“The leader in you will come out when others need you the most”
I have read a great deal about situational leadership. Specifically, how the people you would least expect—including themselves—take control when situations require it. I experienced it firsthand two weeks ago when my wife, Celest, and I were on a flight from Salt Lake City to Atlanta. About three hours into the flight, the entertainment screens went black and the oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling. Then pilot said, “We have lost air pressure. Everyone put on your masks. Adults first, then put them on your kids.” I have been flying for over 40 years and have never experienced anything like that! I have been on flights that experienced a lot of turbulence and ones that have had to abort a landing. To gauge the seriousness of the situation, I’ve learned to watch the flight attendants. When I saw the extreme look of concern on their faces as they immediately went to their seats and put on their oxygen masks, I knew it was a very serious situation. My first thought was Celest because she has a tremendous fear of flying.
Talk about situational leadership! To my surprise, Celest was very calm while I was having trouble putting on my oxygen mask. Given the altitude we were at, you will pass out if you don’t put on the mask very quickly. Celest helped me put on my mask and then looked around to see if others needed assistance. I was amazed by how her switch flipped—she went from being a fearful flyer to helping those around her. The reason I was having trouble putting on my mask was I always, always, go to sleep for 10 to 15 minutes after I take my seat. I can’t recall hearing or seeing the flight attendant’s instructions about how to put on oxygen masks. (Note: There are two masks on top of each other. Mine had gotten tangled.) Celest untangled them for me. Once we got to a lower altitude, the pilot had us take off the masks. We flew at that low altitude for over 40 minutes until we landed in Atlanta.
Celest and I reflected on what caused her to overcome her fears and become a leader in that situation. She did because she is a retired neo-natal, intensive care nurse. Celest is one of those rare individuals who knew from the time she was born what she wanted to do with her life. Her natural instinct to take care of those in need took over during that flight. We were also surprised how easily I followed her lead. Reason being, I am the one who has been flying for over 40 years with no fear at all. I also tend to take charge in times of crisis.
Upon further reflection, I thought about the leadership lesson I took away from that experience. It was this: We all have fears; however, we also all have a compassion we were born with. That compassion will overcome our fears each and every time. Think about the people in history who were the least expected but took on leadership positions when the situation required it. For example, Rosa Parks went from being a librarian to the spark that triggered the Civil Rights Movement. I now fully understand why and how she rose to the moment.
In closing, don’t worry about your fears. Your instincts will cause you to lead when the situation calls for it. Indeed, you were born to lead. The situation will come that you will lead for the benefit of others. Equally as important, those who are used to leading will take a step back and follow your leadership.