Days 235 & 236 – Disasters… & Leading through disasters…

No, the dog didn’t eat my homework.  I chose to combine yesterday’s and today’s blog, as they go hand-in-hand.

In the past two BBTL book entries, Chet writes about the 3D reality of our brain’s reaction to disaster – Denial, Deliberate & Decide – AND of thesecret to beating the brain’s hardwiring.

When disaster strikes, we humans typically spend too much time denying and deliberating, instead of deciding.  We waste precious time ignoring or investigating, when we need to be initiating.  At the very moment we should be reacting, we’re stuck rejecting or reflecting.

But why?  Why do some of us tend to freeze up and freak out, while others calmly face it and fly forward.  

The difference maker, as is most often the case, is practice. If we are to “train our brain”  to respond well in our moment of truth (MOT), we must be committed to the same deliberate practice we use to build every other skill.  

Consider Captain Chesley Sullenberger, aka “Sully,” whose moment of truth came during a shorter-than-expected flight on a cool, crisp January afternoon in 2009.

In his words, “That morning’s flight was completely routine and unremarkable…for the first 100 seconds.”  Less than two minutes into the flight, Captain Sullenberger’s Airbus A320 struck a flock of Canadian geese, causing both engines to lose thrust.  

He describes his reaction in that moment this way:

“My body responded immediately in a very normal, human way…I could feel my pulse shoot up, my blood pressure spike, my perceptual field narrow in tunnel vision because of the stress.  I remember vividly my first three conscious thoughts – ‘This can’t be happening,’ followed immediately by, ‘This doesn’t happen to me.”  

It seems even Sully experienced a bit of denial – but only a bit.  He goes on to say:

“Those first two thoughts were followed immediately by a realization that, unlike all the other flights I’d had for 42 years, this one probably would not end on a runway with the aircraft undamaged.  And I was okay with that, as long as I could solve the problem.  And so, even though we’d never trained specifically for this – in flight simulators at the airline it was not possible to practice a water landing, because they aren’t programed for it…in fact the only training we’d ever gotten for a water landing was a theoretical classroom discussion.  But, because I had learned my craft so well and I knew my airplane and my profession so intimately, I could set clear priorities.” 

Sully deliberated, but only for a few moments.  Then it was decision time.  

“And so, I chose to do only the highest priority items.  And I had the discipline to ignore everything I did NOT have time to do as being only distractions and potential detriments to our performance.  So, within a few seconds, I turned on the engine ignitions, so if the engines could recover they would.  And I started the airplane’s auxiliary power unit.” 

Rather than ruminating on a myriad of “distractions,”  Sully was focused on just two issues – getting the engines started and where to land the plane.   He considered returning to LaGuardia, but quickly decided it was unreachable.  He considered Teterboro Airport, across the river in New Jersey, but quickly decided against that, as well.  Then he calmly told the controller, “We’re gonna be in the Hudson.”  

How is that possible??  How does a man piloting a powerless plane, filled with 150 passengers, weighing more than 500 tons and falling out of the sky at 240 mph, so matter-of-factly announce he’s going to land the plane in 38 degree water in the same voice he’d use to order a Diet Coke??

Practice, that’s how.

In addition to his 19,000 hours of flying time as a commercial pilot, Captain Sullenberger was a flight instructor, an airline accident investigator, an F-4 pilot in the United States Air Force, and a certified glider pilot.  He spent hours upon hours studying the wreckage of a dozen fellow military pilots who died on training runs, paging through transcripts from their cockpit voice recorders, looking for lessons in the losses.  It would seem all he ever did was practice — deliberately practice, preparing for any and all eventualities.

It was this practice, this “intimate” knowledge of his profession, which gave Sully the confidence and calm to move almost instantly through the stages of denial and deliberation, and quickly turn his full focus to deciding the best course of action.

Chet writes, “We rarely rise to the occasion — we fall to the level of our training.”

When asked, as he most often is, “How’d you do it?!?,”  Sully simply answers CCD, “We turned to our training.”

So, leader.  How are you preparing for your  MOT?

Are you deliberately practicing, spending the extra hours in the glider, or just gliding?

If your team “turned to their training,”  what would they find?  

1 thought on “Days 235 & 236 – Disasters… & Leading through disasters…

  1. Worth the wait to have a double! So good. Also glad that “Unthinkable” came up as I was about to drop it in as a worthy read! Thank you, Doug

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