You know, I see leadership skills everywhere, everyday even in unlikely locations and situations.
As an example, this article was written on an airplane full of families returning home from Spring break.
In any group, team, family, or organization, there is a need for leadership. Whatever word you use for a gathering of humans who are working towards a common goal, be it increased sales or a menu for dinner, they perform better and accomplish more with a strong leader. We need a leader who asks the team for suggestions, considers the needs of the organization and guides the team towards the goal.
When the sun is shining, and the team is working well together, the goal is within reach; leading can appear almost effortless and joyful. However, what happens when there are unexpected bumps? When the team becomes unsure? Uncomfortable? Apprehensive about the future and attaining the goal?
It is during these situations where we see the caliber of the leader. As leaders, these are opportunities to challenge ourselves and grow.
So, we hit a patch of turbulence. Not the metaphorical kind, but the real kind. The roller coaster in the sky with dips and drops and shimmies. The pilot calmly communicated to us that we were going through some rough air and instructed the flight attendants be seated and to fasten their safety belts. We rocked and rolled as the pilots attempted to find smooth air.
During this, the reactions of passengers, especially parents who were flying with their kids, were noteworthy. Some passengers were obviously uncomfortable. There were some of the usual and expected behaviors. We held tightly to beverages. We grabbed the armrests. We offered prayers. The turbulence was intense.
There was one parent, whose behavior caught my attention. She clenched her jaws and squeezed her eyes shut. With each drop, she moaned and cried out loudly in fear. Her fear consumed her. She appeared to be oblivious to anyone else on the plane, including her own kids and what they were experiencing. Her behaviors caused tremendous concern and trepidation among her children. One of her kids began to sob. Her response to our current predicament was not helpful to anyone. Her reactions only exacerbated the fear her children felt.
In the aisle across from me, there was another family. Prior to the bumps, the teen had been entranced in whatever YouTube video was playing on her cellphone. The parent was intently reading her book. As we bounced, I noticed the teenager glanced to her parent. The teen appeared to be seeking a cue from her parent. Her posture seemed to ask, “How should we react to the bouncing plane?” Or perhaps, she was seeking some reassurance.
The parent’s neutral gaze remained on the book for many seconds. When the mother glanced up, she gently smiled at her daughter. The mother offered a few words of comfort. That was apparently enough to appease the teen who then returned her attention to her small screen.
Once the teen’s attention was re-absorbed into her cellphone, the mother discreetly placed her book down and wiped her moist palms.
This mother, as the leader of her group of humans, had performed her job. During an uncertain time, a member of her team sought reassurances. The leader’s calm confidence let her team know that although scary now, everything was going to be okay. Her message appeared to be just continue doing what you are doing, and we will get through this together.
Based upon her sweaty palms, this leader was not comfortable either. However, she was careful not to share her feelings with her team; to not burden them with her worries. As a leader, her priority was to subordinate her feelings and to place her team’s needs above her own.
In our professional lives, we know not every day is easy. Whether it is because the sales numbers dropped, there was a delayed delivery or organization wide restructuring, there are those times when the team may be scrambling in turmoil.
As leaders, you have choices. You can behave like the parent in first example. You can moan and be visibly upset; letting everyone within earshot know how dire you think the situation is. You can share your fears with your team. Will this strategy change or improve the situation? Would this help the team?
Or, you can behave like the leader in the second example, demonstrating Battlefield Cool. You can exhibit confidence; confidence in them and in their ability to respond to the situation at hand. You can be there for your team and provide them with the reassurance and guidance they seek. As the leader, no one else can provide these for your team but you. Finally, you place your team’s needs above your own. Being strong for them gives you the opportunity to focus on their needs while controlling your own emotions. You help no one, when you let them see you sweat!