Last week I was getting ready to board a flight at Newark airport. The arriving plane was late and the gate crew was rushing around to quickly get that plane ready to go. The gate agent called the first group of passengers to board, but as they got down the ramp to the door of the plane, it became evident that the cleaning crews were not yet finished cleaning the plane. The flight attendant asked the passengers to step to the side of the jetway and wait for the cleaning crew to exit the airplane.
Feeling the pressure of the situation, the flight attendant walks back into the airplane and yells to the cleaning crew, “come on you people, get out of here, we’ve got a plane to board.” The cleaning crew quietly heeded the directive and rushed off the plane looking down at their feet so as to not have to face the eyes of the passengers lined up on the jetway.
My heart sunk. My stomach flopped. The cleaning crew had just been publicly humiliated.
In a moment of hurry/scurry, the flight attendant treated these people like expendable nuisances, instead of the hustling, hard-working cleaning crew that had just cleaned an A320 aircraft from top to bottom in 4 minutes flat.
Now I know some of you will rush to the aid of the poor flight attendant – who is probably facing huge criticism if that plane leaves the gate late. She’s under a lot of time pressure – and all those passengers are glaring at her too. What else could she do?
I argue that she had a choice – to be a stressed victim lashing out at others to protect her own performance – or she could have chosen to be a Dare to Serve leader by encouraging and celebrating the work of the team who supports her success – something I would call deliberate dignity. Pick one.
Another way to frame this up? Will it be self or will it be serve? What is the serve response under pressure? Here’s an alternative response:
Flight attendant sees the situation developing as passengers start coming down the jetway to board – while the cleaning crew is not yet finished. She quickly estimates that the team needs 3 more minutes to finish their work. She walks out to the jetway to meet her passengers and says:
“We are working to make this plane sparkling clean for your trip. Can I ask you to step to the side of the jetway for just 3 minutes more please? And when our super fast, amazing cleaning crew comes off the plane, could you help me give them a round of applause for getting this A320 ready for all of us today? I hear them coming forward now….can I hear your best cheer?” (applause, bravo, cheers).
She continues, “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. We welcome you to join our flight to Atlanta today. We are so glad to have you with us – and your seats are now clean and ready for you! Welcome aboard”
My skeptic readers are thinking – you are nuts Cheryl. No one wants to cheer for the cleaning crew.
And I will challenge right back. Yes they do. Customers like it when your leaders treat the employees with dignity. There is already an airline company that behaves this way and it is called Southwest Airlines. They turn stressful situations into teamwork and smiles. And the passenger likes it far better than the stressed, angry, lash outs from flight attendants on other airlines. And guess what, the employees like it better too. Who doesn’t like to be treated with dignity?
It does not take more time to treat your team with dignity – to encourage and cheer them on. It does not cost more money. Deliberate dignity is a mindset. It is a conscious decision to serve others well. And those who get this right will have better employee satisfaction scores, better customer satisfaction scores, and better financial performance. This has been proven time and time again.
The new second edition of Dare to Serve offers you more examples on how you can switch from self to serve – and lead your team to superior performance.
Join us on this journey.
I appreciate this blog post. Yes, it stung me when I heard you share what the stewardess said. When it’s so easy to make someone feel good about themselves and their job, end support teamwork in the process, why don’t we do to more often? We all want to be treated with dignity, fairly, and be appreciated. It may take a minute extra out of your day, but it’s worth it. Someday, sometime, you’ll be on the receiving end and it will make you smile.
I have the upmost respect for you purpose. I am glad to see you are doing what most would consider the impossible; respect others while simultaneously succeeding. Congratulations on your journey and I’m looking forward to hearing more.