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Consequential Leadership: The Key to a Safe Landing

Much is written about the different styles of leadership and which is the best for a particular situation. I could not help but notice one of the most obvious examples of consequential leadership on a recent cross-country flight.

The challenge: Take 204 diverse strangers from all walks of life, all ages, men, women and children, multiple faiths, retirees, early and mid-career professionals from multiple global employers and have them behave exactly as other strangers want them to behave. These travelers allow others to physically search them at will, tell them where and when they must sit, when they can move about, what to do with their phones and computers, what luggage they can take on board and what luggage they must check in, what personal items they can and cannot carry onboard, when they can board the plane, who goes first, second, third and fourth and, last but not least, when they can use the restroom. There are no deviations, no questions, only compliance.

How does this Happen?

The flight crew can be heard enforcing the rules. “Sir, that roller bag is too large, it must be checked. Ma’am, you are group 4, we are boarding group 1. Step aside please. All small electronic devices must be placed on airplane mode and all larger electronics must be turned off at this time.”

The directives continue: “This is a reminder that the seatbelt sign is on. Please, return to your seats for your safety. It is now okay to use your larger electronic devices. Sir, please push your seat forward, turn off your computer and close and stow your table tray. We are about to land.”

The flight crew has a tough job. They are the leaders, the enforcers and the customer service representatives.

Why do these passengers comply nearly 100% of the time? There is no employee/employer relationship or anything else that can force people to do what the flight attendants want them to do other than the power and influence of consequential leadership.

Consequential leadership is an if-then proposition. For instance, if you follow exactly what you are directed to do, then you will achieve your goal.

In the airline passenger example, what everyone on the plane wants to achieve is a safe, uninterrupted flight to their destination, period. If you choose not to follow the flight attendant’s direction, you will be removed from the plane or, if en route, you likely will be arrested upon arrival thereby not achieving your ultimate goal.

The airline industry unequivocally enforces the laws governing the friendly skies for the safety of all passengers. We know this to be true as inconvenient as these laws may seem. We understand the consequences of compliance and non-compliance. This mindset then leads to perfect strangers unquestionably electing to follow one safety rule on top of another in rapid succession.

So why do some employees elect not to follow safety rules in their workplace? There may be many reasons. One of them is that consequential leadership is not where it needs to be for the facilitation of safety compliance. If perfect strangers can stoically follow safety rules at 30,000 feet, so can coworkers at ground level.

Imagine what would happen if elements of consequential leadership made its way into an environment where there is unwavering commitment to excellence.  One where everyone meets commitments and holds each other accountable, where trust and respect reigns and where influence is the only mechanism necessary to stimulate safety compliance, innovation and business growth.

Take a Hard Internal Self-Check

Consider what would happen if you and the rest of the leadership team guided your organization onboard as their flight crew. How would you handle safety infractions? What happens when several of your passengers decide they are not going to buckle their seatbelt or they choose to light up in their seats? Will your plane’s take-offs equal the number of safe landings? The answers to these questions determine if your organization is well underway toward achieving ultimate safety performance and its overall organizational goals or not.

Superior company safety performance often is gained, in part, through the power and influence of applying a much needed dose of consequential leadership. After all, stalwart employee compliance with safety rules is a true indicator of ultimate leadership effectiveness.

The next time you are in the air, consider noticing how effectively flight crews minimize risk for themselves, their employer, passengers onboard and every innocent person potentially affected within the flight path. See if there are several leadership nuggets you can bring back to your team and improve safety program performance.

Here’s to another safe landing.

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