We weren’t in a hurry getting to the theater.
So now we’re standing at the end of the ticket line, and everyone in front of us is telling the cashier “Sully,” “Sully,” “Sully.” By the time we get to the window, we’re completely convinced it will be sold out.
On January 15, 2009, US Airways’ pilots Sully Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles took off from LaGuardia on runway 4 and at 2,818 feet, they struck a flock of geese, destroying both jet engines.
Instantly an unexpected event took place; with only 208 seconds, to save 155 lives, they landed an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River with no lives lost.
Since making instinctively good decisions doesn’t just happen, how do we prepare for the unexpected?
By learning from mentors
Sully’s mentor sent him to check out a plane crash. He describes it like this: “No one had come yet to collect the wrecked plane, and so there it still sat at the end of the airstrip. I walked a quarter mile up to it and looked inside at the blood-splattered cockpit. It was a pretty sobering moment for a sixteen-year-old, and it made quite an impression on me. I realized that flying a plane meant not making mistakes. You had to maintain control of everything. You had to look out for the wires, the birds, the trees, the fog, while monitoring everything in the cockpit. You had to be vigilant and alert. It was equally important to know what was possible and what was not. One simple mistake could mean death.”
We need to learn from those who’ve failed and those who’ve succeeded—mentors we can touch and feel, and mentors we can only read about.
“This is how people had learned to fly since the beginning: an older, veteran pilot teaching the basics to a youngster from a grass strip under an open sky.” – Sully Sullenberger
By learning from experience
In an interview after the crash, Sully explained the principle of learning from experience:
“. . . for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”
In his book, he made a similar statement, “I was a gray-haired man with my hands on the controls of an Airbus A320 over Manhattan, using a lifetime of knowledge to find a way to safety.”
Both Sully and Jeff started flying at 16 years old. On the day when the unexpected happened, they had 76 years and 35,306 hours of combined flying experience.
So many of us want to shortcut the time, trials, and hard work of learning from experience. It’s much easier when we’re promoted to the top quickly and don’t have to work our way slowly up the ladder. But skipping the experience learned along the way robs us of the skills needed to respond to unexpected events correctly. Consequently, shallow leadership always leads to the organization and the people taking a brutal beating as the leader learns lessons the hard way.
By learning from preparation
Making instinctively good decisions is fed by preparation. Sully was a reader and learner, and he understood the importance of putting into practice what he learned. So, when the unexpected happened, and his plane was falling 1,000 feet a minute with no engines, he was prepared.
In the book The 21 Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell calls this the “Law of Process.” Leadership develops daily, not in a day. Every day we need to develop our leadership skills by reading, learning, and growing; setting ourselves up for those unexpected challenges.
“It had been the most harrowing day of my life, but I was incredibly grateful for this ending. We hadn’t saved the Airbus 320. That was ruined. But the people on the plane, they would be returning to their families. All of them.” – Sully Sullenberger
You can pickup the book Sully: My Search for What Really Matters by Sully Sullenberger here
How To Prepare for the Unknown
Brutal Hope: 3 Ways Leaders Turn the Impossible Into the Possible