“M’am, I believe 12D is a little upset.”
Let me paint the scenario for you.
It’s Monday, small flight, first thing in the morning. The usual suspects of business travelers board and then the rest of the crew including me.
I usually fly American Airlines, being that I’m in Austin and that tends to be the most direct routes everywhere (or at least through Dallas). So, I tend to get on with the business crowd.
This trip, however, I’m on USAirways. I find their gray and white logo lacking a bit of confidence. Almost like… here is a generic clip art flag that we couldn’t afford to print with color, but don’t worry, our wings stay on during flight!
Ironically, the missing “color” was on the inside of the plane. The cast of characters was sit-com worthy. Here is the map to help you understand…
There we sat with the scene playing out as you can imagine. The doors go shut, the plane starts moving and 12D is MENTAL. I mean, sobbing, can’t catch her breath mental. Really having a panic attack. 12A leans over 12B, looks past 12C to console 12D. 11 D hangs over the seat to passify 12 D. 11B is praying for her. A lot. 13D is having a hard time getting the words passed her gum chewing to let 12D know that “shit, these things never crash.” And finally, 13A shoots me a look like “someone kill me now.”
Meanwhile, the flight attendant strolls down the aisle and MISSES THE WHOLE THING. Misses it! I mean, doesn’t even notice one single outburst of tears.
So, of course, if you know me, I went into hyper observation mode. Hmmm… interesting play we have here. Is this the type of theater where you observe or are audience members asked to participate?
I stopped the flight attendant. “M’am, I believe 12D is a little upset.”
“Oh my. She sure is. Are you okay? If you’re not, now is the time to know so we can turn the plane around. Do you want us to stop?”
“No, I’ve just… never… sob, sob… flown before.”
“Oh, that’s it? You’ll be fine.”
“Wow, that’s some empathy,” 13A muttered to me.
What was really interesting is what followed. In the absence of an empathetic leader (our fearless flight attendant), this unpredictable team of support rose out of this cast of characters. Even Ignoring Guys, #1, #2, and #3 joined the effort. All to help 12D make it through the flight. They each, in their own way, stepped forward as leaders to speak to her, take her mind off of the flying, find out how to help her to manage through her fear. A team formed, united and led.
This event hit them at the core of humanity and propelled them into a true leadership moment. In times of crisis, you’ll have an opportunity to see who really steps up and releases their latent leader.
And in times of calm, what are you doing to inspire someone’s leadership? If there isn’t a compelling reason such as survival, what is compelling enough for your team members to step up to lead and act like a team? How are they motivated? What would get them engaged and in action?
If you don’t know, maybe it’s time to ask.
I fly home tomorrow. Wish me luck.