Leaders…Build Room to Build NextGen Leaders

I made a new friend on Delta #2786. 

I sat down in 11C ready to head home from ATL after a blessed yet very full week of meetings, presentations, strategy sessions, etc. I was happy, fulfilled, and tired. Really tired, to be honest. Physically and mentally. It’s a Q4 reality for those of us in organizational leadership, even as we live out our OPUS. That, combined with some 4X4 breathing to detox from my drive on I-85 from NE ATL to the airport,… a good tired is still tired. 

About 10 minutes before the cabin door closed I was thinking…‘Yes! No middle boy’. Then Tracey bounced in. 

She was in 11B. All of 21 years old and sweet as can be. She didn’t want to bother me so she actually started to climb over me to sit down in her seat when I said, ‘Hey, no worries. Let me get up so you can sit down more easily and get your bags settled.’ All good. 

Settled in, we took off. 

She immediately disarmed me when she asked if I fly often. OK, right there, I knew she had leadership chops because she initiated with someone decades her senior. And a stranger at that. Yes, I responded. I do fly a lot. She answered, ‘Oh, I’m so relieved. I haven’t flown since 2007, and I’ve only ever flown with my parents.’  She went there and immediately my mother’s instinct kicked in. 

Side bar…when I fly home after a business trip I am kind but not chatty, even though I am a people person/extravert. Tracey broke through my MO with her God-given winsomeness, youthful enthusiasm and her heartfelt desire to connect. And, as I learned during the flight, her passion about her purpose. One that also connects with my OPUS. 

I have not met many 21 year-olds with such prepossession, natural EQ and a confidence grounded in love and humility as I did getting to know Tracey last night flying home from Atlanta. 

Our conversation went deep in no time. I asked her where she was going and why. She’s just starting her career and she has a clear vision re: where she wants to go. She is in a short-term training ground, which she recognizes. One that she is making the most of, and is bringing her best every day in the liminal space. That impressed me tremendously. A vision for the present and for her future. And for the future of others. She is acting on her PA’s to move forward. 

I learned what she is passionate about and willing to commit to:  living out her faith and building GenZ leaders to make a difference in a hurting world. 

Upon hearing that response I smiled and silently prayed…OK, God. I see that you designed this Divine Appointment. You purposely introduced me to this young, emerging leader to encourage, support, and help at a time when you know best. 

I would never have met Tracey otherwise. No way our paths would have crossed other than on Delta #2786 in seats 11B and 11C. 

We landed. Tracey had never been in CMH before so after deplaning I walked her through Terminal C to baggage claim, then pointed her to where she could get the rental car shuttle. I answered her many questions and didn’t leave until she was good to go. Confident as she is, she was humble enough to ask for help. Another mark of a future leader. 

Out of a myriad of flights in my life I can count on one hand the times I have given out my business card. Literally. For specific reasons, which align with my Core. For Tracey, I made an exception. She has my card and I encouraged her to let me know how she’s doing. What grad school she chooses to attend next year. To let me know how I can help in terms of giving some ‘real world’ perspective. Or connections. Or encouragement. Or prayer. 

Standing at baggage claim (our bags were ‘gate checked’ which meant standing at baggage claim), we connected further. I asked more about what she loved (Disney), where her next fun trip would be (Disneyland in CA with her best friend), what her favorite movie is (The Aristocats). 

Tracey got her bag and felt confident heading out to the Rental Car Shuttle as I pointed her in that direction. Leaving she said, ‘Hey, I’ll text you to let you know what’s up and when I’ll be in NYC so we can connect!’ Cool, I said. Look forward to it. 

The beauty of human connection is that you never know the temporal or eternal impact it can have. I have no idea, this side of heaven, if I helped her, encouraged her or gave her some good things to think about (of course I recommended specific books, leadership resources to explore and the admonition to get as much real world business experience as she could). 

What I do know is that I was blessed by connecting with her and by forming a new friendship…an unlikely one at that, with this young woman who has a strongly positive future. 

I know that God planned our seat assignments that day, no doubt. Honestly, it was the one time I was happy that there was a middle boy. 

My PA? Be more open to divine appointments and keep enough margin to be able to respond generously to build into NextGen leaders. We need them to be ready to lead soon. 

Thank you, God, for my new friend, Tracey. 

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