Disengaging the Autopilot

17 min read

There are many entrepreneurial CEO’s, executives, innovators and individuals in all walks of life, who have a character — a way of being — that lets them see the whole of a system as greater than the sum of its parts. They manage their emotions and opinions such that principles, values, reason and intuition often prevail.  These people are predisposed towards inquiry and open to considering things that may be inconsistent with what they already know or believe.  They experience themselves as fully connected to the world around them, not separate from it — they and the system are made of one whole cloth, even though this phenomenon is far too complex to explain.  What stands out about these leaders, beyond their competence, is a state of mind that minimizes the use of force, and maximizes their intent to consider people more important than money much of the time.

At the same time, people all over the world report a sense of personal injustice and mismanagement by degrees in their lives, governments, and companies. Much of this experience comes from leaders and bureaucracies predisposed by culture history or to the use of force and measurement (while often espousing noble rhetoric), in an attempt to manage complexity through control and direction.


There is an Auto Pilot in every culture and in people’s natural ways of surviving. It is this that has companies, groups, professions, healthcare systems, and individuals to do the same things over and over, no matter what. Much of this is helpful and serves a company, a team, or an economic or personal mission. Often, some of it is useful in parts of the system, yet undermines effectiveness and a sense of common humanity in other parts. The Auto Pilot is a machine with only one purpose: to keep things going the way they are, regardless of goals or intentions to the contrary.

But not always.

In 45 years of advising and coaching leaders in enabling fundamental change, I have seen dramatic examples of enlightened leaders coming to see that the Auto Pilot has absolute power over them and their company (or professional) culture when it is operating, and the heavy price they and the company pay for it. In those instances, enlightened leaders saw for themselves, and for others, that they really did have a choice to ‘Disengage the Auto Pilot’.

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