Leadership – and Captain ’s Culpability

This blog is about the responsibility of a leader – the captain. 


Brussels airport attack was on March 22nd, 2016. A year before, on March 24th, 2015, it was co-pilot Andreas Lubitz who decided to deliberately crash his Airbus into the French Alps. In the hours and days following that tragedy, public opinion was pointing at hundreds of culprits.
His ex-girlfriend, the medical doctor, his parents,…they all should have flagged potential issues. And of course many blamed Germanwings (Lufthansa); the employer. The management first and utmost. But also the company doctors, recruiters, instructors at the aviation school,…and all of his crew colleagues who demonstrated that social peer control doesn’t work.

Guilt and Responsibility

So, what will you do when such a tragedy –perish the thought- would happen in your company? As a leader, I am sure you have implemented strong disaster and recovery plans. As well as a solid risk management policy. Fine, but how will these help you to ensure that public opinion is not targeting you and your colleagues as the prime culprits? Because don’t forget, it’s you chasing continuously for efficiency, productivity and profit while stretching your staff. So you are guilty, aren’t you?
Here, there are things to do and things not to do. The “do’s” are simple and not complex at all. Show trust! Trust in all your colleagues and staff for what they have contributed in the past and what they will be contributing in the disaster investigation and conclusion stage. The “don’t do” is the chasing for culprits; it doesn’t help you nor the victims of the disaster. Because once you offer an offender, the ball keeps running. As it will be the offender’s boss who failed; and at the end it is you the company leader becoming the guilty party. It is your job to support all your staff up to the stage where legally appointed prosecutors will take final decisions.

The Captain ‘s Job

Now of course you will learn from the disaster and do the utmost to avoid repetition. But, yes but, not everything in life can be avoided. And not everything should be regulated; certainly not over-regulated. Let’s not forget, the locked cockpit door is only resulting from the September 11 tragedies. Only days after Lubitz’ malicious act, countries implemented laws and companies regulations to ensure a minimum of two crew members in the cockpit. So what, and what about conspiracy. Should we go to three or four crew members in the cockpit? And five security guys in the cabin; on all flights? Should we stop flying because one pilot concealed sick notes?
Should you stop doing business because there is a risk that one day you may be blamed for a serious disaster? Should you stop doing business because –that’s a fact- you cannot foresee everything? Because you are not the Almighty?  As a leader – as a captain- you may be politely pleading to open the door, next shouting ‘open the damn door’, and next trying to smash the door; if the door doesn’t open you have nevertheless done the utmost to safeguard your company, your staff and your customers. That’s your job.
This blog was originally published on Great Business Life Stories.

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