I Felt Like a Leader But I Wasn’t


Carry-on bags are stowed “below” in small planes where overhead storage is small. After landing, passengers line the jet bridge waiting for their luggage. Most contact friends or chat. People in the back can’t see. Bags pile up. Nobody does anything.

I decided to take matters in hand by holding bags up and calling out last names. Fellow travelers said, “Finally, someone is doing something.” It felt good to help.

Meeting needs makes you valuable.

When my bag arrived, I pulled the handle and walked past the long line of waiting passengers. I felt I’d been useful when I heard someone ask a fellow traveler, “Now what are we going to do?”

I’d done my duty. Besides, my connecting flight was boarding in fifteen minutes. For a moment, I felt like a leader, but I wasn’t.

Leaders mobilize others to meet the needs of others.

Leaders would:

  1. Identify fellow passengers with the skill to lift bags and call out names. (talent)
  2. Ask, “Do you think we can make this process go quicker?” (mission)
  3. Model behavior and then invited capable passengers to help.
  4. Affirm helpfulness by thanking helpers.

Successful leaders never hear, “Now what are we going to do?” when they leave.

Leaders enable others to work without them.

I’m glad I did something to help. But, I was mistaken when I felt like a leader. I was an individual contributor.

Individual contributors are essential. They get jobs done. But, individual contributors often think they’re leading when they aren’t. Getting jobs done isn’t leading.

It’s easy to think you’re leading when you’re busy at the center of things. But, enabling and motivating others to perform is leading.

How can leaders do less so more gets done?

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