Where were VANOC’s red flag mechanisms?

Posted February 13, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

Yesterday’s tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a warmup to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics has been ruled by the IOC’s investigative committee as a result of “human error”.  One has to wonder if there’s a little bit of “head in the sand” syndrome happening here.

In Jim Collin’s  landmark book, Good to Great, he spoke of leaders needing to “confront the brutal facts” and to have “red flag mechanisms”… people and things around him/her that waved the danger flag when it was time to stop, reassess and reevaluate the direction an organization maybe taking.

For months (not just this week, but months), athletes have been commenting on the speed of the Vancouver track.  Seasoned lugers have made comments about the danger of the course with some referring to your chances of getting through a certain curve as 50/50.  And yet, despite these “red flags”, the results of the IOC investigation have determined that, with a few minor tweaks, the course is fit to ride.

And, here’s the lesson for leaders everywhere:  sometimes, when we have a vision and a plan and have invested hundreds of hours and (in this case) millions of dollars into our product/service/idea, it’s hard to hear the red flags being waved around us.  It’s easier to tune them out, keep your fingers crossed and hope that the 99.99999% chance of everything going smoothly triumphs.

When it comes to rethinking our strategy, it’s tough to want to focus on the .000001% chance that things may derail.  And yet, when the stakes are as high as they are in Vancouver… doesn’t it make sense to do just that?

Sometimes leadership is about having to readjust your course… in spite of the ripple effect that may cause.  Given that the decision has been made to proceed with using the course with minor adjustment, we have to hope that Jacques Rogge and the other members of the Olympic leadership team will move in quickly if additional signs of problems on the course persist.  One death on this course is one too many.

Red flag mechanisms only work if you listen to them.  Are you listening to yours?


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