When it comes to stressful situations, Hickson knows a thing or two about remaining calm in the face of them.
"I was on a mission in Iraq where we got shot at by a surface-to-air missile, and I'll be honest, every single synapse in your brain is firing," said Mandy Hickson.
"Once we evaded the missile, then it's almost like that moment in calm where you have to go back to your training, your basics, what's the process I follow for making decisions."
When posted to Iraq after 9/11, I was teamed with a pilot with far more experience than my four months. I put my trust in his hands, he put his trust in mine. Mutual trust was absolutely necessary. @MandyHickson #PendulumSummit pic.twitter.com/EyQKyN195s— Pendulum Summit (@PendulumSummit) January 10, 2019
Now a motivational speaker, the former Tornado GR4 Fast jet pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF) said that having a decision-making structure in place can be the difference between faltering in a stressful situation or overcoming it.
"We often don't formalise decision-making, but in the aviation industry they have come up with a procedure to follow," she said. They call it DODAR where you diagnose the problem, you ask your team for options, you make a decision, you assign a task and then you review.
"The great thing with doing that is it almost gives you a structure to your decision-making and also if it's a very high-pressure situation which often you are if you're on a flight deck of an airline, making critical decisions very quickly, everybody else knows what you're up to in that decision-making loop as well and it helps".
One of the big mistakes people can make in the process is focusing too much on where they want to be and not on where they are. The disconnect between the two can cause friction in the long-run, especially when you start involving a team in the process.
"So often you see people making a decision but they're not really analysing where they are at the start of the process," she explained. "For me, especially in business, it's taking the time at the start [to] really get a good structure as to where you are in your mind and sharing that mental model with others.
"If you're going to be involving a team within that decision-making process which is often the best way to go because you're getting different people's insight, and different people's experience to help with that decision, then all they need to be starting from the same point."
After seeing all the classic callsigns in Top Gun, I had visions of being called ‘Ice Maiden’. Unfortunately you don’t get to pick your own callsign. @sesamestreet was big at the time and I'm 6ft tall so... say hello to 'Big Bird'!@MandyHickson #PendulumSummit pic.twitter.com/S8xzYzOOHy— Pendulum Summit (@PendulumSummit) January 10, 2019
Strengths and weaknesses
One of the key elements to leadership is to ensure that you know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members. Hickson references a metaphor from the author and lecturer Jim Collins who says leadership is about getting the right people on the right but in the right seats.
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each team member is crucial if you want to successfully tackle a project or reach a goal.
"[Knowing] what they're really good at because for different things within that decision-making or within that business, you will have people who will shine at something and actually hate doing other aspects," she said.
One approach that could be taken is how the military approaches leadership. Instead of the traditional route of getting your foot in the door and work your way up the ladder, everyone is taught to be a leader from the start of their career.
"When I was on the front line, you're tasked at a very stage to lead a formation of say four aircrafts," said Hickson. "That might sound insignificant but there's a lot to think about with four teammates, not just their wellbeing, but how they're performing within that team and that's at the start of your career.
"Quite often that will build up so you'll end up in a war zone or an area of conflict where you'll be leading a mission and when things go wrong or when you're engaged by the enemy, that junior person will continue to lead.
"Suddenly you'll realise you're operating right at the edge of your capability, perhaps right on the edge or beyond it but you're being pushed. You have the support of your colleagues... [yet] the junior person is still leading."
Picking yourself back up
Hickson is very optimistic about the next generation coming through will be able to become the leaders of tomorrow, saying they're more likely to challenge existing conceptions and ideas. It's not from a sense of entitlement, she says, but more to do with factors like being on camera more because of social media that they're more used to it.
"By doing that, they're building confidence and we are getting a new generation that is willing to challenge, to question, to ask more difficult questions at the start of their career," she said. "If we embrace that and empower those individuals, we're going to end up with future leaders."
From her talk at the Pendulum Summit, she's hoping that people come away with an idea of how to overcome any fear, especially that of failure. It's something that Hickson is more than familiar with and is stronger for.
"I failed more times than I can count and a lot of my talk is about picking yourself up, looking for other opportunities when one door shuts," she said.
"I failed at more recent things as well but actually it's about feeling the fear. I hate saying 'feel the fear and do it anyway' but it's about that, it's about pushing yourself.
"I just signed up to do Kilimanjaro... [and] the only thing I'm fearful about is the thing I can't control which is my own physiology which is 'will I be ok at altitude?' Don't be so fearful that you're not going to try a new opportunity, do it anyway."
- Words by Quinton O'Reilly, video interview by Sínann Fetherston
We spoke with Mandy Hickson at the Pendulum Summit which is running in Dublin's Convention Centre on January 9th & 10th 2019.