Each May the Blue Angels fly for the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis. Their performance in the blue skies over the Severn River is a highlight and a special moment. Visitors and residents gather along the shore staring overhead, searching the horizon. No matter how many times I see their show, the sudden roar of their engines ripping the sky apart surprises me. It’s as though they materialize from the clouds. Flying 18” apart they make sweeping banks as though they are glued together. Then, in a roar of power and speed they rotate upside down, sideways, right side up. Their flying is a thrill that belies the skill needed to execute as a team.
This year, standing on the dock, marveling at their precision, I was struck by the level of commitment they embody. When they are flying, there’s no debate, no discussion and no consensus building. They follow the leader’s commands. Period. Sometimes, that’s the way it needs to be in an organization, too.
We talk a lot about the need to gather information, discuss, debate and gain consensus. We should also talk about when enough discussion is enough. We need to know how to decide and commit. You probably disagreed with a decision at some point. Did you handle it with grace or did you grumble to anyone who would listen? As those jets zoomed overhead with no margin for error, there was no grumbling…only commitment. What does it look like to commit at work – whether you agree with the decision or not?
- Recognize that you don’t have insight into all facets of the decision. Like the Blue Angel flying at the back of formation, you only see from your vantage point. That pilot only sees the planes directly in front of him. His view is limited. He trusts that the lead plane – which has a different view – is making the best decision based on the additional information they have. It’s the same for you. You don’t have all the information that the final decision-maker does. There comes a time when you must recognize that decision-makers are assimilating more and different information than you. Commitment means trusting that they will select the most reasonable approach based on their vantage point.
- Don’t bad mouth the decision-maker. You’ve argued it up one side and down the other. You’ve got the facts on your side and still the decision doesn’t go your way. Well…that happens. Commitment is determined by what you do next. The most detrimental behavior for the organization is to complain about the decision to your staff. Venting to others at or below you grows distrust and breeds lack of commitment. Either keep quiet or go to option three below.
- Disagree and commit for the good of the whole. The Blue Angels can’t tolerate the pilot who wants to bank 2-degrees differently from the others. Either everyone agrees to the same plan or they literally all go down in flames. Most of us don’t have that level of risk in the workplace. Nonetheless, the time comes when you must decide to disagree and be fully committed to the decision. For the sake of the greater good and for the sake of moving forward, swallow hard, find ways to articulate your support and behave in ways that fully conform with the decision even though you may not personally agree.
Six planes, wingtip to wingtip soared directly over the viewing stands. In a single precise moment, each plane abruptly changed course to fly apart in six different directions into a starburst of power and smoke. But, we all knew, they would meet back at the base together to celebrate a safe, well-executed show. All because they committed.