As I travel around the country meeting with clients to talk about their leadership development plans and initiatives, I spend hundreds of hours on a plane. I go through a routine of arriving early enough to have time to make it through security, make my way to the gate, and wait to board the plane. After boarding and finding my seat, but before take-off, the flight attendants always go through their initial safety instructions. It is interesting to see how little attention flight attendants receive as they go through these instructions. It is clear they are ignored by a large majority of the passengers. They recommend you going through the tri-fold pamphlet in the seat-back in-front of you to understand what to do in case of emergency. If you look at that pamphlet it give clear instructions to exiting the plane in case of fire or water “landing”.
So, what would you do in case of emergency? Would you say, “I wish I paid more attention to the flight attendants?” Let’s look at an example of how flight attendants acted during a recent water landing. Do you remember the US Airways plane that crash landed on the Hudson River. The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger (known as Sully), has been hailed as a hero for successfully landing the plane without any major injuries or fatalities. But when Captain Sully was asked about the crash, he gave credit to his entire team, especially the flight attendants. He stated they stayed calm during the emergency and their calm demeanor and quick response to get all passengers off the plane helped ensure that there were no casualties. One of the flight attendants, Sheila Dail, later talked about the experience and said, “The evacuation was orderly because we all had a common goal – to survive.” “It all comes down to awareness. Relax, but don’t be complacent, be prepared, be ready to act and use all of the tools at hand that you have.” She added that passengers should be aware of personal safety equipment; be familiar with seat belts and locate life vests; find the closest exits; and imagine different situations and potential responses.
I would imagine the passengers aboard this flight were like the passengers I see on a regular basis during the initial safety instructions. Some were probably asleep as the important information was shared. Many were probably thinking this was just another one of a hundred flights they’ve been on. I’m sure no one expected they would soon be on the wings of the plane floating on the Hudson River.
Are we like these passengers as we go through our daily routine at work, thinking it’s just another day like hundreds or thousands we’ve been through before; not expecting any emergencies. Have we ignored the “safety instructions” for what we need to do if an emergency arises? Or, are we like Captain Sully and the flight attendants, trained and fully prepared, having thought through contingency plans and alternatives in order to be calm during an emergency. Do you understand what probable threats and dangers you could face?
Strategic people must include planning for emergencies and threats. We must be prepared to face potential obstacles and have clear plans in place for surviving the obstacles without major injuries or casualties.
The problem is, we prefer to plan for is a clear, turbulent free day of flying; so we ignore the safety instructions, sit back, and close our eyes, expecting to make it to our destination with the pilot and flight attendants guiding the trip.
Even though “landing on the Hudson” type of emergencies is rare, the better prepared we are, with clear plans on how to navigate through the crisis, the calmer we’ll be when confronted and will make better decisions.
Are you prepared? Do you ignore the safety instructions? Have you have contingency plans or are relying on other strategic people -the pilot and flight attendants? What will you do in an emergency?