The Miracle of Flight (or Just About Anything Else)

Posted 10.09.2012

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of flying. Yesterday was Los Angeles to Washington on United. When you do something over and over again, it’s easy to take it for granted. Sometimes I hear the pre-flight safety announcements in my sleep.

For some reason, though, yesterday I pulled out of my automatic pilot mode (no pun intended) and started paying attention to what was really going on. It might be because I’ve been reading Search Inside Yourself, a book on everyday mindfulness (recommended). In any case, as I was looking out the window of the plane before we took off, I started thinking about all of the effort required from hundreds if not thousands of people to get a commercial flight from LA to DC.

The thought process started with the baggage handlers out on the ramp way and then I worked back from there. The pilots and flight attendants are obvious players. There are the people who clean the plane between flights. The folks who drive the fuel trucks. The mechanics who make sure the plane is safe to fly. The people who get the plane pushed back from the gate and out onto the tarmac. The air traffic controllers who choreograph the inbound and outbound flights.

Then there are the caterers who prepare and load the food and drinks. The gate attendants who get people on the plane. The TSA agents running the security checkpoints. The staff who keep the airport open. The customer service reps who check you in.  The people directing traffic outside as passengers are picked up and dropped off.  And before you ever get to the airport, there are the people who operate the computer systems that enable you to buy your tickets for the flight.

That’s just a start. I’m sure there are a lot of other jobs that I’ve missed. When you really think about it, there are so many other areas of everyday life in which hundreds and thousands of unseen people work together (whether they realize it or not) to make it possible for you to do something mundane like buying groceries, driving a car or getting a report from your doctor. It’s kind of a miracle that it all works as well as it does, isn’t it?

What does any of this have to do with a blog on leadership? There are a few things I can think of. First, good leaders don’t take the work for granted. They recognize and appreciate the contributions that make up the whole. Second, good leaders understand that there is no way they can personally oversee everything that has to come together to yield the desired result. They have to have other good people on the job and set up the systems and processes that allow them to monitor results as they’re delivered. Finally, good leaders understand that it’s not about them. If, on a literal or figurative basis, your plane is regularly getting into the air, there are lots and lots of self-directed and responsible people who do their part to make that happen.

What everyday experiences have you had lately that make you think about leadership from a different perspective?