Photo by Author
What’s your travel story? … If you travel, period, you have a travel story – or fifty! With more travelers, tighter security, bigger people, and fewer manners, traveling post 9/11 sucks. OK, I know I just offended some of you because I used the word, “sucks”, but I know of no better word that communicates so well the challenges of traveling by air.
Yes, flying first/business class is better than coach/cattle class. Yes, some airlines are better than others (Singapore Air vs. Delta). Yes, there are “tricks” that can help ease some of the travel headache. But in the end, air travel these days “sucks.” Period. End of discussion. … Well, almost.
I won’t bore you with all the details of my latest travel saga. I’ll give the 2-minute version. After traveling half way ‘round the world and being “at it” for over 24 hours, I landed in a large airport only to find mass confusion entering the immigration area. The picture above was BEFORE the mass confusion occurred. Within minutes of taking the above picture, all empty spaces were filled. There were no lines. People were pushing. And angry. There was no air conditioning or fans. No authority figure explaining how the process worked or trying to bring order. I had a small carry-on briefcase that had wheels and a handle. You couldn’t pull it.
In the end, I got through in just over two hours. Tired. Frustrated. Stinky. And smarter. … Smarter you ask? How so? Well, I always try to take life’s challenges, sand-in-the-shoe moments, or boulder-in-the-shoe events, and learn from them. Why not? After all, being “mad” doesn’t change the situation. I wasn’t getting through immigration any faster. Why let someone else’s incompetence and lack of organizational planning make my blood pressure go up.
Immediately after getting off the plane (and I was ahead of 95% of the people on my plane) and arriving at immigration, a man in front of me, clearly perturbed, said, “We picked the wrong line. The others are moving faster.” And it went downhill from there. I ignored him, afraid of what might come out of my mouth. After about 15 minutes of prayer and deep-breathing (really!), I remembered I had a small travel fan that folds up the size of a teacup saucer. I got it out and started fanning myself. The lady beside me (standing on the edge of my sandal) clearly like the breeze. After a few minutes I offered her a “turn” with my fan. She accepted and then asked if her teenage daughter could have a go at it. I said, “Sure.”
As I looked around the room, I started praying. For my patience, for my fatigue, for others in the room, for the immigration officers, for my family … you get the picture. Soon, I started thinking about what I could learn from this “mess.” As a business/operations executive, I often noticed (and try to eliminate) inefficiencies. I try to set up tools that helps me stay organized. That helps me prioritize and lead more efficiently. I also try to create and encourage the productivity tools for the organization I lead.
Though it’s been many years ago, I started my career as an improvement and quality engineer. We studied (and attended live conferences) by gurus like W. Edwards Deming, Myron Trybus, Joseph Juran, and Masaaki Imai. We had our act together, becoming a finalist for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and winning the award a few years later. I was a certified quality engineer (with the American Society of Quality), a master black belt and lean sensei. In other words, I studied process. I studied efficiency. I knew the tools.
As I looked around the immigration hall, breathing slowly, I realized how blessed I was to have received the training I did (classroom and experiential). I realized how blessed I was to meet some of the true “gurus” in-person. I realized how blessed I’ve been with resources where I’ve worked.
Yes, it was hot and chaotic, but my anger couldn’t change it. I determined to make a few mental notes and improve my personal effectiveness. I determined to have a positive attitude (not perfect, but acceptable!).
In the end, I was reminded how important it is for all of us as leaders to establish processes that enable efficiency, that act as a catalyst for improvement, and that help our organizations run more smoothly, increasing productivity. I was reminded to learn from life’s events that we encounter (good, bad, and ugly) and control my attitude.
How about you? What is your travel story? I’m willing to bet there’s a lesson you could share with us about your experience.
As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.