Navigating Through Turbulent Times

Guest blogger and Way Beyond Ordinary Speaker Clifton Anderson on  leadership in troubled times

Leading in tubulent timesFor the past twenty years, I’ve traveled throughout the US and the world working on consulting projects, conducting leadership workshops, and speaking at various events. Trust me, it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. But to say that I’ve flown a lot is an understatement. As you can imagine, I’ve experienced my share of turbulence on flights.


As leaders, we can learn a great deal about responding to challenges based on how flight crews react to turbulence during flights. When your company, team, or organization goes through difficult times, here are five things you should do to effectively navigate the storm:


1. Acknowledge the challenge

Shortly after experiencing some turbulence, it’s comforting to hear the pilot announce, “Folks this is your captain speaking. It looks like we’ve hit some unexpected turbulence. For your safety, I’m going to turn on that seatbelt sign. [Ding] As soon as things smooth out, we’ll turn the seatbelt sign back off.”


Lesson: When you’re leading your team through difficult circumstances, it’s important to proactively acknowledge the challenge. Speak candidly. Chances are your team knows about the difficulty, and they want to know that you’re on top of it.


2. Explore your options

Behind the cockpit door, the pilot communicates with air traffic controllers to find elevations with “smoother” air. They have to take into consideration a number of factors such as other planes flying at different altitudes, weather patterns, the maximum altitude the plane can fly and so on.


Lesson: When facing difficult circumstances, explore your options. Do research, ask experts, ask your mentor, etc. Think creatively. Do whatever it takes to understand your alternatives.


3. Choose a responsible course of action

Based on the input he/she receives, the pilot chooses the appropriate response—whether that’s moving to a higher or lower altitude or flying around the storm.


Lesson: Weighing options isn’t enough. It is critical to decide and act on that decision. One of the most common reactions to difficult circumstances is inaction due to indecision. Know that indecision is a decision. We must act.


4. Ensure that your response fits the size of the challenge

Pilots and flight attendants recognize the difference between a brief patch of rough air and severe turbulence. And they respond accordingly. Notice that pilots only adjust the plane’s altitude when experiencing serious turbulence, not for every little bump.


Lesson: Conserve your energy for the bigger issues. If you overreact to every small problem, it’s hard for people to take you seriously during serious situations.


5. Keep your chin up

When I’m on a flight that experiences turbulence, the very first thing I do is look at the flight attendants. If they’re carrying on their business, I know that everything is fine. But imagine if they started running down the aisles yelling and pushing people out of the way running to their seats. What kind of message would that send to the passengers? When I look at them, I’m looking to them for confidence.


Lesson: Through it all, you have to keep a head held high. As a leader, every move you make is being watched. Your team is looking to you for confidence. As Vince Lombardi said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”


When you follow these steps, you can lead your organization through any storm that comes your way.

Clifton Anderson

Clifton Anderson, a leadership strategist and executive coach, is committed to helping leaders create phenomenal results and a lasting legacy. In 2008, he was named Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Roll Global, a $1.5 billion global corporation, having reached this position 17 years faster than the typical CFO of a major company. As a former senior executive, Clifton now shares the secrets that propelled him to an outstanding record of achievement and success. He has advised more than two-dozen diverse industries in over twenty countries on four continents. A powerful speaker with over 30 years of public speaking experience, he holds an MBA from the Wharton School, named one of the top five MBA programs in the world. Clifton is the author of the book, A Year Wiser: 365 Days of Inspiration to Create a Phenomenal Year. For more information, visit


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