delayed flight

Out of the Blue: Leading People through Unexpected Situations

Air travel during the best of times can be a drag– but it was especially challenging before Hurricane Michael made landfall. 

I recently endured a long, drawn-out delay at an airport in the southeast as the weather put both outbound and inbound flights into a tailspin.

I sat in the back row at the gate and watched the stranded passengers booked on the first of three flights to Chicago. The flight had first been delayed by 45 minutes, and then a second departure time came and went. A frazzled agent, working two gates simultaneously, provided no updates until he announced the inevitable: the first flight to Chicago was cancelled, and the second was delayed.

About a hundred passengers from the two flights mobbed the ticket counter for re-routing, demanding answers. My flight, the third flight to Chicago, was now delayed.  I waited until the second flight finally boarded and the re-routed passengers had left. Then I started a new line at the counter.

Another passenger joined me in forming the new line. Mark and I exchanged introductions, shared information on our respective flight alerts to Chicago, and pooled our options for connecting flights once we got there. There was no official information source on-site. The lone agent was doing double-duty, loading gate-checked bags onto the plane docked at an adjacent gate.

As passengers approached us at the unstaffed counter, Mark shared his airline alerts with them. A line formed in front of him, and passengers started referring other travelers to Mark for information, even though he had no official role. Mark even announced a gate change alert, and like the Pied Piper, he led passengers to the new gate assignment even before it was officially announced.

Mark demonstrated five behaviors that work for more than just messed-up travel plans. They’re good practice for any business leader managing unexpected situations.

Here’s Mark’s playbook:

  • He gathered as much information as he could from his own sources.
  • He validated his information against other information sources.
  • He calmly shared his information and updates with others.
  • He made decisions based on the information he had gathered.
  • He took action and called others to the same action.

These five behaviors influenced how Mark handled himself, his information and his relationships in a critical situation. As a result, he emerged as a leader in less than 20 minutes, among people he had never met before.

When an unplanned situation arises in an airport, in a workplace or with a customer, people look for leadership, not management. The first step to managing the problem is leading the people.