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March 15, 2008

Flying, Rocks and Entrepreneurs

A new friend of mine, Todd Ordal, sent me the story below.  He doesn't have an RSS feed yet, so he's given me permission to publish it here.  Check out his website at www.appliedstrategy.info for more.

Todd knows that I'm an aviation enthusiast, and while I'm not current, one day I'll get back up in the air.  Until then I log a fair amount of hours on Flight Simulator.  Todd's story is a great one, and it applies to being an entrepreneur.  He makes the point that "You need to assess the situation, use what tools you have, calm yourself and those around you—or in my case, feign confidence—and take action."

I can relate to that!  Unfortunately, I've done my share of losing my cool and making my passengers nervous if not down right scared.  (I'm talking about my life as an entrepreneur - only a handful of brave souls ever flew with me, and I only scared one or two that I know of.)  As a leader, I sometimes have to remind myself to stay cool.  Lately business has been great, but during the tough times I know I looked more scared than I would have liked.  I also know I took it out on people who were looking to me for leadership - not cool.  Not only is it not cool, it doesn't help! 

I guess it made me feel better, for a moment, but acting like a jackass doesn't motivate people.  I used to say, "My head is going to explode!"  I would physically hold my head too, just to make the point to the person who I was trying to get to help me, or worse, who I hoped would give me sympathy.  (Usually it was the Person Who Prefers Not To Be Blogged About, but occasionally it was my co-founder, my assistant or someone who just  happened to be in the room.)  I'm embarrassed right now to think about the times when I didn't keep my cool.

Read Todd's story below, and then next time one of us is about to lose our cool, we'll think about using our best airline captain voice and calming the hell down!  If you talk like you're calm, you'll actually start to feel calm, and at the very least the people around you won't think you've lost your mind.

Ice, Rocks and Airplanes

I had a conversation with someone last week about the value of being prepared and was reminded of something that happened to me a few years ago. I used to travel every week and also was a pilot so flew many business trips myself. I was headed to Montana with a colleague and our first stop was to be Missoula. We had a clear day in Colorado and most of Wyoming and had a great view of the Grand Tetons as we approached Jackson Hole. While my colleague admired the view on the east side of the mountains, I was focused on the wall of clouds to the west and north, where we were headed.

One of the significant problems with winter flying is picking up ice in the clouds. The plane I was flying was certified to fly in known-ice conditions, but trust me you don’t want to spend much time there. Ice can bring down even large aircraft when enough accumulates.

As we chugged along in the clouds and picked up a bit of ice, I noticed that the radio had been particularly quite, so I tried a radio check with air traffic control with no results. “Center, Baron 2059Papa, radio check”… No response. In my best airline captain voice, I tried again. Nothing. This is not terribly unusual in mountainous terrain so I went back to my conversation with my companion. After about 15 minutes, I tried again, “Hello Center, Baron 2059Papa, radio check”. No response. This was heading downhill rather rapidly as we had continued to encounter ice and now turbulence.

However, as we got closer to Missoula, the radios seemed to kick back in and I was told by the controller to turn off course as there was a United jet departing ahead. Now I need to explain what the approach into Missoula looks like. The airport has mountains all around it. We would be landing to the west but there were mountains to the north and south. When the controller turned me off course, he had me fly south and start to descend for the approach. The altitude that he asked me to descend to was below the peaks of the mountains to the south and we were in the clouds, but he would vector me back on course quickly. After about 30 seconds, I had this awful thought and tried a radio check. No response. Now I was descending towards a mountain I couldn’t see, I was still picking up ice and I had a very nervous guy sitting next to me—not to mention the guy in my seat! My best airline captain voice now sounded more like Pee Wee Herman!

As I don’t have a ghost writer, I was obviously able to find my way to the runway without hitting anything hard. Without some situational awareness and a backup plan, we’d probably be impaled into the side of a peak in Montana right now. It is not much different in a tough business situation. You need to assess the situation, use what tools you have, calm yourself and those around you—or in my case, feign confidence—and take action.

Please feel free to pass this newsletter along to others. A sign up form is below. If you do not wish to receive this publication, please use the link at the bottom of the page to unsubscribe. Previous issues are available at www.appliedstrategy.info.

Todd Ordal helps CEOs and senior leaders connect the dots between current reality and a compelling vision of the future. He consults on strategy and serves as a thought partner for CEOs because he understands from his days as a CEO that it is lonely at the top. You can contact Todd at [email protected] or call 303-527-0417.

March 15, 2008 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink


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