Februar y / March 2016
KERN BUSINESS JOURNAL
‘Fake it until you make it’ is not an emergency plan By Holly Culhane
now-retired manager, who spent most of her career working at a high-stress company, occasionally talks about her experiences learning to fly small planes. Most of her stories are pretty funny, but they also contain lessons for us all as we guide our companies through occasional turbulent times. Holly Culhane Among the lessons we learned are that effective leaders must do more than build his or her job skills. They must prepare for both good and bad events, focus on details, communicate, keep a cool head and learn from their mistakes. Perhaps the story that best illustrates these lessons is the one she tells about flying an FAA-required solo cross-country route. She plotted a course with landings at small airports in Los Banos and Madera and then back to her south valley airport. Her instructor warned that the route’s first leg – from Visalia to Los Banos –
would be the toughest. The open farmland provided few landmarks – roads, towers, towns – to mark her course. She would have to closely follow her instincts and instruments. And that she did. As she performed her preflight checklist, she carefully adjusted the aircraft’s avionics. She knew exactly where she was headed and followed along on a sectional map. Without incident, she landed in Los Banos, taxied to the terminal and rewarded herself with a Diet Coke. With the swagger of a “Top Gun,” she climbed back into the rented Cessna 172 and whipped it back onto the runway. Plunging in the throttle and pulling back the yoke, she yanked the plane from the ground. As she cleared the end of the runway, about 200 feet into the air, she realized she had no clue where she was going. She was so heady with her initial success, she had failed to follow a checklist, including calibrating her instruments. She was in trouble. Unlike an automobile, airplanes are “unforgiving.” When you mess up, you can’t just pull over and wait for AAA to arrive. You have to keep your cool, ride it out and try to land in one piece. This is
what the young pilot, with only a few solo flight hours under her belt, did. She examined her gauges and determined she had plenty of fuel and could buy some time. She pointed the airplane in what she hoped was the correct direction and looked for landmarks. A highway she suspected might be 99 and some towns came into view. She also dialed her aircraft’s radio to the control tower at Fresno airport and announced her predicament – she was a student pilot on her way to Madera and may have lost her way. “Look down. What do you see?” the controller instructed. “I see an airport.” “Land on it and ask them where you are,” he instructed. Not a bad plan, she thought, and obeyed his instructions. Sure enough, she was in Madera. After a short rest, she returned to her airplane with a lot less cockiness and more attention to detail. She carefully followed her checklist, adjusted her instruments and flew the last leg precisely back to Visalia. That she still tells this story decades after obtaining her pilot’s license is testimony to the lessons she learned that
day – and maybe to how frightened she was. But she kept a clear head, didn’t panic, relied on her skills and was not too proud to ask for help. As leaders, we spend most of our time planning for our businesses’ successes. Sometimes that means we give little consideration to planning for the inevitable problems – the unexpected disasters. Certainly we cannot anticipate every bad thing that can possibly occur. But having an operational checklist, anticipating scenarios and developing emergency plans are critical to controlling, rather than being controlled by a crisis. As a company’s leader, employees, customers and the community will turn to you for solutions. “Fake it until you make it” is not an effective strategy. Although we all know a good leader devotes rational forethought to both good and bad events that can affect his or her company, this story is a great reminder. – Holly Culhane is president of the Bakersfield-based human resources consulting firm P.A.S. Associates and P.A.S. Investigations. She can be contacted through her website www.PASassociates. com and through the PAS Facebook page.
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