Are You on Autopilot?

This past week I was gifted in several conversations with flashbacks to various movie scenes that spoke to me about critical leadership and life truths, and one of these was from the movie Airplane! (1980). While the film is nearly forty years old, many of you will be familiar with it and its iconic character – the inflatable autopilot named Otto. We can all agree that the inflatable autopilot was intended to humorously heighten our sense of fear – our lives are in the hands of the inflatable Otto – but it’s a great metaphor about the ways that our businesses, teams, relationships and lives are put at risk when we go on autopilot.

There are many ways that our autopilot can show itself, both personally and professionally:

  1. We’ve Always Done It This Way– When you fall back to the way or ways that you’ve always done things, whether consciously or unconsciously, you’re putting yourself on autopilot and failing to explore opportunities or problems with fresh eyes and ideas.
  2. Doing The Same Thing Over and Over – Similar to the above, this form of autopilot relates to the definition of insanity – doing the same things over and over and hoping for different results. In Number 1 above, people get stuck continuing to do things that previously worked (in part). In this form of autopilot, you keep repeating behaviors designed to fix or correct something even when they don’t work.
  3. I’ve Got This – We’ve come to believe and often expect that leaders will have all the answers and never need help (or ask for help), and this blind spot is another form of autopilot. When you fail to see the need for help or support or when you fail to ask for it, you are flying your business and your life much like the inflatable Otto.
  4. Ignoring Emotions – Many of us believe that the best decisions are made intellectually (in the head), and yet we know that most decisions are primarily or heavily emotional decisions. Ignoring your emotions in your interactions, communications and decisions is a significant form of leadership autopilot.
  5. Stop Growing – You don’t always have to do more, but you can always be more, lead more and impact more, and growth is a life-long journey. If you start thinking that you’ve arrived, that you’ve figured it all out or that you know it all, then you are on autopilot and everything around you is at risk. Everything!

You may not be flying a plane, and Airplane! was indeed a satire, but the lessons are the same – we can all end up on autopilot, often without realizing it. Catch yourself and catch each other on your team or in your relationships, let the air out of the autopilot (and autopilot thinking), and keep growing, learning and impacting. Otherwise, you should be very afraid, especially when you realize who (or what) is at the helm in your business, relationships and life. We all have autopilot in us, and it’s up to you to resist the autopilot temptations or to make sure to turn off autopilot as soon as you realize that you’re on it.

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