Monday, April 19, 2010

The Right Leadership at the Right Time

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

About ten years ago, I was a District Manager for The Coca-Cola Company. My district covered most of South Georgia and part of northwestern South Carolina. That spring, a group of us were traveling to different markets for sales blitzes and one particular visit was to Gulfport, Mississippi. About ten of us were on a flight from Atlanta to Gulfport via a stopover in Dallas.

On the leg of the flight from Dallas to Gulfport, smoke began pouring out of the bulkhead in the rear of the plane. After the flight attendant panicked, the First Officer left the cockpit to review the situation upon which he yelled for the Captain to land immediately! But as the First officer walked to the rear of the plane, I saw the Chief Financial Officer for our group looking at me and she asked “are we OK?” Prior to this trip, I had no idea that she was scared of flying. I nonchalantly shrugged my shoulders and replied, “I don’t know”. Once the First Officer yelled to the pilot to land, the Captain quickly came on the intercom instructing us that we would be making an emergency landing and to assume the crash position.

Thirty minutes out of Dallas, the Captain descended from twenty thousand feet and landed the plane at a small landing strip in Mexia, Texas, in about two minutes. Upon landing we were instructed to exit the plane by using the inflatable slide and to “run” from the plane a minimum of one hundred yards. We landed and the smoke turned out to be electrical in nature and a fire never occurred. We sat in the small office of this very tiny airfield for over an hour before being bused back to Dallas for another flight.

I tell you this story to illustrate the importance of leadership and that acts of leadership can come at any time and in many different situations. This is an example of poor leadership exhibited by me. Monica, our group CFO, is a wonderful person and a very intelligent financial executive. But as I said earlier, she had a strong fear of flying. When she asked me if we were OK and I nonchalantly replied, “I don’t know”, she panicked. I did not know the effect my lackadaisical response would have on her. She was close to being catatonic after the excitement subsided.

Now in my defense, I was not that worried. Although the Flight Attendant panicked and the First Officer excitedly yelled for the Captain to land the plane immediately, I had confidence in the crew and in my faith. I forgot to mention this was about six o’clock in the afternoon and I was tired. Monica wanted reassurance and she looked to me to provide it.

Switching gears, an appropriate example of leadership occurred this past Sunday at my church. About 15 minutes into the service, an older member of our congregation became incoherent and sort of passed out. A commotion began with family and friends’ realizing something was wrong but not knowing what to do.
Thankfully, our senior pastor, the ushers, and at least three doctors quickly, but calmly went to the aid of our brother. The congregation remained calm but concerned. Everything just sort of stopped while the doctors and other leaders within our church handled the situation. They exercised the right kind of leadership at just the right time. Someone called 911 almost as soon as a problem was known and they responded quickly and appropriately (I never heard a siren).

I have to confess this episode was emotional yet comforting. Not only were we in the house of the great Physician, we were also surrounded by leaders (pastoral, medical, and servant) such that an alarming and disconcerting event remained calm and caring. I am grateful to all who responded to the needs of our brother. The professional response by all involved had a calm and reassuring effect on the remaining congregation as well. I think we all left church even more blessed than on most Sundays.

Each and every day responsive acts of leadership are called for. And I feel all of us are leaders more often than not. And you do not have to be in a leadership role to be a leader.

We live in difficult times! But are these times any different or any worse than for those that lived during other difficult times - the Civil War, the Holocaust, or The Great Depression? Throughout history we can find examples of extreme times. We can also find extraordinary examples of leadership that made the difficult manageable for all affected.

When the right leaders are in sync with the right times, great and even miraculous things happen. As the Allstate Insurance commercial asks – are we experiencing the Great Recession or will the recession make us great? These are challenging times – but they are times that good leadership can make the difference between survival and prosperity.

Let’s all do our individual and collective best tomorrow, next week, and the rest of the year in serving each other and our great community!

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