Monday, July 21, 2008

Leadership During Chaos (Guest Blogger Ed Oakley)

When you Google the word “leader” you will find 368 million – that’s right, MILLION -- “hits.”

When you visit and enter “leader” in a book search, you get 433,048 possible titles.

“Leader” and “leadership” are difficult concepts to define. It’s more of a “I’ll know it when I see it” type of thing.

I frequently speak to corporate women’s initiatives regarding leadership. And, of course, read as much as possible about the subject – including blogs.

My colleague, Ed Oakley of Enlightened Leadership Solutions, had the following post on his "Leadership Made Simple" blog.

Ed's blog was nominated one of the Best Leadership Blogs of 2008. His story just proves that you don’t need a fancy business title to “Step Up! for Success.”

“February 23rd 2008 -- I was waiting for my flight from Richmond, Virginia, last month after presenting 'Leadership Made Simple' to 150 managers of a large company headquartered there. That is when I experienced impressive leadership in the midst of chaos.

It all began when United Airlines’ 'Simon' (an automated message system) informed me via my cell phone that my flight through Chicago was cancelled. After an hour wait on a priority line, I knew there was a real problem of some kind. When I finally talked to United, I discovered that snow in Chicago had closed the airport and created major travel problems within the entire United system, and no doubt, other airlines, too.

The only chance I had to get home the same day was if I could make a flight to Washington Dulles that left in one hour flat. I did the 'OJ' dash to get to the airport and the gate, huffing and puffing, only to find that the airplane had not yet arrived. I was actually quite relieved.

The entire air travel system was in chaos, and there was a line of dozens of people waiting to talk with Michael Quintel, the United gate manager. Every person needed to share their problem - concerned about connections mostly - with a gate agent who really had little or no control over anything.

I was sitting about 10 feet away from Michael’s podium, so I heard everything. I was personally calm because my connecting flight from Dulles to Denver was several hours away. I was in the right state of mind to simply watch and listen how Michael handled the situation.

This guy had the patience of Job! He listened to the same story over and over and over. Yet, every person was treated as if THEIR story was original. Michael was absolutely MASTERFUL at having every individual believe he was there for them and was doing everything he could do for them. And he sincerely was! It’s where he naturally came from. In every single case, the frustrated and concerned passenger walked away more calm and confident than before he talked with Michael.

What I realized was that Michael was able to stay 'Forward Focused'
no matter what happened. What a model he was for what I want to be like when I grow up. It is a model of emotional maturity - and I am continually working on mine.

If I were to try to create a simple model for what Michael did so well, it might look like this.

He stayed 'Forward Focused' while he:

- Listened completely to each person, honoring them and their situation.

- Shared exactly what the situation was - in terms of how the situation affected that individual - no matter how many times he had to tell the same story again.

- Offered any options that he could find in his computer, helping them take responsibility for their own decision.

In every case, they walked away feeling better about their predicament.

My hats off to Michael Quintel, United Airlines representative, a proven leader in a challenging situation!”

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