I recently read an article on the importance of delegating authority written by Fred Koury, President and CEO of Smart Business. He uses
an airline pilot analogy that for me having served several years in the airline industry really hit home, so I thought I would share it with you.
Imagine for a moment that you are on a plane flying at 30,000 feet. As you cruise along, suddenly the door to the cockpit opens and
the pilot walks back into the passenger compartment and starts getting drinks ready for the passengers and then leaves to deal with an unruly person in row 23. What would you think? First, who is flying the plane? Second, why in the world is the pilot out dealing with things that are clearly the responsibilities of others?
There are two possibilities to this exaggerated example. Either the pilot isn’t very good and can’t focus on the task at hand or the
people working with the pilot can’t get the job done on their own, so he has to come out and help. Either way, the plane doesn’t have anyone at the controls and the ramifications of that are very serious for everyone on board.
So as a leader, you can’t keep your business pointed in the right direction and navigate around hazards if you are distracted and forced to
deal with issues that really belong to someone else. So if you’re dealing with issues and tasks that clearly belong to someone else either the problem is you or the people who work for you. Either case requires you to take action. If the problem is you, then your management style needs to change. The only way you are going to be successful is if you start piloting your plane and leave the details to the people you hired to do those jobs or tasks.
At some point, you have to trust that they will get it done — maybe not the same way you would have done it — but done nevertheless.
If you talk to any successful CEO about what his or her average day looks like, it typically is all about strategic planning, meeting
with investors, advisers or checking in with direct reports on key initiatives. Successful CEOs will not normally mention things like going on sales calls, troubleshooting a minor project or game planning about how to improve workflow within a department.
Why don’t they mention these types of activities? Because they aren’t doing them. If they were “down in the weeds,” dealing with details, who would be piloting the company from a strategic perspective? The moment they started getting lost in the details is the moment the company would start to drift off course, because no one was there to steer it.
If the problem is your people, then that’s another issue. If you’re trying to pilot the plane but you have no choice but to go back and
remind someone for the third time that you need some key piece of information or something else that should have long since been taken care of, then you may have a people problem. If you can’t trust the people below you to get the job done and they are doing poorly enough to where it’s a distraction to you, your only choice is to make a change.
That might mean training, it might mean moving someone to a different position better suited to his or her skills, or it might mean parting
ways. But you can’t jeopardize the business by walking out into the weeds while the strategy goes on autopilot.
Being CEO is never easy. It’s up to you to decide whether the problem is the pilot or the crew, but one thing is for sure, you are never
going to be able to pilot a plane if you are stuck in the weeds.