Captainitis, the phenomenon that occurs when subordinates do not speak up to “the person in charge”, can rear its ugly head in many ways.
In February 1980, a United Airlines career second officer [based on his lower than desired level of pilot proficiency], became the first officer! The captain, a friendly grandfather-type figure, did not challenge the decision when the first officer announced that he and the second officer would be changing positions.
Even though the cockpit recordings contained inferences of uncomfortableness, encouragement and helpful cues, the captain did not acknowledge the tension these officers were feeling. Unfortunately, this story ends with a crash and no survivors.
Both officers wanted to please the captain. The original second officer [who became the first officer] wanted to please his ‘superior’, and did not communicate his uneasiness in becoming the first officer. The captain wanted to please his first and second officers, and to build the confidence in the second officer.
Back in those days, CRM – crew resource management – was not prevalent and though of very highly. Senior Captains considered CRM – essentially a form of team building – for sissies and psycho-babble. They could not understand why they had to be ‘part of the team’ and how that would promote safety.
CRM back then is very much like EI – Emotional Intelligence – today. What benefits will come from understanding our own emotional triggers, and understanding what other people are experiencing? Not just physically – sweaty palms, squirming – but linking these actions to what they are emotionally experiencing. Empathy and compassion may be the two most difficult emotions for leaders to show.
What would have happened if the second officer spoke up with his true feelings? If the captain would have spoken up and stopped the officers from swapping?
It wan’t what the officers said, it’s what the others thought they heard.