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Who are the hidden gems in your organization?

Russ Kathrein - Leadership

I recently wrapped up some air travel with a flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles. Due to the frequency of my visits to our lumber dealers, I was fortunate to get upgraded to first class, and it was there I got to see André, part of my LA-based flight crew, in action.

I had opportunities for flight upgrades before, and usually the experience is merely a wider seat, some free drinks, and slightly better food. The flight attendants are usually no more or less attentive than their counterparts, and when they have served their round of drinks and snacks (or meals) they retreat to the galley and get on their phone or read a book. That’s been my impression, until I met André.

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First, I noticed how attentive he was to every one of his passengers. While we were still on the tarmac, he got us drinks and explained that he would need to collect them before takeoff. He then came around multiple times to see if we needed anything else and to apologetically remind us he would be collecting our glasses before we took off, all while other passengers were still boarding. Later, I noticed that he never stopped moving. He was constantly making the rounds to see if his passengers needed anything while collecting our trash and glasses. He even went into the restroom twice and wiped it down—truly a professional that was making this a first class experience!

But what made me get to know André was “the tray.” You see, he carried a tray with a special handle that suspended the tray below his hand and acted like a gimbal (that’s a sailing term) by keeping the tray completely level, even as the plane moved with turbulence. He would bring each passenger’s drink out individually on the tray and suspend it in front of the passenger, making it easier to take hold of. After serving drinks, he would arrange the tray with one of each snack available and present it to each passenger, encouraging them to take whatever they wanted. Then, after the passenger had chosen his or her snack, he would step back to the galley and reload the tray for the next passenger. His approach was ingenious, and it truly made for a unique experience.

Curiosity got the better of me and I asked him if the tray was something new for the airline. No, he said, the airline provides a little silver platter to serve drinks in first class. But one time, due to turbulence, he spilled a drink on a passenger. He vowed never to do that again, so on his own, he looked for a tray that he could hold steady while the plane was flying. He found this one and is the only flight attendant using this type of tray. I complimented him on his ingenuity and his resolve to fix a problem, and he told me, “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

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This whole experience serves as a great reminder to stop and look at the people within your organization. Do you have someone who has the intellectual curiosity that makes them come up with solutions that no one else has considered? Are you rewarding the people in your organization who think outside the box, or does your culture discourage it? My biggest fear in sharing what André had done on his own was that his organization might punish him because he didn’t follow company procedures, rather than reward him for solving problems that they didn’t even know they had. I encourage you to find the Andrés in your organization and reward them. They see the things you don’t.

Russ Kathrein is with the LBM Division of Do it Best Corp. based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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