Sully Sullenberger and Self Confidence

Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III is a hero.  I’m sure you know by now that he safely landed a US Airways Airbus A320 with 155 passengers and crew on board on the Hudson River last Thursday.  And then walked the cabin – twice – to make sure no one was on board before he left the aircraft.  Everybody survived.  It’s a pretty amazing story.

When I watched the news coverage that night, I thought, “There’s a man who is totally confident in his skills as a pilot.”

Self confidence is one of the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become self confident you need to do three things: 1) become an optimist; 2) face your fears and act, and 3) surround yourself with positive people.

Sully Sullenberger certainly exemplifies the first two of these traits.

However, I believe there is one other thing that contributed to Sully’s confidence in his ability to land a plane on a river: preparation.  Since 1980, He has been a pilot with US Airways.  He has trained pilots, helped streamline passenger service, led efforts to improve safety at airports, aided the National Transportation Safety Board in investigating accidents and co-wrote a technical paper with NASA on crew decision-making errors.  Before joining US Airways, he was a fighter pilot.  He graduated from the US Air Force Academy.

He is the former safety chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association, and is a visiting scholar at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California, Berkeley. The research center studies natural and man-made disasters from floods to airplane crashes.

I wouldn’t want to be on a plane that had to ditch in a river, but if I had to be, I’d want Sully Sullenberger to be the pilot.  He was as prepared as anyone to do the job.

He was prepared because of his training, over 40 years of flying experience and his outside work and continuing education.  From what I can tell, Sully Sullenberger knows as much or more about flying, decision making in stressful situations and airplane accidents as any else.  He was prepared to do something incredibly difficult when the time came.  He acted in a calm and confident manner.

We can all take a lesson from Sully Sullenberger.  No matter what you do, the more prepared you are, the more confident you will be in your ability to handle routine matters and the occasional crisis.

An early mentor used to always tell me, “Bud, preparation makes up for a lack of talent.”  In Sully Sullenberger’s case preparation enhanced his prodigious flying talent.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are self confidence.  Preparation enhances self confidence.  When you anticipate and mentally rehearse what you’ll do when you find yourself in a difficult situation, you’ll have the confidence to act swiftly and surely when you find yourself in that situation.  Just ask Sully Sullenberger.  You can’t prepare for very possible contingency, but you can identify likely problems and opportunities and prepare for them in advance.  Doing so will improve not only your confidence, it will improve your performance under pressure.

That’s my take on the importance of preparation to self confidence.  What’s yours?  Have you ever been in a difficult situation in which you acted quickly and confidently because of your preparation?  If so, please share your story with us.  As always, thanks for reading.


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  1. In these days of lousy news, a tragic incident was prevented by a few level headed people. They are all heros!! Thank goodness for them, pilots, crew, and passengers. PS. Sully, your too humble!!

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