Building A Tribe of Captain AJs

When I am trying to find stories and analogies for my posts, I tend to rely on things that I see, hear, and experience.

As a result, I want to share something that I recently experienced on a flight from Vancouver, together with the lessons that we should draw from it for our workplaces.

The Day

It was a flight that I took with American Airlines to Dallas.

It was Boxing Day; the sun was high in the sky, but it was cold outside.

The first thing that was different about this flight was that the Captain (Captain AJ) was standing by the open cockpit door, greeting every passenger as we boarded with a “good morning, welcome aboard and thanks for flying with us today.”

Captain AJ was a friendly-looking man, with a massive smile, dressed in his uniform and sporting a bright Santa tie. An excellent first impression.

On Board

The boarding process continued as everyone settled into their seats.

When all were on board, he appeared again at the front of the plane, this time with a microphone in his hand. For a brief moment, I thought that he was about to sing!

No singing, but information sharing and an insight into his passion for his job.

Using a clear and upbeat voice, he told us all that it was a beautiful day for flying.  The captain told us that pilots loved these sorts of days with clear skies. He said that it took him back to the days when, as a young boy, he watched planes flying overhead in the big blue sky above him. Our captain had developed a fascination for all things airborne, and that had led him into pilot school.

What a Storyteller!

He said it in such an authentic manner that you couldn’t help but be drawn into his words. I noticed many people on the plane craning their heads to the side to take a glimpse outside at the big blue sky, almost as if we were all following his journey.

He then went on to tell us that we would be delayed for a few minutes as he waited for the fuelling receipt. The receipt, he told us, was a small piece of paper, but it contained information that the flight crew needed to make sure that all would be well for our trip to Dallas. He said that he had learned over the years never to ignore the small things in life. Sound advice.

He introduced the flight crew to us by their first names. This undoubtedly made them feel good, and he added how professional they were, and that we were in safe hands.

Leaders Enable the Team to Shine!

I did not once get the idea that he was taking over their role in any way by doing what he did. If anything, he was enhancing their role by emphasizing their competence, experience, and expertise.

Since our safety was their primary job, he told us that we needed to pay attention to them as they couldn’t achieve it without our awareness.

He also told us that for the next several hours, we were a family of 146 people so ‘show each other some love.’

Help People Understand What’s About to Happen

He then explained the fact that we needed to go and have the plane de-iced.

He said that if there was anyone who wanted to know the specifics of what ice did to the aerodynamics of a plane, if we skipped the de-icing and went straight to the end of the runway, he was happy to tell them.

“But let’s just say, it wouldn’t be good.”

When the Road is Bumpy

He also told us that we could experience some turbulence en route to Dallas.

He said, “turbulence was like driving a car and going over bumps. We can often go higher to increase your comfort, but we don’t do it too much, or else it will feel like being in a circus.”

He said that he would try to make up time if they could, but he was aware of everyone’s connections flight times from Dallas and that he was confident that everyone was going to be okay, so relax.

He also told that every airport’s Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) had programmed arrival times for flights coming in. Dallas had our arrival time, and so if we arrived early, it would mess things up, and so there was a good chance that they would request us to slow down anyway.

Did He Say That?

Before he finally disappeared into the cockpit, and as he did, he turned and told us all to have a great flight and, again with a big smile on the face, to “do something great your yourself, your family, your communities and your country.”

“do something great your yourself, your family, your communities and your country.”

It was a great flight, but I believe that what set the tone for the whole cabin (crew and passengers) was the positive behavior and the authentic energy and excitement that the Captain displayed.

Translate that story into your workplace for a moment.

Make this Story Your Own

I am not suggesting for a moment that you need to be Captain AJ and stand by the front door of the building and say, “good morning, welcome, and thanks for working with us today” each day (although it would be awesome if you did!).

However, I do want you to think about whether you show his positive behavior and with genuine, authentic energy and excitement about being there.

We know that people’s emotions are infectious, so put some thought into the unconscious implications that you may be sending through your verbal and nonverbal messaging.

‘Leadership’ is not about position and title but more about our ability to impact and influence others.

The point is, we can all be Captain AJs, regardless of where we sit in the plane.

You don’t have to be sitting in the pointy end.

Final Thoughts From Airlines To Soccer Field

I will leave you with this last comment.

I am a soccer fan, and if you are as well, then you will likely be aware of the transformation that has happened over the past couple of seasons at Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League.

Their manager, Jurgen Klopp, and his team have done something pretty remarkable in terms of their leadership and their impact on the players and their results. Klopp recently was quoted as saying, “As a leader, you have to take a little bit of responsibility for the mood in the room.”