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 after 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.