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180 seconds – 155 lives

Updated: Nov 12, 2021


That’s a word a wildlife photographer might welcome, but it’s not what you want to hear in the cockpit of an airplane that has just taken off from La Guardia.

One of the reasons Captain Sullenberger and First Office Skiles were able to successfully land their plane on the Hudson, (apart from the fact that they are legends!) was psychological safety.

Evidenced by the next four words on the data recorder. Sullenberger said ‘My airplane’ and Skiles said ‘Your airplane’.

In fact Sullenberger was not the lead pilot when they took off, but the culture in their workplace had already generated the trust they needed to be an effective team in an emergency, even though they had only met hours before.

So there was no territorial arguing over who was taking control. It made immediate sense to them both because Sully had the clearer view of the George Washington Bridge and he had more flight hours on that aircraft. First Office Skiles was more familiar with emergency landing procedures so he was best placed to work that problem.

The other legend in their story is their air traffic controller, Patrick Harten, who kept his line open so that the pilots could hear his conversations with colleagues first-hand rather than repeating suggestions and wasting valuable seconds. There was a lot of silence between short communications as they each worked because there was no time to waste.

180 seconds later they had landed on the water with the fuselage intact and no major injuries.

155 lives were saved in 180 seconds, by 3 people who hadn’t worked together before.

The time to build trust in an organisation is in all the moments, days, weeks and years before an urgent event.

As a leader, what can you do today to plant a seed of trust and nurture it continuously so that it flourishes into a culture of psychological safety?


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