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‘Sully’ Sullenberger hopes to inspire leadership

Chelsey Sullenberger famously piloted disabled US Airways jet safety New York’s HudsRiver.

Chelsey Sullenberger famously piloted a disabled US Airways jet to safety in New York’s Hudson River.

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Updated: June 29, 2012 9:26AM

On Jan. 15, 2009, pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger ditched his disabled jetliner in the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crewmembers survived.

After his best-selling 2009 memoir, Highest Duty, Sullenberger, 61, retired from US Airways to become a safety consultant.

He spoke with USA Today about his second book, Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage From America’s Leaders (Morrow, $26.99), co-authored with Douglas Century.

Q. What inspired you to write about leaders?

A. There are lots of books on leadership for salespeople or CEOs. I wanted a book for everyone, no matter what their job or title, who, through their actions, can be leaders.

Q. In the book, Gene Kranz, a former NASA flight director, talks about learning from failure. Did you?

A. I didn’t always act on my instincts and assert myself. It took me a long time to realize I could make a difference. I was a late bloomer.

Q. Before or after the landing in the Hudson?

A. Well before that. I was 57 when that happened. I’m talking about my 20s, when I could have done a better job if I had more confidence.

Q. In your book, John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, says it’s impossible to lack integrity in one part of your life and have it in another. But John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. were great leaders while cheating on their wives.

A. Not everyone in the book agrees with John. I’m not sure if I do, but I wanted people who would challenge my views. I think it’s possible for someone who’s flawed to be a good leader. But with the best leaders, their actions match their words.

Q. Three political figures in your book — former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former Army officer Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in Iraq and is now running for Congress — are all Democrats. Why no Republicans?

A. The is book is apolitical. I didn’t ask about or consider people’s political persuasions. I chose people I admire.

Q. You’re a registered Republican?

A. I am. I haven’t been asked much about that. My answer to whether I’m a Democrat or a Republican is that I am an American. I don’t mean to be flippant. But we need to focus more on the values we share, not what divides us.

Q. Another of your subjects, former baseball manager Tony La Russa, has said he wasn’t aware of steroid use by his players. Is it to fair to ask if he should have known?

A. Oh, my gosh. That’s a question for Tony. I wouldn’t presume to answer for him. He’s my friend.

Q. Have you read Chris Bohjalian’s novel The Night Strangers, about a pilot who ditches his plane in Lake Champlain and survives, but loses 39 passengers?

A. No. I read mostly history. I think there’s much to learn from previous generations.

Q. Do you miss flying?

A. I don’t fly professionally, but I’m able to rent planes and take long-range business and family trips. I had the great fortune to turn my passion into a career. But the job changed so much over the last 30 years that it’s almost unrecognizable to people of my generation who remember when being an airline pilot was entirely about flying. Now it’s about security and all kinds of other things.

Gannett News Service

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