Oswald Letter

Who Packs Your Parachutes?

Charles Plumb was a Navy jet pilot. On his 76th combat mission, he was shot down. He was able to get out of the plane, parachuting into enemy territory. Plumb was captured and spent six years as a prisoner of war. He survived the POW camp and now lectures on the lessons he learned from his experiences. One day, Plumb and his wife were sharing a meal in a restaurant. A man approached their table and said, “Are you Plumb, the Navy pilot?”

“Yes, how did you know?” asked Plumb.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.

Plumb was amazed and grateful: “If the chute you packed hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today . . . ”

Plumb now shares this story in his speeches because that encounter with the man who helped save his life left a real impression on him. He realized that the anonymous sailors who packed the parachutes held the pilots’ lives in their hands, and yet the pilots never gave these sailors a second thought; never even said hello, let alone said thanks.

Now Plumb asks his audiences, “Who packs your parachutes? . . . Think about who helps you, recognize them, and say thanks.”

This is a great lesson for each of us every day. It’s easy for each of us to get wrapped up in our jobs as managers. You may have a core group of people with whom you work closely. There might be a limited number of colleagues that you spend time with every day. You might have a few direct reports who take up the bulk of your management time.

But what about the rest of the people in your organization? How much time do you spend with or even thinking about some of the people with whom you might not have daily contact? You need to step back and ask yourself, “Who packs my parachutes?” Then take the time to recognize those people for the contributions they make.

Every job in your organization is important. It it weren’t, you wouldn’t have someone spending their day doing it. So, don’t forget to recognize those people doing all the little things that are critical to your success. Go visit them where they work. Ask them about their job and the things they’re doing that day. Take an interest in what they do. Let them tell you about it. Then thank them for their efforts, acknowledging their contributions to the company. They deserve that.

And don’t just stop with your own department. Move outside your team and focus on people in the company who contribute to your group’s success. Thank the woman in accounting who provides the numbers necessary to make sound business decisions. Recognize the guy in maintenance who keeps the machines running so you can meet your quotas. Whoever it is that does all the little things necessary for you to succeed, make sure they know that you appreciate their help.

People want to be proud of what they do. Give them that opportunity. When the boss comes around and takes a sincere interest in them, it’s meaningful. As a manager, things get hectic and you can get caught up in all that you have to do. But don’t forget the importance of recognizing the contributions of every person in your organization.

Those persons may not save your life as the sailor did for Charles Plumb, but their contributions may be the key to your success. Don’t forget about them! Remember to ask, “Who packs my parachutes?”