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Last Thursday, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, demonstrated an essential quality of leadership when he calmly reacted to an unexpected crisis in the plane he was piloting.Â When his plane, US Airways flight 1549, hit a flock of geese, he had only few moments to decide how to react. Like Barack Obama in the fall campaign, Sullenberger was “cool, calm and collected” in a crisis.
The difference is that whereas the then-Illinois Senator didn’t change course, Sullenberger had no choice but to. He acted and decisively so, ditching the plane in the Hudson, saving his passengers and crew. While many have praised Obama (and rightly so) for running a brilliant campaign, we often forget that it was not always so.Â Were it not for the crisis (i.e., the financial one) he faced, the conventional wisdom might be that the Democratic nominee crumpled when facing the unexpected.
Recall how off balance he seemed in the weeks after John McCain tapped Sarah Palin to be his running mate, changing the dynamics of the campaign? Had McCain not seemed even more off balance as the scope of the finanicial meltdown became manifest, we might more readily remember Obama’s floundering in the first weeks of the fall. Thanks to a generous assist from the MSM, Obama was able to counter the Palin pick which had so confounded his campaign.
But, on its own, the Obama campaign did not have the wherewithal to successfully challenge a selection which helped recast Republicans as reformers. To be sure, once he takes office, the new president is likely to continue receiving assists from the media.
Unlike a candidate, however, an executive must do more than give speeches; he must act. It is a good thing to remain calm in a crisis. And I’m reassured somewhat that Obama has that quality. But, what Sullenberger’s success teaches us is that being cool and collected in a crisis is not enough.
In most crises, President Obama will not have to act immediately, to change course as quickly as did that noble pilot, but he will not to act. And he can only learn from our country’s newest hero.
The real test of leadership is not one’s demeanor, but how one faces the unexpected. Chesley Sullenberger showed he was capable of meeting such a challenge. Let us hope, let us pray, that Barack Obama is built of similar stuff.
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