Curium Solutions’ James Farrow looks at the mindset needed to lead when the going gets tough.
It’s 37 degrees inside the airport and every flight is delayed by a minimum of nine hours. The terminal represents Wembley on cup final day, with people only able to move with the momentum of the crowd.
My one and three-year-old kids are quite happy with the extended time on the iPad, but they were the only ones who had a smile.
And then the dreaded announcement: “All flights cancelled. You can rebook online or with the help desk next to Gate 20.”
Can you imagine what happened next? Poor Gate 20!
One chap stood in the centre of the crowd wearing a high-vis jacket; the bright yellow, “I’m an official” type of jacket. He informed the crowd to use an app to book a flight as the desk wasn’t able to process bookings, only handle queries. He was clearly panicked and I felt for him.
One lady was in tears screaming: “But there are no more flights this week, I have no internet, how can I book a flight?!!”
At this point ‘high-vis’ lost it. He turned to the lady and bellowed back at her: “If you keep shouting, I’m going to get the police to arrest you for harassment.”
I couldn’t help laughing out loud. You know that sort of shock laughter when you can’t believe what just happened?
I also couldn’t help offering a piece of advice. I took this chap to one side and said: “Your job right now is pretty rubbish; no one envies you. What you probably need to realise is that you are wearing the high-vis jacket. Whether you like it or not you have the responsibility to lead this situation, you just need to decide who you want to be right now.”
Now, I’d love to tell you that he instantly got the message, changed his tune and led the crowd of hundreds more effectively. Instead he just looked at me and said: “We don’t get trained for this sort of sh**.”
And that got me thinking. Who does?
As leaders, we gladly put on the high-vis jacket when the going is good. We might walk round the office with some extra pride because this is my ship.
But what about when the going gets tough?
Leadership moments will always find you more than you find them, often when you are least expecting it and least prepared. When they find you, though, whether you like the responsibility or not, you are wearing the high-vis jacket. People will look to you and expect you to lead.
The best leaders embrace the high-vis jacket. They decide beforehand who they want to be. And then act.