Saturday, February 7, 2009

More on Sully

The more we learn about Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, the more impressive his feat becomes. Yes, the pilot of US Airways flight 1549 is now the toast of the TV news circuit. He was introduced in Tampa, Florida last weekend before the kickoff of the Superbowl. He is getting his 15 minutes, for sure.

But you know what? This guy is the real thing. The more I read about his courageous and professional performance in landing his plane on the Hudson River and saving all 155 people aboard the flight, the more impressed I am with his leadership.

Watch this video (courtesy of CBS News -- sorry about the commercial at the beginning) and think about communication during a time of crisis.

Here are three key communication take-aways that I saw from Sully's situation on-board that flight:

-- Report immediately. Don't overanalyze. State what you know, let people trust that you will get back to them as soon as you have developed the situation. Keep communications short and simple. (Note to all of us: Please accept this initial report from subordinates. Give them enough time to sort out the situation before pressing them for more information!)

-- Include others in your decision making. Sully did not try to figure everything out himself. No doubt he was constantly reviewing options with his crew. In the video clip, it is clear that he explored at least four different options for landing with the air traffic control crew. Involving others in decision making, talking out various options, gives us the best chance of finding an appropriate solution. Leaders who take on all the burdens of decision making during times of crisis run the risk of missing alternatives that others might provide.

-- In times of crisis, focus less on what happened and more on what you are going to do about it. There will always be time to analyze the causes of crisis situations. That time is not when you are working on landing a plane in the Hudson River! Sully mentioned only once that he had lost his engines during takeoff due to a bird strike. No one pressed him for more information on how or why. Instead, the conversation focused on how to get the crisis under control.

In these challenging times, many of us are experiencing crisis situations. Businesses are failing. Federal, state and city budgets are a mess. We have no shortage of challenges. Let's apply some of "Sully's" communication principles and find a way to "land the plane." How we communicate, internally and externally, may be the key enabler of success. That makes it Leader Business.

1 comment:

James T. Parsons said...

Hey Tom,

I agree with you. I am REALLY impressed with Sully. Heck, if he returns to work, I am inclined to really like to have him as my pilot.

I also think his leadership helps show why you military guys are a good resource to the civilian world. Given he was a former fighter pilot, I think the decision making in crisis during military engagement REALLY does help civilian pressured situation. Sully might have thought at that moment, at least he didn't have SAMs shooting at him, and having to determine to bail out over enemy territory. While you might not identify the "military" comment for modesty, I think it was a factor.

Beyond that, Sully just rocks. If you saw the whole 60 Minutes interview, he even felt bad that the situation occurred. I think this situation happened at a time when we all can ask in our jobs, "What would Sully do?" and try to follow that model.

I lastly think it is noting, as one person did in a letter to Sully, that he didn't just save 155 lives, but countless others if his plane had crashed in NYC (with a full tank of gas). Given the impact of 9-11, I think we all understand the devastating impact that a large jet with full tanks can have in a city.

Thanks for the post and analysis of his leadership and heroism. I think he someone that deserves all the great things happening to him.