My brother was staying with me a few years ago. A pilot enthusiast, he corrected me one day as I mentioned the term “pilot error” after a major aviation disaster. “It’s not called ‘pilot error’ anymore,” he explained, “It’s called ‘cockpit error’ to depersonalize the event,” he said. A few days later, as I was backing out of the driveway, I ran over a garbage can he had placed in my blind spot on the right rear side of my car. I went in the house to have him help me remove it from where it was stuck under my bumper. “Nancy,” he said, always one to find a teaching moment, “I think this is what you call ‘cockpit error.'”
Later that day, I called my uncle, who flew private planes for many years. I told him what happened and what my brother had told me, blaming the event on ‘cockpit error’. My uncle thought for a moment, and said with a laugh, “I don’t think that’s cockpit error; I think that’s ‘ground crew error!'” It really is all in the perspective sometimes, isn’t it?
There is one perspective the nation agrees on, and that is Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger and his crew of Flight 1549 are heroes. Ditto the ferries and their crew and the ordinary citizens that lined up to help in this perilous situation. I wonder how most of us, or in fact how many of the CEOs of today’s major corporations, would react under similar circumstances. What is it that sets one person apart from another, that gives him or her the necessary focus and grace to act courageously and correctly under extreme pressure, as did our nation’s Captain Sully?
Heroism requires intense concentration and a rapid acceptance of the facts you are facing. Once Sully realized he had hit those birds and that the plane was, in fact, going down, he had split seconds to make momentous decisions, decisions that would impact many lives, both in his plane and on the ground. For heroes, there is absolutely no room for denial.
Denial is so strong in today’s corporate America that we can tie it directly to some of the losses suffered by Madoff’s customers, who questioned why they were receiving high returns in such a turbulent market. Enron, just before it imploded, quashed questions from analysts who questioned CEO Jeff Skilling’s statements regarding his balance sheets, according to Herb Greenberg with CNN Money.com.
Do you think Captain Sully prepared, in his mind’s eye and in countless simulations, how to land a jetliner in similar circumstances? Do you think, once Captain Sully grasped the desperate situation they were in, calculated loss of life if he chose, instead, to crash land anywhere but on the Hudson? Of course. Sully was prepared, and because he was, hundreds survived, possibly untold hundreds if the flight had ended differently.
Is your organization as prepared for catastrophic events? Desperate times require desperate measures, and surely the United States is, for the first time since the Great Depression, in desperate financial straits. This makes enterprise-wide risk management more critical than ever in our nation’s history. Take time today to become a hero tomorrow. Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.