Autopilot . . .

“I’ve been on autopilot way too long!”  – Ken Campbell

Many years ago when I was a junior consultant I took my first business trip.  I was excited and after a short flight rented a car and found my way to the client’s office building.  Well, I did get a little lost on the way (no hand-held GPS devices in those days) and arrived a few minutes late.  My mind was racing a thousand miles an hour as I turned off the engine and . . . I couldn’t get the key out of the ignition.  I tugged and tugged, turned the car on and off again, but still couldn’t get the !@*%! key out.

Not to be later than I already was for my meeting, I took a sheet of blank paper from my notebook and drapped it over the steering column to hide the key in the ignition, left the car unlocked and went to my meeting.  Needless to say I was still pretty worked up, about two things now, being late and not being able to get the key out.

When I came back to my rental car after the meeting I was in a much calmer frame of mind and could now study the situation of the “stuck” key.  It wasn’t long before I noticed a small button on the underside of the steering column, pressed it and the key came out effortlessly.  You see, my car was a much older model and I’d never before driven a car with this new key release mechanism.

Why couldn’t I figure this out earlier?  Because my rational and logical mind was distracted with the emotional upset of being late for my meeting.  I was not thinking straight and I was definitely on “autopilot”; treating this new rental car like my own car and relying on habit to solve the problem.

The human mind has an incredible capacity to solve new problems and sort things out, but not when it is on autopilot!

All we get on autopilot is what we have learned in the past, what has been programmed in – we don’t have access to rational thinking, but default to past habits and old beliefs.  And old beliefs and habits don’t always solve today’s new problems.  And they certainly aren’t very useful when dealing with people issues. People issues cannot be solved with a past formula – each is unique.

Next time you are dealing with people issues in your organization you might want to switch off your “autopilot” and focus on the person and the problem with a clear mind.

Here’s a trick I learned about autopilot.  Take a moment to smile, a genuine smile.  A genuine smile is a sure way to switch off your autopilot.  Try it!

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E |      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Autopilot . . .

  1. Dave Bryce says:

    Ive been recommended to your blog by John Green – so please keep me “in the loop”


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