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Avoid Mid-Air Collisons! Watch your Managing Altitude

Mid-Air Controller (E-3)
My son and I are huge afficianados of military aircraft.  I have purchased a couple of Jane's books for him to review all sorts of trivial facts about different aircraft from all over the world.  My son can go on for hours about the nuances and intricacies with each type.  The complexity and power of these different platforms has always been exciting for me as well.
Even though military aircraft are meant for different purposes, they all have one thing in common; they are expensive and nobody in command would like to see them crash into one another because of carelessness.  That is precisely why every air force in the world uses a combination of ground control and mid-air control.  Very sophisticated systems are used to keep  aircraft from turning into one another or mistaking friendlies for enemies.  Why can't there be a similar system used in mangement?

Management in an organization is like a sky full of multi-million dollar aircraft.  Each member of the team has a function and a specialty that in concert with one another can create and accomplish anything imaginable and, without coordination, can create chaos and miserable destruction.  The obvious secret to "managed" management is for each person to know his/her responsibilities and have the freedom of motion to work and collaborate with others.  Just like the aweseome aircraft whizzing about, quality supervisors, managers, and executives are in constant motion.  At times movements can be agile and particular, bold and furious, or any combination in between.

During this process each level of an organization operates on a different altitude.  Shop floor supervision work close to the surface like close air ground support attack craft, looking ahead hundreds of feet at a time to handle daily concerns and demands.  Middle managers fly higher like interceptor fighters with the intention of clearing the air for their supervisors so they can do their job of ground support.  Middle managers are the ones with the tactical view.  At these higher alititudes they can spot obstacles and challenges ahead and can help coordinate plans with their staff.  Upper managers fly in the stratosphere.  Just as the SR-71 or U2 fly in the high thin air and observe events from a strategic view.  From this altitude they can view the changing weather and conditions coming from hundreds of miles off.  Their perspective gives them the ability to see things that cannot be seen from the lower flight levels.  Their assistants fly as the E-3 or E2-C and serve to coordinate activites from a moving perspective.





Altitude crashing micro-manager

Maybe you have been in a situation where you understand your job very well, but your superior is regularly neck deep in your business, micromanaging your work.  This is an example of a near miss.  Your superior is not comfortable at their higher altitude so they drop down to operate on yours.  Meanwhile, your airspace is crowded because two people are operating in the space meant for one.

 Functional leadership works through efficient communication.  Upper level managers need to articulate goals, objectives, and requirements for middle managers to execute.  If middle managers (you and I) aren't tuned into the correct frequency, then we aren't taking the direction as requested.  After a short while, our superiors are going to make a change in our air control to put us on the correct vector.  If we still don't take their direction, then we will be replaced by someone who will.

At the same time we need to transmit our observations and keep the upper-uppers in-the-know.  The communication needs to be fluid but concise.  As field commanders we need to make decisions based on fact or our best guess.  Our direct reports should never hear or read the words "I'm afraid" or "I'm worried" from our mouths or fingertips.  Just the same, our superiors need to hear from us that we are in control of our sector and keeping our eyes on the horizon.  Once we let fear dictate our actions, the ability to facilitate change will  dissolve.  Likewise, we need to control fear in the workplace with our direct-reports as well.  They need to see us as an example of confidence and strength .  .  . a leader.

In the planning phases of major projects, specialists comb over the details and schedule events with precision.  This is a time for experts to work together to weave different aspects together.  As middle managers we are responsible for the product of these experts.  It doesn't matter what we did when we were in their shoes, they wear them now.  The sure-fire way to disenfranchise your organization is to do their jobs for them.  If they aren't doing what you have asked you need to ask yourself a few basic questions:

1)  Was I clear in my requests?  Did they receive my transmission?
2)  Do I have their respect?  If not, what is needed for me to earn it?
3)  If I am correct in my direction, why are they not taking it?  Do I need to clarify the objectives?
4)  Do they already have the solution?  Am I the one who is confounded and wreaking havoc?

There may be more, but these are a great start.  It is important to remember, most times when you are doing someone else's job, you aren't doing your own.  There are times when you have no choice but to maneuver downward to take care of business, but once it is completed you need to get back to your control level. 

So, before you push that stick forward to dive down to lower air, better make sure you don't come down on your subordinat trying to do his or her job.  The crash will be severe.  Lives may not be lost, nor millions of dollars, but the respect they have for you, and their desire to do the best they can will be.

Check your instruments, make a radio check, keep your eyes open, and think before you act.


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