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Landing safely in a crisis


By Gayle Hallgren-Rezac co-author of Work The Pond!

Landing safely in a crisis One dark night in 1972, the pilots of Eastern Airlines flight 401 inbound to Miami noticed an undercarriage warning light. All three pilots became distracted, focusing only on the warning light. Was it really a problem with the nose wheel or was it a faulty light bulb? All three became task-fixated on the problem and no one was flying the airplane. Flight 401 slowly descended into the Everglades swamp, killing 101 people. Darcy Rezac, co-author of WORK THE POND! and managing director of the Vancouver Board of Trade, tells this story to illustrate how a crisis can distract us from our flight path. We are in one of those situations right now, and unfortunately there’s more than one warning light flashing in the cockpit!

Good pilots, including “life pilots”, recognize that tunnel vision, focusing on that one light bulb flashing, can be lethal. Pilots are taught that there are two other elements to making it safely on to the runway. One is situational awareness, which is asking the following questions:

•    Where am I?
•    Where am I going?
•    How’s the weather ahead?
•    How much fuel to do I have?
•    Do I have an alternative, somewhere else to go if the mission becomes too dangerous?

With your career, it’s the same:
•    Where I am in my career right now, with bad weather ahead, should I stay put?
•    If I am out in the job market right now, what skills do I have to offer?
•    What industries are still hiring (and yes, there are some that still have too much work)?
•    Is this the time I should be going back to school?
Challenging times calls for heightened vigilance of threats and opportunities, but it’s also a time to stay calm and keep our wits about us.

This is the second task, which is to continue to fly the airplane. This means those day-to-day experiences are not overwhelmed by a crisis. This is the time we have to be “right on our game.” We need to exude confidence. Our very best skills, our highest competencies must be in play. And we must not “hunker down” or go underground. We must stay connected by maintaining our networks and we ought not be shy about asking for help. Leadership guru Ram Charan, in an article entitled “Managing your business in a downturn” (February 2008, Fortune) underscores this point. He says, “When you’re down, don’t just sit there, talk to people, inside and outside”.

Budget Tip: Work The Pond!, which has been described as the “connector’s handbook” is available at a 27 percent discount on

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