December 21, 2018

Finding the Light While Plunged into Darkness:
Reflections from an Airplane

Airplanes and airports are great places to observe new cultural trends and impacts on people.  I remember when texting first became a big phenomenon.  For a while I thought there was an increase in public praying as everyone was looking down in what appeared to be a prayer posture.  I soon discovered that they were engaged in this new phenomenon called texting.

So what’s big on airplanes now?  Passengers routinely and faithfully shut all of the windows and blinds. They plunge themselves and everyone else into total darkness.  That’s because everyone is on their electronic devices and need to block out the light.  To save energy especially in hot weather, even flight attendants tell passengers to close the shades.  I am convinced that some people get window seats just so they can slam the shades shut.

I really enjoy looking out of the windows of the airplane to get a panoramic aerial view of the landscape.  It may be gloomy, dark, cloudy, and rainy in the departure city; however, 30,000 feet in the air it is sunny and beautiful.  The clouds are gorgeous and peaceful providing lots of opportunity to dream, imagine, and create.  The Rocky Mountains, especially from Denver to Aspen, are an amazing moon scape that I view with awe.  I am deeply inspired by natural beauty and some of my best ideas come to me at 30,000 feet.  I also love night landings where the lights of the city look like the inside of a giant computer.  It’s all quite amazing.

Since I sit on the aisle rather than the window seat, I’ve had to adopt a few strategies for finding the light.  I board early and raise the shades before my seat partner arrives.  Sometimes, they keep the shades open because they are already open.  At other times, I negotiate for partial views rather than total darkness.  When the shades are up I make a point of intently looking out of the window with great interest so my partner gets the idea that maybe there’s something of value out there.

So what does all of this have to do with leadership?  A few takeaway points:

  1. Show up early so you have the best opportunity to create the environment you want
  2. Negotiate with partners for win/win solutions
  3. Enjoy opportunities while you have them. Sometimes the window of opportunity is short.
  4. Share what you see so others can benefit. We don’t all see the same things.
  5. Remember that just a few thousand feet away, the sun is shining even if you can’t see it now

And when all is said and done and you’re plunged into darkness anyway, you can always take a nap.


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