Friday, December 31, 2010

The Friendly Skies

“You'll have to turn that off.”

The flight attendant stared at her crossly, his company blue blazer squeezing his shoulders.

“Excuse me, ma'am. You have to turn that off.” Her eyes didn't leave her magazine. Either she couldn't hear the steward or she was ignoring him. He bristled and stopped the pre-flight safety instructions.

The whole plane was suddenly involved.

“Ma'am! Turn that off that electronic device right now!” I looked around the plane. Eyebrows raised. A few people shared smiles. I turned around in my seat so I could get a better look. Halfway down the aisle, a stewardess shifted from foot to foot anxiously.

The passenger looked up slowly from her magazine. She drawled her response. “It's off. See?”

“You'll have to take out your headphones.”
“But it's off.”
He stared down at her. “The headphones have to come out.”

She shook her head and took out one headphone. For a moment, she silently dared him to demand the other phone. Satisfied, for the moment, the steward returned to his work. It's very important to know that your seatbelt operates with a latch mechanism.

She caught me smiling at her.

As a teacher, I've seen that a thousand times: authority versus rebellion. It looks like a question of enforcement or control. It's a tempting perspective. It looks like a test of wills, a “high noon” standoff. It's not. It's really a question of culture.

People in authority make the culture. They are the tone-setters, the weather-makers. Sometimes the person in charge of a situation makes the rules; sometimes she doesn't. No matter what the rules are, however, the authority figure has the greatest impact on the tone and civility of a situation.

Our flight attendant stopped being a leader and became a member of the mob. He did this because he made the interaction personal. In that moment, he became more interested in his own personal experience than he was in being the leader. His lack of focus on the job at hand made the situation far worse than it could have been.

As a teacher, a mentor, and an art director, I've learned that good leadership is all about culture setting. Create an environment of fluid stability and people will follow you almost anywhere.

Be a better leader:
1. Be kind. No matter what. It's not about being nice. It's about setting the tone of discourse.
2. Be professional. It's not about you personally. Ever.
3. Be clear. If your people don't understand you, that's your fault.  And your problem.
4. Pay attention. Respect all input and use as much of it as you can to achieve your goals.
5. Set enforceable boundaries. Negotiating them is the last resort.
6. Be charming. It's not your job to be liked. But they'll do a lot more for you if they like you.

If you get to be the one in charge, focus on the culture of those who look to you. The best way to avoid the midair collisions of poor group dynamics is to make the skies as friendly as possible.


  1. No offense dude, but when you make every thought/emotion its own sentence it doesn't mesh together.

    I feel bad.

    About saying this.

    As a friend.

  2. Not really. Peel rules!

  3. Loved the advice. Of course, when you're speaking to the converted it all makes sense. The trick is to get it to the assholes of the universe. And the Republicans.

  4. Anonymous:
    Well, it's something to think about. Style, I mean. And the effect of stylistic choices on content. I agree: meshing together is important. Often. I hope I haven't tripped you up too much. Or irritated. Ah, well.

    Thanks for adding to the discourse. In your own way.
    Also: thanks for the Peel Support. Much obliged!
    (Three colons in one response! Awesome.)

  5. Dorf's Daughter:
    Thrilled to have your support! The a-holes of the world will be hard to get to. Thanks for reading me.

    For what it's worth: there are many good people who are Republicans. And I know more than a few jerky Dems and Independents. Just keeping it real.