Most days no one will give up a seat on a commuter train for anyone – even if it’s your elderly aunt with a cane on her way to the city for a doctor appointment. Despite our interest in our own personal comfort, or staying within the social norms of personal space boundaries, something absolutely heroic happened last August in Australia. Hundreds of commuters, all ages and genders, rushed to the aid of a man with his leg stuck in the “gap” between the platform and train during a busy morning commute. One passenger raised the alarm one second after seeing the stuck passenger. What possessed the passengers to immediately assist during this possibly tragic scene? This is an example of impromptu teamwork and the desire to help others. It’s about execution of a goal – Step 7 of the 7 Steps of Intentional Leadership – but really, how do you move a train at a moment’s notice?!
The challenge needed immediate focus. Wouldn’t you agree that the 100 commuters energy that joined together to reach the goal – getting the stuck man to safety – could be described as intense focus? Second, the rescue group was engaged. The rescuers were emotionally engaged and could instantaneously see they were winning as the train tipped on the tracks. They saw immediate progress – the MOST significant motivator when attempting a difficult task is progress. And succeeded on the second try. They had to be careful not to rock the train or they might crush the man’s leg. It had to be done together and it had to be done gently. There was no formal authority explaining what was expected but the principles of teamwork and coordination were evident. This impromptu team created their own commitment to another human being’s safety. Finally, the adrenaline people felt, that distinct feeling of wanting to win, was driving the group to move in sync to meet the goal. The real power was in how the rescuers worked together. It was controlled frenzy!
No mistakes. No long term coordination. Few resisters. Role model behavior. Measureable progress. In this case, the split second decisions were victorious. This is an example of shared leadership. I am sure there was one person facilitating and directing the timing of the great push; yet there was no authoritative leader. Sometimes plans are needed, sometimes action is needed. In a crisis, quick action together is often the answer and each situation is different. You decide what is best with your team!
Have you witnessed successful execution without detailed preparation under extreme pressure? What was the goal and who were the team members? Who or what do you attribute the positive outcome to?