A Stranger Or Not?

That’s right. Sullenberger and Skiles didn’t know each other at all when they climbed aboard the aircraft. That also meant they had known each other for all of less than sixty minutes when those birds and their feathers, bones, and beaks caused the engines to shut down. Total strangers.

Does it matter that they don’t know each other? How did you rank the importance of their relationship before you knew they were strangers? Does it change your rating after having learned that they didn’t know each other? So where do you put the rating—give it a “1” for not at all important? Or do you rate it a “10” for totally important? Some number in between? And what does your numerical rating suggest about your own leadership?

Take a moment and especially let that last question sink in. What does your rating reveal about yourself?

If you know me at all—and many of you don’t—you’ll likely recall that I’m a word nut. I love words. So you can bet that I’ve chosen a particular word here with great care, thought, and precision.

That word is “relationship.”

It’s interesting to note what that word conjures up in your mind right now. We in 2015 have a very definite feel of and understanding toward that word. It’s likely that you are thinking of relationship as something personal and close. You probably would be uncomfortable using the word freely in talking about the dynamics between yourself as the leader and those people who you regard as your followers.

But you do have a relationship with them.

You probably believe that the relationship is, to an extent, a product or function of time. Over time, you and they have shared experiences. That sharing has resulted in a relationship. Maybe good, maybe bad, maybe a little of both depending on the circumstance. Whatever the case, you and they have a relationship.

Skiles and Sullenberger do not have such a relationship, at least by my parameters above of “shared experiences over time.” They’ve shared nothing.

Or have they?

Actually, they’ve shared a profession, flying. They’ve shared a desire to make flying their life’s work at this stage of their lives. They’ve also shared a regimen of training, education, and professional development. They’ve cleared many of the same hurdles, earned many of the same credentials or licensures. That’s a lot of sharing when you think about it.

When you reduce it all down to the basics, Sullenberger and Skiles have a relationship as the occupants of those particular Two Chairs. Only pilots sit there. The pilots wears uniforms that connote all those shared experiences before they ever knew each other actually existed.

The uniforms trump everything else. The uniforms embody the relationship.

Now ask yourself this—as a leader, do I live in a uniform world?

And remember, I’m a word nut. I’ve phrased that question carefully.