This excerpt was sent to me by a close friend. It is from an interview in ZoomiENews with USAFA graduate, Sully Sullenberger, US Airways pilot, who, in 2009, landed his powerless A320 in the Hudson River without loss of life, following a bird strike out of LaGuardia Airport.
My purpose for sharing this message is to point out that leadership and culture are universal imperatives for any successful business, no matter the industry or size of the organization. Perhaps the biggest take away from this message is that without effective leadership, our culture suffers and we spend an inordinate amount of time and needlessly consume far too much energy compensating for the inadequacies.
Kruse: You can always go back to personal meaning, personal purpose, mission, and to what you can control.
Sullenberger: It is a two-sided coin, I talk about this in the first book, also that sometimes if you go too far out of your way, if you go too far out of the normal balance of your job, then at some point you are engaged in enabling behavior in an organization. A company, for example, that always uses the cheapest subcontractors and they do the least training and don’t devote the right resources to certain functions and don’t hire enough staff. If you’re constantly spending your entire day compensating for the inadequacies of the system, you allow it to continue. I had to pick and choose my battles and try to fight the system from within to make sure that they hired enough staff, to make sure they had done enough training, to make sure they had devoted enough resources to do the job so that we weren’t being distracted from being pilots all the time, trying to do everything else that wasn’t being done, but we had to do what we could.
Kruse: You don’t like the term ‘soft skills,’ so tell us even more about that.
Sullenberger: These skills, to my knowledge, are not being taught very much, certainly not in our business schools, and I’ve talked to a lot of medical audiences too. These soft skills—these human skills I would say—have the potential to do even more good than technical skills can. It’s all about creating the proper environment. Leadership is responsible for creating a culture in which we all can do our best work; it’s a matter of setting priorities, it’s a matter of checking your ego at the door. Left unchecked, even though the ego can be a powerful force, a driving energetic force for good, left unchecked you run the risk of walling yourself off to the communication, the innovation of others, and having to rely only on your own thoughts, your own ideas.
Part of what a leader must do is make it psychologically safe to be able to raise important questions, and leaders must make sure that we understand how to convince those we work with and who work for us that we not only need to hear the unvarnished truth, we want to hear the unvarnished truth. We really need to change our idea of the nature of news in our organizations, we need to tell everyone through our actions to model this behavior, that there’s no such thing as bad news. That really the only bad news is news that is not acted upon effectively in a timely fashion and, as we would say when I was teaching the team-building course at the airline, even the most junior flight attendant should be able to speak up to a captain about an important safety issue. And it’s not only his or her right to speak up, it’s his or her responsibility to the team, to the mission, to the crew, and to the passengers, to speak up. And we make it not about who’s right, but about what’s right that’s important.
No Matter what industry or the size of the business, culture counts!
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Dr. Joel Small and Dr. Edwin McDonald, the founders of Line of Sight Coaching, are dental practitioners, authors, speakers and Business Leadership Coaches who work with healthcare professionals to help them build more successful practices so they can live the balanced life they seek.