For some it is their worst nightmare and a paralyzing fear. Getting trapped in an elevator…
I was having an amazing morning one Thursday. The sun was waking up to a cloudless sky in Vancouver (a rare occurrence), traffic was almost non-existent, and I found a ‘primo’ parking spot. I thought to myself, as I headed into a Board Meeting, “this is shaping up to be a great day.”
Then, as I was getting onto the elevator, I got a glimpse of a young woman rushing to get to the lift as well so I held the door for her. With a big smile on her face, she thanked me as she boarded and the doors closed. We both pushed the buttons to our respective destination floors and off we went. That was until the elevator passed by my target floor (floor 5) and lurched to a somewhat bouncy stop between the 10th and 11th floors.
My first thought was about how weird it was that the elevator went past my floor (human nature in the age of technology when we are no longer amazed by the everyday part that technology plays in our lives). My thoughts then shifted to; “OK, I’ll wait for the doors to open and then I’ll get out. Once again, the trust we have in technology.
It actually took me about a minute to realize that we were in fact stuck in the elevator. I went to the control panel and pushed the ‘Door Open’ button. Nothing. Same result for the ‘Ground’ floor button. Then I was pressing the ‘Call’ button to raise the alarm that we were stuck. I turned to the young lady that was with me (her name was Jacquelyn), and said: “I’ll bet your not happy that I held the door for you now?” She simply replied that getting trapped on an elevator was her worst nightmare. My instant thought to that was: “oh great, now I am going to be late for my Board Meeting and be in here with someone having a panic attack.”
She was amazing though. We talked about HR, as she was an HR manager, and we talked about the school that she was about to go back to in order to get her Law degree. Every once in a while, the intercom would come to life with someone asking us if we were OK, and reassure us that help was on the way. It was actually like any other conversation, except that it was taking place in a 5 foot by 6 foot, windowless box that had no furniture.
Here’s the thing though… In life and in leadership, things happen unexpectedly. Some say that things happen for a reason (I still haven’t figured out all the reasons for certain things… if that is the case, but that’s what people say). Whatever it is though that happens, as a leader, you get to choose how you respond. In fact it is your responsibility. And even the word “Responsibility” can be broken down into the “Ability to Respond.”
When something unexpected happens, you can choose to panic. Or you can choose to do what great leaders do: assess the situation and ask “what does good look like?” Then lead it.
In my case of being stuck temporarily in an elevator (notice I didn’t say “trapped?”), I could have got pissed off about it and worried that I was going to be late for my Board Meeting. Or, I could have made the best of the situation. I chose the latter. The result was that I had a really rich conversation with someone new and (hopefully) made her feel a little more at ease about being in a small, confined space with a total stranger.