As I do consulting and training throughout the country, I get to spend some time in airports.  And for anyone who studies human behavior, the airport is like a candy store.  Every variety you want, is right there.  And of course what makes it even more interesting is that virtually every one there is under stress.  Am I going to make the flight?  The connection?  What if my bags don’t make it?

One of the biggest stress-inducing factors is the weather.  Because when bad weather hits, there’s not really much you can do.  If there are tornadoes in my hometown, no amount of switching flights is going to fix that.  And it is easy to see how stress can build up to a boiling point.

Recently I was in Connecticut hoping to fly home but was experiencing delays because of inclement weather.  And the airline was delaying flights left and right.  Cancelling is one thing, but a delay is something completely different.  With a cancellation, you can make arrangements and be done with it.  But a delay keeps you wondering, guessing, and stressing.

For one would-be passenger, it got to a breaking point.  Now this person appears to be a seasoned traveler, wearing a nice suit, has a briefcase, and gives the impression that he’s a business owner, consultant, or perhaps a CEO.  Now the successful CEOs that I know handle stress quite well.  In fact, they thrive on pressure.  But this guy broke under the pressure.  He started swearing left and right, about the airline, about the airport, and I think even about the city.  And he was not just swearing to himself, he was yelling it out for all to hear.

That someone is frustrated at the airport is certainly nothing new, but what was interesting was in less than a minute, what looked like two state troopers appear out of nowhere, one with a big dog in tow, and they ask the guy to put his hands behind his back.  He does.  They take his ticket and he lunges after it, big mistake.  They subdue him even further.  Finally, they have him cuffed, they grab his bag and walk away.  And the whole airport applauds.

Not only had I never seen someone cuffed in an airport, but I had not seen such solidarity in a group that was obviously frustrated as well.  Everyone wanted to get home or start their vacation, some handled the stress well, some didn’t.

It became clear to me that I wasn’t the only one who was put off by his visible display of frustration.  In today’s environment, it is expected to have some amount of frustration when you travel.  The same is true in business.  Business is full of frustration and challenges.  But they are also opportunities to dig down deep and see what we’re made of.  Can we handle this?  Yes.  How are we going to behave through the stress.  Because how we handle the pressure has a big impact on the culture of our organization.

Think about how you handle stress.  What do your employees or your co-workers see when you’re under stress?  Are they impressed by your ability to handle uncertainty, or do they get to see parts of your personality that you’d rather they didn’t?


John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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