Recently, my wife was on a business trip. When she returned home, she told me a story of what happened while waiting for the plane to taxi. I asked for her permission to share it, because I believe there is a significant truth in what she and the rest of the passengers experienced. Here is what she told me:
Finding our seats on Flight 551 from Houston to Chicago, our demeanor changed from ordinary to extraordinary. The Southwest employee (we’ll call him Fred) who was greeting as we entered his plane set the tone. When he was asked by one of the customers, “How are you tonight?”, his response was impressionable. “I’m fine as hair on a mouse, and how are you doing?” He continued these types of comments and responses during the loading of the plane. He engaged the passengers by asking trivia questions and telling one line jokes. The atmosphere on the plane was energetic. It was positive and promoted laughter. Fred made the experience enjoyable for all, except for one. This passenger raised his hand, Fred called on him, and what came next changed the climate as the disgruntled passenger asked this question, “Do I have to listen to you much longer?” Fred was stunned with the question as were the rest of the passengers within ear shot. He responded professionally by saying, “No, you don’t.” And with that the air inside of the cabin began to change. No more jokes were offered. No more laughs were heard. All because one person found it to be annoying.
Interestingly enough, the passengers became upset that one negative person could change the fun. Nobody got off the plane and tried to find another fun plane heading to Chicago. Instead they rallied behind Fred and started chanting for him to continue. The power of this group encouraged him to carry on in creating a fun environment. The passengers weren’t comfortable allowing a pessimist to have influence. He was the bully that got put in his place.
The energy on the plane was rescued and resulted in joy! The negative person was humbled when he realized that he was the minority. The best observation was the act of the airline employee. When it came time to offer the passengers drinks and snacks, he was able to serve the man who tried to put out his flame and crush his spirit. The employee did a challenging thing by serving the undeserving passenger. That is a great servant leader.
Negativity is a strong force. It can derail a positive situation very quickly. Just as the passengers fought for Fred, so a leader must fight to make sure that a positive environment is maintained. Negativity can be subtle or blatant, but either way it is destructive. For an organization, a relationship or even your own spirit to move forward and achieve its potential, positive air needs to be pressurizing the cabin.