I am frequently turned off by the non-stop commercial that the Olympics has become in recent years…and I’d rather drink water from this year’s rowing venue than listen to Bob Costas.
Yet, with all of the commercialism, politicism, and every other “ism” that bothers me about the games, I find the individual Olympians and their sagas inspiring.
I was walking by the TV at the moment a Dutch cyclist leading her race took a horrifying spill. It looked as if she may have actually been killed. I sat down with my son to watch the drama unfold.
(Thankfully, we later learned she would be okay.)
American cyclist Mara Abbott assumed the lead. Besides the theatre of an unconscious cyclist lying along the road, we now had a solo racer with a 40-second lead trying to hold off three of the world’s top racers - working as a team - in pursuit of her.
Although Abbott is an accomplished cyclist, I couldn’t have picked her out of a two-person lineup. As we watched the drama unfold, the commentators kept reminding us that the aerodynamics of groups of bikers is superior to solo riders. You use less energy and go faster when cycling in a group.
The next few minutes was going to be a contest of whether Abbott could hold off the pack of riders catching up to her on a slick and perilous course. Those were as tense a few minutes as I’ve seen in sports in years.
It was also obvious Abbott knew she was in the race of her life. With one mile left and while she still held a 10-second lead, I shook my head and said, “They’re going to catch her.”
In one of those truly cruel sporting moments, all three racers passed Abbott in the last 100 yards of that 88-mile race. She went from gold medal to no medal in an instant, and millions watching felt for her.
The obvious and easy analogy there is that people working as a team almost always outperform any one person.
Okay, check. Easy analogy made.
However, it was Abbott’s comments after the race that made me an instant fan of a cyclist who had failed to medal. With a composed smile, she explained she had “left it all on the course.”
She didn’t get the results she wanted, but she had no regrets. Abbott knew she had given her best.
Life doesn’t always give us storybook endings, and heroic efforts don’t always produce victories.
But heroic efforts produce heroes. And heroes inspire us all.
How inspirational will your own efforts be this week?
I kidded with my family while packing last week that I needed to throw extra clothes into my bag. I had connections in O’Hare airport on both ends of the trip.
So, I wasn’t sure when I’d get home.
Shock of all shocks, we had issues on both of my flying days. “My airline” has become adept at having planes at their gates on time while the crews scheduled to fly them are in the air somewhere else.
The delays and frustrations presented to passengers on both trips were similar. However, the demeanors of the aggrieved groups turned out entirely differently.
The difference in experiences had almost nothing to do with the airline’s technology or digital communications. (They were pretty awful.)
The difference in each case was the behavior, tone, and actions of the gate agents.
In the first instance, the gate agent treated delayed passengers with condescension.
He could not seem to understand why passengers kept asking him questions or why they expected that he could help them.
He took no ownership of a negative situation.
He made no announcements to keep people up to speed and chose to stare alternatingly at his computer screen and smartphone. Far from diffusing tension, he created resentment.
By the time we loaded that delayed flight, passengers were openly berating that airline.
I’m sure the late arriving fight attendants appreciated the angry mob they inherited from that agent.
Two days later, it was déjà vu. Again, we had a plane…but no crew. Again, passengers were frustrated and stressed about missing connections.
But this time, a young man named Chris was the gate agent. He had a positive and respectful tone, demeanor, and work ethic that diffused the situation.
He frequently announced our status, got folks prepared to board quickly, and made sure people with especially tight connections knew their options.
He clearly took personal ownership of the situation.
I silently vowed to respond to the survey (that I usually ignore) that the airline sends after flights. I later made sure to mention Chris by name, as well as suggest they clone him and then promote him.
Nearly identical situations produced vastly different customer experiences because of one motivated employee.
Never underestimate the influence that even one engaged person - you - can have on how customers view your entire business.