Several years ago, I was returning home on a flight from New Orleans. Seated at the window, I was doing my best to be in a good mindset for take-off. I’m pretty stoic on the outside when I fly, but have some coping mechanisms that I utilize to get over my fear. These usually include (and not necessarily in the order of priority): prayer, a good escape novel, music, snacks, and an adult beverage if the flight is not early.
On this particular flight, I was buckled in to my window seat, trying to concentrate on my book, when I noticed a tall man coming down the aisle from the corner of my eye. I also began to notice that, with each aisle he passed, people turned to look at him. He continued to the bathroom, and I overheard someone say…”That’s Bill Murray!”
As he exited the bathroom, the flight attendant explained to him that there were only 2 available seats, and he was to pick one. He picked the one next to me! As he settled in, I tried to remain cool and collected, and, at this point, only pretending to read my book. He was the first one to speak, asking me about the body of water we were now flying above. Gone were any concerns I had about take-off…I was hanging with Bill!!
The flight went by quickly, and we had a blast. He listened to my iPod, and joked about the “low fares” advertisement on the back of the pretzels as we enjoyed that adult beverage, now socially. I treated him like any seatmate, which I think he was grateful for. He was genuinely kind and funny. I wasn’t afraid once.
You probably are wondering how this story relates to this blog, and what we do. The lesson I learned from that flight and Bill was about managing situations out of my control. The flight took off and landed the same as any other I had been on, but I dealt with it differently.
As leaders, at least for me, sometimes it is easy to feel stressed when things are our responsibility but out of our control. We can’t control a surgeon’s or staff’s technique, an unknown allergy, or any number of things in our day beyond our control.
What we can do is be well prepared to reduce risk, build our infrastructure well, implement good policies, training, communication and processes, employ great people, and provide strong leadership. The rest, well, we can hang on white knuckled or take a deep breath and remind ourselves about what will get us through to the end of the flight. Most days, we will do our best, get the important stuff done, and go home knowing that our patients got safe, quality care.
So, for what it’s worth, if you’re not flying the plane, trust the pilot and enjoy the ride. I work everyday to remember to do just that.
As far as flying, I’m better now. I’ve met some really nice people in my travels, but I have to admit, Bill was my favorite. When I see his picture, I always say, “there’s my friend Bill!” Next time you fly, make it a fun adventure. If you get a chance to sit next to Bill, tell him I said “hi”.