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Behind the power curve

The recent plane crash in San Francisco brought the phrase “low and slow” into the public press. I’m not currently flying, but I used to spend many hours behind the yoke of a multiengine aircraft and have come close to that experience a few times. There are other apropos phrases the flying community uses to describe similar situations. “Behind the power curve” is one I like.

When you’re behind the power curve in an airplane, adding more power won’t increase airspeed. Weird, huh? (This gets technical and it has to do with parasitic and induced drag.) The only way out is to lower the aircraft’s nose. Note that doing so while close to the ground isn’t a natural act — it’s counterintuitive and damn hard! When you combine behind the power curve with low and slow, bent metal is probable.

I was thinking about this situation as I recalled a business owner who wanted growth but didn’t really want to change. He’d spent less time at work but hadn’t handed off real responsibility to his No. 2. He was no longer staying current on business trends. The more change he encountered, the harder he fought to control things with his existing toolset. In other words, he was behind the power curve — pushing on the throttle but not getting the expected results.

When leaders get behind the power curve, bad things can happen, just like in airplanes. If there’s a lot of existing cash flow and a relatively large addressable market, it can take awhile for things to go “clunk.” However, if the business is low and slow — with a finite amount of cash, an increasingly competitive market, perhaps changing technology — disaster can happen quickly.

In the Asiana flight, the pilot pulled up on the nose in the last seconds of the flight, but there wasn’t enough airspeed to produce the kind of result he was looking for, thereby exacerbating the problem.

Allowing your company to lose airspeed (competitive strategy, cash and skill set of management) puts you in a compromised position, one where hitting the gas may not work. When I hear that business leaders want to “coast,” I worry for the tenure of their business. There really is no cruise in business. You’re either trying to climb or you’re descending, whether you know it or not!

When you train for flight, you practice recovery from stalls at high altitudes with an instructor so you know what to look for and how to respond. There are, however, some situations so dangerous to train (engine-out stalls on some multiengine aircraft) that it’s best to recognize the situation but never actually perform it, even in training. In business, going low and slow behind the power curve is one of those.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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