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Lessons Learned from Captain Tammie Jo Shults

Remember Captain Tammie Jo Shults, the pilot who safely landed Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 after a jet engine ripped apart mid-air? Like Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, she has been lauded as a hero for her calm and ability to make an emergency landing as passengers panicked behind her.

Here are some life lessons we can learn from Captain Tammie Jo Shults, courtesy of Forbes magazine.

Lesson 1: Anticipate and prepare for emergencies

In life, emergency situations can and do happen. Better to be prepared for it ahead of time, then be surprised when it happens. In Shults’ situation, her lucid and measured communication with air traffic controllers epitomizes crisis management. In the Forbes article, Lieutenant Arthur Escribano, a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, explained how Shults’ naval training likely contributed to her poise:

"The Navy does a great job of introducing [emergency procedures] in a simulator. We live by a cadence, 'Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.’ The first step is always maintaining control of the aircraft. Captain Shults crushed this step, controlling for asymmetric thrust by managing the energy of the aircraft. She then traded altitude to descend smoothly, while communicating clearly with Air Traffic Control. During training, we practice PELs (Precautionary Emergency Landings) where they simulate a flamed-out engine and we have to handle it. Eventually, movements become second nature. I…still remember 'Engine out, turn to the nearest landing site, trade airspeed for altitude to best glide, clean up the drag. Turn. Climb. Clean. Checklist out.’”

Lieutenant Escribano went on to describe well-trained pilots’ mindsets:

"We’re taught to get into our 'Flight Box,’ meaning nothing else matters outside of the aircraft. Bills piling up? Divorce? Dog at the vet? It doesn’t matter. You focus on what you need to do. We need 100 percent of you in the cockpit 100 percent of the time."

Shults likely had thousands of hours of flight and simulator training under her wings, and as a result, was prepared for an engine failure. “Members of the Navy fly old and beat-up aircraft, so she’s more than likely had an emergency before — and guaranteed, she’s practiced precautionary emergency landings in the simulator for Southwest,” Escribano adds.

Practical application: Whether flying a plane, running a business, or raising a family, a strong leader thinks about and prepares for emergencies and worst-case scenarios ahead of time, and has plans and resources in place. So if the you-know-what hits the fan, you don’t panic, you know what to do, and you act calmly and decisively like Captain Shults.

Lesson 2: Never give up on your goals and dreams.

Tammie Jo Shults became one of the first woman U.S. Navy fighter pilots in history, but it wasn’t easy. Cindy Foster, a former classmate of Shults, told the Kansas City Star that Shults experienced "a lot of resistance" in the Navy because she was a woman.

She was once asked if she was "lost" at an aviation lecture in 1979 and years later was told by an instructor it was "degrading" for a woman to be in the cockpit. Shults was rejected by the Air Force — a decision presumably because she was a woman — but that didn’t deter her. Instead, she joined the Navy. From there she became the first woman to fly a F/A-18 Hornet and later trained military pilots before joining Southwest.

Practical application: Despite discrimination and resistance, Shults remained courageously focused on her goal, an essential leadership skill that paved the way for women in the military, aviation industry, and beyond.

Lesson 3: Respect and appreciate your team.

A good pilot knows that it takes a team to save an aircraft, just as a great manager and or business owner knows the value of their team. While Shults was working on landing the plane safely, the flight attendants on board were bringing portable oxygen tanks through the aisles and performing CPR on passenger Jennifer Riordan, who was sucked through a window that had been broken by pieces of the disintegrating engine. Riordan died due to blunt impact trauma to her head, neck and torso.

Following the successful landing, Shults walked through the cabin, checking in with passengers personally. Aimee Isakson, a flight attendant for WestJet Airlines, identified the qualities of an exceptional pilot: "They show respect and care, right from our crew briefing prior to the flight. This sets the tone and the work environment, creating a culture of trust and cooperation necessary for communication and safety. Exceptional pilots are emotionally intelligent, and know they’re leaders ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of everyone on the flight."

Practical application: Remember to acknowledge and appreciate your valuable employees and coworkers. Respect and sincere care can go a long way toward building good will and loyalty on the team.

Source: Forbes magazine

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