As I am writing this, my wife and I are in a hotel room in Amsterdam. We are starting a short vacation with some members of a wine club, taking a river cruise down the Rhine River. Writing about leadership right now should be the farthest thing from my so called mind. But I guess it is a default thing within me that when I see examples of leadership, both good and bad, I keep note of it to hopefully make myself a better leader.
We flew over on a Delta flight from Detroit (no direct flights from Las Vegas to Amsterdam.) As soon as we were seated, I observed the purser onboard the plane. A gentleman by the name of Don. One of the first things that struck me about Don was his smile, appearance and demeanor. Don was welcoming to all the passengers he was charged with taking care of. His clothing was impeccable and his manner was professional, yet very warm and inviting. This was a person who obviously took pride in his profession. I also observed him as he interfaced with his team of fellow flight attendants. My wife is a former flight attendant so I know how hard and demanding their jobs can be, especially with difficult passengers.
I observed two flight attendants, at the beginning of the flight, trying to set up the trays so they could come around with juice, champagne, water and Heineken (after all, we were headed to the Netherlands and you have to have Heineken onboard!) Unfortunately, one flight attendant must have dropped something while setting up the trays as I saw a commotion up front and the one flight attendant apologizing to the other one profusely. She kept saying “sorry, I’m sorry” to the other flight attendant and to Don. I thought I heard her say something to the effect of being tired or not having done this (working a flight I assume) for a while. Don could’ve gotten upset as whatever happened caused a small delay in getting the drinks out to the passengers.
But I saw him tell the flight attendant in question that “it was okay.” He smiled, made light of the situation, and tried to take the burden off of the flight attendant. He didn’t berate her in front of her co-workers, something I have observed and have heard about many times over my years in business and government (the essence of lousy leadership!) What is interesting is that while we were in the gate area getting ready to board the plane, the gate agent scanning everyone’s tickets before we got onboard, must have made a mistake as her supervisor was chastising her, in front of passengers waiting to board the plane about something.
I couldn’t hear what it was about but the poor gate agent was chagrined and then had to have her attention on her supervisor, while trying to process passengers on the plane. Don didn’t do anything like that. He understood, the way good leaders do, that people make mistakes. He uplifted her with his smile, with his reassurance that it was okay. Don understood that he needed her to be on her game and making her feel worse than she already did would do nothing but make things worse. He was not only thinking of the flight attendant, but was also thinking about us!
When I was a cop, I made a boneheaded mistake one time as a rookie, and my Sergeant, who could’ve really gotten on my case, instead, met me in a quiet location on my beat, told me what I had done wrong, said he understood the rationale and told me i can use that incident as an example of what not to do and to continue to work on being a good cop. It was one of my first observations of leadership (I’ll talk more about this incident in a future blog post – can’t give everything away all at once!)
At the end of the flight, Don went to each and every passenger in his section. He told us how much he enjoyed having us on the flight and that he hoped we had a good experience. It wasn’t fake or phony at all. It was a sincere appreciation for all of us who were on the flight. He was genuine. Great leaders are genuine. Warts and all. Great leaders let their teams know, on a regular basis, how much they are appreciated. You have to verbalize it. You cannot “Vulcan Mind Meld” your gratitude to the troops, (all you Star Trek fans know what I mean by this) you have to tell them, personally and honestly.
Funny how one flight brought up some good examples of leadership. Don was caring, approachable, professional, uplifted his team, genuinely wanted to do the best job he could to take care of us, and took pride in his profession. I will probably never see Don again, but he is one fine leader from my observation. And he also gave us some good Ghirardelli chocolates at the end of the flight, which didn’t hurt my opinion of him either. From Amsterdam, signing off until next time.