Are You Ready?

No one knows when tragedy will strike.  Horribly Jennifer Riordan, a mother of two, lost her life this week while traveling on Southwest Airlines flight 1380 from New York to Dallas.

The pilot, Tammie Joe Shults, demonstrated amazing poise, composure and emotional intelligence in the midst of every air traveler’s worst nightmare; an engine blowout.  Hearing Tammie Joe’s incredible calm and composure while notifying ground control of the unfolding event was amazing.  She successfully landed the crippled aircraft in Philly.

Later it was learned that this incredible woman is a retired Navy pilot.  She is an impeccably well-trained veteran that flew FA-18 fighter jets and eventually trained other Navy pilots to do the same.  She’s been flying for Southwest since 1994.

While listening to a radio interview of another 737 commercial pilot, it was explained how these talented professionals train and prepare for the unthinkable on a regular basis.  The retired pilot explained:

  • First, pilots must secure their own oxygen mask as consciousness can be lost in seconds while traveling at 30,000 feet
  • Next, the pilot radios their co-pilot to ensure there is a back-up expert in place and ready to assist
  • The pilot then notifies air the traffic control tower of their emergency
  • The pilot assesses damage, notifies the tower while maintaining control of the plane
  • Air traffic control immediately clears related air space to allow the distressed aircraft room for the emergency decent
  • In only a few moments, the pilot points the nose of the plane towards the ground at a 30 degree angle in an effort to drop the jet below 10,000 feet as fast as possible allowing passengers to breath without oxygen masks
  • The pilot then leverages their expert experience to land the damaged plane safely

Naturally the noise, turbulence, abrupt decent and horror of a fellow passenger being sucked out of a window was an emotional and difficult experience for all.

Tammie Joe’s leadership in crisis is a case study for how to respond when confronted with the unthinkable.  In life, it is not what happens to us but how we deal with uncertainty that defines us.

Too many of us stroll through life thinking tomorrow will be just another day, until it isn’t.

The current tragedy and remarkable response of Tammie Joe Shults is a grand example for all leaders to heed.

  • Anticipate the unanticipated
  • Plan mentally and emotionally for an untimely change in your business (or life)
  • Invest in developing yourself and your team’s skills – training is not a nice to have – training is a must
  • Know change is an absolute certainty
  • Live life in the moment.  It’s all you have.  Make the most of it