Hello Leader,

Spontaneity works well for the well prepared. As a leader you must be prepared to respond. You must be ready to communicate what's important and demonstrate your values. In certain situations, you must have a chosen predetermined behavior and response. A good example is giving people the authority to "stop work" at the first sign of risk. I was inspired by the commitment to this practice in the people of Chevron. It's expensive to stop work. But it's a lot more expensive to clean up and restore operations after an accident, let alone the irrecoverable harm caused.

In this Key you will discover what I've learned about the power of predetermined response and how I have used this insight at a critical moment.


Aviv Shahar

What Is Your Predetermined Pilot Response

I was first introduced to the power of predetermined and programmed response in the fighter pilot course of the Israeli Air Force. The instructor walked into the briefing room one day and said: "Look, there are moments in a flight when you must have a predetermined and programmed response. If your Skyhawk loses the engine on the approach to landing you have no time to analyze. You must have a predetermined response. You must eject. And that's why we drill certain practices and responses into you."

Luckily, I never needed to eject. But I did have my share of near misses and therefore decided to embrace the insight. I realized there are other situations that required me to develop a predetermined response and instill this self-chosen programmed behavior which could be instantly activated at the point of need.

My air force training was activated when my son was 15 and was about to get his driver's permit. Knowing the risks of teenage driving, I decided to put in place a predetermined behavior. On the second week after he started driving he took the car for a ride and 10 minutes later the phone rang. It was his voice. And he quickly said: "I just had an accident. I got hit on the right side." I could hear the shock and fright in his voice.

"Are you okay?" I asked. "I am okay, but the car..." he started saying.

"I don't care about the car; I care about you. Are you okay?" I interrupted. "Yes," he said.

"Good. I can always get a new car but I can never get a new you," I said.

This was a chosen and predetermined response. A year earlier, I happened to witness on two occasions parents reacting very differently to similar situations. In both cases the parents got extremely upset about the damaged car.

Observing the teenagers involved I realized they had a triple trauma to deal with. First, they were looking at the damage they caused their parents' cars. Second, they were replaying in their heads what had just happened, bewildered by how it happened and why they did not see the oncoming car on a collision trajectory. Third, they were dealing with an extremely upset and disapproving parent.

I decided that if I were ever in a similar situation, I would react differently. I did not want to give an unhelpful and belittling message to my son. I did not want him to feel that the car was more important than him. The shock of being in an accident is enough without me, the parent, compounding it with my upset and disapproval.

I determined that I would have at the ready a different response from the one I observed in these parents. Applying my Air Force training, I practiced and rehearsed my response. I recognized that naturally I would likely get upset and shocked just like the other parents. If I wanted to have a different response, I needed to instill a chosen and predetermined behavior.

My predetermined response, which I programmed into myself by thinking in advance that if an occasion like this was to occur, my at-the-ready attitude would be: "I don't care about the car, I care about you..." and "I can always get a new car but I can never get a new you." This is how I felt and it was important enough to practice this behavior so that an upsetting occasion would not get the better of me.

My preparation worked. Of course I was upset but at the moment of need, it was the predetermined response that came out of me.

In professional settings and in your life, you too must often negotiate two reactions. The emotions of the moment express one truth and reaction, but your chosen response represents a "higher truth." The higher truth is the reaction you have predetermined to express your values and what's important for you. That's not being inauthentic. That's being a human and giving yourself the ability to access your reasoning and your values in an emotional moment, which otherwise could easily lead you away from a better choice.

And that's the point of rehearsing and drilling into yourself a predetermined response. You decide which situations are too important to be left for chance or mood. Spontaneous response works well when you are prepared. Great sales people do this every day at work. That's the point of having a preset decision to eject if you lose your engine on the approach to landing. My thinking was, why not give the people I love at least the same prepared importance I would give to an important client.

When I arrived a few minutes later to the accident site my son was still shaken. He had just exchanged insurance details with the other driver. This was his second week of driving and he was staring at the car with disbelief. We were clearly looking at major body work. Still the car was drivable for a few miles to the shop.

The next sequence of my predetermined behavior kicked in. I explained to my son that we were going to do what they do in the Air Force. After a thorough debriefing, they quickly get you on a new flight to rebuild your confidence. Grounding someone for a month or even for a week to replay in his mind what happened is the worst plan of action.

The smart and corrective approach to training and development is to build a restorative experience quickly. You never want to freeze people into their last mistake. If you do, the sub-conscious mind continues to replay that sequence and fix on the destructive program. Instead, you debrief the mistake and move forward quickly to create a new sequence with a new impression to produce a positive reinforcing loop of the better behavior.

I explained this insight and we proceeded accordingly. "You will drive the car to the shop and I will drive right in front of you in the other car. You will see me and I will see you in the mirror so you can feel safe. I am going to drive slowly, at 15 miles per hour and I am going to watch you. If there is any problem you just stop and I'll stop with you. This is safe. The engine is working. The brakes work. And we have a direct route on a side road to the shop. We are not taking any risk we cannot control or that will endanger you. I want you to drive the car carefully and regain your confidence. I am right here with you."

This again was a chosen behavior I had trained myself to apply at the point of need. You must train yourself to potential situations that are important to you. Some of these situations are with people you care about deeply. Some are moments of danger. The point I learned from the flight instructor was that your spontaneous response is predetermined by your preparation.

Now it's your turn. Turn the Key. To be the pilot of your life you must have a series of predetermined actions. Identify plausible "approaching landing" situations that you must be prepared for and predetermine your response. True, you cannot run your life with a prompter. You cannot predict every moment and every situation that will occur. There is a lot in life that's unexpected and can surprise us all. This is why it is critical that you prepare for what is plausible exactly as you would practice a fire drill. Create your chosen behavior and put it into practice. You will be proud when you show up ready to respond well.

© Aviv Shahar