By Deb Cummins, Guest blogger

 Last month, a disturbing story about customer service and United Airlines dominated the headlines. So it is not surprising that when travelling last week, I was super tuned to the behaviors of people in the airport.

Upon arriving at our gate, we were taken aback by a woman who was crying and screaming and essentially out of control. She was waiting for the same flight and I was concerned. It is hard not to be.  We live in a culture filled with 6 p.m. news stories that instill fear and distrust. My immediate reaction was to let the gate staff know that there was someone boarding that may not be equipped to fly. I was in a mode of protection for my family, my fellow travellers, this distraught woman and myself. But, I didn’t do anything and stayed in curiosity mode.

And then something incredible happened. After settling in my seat, I turned around and realized that this woman was behind me. Selfishly, very selfishly, I felt sorry for myself…this was going to be a rough trip. As the gentleman who was assigned the seat next to her got settled, she immediately started her sobbing and I became differently engaged in the story that was unfolding in back of me.

My expectation around this situation was that the passenger (who happened to be a 40 something man) sitting next to the woman would tune her out. Let’s call him Passenger EI.  I predicted he would pull out some headsets in minutes and close his eyes ignoring the situation. Haven’t we all been in this situation before with crying babies and oblivious travelers? But that is not what happened at all.

Rather than ignoring her, Passenger EI patiently engaged her in conversation. He learned that she had lost her husband the night before and was travelling to Philadelphia to identify his body. And it didn’t stop there. He continued to provide her with support and comfort. He bought her a drink. And then he went far behind my expectations about people in 2017. He gave her his phone number and told her she should text him if she needed anything. He ensured that she got off the plane first. He committed to coordinating with those that were picking her up from the airport. He grabbed her carry-on and kindly followed her off the plane.  Let’s remember this is a story about total strangers.

So, why this story in the context of a leadership blog? Corporate America is now learning that emotional intelligence is a key leadership skill. Is all about how we unravel social complexities. According to Freedman it involves:

  • A way of recognizing, understanding and choosing how we think, feel and act
  • Shapes our interaction with others and our understanding of ourselves.

It is responsible for as much as 80% of the “success” in our lives. We unravel events by how we perceive things happening.

Emotional intelligence describes a person’s ability to recognize emotions, to understand their effect, and to use that information to guide thinking and behavior–helping a person make better decisions and reach goals more quickly. In his book, Primal Leadership, Goleman notes that high levels of EI impact corporate probability. “A study found the overall moods of people in the top management team, the more cooperatively they worked together and the better the company’s business results.”

Passenger EI’s outward display of emotional intelligence and common kindness was remarkable and literally brought me to tears. At Northstar Team Development we know that emotional intelligence is elastic. We utilize assessments to measure this skill set and design programs to enhance it. We provide coaching and support for those who lack it so that they can acquire it. And we help leaders enhance it. Learn more about this and other leadership topics at  Want a master class on emotional intelligence for leaders, call (484) 293-1330.