Dateline—HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT; in Massive Snow Storm
“This NEVER happens!” I heard this 474 times from Connecticut natives as they tried to explain the powerful nor’easter that was dumping a foot of snow in high winds on Hartford last weekend—and on Bradley International Airport in particular. I was trying to fly home after completing a strategic planning session with a terrific client (so it was worth the travel abuse). My plan was to overnight at the Bradley Airport Sheraton and be ready for an early flight out the next day. But the dastardly hounds-o-winter had other plans. Aye mates, it was going to be a helluva storm…
On my arrival at the Sheraton, following a Mad Maxx freeway drive of terror, doom and blinding snow, the power went out—apparently everywhere in the universe. As I walked in the lobby, there was a line of about a hundred people (not an exaggeration) waiting to check in. As I stood there taking in the scene, a crotchety old man cackled, “Yep, this is the line.” The hotel was running on generators, powering only critical functions. There was no power in the rooms, no hot water, no recharging of phones.
I was going to wait a long time to get into a dark room. But one glance out the window and I was sure that I didn’t want to go anywhere.
Just as I was resigning myself to an interminable line, a Sheraton employee pushed out a cart with bottled water for everyone waiting; a few minutes after that a man came by with a large plate of cheese and crackers. Chairs were offered for anyone who was tired of standing. Within an hour I was being escorted to my room (they couldn’t make keys). And as dark as it was, I was happy to be there.
Of course my flights the next day were all canceled… and my first flight the next day was canceled. Suffice to say the power never came back on and I stayed for two and half days.
The airport, connected to the hotel, was another adventure. About 1000 people (also not an exaggeration) didn’t have a room. Instead they had cots, blankets and pillows offered by state emergency services. They had bottled water and MRE’s or Meals ready to Eat—army rations—that turned out to be pretty dang good. It was quite a scene.
On Halloween I finally made it home. And everyone on the plane had stories of being frozen in the dark for two days…
So what does all this have to do with change leadership? Turns out there were Evolutionary lessons everywhere:
- Adapt! The Sheraton Bradley made the very best of a very bad situation. The staff looked nice, acted nice, and did everything they could within reason to take care of the guests; and most of these people seemed to be working around the clock—not going home. They did what they could as best as they could. I have never been more positive about a hotel with no electricity, hot water, or WIFI (now a living necessity).
- Be Patient! In the airport, I heard laughter, gossip, and snoring; very little complaining. The man offering up the water and food was actually happy and described the MRE’s like a head waiter touting fine fare, “My favorite is the Pesto Chicken Pasta—flavorful, filling, and good.” Yes I’ll have one of those, thank you my good man…” Everyone knew the discomfort was temporary and that there was little more that could be done—so make the best of it.
- Keep Priorities in Line: My six a.m. flight was canceled along with many others on Halloween morning—even though the weather was just fine. United said the cancellation was caused by air traffic control at Hartford. After interviewing a few people at the airport, I learned that it was an executive decision to take care of the flight controllers who had been working around the clock. It was about safety and it was the right thing to do—even though it added a little more discomfort to the travelers; safety trumped everything else—as it should.
- Appreciate and Learn: In the Navy SEAL Teams, instructors will often say “Today is swim fin appreciation day! Get ready for your three mile rough water swim!” This means that the trainees will NOT be permitted to use their fins—hence appreciating them all the more the next time they can use them. I had shower appreciation, hot food appreciation, lamp appreciation, etc. While it wasn’t actually tough by any stretch of the imagination, it was uncomfortable enough to make me appreciate all the little things.
Adaptation, patience, focus, and continuous learning are all evolutionary characteristics. I learned my lessons, now for a hot shower and great cup of bold Northwest of coffee…