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PERFORMANCE UNDER PRESSURE©

Uniquely designed programmes proven to enhance performance under pressure. Choose your sector here:

Hudson River Landing – Why Tolerate A Mediocre Performance? 

This month sees the release of the film Sully, Clint Eastwood’s biopic drama about Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot forced to make an emergency landing on New York’s Hudson River in 2009, just six minutes after taking off.

For those unfamiliar with the events of that day; the aeroplane left New York’s LaGuardia Airport on January 15th, but after just three minutes, the engines were struck by a flock of birds, causing both engines on the aircraft to fail. After numerous attempts to restart them, Sullenberger took the decision to land on the river, protecting the lives of all 155 passengers on board.

Performance Under Pressure

This story is something we open many of our coaching sessions with as it epitomises the notion of performance under pressure. The audio from the cockpit can be listened to online, along with an animation of how the events took place – watch it here. The one thing that strikes people when they hear this is just how calm the discussions are. We regularly talk about red-to-blue-head thinking on our blogs and to our clients and this is truly the perfect example! Sully was required to make a (potentially) life or death decision, in a very short space of time, whilst at the same time keeping clear communication with his First Officer, the control tower and his passengers – there were over 150 lives in his hands. It’s fair to say the vast majority of average people would have panicked at this stage, but Sully’s training and experience meant he kept a cool, blue head and was able to clearly take the necessary steps in order to prevent disaster.

The reality is that we all have bad days – although the Hudson River landing will definitely put the average bad day into context! It would be nice if life was straightforward and easy, but in truth, there are difficult times and the only way to ensure you can perform under pressure is to prepare for them. A successful landing on a river had never been achieved, but Sully had trained hard and performed numerous simulations of this and many other scenarios throughout his career. All pilots undertake such training, and although it’s rare that they should need to use it, it gives them the ability to think clearly and make effective decisions in such situations.

New pilots are taught a protocol to support their thinking in emergency situations; ‘aviate, navigate, communicate’ sounds very basic, but to a pilot facing trouble it’s a mantra that can help them keep a cool head under enormous pressure. The Gazing Principle works on a similar value, removing complexity and replacing it with a simple and consistent set of skills that can be applied in any situation, to ensure you can perform when under pressure. 

Two key stages to performing

Sully went through two key stages in that emergency landing, which are applicable to all pressurised situations. The first stage was a decision on how to deal with the situation. The audio from the cockpit shows the control tower gave him multiple options on where to land, including back at LaGuardia and other local airports. Sully identified that he didn’t have sufficient time to return or divert to an airport. Quick and rational decision making is critical, as failure to act in time could have meant crash landing in the middle of New York City. Decision making under pressure is a critical skill for pilots and an essential one for anyone be it in work or life.

Once the decision was made, Sully had to plan its execution; there was no guarantee that it could be done, adding yet more to the pressure of the situation. Had the river been rougher, it may not have been successful, but keeping a cool head following the decision and during the execution was paramount to ensuring its success.

Why tolerate a mediocre performance?

When asked, businesses and employees often state that they run at around 60-70% performance level on a day-to-day basis. Had Sully been operating on the same level that day, it’s fair to say that there may have been fatalities. If a surgeon was to be having an ‘off-day’ when he performed your open-heart surgery you’d still expect his performance to be 100%, regardless of what was happening outside of the theatre.

So why should businesses be any different…?

Martin Fairn, CEO, Gazing Performance Systems
www.gazing.com
@gazingtraining

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"Gazing remains some of the best training I have ever received throughout my career and life would have been very different if I hadn't attended the inaugural week-long course at Wokefield Park all those years ago."
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