Six weeks prior to the event where US Airways flight 1549 was forced to land in the Hudson River, Capt. Sullenberger had lobbied his company’s leadership. He presented his interest in leading a culture change initiative to focus on safety, quality and job satisfaction. He spoke from the heart when he said that even after 30 years of service in the cockpit he felt like his greatest contributions still lie ahead.
This account was chronicled in the recorded interview of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger by Darren Hardy in the December issue of Success magazine. With the backdrop of the Miracle on the Hudson and Sully’s book, Making a Difference, Hardy ask him about his thoughts on the common threads of good leaders; Sully’s answer revealed his own beliefs when he shared that the leaders profiled in his book have these common attributes:
- each live values they thought were important
- each did things for the right reasons
- each put the common good of others ahead of their own personal needs
- each practiced “human skills”
As the interview proceeded, it became apparent that Sully had a passion for leadership and service. He is a disciple and friend of ( deceased 2014 ) USC professor and author, Warren Bennis and credited Bennis with his favorite leadership expression: “you can manage things, but people desired to be led”. Sully was thoughtful as he reflected on the fact that human skills were derided by many as soft skills, but they aren’t soft, he said! He went on: “human skills, to the contrary, are hard because it requires reaching out to others individually and collectively and making connections”. He expressed adamantly that there was a strong business case for effective cultures – anchored by followers engaged at work … with an awareness of contributions to a greater good. Sully cited a study that revealed quantitative evidence; that an investment in capital expenditures might increase productivity less than 4%, while a corresponding investment in human development would increase productivity about 8%. He elaborated on the expression “leaders are made, not born”.
Hardy asked Sully what the Hudson experience revealed about the Captain’s own crisis leadership; Sully recited what mattered to him most:
- continuous learning and lifelong preparation
- dedication and striving for excellence
- having parents with values of the greatest generation ( having endured the Great Depression and World War II ).
There … now we see the secret under the surface of this leader. Sully’s values came from his parents, particularly his military dad who encouraged: sense of civic duty, service above self and a willingness to share society’s sacrifices. Finally … and here’s the key to Sully’s hero status … his dad had a reverent obligation for responsibility of command for any leader … being responsible for every aspect of the welfare those in his or her care.
On January 15, 2009 those in Sully’s command were 155 passengers and crew. Once in the water and while first responders began to care for the survivors, Sully went back into the plane twice to make sure all in his care were safe.
Those values grounded … successfully … Sully and those in his care.