just what makes the difference and it is particularly relevant to business leadership.

The pilot-in-command of an aircraft is subject to a multitude of regulations and controls governing almost every aspect of flight preparation, planning and execution. At every turn the pilot-in-command is regulated, monitored, and vectored with a clear expectation of total knowledge, understanding, and compliance to each and every rule in the book. One false move - in terms of the adherence to regulations - and you’re busted. But there is a significant difference.

The pilot-in-command of an aircraft is by law, regulation, and practice, directly and personally responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation and safety of the aircraft and the well being of the community of people on board. That’s a mouthful to say but an awful lot more to live up to. Being the ultimate and final authority is - non delegable (period.) It is this sense of personal accountability that is at the heart of being - in command.

The entire set of regulations and controls are designed to improve the safety of flight and minimize the risks of collision or disaster. Pilots know and usually appreciate that. Aviation is a field of endeavour where the consequences of failure are significant to say the least. Any control designed to reduce the risk of death can be appreciated, especially by those charged with the ultimate responsibility for safety.

The pilot-in-command has a critical responsibility that goes well beyond compliance to rules and regulations. As the final authority the pilot-in-command has the personal responsibility to break every rule in the book, if that is what is necessary to ensure the safety and survival of the aircraft, crew, and passengers. This expression of the essence of command would only be visible in emergency situations, where decisive action is required to effectively meet that emergency. In-command does mean - final authority, and all the regulations, controls and systems are merely ancillary supporting tools.

The controlling systems, in spite of the very best of intentions and designs, can often fail to ensure flawless execution. The pilot-in-command must exercise his or her final authority to ensure total system performance. And if the risks of system ineffectiveness increase with instability and turbulence in the environment, the competence, experience, and training of your pilots-in-command will make all the more difference between your success and failure - or if you’re in an aircraft - the difference between a smooth landing or a ‘controlled flight into terrain.’

'In command' is this sense of personal responsibility, stewardship, authority, and accountability for performance. It’s the right stuff, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Pilot Performance TM - Superior Performance and Adventure


Henry K. is a private pilot, author, artist, actor, whale watcher, fly fisherman, tour guide, seasonal server and surfer residing in Tofino, B.C. Canada, as well as a contributing editor to The CEO Refresher.

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