One of the most universally hated parts of high school is the pop quiz. I certainly remember the dread that overcame me every time Mr. Quintavalle, my freshman Latin teacher, would announce “Halfsheets, gentlemen,” regardless of how well prepared I was that day.
So one can only imagine the emotional punch in the gut felt by hero pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger on the afternoon of January 15, 2009, when he faced the mother of all pop quizzes: Land a jetliner with both engines out and 155 people onboard, with no airport within reach, and only 2800 feet of altitude in which to do it.
When Captain James T. Kirk faced the Kobayashi Maru test at Starfleet Academy, he overcame the test’s guaranteed no-win outcome by secretly reprogramming it. Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger had no such option—and just 208 seconds to figure it out.
Today the whole world knows that Captain Sullenberger and the crew of US Airways Flight 1549 pulled off “The Miracle on the Hudson” by landing safely in the river and evacuating the plane with no loss of life and few injuries. What’s less well known is how he kept his calm during those 208 seconds, how he handled becoming an overnight global celebrity, and what he thinks of captains who abandon their responsibilities in the face of danger.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to explore these and other topics during an interview with Captain Sullenberger on the show floor at SAP’s recent SAPPHIRE NOW 2014 conference in Orlando. Watch and learn—it’s a mini master class in leadership.