Leadership at the airport

It had been a long two weeks of travel and I was ready to come home. I was in New York for a conference and had taken the NJ transit to Newark airport to fly back home to Greensboro. Anyone who has ever flown into Greensboro knows this – there are no direct flights to Greensboro. I was scheduled to fly from Newark to Philadelphia and then from Philadelphia to Greensboro. What happened next were three simple acts of personal leadership that impressed me.

Leadership at the airport

1. Tough choices: After we boarded, the captain announced that our plane was grounded due to technical issues. He said a certain light had come on and maintenance staff would need to look at it before he would leave. He apologized for the inconvenience this would cause, but we all had to deplane. I’m sure the captain and the crew wanted to get home as much or more than any of the passengers. They knew that such a decision was not going to make them popular with us (the customers). But the captain knew that it was the right choice and the safe choice, and he made it.

2. Sharing knowledge: We all deplaned and lined up to get rebooked because this plane wasn’t going to leave in a hurry. It was a long line and it wasn’t moving quickly. There was a man in the line who was clearly a frequent flyer. He told everyone around him that we should call the US Airways customer service toll free number instead of waiting in line – he had done it and they had rebooked him. All the people around him immediately got on the phone – I did my bit by sharing this with people behind me in the line, and all of us got started with our process of rebooking without overloading or depending on the single agent at the gate. The man that shared his knowledge lost nothing and perhaps gained some good karma by his transparency – and I would like to think that the rest of us learnt something very practical that we will share with others in the future. “Knowledge is the wealth that grows when you share it,” –old proverb from somewhere ancient.

3. The right question: I heard the last call for a flight to Charlotte at a nearby gate. Charlotte is close to Greensboro and would have gotten me within driving distance. I made a run for it and got to the gate just as they were closing it. The gate agent asked me how she could help me. I was fumbling with my long story of why I was at her gate – I was scheduled to go from EWR to PHL and then PHL to GSO but my flight number 4042 was grounded and so on–she cut me short and asked me one simple question: “Sir, stop STOP STOP where are you going? WHAT IS YOUR FINAL DESTINATION TODAY?” She boiled it down to the simplest possible issue. I was quite angry at being semi-yelled at but said “Greensboro.” She immediately found an alternate route and rebooked me.  I was truly impressed and immensely grateful that I would be able to see my family soon. She showed leadership in action by cutting to the chase even though a customer seemed distraught. Sometimes when you know what you need to know and your customer is all over the place, it’s okay to shock your customer out of their loop and ask the key question that will move things forward.

I came to this experience very attuned to listen for leadership in action, having attended the Leadership Development Conference by the Conference Board where many industry experts were talking about how they are developing the leaders for the future of their organizations.

All three people showed a different kind of leadership. All three are traits that we, at CCL, look for, develop and reward in leaders. I thank US Airways for the outstanding leadership both from the ground crew at EWR and the captain and crew of flight 4042 that refused to take off on May 14th 2014 and my thanks go to the sharing stranger as well.

I’d love to learn more about how US Airways develops leaders and what kind of mindset they create for their teams that allows them to make these choices in the moment.

Have you experienced any similar displays of leadership in everyday life? Please share your stories!

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About Samir Mehta

Samir serves as the Digital Learning Products Manager at CCL and enjoys being at the intersection of technology and education. He has worked in the area of adult learning in India, China and the United States, focusing on building innovative models that improve the impact of learning. He currently focuses on designing learning journeys for sophisticated, discerning professionals that are truly immersive and blended. Samir also serves as an Adjunct Faculty at NIIT University in India.
This entry was posted in Change & Crisis Leadership, Conflict & Trust, Experience-Driven Development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Leadership at the airport

  1. avatar Kamal Dhuper says:

    An interesting read Samir! I like the way you succinctly derived some very meaningful leadership lessons from this experience. Keep sharing more…

  2. avatar Samir Mehta says:

    Thanks for the kind words Kamal! Great to hear from you on this forum!

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