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3 leadership lessons from the cockpit: Leading in unrehearsed scenarios

What Frontier Airlines Captain Gerhard Bradner did upon landing at an airport to which his aircraft was diverted due to weather has takeaways for us as police leaders

Editor’s Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from PoliceOne Member David Crisler. In PoliceOne "First Person" essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other P1 Members, simply send us an email with your story.

By Lt. Dave Crisler, PoliceOne Member

Captain Gerhard Bradner was leader who did his job in relative obscurity until July 7, 2014. He did what I feel most great leaders do. He came to work, took his job seriously, was successful at providing service to his customers and making sure that he led those under his command in their duties. He did all of this in a professional and caring manner. 

On the evening of July 7th however, a simple gesture spoke volumes about his leadership abilities. On this particular night, Frontier Airlines Flight 719 was on its way from Washington DC to Denver when bad weather forced it to land in Wyoming. 

What he did once they got to the airport in Wyoming merits our consideration as police leaders. With a cabin full of potentially angry passengers, the captain contacted a local Domino’s Pizza and ordered pizzas for the passengers. The pizzas showed up within 30 minutes of the plane finally departing for Denver after several hours of delay (the delays made a three-hour flight last more than seven hours).

We have all heard horror stories about similar situations not turning out well.  But it is Captain Bradner’s leadership that made this situation stand out from the rest. There are some solid takeaways we as leaders can learn from this story.

1. Seeing Opportunity in Adversity
When a true leader is confronted with a situation that is “out of the ordinary” they make a decision with all of the information they have available to them. One piece of information Captain Bradner had — in addition to everything he had to process in order to fly the airplane and land it at the diversion airport — was that he was going to have a plane-fullof angry passengers by the time they reached their final destination in Denver. 

Bradner took this into account and then thought about how he could make things easier for them. Knowing that pretzels and peanuts only go so far, Bradner saw food as an opportunity to help minimize the problem. 

How, though, does he get the amount of food he needs — in a timely manner — delivered to the airport? Pizza was the natural choice. 

2. Informing and Involving the Team
Captain Bradner formulated his plan. At this point, Bradner showed another trait of great leaders. He got buy-in from those who he needed help from to complete the mission. So, he consulted his first officer— and of course, the cabin crew — about the plan.

The First Officer had to be on board with his plan because while Bradner was on his mission for the passengers, the First Officer would need to complete pre-flight checks, and monitor other airplane systems (who knows, he might even pitch in some money for pizzas!)

But at any rate he had a very important role in this incident. The cabin crew saw the Captain’s vision, and embraced it. 

They had to be “with him” in regards to getting his plan accomplished. Where many managers fail as leaders is this integral part. There has to be by-in if you ever wish to be successful.

3. Doing What Needs Doing
The third and final leadership point that Bradner exhibits is that he does what needs to be done to keep the customer — those he serves — happy. 

If not exactly happy, they were somewhat happier than they would be without the pizza. Had Bradner waited for “permission” from the front office to buy pizza, it could have taken hours. It might not have even happened.  

Instead, he realized he could control this simple variable in this incident. He took control, and created a positive outcome from something that could have been very negative.

Great Job, Captain Bradner
Captain Bradner did what true leaders are supposed to do. He took a situation and made some decisions to make it better. He exhibited one of the traits of truly great leaders that sometimes today’s leaders cannot do — he made a quick decision in an unrehearsed scenario.

How do we know that this was a great decision? Instead of talking about a horrible flight, passengers — and Frontier Airlines doing their best trying to spin a bad public relations event — we’re talking about pizzas being delivered to an airplane parked in Wyoming.

That is a simple lesson that all leaders can learn from.

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