Lessons in Leadership from an Airline Captain

Captain Chesley SullenbergerIt is often in times of crisis and life-threatening emergencies that the real character of an individual is made manifest. The contrasts between the leadership of an American airline captain and that of our current president offer us an opportunity for personal and societal reflection. The differences could not be more striking.

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport with 155 passengers and crew on board. In the cockpit of the Airbus A-320 twin-engine aircraft were Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles. With First Officer Skiles at the controls, the airplane climbed away from the airport. As flight 1549 approached an altitude of 3,000 feet, the plane struck a flock of geese and instantly lost thrust in both engines. At once Captain Sullenberger realized that both engines were failing and imminent danger awaited the passengers and crew. He quickly put his hand on the side stick, called out “my airplane” (at 3:53 in the video), and took over control of the aircraft from First Officer Skiles. There was no panic, no fuss, no paralysis, no moment of indecision — just calm, competent leadership and confident action.

Captain Sullenberger steered the disabled plane, without power in either engine, towards a water landing into the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew survived. A major catastrophe was averted thanks to one pilot’s expert knowledge and superior experience. That amazing feat will forever be known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

Unfortunately for America, a different kind of pseudo-leadership keeps emanating from the White House. Since taking office in 2009, President Obama’s constant whining and perpetual blame game have reached a crescendo. Everyone else is responsible for all that’s wrong in America.

Obama’s “blame everyone” campaign initially focused on President Bush, the Republicans, conservatives, Fox News, oil companies, and Wall Street. Then he began pointing the finger of fault at capitalism, the “rich,” low taxes, banks, coal energy plants, light bulbs, SUVs, business owners, truck owners, the private health care system, and private jet owners. He expanded his blame game to include the Tea Party, our “messy Democracy,” Greece’s financial crisis, and even S&P after it downgraded America’s credit rating for the first time in our history.

As America faces multiple crises, Obama’s endless stream of attacks, excuses, justifications, and rationalizations soars to ever-higher levels of absurdity and foolishness. It reached a new pinnacle last week, when the president ridiculously blamed “bad luck,” brought on by troubles in the Middle East, the tsunami in Japan, and the European debt crises, for the moribund American economy. Rather than take ownership, accept responsibility, and take decisive and meaningful action, he continues to blame everyone else but himself for problems he has created, ignored, or exacerbated.

How Would “Captain” Obama Have Reacted?
Imagine for a moment if the captain of flight 1549 had mimicked the president’s leadership style. What kind of reactions would we expect from Captain Obama in similar catastrophic conditions?

“Gosh, what terrible misfortune! Why me? If only I’d picked a different flight!”

“Damn those birds! It’s all their fault! They’ve killed us!”

“It’s Airbus’s fault! Why did it build this plane with only two engines?”

“It’s God’s fault! Why did He create such big geese?”

“Why does this stuff always happen to me? Why do I have such bad luck?”

“It’s not my fault! It’s not my responsibility.”

“First Officer Skiles, it’s your airplane!”

Fortunately for those 155 passengers and crew, Captain Sullenberger said none of those things. When faced with a terrible emergency and imminent danger to his passengers, he stepped up and said, “My airplane.” That meant, “Give this to me. I want this. It is my responsibility. I will bear this burden.” This is how real leaders — men of character, integrity, and courage — act. The buck always stops with them!

Lessons for America
This contrast in leadership styles offers Americans some important lessons. Stop electing to public office, and especially to the White House, individuals without the experience, fortitude, temperament, character, and courage to lead. Stop putting your trust in superficial individuals who care more about their own egos, personal gain, and worldly image than they care about the concerns of the people they represent. Stop electing impostors who despise our Constitution; curtail our liberties; and apologize for America’s faith, greatness, and strength. Stop supporting career politicians who put special interests, unions, failed corporations, or any other “special group” ahead of their constituents. Stop electing hypocrites, narcissists, and pathological liars to any public office. Stop giving them more and more power and authority over our lives, our property, and our freedoms. No more ivory-tower intellectuals who live in a world of make-believe and are ignorant of universal truths, moral precepts, and basic principles of the human condition.

America desperately needs moral leaders who respect individual liberty, promote fairness and justice, and embrace defense of innocence and truth as ideals to be nurtured and promoted. Time for us to elect only men and women with the leadership qualities and abilities of a Captain Sullenberger — individuals of valor and character who embody integrity, honesty, honor, and courage in their professional and personal lives. We need men and women who are trustworthy and decent, who believe in the Constitution, individual liberty, law and order, individual accountability, and limited government. We need lawmakers who treat the people’s money as their own. We require leaders who live in reality, understand basic economics and finance, and have actually produced wealth, created jobs, or added real value while living in the real world.

Time to vote for individuals who respect America, care for and listen to those they represent, and are willing to live under the same laws and regulations they create. Support only representatives who are genuine public servants and do what’s best for the long-term safety, prosperity, and security of everyone — individuals who are ready to serve, not to be served. Elect candidates who are God-fearing, humble, and unafraid to speak the truth, and lawmakers who admit when they are wrong and take accountability for their actions. We need real shepherds who practice what they preach and are willing to lay down their lives for their flocks!

Right Man, Right Job, Right Time
A CBSNews story from July of 2009 summarized the heroic actions of Captain Sullenberger this way: “There couldn’t have been a better man for the job: a former Air Force fighter pilot who spent nearly 30 years flying commercial aircraft, specialized in accident investigations, and instructed flight crews on how to respond to emergencies in the air.” The right man for the right job at the right time, indeed! America needs many more such honorable and high-caliber men and women, both in Washington and in leadership positions across all fifty states — in government, private industry, education, and other institutions.

Also posted at American Thinker.


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