I was in line to board the plane home when I heard a man about four people behind me speaking loudly into his phone.
“Yes, we got this deal Jim. I really put a good one together. I did this, and I did that and let me tell you more about me.”
Well, those were not his exact words, but you get the picture. As we trekked into plane, people kept looking at him as he kept talking loud enough for anyone in line to hear him, but he didn’t seem to notice.
I was in row 10, aisle seat when, still barking into his phone, he motioned for me to get up, so he could get through as he was also in row 10, window seat. Lucky me.
Still talking for most seatmates to hear, he informed Jim that he had “not for publication” information. He said his company was cancelling the sales training due to financial reasons and then broadcast how much would be saved.
The woman across the aisle looked at him, then looked at me and rolled her eyes.
Again, he warned Jim, this is “top secret” information that only he knows. All I had to do was kick his carry on over and I could see who he worked for. But, it’s top secret so I left his bag alone.
As we were about to take off and he was temporarily silenced, I started to watch a movie on my iPad. Because the window shade next to loudmouth was up, it was casting a glare on my screen and I couldn’t see.
So, I tapped him on the arm and asked if he could lower the shade just a bit. He stared at me for a second, then looked away and completely ignored me. For a moment I thought about giving him a piece of my mind but didn’t want to end up being one of those nasty airline passenger stories that makes the news.
I waited, thinking once we got above the clouds, the sun glare wouldn’t be an issue. I was wrong.
About fifteen minutes later, as he buried his head in his computer, I tapped him again. Nicely, I explained why I couldn’t see my screen and again asked if he would lower the shade just a little.
“I really like looking out the window, he said. Maybe later in the flight.”
Then he returned to his computer screen.
Maybe. Maybe this is a guy who gets inspiration from the clouds. Perhaps the serenity of the sky helps him crystalize his vision and strategize ways to inspire others. Maybe, but not likely.
The woman on the aisle across from me had watched the scene unfold. To make sure others could hear, she bellowed “I hate people like him”.
Then she invited me to sit with her. She gave up her aisle seat for me and moved to the window where she slammed the shade shut. Loudmouth pretended not to notice.
For the next two hours as I comfortably watched my movie, I glanced at him from time to time. Not once, did I see him look out the window.
Most of us would just classify this man as a rude jerk and leave it at that. However, I believe there are some significant leadership lessons to be learned from jerks.
Here’s a guy who is intoxicated by the sound of his own voice. He’s self-important, condescending and likely talks over others in meetings. My guess is he puts others down if he thinks it will make him look good. Like gesturing his finger at me to move over because he’s way too busy to speak, it’s doubtful he values the importance of communication.
Leaders like this can infect entire organizations. They have little interest in what others think or say. Typically, they are so arrogant and controlling, that they don’t comprehend how toxic their behavior can be to others. Like a bad flu season that infects even the healthiest people, patronizing superior conduct can contaminate even the most positive employees.
Research conducted by UC San Diego’s James Fowler and Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis suggests that behavior is contagious. For example, if you are friendly with someone happy, the probability that you will be happy increases by 25%. The researchers say if you have overweight friends, you are more likely to be overweight.
In a Harvard Business Review article, writers examined how this affects leaders and found significant correlations between the behavior of managers and their direct reports. They found if you’re a good boss, you probably work for a good boss.
After two decades of coaching and consulting leaders, I have my own take on what contributes to the success or failure of a leader. While there are multiple behaviors and circumstances, truly successful leaders have one thing in common. To them, leadership is a philosophy. They understand that leadership isn’t about being in charge; it’s about behavior.
It’s about looking people in the eye. It’s about truly listening when someone is speaking to you. It’s about making others feel valued. It’s about providing positive reinforcement. It’s about welcoming input from others. It’s about developing people skills. Strong leaders appreciate diverse personalities and use their people skills to bring out the best in each person to maximize productivity and results.
During some of our communication programs, we create scenarios intended to put people on the defensive. It’s an excellent exercise to assess how individuals communicate when under pressure. Typically, when challenged, they react defensively. When you push them, they often speak in negatives instead of focusing on positives. They talk about what isn’t happening, instead of what is. We teach them how to communicate more effectively to resolve problems and use the right words to avoid confusion and misinterpretation.
As our flight came in for a landing, I thought about saying something to loudmouth, but clearly, he wouldn’t be interested in what I had to say and there was no point in wasting my energy except for my personal satisfaction of telling him off. Besides, as exited my seat, he was already on his phone loudly discussing important business that for all to hear. He was a man in charge.
Even when coming down from the clouds, his head appeared to remain there; out of touch, in a bubble and unaware of those around him.
Strong leaders keep their feet on the ground to cultivate relationships, seize opportunities and enlist the support of others. When you only consider yourself, you’re probably not as great as you think you are.