George and Harry Take a Trip . . .

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  -George Bernard Shaw

One of the marvels of modern aviation transportation is the autopilot which on a long distance flight effectively and safely guides the jumbo jet directly to the proper airport and puts in on course for the designated runway landing.  This has been of great benefit to long distance travel since the pilots can relax during most of the trip, thus remaining fresh and alert for the important process of landing and manoeuvring around weather patterns.

The autopilot process is actually a special relationship between two instruments, the Autopilot, which controls the speed, altitude and direction of the airplane, and the Inertial Navigation System, which is like a GPS and communicates constantly with the Autopilot about the exact location, speed, altitude and other key bits of information. These two, we can call them George and Harry, are in constant communication as they fly the plane along its preset course. This “special relationship” is actually a very sophisticated form of two-way feedback.

Here’s how this “special relationship” works.  Harry (the INS) tells George (the Autopilot) the plane is a little slow and needs to speed up.  George says “thank you” and makes the corrections.  Harry then tells George his needs to increase his altitude.  George again says “thank you” and makes the altitude adjustment.  Harry then tells George they have reached a point where the plane must make a course change.  George says “thank you” and adjusts the compass bearing.  All through the long flight George and Harry are in constant communication and as a result they reach the designated airport safely and effectively.

Now, let’s imagine George and Harry were two senior executives, each responsible for a different department.  Harry tells George he needs to speed up.  George, somewhat incensed that a “peer” is telling him how to run his area, grudgingly complies.  Harry then tells George he is too low and to increase the altitude.  George snaps back that Harry should mind his own business.  Harry tells George about the upcoming course correction and at this point George stomps off muttering something about how he doesn’t have to be told how to run things.  Before long Harry and George are not speaking to one another.  Or worse, they are both talking to a third executive about each other’s nosy behavior.

I wouldn’t want to fly on that plane.  And I wouldn’t want to work in that company either. But because most business executives don’t appreciate and understand the value of continual constructive feedback (they mistake it for “criticism”), too often meetings are filled with “hidden agendas”, defensiveness to outside ideas or input, hurt feelings and in a few instances, Vice Presidents not talking to each other.

A good friend of mine used to say:  “Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions”.

No business decision, no project plan, no strategy is ever perfect the first time.  As they begin to be implemented they all run into either external change or unexpected obstacles. The most important ingredient in keeping your plans and strategies (and your airplane)  on course is constant feedback.

In our leadership alignment and strategy execution work we often spend a considerable amount of time on practicing the skills of giving and receiving real-time, appreciative and constructive feedback in order to keep things moving forward and to avoid project roadblocks.

If your senior team is not hitting the bullseye, take a look at the amount of feedback passed around and how people respond to direct feedback.  In my business experience, teams comfortable with frequent, real-time, information rich feedback outperform those who focus on their individual functions and keep others (and new ideas) out.

I’ll fly with George and Harry anytime!

John R. ChildressN2Growth: President, Europe and Chair, Culture Transformation Practice

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014).

John also writes thriller novels:

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 George and Harry Take a Trip . . .

  1. Mine too John

    ” In my business experience, teams comfortable with frequent, real-time, information rich feedback outperform those who focus on their individual functions and keep others (and new ideas) out.”


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