Business Lessons Learned from a Near Death Experience

Last Tuesday, I joined more than a dozen IFA staff members and multiple IFA Annual Convention attendees on what was supposed to be a simple 2.5 hour direct flight from New Orleans to Reagan National. As FranConnect CEO and Co-Founder, Amit Pamecha, so astutely recounted on the IFA’s FranSocial website , that simple flight turned into an 11 hour disaster that included a fire, two deplanes, multiple mechanical malfunctions, and endless delays on the tarmac. All I can really say about the trip is that I could go the rest of my life never hearing the following two phrases from a pilot ever again – “Stay calm and remain in your seats unless you hear me say ‘evacuate’ three times,” and “Assume the brace position for a landing.”

Yeah – that’s freaky stuff on a normal day, much less when you’ve worked 18 hours a day for a week and desperately need some R&R like our IFA friends.

However, instead of losing their cool and letting emotions/frustrations get the best of them, all passengers affiliated with the IFA laughed, clapped and hugged their way home. Emergency landing in Charlotte due to an in-flight fire? Let’s grab a beer and talk shop, using this time to our advantage. Second deplane after hours of delays on the tarmac? Let’s crack a few jokes and make the flight attendants feel better about something that’s not their fault. Third plane finally exits gate after a small mechanical issue? Let’s give a standing ovation to the pilots/mechanics who solved the problem.

Yep, that’s how us franchising folks roll – always working and always finding a silver lining.

Here are a few lessons that can be learned from the IFA flight(s) from hell:

Take advantage of unexpected networking opportunities – This is especially true when you can relate over a shared life-altering experience. You never know who is on a plane with you. Don’t sulk in the corner – head to the sports bar with fellow passengers and talk it out. For example, I met one of the most interesting young entrepreneurs I’ve met in years last Tuesday after our plane was grounded and had a fantastic conversation. It’s unlikely the conversation would have started without the icebreaker about our near-death experience.

Stay positive and retain your sense of humor – As cliché as it sounds, your ability to stay calm and laugh things off while facing adversity speaks volumes about your character. Your true colors are revealed in times of crisis and you never know what kinds of prospects, referral partners, etc. are on that flight with you.

Transparent communication is key – Airlines walk a fine line on this topic as passenger emotions may be difficult to control in mid-air. However, the first pilot we had caused some uneasiness with his approach to the problems at hand.. I’m no aviation expert, but had he said something along the lines of “Folks, we have a significant mechanical issue that requires us to make an emergency landing in Charlotte. I still have control of the plane and will get us on the ground safely within 20 minutes. Please stay calm and remain seated with your seat belts fastened,” people would have been scared, but would have trusted the pilot would get us to safety. The following two pilots did a much better job of explaining issues and timelines, which was much appreciated. Take that lesson to the workplace – you won’t always have good news to share, but it makes all the difference in the world when you get out in front of the bad news with a direct and transparent message.

None of us will forget the return home from this year’s annual convention. Here’s to hoping some other folks were as lucky as I was to learn something significant from the life-altering experience.

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