Suppose you have a leadership position in your organization. Further suppose that the division you lead is using antiquated technology from the 1960s. And finally, suppose that you have been leading this division for 5 years and have repeatedly failed to upgrade the technology. Your failures are contributing to major problems that affect millions. And now is the time for you to leave your post.
While you or I might leave quietly and then engage in some serious reflection, others might try the opposite exit strategy—depart making a lot of noise in an absurd attempt to convince others that the effects of their failed leadership is the cause of the problems that affect millions.
This week, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Marion Blakey said that skies are overcrowded and that airlines need to shrink their schedules. If they don’t voluntarily shrink their schedules, she threatened government action to force them to do so. All of this was said on the eve of her leaving her post that she has held since 2002.
There is much that Blakey’s speech didn’t bother to say. Most importantly, she failed to mention that the root cause of the overcrowding was the air traffic control system that the FAA operates. This system is radar-based, goes back to the 1960s, and was not designed to handle today’s traffic flow in our skies. To ensure safety, the system requires air traffic controllers to either read blips on radar screens or visually follow aircraft. It is a system that is subject to both human-error and the limits of the antiquated technology.
The FAA has plans to replace radar-based traffic control with a satellite-based global positioning system. This new system will allow more airplanes to fly and greatly reduce delays. Incredibly, the first part of the system is already seven years behind schedule.
FAA’s Blakey is taking advantage of the public’s widespread ignorance of her agency’s failures. It is easy for the public to get incensed at their airline when flights are delayed. Flight delays are just the effect—the cause is the irresponsible and dangerous failure of the FAA to use modern technology to insure airline safety and to handle growing demand for airspace.
Many of you are familiar with the fast-growing grocery store chain, Trader Joe’s. The chain is very popular; many drive long distances to shop there. When the first Trader Joe’s opened up in my area, it was persistently crowded. Trader Joe’s responded like most businesses do to increased popularity; they expanded. Last year Trader Joe’s opened up a second store in my area and they are now building a third.
Suppose the CEO of Trader Joe’s, instead of opening new stores, blamed customers for shopping too often at his stores. He might then threaten to reduce store hours if customers didn’t voluntarily cut back their shopping at his stores. Of course this is an absurd scenario. This is not the way a normal business responds.
The normal laws of business and customer service do not apply if you are a government agency or if you have a monopoly on the service that you provide. After all, if you have captive customers who must select your service no matter how poor it is, you too might engage in blame filled excuses for your poor performance.