A good friend shared the story of Charles Plumb with me last week. Charles Plumb was a US Navy jet pilot during the Vietnam War. On his 75th combat mission, just five days before he was due to return home, Plumb’s plane was shot down. Plumb was able to eject, but he parachuted into enemy hands. He then spent nearly six years in a Vietnamese prison. Thankfully, he survived the ordeal and returned home alive.
Years later, Charlie Plumb was eating in a restaurant, and a man at another table kept staring at him. Plumb didn’t recognize the man, but after a short while, the man came over to Plumb’s table and said, “You’re Captain Plumb.” Charlie Plumb said, “Yes sir, I’m Captain Plumb.” The man proceeded to say, “You flew fighter jets in Vietnam. You were on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down. You parachuted into enemy hands and spent 6 years as a prisoner of war.” Captain Plumb replied, “How did you know all that?” To which the gentleman said, “I packed your parachute.” As Charlie Plumb sat speechless at his table, the man said, “I guess it worked.”
You see, Plumb didn’t recognize this gentleman, because he was just a sailor on the Kitty Hawk. Plumb was a fighter pilot, and he really couldn’t be bothered by a lowly sailor. Plumb is sure he probably saw him on ship, and even passed him numerous times without saying a word. But this particular sailor did his job to perfection, despite never getting recognition from the fighter pilots. And because he did his job well, he saved Charlie Plumb’s life.
Today, Plumb speaks publicly about his ordeal as a prisoner of war. And when he tells this story, he asks the audience, “Who’s packing your parachute?” Everyone has someone (or several people) who provides what they need to make it through the day. These are the people who pack your parachute.
As leaders, it’s easy for us to be like the fighter pilots on the Kitty Hawk. It’s easy for us to think we are more important than we really are. It’s easy for us to forget about the “sailors” on our teams. This week, try to remember the people who pack your parachute. Remember, and recognize, the people who support you and make it possible for you to be the best you can be. Be sure to say hello to them and to call them by name. Take time to thank them for their efforts on your behalf. They may not seem important to you every day, but when you need that parachute, you’ll be glad for the excellent job they do.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. – Check out my website at http://www.jvearle.com and keep me in mind if you hear of any opportunities to share my thoughts on leadership.