Heroic Southwest Airlines Pilot Tammie Jo Shults Just Displayed 4 Keys to Remarkable Leadership
From tragedy comes a spark of courage, resilience, and profound leadership.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
A Southwest Airlines flight bound for Dallas from New York City on Tuesday encountered a horrific circumstance when one of its engines exploded, sending shrapnel into the plane, nearly sucking one woman out of the window (who later died) and injuring several other passengers. Miraculously, the plane safely landed in the Philadelphia airport, averting further tragedy and loss among the 148 passengers.
There was a surprising guiding force behind the safe landing, a surprise based only on percentages.
Former Navy fighter pilot Tammie Jo Shults, one of the Navy's first female fighter pilots and among only 4.3 percent of pilots that are female in the U.S., was at the helm. Not surprising (based on Shults' reputation) was how she displayed remarkable courage and leadership in the midst of chaos. Shults is a true leader that displayed four key tenets of remarkable leadership during (and leading up to) the ordeal:
1. Remarkable leaders stay impossibly calm in crisis.
The air traffic control recording of the exchange between Shults and Philadelphia air control reveals an impossibly calm Shults. As the Washington Post reported, passengers said the pilot displayed "nerves of steel" and presented a calming presence during the harrowing ordeal.
While you may never face a crisis of this magnitude as a leader, the very best leaders know that especially during times of crisis people take cues from their leader. Adversity reveals character. Treat crisis as a time to show yours.
2. Remarkable leaders create a path where there is none.
A college classmate of Shults told the Kansas City Star that the pilot knew the odds were against her in her desire to become a female pilot and that "she said she wasn't going to let anyone tell her she couldn't" and that "she had to work harder than everyone else."
Shults grew up watching air shows and knew what she wanted to be from very early on. She attended a lecture on aviation in her senior year of high school, 1979. She was the only one at the lecture, prompting the retired male colonel teaching the class to ask if she was lost, followed by a rebuff that "there are no women professional pilots."
Shults would go on to serve as a Navy Lieutenant commander and ultimately fly for Southwest. Thank god.
The very best leaders know that the way forward isn't always obvious or easy. They also know that carving new paths serves as new ways for others to follow or proof that their employees can carve their own path as well.
3. Remarkable leaders teach others the importance of being leaders, not followers.
In the book Military Fly Moms, Shults simply said, "We endeavor to teach our children to be leaders, not lemmings. This is especially important when it comes to making the right choice while the crowd is pulling in the other direction."
In my corporate life, I lost count of the number of times I saw leaders cave in on what they thought was right to take the easier, more traveled road. I also saw many leaders who forgot that the point of leadership is to create more leaders, not more followers.
So lead with your personal power, not your position power--and never let the latter be the driving force.
4. Remarkable leaders prioritize visibly caring.
After the horrifying incident, Shults came back to speak to each passenger personally. She took the time to thank the control tower for their help. None of this surprises those who know her and describe her as a caring and giving person.
When I was conducting research for one of my books, I found that an astonishing two-thirds of employees felt that their boss didn't truly care about them. When you dig into this, such callousness can't be attributed to the fact that most leaders/bosses genuinely don't care. It's that they forget to be intentional about showing up as caring.
Remarkable leaders never forget.
We're lucky to have leaders like Tammie Jo Shults at the helm of such important matters. May leaders everywhere take inspiration to be as much of a hero to the passengers and traveling partners in their life.