Pilot Training for Exec Spokespeople?
After watching CBS News' Katie Couric interview U.S. Airways Flight 1549 pilot Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger, I immediately thought that his pilot training had indeed prepared him for this incredible test, as he stated. I also thought that his pilot training, which seemed to involve so much discipline and focus, also made him an excellent spokesperson for the incident and his airline. He was calm, concise and credible. He also was very good at offering "word pictures" that enlivened his story, even when his expression did not belie any emotions. He described the birds hitting the plane's engines as sounding like "the worst thunderstorm from growing up in Texas." He said he could smell a "burned bird smell" from the engines which told him what had happened. He described the step he took immediately, verbally taking "the stick" and saying, "my aircraft," which his co-pilot understood meant he was in control of the landing.
His pace in telling the story was excellent. His voice, amazingly, was as calm in the interview as it was in the audiotape of his call to air traffic control when the incident was underway. He was honest about two things that someone else might have fudged to seem more heroic or politically correct. Asked if he was thinking about the passengers, he said "not specifically; maybe abstractly." Asked if he had prayed, he answered that he assumed 155 people behind him in the cabin were handling that end of things and "my focus was so intently on landing, I thought of nothing else."
Betraying only an occasional smile as he told his story and no trace of arrogance, he honestly told the interviewer, "I was sure I could do it" about the water landing close to rescue boats, as he was trained to do. "My entire life up to that moment had been preparation" for this landing, he acknowledged. Speaking about the first responder boats, he said, "Thank you seems totally inadequate. I have a debt of gratitude I fear I may never repay."
U.S. News has posted an article, "What Sully Sullenberger Can Teach CEOs" which has some great comparisons between his professionalism and focus and the contrasting issues of the heads of companies now seeking bailouts for their mistakes. My focus is on the communications end of things (although personally I enjoyed reading the contrast of this great man and the others who clearly can't hold a candle to him, as my mother would say). I was very much struck by the honesty and clarity of his communication about this event. He is crystal clear about his role and the fact that he took over the landing, but gives great credit to the training of his crew who went into action immediately to help get the passengers out safely. However, he does not consider himself a hero, but a man who did the job he was trained for that day, as he was expected to.
There are many lessons to learn from Capt. Sullenberger, an honest and compelling spokesperson who reminds me of the best technology spokespeople I have worked with over the years. In an era of entitlement and narcissism, he is a refreshing change and, hopefully, a role model. And what's more, I'll bet he doesn't have a list of "25 random facts" about himself on FaceBook.