Are You Blocking Out The Noise?

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January 15, 2009 marks the date of one of the most famous disaster aversions in history. US Air Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson River approximately 6 minutes after take-off and saved 155 people.

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullivan might not look like the typical corporate leader, but the skills he demonstrated that day provide a key lesson for all leaders.

Imagine, you were Captain Sullivan, when you recognized that you were in serious trouble over one of the most populated areas in the world. What questions might have been running through your mind?

  • How many lives are at stake? The families that would be affected.
  • How will my family be affected?
  • How can this be happening to me? I can’t believe that a flock of birds has taken out my entire engine system?
  • When do we land? Which airport?
  • What are the rest of the crew doing? Are they looking after the passengers?
  • What am I going to do? Can I do what needs to be done? Was I trained for this?
  • How fast? How slow? What rate of descent? Nose up or down?
  • What happens if I screw up and everyone dies?

The list is virtually endless.

But Captain Sullivan was able to successfully ditch the plane and everyone survived. In under 3 minutes — the time between the bird strike and the landing — Captain Sullivan needed to process an untold number of variables and outside influences and make the decisions that ultimately saved lives.

That’s leadership.

My Perspective: When we are faced with a leadership decision, it is imperative that we focus on the issues that are critical and block out the noise that is constantly crashing the decision-making process.

Captain Sullivan made very few critical decisions that day. He quickly evaluated and decided which option to pursue for landing. He focused on the key issues that were his responsibility for landing the plane. And he cleared everything else from his mind so he could focus on the decisions that were critical.

How often do we as leaders get so caught up in the non-essential chatter that surrounds decision-making that we get distracted from the core elements that we must focus on.

Captain Sullivan was calm, clear and focused on his task.

Blocking out the noise can only happen when we have clarity on what we stand for and where we are going as an organization. The tough decisions of leadership can only be made when we have clarity around our values and the purpose of the organization.

Leaders need to develop the ability to filter out the chatter and focus on the critical elements.

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