While working on a letter that I will never send in which I was trying to explain to the person who would not receive the letter why I was frustrated with having my authority usurped, I remembered the three good landings.
I had been really struggling to get the landings right. I could see the image in my head, how it should look in each stage of the landing, but as the runway rushed up to meet the airplane a bit of fear would grab my heart and I’d jerk on the controls and the landing would be a rough smear. I practiced and practiced, my logbook now a collection of lots of landings compared to total flight hours. I worked on perfecting the flare, that pivotal moment before the wheels touched the ground. Once in a while I’d nail an elusive greaser, that landing that was so smooth and perfect you didn’t even feel the bump of the initial touch, as if the sky and runway had co-joined and the airplane glided on in.
My instructor, on this day of three good landings, only asked me to do three. Not six. Not ten. Just three. The first one was almost perfect, and the other two were good. And so he stopped at just three and we called it an afternoon. While I certainly wasn’t suddenly an expert, and would likely need much more practice the next day, there was wisdom to what he did. He wanted me to end on a good note.
“If we keep doing them, you’ll start getting tired and little things will happen and you’ll begin wondering what you’re doing wrong. Right now, you have your confidence level up, and that’s a good place to end on.”
And in my logbook, next to the three landings for that day, he wrote: 3 TO’s, 3 Good Landings.
In my official logbook, it’s says it clearly: Good Landings. I have pulled my logbook off of the shelf many times just to look at that and remember.
What does this have to do with a letter I will not be sending?
An incident occurred in which I had OK’d the work of someone new to a certain activity. While I knew it wasn’t as good as she would get, and wasn’t up to what the rest of us were doing, it was a solid start. It was a buildable foundation. It was something I could say, in the next round, “OK, in your last effort, you did this. What I want from you this next time is to add this to the mix.” This was my plan, but I was overruled and improvement was demanded.
It frustrated me. I lead with a different method.
When I was a public school art teacher, I encouraged students. I don’t believe that everyone who participates should get a first place ribbon, but I believe you can help build a solid foundation of confidence on those first steps so that they aren’t afraid to take the bigger steps you’ll ask of them next. The baby bird has to hop around the nest a bit before being pushed out to fly.
In other words, you tell them they had three good landings, and don’t force the issue.
Tomorrow, they may have three very bad landings and they really need to see, in that logbook, a success.
I am not sure what the takeaway here is. Letters I don’t send? Leadership struggles? Not being ashamed to note when you succeed? That constantly pushing for a certain kind of excellence all the time only ensures that people crash?
At the very least, may you have three very good landings, and a place to jot them down for those days when the clouds are low and dark.