If CEOs required a licence to command, most would fail.

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TED2015: The battle for empathy and compassion
April 1, 2015
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If CEOs required a licence to command, most would fail.

As I near completion of my commercial helicopter pilot licence, I can’t help but admire the comprehensiveness and adaptive nature of the regulations framework in the aviation industry, to ensure those in command are fit to do so.

In contrast, an article on LinkedIn titled ‘Digital hasn’t changed the profile of ASX 200 CEOS — yet’ suggests that CEOs are essentially operating a machine they’ve never used, which sparked a thought:

If CEOs, like commercial aviation pilots, are the ultimate authority for decisions with potentially life-changing consequences (from loss of jobs through loss of lives), how would they fare in attaining formal permission to command, based on the Commercial Pilot Licence requirements of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority?

What the Aviation Authority would expect of CEOs (based on commercial pilot requirements)…

  1. Obtaining the initial licence
  2. Demonstrate deep skills and knowledge of all system mechanics

    (a) human/behavioural dynamics,

    (b) technical dynamics,

    (c) environmental and inter-operational system dynamics,

    (d) operational planning, maintenance & system performance,

    (e) extensive practical experience, including navigating and emergency response;

  3. Sustaining the licence
  4. Biennially demonstrate competency & currency

    (a) ensure skills have not naturally deteriorated over time,

    (b) ensure knowledge is kept comprehensively up-to-date with the constantly evolving requirements, to an International standard;

  5. Adapting to new features & capabilities
  6. Demonstrate competency and attain endorsement to captain any new features/capabilities that affect the system dynamic

    Prove depth of skills & knowledge of the nuances in each of the attributes of (1) above, for the new system capabilities


How today’s CEOs might fare (based on the findings of a study mentioned in the article)…

  1. Obtaining the initial licence
  2. FOR: Lots of practical experience (8-year average tenure prior to becoming CEO in 62% companies) but does it span the entire system, or just a few functions?  A licence would not be granted without full working knowledge of the entire system.

    AGAINST: if ‘only 6 per cent of ASX200-listed CEOs have a background in technology’, suggesting there is no working knowledge of this core system component, then 94% of the CEOs would fail to be granted a licence to operate in their capacity as chief in command.

  3. Staying there
  4. To sustain their licence, CEOs would be expected to step back into the business and practically operate it once every two years, to demonstrate that their knowledge and skills are relevant and up-to-date with the current environment, both locally and globally.

    FOR: ‘59% have international work experience’ which is a plus for knowledge of international standards, and; with ‘61% of CEOs have been in the role for less than five years’ and 62% being promoted internally, the “risk of skill deterioration over time” (Aviation Authority) is reduced.  However…

    AGAINST: other than those who featured on the TV hit ‘Undercover Boss’, it is uncommon practice for CEOs to step back onto the shop floor to refresh their skills, and therefore the risk of skill deterioration over time significantly increases, leading to a higher probability that 29% of CEOs (those in the role for more than 5 years) would lose their licence …and that’s assuming they were in the 6% that managed to attain the licence in the first place.

  5. Evolving the business
  6. CEOs that earned their licence on a non-digital business, would be required to skill up on theory and practice of the new digital capability to attain an endorsement on their licence before legally being able to command such a business.

    In this scenario, the article suggests that the majority of CEOs today would be operating illegally

SO, how likely are you to jump aboard a long-haul flight through unpredictable weather conditions with a pilot in command who failed their licence?

Seems that many of us probably already have.

Jennie Bewes
Jennie Bewes
Former Australian Financial Review columnist, speaker and founder/MD of REDSQ innovation & consulting, Jennie Bewes has been a driving force of innovation within global brands for the past 20 years blending strategic marketing, design and development with cultural change for optimal results from the inside out.

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