Wednesday

Leadership Lessons from the Cockpit


Engines dead. Plane heading into the Hudson. All aboard braced for impact. US Air flight 1549 WILL go down.

What would you do if you were the pilot?

What Captain "Sully" Sullenberger did was turn to his first officer and say, "Any ideas"? Then he acted. Quick, concise, controlled actions. Cool, calm and pure grace under pressure.

This week we get to admire Captain Sullenberger all over again as we listen to him testify before the National Transportation Safety Board. America is re-embracing him as a hero. And with good cause. Thinks like a leader. Acts like a leader. Communicates like a leader. Sully is a super role-model for any executive.

So what can business leaders take-away from Captain Sullenberger's actions?

1. Think problem-solution. Captain Sullenberger said he saw this as, "a problem I had to solve." There are many ways to look at a situation, but if you analyze business scenarios from this standpoint, logic is sure to kick-in. "What's the problem, what resources are at hand, who can assist, how to attack: in one action or a series of smaller ones"? Bottom-line, thinking in terms of problem-solution as a default mindset, sets you up for a plan and most importantly, action and execution.

2. Focus. Sully told Congress that he, "focused on nothing else." We get distracted by the day-to-day activities of running our organizations, but what Captain Sullenberger reminds us is that for some situations, a single-mindedness is the right tactic. Clarity of focus enabled him to clear out all the non-essential distractions and zero-in on the task at hand.

3. Determination. Guts and resolve. Great traits for the CXO suite. Sullenberger said he was determined to find a way out of this. Firm conviction. Definite actions. And although companies are not Airbus 320s, the determined efforts to guide a plane to safety can find a parallel path in organizations of any size.

4. Rely on Training. Ultimately, Captain Sullenberger said he made his decision and let his training kick in. For business leaders, that could mean formal training, but more often than not, it's in the trenches training. What lessons can you look to from similar situations? What best practices can you tap into? Train yourself to not just knee-jerk react, but fall back on patterns of success.

5. Concise Communication. Wouldn't you love to see Sully deliver a PowerPoint presentation? My guess is, he'd have only 5 slides and probably not even use all of them. His communication style is simple: don't bore people with details they don't need and be precise in what you say. Lessons for us all.

Ultimately, Captain Sullenberger didn't just bring 150 people safely home to their families, he also brought a new breed of hero and leader to the forefront. Determined, focused leadership and a no-nonsense style of communication. Forget Harvard School of Business. Let's all commit to taking lessons from the Sullenberger School of Leadership.