“Sully” — The Humble Hero

Seeing “Sully” 

I didn’t think I wanted to see  “Sully.”  I went because my wife wanted to see it and on a rainy day on vacation, there wasn’t anything better to do.  After all, we all know the story of how he landed a USAir jet in the Hudson River.  Or do we?

Like most folks in our short-attention-span culture,  I lost interest in Chesley Sullenberger es_sully_2909after the story drifted from the headlines and the pictures were gone from the front page. I didn’t know that he nearly lost his wings in the NTSB investigation that followed.  I knew nothing about the man at the center of the story who is so beautifully portrayed by Tom Hanks.

I discovered a fascinating story and a surprisingly suspenseful movie about a genuinely humble hero who models a way of living and leading we desperately need to see these days.  Go see it and stay for the credits where you meet the real Sully along with some of the passengers he saved.  Perhaps you’ll find some of the same lessons I found in his story.

Experience Matters 

In a crisis, there’s no way that even the best technology can replace sheer human experience. Facing something that had never happened or been done before, the thing that made the difference was Sully’s calm judgement based on forty years of experience in the pilot’s seat. There’s nothing flashy, loud, bombastic or exciting about Sully, but all those years of experience prepared him to give calm, wise leadership when it mattered most.  The last thing you need in a crisis is someone with an erratic temperament who shoots from the hip.

Humility Matters 

By all accounts, Sully was both overwhelmed and uncomfortable with the attention that came his way.  He told Katie Couric, “I don’t feel like a hero.  I’m just a man doing a job.”

Humility has to be the least appreciated Christian virtue in our culture today.  It doesn’t mean being a doormat.  It’s what Paul was talking about when he wrote:

Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all. (Romans 12:3) 

Teamwork Matters 

At the climax of the movie, when Sully’s actions were vindicated, a member of the NTSB congratulated him for what he had done.  He replied by saying that he didn’t do this alone.  He named all the people who were involved in the landing and rescue and said, “We did it together.”

Business consultant, Jim Collins called that “Level 5 Leadership.”  (I encourage you to listen to his 2 minute description here.) It’s the kind of leader who is more focused on the good of the whole than on his or her own success.  Humble hero would never say, “Only I can fix it.” They know that great things happen when everyone works together.

Others Matter 

The thing that mattered most to Sully was making sure that all 155 people on the plane made it to safety.  He was the last person off the plane because he went back through the seats to make sure no one was left behind.

I woke up the morning after seeing the movie with the lyrics of a long-forgotten song in my brain. I remembered it from the 33 rpm record by Tennessee Ernie Ford that was often on the turntable on the Motorola stereo in our home.

Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for—Others

Others, Lord, yes others,
Let this my motto be,
Help me to live for others,
That I may live like Thee.

We need “Sully” today as the reminder of the kind of leader who really makes a lasting difference in our world.  Cheers for the “Humble Hero.”  May his tribe increase.

Grace and peace,


P.S. If you hear this as a subtle critique of the most arrogantly narcissistic candidate to run for President in our lifetimes and as an affirmation of one of the most experienced candidates we’ve seen, you heard it right.







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13 thoughts on ““Sully” — The Humble Hero

  1. Jim, in Chicago for the United Methodist chancellors meeting. Lots of lawyers. Hope all is well with you.

    Mark A. Hanley Partner | Bradley mhanley@bradley.com 813.559.5507

  2. Charles Michael Smith September 30, 2016 — 4:05 pm

    Barbara & I loved “Sully” too although Clint’s politics disturb us. Good movie, good lesson on humility, experience, competence, and the resulting cool-headedness that comes through In a crisis. May millions see it & connect it with the presidential candidate Eastwood won’t vote for. Love your blog.


  3. Fabulous article, Jim. Thanks

  4. Hey Jim , enjoyed your blog re Sully!! But please don’t allude to Clinton in the same breath with Sully…..she couldn’t carry his briefcase….your pal…..Bill

    Sent from my iPho


    1. Unfortunately, Trump’s briefcase isn’t something any decent person would carry. Hillary isn’t Sully, but she’s at least mentally stable. 🙂

  5. Jim, When I made my initial commitment to Christ, I had that same Tennessee Ernie Ford Album. I played it until I wore it out! I remember the song “Others” well. It was my favorite. I also recall one other song from that album, “Ivory Palaces”. “Out of the ivory palaces into a word of woe, only his great eternal love, made my Savior go”. Thanks for evoking those memories of a 15 year old – fresh to faith! – I’m going to see “Sully” tomorrow. Bless you, Mike Shirley

    Sent from my iPad


    1. A wonderful message! Even if you had not intended the subtext, I would have applied it!!!

    2. Mike: We’ve always shared a lot of the same spiritual roots.

  6. Quote”one of the most experienced candidates to run for President”. Her so- called experience didn’t help much while she stood by and let four people die at Bengazi. Her so -called experience didn’t help her much when violated law after law with her private e mail server, which even the FBI validated, they just didn’t have the guts to indict her, as she lied her way out of it. With experience like that, she isn’t qualified to run for President of a PTA.

  7. Well said, Jim!

    Sent from my iPad


  8. Well said, Jim. Humility and steadiness is a remarkable gift from our leaders. Thanks for your witness and your leadership as well.

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