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Gail S. Williams
Leadership administrator

Gail S. Williams

Gail S. Williams directs the Leadership Alchemy Program at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

The untarnished hero

I believe the public's fascination with Captain Sullenberger is attributable more to deep hunger for selfless heroes than a conscious concern with leadership. The American public loves a hero and, in this time of economic hardship, focusing on true heroics takes our minds off our own challenges. Doing so is uplifting and energizing.

Regardless the label, I believe it's Capt. Sullenberger's humanity and humility that are initially captivating; it is an emotional reaction. I can barely imagine the courage and commitment it took for him to walk through the cabin, with water rushing in, ensuring that all passengers were safely evacuated, before he left the plane. For him it appeared to be an automatic response to an emergency -- one executed calmly without concern for his own safety, the mark of a true hero.

My secondary response -- one I often witness in others -- is more intellectual and analytical in nature. People remark on the extraordinary skill required to land in the Hudson, let alone do so without any loss of life. No one I've met mentions anything negative that might tarnish the captain's heroic image. That too reflects the hunger people feel for an untarnished hero.

The fact that neither he nor his co-pilot activated the plane's capability to float -- an item further down on the emergency check list than time permitted them to achieve -- is relegated to a news story that no one I've met discusses.

By Gail S. Williams

 |  October 27, 2009; 10:42 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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