How Poor EQ Killed the Polish President

One of the great tragedies last year was the death of Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, and 95 others when the airplane carrying them crashed in dense fog over the Russian city of Smolensk in April. The Russian investigation has just released its draft report, causing uproar. The report asserts psychological rather than technical reasons for the crash.

Supposedly in 2008, the pilot Protasiuk had been in an eerily similar position. Then flying as the co-pilot, he looked on as his captain defied President Kaczynski’s order to make a risky landing in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. The President was reported by the Polish media to be furious, remarking that ”if someone decides to become a pilot, he cannot be fearful”. There were consequences: the President was forced to drive all day. The defiant captain never flew the President’s plane again.

When Mr Protasiuk himself became a captain, the memory of that day returned to him over Smolensk. The commander of Poland’s air force was right behind him in the cockpit and, investigators concluded from remarks he made to crew members, the memory of Mr Kaczynski’s wrath in Tbilisi was fresh in his mind. The pilot ”recognised the complicated and dangerous nature of the situation”, it concluded. ”On the other hand, there was a motive to complete the tasks and wishes of the Main Passenger.”

As the plane approached Smolensk, amid multiple warnings about the weather, Captain Protasiuk seemed to be recalling the President’s anger in Tbilisi, remarking, ”I’m not sure, but if we don’t land here, he’ll give me trouble,” the report says, citing voice recordings.

The investigators suspect another reference was made to Mr Kaczynski when a crew member said, as the plane descended, ”He’ll blow his stack if on top of all of this –”

To be a successful politician you need to have the warrior streak in you, you need to have the desire to win. Unfortunately this trait has a number of unfortunate side effects. Such individuals with a high P drive are prone to anger, hate to lose an argument, can be personally vindictive, and will hold a grudge. All of these behaviours were exhibited by President Kaczynski and demonstrate a lack of self-control (Step 2 of emotional intelligence). It is rare however that the lack of self-control leads to such tragic results and even rarer to see it quoted in an official report.


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