When Leadership Means Solutions, Not Excuses

So I sat in the airport for 14 hours the other day…

Last week I had the great joy of spending a week with my kiddos in Colorado and (drumroll please) my new grandson Preston. What a special time together. Being a grandparent is awesomeness to the tenth power.

My son works for Southwest Airlines and so my wife and I are able to fly standby. That is an enormous benefit for us and we are grateful for each and every flight. But part of the game is that you can only fly on flights that have open seats. And so that means you have to be very flexible as to when and if you are able to fly.

Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines | www.southwest.com
Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines | http://www.southwest.com

We always find a flight. Just sometimes it is a longer wait than at other times.

And that was Saturday.

Saturday set a record for us for time spent at one airport without having to spend the night – 14 hours.

We started at 6:30 am on Saturday and by 6:00 pm we were hoping to get on the very last direct flight to our destination.

The desk agent was named Michael, and he was very kind in working with us and made sure to give us updates when we asked. At around 5:45 pm our names were called! I felt like I had just gotten my name called for The Price is Right and Drew Carey was getting me prepped to win either a dual vacuum cleaner package or a silver ladle set.

My wife and I boarded with much thanksgiving to the Lord for His provision. We were the last two seats on the plane and we sat down with a big sigh of relief.

Then we heard it – “can the passengers with the name ‘Goyak’ please turn on their call light.”

And so we were ushered off as the passengers who did not show ended up coming to the desk at the very last minute. And it is here that Michael made an impression and taught me a lesson.

Michael was extremely apologetic to us that we had to be removed from the plane. My wife and I understood…this is part of the standby game.

But let me recount to you three things that happened that made me take notice and caused some reflection.

Solution. Solution. Solution.

Michael immediately engaged another desk worker to personally work with us in getting us home. He did not have to do that. But his first priority was not an uncaring or unfeeling response. He engaged a solution and gathered the resources to make an opportunity happen for us.

And we had his coworker helping us one-on-one to find any and all flights that would get us home either that night or early the next day. The immediate mentality of “let’s find a solution” moved me from absolute mental exhaustion to hope.

Clarity, please.

It was after the initiation of a solution that Michael then helped us understand the logistics for why what had happened did happen. And I appreciated his doing that. And I came away with the feeling that we were important to him as passengers and that we were not relegated to the left-over line because we were non-revenue customers. I was important simply because I was a passenger.

But notice this – his reasoning with me came only after he initiated a solution for my problem. My immediate need was to get home, not understand Southwest policy. And Michael understood that really well.

Don’t ignore the awkward situation.

We did end up with a solution, albeit a very late flight. But it was a solution nonetheless. And the solution meant us sticking around that same gate for a later flight that night. So what did Michael do? He engaged us in conversation, including new apologies. But he did not ignore us because of the awkward situation.

He engaged us. And by doing that he lowered the tension and raised the kind gesture flag instead. He could have ignored me and been busy about his other customers. But he kept checking in with me. My personal life. Why I like UNC Tarheel basketball.

He even tried to check into car rental options for me to get me to my destination earlier.

We eventually made our flight, but not without thanking Michael for his over-the-top service. He took a frustrating situation and made it work and actually made himself my ally.

You, now, as a leader

So let’s take a minute to review this scenario for how it might be useful for you when some decision, foreseen or not, yields tension, poor results, or chaos.

1) Be solution oriented – first. Do not run around panicked or just talking about how bad the problem is. Everyone probably knows that. But what are you doing immediately following the situation to show a proactive spirit and seek for early resolution?

2) Think solution first. Clarity second. At some point there is going to need to be clarity, but that is typically best after the dust has settled. It does not need to be the first item of discussion. Certainly, look for the “why” so that a solution does not have to be sought next time. I am not talking about blame shifting. Do not throw others under the proverbial bus. What, not who.

And lest you think this order does not matter, see what happens next time something goes awry. If all you hear is why the sky is falling, look for tensions to rise and fingers to point. But if what you hear is “Let’s acknowledge this happened, now here is what we can do.” then watch level-headedness win the day and further disaster can be abated.

3) Jump all in. Do not ignore the situation or the people because of what happened. So what if it is awkward? When you avoid the conversation, others will come to their own conclusions and most likely they will be wrong. Or at minimum,  they will not have all the facts.

Engage the conversation. Be the first one.

Be transparent and get others to feel comfortable speaking about the elephant in the room. Once that happens you have what is called teamwork. Or synergy. Or a solutions mindset. Progress can then be made.

These are not profound principles, but they can have profound results in whatever environment in which you find yourself.

We need more Michaels in our leadership and in our workplaces. Men and women who not only understand these three principles, but effectively use them in the most efficient order.

Good work, Michael. I will fly with you again.



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