July 15, 2013

In the wake of the Asiana Airlines flight 214 crash in San Francisco, I find myself totally engaged by U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Deborah Hersman.

She is the face of information in the midst of this tragedy and she is particularly awesome at her job. I began to wonder what it was, specifically, that makes her so great in this role and what makes me so comfortable believing her… She is an amazing truth-teller.

She is professional, polished, calm, and informative. Whereas many would be distressed and frenetic, or stiff and standoff-ish, her body language is authentically well-managed and reassuring, giving us confidence in her information. She doesn’t smile. She knows there is no humor or lightness to this mess, and she recognizes that even a hint of a smile would be offensive to victims and their families. But she also isn’t showing anger or frowning. Her expressions are the perfect balance of seriousness and sincerity.

Her credibility, however, is based on something much more than appearances – she is completely candid in each moment. She never skirts the issue and always offers the exact facts as she has them in that moment.

“We believe that it is always better to put out the correct information and factual information so that bad information is not able to propagate,” Hersman says.

Her words are direct and truthful, even if she doesn’t have the answer. She doesn’t allow others to make assumptions about details that would seem contradictory, irrelevant or premature. Hersman is competent and respectful, yet firm in the face of reporters’ repeat questions or their best attempts to force her to speculate on the NTSB’s future findings. She puts every ounce of herself into maintaining her composure and communicating difficult information, and she is succeeding. What a gift she has… or is it?

Make no mistake – Hersman didn’t happen into this role by accident and she didn’t just arrive at the podium and command attention. As the youngest Chairman ever appointed to this role, she shows the competence of someone much more seasoned in their career. Her commitment to the truth may come from her more than 20 transportation accident scene experiences, her life as an Air Force Brigadier General’s daughter living overseas for much of her childhood, or her education at Virginia Tech and George Mason University. We don’t know.

What is obvious is that she remains true to her objectives and the duties required in her job. She is, quite possibly, one the best examples of uncommon candor I’ve come across. Her initial appointment to the Board was made by President Bush and she was reappointed by President Obama. Regrettably, her term ends this year.

Click here to watch a video of Hersman:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLYeUbeyfOg