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Aug-11-2009 00:32printcomments

Packing Chutes: The Importance of Daily Leadership

The Management Moments series by Doug Dickerson is a weekly column designed to bring inspiration to those in the workplace and beyond.

Charles Plumb Vietnam jet fighter

(CHARLESTON, S.C.) - The author is unknown, but I read a story recently about Charles Plumb. Plumb was a US Navy Academy graduate and jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air-missile.

Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent the next six years in a Communist prison. He survived that ordeal and now lectures about lessons learned from that experience.

One day, when he and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Nam and the carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb. “Oh I was the one who packed your parachute,” the man replied.

Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man smiled and said, “Yep, I guessed it worked.” Plumb assured him, “It sure did work, if your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about the man who had packed his parachute. Plumb kept wondering what the man might have looked like in a Navy uniform.

“I wondered how many times I might have passed him on the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘good morning, how are you’, or anything, because you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was a sailor.”

Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooded table in the bowels of the ship carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands the fate of someone he didn’t know.

The story of Plumb serves to remind us of the important little things about leadership. When it comes to your organization, what are you packing into the lives of your team members?

Allow me to suggest a few things.

Pack plenty of praise. A hard working team deserves to be praised for the work they do. One of the saddest statements to hear at the annual Christmas party is when the boss stands up to thank the team and says, “I know I don’t say it enough, but…” My immediate thought always is, “why not?”

If your team is working hard and performing as it should, praise for them should be sincere and often. George Adams said, “To praise is an investment in happiness.” A happy team is a productive team. Praise for your team should be a priority.

Pack plenty of attitude – a good attitude, that is. Charles Swindoll wrote, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts.

It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company ...a church ...a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past ...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.”

Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude in your organization. When the chips are down, when the economy is sluggish, when prospects disappoint you, what will set you apart from everyone else is the power of your attitude. Maintain a good attitude at all costs; it is the thread of your chute.

Pack plenty of confidence. As you navigate the current economy with all of the challenges it presents, rely on the sound decisions that have brought you to where you are. Keep a steady hand and resist the temptation to leap when you need to sit.

Richard Evans said, “Don’t let life discourage you; everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.” At the end of the day, confidence in yourself, your team, and your mission will set you apart from the others.

Finally, pack plenty of kindness. Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Packing a little kindness in the chute of your organization could be the lifeline needed today.

Praise, a good attitude, confidence, and kindness, these are timeless leadership traits worthy of attention.

As you pack the chutes of those around you, just remember, what you put in is what will come out.

Pack wisely.

Doug Dickerson is the former editor of the Berkeley Independent newspaper in South Carolina and is currently the director of university relations at Charleston Southern University. Doug’s writing has been recognized by the South Carolina Press Association, having won awards for enterprise reporting, series of articles, and for humor column writing. Doug’s passion for communicating leadership principles and personal development is crystallized through his Management Moment column and leadership columns he writes. Read more of Doug’s columns on his blog at

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