Vigilant leadership is all about guarding against the expected. That is best done by expecting the unexpected. This trait, and accompanying organisational skills, is very useful for leaders in high positions.
Here are some examples or the unexpected that did happen in recent times – A terrorist managing to kill 49 CRPF personnel, a jeweller accused of high level bank defrauds managing to flee the country and two successive flight accidents of a particular version of a well known commercial aircrafts.  All these can be explained as ‘Black Swan’ events, waiting to happen, totally unavoidable.
But that is not true. At least, it helps no one to treat them as unavoidable and giving in to them. A better approach is to treat them as ‘preventable to a degree, doing all it takes to prevent them’.
Here is how to create High- Reliability Organisations (HROs) or Mindful Organisations.

Some examples of HROs are  – safe operations on flight deck of aircraft carriers, generation and transmission of electrical power and dispatching of aircraft at an en route air-traffic control center. In these three examples, the common thread is the million accidents waiting to happen that finally did not.
How do they do this? Among the answers are – existence of a unique culture, capability of self design and self repair, networks build on expertise, hybrid structures with special attention to redundancy, training and routines, situational awareness, sense-making procedures and mindsets.

The book – ‘Managing the unexpected – Sustained performance in a complex world‘ – by Karl E Weick & Kathleen M Suttcliff, Wiley publications, tells us that there are five hallmarks of mindful organisations that perform remarkable well day to day under trying conditions. These are –

  1. Preoccupations with failure – This helps direct attention to ways in which your local activities may conceal system malfunctions. It prevents a gradual shift toward complacency.
  2. Reluctance to simplify – It is true that sucess in any coordinated activity that people simply in order to remian focussed. It is equaly true that oversimplification provents you to lose out on details.
  3. Sensitivity to operations– Too much emphasis on strategy as against on operations may result in anamolies slipping past while they were still tractable. Sensitivy to operations is about work itself – what is actually being done – as against intentions, design and plans
  4. Commitment to resilience – HROs complement their anticipatory activities. They develop the capabilities to detect, contain and bounce back from inevitable errors.
  5. Deference to expertise – HROs cultivate diversity. Rigid hierarchies have their own unique vulnerability to errors. HROs push decision making down at the lowest level of work where real time knowledge and hence relevant expertise resides.

While each organization will require its own set of features, these five seem to be relevant to most.



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