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A United Airlines Boeing 737 lifts off from Denver International Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Parker Davis)

Lessons on Leadership from the Left Seat: A New Captain’s Journey from Pursuit to Perspective

There is an old saying that “the greatest journey an airline pilot ever takes is the one to the captain’s chair three feet to the left.”  In August of 2013, after years of hard work, Korry Franke made that journey and became a United Airlines captain on the Boeing 737.

In his memoir about that journey, 3 Feet to the Left: A New Captain’s Journey from Pursuit to Perspective, Captain Franke folds down the jumpseat, and takes you along with him on his journey to captain.  As I found out from talking with Captain Franke, the writing of 3 Feet to the Left was a journey of its own.

The cover of 3 Feet to the Left. (Photo: Korry Franke)

Captain Franke spent four years writing the book and says it went through three major revisions before it was ready to publish.  In what Captain Franke says was one of the critical changes to the book, he changed the tense of the book from past tense to present tense. “By changing the tense, I realized that I could put you right there on the flight deck with me and allow the reader to grow with me on my journey.” Captain Franke said. The ability to do that was indeed important, as one of the important themes in 3 Feet to the Left is navigating difficult professional situations and developing the perspective to grow from them.

During AirlineGeek’s conversation with Captain Franke, he talked about many of the scenes in his book where he was required to put his leadership skills into action. One of the great aspects of Captain Franke’s book is that, while the stories are set against the backdrop of becoming an airline captain, the lessons in leadership can be applied no matter what your profession is. There are two stories from the book that illustrates this best.  

The first takes place in Vancouver.  Captain Franke and his first officer are at their hotel waiting for their 4:30 a.m. crew van to take them to their assigned flight.  15 minutes pass and Captain Franke finds himself paralyzed with indecision about whether to call the van company.  Captain Franke thinks he has caught a break when a van for another crew arrives.  He and his first officer hop aboard; but several minutes into the drive to the airport, the van driver insists that they must go back to the hotel.  Captain Franke recounts that his stomach churned with indecision, and he ended up not saying anything to the driver.  They end up back at the hotel. Their van arrives 45 minutes late, and the two end up arriving late for their assigned flight.

Captain Franke goes on to tell the reader about the consequences of his inaction; it caused his first officer to see him as the dreaded “emperor who wears no clothes.” At the end of the scene in the book, Captain Franke uses a Warren Buffet quote to illustrate the leadership lesson: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” The van story seems innocuous at first and maybe even a little silly, yet it turns out to be the perfect vehicle to convey this important lesson.  

In one of the most exciting stories in 3 Feet to the Left, Captain Franke vividly brings to life a nighttime crosswind landing at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.  The story will surely keep you on the edge of your seat, feeling as though you are really there as Captain Franke tangles with turbulence and wrestles with a strong, direct crosswind while piloting the Boeing 737 to O’Hare’s runway 27L.

After the landing, Captain Franke thinks to himself that the landing was challenging, but not overwhelming. “Near the limits, but never beyond them,” Captain Franke says in the book.  He then uses that thought to add value to the story by illustrating an important point about leadership: a successful leader understands risk, does not lose sight of it, and effectively manages it.

Captain Franke in the left seat of a Boeing 737. (Photo: Korry Franke)

Overall, 3 Feet to the Left is a worthwhile read. The book provides plenty of thrilling flying stories, but the real value of the book is the way it uses those stories as the backdrop for thought-provoking lessons on leadership.  

Reading about Captain Franke’s journey to the left seat will undoubtedly inspire you to examine your own journey and get you to ponder what a fulfilling success really means for yourself.  Captain Franke says that is exactly what he wants his readers to take way from 3 Feet to the Left.

3 Feet to the Left is available on Amazon in both paperback and electronic format. In addition to flying for United Airlines, Captain Franke regularly publishes a monthly leadership series called “Stories with Substance” and regularly conducts keynotes and workshops on various leadership topics.

Jordan Green
Jordan Green
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