It was late. 9:15 PM in Philadelphia….
Okay, that’s not so late and it felt late.
I’d been on the road for four days. The woman next to me had been traveling for 20 hours. The guy behind me was muttering, “this last leg is always the worst part of the trip.” Dark spirits.
So, he, she, and I, and 131 others boarded a US Airways Shuttle flight bound from Philadelphia to Boston, back to the snow.
We pulled away from the gate on time, taxied out, fifth in line for take off. As we reached the head of the line, the captain opened the PA and said, “I’m sorry folks, we have discovered that a valve that controls hot air to the cabin is not functioning. We have to fix that before we can leave.”
An audible groan in the cabin. Long story short, after several announcements about maintenance, reprogramming computers, resetting circuit breakers, and “we have it fixed,” we again lined up for departure.
As we got to the head of the line, we heard the captain’s voice again: “I’m sorry, folks, we’ve experienced another maintenance issue. We have to address it before we can leave.”
Quiet murmurs and grumbles in the cabin.
After about an hour, the captain returned to the public address system hour and said, “We’re going back to the gate, so Maintenance can come on board.”
After we’d sat at the gate for a bit, we heard from the lead flight attendant: “I’m sorry, folks, the crew has timed out. We need you to get off the plane with all of your carry-ons until the new crew arrives. We don’t know how long that will take. We’re sorry. Thank you.”
We got off the plane. Roughly 11:15 pm. Two hours after posted take-off time.
The gate agent, apparently worse for wear during a long day, sounded sharp and grouchy as she asked us, repeatedly, to please cooperate with her and to please stand over here and not over there, and to please just be patient.
I looked around at many tired faces and thought, “This is not going to be pretty.”
Across the Concourse C hall, I could see a restaurant, Trattoria Aldo Lamberti. The guy at the restaurant was cleaning his counters, closing up and putting things away. Closed at 11:00. I looked hungrily at the last bits of turned-up-at-the-edges pizza slices on a platter near his warming oven and thought, “oh, never mind.”
Then, suddenly, he looked up and called out, energetically, “Hey, folks, I have some sandwiches left, I’ve got chicken pesto sandwiches, I’ve got Caprese sandwiches, I’ve got some pizza, I’ve got salads!”
His energy took us by surprise. He pushed two sandwich signs toward us on his counter and repeated his call. “Hey, folks, I have some sandwiches left.”
I wandered over to have a look. I ordered a sandwich – a Caprese, no olive oil, light balsamic glaze.
As others joined me, the guy zipped back-and-forth behind his restaurant counter, like video fast forward, taking orders, warming sandwiches, slicing pizza, taking payments, taking more orders, slicing sandwiches, serving them up. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Smiles all around. He’d put warm food in our bellies and given us energy and direction when we’d needed it.
Sometimes our clients are delayed, deflated, deferred, down, out-of-control, uncertain. Or maybe working in overdrive, frantic, playing corporate whack-a-mole.
Sometimes, in those moments, they need leaders, people to step in, see the picture, ask some questions, or offer ideas that help people pull up, time out, and think about next steps.
Frequently, that can be us.
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