Leadership Skill Development: Leadership During ChaosBy
I was waiting for my flight from Richmond, Virginia
after presenting “Leadership Made Simple” to 150 managers
of a large company headquartered there. That is when I
experienced impressive leadership in the midst of chaos.
It all began when United Airlines‘ “Simon” (an automated
message system) informed me via my cell phone that my flight
through Chicago was cancelled. After an hour wait on a priority
line, I knew there was a real problem of some kind. When I
eventually talked to United, I discovered that snow in Chicago had
closed the airport and created major travel problems within the
entire United system, and no doubt, other airlines, too.
The only chance I had to get home the same day was if I could
make a flight to Washington Dulles that left in one hour flat. I did
the “OJ” dash to get to the airport and the gate, huffing and
puffing, only to find that the airplane had not yet arrived. I was
actually quite relieved.
The entire air travel system was in chaos, and there was a line
of dozens of people waiting to talk with Michael Quintel, the United
gate manager. Every person needed to share their problem -
concerned about connections mostly – with a gate agent who
really had little or no control over anything.
I was sitting about 10 feet away from Michael’s podium, so I
heard everything. I was personally calm because my connecting
flight from Dulles to Denver was several hours away. I was in the
right state of mind to simply watch and listen how Michael handled
This guy had the patience of Job! He listened to the same story
over and over and over. Yet, every person was treated as if
THEIR story was original. Michael was absolutely MASTERFUL
at having every individual believe he was there for them and was
doing everything he could do for them. And he sincerely was! It’s
where he naturally came from. In every single case, the frustrated
and concerned passenger walked away more calm and confident
than before he talked with Michael.
What I realized was that Michael was able to stay
Forward Focused(TM) no matter what happened. What a model he
was for what I want to be like when I grow up. It is a model of
emotional maturity – and I am continually working on mine.
If I were to try to create a simple model for what Michael did so
well, it might look like this. He stayed Forward Focused while he:
- Listened completely to each person, honoring them and their
- Shared exactly what the situation was – in terms of how the
situation affected that individual – no matter how many times he
had to tell the same story again.
- Offered any options that he could find in his computer, helping
them take responsibility for their own decision.
In every case, they walked away feeling better about their
My hats off to Michael Quintel, United Airlines representative,
a proven leader in a challenging situation!