leadership, team , decisions, líder, equipo, decisiones

On 13 January 1982 Air Florida Flight 90 from Washington D.C. to Fort Lauderdale crashed into the Potomac river, killing 74 people.  As often occurs in airplane crashes, human error played a major part in this avoidable disaster: in this case, poor communication between Captain Larry Wheaton and his First Officer Roger Pettit.

Crash investigators listening to the cockpit conversations between Wheaton and Pettit heard the following exchange:

First Officer Pettit          God, look at that thing. That doesn’t seem right, does it? Uh, that’s not right.

Captain Wheaton           Yes it is…

First Officer Pettit          No, I don’t think that’s right. Ah, maybe it is.

And moments later:

First Officer Pettit          Larry, we’re going down Larry.

Captain Wheaton           I know it.

These were the last words spoken by the two pilots. So what exactly happened in the cockpit of Flight 90 that day? First Officer Pettit clearly saw something on an instrument that didn’t look right to him, but quickly deferred to the greater experience of his captain. Unfortunately, he was right and his captain was wrong – a classic example of how members of teams often ‘follow the leader’. And how leaders often fail to see how their perceived status and expertise can influence those around them.

Research indicates that ‘follow the leader’ is not confined to air travel. It frequently occurs in hospitals, where nurses often defer to the instructions of senior doctors, even when all their experience and knowledge tells them that the doctor can’t be right. And, of course, it happens in offices with managers and their team members.

Managers need to be aware that team members often stay silent and follow their leaders. Good leaders know that an important part of their job is asking for and listening to the opinions of others – and creating an environment where people feel comfortable giving their points of view. In offices where managers do not receive or listen to this input, poor decisions and avoidable errors quickly multiply. Two pairs of eyes are always likely to see more than a single pair.

Great leaders have never been afraid to surround themselves with the best and brightest talent available – or with people who may disagree with them. Managers, then, should not see collaborative leadership as a threat to their authority, but rather as the mark of a competent and confident leader. And it also happens to be the best way of getting most decisions right!


Every evening the owner of the restaurant asked me and the rest of the regulars: ‘How was your meal?’ And despite the slow service, cold food and mistaken orders, every evening we lied and replied: ‘Very good, thank you.’ When the restaurant went out of business at the end of the year, the owner was mystified. ‘I can’t understand it!’ he exclaimed, ‘whenever I asked you and the rest of the regulars if you enjoyed your meals, you all always said ‘very good, thank you.’

Sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind and tell people what you really think. After all, it’s hard to get better at anything if no one tells you where you are going wrong and how to improve. But most of us don’t enjoy receiving feedback, unless it’s entirely positive! Participants on our courses, for example, are always invited to give us their comments. Although the positive comments far outnumber the negative, it’s the less favourable ones that stick in the mind…sting at times…and help us improve! Without this feedback, we’d never know what people really think and would run the risk of going out of business just like my mystified restaurant owner.

And feedback, of course, doesn’t always need to be solicited. It’s quite alright to offer friends and colleagues unsolicited feedback, as long as the reason for it is a genuine desire to help the other improve. Just remember to follow these rules:

  1. Be immediate: The best time to give feedback is as soon as possible after the event.
  1. Be direct, but not rude: Tell people clearly what you think –this is not rude, it’s honest.
  1. Focus on something fixable: Don’t ask the impossible (No pidas peras al olmo).
  1. Offer specific suggestions: Make sure the other person knows exactly what they can do to improve.

So, the next time I see someone in need of some honest feedback, I’m going for it: Cruel to be kind. I don’t want to be responsible for closing any more restaurants!