Miracle on the Hudson: 4 Decision-Making Lessons from Captain Sully

Decision-making & Problem-solving 25th January 2017 Workbetter Team

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Movies aren’t always a figment of imagination. Some draw inspiration from real lives and true incidences. Tom Hanks starrer and Clint Eastwood directed movie, Sully is exactly that. In January 2009, Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles miraculously and safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. My first reaction resonates with yours because I squeaked: how come a river? But, a decision had to be made and it was made. Decision-making lessons couldn’t have come from anywhere better than through this film.

Sully is that quintessential leader who was forced to take a decision under limiting circumstances with grave understanding of consequences. But his composure at the time when people’s lives depended on him is worthy of a thunderous applause. Here’s what you as leaders can learn from him about decision-making.

Keep calm

In an article written by Captain Sully himself in a leading online magazine, he says, “When our plane lost thrust in both engines, the ‘startle factor’ was huge, and my body reacted in normal physiological ways. I could feel my blood pressure shoot up and my pulse spike. But I had the discipline to compartmentalize these reactions and focus on the task at hand”. This is true for all leaders who work under high-pressure circumstances. What is important for you during such times is to shut down all the disturbing factors and reset your mind to focus better.

Related: 6 Reasons You Need Mental Strength At Work

Listen to advisors, but don’t let them dictate you

The job of an advisory board is to present you with their point of view, which may or may not be agreeable to you. It is up to you for you have a choice to listen to what they say, but eventually the decision is yours to make. Since you are in the situation, you make a better judge of it. You may have to take a tough call like how Sully does when he abandons the proposed destination to land on one of the either airports close by and instead decides to land on the Hudson, for it could save most lives.

Related: What Amazon’s Founding Father Can Teach You About Accepting Criticism Gracefully

Take care of people under your command

A leader’s responsibility is to nurture everyone under their wing, to take care of them. Moreover, they have to give them the required support and guidance at all times. While the situation may not always be do-or-die in real life like in the movie Sully, but nevertheless. Sullenberger is the last one to get off the sinking fuselage. He goes around in the craft, checking every row if there were any more passengers left to ensure the safety of everyone onboard. He foregoes his safety for those of others. Touché!

Question assumptions, data

According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigators, the plane’s engine could have restarted for landing at two proposed airports and that it was Captain Sully’s error of judgement which could have costed lives. To defend his stance, Sully asked for a live demonstration of simulations during the hearings which didn’t work in his favor. Later when the lead investigator asks for new human simulations under more realistic assumptions, it was seen that the plane could have crashed. Both Sully and Skiles are vindicated. In your career, you too may be presented with facts and assumptions will be made. Despite that you’ve got to lead with a vision and without the pressure of being wronged.

Related: 5 Professional Ethics To Follow At Workplace

So, if you see, decision-making is a complicate process. However, once you have weiged all the pros and cons you will be able to find a solution easily. Also, it helps to think of it by keeping away from stressors that will make you jump to your instincts.


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