On Jan 15, 2009, US Airways flight 1549, an Airbus 320 with 155 people on board, took off from New York City enroute to Charlotte.
The First Officer was in charge of the take off. They climbed to 3200 feet where the aircraft struck a flock of wild geese. Both engines ingested the large birds and both engines lost power. The powerful aircraft immediately became a glider.
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was the captain. He quickly assessed the situation and said, “My aircraft.” The First Officer immediately responded, “Your aircraft.”
The Miracle on The Hudson is old news now but, on that fateful day, the captain of that ill fated flight took charge of the situation. He later would explain that “we had well delineated roles and responsibilities.” He would also explain his role in taking command of the situation. He emphasized the individual and corporate roles in the emergency.
He was ultimately responsible for the integrity of the flight. As soon there was an emergency he claimed, “My aircraft.” His First Officer immediately cooperated, “Your aircraft.”
There was a rapid loss of power and an immediate loss of speed and altitude – an emergency indeed. Captain Sullenberger’s immediate, involuntary, bodily response was rapid increase in pulse, blood pressure and instant total focus.
He had three options. Two were immediately ruled out. The only option remaining was to land in the Hudson River. So, in the most densely populated area of the United States, the Captain safely landed the aircraft in the Hudson River. He had 300 seconds to make the decisions and implement the actions that would determine the destiny of the flight and 155 lives.
“I knew we had to land on the water in just the right attitude. Nose up just right, not too high, not too low. We had to land as gently as possible. I knew the wings had to be level or we would crash.” A wise man.
As an aviator, this pilot had a hierarchy of decision levels:
This captain has since done studies in leadership.
1. Leaders have a sense of call to leadership.
2. Leaders know the purpose for their lives.
3. Leaders live authentically, in the way they talk, drive, etc.
4. Leaders check their ego at the door.
He notes some other needed qualities of leadership
1. Make deviations when needed
2. Know how to deal with complexities
3. Have a “robust system” to be able to deal with life
4. Cultural implications impact our ability to deal with life
There is a modern trust and confidence in avionics. Pilots are trained to use the modern electronics. That training can replace the ability to fly the airplane in the absence or the malfunction of the modern equipment. Pilot error is frequently the cause of crashes. Pilots who are misled by incorrect signals or are unaware of important signals will eventually fail and the lack of wisdom will take its toll.
Where are the leaders today? In the cockpit or in the pulpit or at the breakfast table – where are the leaders? Untrained leaders cause failures. Captain Sullenberger flew 20,000 hours over 46 years. He is a leader in life and in the cockpit. He has proven that quality. He knew how to respond in time of crisis. He knew that he was responsible. He did not allow cultural implications to control his beliefs and actions.
The life and leadership of this pilot can teach us lessons in leadership. His example can restore our purpose to live a life of leadership. As fathers, mothers, business leaders, Church leaders, school leaders, etc. we are called to be leaders.
When the time came for landing he said, “Brace for impact!” There are times when life comes to that. We, as leaders, need to call the people to the unfortunate experiences of life. When we have done all we can do, we call our people to brace for less than best terms of life. We then support them in those difficult situations.
The most important part of his observations about leadership is:
“Leaders check their ego at the door.”
The greatest danger to leadership is the ego – the self. Self is the greatest enemy of truth, accuracy, and real leadership. Egotistical leaders will always lead the people astray. They will always refuse to back down even when they are wrong. They are not and cannot be real leaders. They cannot lead their people.
When you are flying 600 miles per hour at 30,000 feet the last thing you need is an egotist in the cockpit. When you are part of a family or church or mission or business or school or …. The last thing you need is an egotist in the cockpit. What you need is a man of knowledge and wisdom. Egotism and wisdom cannot exist in the same leader. They are mutually exclusive in the cockpit and in the pulpit and at the breakfast table.
Miracle on the Hudson was not a miracle at all. It was the diligent action of a wise, trained man working with a good team. Certainly God was in this as in all situations but God places people for His purposes.
While I know little of the personal life of this man, if a man can be trained and learn to fly and respond in impossible situations in the air, can we not call and train men to lead the church? Men who will avail themselves to the same level of expertise and diligence as the Apostle Paul. Men who can respond to serious and trying times. Men who can and will check their ego at the door. Men who will do what needs to be done irrespective of cultural implications and expectations? Men who will put the truth of God first in their lives and decisions. Men who cannot be controlled by the pressure of their peers. Men who are focused on living and doing what is right in every circumstance.
Sulley stayed on the plane until everyone else was off. Later in interviews, he did not allow sensational talk show hosts to make him a hero. He carefully explained his options and his actions. He did not allow the incident to make him bigger than life.
Apostle Paul had no time for impostors. He demanded excellence of himself and others. He had no time for false brethren or “super apostles.”
Perhaps God has brought you to this time of life for such a time for a specific purpose. As Mordecai told Esther,
“For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14.
What is the call on your life today? You may not save an aircraft full of people but God has a purpose for you. Are you ready? Are you trained? Are you prepared? Are you willing to accept responsibility and command control of the situations of life in which God has placed you?
You may be the one God has called to make a difference today. Your difficulties may have prepared you to be a leader. Be that leader today and be ready for the time when God calls you to a specific emergency. You are in the Kingdom for such a time as this.