I recently saw the movie Sully about the US Airways flight that ended up in the Hudson River in 2009. Most people know the story about Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger’s skill during that flight that allowed for a safe ending for all 155 passengers, but the movie shared perspectives and aspects of the post-flight that made for great entertainment and new information.

Two things lessons from the film’s account of the experience:

1) The pilots were adamant that the word “crash” not be used. It was a “intentional forced water landing,” but that was entirely different than an accident. While “crash”was the common vernacular in the media, the pilots understood the crucial distinction. Their objections reinforced the important role that language plays in creating a culture, and how you need to be intentional about the words you choose.

2) From the moment the birds flew into the engines and disabled them to the time of the water landing was 208 seconds. In three and one half minutes, Sully had to make hundreds of decisions that literally determined life or death. It’s a good thing to have manuals and procedures, but in a true emergency there will likely be no time to even access them, let alone read them and respond. There is no substitute for judgment in a crisis. Continue to do planning and training for myriad scenarios, but continue to hire for innate capabilities that you can’t teach.

The movie shows that the little things make a leader and a that leader can make a miracle. The Miracle on the Hudson was three minutes of judgment informed by forty years of experience to avert a crash. Is your crew the right one if your 208 seconds happen?

beth triplett

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