In a sea of demoralizing news stories, it’s important to remember the leadership lessons learned during the wonderful events. It’s been 10 years since Captain “Sully” Sullenberger managed to land his disabled passenger plane on the Hudson River, saving the lives of every single passenger and crew member. It was a remarkable and inspiring achievement.

In a recent article in The Chicago Tribune, Sullenberger reflected on the leadership values and guidelines that enabled him to respond so effectively in the crisis. Most business leaders will never face a life-and-death crisis like the landing on the Hudson, but Sully’s quick leadership lessons resonate for any leader who is struggling with a difficult challenge. Here are some of his gems:

Sully’s leadership lessons learned the hard way

  1. In a crisis, your mind and body both react with intensity. Your blood pressure shoots up and your pulse gets faster. Your perceptual field narrows. Leadership in the moment of crisis requires the ability to compartmentalize your mind and focus on the task at hand.
  2. To build a great team, lead by example. Courage and the passion for excellence are contagious.
  3. Human skills are just as important for business leaders as financial and technical skills. One of the basic jobs of a leader is to create a culture where everyone is able and willing to bring his/her best.
  4. Be the person who says, “This is where we start.” Model gracious behavior, take the initiative, and others will follow you.
  5. Remember the motto, “Not on my watch.” Hold yourself personally and strictly accountable for what goes on under your leadership.
  6. When you have led a team to a remarkable success, don’t get a swollen head. But at the same time, don’t underplay your achievement. As Sully put it, “In the early days (after the successful landing), I would say that we were only doing our jobs. By saying ‘only’ I sold all of us short. In hindsight, we got so much so right so quickly under such trying circumstances that I think we did our jobs extraordinarily well.”

What we can learn from great leaders like Sully

We may expect all of our leadership lessons will be learned in business school or the boardroom. But in truth, many experiences can teach us the skills we need to lead a team. I, for instance, still use the business leadership skills I learned from waitressing. A challenge doesn’t have to be as extreme as emergency landing a plane to teach you something valuable about who you are and how you want to lead.

Thank you, Captain Sully, both for demonstrating what great leadership looks like and for helping us unpack some of the foundations for that leadership.

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