Imagine flying a plane with 210 passengers from LA to London and a structural failure strikes, causing a loss of oxygen supply and need to descend from 22k ft to 8k ft as quickly as possible, whilst deciding where to go next to give any chance of survival? 

I had that experience over the weekend. I was the Co-Pilot and alongside the Commander and Mission Specialist, we had to deal with a highly pressurised, stressful and emotional situation.

Fortunately I was in a Boeing 747-400 simulator, with an actual commercial pilot. This is not due to a change of career but an executive leadership and decision making course with Reignite under Daniel Hughes, former Special Forces (SAS), extreme adventurer and 787 Dreamliner Pilot.

As Deloitte highlight below, leadership is critical to business and can provide a huge competitive advantage. Equally, it can cripple a business. There are plenty of examples recently. 

So what have I learnt through theory and practicing in this environment to take back to the workplace:

  • Encouraging flat leadership structure - This is key to ensure that communication flows across teams, particularly during times of high pressure. Whilst a structure is required, I believe good leaders will create this environment.
  • Reviewing - Taking the time to review before, during and importantly after situations is important for scaling and growing as a business. Relating this to a pitch or meeting, reviewing is critical to future success.
  • Confirmation bias - Not skewing other people’s answers when asking questions. Great way to also relieve pressure and make sure your team have an open forum to notify you when a task is not completed.
  • Compare mental models - Keep your team updated with your progress on tasks and current thinking. Internal communications on tools such as slack is a great place to do this in large organisations.
  • Managing your workload and mental capacity - This is critical to making better decisions. Going back to the critical failure in the simulator, had our team not practiced this during a low workload situation we wouldn’t have had the capacity to execute. I see this in a similar way to prepping for a pitch or meeting. 
  • Planning - Exploring your entire team to understand who has the relevant information to succeed and who will execute what during. Included in this is planning the time to review, prepare and plan. 

In all of these examples, it is important a senior figure leads and as suggested by Josh Bersin of Deloitte, “The main key is to have a framework for leadership and management that clearly defines how leaders behave,” is key. 

For those wondering, we did recover the plane and returned to a nearby airport for an emergency landing. This was the final learning point for me, sometimes the best option is actually behind you, a place which we knew and this can only be discovered if you are constantly sharing ideas with your team and reviewing.