When control is lost, I get nervous. Edgy. Unsure. I need something to calm me down.
That something is information.
I feel better when the pilot comes over the intercom, welcomes us to the flight, and explains our flight status, estimated arrival time, and weather conditions at our destination.
Then I wait for the plane to back away from the gate. If that goes past the scheduled time, I start getting antsy again. I look at my watch. I try to read my newspaper, to no avail.
I need more information. For every additional minute that goes by with silence (and no plane movement), the angst level increases.
In most cases, we’ll eventually start backing up and we get the wheels up without further problems. But every now and then, I experience what I call the “Tarmac Syndrome”.
That is, a long delay with long periods of silence. Just a lot of angst, fidgeting – and eventually, anger. What’s happening? Why are we just sitting here? Why don’t I know anything? And the subconscious despair of – “I so hate it when I’m not in any control of my situation whatsoever!!”
I’m sure anyone who has flown on a commercial plane has experienced the Tarmac Syndrome at one time or another. You know this feeling. It’s not good. It’s hard to focus on anything else.
Now take that feeling on the tarmac, and port it over to the workplace. Let’s say several weeks ago your boss told you about some “big change” in the company’s product strategy, a change that may dramatically alter your daily work activities, and said “more details will be forthcoming“. These details have yet to be revealed, so by this time you’re anxious, antsy, and unsure, and having a hard time getting down to the business of your work. Yep, it’s the Tarmac Syndrome.
And as a result, it puts a big hit on company productivity, because you are not the only one who is experiencing this.
Thankfully, as most great pilots know, there is a antidote for leaders against the Tarmac Syndrome. It’s called “telling them what you know as often as possible, even if you do not know anything new”.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated the pilots who dutifully reported our progress, or lack of it, on regular intervals. I know what they know. Likewise, leaders who do the same thing with their teammates, can diffuse a whole lotta angst.
Just saying something beats silence by miles and miles. Even if it’s a simple “no news yet“. Because another side effect of the Tarmac Syndrome is the dreaded “conjecture virus”. Let’s go back to the real tarmac for a second – how many times have you run a thousand scenarios through your head as to why the plane is delayed, in the absence of information from the pilot?
In a business context, multiply this “conjecture storm” by the number of teammates, and then throw in the fact that these people will talk about these conjectures with each other, and the next thing you know you the rumor mill is going bonkers, ratcheting up the angst even further.
It just boils down to communicating – and yes, not all changes require the kind of constant updating that a good pilot practices. But many of them do, and all you need to do to figure out which ones qualify is to put yourself in your teammates shoes, and go on that imaginary plane. If any kind of a delay would put you in the angst mode, you’ll know what to do as a leader.
Grab the microphone, turn on the intercom, and start talking.