What Flying a Plane Taught Me About Insurance Agency Crisis Management

Buzzers were ringing and lights were flashing. The airplane was moving wildly in a side-to-side motion. The clouds in my view were being replaced by visions of the ground rushing up rapidly below and I felt so panicked that I wanted to give up.My heart rate was speeding uncontrollably as adrenaline rushed through my body. The situation felt like it was out of control and I felt absolutely overwhelmed. 

It seemed like the end was near.

It was just a simulation

Thankfully this wasn’t happening in the air, but during a simulation exercise that was part of my flight training. 

It’s a hobby of mine. The parallels I draw from experiences both in the air and during simulation exercises have transferred into the work I do every day.

They have become instrumental in creating a crisis management plan when times get tough.

Pilots inside a cabin flying an airplane

Crisis management is a huge part of being a product and service agent in the insurance industry. The lessons I learned from flying have helped me get through some troubling times, and I use them continuously both as a leader and as part of a team - especially when it comes to crisis communications.

Fix one thing at a time and make small corrections

My primary training instructor taught me to stay calm and fix what was in front of me rather than get overwhelmed. During my training, I learned to breathe deeply and exhale slowly as I would bring the plane back under control and navigate it to more favorable conditions. 

In the risk insurance business, we can have a serious crisis event that may arise under difficult circumstances such as sharp economic downturns, natural disasters, or a computer system crash. It’s important not to overreact, because negative things can pile up and lead to an uncontrollable situation that can, in turn, lead to major expenses, a prolonged business interruption, or serious property damage. 

Negotiating a crisis is a skill. 

First, we must make a commitment to continue running the business, no matter what.  Following that it’s important to identify the most critical issues and fix them by making small corrections with a calm and focused mind. 

Having a coach is invaluable during a crisis

When conditions were difficult during my flight training, I was hoping that my instructor would just put an end to the session.

He didn’t.

“Fly the plane,” he said, forcing me to continue. And I did, and I made it through.

This reminds me to never give up during a crisis and to just keep on going. This is the key to surviving, thriving, and coming out stronger.

My instructor gave me the encouragement I needed. It’s the same as a team leader offering support to colleagues or a business coach guiding a client when times are tough.

My simulation session taught me the importance of a supportive coach that day. Even if he didn’t do anything, his presence, encouragement, and belief in me and my abilities helped me get through the crisis. I didn’t want to let him down and that provided the motivation I needed.

I believe that all of us have family members, employees, business partners, and clients that are paying attention and watching us. Being aware of that can help us perform at our best. We may feel pressure - and that can be uncomfortable at times - but it’s up to us to transform those feelings into the motivation we need to pull through and perform to our maximum potential.

A crisis can be a learning opportunity

The challenges of flying often took the joy out of it. The small details like reviewing the weather, administration work, along with the increasing challenges were wearing me down.

Copy of Tony Caldwell definition LI Template-4

I think this happens to many professionals in the business - not just in flying but in other industries as well. They may have a passion for something, but when they turn it into a business, the difficulties can wear them down. 

I think we should remember how far we have come during the good times. My outlook for flying changed after I flew in a Decathlon some time ago. It had been months since I had flown. It was clear to me that I had shifted priorities and put it on the backburner. In retrospect, however, I now see that perhaps the challenges made me lose interest.

But then, I got in the air - and conditions were as perfect as they could be. The sun was shining and the winds were favorable. I wasn’t bogged down in administration matters, clearances, or other issues - I was blasting so fast through the altitudes that I lost sight of the ground below.

Flying became fun again that day and I felt as I had when I first started. Experiences after that day reminded me that I was skilled and could overcome any challenges. 

I learned to cultivate the mind of the student and was reminded of why I was so attracted to flying in the first place. I carried that attitude back to the rest of my life and continuously remind myself to stay curious and keep on learning.

Putting a positive spin on crisis management

Flying taught me how to handle difficult situations and turn them around. I learned to overcome challenges by fixing one issue at a time, looking to my coach for guidance, and remembering that they can be a learning opportunity.

When these lessons are kept in mind, I don’t get overwhelmed by a crisis. I use it as an opportunity to get better at what I do and encourage everyone to take these lessons in their everyday lives in the insurance business.

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