We’ve all had events in our lives where we missed a connection. The one that registers with we “road warriors” is rushing through an airport and getting to the gate just as the flight is gone, closed or cancelled. We know that a missed connection often means a delay of three to four hours, a missed meeting and, usually, an additional night on the road.
The first time we experience a missed connection, the frustration can be intense. As experience teaches, missed connections are going to happen, but then we recognize we can better manage potential risk factors during the planning process. And while the delay can affect a pending meeting, we understand that arriving safely is more important than putting yourself and others at risk.
More than a missed flight
During his “Glad To Be Here” presentations, keynote speaker and leadership trainer John Foley often reflects on one of his early experiences as a pilot for the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron. While preparing for an airshow in Washington, D.C., his mentor and trainer stated the crossover point, where their planes would meet, was going to be the southwest corner of the White House over the window with the green shade. The starting point would be well over the horizon. John’s instructor wanted John to let him know, by how many seconds, if he was going to be late or early at the crossover point, i.e. a missed connection!
What I found interesting wasn’t the expectation that John would make the crossover point at over 400 knots with the same accuracy of a sharpshooter on a rifle range, but the action required to correct the error rested on the shoulders of his trainer and mentor, not John.
When we are the cause of a missed assignment, generally it’s our responsibility to adapt and correct the error. But the Blue Angels have developed a process built on decades of experience that puts the responsibility to adapt on the shoulders of the mentor, so they can make adjustments to ensure they arrive at the appointed crossover point at the changed time.
Following an airshow, it would be expected during the debrief that each pilot owns the error and shares the corrective action to be taken to make sure the mistake isn’t repeated. Each pilot goes through the process during the show review and each wraps up with the phrase, “Glad to be here.” That’s the acknowledgement that an error could result in one or all of the Blue Angels flight team members losing their lives.
More than placing blame
Fortunately, if a missed connection is a flight, waypoint, business opportunity, class assignment or parenting moment, lives aren’t generally at risk. Unfortunately for those of us in the critical infrastructure industry, we have to acknowledge that the ripple effect of uncorrected mistakes can put lives at risk.
With delayed flights, I have witnessed individuals blame the airline representative as if they had willingly caused the delay. With almost a million air miles over three decades, I have come to appreciate the teams of teams that make sure flights are made safely. The same is true for the public safety, utility and critical infrastructure clients I have had the honor of working with and for.
I have seen firsthand the pride of seeing the precision response of a fire crew responding to an automobile accident during an ice storm, or the dedication of engineers and line crews restoring electricity following an ice storm or hurricane, or even the value of learning CPR while working for an electric utility, then helping save the life of a seven-year-old boy’s mother when he called out to strangers for help.
The willingness to shed blame by focusing on a symptom of the problem rather than focusing on the root issue amazes me. We see evidence every day of the cost of not fixing an issue, rather using a “pay later with interest” approach to correct missed connections. I had a past CEO who, when addressing mistakes, was known for saying, “Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.” The intent was to remind us not lose the progress made while taking corrective action. The earlier we get to the core issue to solve the problem, not the symptom, we will realize the benefits and any value we add.
It should be easy to realize we live in a connected world, but it’s more than technology or physical connections. Team leaders like the members of the Blue Angels will acknowledge it’s a team of teams who have to connect and communicate more effectively as we adapt to rapid changes. The bar has been raised, good leaders need to develop into great leaders, and mentoring is key. Those who can build great teams and teams of teams will develop stakeholders who will adapt to change and become the leaders of tomorrow who will help insure missed connections are managed.
With rapid technology advancement in the critical infrastructure industry, professionals will now more than ever need to learn from each other. This can be challenging, but it is also an exciting time to improve connection opportunities. The team building and sharing of best practices helps insure that we don’t experience those missed connections.