Moe Glenner, Author, PlusChange: Genesis of Innovation
Consider the following scenario: You are preparing a sales report for the next manager’s meeting. You are heavily relying on input from other people regarding revenues, costs, etc. Once you receive that information, you prepare the report complete with suggestions and calls to action. As you continue to prepare the report, something about some of the numbers seems a bit suspect but since you trust the source, you disregard your suspicions. The report is complete and you’re expecting ‘well done’ from your peers and managers. The only problem: The information was indeed, inaccurate leading to flawed conclusions. The inaccuracy was noticed at the meeting and instead of adulations, you’re forced to apologize or worse, shift the blame elsewhere. What happened?
Were you wrong to trust your source? Should you never trust anyone ever again?
While you weren’t wrong to trust your source, you suffered from confirmation bias. In other words, this is the real life application of ‘if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. While in our scenario above, the likely result would be a temporary loss of face, confirmation bias can actually be deadly.
In the aviation world, there have been numerous accidents caused by this bias. As pilots, we are trained to trust our instruments, trust Air Traffic Control (ATC) and also trust our instincts. Something as routine as plugging in a waypoint on the GPS or setting a heading can easily go awry with a simple transposing of one number or letter. We will then look at the instrument, see the error and possibly think that this is the way it was intended. After all, we expect it to be correct, so why wouldn’t it be correct? If ATC gives us a heading, it has to be the correct one. Why else would they give it to us, if not correct? There have been tragic airliner accidents in the past owing to this. I’ve personally experienced receiving an initial takeoff routing (in error) that had me flying straight into a mountain 5 miles ahead. Thankfully, I quickly questioned the routing and received a more appropriate routing.
This potential problem is further influenced by hear-back read-back error. Many times we anticipate a particular instruction, transponder code, routing, etc. and believe that what we anticipate is what we’ve actually heard. The reading back of the instruction is designed to catch where the actual differs from the anticipated, but at times, the controller can make a corresponding error. He anticipates the pilot’s read-back of the instruction to be the same as what he actually instructed. If there is a difference, the controller will, most of the time, recognize and correct. But there are times where that doesn’t happen.
Better leadership, just like safe aviating, relies on both strategic questioning and tactical reviewing. In aviation, we can trust but we are then expected to verify, either through cross-checks with another pilot or self-cross checks to verify every input. If the ATC instructions seem strange, we need to recognize the problem, question them and/or ask for clarification. If our read-back is incorrect, ATC needs to do the same and correct. This is the essence of trust but verify.
As better leaders, we are expected to question if it doesn’t seem right and then review to make sure our every message is on-point and designed for the particulars of the message (audience, relevancy, urgency, etc.). Our communications to our team, peers and managers should verify the particulars to eliminate not only potential off-point errors but also to eliminate hear-back read back. We can also do our own version of cross-checks, either with already verified information or with inputs from other people. By trusting and verifying we are not only saving others from unintended consequences, but also our organizations and ourselves.
[Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
About the Author
Moe Glenner speaks and writes about leadership, communications, change management and innovation. Moe’s new book: PlusChange: Genesis of Innovation is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.