RISK MANAGEMENT, Leadership and Delegation
A systemic look at risk management, leadership and delegation contexts within airline flight crews, hospital surgical teams, and business executive teams.

Leading or managing organizations in times of crisis can sometimes feel like the equivalent of flying an airplane in the middle of a thunderstorm.  In such situations, awareness of time dramatically expands and shrinks: days feel speed up and seem to end in less than an hour, while each minute seems to stretch into eternity.  Unpredictable events constantly emerge from the chaotic environment.  Every decision to react or to postpone becomes an existential question, as both options may potentially lead to life or death.  Usual skills and normal procedures can lead to unbelievably disastrous results, Counter intuitive reactions cans save lives.  Habitual priorities suddenly appear almost insignificant.   Seemingly inconsequent, minute actions can provoke very complex or dangerous reactions.  Indeed, living through a crisis is often the equivalent of stepping into a vortex of paradoxical unknowns.

Crisis situations are also known to bring out both the best and the worst in individuals, teams and organizations.  They serve as an amplifier of system shortcomings, as a magnifier of unexpected survival resources.  In times of crisis, leaders, managers and their personnel all face a real opportunity to align with themselves and collaborate with each other in order to handle each instant’s urgencies and the possibilities of very different futures. 

Consequently, crisis situations provide huge opportunities to reveal and help modify underlying behavioral patterns that often go unnoticed in normal times.  When the going gets rough, routinely ineffective processes become inadmissible and eccentric or creative people may step up to become most useful.  A slight hesitancy at making decisions, for instance, is a common pattern that may not be perceptible nor have real consequences in everyday life.  Such a habit may become highly dangerous when every second counts.  In everyday operations, postponing, covering up and taking ample time to consult with colleagues and leaders for decisions could be deadly when immediate individual ownership and reactivity becomes vital.

Appropriate behaviors in crisis contexts is not inborn.  It needs to be learned.  Many professions that specialize in crisis management know that to prepare people and teams to react effectively in stress situations, the training itself needs to reproduce crisis contexts. 

  • Pilots and captains train in simulators that reproduce on-board fires, extreme altitude drops and unexpected equipment failures. 
  • Military boot camps routinely recreate the same stressful situations that can be found in war-zones and during terrorist attacks.
  • Civilian fire drills, earthquake and bomb alert simulations prepare larger civilian populations to appropriately react when the real thing may unfortunately happen. 

Crisis management professions have also made it a habit to function as if existential stakes are always very high.  These stakes are measured in terms of human disability or loss of life and material damage costing millions.  Considering the high stakes, crisis-management professions have been subject to lengthy preliminary education, to constant individual monitoring and statistical evaluations, to in-depth behavioral research, to continuous on-the job training and regular refresher programs.

Stress management situations can also teach us how to react differently in our everyday lives.  Counter-intuitive behaviors that are observed as appropriate or inappropriate in times of crisis can also provide insights as to what we could do differently when times are less stressful, in order to routinely achieve much safer and much more sustainable results.  Consequently, the field of crisis management is very rich in learnings, and is worth detailed study and experimentation. 

This article attempts to cover a few well-known systemic behavoral patterns and pertinent metaphorical connections originating from high risk professions and potentially useful  for leaders and teams. It proposes a few observations of positive and negative interface patterns found in high-risk professions, and of some safer and more productive systemic solutions for organizational contexts.  We will consequently suggest a few conclusions that can be made from taking a close look at some of the characteristics of these professions in order to clarify more common organizational leadership and management issues.  As an example, let us first consider the quality of interfaces between an airline captain and a copilot.(1)

The master and the apprentice

In commercial airplanes, captains and copilots work together in a relatively confined, almost confidential cockpit environment.  As a pair, they are expected to partner in order to ensure a safe and comfortable trip for passengers, cargo and equipment.  In this reality, their master-to-apprentice relationship is at the center of a complex operational equilibrium.  Sometimes however, fortunately very rarely, the very persons that are trusted to ensure this vital professional equilibrium are the ones that dangerously disrupt its effectiveness. 

Ultimately, an airplane’s captain is the person in charge.  He or she is the sole commander or the one and ultimate decision-maker after God.  As we will see below, the same is true for surgeons and other leaders in equivalent high-risk professions.  Technically, airline captains have years of professional training, thousands of hours of experience and obvious seniority over their copilots.  Although also very well trained, copilots are still comparatively considered as apprentices in training, accumulating hours of experience until they in turn can become masterful professionals or captains. 

More subtly however, and as far as results are concerned, the captain-copilot relationship is also considered to be a professional partnership between peers.  The captain and copilot are to collaborate and become equally co-responsible as a pair, in a partnering effort to deliver their airplane to destination in the best possible conditions.

  • Caution: Worldwide, however, surprising statistics call for attention and scrutiny.  Indeed, measures obstinately reveal that a significantly higher number of crashes occur when captains are actively piloting than when their copilots are handling the airplane. This appears as paradoxical.

It seems surprising that the most trained and experienced member of the crew should be responsible for a significantly higher number of consequential accidents.  Statistically, the least competent in the pair actually seems to be much more effective, at least in avoiding crashes.  To explain this paradoxical fact, a number of immediate interpretations could come to mind. 

  • Captains actually always keep a hands-on control planes, rarely letting copilots take command.  Consequently, the negative statistics merely reveal that captains do most of the flying.

That is not the case. Actual piloting time for each population is factored in the statistics and copilots do fly the airplanes quite a significant number of hours.

  • Captains are older, and therefore less alert. 

Also untrue, as all crew members are very regularly checked, both medically and in flight simulators, for their capacity to rapidly and appropriately respond to any stimulus.

  • Copilots are more freshly trained, they apply procedures that captains may bypass or may have forgotten. 

Untrue, both are equally aware of all procedures and all flight procedures are co-managed through shared checklists.

  • Captains are too sure of themselves and therefore more reckless. 
  • Co-pilots feel supervised by captains, and so are much more cautious. 
  • Etc.

The truth is a little more complex.  Responsibility for crashes actually do not solely rest either with the captain or with the copilot.  The issue is more systemic and rests in the quality of their professional relationship or their interfacing competencies.  In effect, responsibilities lie between the captain and copilot.  They are equally shared between the two.  These rest on their particular master-to-apprentice type of relationship.  Indeed, closer scrutiny reveals that the interfacing patterns between captains and co-pilots regularly invites behaviors that may result in poor risk management.  This very specifically happens when the captains are actually handling the flight commands.  So what is really happening?

The master-apprentice relationship

There is absolutely no doubt that copilots have less hours of training and much less flight experience than captains.  When copilots are piloting, they very naturally may make many more flight errors than their elders.  Obviously, captains have thousands more flight hours than copilots, and this experience creates habits that ensure that they make much fewer mistakes.  All these facts are regularly measured and tested both in simulators and on the job. 

  • Caution: When copilots are actively piloting aircrafts, their captains sit back and attentively observe all flight indicators and copilot behaviors.  This allows the captain to develop a form of non-active but very attentive presence to a wider range of instrumental information, and an alert awareness to the bigger picture. 

Consequently, while copilots are performing all the hands-on tasks and actually fly the plane, captains are freed to focus their attention on longer term and to much more strategic concerns.  In this apparently inactive observational role, whenever a copilots commits any possible error or embarks into any unsafe choice, captains are in an excellent position to immediately react and coach. This will correct poor choices and possible errors.  In this supervisory role, a captain’s experience and the pilot’s clear apprentice position give unquestionable credibility to all captain interventions.  This credibility obviously serves to reinforce their coaching and learning relationship.   Consequently, although copilots may make many more mistakes, the nature of the master-apprentice relationship ensures that all potential errors are immediately corrected.  As a result, when copilots do the driving, although they may make many more mistakes, these are systematically corrected.  This relational equilibrium obviously results in many fewer crashes when copilots are actively doing the flying.

Whenever captains are actively flying their airplanes, copilots also sit back, observe, and pay attentive presence to whatever the captain is doing and not doing.  Copilots are expected to learn from the older and more experienced professionals.  In this case too, the hands-off posture gives copilots the opportunity to focus on the bigger picture and to pay attention to minute instrumental details that informs on immediate safety or medium-term effectiveness.  In this position, the copilot may consequently also very occasionally observe that some captain choices merit questioning or that some captain actions may ultimately be inappropriate or unsafe.

  • Caution: Most copilots however, know that compared to captains, they are less experienced apprentices.  Copilots will naturally question the validity of their own observations and intuitions.  They will often hesitate or take the time to second-guess and double-check.  Copilots consequently often refrain from immediately and spontaneously questioning whatever decisions and actions more experienced captains may make. 

In a very complementary way, captains also influence this crucial professional interface.  Should a co-pilot ever comment, question or alert a captain on a dubious choice or possibly unsafe situation, chances also are that the latter will not immediately, appropriately or positively react to such interventions.  Indeed, the comment is offered by a younger and less experienced apprentice, and therefore needs to be couble-checked. 

As a consequence, if captains actually only make very occasional mistakes, if they err much less than copilots, if they very rarely embark on wrong choices, these will more often stand uncorrected, or possible corrections will be more often delayed.   Consequently,

  • Chances are that a copilot’s corrective intervention will be less affirmative and come too late.
  • Chances are these interventions will not be immediately well received by the captain.
  • Chances are that very occasional captain mistakes will not be instantly corrected. 

As a result of the generally useful master to apprentice relationship when the copilot is driving the plane, any one small captain oversight or mistake may stay uncorrected or postponed until it is too late.   And that one very occasional mistake could indeed be enough to lead to very dramatic results.

Corporate equivalences

Modern times are very hard for our leaders.  The worldwide financial, economic, social, political and ethical crisis has shaken the very foundations of human society and its leadership.  This general observation is true for all business ventures from small entrepreneurial companies to multinational corporations.  No institution is safe from the effects of a possible tsunami originating in an unforeseen revolution in a far-off country, the radical transformation of a given market, a health pandemic caused by an infectious disease, the collapse of new financial bubble, etc.  The disappearance of all certainties is questioning  the future of practically all our basic assumptions on management and leadership. 

True: within this generally chaotic global environment, some exceptional leaders and a few atypical organizations are blessed with reasonable predictability, over one or two years.  Other leaders and enterprises are successfully buying time by implementing incremental changes or by successfully fighting crisis after crisis.  Many larger economic systems are also truggling to revive or survive in what is perceived as a dangerously unpredictable if not chaotic globalized environment.

As a consequence of this critical phase in human development, and much like airline captains, many leaders are very tempted to have a very hand-on approach and actively drive operations in their organizations.  In a complementary way, many systems are actually calling for or hoping for providential leaders, decisive figureheads or single-minded autocrats that would hopefully save everyone from more chaos and put more simplicity in everyone’s lives.  Today, there seems to be an almost unanimous call for strong, decisive and affirmative hand-on leadership that could hopefully pilot organizations, states and economies out of the current storm.

And indeed, for the past ten years, leaders and their headquarters support staff have taken more and more control of operations in organizations.  In doing so, centralized systems are gradually attempting to pilot every possible sales, production, personnel and quality detail in worldwide organizations.  This systematical hands-on strategy seems to have become the rule today.  In effect, really respectful delegation, collaborative supervision and coaching partnerships are the exception in most organizational cultures.  Unfortunately, these organizational cultures reflect a generalized tendency for hands-on, micro-managing leadership behaviors.  And in spite of the high level of competency most leaders have in fact achieved in the course of their careers, their high level of involvement in running day-to-day operations has increased poor risk-management and dire consequences.

Whenever they are hands-on, leaders generally apply the expertise and skill set that has made their careers successful.  Their expertise and skills often originate from their initial fields of specialization, either finance, engineering, operations, sales or marketing.  Consequently, when leaders are hands-on, they will almost automatically limit the scope of their attention to their favored fields, those in which they have acquired very specialized skills. 

  • Caution: Consequently leaders with financial background will favor financial solutions, those with a marketing past will favor marketing solutions, those with engineer history will privilege innovation and technical solutions, etc. 
Although any leader’s specific competencies are generally exceptional, their crisis-induced choice to become more operational limits the scope of their attention and actions, and too often, that will become dangerous or fatal for their organization. 

By becoming hands-on, these very competent leaders create the conditions that limit their capacity to observe the larger picture, to take into account the more systemic complexity of the whole organization and to supervise the longer-term chain of events.  They invariably become more local fire-fighting crisis managers, and thereby lose their capacity to supervise their larger organization goals and processes.

  • Caution: When corporate leaders are in fact doing the driving, their executives are almost obliged to get out of the way, sit back and assume a supervisory role.  In effect, subordinate executives become hands-off.

Whenever a hands-on CEO becomes too operational or hands-on, his or her executive team and other partners will generally have no other choice than to relinquish their areas of operational responsibility and take a back seat.  These copilots of sorts will rapidly develop a more global view of the situation and will be able to notice details and mistakes that the crisis-managing captain has overseen. 

  • Caution: Unfortunately, much like apprentices and copilots, such executives and internal experts will often hesitate to tell their CEOs that the latter may have overlooked very important information or may have made very risky, partial decisions. 

When they are focused on local operational solutions, hands-on leaders act convincingly and rightfully expect full support from their executive teams.   They firmly believe that their executives and professional networks should be undivided in their commitment to a common goal, and they alone represent that goal, as leaders.  In corporate crisis situations, whenever a copilot such as an executive, a manager or an expert raises a serious issue with a hands-on leader, it better be well documented, collectively presented, with obstinately mastered courage.  In other words, corrective behavior will most probably arrive much too lated, and will take much more time to be heard.

Options for solutions

Much as is the case with airline captains, leaders need to let their executives and management do the driving, especially in times of crisis.   This will allow these leaders to focus on executive team dynamics, follow key indicators, evaluate necessary system evolutions, and occasionally coach for corrections as the situation evolves.  Most of all, while hands off, leaders needs to develop a larger, more strategic and more systemic presence to the larger and longer-term picture.  This CEO or leadership supervisory role cannot be improvised.  Nor is it to be considered only for times of crisis.  This leadership posture needs to be continually implemented, in partnership with their executive teams, and practiced over years.

In effect, copilots should pilot, captains should lead.  Very practically, much like airline captains, when delegating all daily/weekly/monthly operations to their executive teams, leaders continuously need to be attentively present and ready to correct the probable errors originating from their operational executive teams.  These probable errors will be provoked:

  • By the notorious lack of collaboration between executives and between the organizational fields each of them manages,
  • By the collateral effects of their short-term and local or territorial decisions,
  • By their probable lack of follow-up of vital processes, as they move to put one one fire after another
  • By the possible misinterpretations of environmental information and stimulus, and probable interpersonal disagreement on how to interpret them.
  • By excessive internal politics, territorial power games, career strategies and operational competition,
  • etc. 

All these symptoms of stressful crisis periods will occur and will call for respectful individual and team coaching from the team leader, always focused on achieving safe, ethical and timely system results.  As a collective copilot, it is the executive team’s function to ensure day-to-day operations by making mistakes, by immediately learning from these, by being constantly coached for correction by their captain.  In a form of collaborative coresponsibility, the leader’s role is to overview the team’s collective decisions and to coach the team to correct its course focused on achieving operational outcomes.

To achieve this type of equilibrium, the interface between leaders and their teams needs to ensure a shared responsibility, a delegating, coaching and co-learning type of relationship, focused on achieving the organization’s quantitative and qualitative sustainable results.  This can best be achieved by having the whole team develop with their leader a master to apprentice equilibrium together. This needs to practiced on a continuous basis, whether the system is in a crisis situation or not, whether it is going through intense stress or not. 

Leaders who wish to initiate that type of performing operational equilibrium need to acquire specific delegating and coaching skills and strategies, while their team learns to assume a more active and collective operational presence:

  • The leader develops capacity to let go of all hand-on temptations, and take a healthy distance from day-to-day operational involvement / the team takes on that collective responsibility, learning to work together to achieve the common goal.
  • This allows the leader to develop a systemic attentive presence to a much larger spectrum of environmental inputs.  These lays outside the scope of specific or local operational issues that the executive team starts to actively own and drive, daily, weekly, and monthly.
  • The leader develops a capacity to interface with the whole executive team as one unitary operational body rather than as a number of individual experts (each proficient in a specific area of expertise) and the executives work more as a team rather than each individually attempt to develop privileged relationships with the leader.
  • The leader adopts a posture that consists in giving the executive team all the space and every opportunity to let them act, own their actions and their results.  Leaders willfully choose to let their teams score while they embody a coaching posture, staying off the field and out of all urgent action and intervention.
  • The leader develops an interruptive capacity to help the executive team cut through lengthy informational, presentational and over-detailed analytical meetings while the executives as a team learn to focus themselves on the future, on getting back to basics, on solutions, on actions, on measures and follow-up,  all this to rapidly achieve performing results.
  • The leader also develops a capacity to fully support the executive team in all its future-oriented solutions over analysis, in all its immediately applicable actions over the search for perfection, in all its multiple motivating and innovative local initiatives over centralized plans driven and controlled by headquarters.

By developing the above master to apprentice relationship, both the leader and the executive team develop a shared capacity to question and reconsider cultural habits and centralizing procedures.  These may have served their time but their dramatic increase over years has gradually disempowered and become operationally inappropriate, especially in times of crisis.

A medical risk-management metaphor for leadership

Other contexts also reveal that risk management is more related to systemic interfaces than to the technical or operational competencies of one superhuman leader.  Some are quite different from the above captain-copilot context in that the leader is sometimes expected to be the main or the sole operating member of the team, totally hands-on, implementing all the risk management behavior in person.  This, for example, is the case for surgeons in an operating room. 

Much like airline captains, surgeons are extremely well trained professionals that have succeeded through a grueling selection process before they can practice.  Much like airline captains, they are also perceived to have the sole responsibility of making decisions that can make the difference between life and death for the patient.  Much like captains, they are expected to stay cool and make excellent choices under stress, while facing all forms of crisis.  Surgeons are indeed an awe-inspiring professional group.  They often enjoy an awesome social status, an aura of public and private reverence, individual respect and professional admiration.  When such surgeons accumulate successes throughout a career paced by a large number of very difficult operations, their reputations often become larger than life.

  • Caution: There may be a dark side. For any person and on the long term, achieving such professional excellence and enjoying such extreme social recognition may have some undesirable effects.

Some very successful people may become excessively demanding, critical, or intolerant perfectionists.  Some may become extravagant socialites constantly displaying their bloated egos, while others will rather choose to become very private and distrustful reclusive misanthropists. The day-to-day communication with anyone they meet may become minimal, or condescending, or impatient, or directive, or snobbish, etc.   In order to meet their own needs, complementary behaviors enacted by people in the environment may express excessive deification, submission, servility, or flattery, etc.  Indeed, total admiration from too many people and for too long can gradually erode or distort everyone’s personal equilibrium and perspective of reality.  This will invariably have a negative effect on professional risk management and collective results.

A number of studies indicate however, that behind the closed doors of an operating room, a  complex interfacing context has a very big systemic impact on the success of operations.  Indeed, in a number of cases, relatively simple operations can run into major problems and have dramatically negative results, while very complex procedures may have a very high rate of success.  Again, a closer observation reveals that the quality of interfaces between the obvious leader or surgeon and the other less glamorous members of the operating team seems to be the central factor in any operation’s success.

  • Caution: The more the surgeon impresses the operating staff as a very knowledgeable, infallible, distant, imposing or superhuman person, the less the staff will feel they can spontaneously volunteer detailed information that could be vital in the surgeon’s decision-making.

Very imposing and inspiring figures do often in fact merit respect and admiration.  One of the consequences of reverential attitudes and behaviors however, is that they create social distance, communication barriers, a hesitancy to disturb, a spontaneous filtering of details. 

  • Caution: In a crisis situation, for instance, if a member of the operating staff such as a nurse of an anesthetist should observe any anomaly whatsoever in their realm of responsibility, in the field of another staff member or in the process managed by the surgeon, all social protocol should be forgotten and the surgeon should be immediately informed.  

The study of the context that surrounds most major surgical errors reveals that the underlying issue is most often a failure in the flow of communications within the team and with the operating surgeon.

In fact, immediate upward flowing or centralization of information is absolutely necessary in any performance-oriented system.  In an operation setting, this allows the surgeon to make the best possible decisions.  In the case of other organizations, spontaneous upward or bottom-up flow of all vital information most often allows foolproof performance.  In these systems, leaders and other central support staff either

1) rapidly ensure appropriate reactivity for the whole system or
2) choose redirect or re-dispatch the vital information to local subsystems for these to pertinently react.

Interestingly, the more any organizational system’s center is imposing, autocratic, critical or just exceedingly admired, revered respected, perceived as super-human or unavailable, the less it will spontaneously receive vital information from subsystems.  Consequently,

  • When information freely and spontaneously flows in a centripetal flow, towards the leader or decision-making center of a system, that flow is an excellent indicator that the delegating process is in fact performing intelligently.  The extremities will immediately react to pertinent information emanating from the external environment and will immediately inform the center as to the evolution of their situation.  This will include information as to errors and corrections they propose to implement.
  • When, however, the information flow is mostly centrifugal or top-down, emanating from a formalized center to the extremities or to subsystems, these sub systems excessively focus on respecting hierarchy.  They gradually become less reactive to the environment, withhold or hesitate to pass vital information and generally just wait to apply directives from the center. The cut-off center consequently gradually makes less and less truly informed decisions.  The organization gradually becomes less and less reactive.
  • The systemic interfaces described above are characteristics of the whole system’s culture.  One cannot attribute responsibility for positive or negative interfacing characteristics to one or another member or part of the system.  When individual members of a centripetal team are changed, (whether it is the leader or anyone else) the new replacement will rapidly adapt to the system, in order to fit into the centralizing informational process.   The same is true for top-down organizations.

Consequently, very performing surgery is the result of performing surgical teams within which all the members very spontaneously interface in order to help make the operating surgeon a very well informed operational center.  It is the surgeon’s team that makes a surgeon an excellent operational professional.  No medical surgeon can succeed a complex operation and appropriately react to stress and crisis unless the whole team has developed exceedingly fluid interfacing patterns, based on mutual respect, mutual admiration, and total co responsibility for ensuring collective collaborative results.

The two professional contexts presented above can be perceived as offering contradictory, risk management models.  The airline captain gains in effectiveness by letting go and just allowing the copilot to fly the plane, while the surgeon gains in effectiveness by being openly receptive to all information coming from the members of operating team, all focused on making the surgeon successful.  The first needs to delegate almost all action to the copilot while the second remains very active, but is totally dependent on the team’s upward flowing information.

Actually, two these professional risk management models can be perceived as totally complementary.   The first can correspond to the position of a delegating CEO while the second is much more evocative of a totally hands-on entrepreneur.  Within the same organizations and teams, and the course of an individual career, there are times when one model is much more pertinent, and times when preference should be given to the other. 

The two risk-management professional models also have very important common characteristics.  Their ultimate effectiveness does not rest on a single personality nor does it solely depend on the technical knowledge of the leaders.  This criterion is merely a prerequisite.  For both models, measurable failures are almost always a consequence of poor team interfacing, within the flight crew or operating team and with the captain or surgeon.

Almost all airline accidents and surgical failures do not rest on technical limits, operational incompetency or pertinent information that remains unavailable to the team.  Almost all failures could have been either avoided or rapidly corrected if the internal interactional processes had been working correctly.  And these interactive processes are systemic, in that they concern what happens between the people involved, not within any one of them.  The issue is never either with the leader or with one or another member of the team.  The responsibility is shared in that it alwayq lies between all the members of the risk-managing system.

Interestingly, however, professional literature is amazingly inundated by stories and books highlighting how one CEO or another entrepreneur did it all alone.  The market seems to have a limitless need to individualize what really is successful teamwork or to personalize what really is a collective or systemic achievement.  Designating individuals as public figures is often quite positive as these personalities humanize successful organizations by giving them a face and a personality.  Indeed, the public at large can identify more easily with a photogenic person than with a logo, an organizational chart or advertisements.  Many organizations also all need larger than life individual role models to stretch themselves forward.

Behind closed doors, however, the reality of organizational success is always linked to the quality of a more complex systemic reality.  Whether this dimension is referred to as a company culture, a dream team, or an exceptional collaborative effort, the internal dynamics are in fact rarely publicly displayed.  The leader takes the glory and the systemic dimensions of success are very rarely presented, analyzed or dissected on the public scene.  The myth that success solely rests on a strong leader’s shoulders is consequently preserved. But that doesn’t alter the fact that as with successful surgical teams, very performing teamwork is a consequence of results-oriented systemic interfacing.  

  • Caution: To be truly healthy and successful, teams and companies need constant or immediate transparent, authentic upward-flowing information flowing from all its peripheral subsystems to nourish the leadership.

In order to allow this internal flow of vital information, leadership needs to remain present to their team and open and available to all forms of internal dialogue.  Leadership needs to cherish and validate interpersonal contradiction.  Leadership needs to actively support creative initiatives and coach team members on how to own their mistakes, and immediately repair them as they build their collective successes.  They need to value all communication channels, no matter the content, readily welcoming transparency to all good and bad news.  This type of leader behavior will gradually allow the development of an actively delegating system culture.

A number of means permit the development of these systemic characteristics.  One is to privilege individual training focused on acquiring actively receptive communication tools and strategies. 

  • Caution: Too many leadership-training programs focus on developing leader capacity to convince, drive, define, affirm and compete. 

These are invariably and unwittingly designed to reinforce individualistic and top-down cultural systems.  To develop more collective effectiveness within the organizations they lead, leaders need to learn to actively receive from, consult with, listen to and openly absorb complexity in order develop a more strategic, systemic awareness.  This leader-coach posture will allow them and their teams to gradually develop a much more collaborative organizational culture capable of transforming stress-inducing crises into dynamic opportunities for collective growth and development.

Another means to develop much more performing teams and organizations is to directly address these levels of reality in the architecture of a large majority of training and development programs.  Historically, most training programs address individual skill development.  At most, a modest number relational and motivational team building programs attempt to address a few collective issues, mostly focusing feeling good, sometimes on resolving specific inter-personal problems.  Very seldom do leaders, teams and organizations engage together in team coaching or organizational coaching in order to work together on how they can consolidate or modify their own underlying systemic operational patterns in order to achieve much more performing collective results.

(1)  For over ten years, Metasysteme coaching has been involved in risk-management training within a major international airline (...and coaching the elected leadership teams of a major national airline pilot union).   The training concerned hundreds of pilots and captains.  We had confidential access to NASA major airline crash evaluations, extrapolated from black-box and 20 minute cockpit recordings.

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