Charles Lindbergh

Many companies and organizations are dealing with multiple changes right now to adapt to the huge shifts in our economy: layoffs, salary reductions and freezes, office closings, budget cuts, etc. My CEO executive coaching clients are making painful decisions, managing personal stress, communicating more often with employees, customers, and suppliers. All of that is useful and important.

I also find it useful to remind managers that change is not quick or easy for companies.

Leaders, especially the most dynamic, creative, and  entrepreneurial, must keep in mind that stability is in the nature of organizations. That’s why we call them organizations, rather than alterizations or adaptizations. People, especially in groups, need a lot of support to change. I appreciate the example of Charles Lindbergh’s experience re-training pilots to fly further over the Pacific in WWII.

Imagine this scenario. After becoming the world’s biggest celebrity by flying alone across the Atlantic, you are engaged in a life or death struggle for the survival of your country. Key to the war strategy is flying long distances over water. These long flights are so important that pilots sometimes depart knowing they will not have enough fuel to return, that their only hope of survival was a sea rescue after ditching in the ocean. You notice that you consistently use less fuel than all the other pilots, because you use different techniques. You organize a class, present your new techniques and … they ignore your advice. Now, there is a leadership test for you.

What did Lindbergh do? Did he say, “Hey, I’m Charles Lindbergh! Listen to me and you’ll live. Follow my advice or lose the war.” No, because he was more interested in saving their lives and winning the war than he was in being honored and respected. He was patient and persistent. He flew extra missions with other pilots to help them try the new procedures, he created reference cards, he listened to their concerns. Gradually, most but not all of them changed. More of them lived. And we won the war.

You are just an employer, a manager, a colleague. Why would you expect more compliance to your change initiative than Lindbergh encountered? Don’t expect it to be any easier in your office than it was at his air base.

Change isn’t smooth or easy, especially since the first thing that needs to change is the leader.

 


 

Here on my blog is the relevant excerpt from his book.

 


 

I wrote this review before I was aware of Lindbergh’s pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic statements. People are complex and mysterious. My admiration of some aspects of his work and stated philosophy should not be taken as an endorsement or even toleration of his significant flaws.

 


 

© 2009 Tony Mayo

 


 

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