The landing of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River is a fitting metaphor for leading in turbulent times. Here's what we can learn from the actions of pilot Chesley Sullenberger and crew:
- Don't look for the hero, look for the heroic in everyone. As products of America's individualistic culture, we look for personal qualities that define leadership, but other cultures often view leadership as something that is pulled out of the time and circumstances. As Sullenberger said, "Circumstance determined that it was this experienced crew that was scheduled to fly on that particular flight on that particular day, but I know I can speak for the entire crew when I tell you we were simply doing the jobs we were trained to do."
- Give credit to the entire team. While the media extolled the pilot's actions in the stories immediately following the landing, Sullenberger speaks of and for the entire crew.
- When the (economic) engine fails there's still energy for a safe landing. Smart decisions, expertise and teamwork turned what could have been a crash landing (think Lehman Brothers) into a safe landing (think FedEx - I hope).
- Don't bail on those who depend on you. I have nothing good to say about executives who lay off employees who make a meager percentile of what they make while taking no cut in salary. Sullenberger, at great peril to himself, walked the aisle twice to make sure everyone is safe. What are you doing to make sure your "passengers" are safe?
- Stay calm in the face of adversity. Emulate the professional demeanor and calm exhibited by the pilot and the air traffic controller as they considered alternatives and settled on "the Hudson".
- Get everyone on the same page. "I made the brace for impact announcement in the cabin and immediately, through the hardened cockpit door, I heard the flight attendants begin shouting their commands in response to my command to brace. 'Heads down. Stay down.' I could hear them clearly. They were chanting it in unison over and over again to the passengers, to warn them and instruct them. And I felt very comforted by that. I knew immediately that they were on the same page. That if I could land the airplane, that they could get them out safely," (e.a.)
- "You can't shrink your way to greatness." Balance attention on tactical survival activities and strategic growth positioning.
- Craft tough messages with a helping of hope. Not all executives know how to do this; learn and teach your team to do it well. Another way of saying this is to use the Stockdale Paradox - "confront the most brutal facts of your current reality no matter what they may be AND at the same time retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.” (see also prior blog on Executive Lessons from the Inaugural Address).
- Find your customers' new needs and create a new value proposition for them. Customers lead, they own your brand. Get out and get in touch.
Susan Colantuono is CEO of Leading Women. She blogs on networking for PINK Magazine. Follow her on Twitter.