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I Flew to Amsterdam for a Cup of Coffee

This article, authored by our Member Consultant John Sigmon, continues a special series titled “Creating Resiliency During the COVID-19 Crisis.” 

This series will feature articles, podcasts and additional resources from our Consultants Collective member consultants, advisors and coaches, whose experience and expertise includes risk and change management, Asia, China, offshoring, leading distributed global teams, managing crises and internal communications, deploying and managing online collaboration tools that enable people to work together virtually, developing new models, as well as expertise in innovation and design-thinking, work-life integration — and more — all of which uniquely positions Consultants Collective to serve its clients during this time. We hope this series is a valuable resource to you and your organization as you tackle the challenges presented by this global public health crisis. If we can provide additional help and support through our executive consulting, advisory and coaching services, please contact us.

This week I traveled to one of my favorite cities- Amsterdam to grab a cup of coffee and, without leaving the airport, headed back to the US for dinner. Of course, that was not my intention. My intention was to spend some time with the OurLeadershift team, speak at Inspire’d Stage Amsterdam, make some new connections, and meet some connections I’ve never met personally.  I carefully gathered my work materials, adjusted my calendar to accommodate clients in the U.S., and drove to Washington DC for a couple of days of work prior to departure on March 11th. 

We were in flight during the announcement of a travel ban for passengers coming to the US from Europe. Reportedly, the restrictions would begin on Friday. Some reports said Friday, others said Friday at Midnight, quite a difference. People were quite worried. Further attempts at clarification only muddied the waters further from the perspective of a few of us. By the time we landed at 0500 local time, most people made a dash to the customer service desk. When they opened at 0600 the reps could not have been nicer or more empathetic all with the characteristic dry Dutch humor! I just have to give a shout out to KLM, professional, helpful, and “there”, available, focused on your needs and empathetic. All while managing a long line of tired and worried passengers as soon as they walked in the door. 

Right now I am on the runway in Boston waiting for my flight to leave. For the first time in over 30 hours, I have a chance to reflect. Since I heard the announcement on the flight over to Amsterdam less than 24 hours ago I spent a good bit of time being angry and fuming about our government. As I sit here this afternoon my irritation has subsided and most of the thoughts center around the people I met. A nice couple from Louisville, KY in Amsterdam on vacation, a nice lady on her way to Geneva to see her husband and most notably a couple from Arizona. Maybe it was their proximity to me in line, or maybe just a vibe, but we hit it off. 

They both work hourly jobs with minimal benefits and no paid leave. They were on a long-planned vacation. That gave me pause and I imagined how difficult it must be to not only save for a vacation but to fall behind on bills. I had the impression they had been saving for a long time to afford this trip. They had their teenage children taking care of the family home and pets during their absence. They planned to visit Amsterdam, Barcelona, and then Ireland. Between 0515 and about 0620, we were together at the customer service counter.  When the KLM rep was talking to them, they asked, “will this flight be available to get us back home?” They were referring to the final leg of their vacation as they pointed to their itinerary.  The rep said she did not know, and offered “If it was me I would go back home.” They both became teary and started to cry. “Should we just go back?” “Should we risk it and continue?” “What if we get stuck, what about the children, our jobs?” And many more questions. Finally, they decided to go back to the US. Their vacation was over before it started, all the excitement, all the anticipation, all the planning, all the…….

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They were so despondent and upset it was heartbreaking and it left me with a profound sense of sadness. After some pleasantries, we parted ways. Later as I was going to my gate, I passed them and stopped for one last chat. They were less fearful and I had a while before my flight so I just sat with them for a few minutes as we started to talk about and process what was happening. Even though they were still sad and disappointed, they started to express some positivity. “Well, at least we don’t have to worry about the kids messing up the house,” they laughed. “We can get a refund, go back to work and when this dies down we can go again, maybe the fares will be better.” For the last couple of minutes, we all came to a single conclusion. It seemed pretty clear that we could’ve continued our travels and in all likelihood, we would’ve been just fine and at the same time, we were afraid. If a simple message can get that muddled, then what else might happen? The lack of clarity with the message exacerbated our fears. The unknown stopped us. We also started to talk about communication. They shared a little about a boss they both worked for who apparently was not a great communicator. Then we talked a little about our own communications sore spots. For me, it is getting distracted and going off on a tangent. For each of them, it was how they communicate with their children. We agreed on a couple of principles. First, be clear. Second, when possible collaborate with others to make sure the solution is well-considered and well-executed. So for me, that means I need to outline or map out my key communications, it’s a little trick I play on my brain. For them, it is bringing their teens into the family decision making process. It was nice to be reminded of how powerful the basics are. 

Monday they will be back at work in Arizona and not touring the tulip fields.  I am already back at work and not visiting the Anne Frank House, for the second time. Even though our plans were thwarted and the impact is yet to be seen, we connected with each other, didn’t run away from our disappointment, and agreed on what we all learned, at least so far. Thank you, Robin and Ophelia, I’m sorry for your disappointment and happy we met. 

John Sigmon

John Sigmon is a senior advisor for Consultants Collective. He is an executive coach, speaker, author and leadership developer with a diverse range of expertise spanning every sector of the economy. He draws on an extraordinary career as a people leader and C-Suite executive in his consulting and coaching engagements. John’s primary areas of focus are organizational transformation and executive/leadership coaching. His work draws clients from the not for profit, global for profit, healthcare, governmental, and non-governmental organizations. John helps his clients reach their desired goals through inquiry, awareness, reflection, and action. He received his coach training from the Coaches Training Institute and is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. John is certified as an Associate Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation (ICF). He also is certified as a stakeholder centered coach and as an administrator of the Global Leader of the Future 360 assessment. John is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources by the Society for Human Resources Management, is a member of the NYC Chapter of ICF and is Board Certified as a Healthcare Executive by the American College of Healthcare Executives.

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