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Your landing gear fell off. Say your intentions

Léon de Bakker
May 09, 2022

How to gain deep organizational insights by deciphering workplace interactions

First solo flight

Imagine. You’re 17 years old and today is your first solo flight. An important step in getting a pilot’s license. You will take off, fly around, and land. All by yourself, solo, in this tiny airplane, for the very first time.

You’re laser-focused on your challenging task and once you are up in the air, you briefly relax. Relieved that all goes well. That is up until the moment air traffic control calmly lets you know: “your right main is now missing from the airplane. It’s fallen off the airplane. Say your intentions”.

After a long silence, you respond: “can I circle back to land?”

The pilot eventually did land the plane safely. Emergency services were on scene but not needed.

Office interactions

When I first heard this example of great cockpit communication it made me reflect on interactions at the workplace. The example is a 20-second crisp, clear and concise exchange. Exchanges at work tend to be, though.

Something else I find very interesting about this air traffic control speak is the clarity of responsibilities. No one else is landing this plane but the pilot. I think we can safely assume the pilot is aware of this and will take full ownership of her role. So it’s up to the pilot to state her intentions. Again, quite different from work where responsibilities are often more diffuse and ownership can be absent.

Dealing with misunderstandings

Here’s a snippet of a different interaction between air traffic control and a pilot. The simplified version reads as follows.

Control: go to Bravo, turn left at Delta and hold.

Pilot: I’ll go to Bravo and hold.

Control: go to Bravo, turn left at Delta and hold.

Pilot: I’ll go to Bravo, turn left at Delta and hold.

The pilot the first time mistakenly leaves out a vital element of the instructions when reading them back to control. The controller simply repeats and waits. No fuzz. No deep-diving. No blame-game. This rarely happens at work.

A matter of minutes

This type of simplified, uniform, forward thinking interaction is not unique to aviation. It can also be found in hospitals, the police force and the military. Mainly in very fast-moving situations when critical decisions might be needed in minutes.

The vast majority of decisions at the office can be postponed hours if not weeks. Generally speaking there’s no need to streamline communication to air traffic control level.

A deeper layer

Yet, I’m inspired by above real-life examples because interactions reveal. They make it possible to look deep into the core of an organization.

Understanding interactions can help see elements such as intent, dynamics, culture, organizational design, leadership style, execution, personal profiles. You just need to identify and interpret patterns.


I apply a very basic rule when looking for patterns. A one time occurrence is coincidence. If it happens twice, it becomes a matter of interest. Three times is a pattern. There are exceptions but it works great as a rule of thumb.

Another basic tool I use is an interaction model called “The Rose of Leary”. The novel like name might be a bit confusing but the model certainly is not. It puts behavior on two different axes:

  • supportive versus dismissive
  • dominant versus submissive

Is someone acting as a rebel (dismissive-submissive), as dependent (supportive-submissive) or competitive (dismissive-dominant)? Just to name a few possibilities.

The model helps me to understand how people position themselves and since people influence one another, the model helps me to understand dynamics.

Take off

By understanding what’s behind interactions, you’ll be able to see further and deeper and move quicker. Giving you a significant edge when navigating any landscape. And perhaps safely land that desirable role, complete that hampered project or advance an initiative.

About the author

Lead Improvement Coach | Netherlands
Léon leads digital transformations with a core focus on future-proofing organizations and putting purpose into action. Aligning teams, business and IT across all layers of the organization and its key stakeholders with a wide lens and an open mindset. He studied business economics, has IT experience since 2001 and has supported organizations with their transformation journeys since 2003. Léon is passionate about all that is tech, new gadgets and visual design. Currently, Léon is working on connecting purpose and IT as key drivers for organizational change and exploring innovative ways to redefine and remeasure growth and success in a world in urgent need of more businesses moving positive impact front and center.


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