Keep calm in chaotic situations

In 1997, my brother Jack and I were in transit to San Jose, Costa Rica, when the plane was abruptly redirected to Panama City, Panama. After the plane landed in Panama City, the airport and ground transportation were not ready for 208 people arriving unexpectedly. It took about an hour to convince the taxi drivers to accept vouchers from the airline to ferry passengers to a hotel. When the loading commenced, it was a mad rush each time a taxi pulled up. Dozens of people mobbed the available transportation. Jack and I stood back figuring that we were in no hurry. We moved up and down the curb trying to guess where the next taxi would park, only to find that we had guessed wrong.

Finally, we secured a spot in a van and proceeded on a hair-raising weave through Panama City traffic. As the taxi arrived at the Continental Hotel in downtown Panama City, we lined up starting at the hotel desk continuing out the front door and around the side of the building. For two hours, we stood in the pounding sun and tropical humidity while the staff of the airlines and the hotel tried to arrange accommodations.

Just as the passengers were getting testy, a spokesman came out and pointed to the line in front of us and said, “The hotel doesn’t have room for anyone else. Everybody behind this line must go to another hotel.” So once again the taxis pulled up and the chaos repeated itself. After we found our second ride, we were treated to another life-threatening transit.

The next morning we were awakened by one of our new-found friends only to realize that we were late. Our fellow passengers were loading transportation for the ride back to the airport. Panama was in a different time zone than Costa Rica so we almost missed our plane in the confusion.

We got to see a lot of Panama City and the surrounding countryside on the trip back to the airport. After arriving at the airport, we were informed that there were no guarantees that our flight would take off that day. The hurry-up-and-wait game continued. We remained in limbo for a couple of hours and then all of a sudden we were asked to line up for boarding.

It was a short flight to San Jose, Costa Rica and to the beginning of our vacation plans. The rumor among the passengers was that the cause for the diversion from San Jose was mandated improvements to the main runway by the Clinton administration in preparation for a presidential summit. The original runway was not long enough to land the C4 airplane that carried Clinton’s bullet-proof car.

During times of chaos, it is valuable to try and view the larger picture. I assumed we would eventually get a hotel room. Others seemed frantic and fought for a seat in any available vehicle. In the end, everyone arrived in Costa Rica safe and sound. The best leaders control their emotions in times of stress. When in a difficult situation take a breath, stay calm, and think about your ultimate goal.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.

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