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  • Writer's pictureBurk Moreland

Leadership Lessons Learned in an Airport

I spend a lot of time in airports, and I like to make good use of my time no matter where I am.  When you combine those two, what you get is a lot of people watching and studying.  You can learn a lot about people through their behavior, and an airport is prime time people watching where lessons on success, leadership and teamwork are on display constantly!  Here are a few success lessons I have witnessed recently.


Why does being at the airport bring out the worst in some people?  Why do you see regular occurrences of rude behavior?  It all has to do with deadlines.  Airports are filled with opportunities to be delayed and/or late.  Whether it is finding a parking place, navigating the curb drop off, getting your bag checked, waiting for security or walking to a gate, lines wait at every turn and the knowledge that if one thing goes wrong you may miss your flight altogether weighs heavily on travelers.  You see people’s true colors when pressure and deadlines are applied.  

True success (defined by me as the ability to do what you love everyday) is marked by someone that handles pressure and deadlines properly.  The number of times I get a second look or a smile or a heartfelt thank you after I do something as simple as hold an elevator or allow someone to go in front of me on an escalator is stunning.  Success in my world means attempting to help whoever is around me have a better day even if it is only in that moment.  And courtesy goes a long way toward achieving that goal.   Not everyone notices or cares that I do that.  And that’s ok. I will keep doing it for the difference it makes for the people it does impact, and for how it impacts me as well. Take on being extra courteous this week, and see what happens.


The travelers Achilles heel.  For many airports in many cities, I can tell you bathroom locations, what restaurants are located where, as well as which airports have rent-a-car buses or trains versus those that are attached to the airport.  I plan my time pretty meticulously because I have to.  If I didn’t, I would never make it to all of my appointments and meetings and I’d be one stressed out human being.  As I watch people race through the airport, literally knocking people out of the way, I wonder, what happened in their plan?  Is this an isolated incident or do they “race” through life, knocking everyone and everything out of their way, because they can’t seem to plan properly.  They don’t allow for the inevitable “speed bump” that is going to pop up.  

Whether it is traffic, weather, the slow person in the TSA line, the guy that can’t make up his mind at McDonalds or the escalator that is shut down, “speed bumps” are going to happen.  To achieve success in business, you have to plan. You are going to have cash shortages, labor shortages, competitors, poor employees, family tragedies, etc. Planning for when those things happen with contingency plans and leaving room to make things happen is the part most people miss. Wanting everything to go perfect is ok.  Expecting it to go perfect is crazy.


The most frequent and obvious examples of success behavior I see at the airport have to do with patience. Again, courtesy and planning are in short supply in some people, so patience tends to be scarce as well. People yelling at the very people trying to keep them safe such as TSA agents and the airline employees. Anytime they want to do an extra screening on me, it may take a second to get out, but I tell them thank you.  I would venture to say that very few TSA agents, if any, wake up in the morning and think: How can I make a bunch of people late today??  The same goes for the airlines. I can’t tell you how many flights I have been around that are delayed.  Most of the time it is for a potential maintenance issue with the aircraft or a needed repair, or weather issues.  In both cases, the airline is making a decision that it is NOT SAFE to fly the plane.  Most likely, they are losing money as well as happy customers when this happens.  Again, they don’t wake up that morning looking for ways to mess up our lives. Yet I still see people complaining, stomping off, pouting and in general acting like two year olds. I am not saying that the TSA or the airlines handle these problems perfectly each time, but I am saying that I would rather arrive at my destination late than never.

So as you go out into the world, be aware of the world around you.  Watch how people interact and treat each other.  Notice things that you might want to do different, and even better, notice some you want to emulate.  If you observe someone handling a tough situation well, go shake their hand or give them a pat them on the back. It will cause a ripple effect.

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