Are you an ambitious leader, driven to achieve and excel? Those are values cherished by virtually all capitalist nations and corporations in the world and are worthy to be pursued.
If you fit the above description, then a recent plane crash may hold some profound life lessons for you.
On Sunday, March 10, 2019, a successful Greek businessman, Antonis Mavropoulos, arrived at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He was supposed to be met by an executive escort and guided to Gate 12, where he would then board Flight ET302 on Ethiopian Airlines.
Traveling First Class, close to the exit door, he was the first passenger to deplane. As a result, he exited just before the executive escort arrived with a name-card to identify him. This failure was compounded by a mix-up with his baggage, which he had to collect at customs and get re-checked for his next flight to Nairobi.
Timing was tight and so he had to stop and look up his flight number, departure gate and the way to get there. These were exasperating details that Mr. Mavropoulos had not planned to handle, as it all should have been done by his escort service.
Finally, he arrived at the departure gate, relieved and ready to go and slump into First Class seat 2L, where he was booked. Instead, his frustration intensified. He was told that the airline had officially closed the flight two minutes ago. But he could still see the last few customers walking through the tunnel toward the plane door!
“I screamed to put me in, but they didn’t allow it,” he said. He had missed the flight.
As a First-Class passenger, he did get some respect, however. The airline checked him onto the next flight and gave him courtesy access to an executive lounge, where he could eat and relax as he waited three hours for the next flight.
At 10:50 a.m., he was walking on-board that second flight, when he was stopped by two security officers who told him that they had to take him off the flight and talk with him due to some security issue or other. He was now infuriated. He protested loudly and demanded to see managers, supervisors and anyone who could resolve the issue quickly and prevent him missing this next flight. He ended up at the airport police station screaming his dissatisfaction to the Chief.
The Chief gently informed him that he should thank God. This was an odd response for Mr. Mavropoulos who was brimming over with frustration. Thank God for what? He then learned that he was the only passenger who did not make it onto the first flight, Number ET302. Six minutes after take-off, it had nose-dived and crashed into the ground, creating a massive crater, shredding the plane into small bits and killing all 157 passengers on-board.
He thought they were lying to him. When the reality hit, Mr. Mavropoulos said he felt the earth move from beneath his feet. He literally collapsed.
Let’s talk about you, go-getter, high achiever and success seeker. When you are faced with disappointments, failures and inconvenient changes to your plans, how do you respond?
Life is full of curve-balls. When they interrupt your pathway, do you internalize the pressure and suffer through the stress?
Others may look at you as being successful, based on your achievements, but you cannot truly experience the benefits of such achievements without adopting a “particular way of thinking” that makes you virtually immune to life’s interruptions.
Here are examples of that particular way of thinking—the kind of thinking I invite you to practice:
• I will do my best and push hard for excellence;
• However, after all my efforts and best intentions, what is is what is, and I refuse to be stressed by what could be but is not;
• The mere fact that I have eyes, ears and a mind to observe adversity is a reason to thank God, because I am still here;
• I leave room for my disappointments to divert my path away from catastrophe, and as such, I choose to be thankful even when bad stuff happens.
It was easy for Mr. Mavropoulos to be thankful because he received feedback showing cause and effect. However, despite not having this clarity, consider this. How do you know the number of times when:
• You were late for a critical meeting and as a result, missed a fatal crash on the highway?
• You failed to clinch a business deal that would have ultimately led you to complete financial ruin and bankruptcy?
• You suffered the heartache of a broken love relationship that would otherwise have led to murder?
In the absence of that kind of clarity in your life circumstances, I recommend that you be thankful in all things—emphasis on all—just because you are still alive, observing them happen.
Obviously, this advice is of little consolation to the families of the 157 people who perished in the crash and I am truly saddened by their immeasurable sorrow. However even for those passengers, the advice above applied as long as they were alive. Someday, one of your life circumstances is going to kill you too, but up until that point, live fully and thankfully, despite the failures and disappointments you experience—thankful that you can still experience something.
You might think that this set of thinking skills is missing only with the poor, uneducated or low achievers. That is not so. As an executive leadership coach, I often sit before C-Suite business leaders in large, multinational corporations and marvel at their lack of basic skills needed to deal with life’s challenges.
Some are too hard on themselves and hedge their peace-of-mind on everything turning out exactly as planned. Others lack the emotional tools to compartmentalize, re-frame and rationalize away difficulties.
It is often necessary to show them how to go through stress without allowing the stress to go through them; how to succeed, not in spite of, but because of adversity; and how to play mind games that preserve sanity and happiness, irrespective of circumstances.
If you are an ambitious leader, driven to achieve and excel, consider these concluding suggestions:
As you yearn to fly, to soar to the next level in your life, stamp this on your boarding pass: Until the day I die, nothing I go through can possibly kill me. I will live!
Written by Alvin Day, (Executive Director of Global Empowerment Institute)
Author: If Caterpillars Can Fly ~ So Can I,