Friday, May 8, 2009


Recently I was on a regional jet from Minneapolis to Indianapolis. I did plane side check in. This meant that I would need to pick my bag at a designated location after departing the plane. In Indianapolis’ new airport they have luggage elevators to accommodate this. These small elevators are often located at the top of the jet way. The luggage handlers load the bags at ground level. The bags are then lifted to our level where an airline worker opens the door allowing passengers access to their bags. The airline employee left informing us he would be back to open the door once the bags had been loaded and lifted.

There was a crowd of us waiting for our bags. We sensed, by the commotion behind the metal door, the bags had been brought to our level. There was a panel of lights that confirmed the sound, but no airline employee. One button was clearly marked “open door.” It was even green to give it that air of permission giving. I thought to myself, `I ought to press that button so we could get on with this;’ instead I waited. We all waited. I would guess about three minutes went by. I kept eyeing that “open” button contemplating the easy push it would take to release us all to whatever it was we all needed to go next. Another minute passed.

A young man standing behind me stepped forward toward the inviting panel. “Do you think we’d get in trouble if we push this button?” He asked rhetorically as he connected his finger with the correct button. The doors opened exposing our long awaited bags.

This young man led. He pushed the button! I thought about pushing the button, but he pushed the button. It made me think: What is the difference between a button pushing leader and one who thinks about pushing the button?

Button pushing leaders take action, while one who thinks of pushing the button might be aware, but hesitates to act. I was aware of the button that would give us access to our bags. The young man, obviously, noted the same thing. Yet he acted on his awareness. Awareness separated from action often results in missed opportunities.

Button pushing leaders ask why not, while one who thinks of pushing the button tends to think what if? I caught myself pulling back as I asked: What if the bags really are not there? What if pushing the button causes a disruption of the process and we have to wait longer? What if the pushed button results in the baggage handler losing a limb with an unexpected mechanical movement (I didn’t say it was logical)? The young man’s comment as he pushed the button seemed to indicate he had the why not attitude. Why not give it a go? Why not risk a reprimand? There is significant difference between a why and a what.

Button pushing leaders are willing to, while one who thinks of pushing the button idles at want to. I wanted to push the button, but the young man was willing to push the button. Wanting to do is conceptual, inactive and philosophical. Willing to do is concrete, enacting and powerful. Moving from wanting, to willing is the difference maker.
In reality, if the young man had not pushed the button we would have eventually gotten our bags. The end result would have been the same. However, his willingness to act moved the future eventuality into present reality. And is this not something leaders do? Help create a present future!

This unassuming young man with his low key willingness to act taught me a great lesson. I want to be more of a button pushing leader…how about you? What buttons do we need to push?

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