About the Crisis Leadership Forum

To better understand the leadership dimensions of crisis situations, the Center for Creative Leadership convened a forum with formal and emergent leaders who played a role in Hurricane Katrina. We overlaid this conversation between crisis leaders with the perspectives of discussants with expertise in disaster, terrorism, public health, and leadership. This blog site is intended to continue this conversation.

To read the report on the Crisis Leadership Forum, please click here.

To read CCL's Leading Effectively newsletter on the Forum, please click here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Crisis Leadership Lessons from the "Miracle on the Hudson"

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who brought his planeload of 150 passengers down safely in the Hudson river after losing both engines, has been celebrated for his performance and his character.

A blog post, How to Pilot Through a Financial Crisis Like Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, distills some of the characteristics Captain Sully displayed:

Stay Calm: Sully didn’t panic. Think about that. He was the Captain of a large commercial airliner with more than 150 lives depending on his every move. If there was ever a time to panic, it was when both engines lost thrust over New York City.

Be prepared: January 15, 2009 was not Captain Sullenberger’s first day on the job. He had spent a lifetime preparing for that very moment. In addition to his experience as an Air Force pilot and hang-glider (some say sailplane) enthusiast, he undoubtedly spent countless hours in flight simulator training.

Get help: Captain Sullenberger didn’t save that plane and its passengers all by himself. He had a co-pilot and crew there to help. (We might add that many passengers also rose to the occassion to help others to safety.)

Stay focused:The tapes of Captain Sullenberger’s communications with ground control are quite telling. Sully was focused, as you might imagine, on what was important. His communications with ground control were very brief and to the point. He communicated what he needed to, and then stayed focused on the problem at hand.

Be hopeful: Emergency landings, like life, do not always have a happy ending. That’s just reality, and no matter how much we may wish it weren’t so, sometimes bad things happen to good people. But hope, above all else, gives us the desire and drive to keep trying.

The Captain's exemplary performance has undoubtedly gained much greater attention as we seek role models in a time of crisis. In an essay in Newsweek, Sully reflects on this:

It's been a month since the airplane I piloted, US Airways Flight 1549, made an emergency landing in the Hudson River.

Since then, the attention given to me and my crew—I'm trying to resist, somewhat unsuccessfully, everyone's attempt to make this about fewer than five people—has obviously been immense. But I still don't think of myself as a celebrity. It's been a difficult adjustment, initially because of the "hero" mantle that was pushed in my direction. I felt for a long time that that wasn't an appropriate word. As my wife, Lorrie, pointed out on "60 Minutes," a hero is someone who decides to run into a burning building. This was different—this was a situation that was thrust upon us. I didn't choose to do what I did. That was why initially I decided that if someone offered me the gift of their thankfulness, I should accept it gratefully—but then not take it on as my own.

As time went by, though, I was better able to put everything in perspective and realize how this event had touched people's lives, how ready they were for good news, how much they wanted to feel hopeful again. Partly it's because this occurred as the U.S. presidency was changing hands. We've had a worldwide economic downturn, and people were confused, fearful and just so ready for good news. They wanted to feel reassured, I think, that all the things we value, all our ideals, still exist—that they're still there, even if they're not always evident.

The Captain offers his own lessons on crisis:

We valued every life on that airplane and knew it was our responsibility to try to save each one, in spite of the sudden and complete failure of our aircraft. We never gave up. Having a plan enabled us to keep our hope alive. Perhaps in a similar fashion, people who are in their own personal crises—a pink slip, a foreclosure—can be reminded that no matter how dire the circumstance, or how little time you have to deal with it, further action is always possible. There's always a way out of even the tightest spot. You can survive.

1 comment:

Talula said...

Lyndon, there is another blogpost about Captain Sullenberger on the Leading Effectively Blog: No Sullen in Sullenberger written by Talula Cartwright. Just FYI.
Talula Cartwright