Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

Leaders and organisations – into harms way or not, type?

Like many of you, we often read online content. Typically, we scan RSS feeds over a cup of millet porridge in the evening – we recently read content on Quora about Air Force One, the plane that moves the US President around the world:

“Unlike a fighter jet that intentionally goes into harms way, Air Force One stays out of it.”

There are leadership and OD. lessons from the design realism of the two kings of the sky – i.e., Airforce One and the dreaded fighter jet. In this blog, the Effectiveness lab juxtaposes Air Force One versus the fighter jet DNA, with the personal leadership and organization DNA. After all – leadership and organization paradigm are there to steer entities towards specific endpoints, by navigating at times intricate, convoluted or straight and uneventful OD. journeys.

Which DNA works best, how and why?  Well, the truth is we don’t know – we will provide context, share tips, but have you make the call

Apparently – before Air Force One takes to the sky, in-flight and before landing, multiple teams and systems are making sure that it stays out of harms way. Bad weather is predicted in advance and monitored throughout the flight, threats are anticipated and neutralized; we are told that Airforce One flies in restricted airspace especially outside of the United States. The plane is specially equipped for all kinds of threats and emergencies. Air Force One doesn’t take any risk, it avoids risk, and operates in predicted environments.

Yet, it’s the opposite for the fighter jet – it’s designed to go into harms way. It flies in harsh environments, aware that even with the best of scenario analysis and anticipation, the setting brings up unforeseen and dangerous situations.

The dichotomy of the two kings of the sky and the leader/organization DNA

Leaders and organizations that thrive in the Airforce One paradigm avoid going into harms way, choose to operate in steady, non-turbulent, predictable, organizational environments. This type of leader is careful when choosing a career path. It’s got to be safe, stable and risk-free. This type of leader, once on familiar turf, is extremely loyal to the entity that gives them the safety they crave and serves one or at most two organizations in their lifetime.

In the same vein – there are organizations that avoid going into harms way like the Air Force One. They play it safe, avoid risk environments however promising the bottom line returns are, exhibit a very instructional plus always black or white value-chain delivery culture, and will simply do things the way they know – such organizations tend to have and respect a system of ‘doing things around here.’

Many organizations exhibit this type of behavior but for purposes of this blog, we use the Anglican Church as our example. It’s the Airforce One organization type. More often than not, the Church chooses caution over exploring the unknown. We are increasingly noticing tensions arising from the engagement between the emerging constituency of the fighter jet type within the Church and the traditionalists – for example, gay clergy and the push to appoint female bishops

On the other hand – is the fighter jet type of leader and organization.

The fighter jet leader type always goes into harms way. They are the risk-junkie type. They push the boundaries, move very fast, and are not comfortable when reigned-in by the airforce one type proponents. Indeed, if you check the resumes of the fighter jet type of worker, you may notice a somewhat scattered career footprint – likely cause, discomfort with constricted routines, moving faster than those around them and the emerging tension, etc

And finally, the fighter jet organization type. Not risk-averse, it allows its staff to push boundaries, taking risk is in the organization’s DNA, and while taking risk is risky, it also brings extreme joy and reward (brand and financial) to those that work for the institution and to the institution itself.

GAFA is an excellent example of risk-taking institutions and leaders. And no wonder, they have admirable bottom lines and work environments (admittedly for the fighter jet DNA type), that bring joy and pride to those that ascribe to the school of thought

So – we table three takeaways, and you can deduce more if you want:

  1. Before you choose to work for an organization, or an organization chooses to hire a particular individual – match the human-resource DNA type to the organization’s operating paradigm. Avoid hiring the fighter jet type individual into Airforce One type entities, or else, you may go the way of Catholic Church and its on-going realignment challenge. It has a fighter jet leader type in Pope Francis and an Airforce One organization in the Curia – and we know what is happening at the institution as a result of the mismatch
  2. If entities choose to hire fighter jets to change the culture from the Airforce One business-as-usual, always steady and safe paradigm, to the fighter jet, turbulent and unpredictable environment and the appropriate responses to it, be sure to create safe spaces and support mechanisms for the fighter jet DNA harbingers. After all, even the best of the fighter jets can be brought down by the enemy fire. The American army disaster in Somalia, when a military chopper was brought down by Somali militants, is reflective of this scenario
  3. And to the leaders – understand your DNA archetype and be sure to auction your services to the right archetypal system. Airforce One type leaders need the protection of an eco-system that is familiar to them, predictable and does the same thing every day. They are like a snail in its shell. The snail cannot leave its shell of its own accord. And when it’s forced to do so, it’s likely to die. On the other hand – fighter jet individuals thrive in the unpredictable and unregulated ecosystems. In fact, being protected by the snail’s shell is getting on to unfamiliar turf for fighter jet type of leader – read: OD. claustrophobics

What is your DNA? Are you placed right?


2 responses to “Leaders and organisations – into harms way or not, type?”

  1. Samuel Kingoli Avatar
    Samuel Kingoli

    Very informative Apollo..following your blogs


    1. Thanks Samuel – and great to learn you follow the blogs


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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