Sully proves that “professionalism” pays

I think, by now, the whole world has heard of Chesley B “Sully” Sullenberger III, the pilot of the plane that landed on the Hudson river. Difficult to describe his actions in words. So I will just say – GREAT JOB!

What can we as management executives learn from this? I would like to focus on one point which was brought out by his wife when she said (paraphrased), “Sully is the ultimate professional. I wouldn’t have expected anything less.”

The key word here is “professional.” I think most people would not have understood the significance of this word when used along with Sully’s name. As such, I would like to comment on it.

Let us first understand the meaning of the words “professional” and “professionalism.” Most people have a misconception of what these words mean.

A professional is somebody who works for an organization in exchange for monetary remuneration. This implies that if I am working for an organization and getting paid for it, then it is my duty to work in the best interest of the organization as well take all decisions in the best interest of the organization that I work for. But this definition is still not complete. Why” Well, it does not answer the question that what a professional should do when there is a conflict of interest between personal and organizational benefit? To take care of this shortcoming, my definition of professional is “a person who makes all decisions in the best interest of the organization even if it hurts an individual’s personal interests.”

Now let us analyze Sully’s actions in light of our above definition of a professional. As a pilot, he is responsible for flying the passengers from one place to another safely and that is exactly what he did. First, he remained calm and focused on landing the plane safely on the Hudson river. He did not run to save his life but made all the effort to ensure that all the passengers were out of the plane before him. It was reported that he made two rounds of the plane to check that all the passengers were out of the plane. If you look at it, he just did his job to the best of his ability. He put the interest of his passengers even though such an action could have brought personal harm to him. Any other person would have tried to save himself. He put his personal interest aside and that is the sign of a true professional.

Now imagine if he would have pursued his personal interest instead of acting like a professional? If he would have tried to save his life first, the passengers would have also panicked. Simple. If one sees the captain of the ship deserting the ship, one gets the message that things are really bad and panic would have been the result. I am not privy to what went on inside the plane but I think the calm attitude of “Sully” would have inspired teamwork amongst the passengers to help each other to get out of the plane.

I think Sully’s wife got it right when she said, “Sully is the ultimate professional. I wouldn’t have expected anything less.”

So what is the lesson that management executives can learn from this incident. Simple, act in the best interest of the organization and take all decisions in the best interest of the organization even if you think it will hurt you. When you act like a true professional, you will always benefit. For proof, just think of Sully and what it did for him and others as well.

Avinash Narula

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