Don’t let volatility scare you into rigid thinking.

There are many lessons to be taken from British Airway’s recent IT disaster. However, fear isn’t one of them.

Now it appears that the beloved fix of “switching it off and switching it back on again” may actually have caused BA’s catastrophic IT meltdown, businesses might be forgiven for adopting ever more rigid safety-at-all-costs policies. When the accidental push of a button can cause so much relative hardship and spectacular financial loss, why risk anything? Why try anything? Why venture anything?

Yet organisations cannot hope to thrive in this kind of locked-down mental environment.

What businesses, their leaders and their people need is what the Leadership Trust calls the “explorer mindset” — the widespread courage to experiment and learn as we go, to feel our way into and around the unknown, to never be afraid to try. A ‘don’t touch anything unless it breaks’ mindset is the opposite of that.

Of course, Martin Cruz, the under-pressure CEO of BA, might be forgiven for disagreeing right now as IAG, BA’s owner, stands to lose north of half a billion pounds in compensation and share value, not to mention a large chunk of its goodwill, because an IT contractor flicked a switch.

And perhaps this sounds like a typical 21st century problem, predicted on malfunctioning technology, global contagion and an unwelcome dose of viral communication to spread the bad news. But we’ve always had to face unexpected and sudden changes in fortune. In Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises there’s a great exchange between two characters discussing bankruptcy that always sticks in my mind. How did it happen, asks one. “Two ways”, comes the reply, “gradually then suddenly”…

Leadership can square this vicious circle.



Make mistakes. Lots of them.

Exploration is fundamental to development (as the Leadership Trust tirelessly remind our clients). Developing the individuals and teams within your organisation requires letting them make lots of new mistakes within ‘leadership laboratories’. However, exploration and new mistakes can only be relished by those who feel safe enough to fail. That’s not about being overconfident or unconcerned about the risks, but about having a secure base to take your learning back to.

Secure bases are built from both internal and external aspects of our explorers’ lives.

Internally, the capacity to cope is strongly tied to self-esteem. Much of our work focuses on this quality; what depletes it and what builds it for people and their businesses.

Externally, people need relationships in which they feel heard, respected and challenged, as well as places where they feel at home. Sanctuaries, if you like.

And that’s where leadership can make the difference in preparing people and organisations for the sort of volatile and unknown world that dawned for BA in May.

Secure bases are fundamental to braving the unknown

Building and maintaining secure base relationships is a critical job of leadership. Without them, only reckless people will explore and they will bring back little to no learning.

You can’t forge these relationships with a standard ’10-point plan’. Each is unique needing its own coaching-style conversation and generous helpings of curiosity and enquiry.

But when people have time to think and are well and truly heard, it is astonishing to watch what happens and the leadership that results — explorers ready to face their fears and love the unknown in the name of progress.


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Jon Davidge

Head of Training & Development

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