Recently, I was asked by a good friend to speak at an engagement he was hosting in Washington DC. I was honored to be a part of the program, but doing so was going to be challenging because I was already scheduled to work with a company near Denver the following day. Although I love what I do, as I got up early to get ready for my flight to DC, I knew the next few days were going to be challenging.
As I was putting things in my bag, I noticed the departure time was much earlier than I had thought. I glanced at the clock and realized if I was to make it, I had to leave immediately and several things were going to have work out perfectly.
Amazingly, traffic cooperated. I made my way through security, and when I got to my gate, they were already boarding. Sweating and more out of breath than I would like to admit, I waited for my turn to board.
Let the Boarding Begin
If you fly Southwest Airlines, you know they board the plane by 3 zones: A, B, and C. If you are in Zone A, you have your choice of good seats. If you are in Zone B, there are still some good seats, but you are pressing your luck. If you are in Zone C, you are going to be sitting in the middle seat. Your only hope is to find an empty spot in-between two relatively small people.
By the time I boarded the plane, it was nearly full and I began looking for a seat. Few would make eye contact and everyone was hoping I was not planning to sit with them. I found a spot, smiled and then motioned to the people already seated that I needed to get in their row. I sat down and by the time I put on my seatbelt, my seatmates had claimed the armrests. I reached into my bag to get my ear buds to listen to a book and realized that one of the silicone tips had fallen off somewhere and could not be used.
An Epiphany of Perspective
I was now officially feeling sorry for myself. I did not want to be on the plane, I did not want to go to DC or Denver. As I was thinking this, the pilot interrupted and said, “We would like to welcome Jason on our flight this morning. Jason is four years old and he and his family are headed to Orlando to go to Disney through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.”
It was the last few words that hit home. Everyone on the plane knew that the Make-A-Wish Foundation did not provide trips like this if everything in the life of a four year old was going as hoped. Instantly, without prompting, the entire plane erupted with applause for a little boy and his family. It was genuine and heartfelt. It was also humbling. I sat there and thought, “What is wrong with you?” In an instant, my perspective was changed because I understood the backstory. We lead better when we know others’ backstories.
Perspectives can be changed in an instant by one kind act or through one conversation. As leaders, we set the tone by our willingness to understand. Through understanding, we create bridges of opportunities that open the door for cooperation.