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How to Deal with a Stressful Work Situation
Four lessons from Captain Sully’s landing in
by Terry Barber (April 20, 2009)
Yep, we live in some crazy and stressful times. Who has not lost
just a little bit of sleep worrying about a job/career or stressing
about the demise of our 401k’s? Even so, nothing compares to the
stressful situation that Captain Chesley "Sully"
Sullenberger faced just a few short weeks ago, when the plane he was
flying crash-landed in the Hudson River. Now that a little bit of
time has passed and we have had time to reflect on his remarkable
feat, there are a few lessons that were lived out by Captain Sully
and his heroic crew – that we can all apply to our businesses and
jobs during these challenging times.
Lesson 1: I was absolutely in awe of the Captain’s sense of
confidence and well-being while he had every reason to be consumed
with fear. He was not unaware of his potential fate – the loss of
not only his life but the lives of more than 150 passengers and his
crew. Yet his voice remained calm, and his spirit was positively
In the midst of your stress right now, which emotion would your
associates use to best describe you? More important, which would you
want them to use? Are you a person who brings gasoline to a fire, or
water? Despite the tremendous pressure to give in to fear, it really
is a choice to be a conduit of confidence. Choose to be calm, even
when you have every reason not to be.
Lesson 2: In anticipation of potentially dangerous
situations, Captain Sully had learned to be prepared for the worst.
And yet, he always expected the best. In the interviews following
his dramatic Hudson River landing, he was asked by more than one
reporter, "What were you thinking?" The good captain
simply replied, "I must and I can land this plane safely!"
This kind of thinking comes only after intense training. You don’t
land an airliner safely in the Hudson by working only on
touch-and-goes on a calm, sunny day. Captain Sully’s flight
training certainly involved a mix of potential scenarios, planning
to land in one place, but learning to be prepared to land at
another, even if it is the most unlikely place on the planet. He
learned to be both disciplined and flexible.
Are you disciplined? What are you training yourself to do next in
your career? What are those latent desires and dreams you had before
you became vested and comfortable? Allow them to surface again, and
nurture them. Invest in yourself, and use these uncertain times to
be absolutely and totally prepared to begin the next phase of your
career – or perhaps a new career. After all, you may have to land
where you had not originally planned. Like Sully, expect the best
– but be prepared for the worst.
Lesson 3: Just before Captain Sully touched down on the
Hudson, he announced to the cabin, "Brace for impact." As
soon as the words left his lips, he recalls, he heard his flight
crew giving safety instructions to the passengers through the flight
deck door. At that point he knew that they were all on the same page
and that they were going to make it, and together, they did.
After the landing, when he was being proclaimed a hero by the
media, it would have been very easy for Captain Sully to take all
the credit and get all the glory. But instead he allowed his crew to
share the applause for helping to get every single passenger off
Who do you work with that you can express appreciation for today?
When all things are equal regarding work performance between you and
another, many times the choice about who stays and who goes will
come down to who acknowledges his team members versus who thinks
only of self-advancement and getting all the credit. Be sure to take
time to acknowledge and appreciate your team members, particularly
during taxing times such as these, when many are being called to go
above and beyond the call of duty.
Lesson 4: "It’s my airplane." These were the
words Captain Sully spoke to his first officer as soon as he saw,
felt, and smelled the effects of birds being pulled through the
engine. At first glance you might think Sully’s words were just a
way of being in control. The truth is this was part of his emergency
protocol, and his first officer both knew it and complied.
During times of intense stress, we are prone to do and say things
that are out of character. Things come out of our mouths and then we
wonder, "Where did that come from?" Under stress, we are
much more likely to become self-consumed and paranoid. That’s why
we, too, need an emergency protocol.
I challenge you to take a moment and write down three basic
beliefs that you can look to when under great stress. Example:
"My job is only a portion of my life; it is not my entire
life." Another one might be, "I cannot control my every
circumstance, but I can control my response to every
circumstance." Then, based on your beliefs, define for yourself
and your team or co-workers a set of rules for how you will respond
to changes in your job or your life circumstances – an emergency
protocol – and don’t waiver from it.
High levels of stress can create a real hotbed of emotions,
especially in business. Don’t be a victim of these difficult days—be
intentional! Be a conduit of confidence. Prepare for the worst, and
expect the best. Acknowledge and appreciate your team members along
the way. And make sure you have an unwavering emergency protocol. In
other words, when your stress level goes up, be like Sully, and
create your own Hudson River landing.
(Note: Terry Barber is the Chief Inspirator for Grizzard
Communication Group. He primarily serves the non-profit healthcare
segment as well as colleges and universities in the subject area of
philanthropic branding. Some of the organizations he consults with
include Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Duke Cancer
Center, University of North Carolina's Lindberger Comprehensive
Cancer Center, and The Huntsman Cancer Center of Salt Lake, Utah.
Barber is a popular speaker for corporate training and events, and
an inspirational resource to the nonprofit community and is known in
many circles as the Chief Inspirational Officer.
His new book, The Inspiration Factor, can be purchased
His website is www.inspirationblvd.com.)