Flight 1549: Sullenberger’s Regret

One of the most provocative moments in my session on Flight 1549 and your leadership is the question about Sullenberger’s interaction with passengers during the ill-fated flight. He only speaks to them once while they are airborne. He states, “Brace for impact.”

In hindsight, Sullenberger has admitted that he regrets his overall silence with the passengers. I’ve researched the flight very thoroughly and I think that the reason for his 3-word monologue is that his mind was totally focused on flying and landing the aircraft. That said, it still was necessary to think at least for a few seconds about what to say to the passengers. In my session I ask particiipants what else he might have said. I even ask for their reaction to whether or not he should have said, “Please pray.”

This issue cuts more deeply than you may think. Some leaders will be reticent because they don’t have much or any confidence that their followers will handle the information appropriately. Other leaders, like Sullenberger, tend to become wrapped up with what’s in front of them. Still other leaders may really emphasize being in total control, thinking that any communication tends to equate to a loss or lessening of their command of the situation.

I want to point you to another piece of this. Let’s say that fate or luck or God would have it that zero fatalities didn’t occur with the landing–perhaps five or ten people might have died regardless of anything else being done. What would have been the reaction then at Sullenberger’s 3-word statement? 

What do you think? Should he have said something else?