The Only Thing to Fear byGuest Writer, American Airlines Pilot, Joe Gladden, Captain US Navy, Retired.
On July 6th,2013at 11:30 PST, we landed our Boeing 737 on runway 28R at San Francisco. Beautiful day, light winds...couldn't ask for better aviation conditions. Twenty minutes later the wreck of Asiana Boeing 777 was on fire in the middle of San Francisco's International Airport. My first thought was that "there would be few, if any, survivors." Miraculously, nearly everyone survived. My second thought was "how could something like this happen?"
Causal factors of an aviation accident typically fall into one of four categories:
- Environmental (weather)
- Equipment malfunction
- Pilot error (human factor)
Having just landed, I could rule out weather.
As the investigation unfolded, it became obvious that two major human factors were in play.
The first fearless human factor accounted for all the lives saved. Despite having no warning, the flight attendants evacuated everyone in approximately one minute, except two young women who perished when the tail came off in the initial impact. This is nothing short of amazing and heroic, and can only be attributed to their training, presence of mind, and courage. They acted courageously and professionally in spite of their fear.They stayed with a burning jet until everyone was evacuated alive!
Unfortunately, the cockpit human factor may likely be the cause of this disaster. There is a dark humor mantra in aviation that goes like this."Never run out of airspeed, altitude and ideas all at the same time."In layman's terms this means,"never get low and slow."This is one of the first things we learn as aviators.
If any one of the three pilots had called out for corrections or a "go around" 10-15 seconds earlier, it would have been just another day.
At first blush, it is inconceivable that the three pilots in the cockpit, two captains (one of whom was a specially trained check airman), and an observer pilot could let this happen.Or is it?
While it may not prove to be true in this instance, other major airline accidents have indeed been attributed to"lack of assertiveness." For instance...a co-pilot not wanting to challenge a superior officer...or perhaps offend a friend or colleague. These are subtle forms of fear. Afraid to challenge or upset someone. Afraid to be wrong or look stupid. Afraid to ask a dumb question. Afraid to speak up in the case of clear and present danger.Overly concerned about being politically correct and not offending.
Coach Jeanne's Comments:
While most of us are not flying huge planes and faced with making decisions that determine the destinies of hundreds or more people on a daily basis, we have our own issues with fear.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming, an esteemed pioneer in the Quality movement, exhorted leaders to "Drive Out Fear" in the eighth point of his ever relevant famous 14 Point Philosophy.
"Drive out fear and build trust so that everyone can work more effectively. No one can put in their best performance unless they feel secure. Secure means without fear, not afraid to express ideas, not afraid to ask questions."
Deming preached that fear, in its' many forms, is the enemy of a robust continuous improvement culture. To make things better we need people to step up, be responsible and accountable, take risks, share ideas, and proactively surface safety and quality concerns.
As leaders we have a great responsibility to look into the causes and costs of fear in our work environments. The risks for not speaking up in the cockpit are clear. What are the risks in your workplace?
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Franklin D. Roosevelt
YourCoachingChallenge, Should You Choose to Accept It:
What causes fear on your team, in your department or workplace? What are some steps you might take to systematically practice Dr. Deming's 8th point to drive out fear?
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