Who’s Packing Your Parachute?


A couple years ago I interviewed Charlie Plumb, who was a U.S. Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. I learned a very valuable leadership lesson that I’d like to pass on to you here.

Charlie flew 74 consecutive successful combat missions. However on his 75th mission his F4 Phantom fighter plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. The plane exploded with some 12,000 pounds of jet fuel, flipping the plane topsy-turvy, end-over-end, down toward a rice paddy below.

Charlie was forced to eject. The only thing between him and imminent death was his parachute that he prayed would open…

Then finally he felt the opening shock of the parachute. During the 90 seconds of descent he was being shot at. “The audacity of this enemy,” Charlie said, “they just knocked down my multimillion-dollar airplane and now they’re trying to kill the pilot!”

Charlie made it down to the ground alive, but was then captured and spent 2,103 brutal days as a prisoner of war in a communist Vietnamese prison camp.

Many years after being repatriated, Charlie, his wife and another couple were sitting in a little restaurant in Kansas City together before going to a theater show that night.

Two tables over was this guy who kept looking at him. Charlie would look back but didn’t recognize him, but he kept catching this guy staring at him. Finally the guy stood up and walked over to Charlie’s table and pointed at him with a sort of a stern look on his face and he said, “You’re Captain Plumb.” Charlie looked up at him and said, “Yes, I am Captain Plumb.” The guy said, “You’re that guy. You flew jet fighters in Vietnam. You’re a fighter pilot, part of that ‘Top Gun’ outfit. You launched from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, you parachuted into enemy territory and you spent six years as a prisoner of war.”

Somewhat dumbfounded Charlie looked up at the guy and asked, “How in the world did you know all that?” The man chuckled, smiled and said, “Because I packed your parachute.”

Charlie was speechless. The man grabbed Charlie’s hand and pumped his arm and said, “I guess it worked” and walked off.

Charlie laid awake that night thinking about all the times he had walked through the
long narrow room, below sea level on the aircraft carrier, with the tables where the men packed the parachutes. How many times he must have walked past this man without even saying “hi,” “good morning” or “good job” or “I appreciate what you do.”

“How many times did I pass the man whose job would eventually save my life… because I was a jet jockey, a Top Gun racing around the sky at twice the speed of sound. Because I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.”

Think about this for yourself. How many times in life do you pass the people who help you out the most? The people who come out of the far corners of your life just when you need them the most and pack your parachutes for you? The people who go the extra mile, the people who don’t look for the kudos or the accolades or the achievement medal or even the bonus check—the folks who are just out there packing parachutes?

So here’s what I want to challenge you to do. Look around your organization for the people who might not be the ‘Top Guns’ of your organization, the loud and brazen leaders, but the ones who support the system that enables the Top Guns to fly. And if something goes wrong it will be because they did their job that no one gets hurt or a customer doesn’t go neglected.

This week find 5 parachute packers in your organization and tell them how much you appreciate them and how important are the things they do for the organization. Because, in the end, it might just be them who save your life or your business, or at least save the day.

After you have acknowledged your 5 people, I would love to hear about your experience. Please share them with the rest of us.

Share your thoughts, ideas and experiences in the comments below. Use the ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons below too.




39 responses to “Who’s Packing Your Parachute?”

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  5. I was once playing table tennis in doubles with my co-workers. My partner wasn’t really doing quite well in his service. In one of his turn, he secured a point on the first serve, this time I appreciated him a lot and said one more time. He took the second point, I again appreciated, said “Nice work!, Good job! etc.” and then he secured the third point, then the fourth and then the fifth. We took all the points of his server. We din’t win that game, however, but we just lost the game by one point. There was a point in the game where I thought we will lose the game by 10 points.
    I really do believe that appreciation matters.

  6. Hi Darren,

    Great post! I really do appreciate the topic and the morale. Moreover not only I am going to find 5 parachute packers of my company and appreciate their work but I will also keep up the habit for my entire life. I will also share my experiences with the strategy.

  7. Really good suggestion, little things means a lot. Appreciatng others makes them feel accepted and love. This should not be done in words but in action. Show others their influences are appreciated

  8. Several years ago, I had a CD with Charlie telling this story during an interview. He shared how this experience changed his life in dealing with folks. I have tried for years to follow the example whether at work or working with non-profits or working with Scouts or their leaders.

    Everyone welcomes a “thank you” or “you did a great job” or “we appreciate you” or, well you get the idea.

    Just think of what it would do for you, if you received one of these remarks if sincerely given on a day you needed to be appreciated. Why not give a “GIFT” of a kind remark to someone today and everyday.

    It will also pay dividends to you, the giver.

    Thanks Darren for “packing my parachute” with this and all the materials you provide us everyday. It is GREATLY appreciated!!!

  9. It’s always good to appreciate everyone in your team and even a hello or acknoledgement makes a difference. I have been in both positions of ‘the parachute packer’ and also ‘the parachute user’ and know what it means to have and also give the acknoledgement. It’s a little thing that is easy to do but also easy not to do.

  10. @Bob, Ahhhh! The light just went off! Thanks for the clarification! Like I said, LOVE the article.

  11. @ D.M – I think it’s meant to read ‘something’, because this emphasizes the point the story is trying to make – i.e something went wrong with the plane but because the parachute packer did his job no one got hurt..

  12. Love this article. Just curious, but in the third to last paragraph, should the last line read “nothing” instead of “something?” [And if something goes wrong it will be because they did their job that no one gets hurt or a customer doesn’t go neglected.]

  13. Thanks Darren for a truly awe inspiring post. Also good tips from Frank Kern. My main supporter has been my husband, Brian, who is always standing in the wings as I work to build our business, but I also have an associate who encourages me almost daily, Jim Mansfield, he has my back and keeps me in his prayers.

  14. Darren, what a wonderful post. Full of good tips. Also enjoyed Frank Kern’s ideas for biz.
    Probably my best parachute packer has been my husband, Brian, standing in the wings as I build our business but I also have a fellow associate who is an encourager, Jim Mansfield, lives in another state but gives his time, tips and encouragement almost daily. He has my back & includes me in his prayers.

  15. You know darren you made me realise that at crucial moments, the most important personelmay not be the CEO but probably the janitor who was around to spot the little sparks that could have become an inferno!
    Thanks Darren!

  16. I just had a visit from a cousin who now lives in Salt Lake City.
    I am in Melbourne, Australia. I have not seen her for 41 years.
    When I saw her, it brought back all the memories of her helping me bring up
    my 2 daughters as babies, while I went to work. Before this, my dad was in a private
    hospital, bedridden with a huge stroke. He indicated that the nurses were
    too hard with their hands in handling him. This cousin went to attend to him
    until he passed away.
    On her return to the US this last Tuesday, I wrote her a heart-felt thank you letter
    for her magical hands and ability to make all those around her laugh. i put in a little token of thanks in the letter. She was most appreciative.
    Her reason for looking us up (4 sisters and a brother) was to
    ‘conduct a laughing chorus’. We sure laughed with joy the whole time she was here.
    Mele Lahi is my unsung hero!

  17. You know DH this brings up such an important point about motivation. The top gunners in the corporate offices cannot understand why employee engagement is low when they make all the money and take all of the credit. When sales suffer, they blame “the parachute packers” for not trying hard enough.

    I applaud Success for the article in the Branson issue about what “flexible companies” are doing to improve lives at the ground level. Until corporations everywhere get the concept it’ll be up to middle managers like me to make life better for the workers in the field. That is the best part of my job, but then you knew that! John Maxwell’s 360 degree leader comes to mind as the required reading for those trying to keep the plane in the air!! Great post my friend!!

  18. Thank you Darren for sharing such an important message! I work for a company, where I “wear many hats” (like most of us I’m sure). In order for me to accomplish all that I do, I need to rely on support staff to handle many of those smaller details that get the projects done. I strive to thank each person that helps me achieve my goals every day. For without them, I surely could not effectively accomplish what I do on a given day.

  19. Great post!

    I try to make a point of this but sometimes forget – great reminder.

    When I was younger, I played hockey at a high level. The team trainers were the chute packers of the organization and I made it a point to befriend and even assist the trainers when I could to show my appreciation. In contrast, I can remember players that treated the training staff as second-rate employees. Funny to see how the players that showed genuine appreciation and togetherness with the training staff received stronger support than those that did not.

    …I m off to chat with a few ‘chute packers’ now.

  20. Thanks for a PMA thought. You are one of parachute packer in my life. You contributed tremendous change in my life. I want to appriciet this and say many thanks for the effort you made to change many lives and improve the quality of humans through Seeds Of Success.


  21. Love that story! Definitely causes one to reflect on all the parachute packers in our daily lives. I’ll bet I’ll have a different perspective tomorrow. Thanks

  22. A couple of things I’ve done in the past few weeks;

    Two weeks ago at the branch I manage I bought business cards for the receptionist/customer service representative. In the 30+ years of customer service at the company she said that she has never had a business card. She was speechless when I handed her the box of cards after they arrived on the courier.

    When we were done our spring rush (our business is very seasonal with 80% of the business transactions in the spring) I stopped by one by one of my employee’s houses during the day. This particular employee is retired and has been coming back for the spring rush the last 5 or 6 years. He has done an exceptional job this year keeping the warehouse clean and ensuring inventory was kept accurate. I left him with a thank you card for the extra effort he had put in ensuring the facility looked spotless and included a $10 gift card to the local coffee chain.

    It doesn’t have to cost much in time or money to make a difference. $15 in business cards or $10 in a coffee certificate can have a huge multiple in boosting employee moral and self confidence.

  23. Darren,

    So much can be done (and prevented as well) with just a sign of appreciation, not only at work but in our families, our schools and communities.

    To think of how many lives can be saved if we show our appreciation all around, people that feel desperate or depresed could sense a bit of hope in any situation, and we could be that “guy packing the parachute” for them, never expecting anything in return except for someone to be happy.

    In love and gratitude,
    Flor Mazeda

  24. Excellent story! We all could show a little more gratitude in our lives. I teach and live the gratitude challenge daily. If u would like to learn more u may contact me at 602-549-2041.

  25. daren, you have just shown the power of gratitude. i am grateful for thyis wonderful article

  26. Awesome! I wish some bosses in my work place could digest and implement this. They minor groups will really be motivated. God bless you Darren

  27. Awesome! I wish some bosses in my work place could digest and implement this. They minor groups will really be motivated.

  28. Amazing story (I got goose bumps)! Appreciation for those around you every day, those you work with and particularly your loved ones, is the key to a successful life and career. Everyone plays a role in your life, sometimes just a small or fleeting one, but some times those are the most important. Thank you to every parachute packer I have ever worked with….in the small chance that I did not thank you at the time. THANK YOU VERY MUCH for your support, for your input and for your participation in our efforts that led to successful projects and companies!

  29. @naved, Hi Naved, I know I’m not Darren but I thought I’d recommend you read Darren’s book “The Compound Effect”, in his book he goes over his morning protocol in detail.

  30. Thanks Daren,i will appreciate more the parachute parker at home henceforth,my wife,i can only but imagine how many times her effectiveness has saved my life,family,ministry and business.

  31. Hi darren. Nice post must say. I wanted to know your personal protocol in morning,i mean what do you do in the moning to stay fit and motivated. Plz do reply:)

  32. Hi darren. Nice post must say. I wanted to know your morning personal,i mean what do you do in the moning to stay fit and motivated. Plz do reply:)

  33. Great article Darren. I think we are a sum of all our parts. Everyone’s contribution is equally important no matter what there title or position. Everyone plays an integral and important role in an organization towards the ‘whole’ we should always remember that often without grass roots action there would be no top. I am incredibly grateful and blessed for all who contributed to my new book especially the seven women who share their stories.

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