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Being Comfortable with Uncomfortable Situations

Imagine being the CEO of an airline company and you’re standing in front of all your employees talking about safety, an element that is crucial in every organization.

You just announced that if anyone felt like there was a problem with the aircraft (before take-off or even during flight), that they had a right and a responsibility to stop the flight and notify the appropriate people to look into the issue.

At that moment, a single hand goes up and you’re not prepared for what you’re about to hear…

“We can’t do that. A co-worker of mine did that once and they were written up for it.”

You’re taken back a moment, trying to wrap your head around what you just heard. First of all, you are the CEO. You are giving them permission AND encouraging them to do it because safety is extremely important, so why the pushback?

Now imagine you’re that flight attendant who raised their hand. You’re standing on the aircraft welcoming the passengers as they board the plane. You’re about to close the door and yet you spot something that just doesn’t seem right. Your stomach is in knots as you’re moments away from being in the air but you are not a pilot or a part of the maintenance crew so who would listen to you anyways? What do you do?

Brad Tilden, former CEO of Alaska Airlines, was faced with this exact scenario. With all eyes on him, he knew the importance of this moment. Not only was it important to practice safety protocol and prevent accidents or injuries, but it was extremely important to instill confidence in his employees to ensure that each one of them could and would make the necessary decision to stop the flight if faced with a situation like this.

We all know that safety should be a #1 priority within every organization, however, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy for someone to step up and call out a potential hazard. It’s most certainly not easy to be a lower-level employee asking to stop an aircraft from taking off knowing that all 189+ passengers are going to be frustrated with the delay.

But it is the right decision.

After a brief moment of silence, Brad made sure to repeat his initial announcement with an even more defined message: “You are allowed to stop the flight if you spot a potential safety hazard…and if anyone tells you differently, you call me [the CEO] immediately.”

You see, as a leader, we need to ensure that our employees ALWAYS feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations. A “just culture” establishes the environment where team members can always hold positive, purposeful, and productive conversations without fear of retribution, especially when there is a question of safety. “It’s the right way to conduct business.”


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