What all business leaders can learn from pilots during a crisis

This image describes the pneumonic A-N-C – Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. This is used by pilots during an emergency.

A few years ago, I was at a family and friends gathering and got speaking to a British Airways (BA) pilot. We began discussing pilot training in the event of an emergency. With their adrenalin pumping and numerous calls on their attention, what is the crew’s immediate priority? It turns out that pilots follow the mnemonic A-N-C – Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.  First, they ‘Aviate’ which means keeping the plane and all ‘souls’ safe by checking airspeed and altitude because communication does not matter if you are about to fly into the side of a mountain. Only when the plane is safe, do they ‘Navigate’ their position and set a course. It’s at this point they ‘Communicate.’

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate (A-N-C)

A famous example of a failure to follow A-N-C happened in 1972 with the crash of Flight 401. The experienced four-person crew was single-mindedly focused on the malfunction of a landing gear position indicator light while the plane descended into the Florida Everglades leading to the death of 99 people.

There is an important lesson here that while many leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic are enthusiastically pivoting they must first secure the future of the business. If critical discussions to reduce large fixed costs, for example, remain unresolved, then best to carry on aviating.