Eric A. Olson, Ph.D.

Eric A. Olson, Ph.D.

CEO, EMO Advisors, Inc.

Dr. Olson was Global Practice Partner for Leadership Consulting at Heidrick and Struggles and presented on leadership and culture topics for the firm at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, at regional WEF conferences, and to numerous CEO conferences around the world (India, Australia, Japan, UK, France, US, Singapore). He presented several times at the 2022 Aviation Human Factors Conference in Hawaii on topics related to social resilience in aircrews.

Eric has taught classes in change management and consulting at UCLA and UC Irvine Business & Management extension schools. He pioneered research on Social Resilience through a long-term study of how people thrive in the midst of chaos. He once taught a leadership course in Antarctica to a select group of Fortune 500 executives who lead alternative energy businesses. He has a M.S. in Organizational Complexity from the University of Hertfordshire (UK) and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Fuller Graduate School of Psychology (US).

Dr. Olson works with high reliability organizations and teams (HRO/HRT) to improve mission critical resilience. Clients include nuclear power plants, surgical teams, FAA, aircrews, and SWAT teams among others. Dr. Olson developed a theory and model for social resilience that correlates with high performance during times of crisis, disruption and distraction. He has developed applied applications of his theory in numerous settings, including:

  • A D&I program for the FAA that replaced an effort mired in legal problems due to faulty design. Eric recruited over 45 diverse psychologists to deliver a series of interactive workshops in 17 US states. The program was successfully delivered over a three-year period without legal or other problems.
  • A change management and resilience initiative for the FAA to help transition air traffic controllers and their families from multiple TRACONs to a single new location. Program allowed the FAA to open the new facility fully staffed on schedule.
  • A leadership course for captains and first officers to help them be at their best and minimize distractions and destructive conflict. The program was designed with input from ALPA and senior management and became the highest rated program in the airline’s training department.

Generating Essential Conflict: How Creating Resilience Strategies Against Destructive Conflict Increases Operational Safety

While extensive training attention is paid to identifying and managing threats as part of the threat-error-management framework, little attention is paid to intrapersonal derailers, which threaten Interpersonal cohesion, team effectiveness, and the ability to maintain a mission mindset. This presentation looks at how individuals on aircrew teams often get distracted by failing to distinguish between essential and destructive conflict. Essential conflict is needed to rapidly and effectively address technical, mechanical, or human errors, omissions, or confusion. In the presence of strong power dynamics, essential conflict is often delayed or suppressed. This delay morphs essential conflict into destructive conflict.

When destructive conflict emerges, trust is lost. When trust is lost, safety is degraded as crewmembers are less willing to be vulnerable, identify threats and errors, and self-disclose when they are uncomfortable with an emerging situation. This presentation looks at ways to normalize the practice of essential conflict and prevent the slide into destructive conflict. Furthermore, it identifies proven personal resiliency strategies used in essential conflict situations. Lastly, it provides practical suggestions for restoring team effectiveness following destructive conflict and team breakdown.

These concepts were central components of pilot leadership and command training developed and delivered to a major United States airline. As part of the training, we successfully tested a theory and model of social resilience with flight deck personnel. We are now expanding our application to other areas impacting safety and performance. Specifically, we see an opportunity to create greater safety and resilience by linking the flight crew to cabin crew, dispatchers, and maintenance control, to respond better and anticipate disruptions.