Earlier this week I enjoyed a lovely flight from Jacksonville to Detroit on on a low-cost airline I hadn’t used previously.  I was pleasantly surprised to experience above par service from this economy carrier; but that’s not the reason for my post. The reason for this post is to share a conversation upon which I had the good fortune to eavesdrop.

I chanced to be sitting in the aisle seat, in the perfect position to be able to overhear an astonishing exchange that took place between a flight attendant and a passenger during beverage service.

Two attendants were required to manage the beverage cart for safety. A short way up the aisle, one attendant was called away to the back of the plane to assist a passenger. This left the other, Andre, alone with the beverage cart.

“Would you do me a favor?” said Andre to the 30-something passenger nearest the cart and across the aisle from me.

“What’s that?” said the passenger. I glanced up from my inflight mag to notice his flat-billed ball cap with a how does it end pin. A manbun protruded from the back of the cap.

“Will you hold onto that handle of the cart for me until the other attendant comes back?” said Andre.

“What’s in it for me?” asked my neighbor with the manbun. I’ll call him Gabe.

“What’s in it for you?” asked Andre, puzzled.

“Yeah, why should I hold the cart? I don’t work here,” says Gabe.

“These carts are quite heavy and if they bumped someone it could cause an injury,” explained Andre pleasantly. “We just want to be cautious.”

“Yeah, I’ve been hit by one before,” Gabe replies. “So, the question remains, what’s in it for me?”

At this point, I’ve lost all interest in the luxury sleeping mask I had been eying in the magazine and snuck another look at Gabe. He was wearing sport flip flops with socks.

“I’m sure I’m misunderstanding you,” Andre said. “It sounds like you are asking if I will give you something in order to get you to help me steady the cart so that it will not hurt someone?”

“Yeah,” said Gabe. His tone added, “Obviously.”

“Can I ask you to change seats with someone who has more compassion for his fellow man?” asked Andre smiling politely.

Go Andre, I thought, applauding silently.

Gabe reluctantly flopped his hand onto the cart handle, apparently feeling magnanimous.

Andre, ever pleasant, compliments Gabe: “You make a good employee.”

“I make a better boss,” says Gabe.

The other flight attendant returned and I was grateful that the safety of my fellow passengers was no longer in Gabe’s hands.

Does Gabe make a better boss than an employee? Would you hire him to lead a team in your organization?

One could argue that a good leader serves his or her team members and puts their needs above his own. To paraphrase JFK’s famous words, a good leader asks not “What’s in it for me,” but instead, “What’s in it for the betterment of our team?”

Wouldn’t it be fun to see how our world worked if we all asked less, “What’s in it for me?” and more “How can I put more in for you?” What if we all aspired more often to respond to Andre’s plea for someone who has more compassion for his fellow man?

To give Gabe the benefit of the doubt, I don’t know him or his background and my glimpse from this 3 minute conversation certainly doesn’t encompass his overall character. Likely he has experienced the joy of serving others for no other reward than helping to improve someone else’s circumstances.

But my eavesdropping did give me something to think about regarding the kind of leaders and followers we cultivate in our organizations.  As employers, what kinds of qualities do we demonstrate, and what characteristics do we foster in our staff?

As a an employee recognition provider, Terryberry works with organizations of all types to help them nurture the qualities that make a difference in their team members.  Many organizations use Terryberry’s Give a WOW program for this purpose. The platform allows team members to give each other a virtual high five for demonstrating core values such as demonstrating compassion, going above and beyond, and excellence in service.

If an employment decision were to be based solely on this 3-minute inflight observation, one might be skeptical about Gabe’s qualifications as either a boss or an employee. Speaking for myself, I’d be hesitant to take a job working for Gabe. On the flip side, I might consider working for Andre and would certainly recommend him for special recognition!