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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

What If We All Hugged It Out?


Because I fly a lot for my work, I get upgraded to First Class a good bit. Sometimes, it’s just a happy surprise and other times, I’ll use frequent flyer miles to secure a seat up front at the end of a long week of travel.

Last week was one of those long week of travel scenarios. I had a connection at Washington Dulles Airport to catch a late afternoon flight to Los Angeles. My connecting flight to Dulles was late taking off and then got put in a holding pattern over the airport for 45 minutes. By the time we landed and I got my bags, it was five minutes after the door to the LA flight was supposed to close. I decided to make a run for it anyway because I really wanted to get home. After running a half mile through Concourse D with my backpack strapped on and my roll aboard trailing behind me. I made it to the gate and was thrilled to see that the door was still open. I wasn’t so thrilled when the gate agent told me that she had just given my First Class seat away. I was too out of breath to argue about it and took the seat she gave me.

As I got on the plane, a flight attendant named Catherine greeted me. I mentioned that I had just lost my seat up front and was hoping to get dinner on the plane since I was really hungry. She said that there were snack boxes in Coach that I could buy. It was at that point that I said I was pretty upset that the gate agent had given my seat away. And in that moment, Catherine began what was one of the more amazing sequences of human kindness that I have ever encountered.

She looked at me and asked, “Do you want to hug it out?”

I said, “Sure, let’s hug it out.” So we stood there in the galley and had a nice hug. I didn’t realize how much I needed that. It was the perfect thing for her to do.

Then Catherine said she had some great seats in Coach, and to take the one I wanted while she stowed my roll aboard and hung up my jacket. I had been sitting in my new seat for about five minutes when she showed up with a glass of orange juice and said “You know what they say about what to do when life gives you lemons? Well, here’s some lemonade.” It turns out that the OJ was enhanced with a little vodka.

I finished that up and took the empty glass to the galley to throw it away but mainly to apologize to Catherine for being a whiny baby when I got on the plane. She said I really hadn’t misbehaved all that much and we were good. It was about that time that a second gate agent came on the plane to hand me a $200 voucher to make up for the first one giving my seat away. It turns out that one of Catherine’s teammates went back out to the gate to complain about the lost seat because in his 10 years of experience as a flight attendant he had never seen that happen.

Once we finally took off and reached altitude, Catherine showed up at my row back in coach and handed me a tray of what was clearly a hot meal. It was marked CREW and was chicken, rice and a salad. When I thanked her (profusely) for it she said it was her meal and she wasn’t going to eat it so she gave it to me. A little while later she waved off my credit card when I offered it to pay for a glass of wine. A little while after that, she slipped into the row in front of me and handed me a cup of ice cream as she said, “This is what I call a warm hug from Catherine.” It turned out that her warm hug includes some rum mixed in with the ice cream.

Like I said earlier, it was one of the most amazing sustained displays of human kindness (especially on an airliner) that I have ever encountered. I’ve thought a lot about how Catherine handled things that night and have concluded that she made an in-the-moment decision to do everything she could to make me feel super special for the rest of the flight. She definitely did.

When we finally landed in LA around 9 pm Pacific Time, Catherine was standing by the exit as the passengers left the plane. I told her she was a total rock star and thanked her for all the kindness she had extended to me. I also asked if we could hug it out again and she was happy to do so. As I was leaving I asked her why she had done what she’d done. She smiled brightly and said, “This little light of mine…” And I responded with “I’m going to let it shine.” She laughed and said, “That’s it.”

It’s a little too early to say if my flight with Catherine changed my life, but it’s definitely made me think a lot about the simple opportunities that are in front of me every day to just blow someone else away with kindness. That’s what I’m going to be thinking about and looking for this week.

How different would he world be if more of us responded to upset people by asking whether they just want to hug it out?

How different would the world be if more of us responded to upset people by asking whether they just want to hug it out?

(Image via Hung Chung Chih/Shutterstock.com)

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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