How to Field a Team That Can Produce Positive Results in a Time of Crisis

“Has anyone seen my wallet!?” I asked my three children as I fumbled through my purse.

“Your wallet is on the bed at Aunt Mary’shouse,” my eight-year-old daughter said matter-of- factly referring to my relatives home. We had just spent our spring break there.

“WHAT??!” It couldn’t be. I emptied my purse, I checked my over-stuffed carry-on, and I emptied my purse again. It was Saturday 5:10 am and the driver of the car I hired to take us to the airport had pulled over at a gas station because my two daughters were crying from motion sickness.

I called my relatives. They checked. “Yes, it’s here on the bed,” my aunt said. I felt my chest sink. “I’m on my way,” she said.

Arriving at the airport late due to the motion sickness, we had one hour before our flight would depart. I was alone with three kids and no identification in Richmond International Airport.

With more bags and car seats than hands, I wheeled our luggage in stages to the ticket counter.

Looking at the ticket agent, I said, “I am challenged. Can you help me?” With my two daughters crying, me on the verge, and my three-year-old son holding his teddy bear backpack and Woody doll, I told her my problem.

I asked if there were any flights later in the day. “No, not until Monday,” she responded. I stopped breathing as a recognized the severity of the situation. Returning to my aunt’s home and imposing on them for another two days was not an option I could fathom.

The ticket agent told me the bags needed to be checked no less than 30 minutes before flight. I said I understood. My aunt was on her way but had zero chance of making it by then.

There appeared to be no solution, but I kept the agent involved. While realistic I was committed to remaining calm and hopeful as I made her a part of my team. “What are the possible ways we could get on the flight,” I asked. I didn’t have an answer, but I could ask the questions to elicit her creative solutions. So I did.

Thirty minutes before the flight was to depart, I suddenly noticed the agent checking in my bags. She was talking to another agent saying, “Yes, we can do this without an ID if it is not an international flight and you are just going to Chicago.” OK! I was floored, and thanked her profusely. Without a plan we ran to my next hurdle—Security.

There I began, “I have a problem. Can you help me?” The TSA called her supervisor.

Suddently the TSA supervisor to strategize with me. “How can we do this,” I asked. I made it clear by ‘we’ I meant she and I.

She told me she could put us through without identification IF she had enough time to examine us extensively, but with only 22 minutes until the flight departed she wouldn’t be able to that..

“You need to get your ID,” she said. “Are you sure that’s our only way,” I said as though she and I were strategizing how to bring Apollo 13 back from the moon. I believed getting us on that plane had the same kind of odds. “Yes, it’s the only way.” She said it in a way that I heard “go for it.” She was cheering me on.

I had to find if my aunt had made it to the airport with my wallet.

That’s when my six-year-old threw up in the terminal. We went to the closest bathroom. She threw up again. She was crying. The stress level now ratcheted up again. I, feeling panicky, knew I had to remain calm and focused.

As we exited the restroom, my aunt arrived me with my wallet in hand. With only twelve minutes until the flight would depart, I grabbed the wallet like a baton at a track meet and ran back to Security, everyone following.

The line at Security was long. I needed to ask for more help. I asked a woman towards the front of the line if I could go in front of her. She looked me in the eye and said “no.” It was humbling, but I had to keep trying.

Other travelers raised their hands to offer us their place in line. It wasn’t enough.

Then the TSA supervisor appeared again. She instructed me to come to the front. She was direct, committed, and operated with urgency. I liked her. She was on my team. I did as she said. She put our bags through the machines. My three kids and I walked through the metal detector single file.

She handed me my bags and said, “Don’t put on your shoes. Just start running.” She then looked at her largest TSA and said, “John, I want you to take this bucket of hers and run with her as fast as you can.” John did as he was told.

The boarding pass read B13—the last gate.

With my oldest daughter leading the pack, my second daughter next to me crying, and me (shoeless) carrying my son, we ran. The TSA sprinted behind.

When we reached the gate I saw no planes connected to the airport. Then the gate attendant said, “Are you the Hylands?” “Yes,” I said. “I need your boarding passes. Your plane is right out there.”

I thanked both John and her from the bottom of my heart. Once I sat down on the plane I realized it was a team of nine that got me out of my crisis that day.

This is the point: When your problem is too big for you alone, ask for help. You may think I got lucky, but I believe I know how to get help– a frequent need of mine more often these days.

Here are the keys: Make people feel they are part of your team. Elicit their ideas and best solutions by asking questions. Respect them by letting them know you see ‘it’ in them. Remain calm, determined, and confident, especially during crisis so that your team models the same—then thank them profusely.

This week identify an area where you need help in order to succeed. Then build your team. The impossible becomes possible when you do.

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