When I speak of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), I am not speaking about some strange sense of desiring perfection, or always doing the right thing, or never having an inappropriate thought. The fact is, we are all fully human, and faulty, or as my friend Bishop Kenneth Ulmer of Faithful Central Church once told me, "a saint is a sinner that got up."
What's important is that we "do the work" that life demands of us; we work harder, strive further, dig deeper, demand more of ourselves, and offer more both to and of others. Living a successful and fulfilling life is not about not having problems, but rather responding well to the problems and the pain in our lives; both the pain we create for ourselves, and the pain visited upon us by others. Such was the case for me just this week, on at least two occasions.
As I was preparing to leave the U.S. for my week's tour of Asia for Love Leadership, HOPE Global Initiatives and Global Dignity, and attending the World Economic Forum meeting in China as a Young Global Leader, I found myself running behind even before the trip began. For a range of good and not so good reasons, I arrived at the airport with just under an hour to spare for check in and security clearance. Typically an hour is fine for an international flight, even though they will tell you to be there 2 hours in advance, and the absolute cutoff for bag check-in, as we all now know, is 45 minutes for any flight, domestic or otherwise.
Countless times I have shown up approximately an hour before the flight, checked in, and all was good. But this time, an hour before a Korean Air Flight to Seoul, South Korea in route to Hong Kong and China, the check-in desk was devoid of human life. In actuality, I have arrived 54 minutes before the flight, and at exactly one hour prior the entire Korean Air team had headed for the departure gate. Fair enough, as I should have been there an hour or even more prior, but the fact was that I needed to catch that flight. I had to speak at a special event in Hong Kong, and given my impacted schedule, this schedule was my one and only opportunity to get there on time. I had to find an answer.
And so I calmly reached out to a passing Delta representative (Delta partners with Korean Air), who was kind enough to stop what they were doing, to go behind the counter and to locate a Korean Air representative (I love Delta Airlines). After a few minutes of discussion, the Korean Air representative checked me but let me know that my checked luggage would be a problem. It was too late to check the bag at the counter, as the baggage handlers were gone as well. A black man in China with no toiletries — not good.
Speaking calmly and appreciatively, I continued to explain that I really needed to make this flight, and with my bags, and asked if they had any suggestions. In my 20 plus years of travel I have never seen what came next; they walked me through airport security, with my checked luggage. The Korean Air representatives, followed by TSA representatives, and a TSA supervisor, helped me get my big bag up and through security screening. Amazing, as typically you cannot get an extra tube of tooth paste through without getting lecture #42, and thereafter setting off "dump it" alarms. The next thing I knew, someone from TSA was saying "have a nice day," and with that this happy passenger was up and on his way to the gate, checked bag in hand. Amazing. And when I got to the gate, the agent there was also helpful and gracious, assisting me by checking my bag in at the gate, and then sending it down below; it going one way, and me going another. Miracle upon miracle, my bag was waiting for me in baggage claim in Hong Kong, almost 20 hours later.
My message here is simple, this sorted out not just because Delta and Korean Airlines representatives were gracious, kind and professional, although they were. It sorted out in large part because I kept my cool, from beginning to end. I guarantee you, if I had lost my cool, or worse, became irate or verbally abusive, which by the way would have also been wrong, I would have been waving at the departing flight from the airport parking lot. The airline representatives effectively "met me where I was," and gave me a portion of what I offered them in return; respect, kindness, dignity and consideration. After all, this was really my fault (smile).
But an even more intense travel experience happened on my return from China. After spending 10 hours trying to get to the airport (another story here), and two hours working to get through airport security, passport control and the like, I finally showed up a bit haggard and tired at the American Airlines check in counter. It was then that I was told that there was some hold message in the system with respect to checking me in. And after I resolved that, I was greeted with a bill for an extra travel bag, and then another bill for an overweight bag. And this from someone who does nothing but travel, giving enormous business (and revenue) to this airline and others. I was not pleased, but made a decision in my mind that given the 12 hour journey to even get to and through the airport and to this point of returning home, I did not wish to win battles and lose the war. My goal was to get home, as soon as possible and in one piece.
And so, I responded with the intelligence and respect for others that my mother and father ingrained in me as a child. I paid the fee, and decided to move on. A good move it appears, as approximately two hours later, as I was boarding the flight to return home, one of the gate agents – a person whom I did not believe was very nice to his fellow employees at the time – asked me, "if I was Mr. Bryant." I responded yes of course, but wondering whether the issue of my reservation "hold" was about to visit me again. But before I could form my next (negative) thought, this same agent pressed my credit card into the palm of my hand. Amidst the early morning drama at check in it appears I had also walked away and left my credit card in the possession of strangers. Thank God this agent, irrespective of my feelings about his manners or the lack thereof, was honest. Can you imagine what would have happened with my credit card in the hands of others, in a foreign country, once I boarded that flight?
But there was another factor at work here, beyond the agent's presumed honesty, and that was me.
Because I gave him and the others the respect they may or may not have deserved, and may not have earned, I was seeing this same gift of grace returned to me in kind now. My actions, and my extension of basic respect and human dignity, ultimately created an environment that served me well too. What's the message: "Whatever goes around, comes around."
These are examples of Love Leadership in action, and why staying cool really does pay dividends.
With HOPE, Love and Light
John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, former vice chairman, U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, financial literacy advisor to the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council, a Young Global Leaders for the World Economic Forum, internationally recognized public speaker and author of LOVE LEADERSHIP; A New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), which debuted in August, 2009, as the Amazon.com #1 Hottest New Book (for Leadership), on the CEO Reads Top 10 Business Best Seller List, and was published in November, 2009 in digital audio book format on Audible.com, iTunes and other audio book retailers . Love Leadership was listed amongst the Top 25 Business Books for Inc. Magazine/CEO Read for 10 month after its release.