Last week, the non-profit youth leadership program that I had the honor of founding 18 years ago, had its annual National Leadership Academy. Truly humbling. Over a hundred and twenty-five high school students from around the nation, came to Denver, Colorado, to learn how to become a heart-led leader. Our closing keynote speaker was a young man named Houston Kraft. He spoke about the power of love.
Houston told a story that I can’t shake from my mind. A story that is now tattooed on my heart. Etched in my soul.
A few years ago, Houston was on a plane heading to his next speech. His last-minute flight gave him the unfortunate middle seat. Sandwiched in, halfway through the flight the woman sitting in the window seat started talking with him.
Houston and I share the same profession. We are both professional speakers. We share something else in common. We hardly ever speak to the person we sit next to on an airplane. It’s not because we don’t like people. Quite the contrary. We love people. But the plane is a sacred space in our lives that we long to find solitude in. I board every plane with my earphones on. I might as well have a sign on my forehead saying, “Don’t Talk to Me!”.
The woman sitting next to Houston broke the code – tapping him on his shoulder, motioning for him to take his earphones off. After exchanging pleasantries and small talk, they started sharing travel stories. Then this stranger shared a story that touched Houston deeply.
She had received a phone call a few months earlier that her father had become very ill. Sick enough that she got on the very next flight available. When she was boarding the plane, she received another phone call that, sadly, her father had passed away. She was in shock – emotionless throughout the entire flight. But when she got off the plane and entered the crowded airport, she walked straight into the closest wall and just collapsed. She began crying uncontrollably. Not a soft and gentle cry, but a loud and painful cry.
This woman stayed propped against that wall sobbing for nearly two hours. She couldn’t control herself – saddened by the loss of her father. Grieving that she didn’t even get to say goodbye.
The part of the story that hit me like a train was when the woman shared with Houston that there must have been one-thousand people that walked by her during her two-hour emotional meltdown. One-thousand people. And not one of them stopped. Not one person asking her if she was OK. Not one person stopped to say, “You don’t know me, but is there anything I can do for you?”
When we wrapped up our National Leadership Academy on Sunday afternoon, I challenged the students that if they learned anything this past week about leadership – it is that leadership is about love. Leadership IS love. You don’t have to say the word – love. But you do have to show the word – love.
I challenged the students to join the ONE percent club. To be the one person who would have stopped. The one person who would have gotten down on one knee and handed that poor woman a tissue. The one person who would have placed their hand on her shoulder, and ask, “May I help you?”
We live in a fast-paced and disconnected world. We live much of our lives with our earphones plugged in. We have signs on our foreheads that say, “Don’t Talk to Me.” We are connected to social media, yet disconnected socially. Let me say that again – We are connected to social media, yet disconnected socially. Heck, you and I might have been one of the thousand people who walked past that crying woman.
Next time let’s stop. Let’s be the ONE. The one who knows that leadership is love.