Polish President Lech Kaczynski died in a horrific plane crash along
with about 100 other high ranking Polish officials on Friday. According
to the New York Times, there is now speculation about the pilot’s state of
mind at the time of the crash. The article provides an insight into the
organizational culture created by Mr. Kaczynski’s leadership style.
Two years ago Mr. Kaczynski got into an argument with the pilot
flying his plane and demanded that the pilot land despite dangerous
conditions. The pilot disagreed and diverted to neighboring airport. Mr.
Kaczynski then threatened the pilot saying, “If someone decides to
become a pilot, he cannot be fearful … we shall deal with this matter
when we get home.” Actually, that pilot was not disciplined but
apparently suffered depression in the wake of the incident.
There is speculation that this incident two years ago affected the judgment of the pilot last Friday, who may have tried to land despite being advised by air traffic control not to do so. The speculation is that the pilot may have thought that if he did not land he would be chastised by the president. We know the tragic outcome.
By all accounts Mr. Kaczynski was a pretty tough guy—a hero of the Solidarity movement in Poland’s resistance against the Soviet Union – but he was not a pilot. It seems, however, that his ability to intimidate a highly experienced professional may have literally brought the ship down. How many other tough guy bosses create a culture in their organizations in which experienced professionals feel intimidated to make decisions against their better judgment? Lehman Brothers, Enron, AIG, GM all come to mind!