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Sully on turbulence (and leadership)

Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways ...
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The Hero of the Hudson dishes out a little advice on how to get through the rough patches.

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was on my flight to Zurich from San Francisco Monday. Happily, his services weren’t needed in the cockpit. It was a flawless flight, though there was quite a bit of turbulence, which awakened me in the middle of the night.

Wednesday morning, while he was filling his plate at the breakfast buffet at the hotel where we both are staying, I asked Sullenberger if he had any advice for learning how to deal with turbulence. I told him I already knew intellectually that planes are extremely safe, but that I still get nervous when the plane starts shaking.

He was as prepared for my question as he was to land that plane in the Hudson River, catapulting himself to fame and most certainly fortune too.

He suggested a thought exercise. Next time you’re in a car, he said, close your eyes and take note of every bump you experience. Remind yourself what it feels like. Then, when you fly, compare the bumps. The plain flight is almost certain to be smoother. That’s because pilots are trained to avoid turbulence and even when it’s unavoidable planes are manufactured to withstand 50% more than the worst they typically do. He said, by the way, that it’s an understandable fear: People fear what they can’t control, and someone else is “driving” the plane.

So, I asked, the turbulence in the middle of the night didn’t bother you? “I slept through it,” he said.

I thanked him for the advice and congratulated him for his success and his accomplishments. He in turn gave me a preview of what he’ll discuss Thursday at the World Economic Forum, where he’ll speak on the subject of leadership. He reminded me that the crisis was a team effort. “My crew and I essentially prepared our entire careers for that flight,” he said.

Sadly, he’s flying back to San Francisco on a different flight than I am.