A Great Hero and Leader: Chesley Sullenberger

Wow, what a story. If you haven’t heard by now, and for the benefit of my non-U.S. readers, here’s a summary:

A US Airways pilot ditched his disabled jetliner into the frigid Hudson River on Thursday afternoon after a collision with a flock of birds apparently knocked out both engines, but rescuers pulled all 155 people on board into boats as the plane sank.
For the first time in 50 years of commercial jet flight, the pilots of US Airways Flight 1549 successfully executed one of the most technically challenging maneuvers, landing a jetliner on water without fatalities.

That pilot is Chesley Sullenberger. He’s being hailed as a great hero, but he’s also great leader.

Here are a few excerpts from various sources that speak to his leadership:

“Brace for impact,” he warned the passengers before ditching the plane, a voice of lone calm in the seconds before they crashed.

Sullenberger wasn’t done once his plane was down. He undid his safety belt and walked the length of the plane to make sure all the passengers were safely outside, Mayor Bloomberg said.
Once finished, Sullenberger turned around and made a second pass as the plane steadily took on water – and only then did he finally exit.
As the cabin took on water, Sullenberger climbed out of the jet only after the four other crew members and 150 passengers made their orderly exit. When he reached a raft, someone on a ferry tossed him a knife, and he cut away the tether to the jet.
One by one, the passengers were plucked to safety from the rafts, Hood and Sullenberger the last ones left. The passenger insisted the pilot get off first, but Sullenberger refused. He had been the last off the plane, and he would be the last off the raft.
A family friend Jim Walberg said being called a hero isn’t likely to please Sullenberger.
“Sure, he’s a hero, but he’s also a humble man,” said Walberg. “‘Hero’ isn’t a name he’ll take to very easily.”
One of the first rescuers on the scene said Sullenberger seemed impervious to the chaos around him.
“He looked absolutely immaculate,” the rescuer said. “He looked like David Niven in an airplane uniform. He looked unruffled. His uniform was sharp. You could see him walking down the aisles making sure everybody got out.”

You can see elements of great leadership woven into his resume, along with his impeccable technical skill and experience:

Bottom-line driven manager supported by progressively responsible experience across 40+ years in the aviation industry. Possess in-depth understanding of aviation operations acquired through real world flight experience, professional training and leadership roles with one of world’s leading airlines. History of achievement in safety, innovation, crew training, operational improvement, cost savings, productivity improvement and customer service; proven ability to maximize crew performance and flight safety. Combine strong industry knowledge and business leadership skills to consistently manage complex scheduling, lead high-performance, motivated teams and implement efficient processes that ensure smooth operations and quality customer service. Strong communicator, effective negotiator and motivational team builder; able to effectively communicate needs and merge disparate teams in the support of market objectives. Respected for wide range of industry knowledge, solid sense of integrity and demonstrated passion for industry as a whole as evidenced by lifelong career of flying.

A few hours ago, I wrote a post about the importance of leadership for technical skills. When it comes to what’s important in a pilot, I think I’ll take both. I want Chesley Sullenberger flying my plane.

And a few days ago I wrote that there are great leaders all around us, we just have to look. I think we found one.

In fact, I’d like to nominate Chesley Sullenberger for the next Senator of New York.