On February 8, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger sat with Katie Couric for an episode of 60 minutes (CBS, 2009). He was there to discuss his miraculous landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 onto the Hudson River in New York City, New York. The airplane had only been in flight for 90 seconds when Captain Sully noticed that birds were hitting the windscreen and being sucked into the engines (CBS, 2009). Within three and a half minutes, Captain Sully knew he had to make an emergency landing(CBS, 209). With the lives of 150 passengers and the plane’s crew members in his hands, Captain Sully made some quick decisions that led to a safe landing on NYC’s Hudson River.
Captain Sully has the individual attributes of general cognitive ability, or intelligence, as demonstrated in his rapid perceptual processing of the problem the birds were causing as they flew into the plane’s engine; reasoning skills that led him to troubleshoot for mechanical alternatives; and creative and divergent thinking capacities and memory skills that enabled him to quickly find a place to land and recall the protocol for such a landing (Northouse, 2012). General cognitive ability is a biological skill, but crystalized cognitive ability explains his acquired skills. His ability to problem solve so effectively is because he acquired intellectual ability over time (Northouse, 2012). His motivation to land the plane safely came from the third attribute in the model which requires a leader to “be willing to tackle complex organizational problems” (Northouse, 2012). Captain Sully appears to have the fourth attribute of personality that contributed to his successful landing. His management of the emergency demonstrates “openness, tolerance for ambiguity, and curiosity may affect a leader’s motivation to try to solve some organizational problem. Or, in conflict situations, personality traits such as confidence and adaptability may be beneficial to a leader’s performance” (Northouse, 2012).
The outcome of Captain Sully’s leadership skills was a safe landing. The skills model describes leadership outcomes such as effective problem solving and performance. It is clear that Captain Sully effectively resolved the problem and performed well. He managed to land the plane without injuring any of the passengers or crew members. In fact, in my research of this incident I was unable to find evidence that he caused any additional damage to the plane in his landing.
Captain Sully had 30 years of experience as a pilot. In his interview he said that he thinks all of his work and training up to the point of the flight were to prepare him for that moment (CBS, 2009). He didn’t doubt himself once; he was certain he could land the plane safely. When his body wanted to physiologically react to the situation, he focused on the task and kept calm. He said it was easy to keep calm (CBS, 2009). He was self confident and demonstrated a great deal of technical and conceptual knowledge during his interview. Northouse describes this high level of proficiency in our textbook, “Career experience helps leaders to improve their skills and knowledge over time. Leaders learn and develop higher levels of conceptual capacity if the kinds of problems they confront are progressively more complex and more long term as they ascend the organizational hierarchy (Mumford, Zaccaro, Connelly, et al., 2000 as cited in Northouse, 2012).
The external environmental influence of the failed engine event “provide[d] a unique challenge” (Northouse, 2012). This is a fact that is part of the skills model but out of the leader’s control (Northouse, 2012). Instead of allowing the challenge to negatively impact him, he recruited his skills and valiantly brought the plane to a safe landing against all odds. Captain Sully is a hero and a great leader. His handling of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 is a great example of how leaders use the skills approach to solve problems and lead effectively.
Northouse, P. G. G. (2012). Leadership: Theory and practice, 6th Edtion (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.