Lead like Sully.

By Molly Grisham, Leadership Development Consultant

I recently had the chance to see the film Sully, the story of Captain Sullenberger who successfully landed a commercial airplane on the Hudson River. If you are looking for a film that is full of special effects with all the glitz and glamor that Hollywood has to offer this is not the film for you. On the other hand, if you desire a great story that brings true leadership into focus, Sully is a must see film.

My definition of a leader is the following; “A leader is a person of influence who uses their influence for good by empowering, inspiring, and serving others and is someone who is always willing to grow.” There is no doubt, Captain Sullenberger meets that criteria. One of my favorite things to share with leaders is the concept that “great leaders take care of their people.” I’ve mentioned that belief several times in various blogs and I am certain this will not be the last time I share that phrase with you. I believe that great leaders take care of their people so strongly that an entire chapter in Leadership Discovery, the leadership development curriculum I have written, is dedicated to that concept.

In the middle of the film, when Captain Sullenberger and Co-pilot Jeff Skiles make the bold decision to perform a water landing on the Hudson River, the story suddenly becomes a great study in leadership.

A critical and life-saving decision had to be made. When the plane lost all engine control Captain Sullenberger was urged by air traffic control to try and return to the airport, but he knew that wasn’t a viable option. He knew that route would end in certain death for many on board the plane. Instead, he made the brave decision to perform a rare water landing. Needless to say, this was an extreme and fear producing moment for the passengers and crew.

But once the plane had landed successfully on the water Captain Sullenberger and Co-pilot Skiles started walking through the cabin handing out life vests to the passengers. They also made sure the passengers knew how to evacuate calmly from the aircraft so they could make their way onto the life rafts. Despite the adrenalin rush of the landing they had just performed they quickly shifted gears and were solely focused on the care of the passengers and their fellow crew members.

The passengers and crew exited the aircraft but it wasn’t until every single person had left the plane that Captain Sullenberger finally departed to join everyone else on the life rafts. He was the last person to leave the plane. Additionally, he was the last one to leave the life rafts making sure everyone else was safely on the ferry before he joined them. And then again, he was the last one off the ferry and back on dry land. Captain Sullenberger placed the people under his care as his number one priority. At no point did he put his own needs first.

And when the passengers were all moved safely to land Captain Sullenberger was asked how he was doing. His response was, “I’ll answer that question after counting 155.” He wasn’t going to think about how he was doing until he knew that all 155 people were safe and accounted for and that trait is the heart of true leadership. He is a leader who fully embraced the concept that great leaders take care of their people.

On a day when the world was watching, when the story was making international headlines, and Captain Sullenberger was becoming a household name, he was worried about one thing and one thing only, taking care of his people.

And while you may never be asked to perform a water landing of a commercial airline your ability to take care of your people matters. We all need leaders in our lives who will help us find our way and in those moments, even in the mundane moments, that kind of leadership may feel life-saving and heroic. Leaders at every level will find success when they too desire to take care of their people regardless of the situation.

Day in and day out, how do you take care of your people?