shopify analytics

Leadership

How to Be Proactive in Your Relationships

Habit No. 1: Be Proactive "If you’re proactive, you don’t have to wait for circumstances or other people to create perspective-expanding experiences. You can consciously create your own."

–– Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 


Researchers have found that as human beings we are only capable of maintaining up to 150 meaningful relationships, including five primary, close relationships.
 
This holds true even with the illusion of thousands of “friends” on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you think carefully about your real interactions with people, you’ll find the five close/150 extended relationships rule holds true.
 
Perhaps not coincidentally, Tony Robbins, the personal development expert, and others argue that your attitudes, behavior, and success in life are the sum total of your five closest relationships. So, toxic relationships, toxic life.
 
With this in mind, it’s essential to continue to develop relationships that are positive and beneficial. But in today’s distracted world, these relationships won’t just happen.
 
We need to be proactive about developing our relationships.
 
My current favorite book on personal development is Tim Ferriss’s excellent, though long, 700+ page book, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers. 
 
At one point, Ferriss quotes retired women’s volleyball great Gabby Reece:
 
I always say that I’ll go first…. That means if I’m checking out at the store, I’ll say “hello” first. If I’m coming across somebody and make eye contact, I’ll smile first. [I wish] people would experiment with that in their life a little bit: be first, because – not all times, but most times – it comes in your favor... The response is pretty amazing…. I was at the park the other day with the kids. 
 
Oh, my God. Hurricane Harbor [water park]. It’s like hell. There were these two women a little bit older than me. We couldn’t be more different, right? And I walked by them, and I just looked at them and smiled. The smile came to their face so instantly. They’re ready, but you have to go first because now we’re being trained in this world [to opt out] – nobody’s going first anymore.

Be proactive: start the conversation
I agree. I was excited to read this principle because I adopted this by default years ago, and it’s given me the opportunity to hear the most amazing stories and develop the greatest relationships you can imagine.
 
On airplanes, in the grocery store, at lunch, I’ve started conversations that led to trading heartfelt stories, becoming friends, or doing business together. A relationship has to start someplace, and that can be any place in any moment. 

Be proactive: lose your fear of being rejected 
I also love this idea because it will help overcome one of the main issues I hear from my training and coaching clients – the fear of making an initial connection with someone they don’t know.
 
This fear runs deep for many people and may be hardwired in humans. We are always observing strangers to determine if we can trust them – whether they have positive or dangerous intent.
 
In addition, we fear rejection. Our usual negative self-talk says something like, If I start the conversation, if I make eye contact, if I smile, what if it’s not returned?
 
What if I’m rejected, embarrassed, or ignored by no response? I’ll feel like an idiot, a needy loser.
 
Our conclusion is: It’s better not to try, not to risk anything. But the truth is, the people we are thinking this about are probably thinking the same thing. If one of us breaks the ice, the relationship can begin immediately.
 
Be proactive: start with a positive tone and attitude
In my communication workshops, I say that each verbal encounter has three elements: words, tone, and attitude. Sometimes the tone and the attitude mean much more than the words themselves.
 
This means that in an initial contact, it almost doesn’t matter what exactly you say, but more the way you say it. A smile, a sense of openness, and attitude of friendliness count much more.

Dale Carnegie said this plays a critical role in how to make friends and influence people.
 
In the water park example, Gabby Reese didn’t talk with the other moms, but easily could have started a bonding conversation with, “Tell me again, why do we put ourselves through this?” Everyone would laugh, any walls of resistance would fall, and the talk about the pool and the kids would take off.
 
From there, they might have found common interests and values and scheduled Mom’s Wine Night Out. But someone had to go first.
 
This is true of almost every new relationship we have. Someone had to be proactive…to make eye contact…to pick up the phone for a call…to schedule lunch…to be the first to apologize.
 
Be proactive: pay attention in the moment
As Reece noted, today, we choose to opt out. If we have a free moment, we look down at our phones instead of looking at the people around us. We never know who is nearby and what relationship might have passed us by because we didn’t look or we didn’t take the initiative to go first.
 
I had this same thought two years ago when I spoke at a student leadership conference at a major university. After my talk, I walked outside the building where some thirty students were standing or walking, just looking at their phones. Seriously, not one person was looking up. (Later, I wished I’d grabbed my phone to take a photo, but maybe that would have been ironic.)  
 
My thought at the time, since so many relationships start with “love at first sight” or at least direct eye contact, was “what if your soul mate just walked by and you missed it because you were looking down at your phone?”
 
But students aren’t the only ones. We are all distracted by the noise of life in a digital world, where we swim in a sea of images, videos, and data that drags us like a riptide away from people and relationships.
 
It’s time to make a proactive commitment to engaging other people where we find them. Opting in instead of opting out.
 
Be proactive! Why not go first?

 
Writing this weekly blog is my way of going first with you.
 
Happy holidays,
 
John
 

P.S. –– To talk with me, please use my contact page.

4 Leadership Lessons from Self-made Billionaire CEO Sara Blakely

Don't be intimidated by what you don't know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.

–– Sara Blakely, CEO, Spanx


When we think of the most senior business leaders, we often conjure mental pictures of stodgy chief executives spewing numbers and corporate speak.
 
It’s unfortunate because leaders like these do not connect with their most important stakeholders -- employees, investors, partners, and others. By hiding behind the veneer of business babble, they deny people what they want the most from their leaders: authenticity.
 
This is why one of my primary missions in working with CEOs and other senior leaders on their presentations is to help them find and share their truth – their authentic selves.
 
Admittedly, there are many paths to success in business, but the best journeys are authentic.
 
It’s not an easy path. It takes determination and courage to push past the fear of being so real, but those few who are willing to do so become truly great leaders.

Spanx CEO Sara Blakely
A great example of this is Sara Blakely, who grew up wanting to be a lawyer like her father but was unable to obtain a high score on the LSAT. After trying her hand at stand-up comedy, she sold fax machines door-to-door before starting her company, Spanx.

(If you are not familiar with Spanx, the company says it sells “the largest selection of slimming intimates, body shapers, hosiery, apparel, and the latest innovations in shapewear for men and women.”)

Blakely is America’s youngest self-made female billionaire, according to a 2014 Forbes profile, which estimated her privately held company earned "over $250 million in annual revenues and net profit margins estimated at 20 percent.”
 
The origin story of Spanx is that Blakely was going to a party and didn’t want panty lines to show through her white pants, so she cut the feet off pantyhose and later patented the idea. While she possessed little knowledge about fashion or retail, in 2000 Blakely, at age twenty-seven, began her shapewear and legging company, investing her life savings of $5,000.
 
In 2013, Blakely became the first female billionaire to join The Giving Pledge, the campaign founded by Melinda and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, which has the mega-wealthy pledge to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
 
Today, this mother of four young children continues to be an advocate for women through her Sara Blakely Foundation, which supports women in education and entrepreneurship.

Blakely’s path and approach offer unique leadership lessons:
 
1) Embrace failure
One of Blakely’s biggest lessons is to embrace failure, a lesson she learned as a child. In an interview with Entrepreneur, she talked about how her father helped shift her mindset:
 
My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn't have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying. Don't be afraid to fail.
 
Most of us don’t enjoy failing, even go to great lengths to avoid it. But the real failure lies in not trying. Instead of seeing failure as an outcome, try to view failure as evidence that you tried. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”
 
One of the ways Blakely leads her employees is through sharing her mistakes and encouraging her employees to do the same. Employees share their mishaps and blunders during these “oops meetings,” which routinely end up turning into humor-filled anecdotes.
 
While speaking at the Stanford School of Business, she noted: “If you can create a culture where [your employees] are not terrified to fail or make a mistake, then they’re going to be highly productive and more innovative.”
 
Blakely is especially curious about how the fear of embarrassment can hold power over us. If we intentionally acknowledge our mistakes and find humor in them, the fear loses power.
 
2) Don’t take yourself too seriously
New employees at Spanx are required to do standup comedy as part of a training boot camp. It encourages them to feel less intimidated and to let go while embracing fun as part of the Spanx experience. “I don’t subscribe to the fact that you have to act serious to be taken seriously,” Blakely said.
 
In honor of that playfulness, when Blakely first started Spanx, the packaging said, “Don’t worry. We’ve got your butt covered.” She has continued to keep her company – and its products – lighthearted and fun.
 
Blakely advocates using humor to capture a potential client’s interest. She has noted that even the name of her company makes people laugh.
 
Her previous experience as a saleswoman came in handy when she was growing Spanx. “When I cold-called to sell fax machines door-to-door,” she said, “I learned very quickly that if I could make somebody laugh or smile I’d get another thirty seconds before they’d slam the door in my face.”
 
While you may not be cold-calling in your day-to-day life, using humor can break the ice in most conversations. It helps to put people at ease and bring down their defenses.
 
Humor can also be a powerful leadership strategy, according to new research from Harvard and Wharton. People attribute confidence to those who are brave enough to tell a joke.
 
3) Be relentless
Sara spent two years trying to convince manufacturers to take a chance on her before a mill owner in North Carolina agreed to help her. He had been convinced by his daughters to take on this invention, which they told him would be a “goldmine.”
 
“I must have heard the word ‘no’ a thousand times,” she said. “If you believe in your idea 100 percent, don’t let anyone stop you! Not being afraid to fail is a key part of the success of Spanx.”
 
Blakely didn’t let the word “no” deter her from pursuing her vision. She continued to push forward until she heard “yes.”
 
4) Break the rules
While speaking to Stanford students, she recalled how she used a rogue tactic to get noticed at Neiman Marcus. Her products were in the back of the store, where few customers frequented. She bought envelope dividers and put Spanx around the registers, promoting greater visibility.
 
After management realized they hadn’t approved this tactic, the head of Neiman’s allowed her to keep doing it because it was so successful. From turning the undergarment industry on its head to trailblazing new paths for women, Blakely has remained innovative and forward thinking.
 
How about you?
 
What’s your view of “failure”?
 
Do you encourage risk taking with your team?
 
How could you take yourself less seriously?
 
Do you have an “oops” moment that you might share with others?

I so enjoy hearing your stories. If you want to share your thoughts with me, please visit my contact page and don't forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter, Sunday Coffee.

Building Feelings of Trust as a Leader

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
 
                                                               – Maya Angelou
 

In a training workshop with leaders in Chicago recently, I said something I hadn’t said before.
 
As I showed a slide with Maya Angelou’s thoughts, I told them that if they remember nothing else from our day together, this would be enough to transform their communication in business and life: People will never forget how you made them feel, and trust is a feeling.
 
If a leader can’t build trusted relationships, nothing else matters. And people make feeling-based decisions on whether they trust you.
 
This is particularly true of emotionally charged situations because they deeply encode themselves in our minds. Scientists monitoring real-time brain activity with MRIs have confirmed that we are tribal animals making emotionally based decisions.
 
Protecting our status 
At work and at home and everywhere in between, we have encounters with others. By the end of the day we remember few details but we recall how their communication made us feel.
 
Think about it from your own perspective:
 
What do you remember from all of the communication you had last week?
 
What do you recall from the CEO’s presentation at the all-employee meeting; from that call with your boss; from that personal conversation with your love interest?

Chances are you don’t remember the specifics, but you do retain the emotion – perhaps stress, pleasure, anger, joy, or regret.

That’s a huge part of why we remember few details but we always remember how others made us feel. Throughout the development of human history, we had to know where we stood in the group and with our leaders to protect our status as a member of the tribe. Look around your organization and you’ll know that’s still true.
 
 


Build or break trust
As leaders – and we are all leaders of influence in one way or another – our communication can have a powerful impact. People not only listen to our words, but to our tone and our attitude.

Together, these three elements give us the power to lift people up, to inspire them, or to wound them. All of these factors determine whether we build or break trust in our relationships.
 
If I ask you to reflect for a bit, I’m sure you can come up with something positive that was said to you by a parent, a teacher, or a friend that is still with you today.
 
On the other hand, if you’re like the people I coach, you can easily recall, and fixate on, a comment that was cruel or hateful. (One of the leaders in a workshop last year shared with me a decade-old comment a high school boy made about one of her facial features.)
 
We say we let it go, but the truth is we retain these forever. Right now, you can feel the result of that cutting remark from high school, elementary school, maybe even kindergarten.
 
You remember how they made you feel.
 
What we say, especially the negative, can last a lifetime.  It’s why we have to use this power with great care.  Instead, we don’t plan our communication and often blurt out what comes to mind in the moment. We may regret it later, when it’s too late.
 
How about you?
With your communication style – your words, your tone, and your attitude – how do you make people feel? Are you building trust?

Do they feel respected, or belittled?
 
Empowered, or micro-managed?
 
Engaged, or turned off?
 
As leaders, we should be more mindful. This doesn’t mean we can’t be firm or assertive, but we should be aware of the impact of our communication beyond our intended message.
 
Because they really won’t remember what we said, or what we did, but how we made them feel. And trust, after all, is a feeling.
 
Try to be observant this week and if you can’t figure out how you make them feel, there’s an easy way to find out: Ask and then listen carefully.
 

How 3 Billionaires Make Money with Communication

If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential. You have to learn to communicate in life – it’s enormously important.

–– Warren Buffett

 
Many people are curious as to how wealthy, celebrated leaders – such as self-made billionaires – achieved their success. While there may be untold secrets of the rich and famous, one of their secrets is on display in the public realm: a focus on clear, effective communication.
 
Warren Buffett, widely regarded as one of the most successful investors in history – currently the third-richest person in the world – considers communication skills priceless. 
 
Speaking to Columbia Business School students in 2009, Buffett made a semi-serious offer to invest in the students’ careers for 10 percent of their projected lifetime earnings. He told them he believed they could increase their lifetime earnings by 50 percent through learning effective communication skills.
 
One way to improve your own communication skills is to study the communication styles of successful leaders.
 
Let’s take a look at three billionaires at the top of their games in business and examine their perspectives on communication. All three, Buffett, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos, clearly value communication and its role in business leadership. By examining their personal philosophies and techniques, we can gain insight into how their communication as leaders brought their visions to life. 
 
Warren Buffett: Be clear and transparent
Buffett is an advocate of using plain, clear language to explain finance to everyday investors and anyone wanting to understand the financial marketplace. Many industries, from finance to medicine, remain obtuse and confusing in their wording; often it seems to mask the truth. 
 
It can also be plain laziness that prevents succinct writing. If you’ve ever tried to compress a long document into a few hundred words, you know that simplicity takes hard work. 
 
Tell the truth
In 1998, Buffett wrote the preface to A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents: "I've studied the documents that public companies file. Too often, I've been unable to decipher what is being said or, worse yet, had to conclude that nothing was being said."
 
He added, “In some cases, moreover, I suspect that a less-than-scrupulous issuer doesn’t want us to understand a subject it feels legally obligated to touch upon.” 
 
Buffett is renowned for writing frank and entertaining annual letters to shareholders that document successes but also prominently highlight investment failures by Buffett and his team.
 
Buffett lives his message of clarity and transparency in business communication.

Elon Musk: Kill the bureaucracy
Elon Musk is the revolutionary thinker and leader behind SpaceX and Tesla. I consider him our modern day Thomas Edison. From promoting sustainable energy to pursuing a human colony on Mars, he is a man of vision and action.
 
Musk believes that bureaucracy stifles action. In a memo to all Tesla employees a few years ago, Musk decried the corporate hierarchy that slows progress in most big companies, and encouraged employees to buck the chain of command at Tesla:
 
Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding.
 
Musk said this archaic approach enhances the power of the manager but degrades the power of the company to serve its customers. So Musk declared that:
 
Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager's manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else's permission.
 
Like Buffett, Musk also believes that plain, precise language is critical for success. Musk urges employees to avoid the jargon that prevents straightforward communication.
 
Drop the jargon
In a recent email to Tesla employees about plans to improve Model 3 production, Musk cautioned, “Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software, or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.”  
 
Jeff Bezos: Stop the PowerPoint
Jeff Bezos is the founder and CEO of the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon.  While a New York Times article recently referred to him as “a brilliant but mysterious and cold-blooded corporate titan,” it is evident that there is a method to his madness, making him currently the richest man in the world.
 
Bezos is known for his annual letter to shareholders as well as Amazon's innovative leadership principles. In his 20th anniversary letter published this year, Bezos shared his preferred method of communication during meetings: well-reasoned memos. But they aren’t just any memos, they are narrative essays.
 
Write your narrative
In fact, Bezos has banned PowerPoint and slide presentations at Amazon meetings. Instead of relying on the crutch of slides, an executive must create a six-page “narratively structured” document spelling out a proposal or issue. The memos are read silently at the beginning of executive meetings as a type of “study hall” for 30 minutes before beginning the discussion. Not surprisingly, some of the memos are excellent, while others are lackluster. 
 
After acknowledging the difficulty of pinpointing the exact details that create an exceptional memo, Bezos came to an interesting conclusion:
 
Often, when a memo isn’t great, it’s not the writer’s inability to recognize the high standard, but instead a wrong expectation on scope: they mistakenly believe a high-standards, six-page memo can be written in one or two days or even a few hours, when really it might take a week or more!
 
As with any thoughtful communication, a great narrative requires a concerted effort. It’s like the story from Mark Twain – he apologized to his friend for writing a long letter because he “didn’t have the time to write a short one.”
 
It takes writing, rewriting, and more editing to create an effective narrative.
 
Excellent communication also takes time, effort and focus. I’ve worked with CEO’s and other senior leaders who put communication at the bottom of their priority list as they pursue activities with what they perceive as a “higher ROI (return on investment).”
 
Yet the truly enlightened and successful leaders I work with realize that communication is fundamental to the success of their businesses and their careers. As the president of one company said to me recently, “We can have the perfect strategy but if no one understands it, it’s worthless.”
 
So true. Bezos, Buffett, and Musk illustrate the importance of continuous improvement in your leadership communication.
 
Your communication
How about you?
 
Do you recall a time when you heard yourself saying, at work or at home, “that’s not what I meant!”?
 
Do you and your team use clear language or do you tend to use jargon? 
 
Do people in your organization maintain the hierarchy, or are they free to communicate with anyone that can help to solve a problem?
 
Your answers to these questions might not make you a billionaire, but you’ll be on your way to better results through clearer, more effective communication.

Just use our contact form to let me know what communication obstacle you run into in your organization.

To share this message with people you care about simply hit a "share" button below.

6 Easy Ways to Become More Optimistic

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
                                                       –– Winston Churchill


We all know people who remain upbeat and positive about the future, even in the midst of hardships or tragedies.
 
And all of us are familiar with the opposite: people who seem to have every advantage in life, yet take the negative view of every situation.
 
Research has shown that both of these approaches – positivity and negativity - have the potential of going viral by infecting the larger team and organizational cultures with positivity or negativity. With either emotion, we can spiral – downward or upward. It's a choice.
 
Pessimism is easy
Let’s face it. We live in a world filled with negativity. Pessimism is easy. Optimism is hard – it takes work, and we have to regulate our emotions.
 
None of us have a choice of what events we encounter, but we all have a choice about how we respond. And we are not only choosing for ourselves; our decisions affect our teams, families, friends and others.
 
There are good, practical reasons to maintain an optimistic view, including the simple notion that optimism can fuel us with the energy to pursue positive outcomes, despite the odds in sales, in business, in relationships, and in life.
 
Optimism may also help in the reduction of stress and its negative effects on the body caused by the release of cortisol and other hormones from the fight-or-flight response.
 
Optimism predicts resiliency
Research shows that optimism can also be a powerful force in our mental resiliency. Dr. Dennis Charney, the dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, studied some 750 Vietnam veterans who had been held as prisoners of war for six to eight years. Even though they suffered torture and were isolated in solitary confinement, they remained resilient.
 
Despite enduring inhumane stress, the research found that these POWs did not develop post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, as others had. Their secret? Charney identified 10 traits that set them apart from others, including having meaning in life – something to live for – and a sense of humor. But the number one trait was optimism.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl shared similar findings from his experiences in Nazi death camps, documented in his profound book, Man's Search for Meaning
 
Here are some tips to help you build and maintain optimism in your life and your work:
 
1. Practice gratitude. It's impossible to express gratitude and pessimism at the same time. At the end of my phone voicemail, I ask callers to tell me something they are grateful for. When I listen to their messages, sometimes there's a pause, with a flustered reply, such as "my family," and other times people give heartfelt, profound answers.
 
They might tell me about loved ones with a serious illness or a recent death in the family. The people who respond with these dramatic answers often have the greatest sense of optimism in their voices saying, “I know we will get through this” and “God is great.”
 
My practice upon waking is to immediately think of three things I’m grateful for in life, and why. For me, these can range from the critical: my family, friends, and health; the blessings of freedom in life and business; the opportunity to change people’s lives; to the mundane: a favorite meal, workout or coffee. These thoughts often end up making me smile; a great way to start the day.

2. Develop awareness. The first step is awareness. Every day, we and others create environments and situations filled with negativity and cynicism. We make pessimistic judgments and tell ourselves negative stories. It’s hard to know we’re wearing dark glasses until we take them off.
 
3. Assume the best. I have a CEO client who likes to say that “when we look into a dark room, we never assume it’s filled with angels.” It’s true. Research finds that we have a bias toward negative information (just turn on the TV news to confirm this) and we make negative assumptions. This might be protective wiring in our DNA, but it can impede our success.
 
Try assuming the best intentions of people and situations for a week and see if it changes your point of view. 

4. Keep your head up. Both literally and figuratively. You’ve heard the phrase "keep your chin up,” which means you should remain optimistic. As I’ve written about body language, how you position yourself can greatly influence your confidence and people’s confidence in you. Keep your head up and your eyes on the prize.
 
5. Try a negativity fast. Once we become aware of the high level of negativity in our lives, we have the opportunity to control the flow. Try going on a diet that limits your exposure to negative people, environments, and media.
 
6. Rewrite your story. Throughout the day we tell stories about our lives and businesses and about who we are. The person we tell stories to the most is ourselves and, particularly among high achievers, we will tell negative stories in comparison to others: “I’m not achieving enough; she is more accomplished; he has a better life.”
 
It’s funny because we’ll apply the negativity to ourselves, but we seem to always apply the positive filter when comparing ourselves to others: The rich and famous have those perfect lives; all of our friends on Facebook are living it up, and here we are caught up in the same old grind.
 
Rewriting the stories we tell ourselves – with a good measure of gratitude – will give us the lift we need for a greater sense of optimism.
 
None of this is easy. In a world of 24/7 social media and negative news, optimism can be a full-time job. But it is a task worth the effort, with remarkable benefits for us and those around us.
 
Develop your awareness and choose optimism.

Leadership Lessons from Southwest Airlines Flight 1380

As a leadership coach and speaker, I’m on the road virtually every week and, if I’m traveling in the U.S., I’ll likely be on Southwest Airlines. It’s been my go-to carrier since forming my consulting practice 14 years ago. 

That’s why I paid particular attention to a CBS morning interview, which I happened to catch live in an airport, with the whole crew of Southwest Flight 1380.

You might recall SWA #1380 was the plane that had an engine explosion that took the life of a passenger on April 17. My condolences to the family of that passenger, Jennifer Riodan, whose death was the first fatality on a U.S. airline since 2009. As the captain said in her interview, "The survival of 148 never eclipses the loss of one.”

Lessons in leadership
As I listened to the interview with the five crew members, I realized I was hearing powerful lessons of leadership, teamwork, and communication in the workplace. I re-watched the interview that night in my hotel room, taking careful notes, so that I could share them with you.

The flight had taken off from New York's LaGuardia Airport. After reaching cruising altitude the left engine exploded, sending debris through a passenger window. This caused the plane to lose cabin pressure and oxygen masks fell from the ceiling.

Try to imagine how you might react in this terrifying situation as a pilot, a flight attendant, or a passenger. You hear a loud explosion, the plane banks steeply, your ears pop from sudden decompression, wind and debris are blowing through the cabin, and you are looking for some sense of reassurance that you will survive.

Many passengers began texting what they thought might have been their final messages to their loved ones.

Here are some of the leadership lessons I heard from the crew of Flight 1380:

Calm leadership in the cockpit
Though this crew had never worked together before, they reported a sense of calm and confidence throughout the flight, conveyed from the cockpit to the flight attendants to the passengers. 

The plane was piloted by Capt. Tammie Jo Shults and first officer Darren Ellisor. Shults was one of the first women Navy fighter pilots, who flew F/A-18 Hornets and trained other military pilots. She said her military training kicked in immediately.

"I have been in cockpits where the dynamics of the flight are not normal and they also make it hard to even see or read the instrumentation. So that certainly helped to kind of keep my calm when this sudden explosion happened, and we are moving in a radical way and we're not in balanced flight," she said. 

Her first officer Ellisor was at the controls when the engine exploded. The plane, which was on auto-pilot, suddenly veered to the left, the wing banked 40 degrees, and the plane began to descend. Ellisor took manual control of the plane and he and Shults assessed the situation and began to work through their checklists. They determined Philadelphia was the best emergency landing spot and began their procedures.

"Initially our job is to get on oxygen to take care of ourselves first," Ellisor said, "communicate with ourselves, and once we take care of the plane and get the first initial checklist, then our job is to talk to the flight attendants and find out, okay, what's going on back there, how are you doing."

Communicate with the team
Shults said her first officer made sure the team was informed. "He made keeping in contact with the flight attendants his priority," Shults said.

"He took care of switches, checklists, but he was always available when they called so that he could answer their questions, he could give them information because it's so different when you're in the back and you don't see what's happening, you have no control of what's happening and you don't know what they're doing or thinking about, so he kept them calm," she said.

That communication gave the flight attendants the knowledge and assurance to help their passengers. “We had confidence we were all going to make it. We had faith and confidence in our pilots. We kept that confidence the whole way through and let them (the passengers) know,” said flight attendant Seanique Mallory.
 
Build trust before you need it
Captain Shults said the airline’s usual procedure is to have a “huddle” first thing in the morning to discuss the routes and the weather, which they did prior to their first morning trip from Nashville to La Guardia. 
 
But Shults thinks it’s important for leaders to get to know their team on another level. “The protocol at Southwest is to have a morning brief, but I tend to go deeper just because people are deeper than the weather. We spoke about things that were a little more interesting than just the weather. 
 
"In LaGuardia, when we had a little extra time, we were chatting, and Rachel had gotten a new Bible with room to journal on the side, and she and Seanique and then Kathryn was talking about she was in a study of Psalms, which is where I'm doing a study in Psalms and Proverbs," Shults said. 

Creating a bond of trust
"When you talk about things deeper than the weather, your family and faith, the things that matter to you, even if they're different, it tends to bring a bond."

The crew’s shared values had given them a bond and a deeper sense of confidence when tragedy struck.

"Well, it was the peace that God had given us all. It's a peace that surpasses all understanding. Like Tammie Jo said, we came together beforehand and we all talked about God, and not knowing what was going to happen minutes later, God had already prepared us without us even knowing," Mallory said.

Trust enables communication
"We didn't have to communicate verbally with each other because we just had trust and we were able to just do what we needed to do. But to communicate with our passengers we had to have a very loud, stern but caring voice," said flight attendant Rachel Fernheimer.

"I would just grab their hands even if I had to stretch over into a window seat and I would just look into some of their bloodshot eyes and say, 'Look at me. We're going to be okay. We're going to make it. We are going to Philadelphia and we are here together.' 

“And I think that was the most important thing was to just – even though our ears had popped from the rapid decompression and there was wind and debris all throughout the cabin, in the midst of chaos you have to just look at someone. And I think eye contact was the biggest communication during that," Fernheimer said.

“We had to take ourselves out of the equation and realize it wasn’t about us at that moment, it was all about our passengers.”
 
Flight attendant Kathryn Sandoval agreed, “The way we all remained calm, reflected on the passengers because they saw we were calm.”
 
As a leader or team member you’ll hopefully never face a crisis as terrifying as Flight #1380, but you can apply these important lessons in creating calm and confidence with your leadership, teamwork, and communication.

You can watch the interview here:
 Southwest Flight Crew on CBS TV interview
 

To share your thoughts with John or join John's exclusive weekly newsletter, Sunday Coffee, use our Contact Form.