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Leadership Development

Leaders Make Optimal Use of All Available Resources


What Captain Sully Can Teach Us About Team Effectiveness

You are an EMT, it’s 5 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, and the 9-1-1 call comes in. You and your partner race to your ambulance and head to the scene to aid a “man having difficulty breathing.”

To get to the scene, you both have to coordinate multiple activities including communicating with dispatch, mapping the location, careful navigation through streets, operation of lights and sirens; all happening during rush hour and after an already full day.

Arriving at the scene, just as you enter the living room, the patient slumps over and someone yells, “He’s not breathing!” At this moment in time, hundreds of hours of training and practice are activated. This is a true crisis and the medical team has to work together quickly and correctly to address what is very likely a life-or-death situation. There are literally dozens of decisions and tasks to be executed well in order to be successful and save this man’s life. Do you know what to do next?

While most leaders are not faced with such critical, life-or-death situations, we can learn a lot from leaders in emergency situations.

This month I found a very interesting interview with Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger*, the US Airways Flight 1549 captain who, in 2009, along with his team, safely landed their passenger plane in the Hudson River after a dangerous bird strike. Sullenberger describes how, against the odds, his leadership and team management contributed to a successful landing.

Capt. Sully received great fame for the dramatic landing in which no one was killed and injuries were minor. However, he goes to great lengths to explain that it was not a one man show, it was a well-practiced team that accomplished “The Miracle on the Hudson.”

In addition to being a great pilot with years of experience, Captain Sully is an expert in commercial airline safety and had, in fact, developed and delivered the earliest training in what is called Crew Resource Management (CRM).

In the world of aviation, CRM can be defined as: “a management system which makes optimum use of all available resources – equipment, procedures and people – to promote safety and enhance the efficiency of flight operations.”

Crew Resource Management was developed by NASA in the mid-70s and originally designed as a training program to improve airline safety and reduce the number of accidents attributable to human error. Studies found that the primary cause of the majority of aviation accidents was due to human error. The leading causes of which were failures of interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision-making. Since its inception, CRM has been further developed in other fields, most notably health care and business management.

If we think of Crew Resource Management as a management philosophy, skill set, and set of expectations we can see how two FlashPoint solutions in particular support the development of high performing leaders and cohesive teams in alignment with CRM. The Five Behaviors of Cohesive Teams® workshop teaches teams how to enact five behaviors I would argue make a difference in the cockpit, in a surgical suite, and in a business team:

  • Building trust
  • Mastering conflict
  • Achieving communication 
  • Embracing accountability
  • Focusing on results 

The Leadership Challenge® is another leadership program that applies here. It teaches a measurable, learnable set of leadership skills that serve us well whether we are building airplanes, managing hospital procurement, or running a finance department. In this 2-3 day training, we teach skills that focus in five practice areas:

  • Model the Way
  • Inspire a Shared Vision
  • Enable Others to Act
  • Challenge the Process
  • Encourage the Heart

When the bird strike happened on the flight out of LaGuardia, Capt. Sully and his crew had to make some rapid decisions or they were doomed. Capt. Sully describes how in split seconds he and his co-pilot were running through checklists of procedures, communicating to the flight attendants to prepare the cabin and passengers for whatever was to come, as well as trying to safely navigate the plane toward an unknown outcome.

In addition to hours of practice for these types of situations, Capt. Sully also built trust and openness to input from others on the plane, especially from his second in command. Flight 1549 was not just an example of technical prowess. It was a “miracle” based on solid evidence for what works in leadership and teams: the skills and mindsets that can be developed through practical application, and the continued practice, of effective teamwork.

*Interview: http://www.emsworld.com/article/12268152/applying-crew-resource-management-in-ems-an-interview-with-capt-sully

Andrew Malone // cc by 2.0 //

The Leadership Challenge Workshop in Sonoma California

Tracy Puett

Tracy Puett is a past FlashPoint employee who's passionate about curriculum design, facilitation, and coaching.