Thursday, March 28, 2013

Opinion + Backbone = ENEMIES

Rest assured that you won't find this equation in any mathematics text!  Especially since it could just as easily be expressed:

Opinion + Backbone = ADMIRERS

As with most things, it's all a matter of perspective:  either of the equations is just as "valid" as the other!

...and while we're on the topic of perspective...

There are those who are "all about" getting credit.
There are those who are "all about" getting results.
Most of the time, they are NOT the same people!

How do you see it?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

AGAPE (ah gah pay) in Action

I am the administrator of a focused Facebook group of frontline employees of my airline employer.  Our stated mission is to promote unity, harmony & solidarity following the recent mega-merger of two airline subsidiaries.  Our focus in executing that mission is positivity and mutual empowerment.  The vision statement of our group reads:

"I am the face of XXXXX, the face that my customers will remember when they reminisce about their flight experience. I am honored to follow in a proud, storied tradition of service and safety.

I am committed to my own success, to the success of my colleagues, and to that of my company. The opinions of detractors who attempt to distract us from achieving our potential are just that: opinions and distractions.

I do not need a charismatic leader at the helm of XXXX to tell me that I am a good, worthy, respected member of a winning team whose future promises to be so much brighter than its collective past.

Because I declare it every time I put on my uniform and go to work....

One trip, one crew, one flight, one passenger-at-a-time.

THIS is the way F O R W A R D > > > >"

Each morning, I log on and read the fascinating anecdotes and questions of my peers who provide that pivotal link between corporation and customer.  To say that I am proud of my colleagues and what we accomplish together everyday is the height of understatement!

Often, a simple customer interaction becomes a "life event" to be shared and venerated.  For example:

"I had a couple sitting in 5 first from LHR to IAH yesterday...they were so amazing and gracious that I WANTED to serve them and do anything possible to make their journey easy. That's why I do my's for those amazing people who cross paths with me ever so often...they make it all worth while. Oh, and did I mention they were obviously happily married and she was disabled? She never asked for anything special and didn't even know she needed ANY assistance..he did it all for her...didn't know they needed a wheelchair till landing when I asked..and they said her chair and walker had been gate checked. Then they thanked ME for all I had done to make their flight so nice....what the hell had I done? All I did was for every asshole I have to serve and smile and take care of...I will remember these amazing people that appreciated every little thing I did. Everyone has a story...everyone has something going on...I am there to win one more for customer at a serve and at a time."

I recognize the feeling of "fullness" or "fulfillment" that my colleague describes in that passage.  Perhaps you do too.  It's unfortunate that English doesn't lend itself to adequately describe the feeling with a word.   But ancient Greek had precisely the right word for the concept described:  AGAPE.

AGAPE is a variant of what we think of as "love".  Loosely, it means that feeling of love that we have without condition or restriction, pure, chaste, spontaneous, NOT physical.  Remember the old Coca Cola commercial (from the 1970s, I think)?  "I'd like to teach the world to sing..."  How does that make YOU feel when you remember it?  THAT's AGAPE!

It's comforting to know that, whether or not we have the word for it, the concept of AGAPE is alive and well in the 21st century!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Empowering vs. Enabling

Empowering vs. Enabling: What role do YOU play?

Everyday, I try to scan through the various social media outlets where my colleagues gather and distribute volumes of information. Before ever arriving at some venues, I have a pretty good idea of what I'm likely to find there. Others are not so easily “defined”.

Yesterday, while visiting a popular Flight Attendant group on Facebook (5000+ members), I read a disturbing post from a union officer. His suggestion that colleagues are losing their jobs at the rate of 4 per month from taking bad advice from OTHER FLIGHT ATTENDANTS left me gobsmacked! The statistic is daunting enough. The circumstances, at least to me, are just short of surreal. His premise is that our peers are being terminated because they follow the advice of other Flight Attendants whom they consult on the jumpseat, in the crew room, on Facebook, etc! Although the precise reason for the terminations was not cited, the officer implied that they all had something to do with a FA telling scheduling that they “can't or won't work a trip”.

How is this situation possible? We aren't discussing speaking to your supervisor because a friend told you, “oh, sure, those shoes are acceptable.” We aren't talking about a step of discipline because you read on Facebook that it was OK to have 5 separate sick instances in 6 months. We're talking about LOSING YOUR JOB! (In a college Psychology class that I took in the late 1970s, “job loss” was considered a PIVOTAL “life event” right up there with “death of a loved one” and “divorce”. Have times changed so much?)

Ultimately, the unfortunate colleague taking advice without research or verification is responsible for whatever results. It is the responsibility of each individual to verify facts using the resources available before they make these monumental and often calamitous decisions. After all, it's his/her job that is in jeopardy.

But what role do we, Flight Attendant colleagues, play in the process? For all their many benefits, universal instantaneous communications portals like Facebook play a role too. When we glibly say something to a colleague like, “I would just tell scheduling there is NO WAY I'm going to fly THAT trip”, do we ever stop to think of the potential impact that statement might ultimately have? How easy is it to build your “online reputation” as a “bad mo-fo” by disseminating such high-handed, shoot-from-the-hip advice? Why do SO MANY do it?

Because it makes them feel powerful, awesome, respected, important.... ARGH!

Isn't it just as easy to say, “before you say anything to scheduling that might cost you your job, READ YOUR CONTRACT”? Yes, it feels good to be the disseminator of information, to be recognized as a knowledgeable resource, but do you want that positive feeling at the cost of potentially aiding and abetting someone in the loss of their job?

EMPOWER the questioner to find the answers using the resources available to all of us. Don't ENABLE them to skip that KEY step and potentially put themselves in a position to lose their job.

Who do YOU respect more: the EMPOWERer OR THE ENABLER?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Airplane Cabins: cultivating humanity?

When I woke this morning (at an unspeakable hour) I had a colleague of mine on my mind.  Rose Cooksey O'Neall is a Flight Attendant at my airline employer and participates in some of the social media groups that I do. Last week she posted some observations of customers on the airplane going out of their way to help one another and the crew by extension to "calm" the atmosphere of an aircraft cabin.  Generally speaking, ours is a workplace rife with anxiety but those who Rose pointed out had each done some little kindness, rendered some assistance to a fellow that served to make things calmer, less anxious, nicer, more "human".  My friend Rose is on a mission to recognize those little wonders of humanity as they occur and to perpetuate them.  BRAVO!

Some examples:  a gentleman assisting a lady who needed help stowing her bag, an older lady sitting with & "adopting" two unaccompanied minors for the flight, another customer switching to a less desirable seat on a full flight so that a family can sit together, a very frequent flyer customer offering his first class seat to a soldier returning from active duty.  All of these acts share a sense of selflessness that is becoming a rarity in our frenetic world.  To put it succinctly, how can we help keep "humanity" off of the endangered species list?

The post has generated much debate.  Should our company take an institutional approach?  Should we each, the frontline employees, take unilateral action to reinforce these wonderful gestures that we see so sorely lacking in the masses?  What is the best approach to promote humanity?

What is the best approach to promote humanity?

The best approach is for EACH of us to take an ownership role in every interaction we have today.  Whether it be with a customer, a colleague, a family-member, or a complete stranger, we must OWN the quality of whatever exchange we have with each other.  If you witness selflessness...a seemingly random act of humanity, acknowledge it, remark upon it, nurture it, reward it, perpetuate it!

The key to the question is that we all seek validation.  We long to know that what we do, what we stand for, who we are is important.

When we spend more time acknowledging and recognizing the good in each other and less time castigating and berating the bad, the tide will turn!  Our human nature will assure that our humanity never "goes the way of the dinosaur."

A More Poignant Farewell

After posting my "farewell to London" earlier today, I learned that my nephew-by-marriage is facing a much more profound loss:  his 46 year-old father was critically injured in a traffic accident.  We learned today that his brain function has essentially ceased and that he is being kept alive by mechanical means.  The very suddenness of these events highlight how quickly life, as we know it, can change direction by 180 degrees.  It is the very opposite situation that I faced last year when my own father died after a 3 year struggle with cancer.

As Dad pondered his mortality and the various treatments & tortures which have become "de rigueur" for cancer sufferers, I found myself wondering which is worse:  to have a loved one linger in pain and anguish knowing that they have no real hope of cure but have the time for closure or to have them die suddenly, painlessly for all intents and purposes, but have no real opportunity for "good-bye".  I believe that the key word in both scenarios is "BUT".  One cannot have the benefits of either scenario without the pitfalls of the same scenario.

In this situation, the question is more grave because my nephew and his dad did not have a typical father-son relationship.  The father's behaviors were not particularly fatherly (in his defense, my nephew was born when he was but 22) or family-oriented.  Their relationship was strained despite my nephew's longing for closeness and the paternal bond he'd never really known.  Now, circumstances dictate that he will never realize those dreams.  Does anything in life carry more "finality" than this happenstance?  His hope of ever "resolving" his relationship with his father is lost.

For the spiritual, the religious, death is not the END, only a transition for the soul in question.  But the consequences of death for those left behind are enormous, regardless of circumstance.

My advice?  It may be trite, but we all must live every day, every moment as if it were our last.  Regret is a total waste of time and energy!


I have a sad but unavoidable update to my post:  James Marty Kemp took his leave of this world at about 11:15am ET on Sunday, March 24, 2013.  May he rest in peace. 

To Max:  You are a treasured member of our family and we share your loss.  Without your father, we would never have had you.  James Marty Kemp left a formidable legacy in a wonderful, loving, kind-hearted, thoughtful, giving son.  We will be forever indebted to him for that.

Farewell to an old Friend

Due to some rather seismic shifts in my employer's business model, shifts driven by circumstances and conditions that seemingly no one has control over, I am likely in London for the last time for the foreseeable future.  It seems impossible.  Almost since beginning my airline career in 1984, the Houston-London trip has been the "flagship" of our international service.  It frequently carried the flagship flight numbers 1 & 2, as if to delineate its importance.

However, due to re-allocation of strategic resources following a rather momentous merger with another airline, the "other" subsidiary airline will soon be operating this route from "our" London base. With three frequencies a day rather that the current two, the case can be made that we achieve greater market saturation with this strategy.

From my perspective, strategic move or not, it seems like losing an old friend!  Many of my friends and I frequently avoided flying the London trip for one reason or another.  But it was comforting to know that it was there, a fallback if other things weren't available or if one just wanted the comparative comfort of the routine and predictable:  comfortable hotel near Windsor castle on the early trip or not-so-comfortable hotel but excellent Kensington location on the late.  London seemingly had something for everyone.

The future of my base (Houston/International) seems to be pointing west, to Asia.  If I choose to maintain the status quo and remain based in Houston, I will also be going west.  It's just another life of gazillions that we all must make and then, hope for the best!

Who knows, perhaps Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai, etc. will prove to be friends as true as London has been.  Only time will tell.

At any rate, it's just one more step along the path.  This adventure we call "life" will continue until it ends.

Or does it?

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Right now, it's pure POTENTIAL and OPPORTUNITY.

What will it become?

Will you MAKE it something special or WAIT for karma (or something else)  to take control of it?

Like most things in life...

It's a CHOICE!  Choose well, my friend.