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The Leader In The Queue

Long queues at the airport security check can be frustrating. But as I discovered at Bengaluru airport the other day, sometimes the queue can throw up interesting lessons too.

The airport was crowded, so despite several X-ray machines being operational, there were multiple queues out there. I picked a queue and as it invariably happens, it seemed to be the one moving slowest. As we neared the X-ray machine, I noticed there were very few trays left for people to deposit their laptops into – while the adjacent machine had a huge pile of trays.

I did a quick count of the trays lying in front and there were seven. And then, instinctively, I counted the number of people ahead of me and was delighted to discover that there were exactly six people in front. Seven trays. And I was the seventh guy. Lucky me, I said to myself even as a smile escaped my lips. I knew it was no big deal, but who wants to get to the front and then have to wait, and shout out to the security guy and request him for trays, and wait till someone comes along and piles them up again.

And yes, I couldn’t help but look at the man behind me in the queue. The unlucky guy. The man who would have to wait for a tray!

Each of the folks in front picked up a tray and I watched intently as they put their laptops and their phones and wallets away. And when my turn came, there it was. The last tray! I picked it up with a sense of triumph, and put my laptop onto it and pushed it on the conveyor. And then I turned for one last look at what the man behind me might be feeling.

And guess what he did?

The man behind me – that unlucky guy – quietly walked across to pick up a tray from the large pile of trays at the adjacent X-ray machine. And with both hands, he picked up not one – but about a dozen trays – and brought them to where our queue was! He was sorted. As were several of the people behind him.

What a guy, I thought to myself. I knew I had just seen a demonstration of true leadership in action. In that instant, I got a masterclass in what great leaders are really all about. Their instinctive focus is not on themselves and their own needs, but on other people and what they might need. They have a desire to care for – and help – the people around them.

As I cleared security, I couldn’t help think how we tend to get too caught up in ourselves. We want to get ahead in the queue. We want that last tray. We don’t want to be left behind.

Maybe we should all pause and take a leaf out of that young man’s book. Focus on others. Help other people. Care.

Long queues at airports can be boring. But as I discovered, sometimes they can teach us lessons that will stay with us forever.

And yes, if you were the man behind me in the queue that day, thank you stranger for the lesson in what leadership is really all about.

Leadership is not about me. It’s about them. Always was. Always will be.

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