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013 – Travel connections

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —April 4, 2018
Filed in Leadership Posts, Podcast

Tags: leadership, putting others first, development, rapport, culture

Sometimes being a leader means putting your employees or team members first. In this episode, we hear how one of the founders of Flight Centre puts an employee first. It’s a story that we often tell when asked for a good example of leadership.

aircraft-airplane-business-527

We also talk about how you can build rapport within the first five minutes of a meeting using a connection story.

For your story bank

Back in the 90’s.

About 40 people going from Melbourne to Hong Kong for a Flight Centre event.

Geoff Harris, one of the founders of Flight Centre in 1982 was travelling with them.

They were checking in, Geoff gets a business class ticket.

Geoff is chatting to people in the group.

He starts talking to a young Assistant Store Manager.

Geoff asks if he sells all classes of airfare. Assistant Store Manager says yes.

Geoff asks if he’s ever flown business class and the young man laughs and says ‘Me? No way!’

Geoff says he should experience it since he’s selling it, and hands him his Business Class ticket.

This is no small thing. The flight is 10 hours, and Geoff is a big guy.

Podcast Transcript

 

Shawn:

So welcome to another episode of Anecdotally Speaking. Now remember this is the podcast to help you build your business story repertoire. I’m Shawn Callahan.

Mark:  

And I’m Mark Schenk. And tomorrow is a big day for you, Shawn, a well-deserved holiday coming up, what’s happening?

Shawn:

I’m looking forward to it actually. Sheena and I are off to New Zealand, South Island. We’re going to be doing a bit of touring around; one thing is a railway ride across the South Island. It takes us through the Mountains, very Lord of the Rings I believe, in terms of the scenery there. And then most of the time just bumming around taking photo is a big thing that I’ll do enjoying the scenery of the South Island, New Zealand.

Mark:

Which is apparently extremely scenic, and so any walking?

Shawn:

Yes, we’re going to be doing a couple of trails down near Fordland; cause you know you’ve got the Milford sound and some of the amazing places down there that we’ll do some walking, some great trails there. I wish though I had planned it a little bit better, I could have gone to the North Island and gone to the place where Charles Darwin went. This is the thing but maybe next trip.

Mark:

Really, so you are going to New Zealand and you are not going to the Charles Darwin location!

Shawn:

I know, I know it was bad timing, bad planning however.

Mark: 

But of course, it is March and you’ve kind of given yourself a bit of a conundrum going to the South Island of New Zealand in March because you might need swimwear and you might need your winter woollies, so you are going to have to pack for all seasons.

Shawn:

Yeah, I’ve been told that you really can’t predict what’s going to happen on the next day or maybe even that afternoon. But I can predict in the Marlborough area which is the North end of the South Island, is the wineries. I can predict what’s going to happen on that area, but anyway that’s another story.

So, let me think, of course we’ve got another story for you, for everyone to listen to and sort of work out how you might tell that story.  Mark’s going to take us through it, give us the set-up, how did this come about and what’s the story?

So, a few years ago I was going on a sales call. It was an organisation that wanted a conference speaker and they wanted to do the sniff test and just check me out. I was meeting with the HR of this organisation, so I did the usual thing and looked at a LinkedIn profile and I saw that she previously worked at Flight Centre.

A perfect connection story was the time when I was working with Flight Centre up in Wisemans Ferry in New South Wales and I was absolutely amazed at the attitude of the Flight Centre people, like how positive it was. We had a full day workshop and then there was a dinner and drinks and they were partying till quite late then a whole bunch of them were up very early playing golf and they weren’t very good golfers so the golf balls were rattling around the Hotel car park but at 8.30 they were in the room completely attending for the whole day and they work hard and play hard.

So, that was my take away so when I started and first met this lady I walked in I said ‘hi’ and told her that little story. And she told me ‘I loved Fight Centre, they had great leadership there’ and she just went on to tell me one of the best examples of leadership I’ve heard in a long time.

This is back in the nineties and she was part of a group of 40 odd people who were going from Melbourne Airport to Hong Kong for a Flight Centre event. Travelling with them was one of the founders of Flight Centre, a guy called Jeff Harris. They’d founded the Flight Centre in 1974 so been doing it for a long time.

Anyway they were at the airport and they were checking in, and of course Jeff, he’s a super platinum and he walks up to business class check in counter, gets his business class ticket and he comes back, so this lady was explaining that Jeff was just standing there talking to the group, chatting to people and he was talking to a young assistant store manager, talking about his work and says so do you sell all classes of airfare you know, first class, business class? And the young guy’s going yeah, yeah of course.

And Jeff, goes ‘have you ever travelled business class?’ And this guy goes, ‘ah, me! No way’ and Jeff goes ‘well I think you should experience it if you are going to be selling it’. And he handed him his business class ticket and exchanged it for the economy class, for the cattle class ticket.

Shawn:  

Right.

Mark:  

And this is no small thing because Melbourne to Hong Kong is ten hours and Jeff’s a big guy and so he’s traded a comfy business class experience for cattle class, middle seat. The lady finished by saying’ that’s the sort of leadership we had in Flight Centre.’ Man, I immediately took out my phone and made some notes for my story bank.

Shawn:    

What a great story, I love that story. Wouldn’t it be great if we had more leaders like that?

Mark:

And in fact, that’s one of the times when I use that story is when people go have you got examples of good leadership.

Shawn:   

Yes, okay let’s talk then about what we think really makes that story work. What are the elements?

Mark:  

Well, so I told that story, what’s your first reaction?

Shawn:   

Two things spring to mind, the first one is very recognisable, right, so you can imagine the people in the airport. You can sort of see that picture. It’s relatable, we’ve had that experience. We’ve lined up and done that and gone on those big company gatherings as well right? So, all that just seems very familiar and you are sort of going yeap, that’s something I’ve gone through. Mind you I haven’t been given the business class ticket.

Mark:  

But surely you would have given yours away?

Shawn:    

Course, yes, absolutely. So that’s the first thing that jumps out at me but the other thing is because it’s so familiar to me I can see it, you don’t have to describe much about it but I can see the picture of him standing having that chat with the twenty-three year old in the line there and you’ve got area’s that have been roped off etc., but it’s not quite a rope but anyway, I can see that picture so that’s another element. What about for you?

Mark:    

I guess the unexpectedness, the leader handing over his piece of privilege.

Shawn:    

Yes, right, you know adding that bit where you say, ‘and this is no small thing for Jeff, he’s a big guy’, I think it just amps it up a little bit more. Right, it just sort of says there is something at stake here and it’s his comfort for a ten-hour flight, you told us that, you know its Hong Kong, ten hours so you are sort of getting the sense this is not just a Melbourne to Sydney one-hour quick trip. This is something more substantial.

Mark:        

Absolutely, in fact, as you were saying that I wasn’t conscious about it, but it is important when we are telling stories to understand what is at stake. Like I guess subconsciously I’m just going, what are the stakes which is why I add that detail in, it wasn’t planned?

Shawn:

I was thinking whether it would be useful to paint a little more of a picture at the beginning where they were going and not so much why, but they were heading off on this company gathering or conference or something like that. Just wondering whether putting something like that at the beginning would be useful to help us understand why these people are in the airport at that particular time.

Mark:  

Well yeah because every year they have the big company celebrations where they get people together from all over the world and this was the Victoria contention.

Shawn:  

Something like that I think could be useful. Is there anything else we need to say about the story? I don’t think so, unless you can think of anything, Mark.

Mark:   

I guess just themes that we’ve heard you know in terms of why stories work. That one; breaking the script, that little thing where the leader does something unexpected. That issue of power which of course is a common theme in stories we’re interested in. These are themes we’ve explored in previous podcasts and certainly repeat in this story.

Shawn:    

Yeah definitely. The power one is a really important one because we are always interested in telling stories about people who have power. In this case it’s hierarchical power and of course we know that’s there’s money power and beauty power.

Mark: 

And of course, charisma, Shawn.

Shawn:   

And charisma. So, anything to do with that person doing something unusual will be of interest to people. What about where you might tell this? What’s the situation where this story could be a good story to tell?

Mark:   

I have used it a number of times but it’s normally in response to a situation where people are asking for examples of good leadership. And I must say, when people ask me that question that story springs to mind very frequently.

Shawn:    

Can I just jump back to another thing that’s important about that story?

Mark:      

Oh no jumping back.

Shawn:      

One of the things you include there is the guy’s name, Jeff Harris. You could have just said, ‘one of the founders of Flight Centre’ but it has more credibility because you remember the name so that’s important.

Mark:  

That is really important because when we bump into these events all the time and the facts (stories are facts wrapped in context and delivered with emotion) you really need to get the facts right.

Shawn:   

O.k. so how else might we use this? It’s a great example of story triggering isn’t it? He’s doing something so remarkable that people will start to tell stories about that event. Things that amplify and maintain your culture are the stories that are being told in your organisation, particularly about the leaders.

Mark:    

And in previous episodes we talked about intervention stories and how you can use them as illustrations or springboards to thinking about, ‘what can we do around here that could have a similar effect?’

So, if you were trying to create a more inclusive culture; servant-leadership, those sorts of things.

Shawn:      

Flattening the organisation.

Mark:

Exactly; you might start by telling that story— ‘what could we do that would have a similar effect?’

Shawn:  

You told me awhile back about the organisation that did the opposite—tell me that again.

Mark:      

This was a team offsite in Western Australia, so a very dispersed team and they got together in Perth and had a three-day team building event and it was really positive. And they talked about some important messages; about how they were going to behave, the targets they were going to hit, the cost savings they had to achieve.

And everybody felt really close. There was a lot of bonding going on and they all got together and went to the airport and the head guy just said, ‘see ya later’ and went off to the business class lounge and they didn’t see him again.

Everybody is standing there going ‘hmm, one team, we’re in this together?’ Yeah, except I’m at the front of the plane.

Shawn:

Yeah, we’re in this together so get behind me now. Here’s the thing though, in organisations, because people are leader watchers you really have to align your behaviour with what you say. Because, if you’re going to make a choice; should I choose what they say or what they do? I think I’ll choose what they do. That’s my true indicator of what’s going on around here.

Mark:      

Yeah, it’s the leadership spotlight. As you get more senior in your organisation the spotlight gets brighter and bigger. And people are just watching you like hawks going, ‘what are they going to do?’ As you say, what they say, what they do? People are going to take their cues from what the leaders do.

Shawn:

On the culture side of things we like to say that if you want to change a culture you need to change the stories that are being told. And really this is just one tiny pixel, if you like, in a bigger picture of what the culture is and you have to be very consistent about that.

And one of the things leaders can do instead of saying, ‘we want this one team, we’re working together’, they can share stories about it. But here’s a really important point; it would be really naff (stupid) if Jeff Harris told the story of him handing over the business class ticket.

Mark:  

Surely, that would work, ‘you know I was at the airport and I just thought it would be a nice thing to do to hand over my business class ticket to the young fella…’

Shawn:    

Yeah, it just doesn’t sound good does it?

Mark: 

That’s a good example of how you would not use a story like that; when it’s about you.

Shawn: 

It’s so much better if you can find an example which is just like that (you might have done that) but you don’t want to use your example, you want to use an example of someone else.

Mark:    

If you did have a behaviour that was similar to the Jeff Harris behaviour you would not need to tell it yourself because it would just be like wildfire through the organisation.

Shawn:   

Exactly. Well, let’s give this story a rating.

Mark:   

I just want to unpack one more little thing about that. There are actually two stories I told there. One of them was about connection stories and how when you have a meeting or sales call or any opportunity it’s worth doing some preparation and thinking about ‘what’s the story I might use to help build rapport and connection off the bat?’

So, in this case I just did a LinkedIn profile and seen that she worked for Flight Centre and went, ‘right, what’s an experience I’ve had that’s relevant to her?’ And of course, I just happen to have a pretty handy connection story. And it was that connection story that generated this really cool experience from Flight Centre.

Shawn:    

What was the feeling like after those stories had been told?

Mark:      

By the time she had finished telling the Jeff Harris story there was no question that I was going to be their conference speaker. That was like 5 minutes into the meeting. The whole thing was about execution not about whether I was going to be doing it.

Shawn:

And that is just because you felt a rapport?

Mark:   

It’s because we connected really strongly and really quickly. It’s the Terence Garhuglia saying, ‘the shortest distance between two humans is a story’. I just opened with that story. She responded with a story of her own and we bonded. We just connected. We had rapport.

Shawn:   

Right. It’s so interesting too; I notice this with some of the great TV interviewers (Andrew Denton). He’ll often start off an interview by telling story because he wants his interviewee to share a story and stories beget stories.

Mark:    

I remember an interview he did with Colin Hay—the lead singer of Men at Work—and he started a question with ‘I read that Keith Richards once said, I used to have a hovercraft but I left it in a moat and it broke so have you had any experiences where you’re just living the life?’ and Coli Hay responded with these great stories about his experience.

Shawn:    

Yeah, it’s an important way of doing it. In terms of selecting your connection stories you were very lucky to find an actual story about the Flight Centre, right? The next level up from that is to find a story from the same industry. So, if I’m going to a mining company I dig through my mining stories. If I’m going to a pharmaceutical company I dig though my pharma stories.

In addition to that, are there any other things you’ve found that work in terms of the category of connection story that you might be looking for?

Mark:  

One of the categories that I have is location. If I’m in Malaysia I’ll tag stories that are related to Malaysia, or the U.S or Switzerland–the locations I’m in. What Shawn and I are talking about is that we have what we call a story bank—habitual collectors of experiences and we know that they’re quite ephemeral and so we have the habit of making a note of them.

I use Evernote as my story bank. Shawn, what do you use?

Shawn:     

Evernote—what a surprise. In episode 2 of this podcast we talked a lot about story banks. Remember that way back then?

Mark:  

That was a long time ago.

Shawn:    

Go back to that episode because it teaches you a lot about how you set them up and the sort of things you might want to put in. Great, we’ve covered off really two stories and this idea of connection stories as well, which I think is so important.

I want to go back to the Jeff Harris story and get the rating. Since you told the story I’m going to start. I think that’ one of those really valuable and easy stories to tell and it has impact so I’m going to give it an 8. For me it’s a great story to have in my back pocket.

Mark:       

Yeah, I’m going with 8 as well. I love it because it’s so short, high impact, and it’s very easy to re-tell.

Shawn:  

Fantastic. Anything else we need to cover here before we finish off, Mark.

Mark:   

I’d just like to remind listeners that if the stories we’ve told today, the Jeff Harris story, if it triggers an experience where you’ve seen great leadership I’d love you to go to our website www. anecdote.com/podcast and tell us what your leadership story is. And by sharing these examples of great leadership we’ve got a good chance of seeing more of it in our organisations.

Shawn:     

Yeah, it’s so true. And I just want to thank all our listeners who have sent us great stories, comments—it’s interesting just discovering so many different people who are listening to the podcast, enjoying it and telling me stories back from things that they have heard or have come up. It’s great to hear.

Well this is a good place to wrap things up. Thanks again for listening to Anecdotally Speaking and tune in to our next episode where we’ll talk about how to put stories to work.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

3 Responses to “013 – Travel connections”

  1. John Groarke Says:

    Another very simple story with great impact.

    My leadership anecdote (!) is about my boss, Terry Green, who put dealing with personal / family issues first before starting work for the day. OK, he had an ulterior motive … my undivided attention … but he enhanced my loyalty to him and the enterprise we worked for.

  2. Clare Says:

    This episode reminded me of another simple leadership and air travel story from Bob Sutton’s great book ‘The No Asshole Rule’ which I jotted down a few years ago in my own story bank….

    “An executive from SouthWest airlines was flying on a business trip. As he was lining up to check in he witnessed another traveller abusing the check-in staff. He walked up to the customer, introduced himself and told them – “We’d rather you didn’t fly Southwest. Our staff don’t deserve abuse.” He then walked the customer over to the check-in counter of another airline and bought them a ticket.”

  3. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Nice one Clare. Thanks for sharing.

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