Ordinary People Do Extraordinary Things!

Dare to Be You!

Many extraordinary leaders have gone before us, haven’t they? We all most likely have a long list with maybe even some of the same incredibly inspiring examples.

I love to read history & biographies so on my list would be books like Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadershipby David Garrow. I would want to suggestTeam of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincolnby Doris Kearns Goodwin, Washington: A Lifeby Ron Chernow, and No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War IIby Doris Kearns Goodwin are going to be on everyone’s “short list.”

One thing I believe they all have in common is that they gave their lives for service toward a better life for all mankind. Not only did they change each of our lives personally, but they set the respective foundations that have allowed us to stand on their shoulders to continue on whatever journeys we may now claim to be ours.

Something else they share perhaps, beyond their historic greatness I mean? They were all ordinary people who did extraordinary things. All of them saw the challenges, the sacrifices, the burdens as what THEY must do. Not necessarily what they must do alone, but without question, they all just knew they were called “to such a time as this.” None of them were strangers to failure, to loneliness, to heartbreak, loss, nor to fears of inadequacies. They all gave up their personal comforts for “the call.” Ordinary people, extraordinary impact. We have no way of really knowing what they faced, what they felt, how they managed to be so driven to keep going as they faced what surely had to be seemingly overwhelming odds against “success.” Our only way of “knowing” their reality would be to have actually lived it with them & even then, not the same.

Their legacies live on in our daily lives in more ways than we even know. These are, of course, only a few of the many we could put on this list of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for mankind, right? Those to whom our debt is immeasurable is something we can all likely agree upon.

Do you think about those around you, maybe in your professional or / and personal life, ordinary folks doing amazing, extraordinary things? I do! An example, from my early days at American Airlines, our President & CEO was Robert L. Crandall. What a powerful, dynamic, brilliant, humorous, well-rounded man!! Driven like no one I had EVER met. Him from NYC & me from Fort Worth, Cowtown? Can you say polar opposites! HA Mr. Crandall was at the helm of the most powerful Airline in the world; there were hotels, & lots of other entities operating within this multi-billion dollar annual revenue company. I admired & respected him in more ways than I could ever count. Not only that, I learned so much from just being in the same room with such a leader, one who had a photographic memory, was always “on,” & who deeply, deeply believed in winning. He believed in doing ethically, morally, & practically what it took to win. No matter what, the standard was to do the right thing every time. And to do it just a little bit better than your competition.

What was especially important to know about Mr. Crandall’s leadership & this moment in time? The Airline was entering a maelstrom which was deregulation of the transportation industry. This was a time, too, when inflation was out of control, fuel prices were through the proverbial roof, competition saw the beginning of “2-for-1” sales, off-shoring of services was introduced, and the cost of entry, while still astronomically high & often prohibitive, hit a much lower level for new entrants. The traditional carriers had laid the foundations of infrastructure in airports & everything it demanded to support the traveling customer, but now it became their sunk cost / overhead that did not have to be borne by others. Most of the airport gate / facilities contracts were for as many as 20 years with no way out! Labor agreements likely didn’t exist for new entrants, equipment was now surplus where literally a few moments before it was required, etc., & airlines are a cash intensive proposition needing as much as $1M a day just to operate, and even then, with tiny profit margins per seat mile if not break even at best.

There was no script for how deregulation would play out; it was definitely now the pioneer frontier post regulation. No one knew exactly if they were making the right, or even the best decisions, as only time would tell. So much depended on the decisions of others, too, like the 2-for-1 sales many of the carriers would launch just to get at least a momentary infusion of cash. In reality, we were all hemorrhaging cash. We couldn’t even begin to cover cost with such promotions, but we couldn't afford to risk losing our customers by not meeting our competitors on their respective playing fields either. Airlines were filing bankruptcy all around us, and that meant many, many layoffs for years although it would be decades later before bankruptcy would be faced at AA, in addition to impacting all those peripheral services that go in to providing safe transportation. In large part, this success was a result of the visionary leadership of Mr. Crandall.

I’ve sort of given you the background to create a visual of why I’m focusing on what it was like to work for such a larger than life leader like Mr. Crandall. Directly in his path in the early days because I was an accountant (hard to imagine as a marketer! HA), and I had the great honor to provide moment by moment profit & loss statements for his review, his questioning was legendary, & always his respectful demand for looking at more perspectives to be sure we all had a clear understanding of our situations in order to make the best decisions for the long term.

From the information, yes, from the data, he was able to lead making decisions that weren’t possible for someone who simply had no guts, who was ill-prepared, who didn’t have vision for a better tomorrow, or for someone whose blood didn’t have high octane jet fuel in it almost totally. I never saw anyone with greater passion for the “place” he had been called to & the work he had to do. He was more comfortable out among the people than in his office because he would believe himself in danger of being out of touch. People connected with him, listened when he spoke, & always lined up for even a minute to have open dialogue about almost any topic important to them. Mr. Crandall loved the operations, loved a good debate, & believed strongly in the importance of women in leadership. Something really important to me, obviously.

I watched as he lead us to make tough, tough decisions to ensure we would survive as an organization, and eventually come out not only surviving, but thriving. He shared the vision, got buy in for the vision, & inspired us to sign up for making / implementing decisions for the masses to survive albeit, unfortunately, with the sacrifice of the few. Always with the passion of shared purpose, there was never a doubt of where he stood on anything for he was real, never held back, driven to reach excellence, & was prepared to win “the big picture” battle every single time. He was what I call "all in & he just got it."

When I moved to operations deep inside a huge domestic network of airport locations, I watched others who shared the same admiration & deep respect for Mr. Crandall as I held. One thing about it, I may have wished there were different alternatives at various points because these were especially difficult, ground breaking & earth shaking times, I can’t say there was ever a time that I did not agree with the decision as being the right thing to do. Tough, hard, painful, yes, but inspiring, energizing, motivating & personally boundary pushing all at the same time.

All this to say, Mr. Crandall was an extraordinary man doing extraordinary things? NO, he was ordinary, but called to such a time as this with the capability to realize personal greatness through the extraordinary things he managed to do. Not just an impact on me, but literally for thousands of others, & for the good of the masses.

There are so very many examples in your own lives, right? I believe not only are they the corporate leaders we may follow, but they are also teachers, doctors, stay at home moms & dads, volunteers, municipal officials, caregivers, staff at shelters – all who are ordinary people, but they are doing extraordinary things just because it’s the right thing to do. And right before our eyes without our even noticing it.

What may be consistent throughout, there is NO magic formula or fairy dust! “It’s” just hard! Not for the stuff that matters at least, there’s no magic formula. Just a requirement that we be tried, tested, & tough when it really matters most.

Call to Action:

1. Who’s on your own “extraordinary” list?

2. Ask others to share their list with you!

3. Start a conversation in your “community!”

4. Share the connection!

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