Ron's Material Leadership Blog

It is my sincerest hope that the stories I share are helpful to others. I have experienced first hand that many people toil in obscurity, searching for answers, ashamed to reach out and ask for help. This blog will contain experiences and wisdom that I have gained over the years that I hope will offer guidance in dealing with some of life's challenges.

Why the name material leadership? If you are curious the answer is on my website.
The link on the side bar.

Lead well


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Leadership in an Airport

This past week I traveled to Canada to take care of family business. As I considered might happen there was not enough time to do all that needed to, including posting on this blog. Traveling is a fascinating activity and as I did so I considered; How can the concept of leadership be integrated into this time?

Is there an opportunity to lead in the presence of a large group of strangers?

I suppose there is always an opportunity to lead despite the context. Have you ever spent time in an airport though? As you sit and watch the people roll past you can see many states of being.

I love to people watch; despite a strong type A personality and an overwhelming urge to work as a hobby, to work in my quiet time. Heck if I could find a better way, I would probably work in my sleep. So far all I have gotten out of this time is to give my subconscious mind some things to think about. You can imagine that while I wait patiently in an airport for a connecting flight, I am looking for something to do. This is where I engage in the activity of people watching. I believe to be an effective leader you need a healthy ability to read emotional states in others. So while watching has no feedback mechanism to check assumptions, it is a really fun way to learn. One time I will start interviewing the crowd to see how close I am in my assessments. Here are the people I would check in with.

The Lost

There are those who are searching. I do not mean spiritually, they are lost, looking for the next gate, like a Mennonite navigating Times Square. You can tell who is out of their element. It might be fun to try an experiment and just come alongside a lost person and offer to help them find their way. I can see a number of responses. The spectrum ranges from a stiff but polite get away from me to a relieved YES I really need help.


I have lived here myself. Business travelers who frequent airports know how to get through the crowd with minimal delay. They find the short cuts, the fast lanes, the speed amenities. As they briskly walk through, they pay scant attention to their environment other than to ensure of their path. Approaching one of this group requires some skill. Finding a commonality would be best, even then you are likely to get a polite smile or a quizzical glance as they breeze past.

The Frazzled Mom

It’s bad enough that little Billy cried through most of the last flight, but now he is trying to climb onto the furniture in the departure lounge (this actually happened on the trip home!). The flight is delayed and the last nerve departed on Flight 306 a half hour ago for all of the other travelers. You have seen them, with a Herculean effort they try to keep the kids in line, keep them out of trouble but it is not working. Talking to a mom in this state would be akin to discussing the flora and fauna with a mother bear while her cubs were behind you. Not a good idea.

Grandpa Joe

His first flight since World War II, Grandpa is moving not much faster than a glacier. I really think slow moving vehicle triangles should be standard issue for the elderly in airports. No one wants to bump into them or cause them to stumble. No one wants to disrespect their elders, they are just almost in the way of this little short cut I need right NOW. Oops sorry sir! It would be fascinating to talk to this person, oh the stories he could tell, the life lived, yes as long as my layover was at least 2 more hours this is a person I would talk to. What would their impressions be? They are a horse drawn buggy in the middle lane of an interstate, cars blurring past at a dizzying pace.

The Newlyweds

Their focus so enthralled on each other that there is literally no one else in the airport. Naw, lets leave them alone. The honeymoon is just starting, no need to interrupt it.


This group is always fun to watch. They have this look of invincibility, they belong here they are treated better, this is their turf. Do you think they realize that they are like a high tech version of a Grey Coach bus driver? They will be helpful and polite as long as they have the time.

Panic Attack

Their first flight was delayed 35 minutes and they only had 40 to catch their connection (this too happened on the flight home!). They could have pulled it off if their connection had not been in the next county. You will see this group either in a slow boil in a customer service line or playing the role of a charging Rhino headed to their next gate. You might even hear them say “I can still make it!” You can’t catch them and you wouldn’t want to if you could. Remember the sign on the back of the fire trucks in New York. “Keep back 200 feet” You would be well served to keep this in mind.


Yes these are generalizations; each person is a unique creation and acts as such. I believe though that under stress a person becomes more of who they already are. Our base personalities are not that different. Leadership under stressful conditions is one of the most challenging of life’s endeavors. It requires decisive action, visible confidence, and strong nerves. To lead in such a context can seriously tax relationships.

Relationships are the core of effective leadership. Not at a corporate level perhaps but certainly when we consider the leaders first line of contact. There is an intimacy here with effective leaders. In the airport, unless you bring your family or your leadership team, leadership is an elusive concept. Unless there is an emergency where your skill as a leader is needed (in a fictional Bruce Willis Die Hard sort of way) I argue you are better off just learning about human nature. Sit back, ensure your seatbelt is fastened and enjoy your late crowded flight.

Lead well


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The Dip by Seth Godin

This was the first of Mr. Godin’s books I have read and I must say it will not be the last. I enjoyed this book and found its message wise and on point for our age. The premise of the book is that there is a time to quit a role, project, effort and a time to stay. When we have the opportunity to be the very best and are willing to pay the price, it is time to stay. When it is clear that staying will result in mediocrity or worse yet (Mr. Godin’s term for a dead end) a cul-de-sac, it is time to move on to something where we can be our best. The dip is the place in between. The place where we face opposition, adversity and discouragement. It is here that many wrongly chose to give up when greatness is not that far away for the brave souls who persevere.

Complexity: Low

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Compelling: Very much

Worthwhile: Definitely