Sep 10th, 2018

The Green Bay Packers and Aviation Leadership

What do the Green Bay Packers have to do with aviation leadership?  Read on and you hopefully discover the connection.

While I was being trained as a high school camp counselor at the Double B Youth Ranch, the camp director, Carlin Dempsey, made the following statement.  “Everything rises and falls on leadership”.

At the time, I thought, “Can that be true”?  I did not think that the camp director was intentionally lying, but I thought, can this really be the case.  Maybe he is overstating the importance.  Perhaps that is his perception, but this fact does not always hold.

The longer I have lived, the more true I found that statement to be.  Show me an organization with poor leadership and before long, things begin to unravel at that organization.  Conversely show me steady, strong, purposeful caring leadership and I will likely see a strong organization going in the right direction.

So how does this tie to the Green Bay Packers?

My son was watching Sunday Night Football last night.  I caught the beginning.  It is the 100th season for the Green Bay Packers.  The most storied franchise in NFL history.  They have won the most titles in NFL history – a total of 13.  They have won four Super Bowls since the game began in 1967 and nine titles before the Super Bowl era. That is why they call the small city of Green Bay – Title Town.

Why so much success for a franchise located in the “frozen tundra” in a city with a population of only 100,000?

I believe the answer is leadership

A man named Curly Lambeau coached the Packers to six titles in his 30 years as head coach.  He was so good that they named the field after him.  Mike Holmgren led them to two Super Bowls and one title, while current coach Mike McCarthy took them to the title in February of 2011.

However, the most legendary coach is Vince Lombardi, for whom is named the Super Bowl Trophy.  ABC did a documentary on Lombardi’s team twenty years after their first Super Bowl win.  The amount of vocational success off the field, by Lombardi’s former players was staggering.  They had succeeded in real estate, automobile sales, and restaurants.  Across the board the players gave Lombardi credit for teaching them about life.

So what does this have to do with aviation?  What holds true on a football team, holds true with an airplane crew.  Leadership matters.  The CRM (Crew or Cockpit Resource Management) research had consistently shone that the tone that the captain sets affects the entire crew.

If the captain is willing to take input from his/her crew, and act with wisdom and decisiveness aircrew accidents are prevented.  They crew is also generally happier.  The quintessential example is Captain Al Haynes who exhibited tremendous leadership in getting his crippled aircraft out of the sky into Sioux City, Iowa in 1989 (see Session 5 of Doctor Aviation).

Like the Packers, an aircrew will generally find success with strong and steady leadership.

The Bart Starr Story

I leave you with my favorite Vince Lombardi story.  It is told by Bart Starr, then a backup quarterback when Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959.

“My first encounter with Coach Lombardi was at what today would be called a minicamp. He had just been hired, and he brought a number of us in to acquaint us with his offensive system. After about an hour we took a break. I ran to the Packers office building and grabbed the pay phone and called my wife back in Alabama.

Honey, we’re going to win’, I said to her.

We could’ve taken a break after 20 minutes, and I could’ve made the same phone call- it was that obvious. Then way he approached it, his organizational skills, the charisma of him standing in front you teaching, all of it was so engaging. Listening to him, I was so excited I probably wasn’t even touching the chair I was sitting in.

We had the core of a good football team, but what we lacked was leadership. From the time he began to speak, it was obvious that we now had that leadership. He brought that the day he walked in the front door.

We were much better organized and we were better prepared because of his leadership and teaching. He took great pride in teaching. He said that coaching was the epitome of teaching. We began to grow very rapidly in his system.”


Flight captains, would you crew say this about you?  “We’re going to win”.


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