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5 lessons from a doomed airplane

Crisis leadership

by on
in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

Let’s have another look at Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who ditched a commercial jetliner in the Hudson River with no loss of life, as a study of leadership in crisis.

Five lessons we can take away:

1. Be prepared. Not everybody knows how to land a plane or run an organization. Sully is a bona fide expert on flight safety and, as a bonus, a glider pilot.

2. Punch through your fear. “It was the worst, sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” he told CBS’ Katie Couric. Even so, his actions and words remained calm.

3. Take responsibility. Sully turned to co-pilot Jeff Skiles and said, “My aircraft.” Skiles replied, “Your aircraft.” Ultimately, there’s one pilot. No tussling over authority.

4. Change plans as needed. Run through your options and make decisions. In the current economic crisis, both Presidents Bush and Obama have been improvising. FDR called what he did under similar circumstances “bold, persistent experimentation.” Sully ticked through a short list of options and then told air traffic control: “We’ll be in the Hudson.”

5. Disregard the peanut gallery. Can you imagine what would have happened if the passengers had tried to tell Sully what to do? Or if, God forfend, he took a quick poll?

Bottom line: In a crisis, there’s no time for debate. Just good training, quick orientation and assessment, calm decisions and immediate action.

— Adapted from “What would Sully do?” Eamon Javers, Politico.

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