A note from Kelly King: In today’s article, Kim Whitten provides a humorous, yet helpful illustration for leading through chaos. Maybe the next time you are on a plane, you’ll remember these principles for leadership! To hear from Kim in person, join us at You Lead in Charlotte, North Carolina on July 12 or on August 23 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Ladies and gentleman, thank you for flying with us today! On behalf of your flight crew, we would like to take a few moments to go over some of our aircraft safety features, should we experience any challenges in our flight. Please direct your attention to your flight attendants for a brief safety demonstration.”
If you have flown on an airplane in the last decade, this is often what you hear just before the flight taxis to the runway. And what is your response to these polite instructions? Be honest ladies…we’re all friends here. You ignore them too! We all do this because the assumption is that we know exactly what is coming and we’ve heard what they are going to say.
We know how to latch our seatbelts. We know that our heads go through the holes in the yellow life jacket, and unless you are referencing the Titanic movie, no one we know has ever had to use the attached whistle. Yes, we know that our seats may be used as flotation devices. Though to be fair, if we are in need of personal flotation devices because our plane has dropped out of they sky, I am certain mine will be soiled, and I will need to borrow my neighbors! (Again, just being honest here, ladies!) We are also keenly aware that the hazardous-looking masks that drop from the ceiling and may or may not inflate with oxygen are really there as a way to muffle the screams of frightened people.
But what happens if it’s a real emergency? When you’re not flying through simple turbulence anymore but through absolute chaos? As a leader, is there anything we can learn from these simple safety instructions about leading during turbulence?
1. Put on your own oxygen mask first, and then assist others.
As leaders, this is one of the hardest concepts for us! When chaos ensues, we flock to the comfort zones of our to-do lists and invested relationships. We try to do more, be more, give more, and pour out more to keep the semblances of control within our grasp. Whatever we can do to hold on to the illusion of calm. However, Scripture gently reminds us that one of the greatest commandments is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). It is impossible to love our neighbors or give life-giving oxygen to those around us without having put our own masks on first!
2. A life vest is located under your seat.
Do you know where your life vests are in leadership? A life vest is a “personal flotation device” meant to hold you up so that you do not drown. In Exodus 17, we read the story of Moses who holds up the staff of God during a great battle in order for the Israelites to prevail. At some point, Moses’ arms began to fail. Scripture says that “Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other so that his hands remained steady until the sun went down” (Exodus 17:12). Where or who are the life vests of your ministry? Who are the people in your life who are not allowing you to drown? We have all heard it said before that “leadership is lonely,” but maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe we should grab our life vest friends and hold our heads high above the waterline.
3. Put your portable electronic devices in airplane mode.
My millennial generation is terrible at this. It is quite commonplace to be having a face-to-face conversation with someone when a text comes through or your watch buzzes and your attention is immediately diverted to your electronic device. This isn’t great leadership. It isn’t sinful, but it doesn’t give value to the current conversation. For us thirty-somethings, this multi-tasking myth is built into our everyday way of life. Texting another person while having a real, live conversation is something we don’t even think about. But perhaps we should. When we read of Jesus’ ministry, over and over it seems that He gave His full attention to the person directly in front of Him, especially the ladies in His ministry. Think of the woman at the well, the woman with the issue of blood, and the woman caught in adultery (John 4, Luke 8:43-48, John 8:1-11). Could we take this cue from Jesus and put down our phones or electronic devices and have real, live conversations with women?
One of my favorite things about flying is the snack and beverage service! Y’all, there is nothing like a good hot tea and a package of Biscoff cookies. Perhaps on the next airplane, you’ll take a moment and listen to the pre-flight instructions and think through your own lessons of leadership. For now, thank you for joining us today, and we hope you enjoyed your flight!
Kim Whitten is pursuing a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Women’s Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before moving to Texas, she served as a Girls’ Minister at Idlewild Baptist Church in Florida. Kim has a genuine love for people, a love for the Church, and a desire to see others grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ through meaningful relationships.