I just returned from a working trip to Jamaica. No, I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me; I can think of few places better than Montego Bay to conduct business. The meetings were good, but the laid-back culture was what really impressed me. I relished in it with the same appreciation that a tone-deaf man appreciates the opera. I studied it and, to the extent that I could, I participated in it. I sat on the beach for an indefinite period of time and stared up at the blue sky. I took in the local grapefruit soda, Ting. I ambled down streets and talked with local businessowners. I was even given the greatest of compliments when a local woman asked me, “Are you Jamaican?”

It is because of this appreciation of the culture that the following experience brought me such pause. At the end of my trip, as I boarded the large bus back to the airport, I was surprised to find that I was only one of five passengers on the bus. “Not very efficient,” I said to myself, “but I’ll take it.” Shortly thereafter the bus made a stop in front of a very long line of passengers departing a resort. I checked my watch as they slowly piled on, teeming with luggage. I was fine on time, so I set back to the document I was reviewing. I looked up occasionally, surprised to find that passengers were still loading and I still could not see the end of the line.

One passenger, who appeared anxious about the long stop, commented aloud that the driver had disappeared. No one else seemed concerned. Meanwhile, resort passengers continued to board, rustling about and shifting stowed luggage to make room for their own. The bus was getting crowded, and though it was not the heat of the day yet, people were starting to sweat.

When the end of the resort line finally appeared, the driver was still nowhere in sight. The anxious passenger asked to no one in particular, “Does anyone know how to drive this thing? I have a plane to catch.” A few people snickered.

When the last piece of luggage was stowed, the driver was still MIA. The heckler spoke up again: “This is ridiculous! I’m going to miss my plane! Does anyone have a cell signal?” A few people gave him sympathy looks and shrugs, but no one spoke back. Everyone else seemed resigned to the fact that they had no control in the situation.

I looked at my watch. I was still good on time and was glad that I had taken the early bus rather than the later one. I wondered who the heckler was and why he was in Jamaica.

Finally the bus driver ambled back on board. The heckler called out, “Hey, thanks for coming back! Now that you’ve had a nice nap, can you please get us to the airport?!” The driver just looked at him as a dog might look at its owner, face blank but not unfriendly. Then he took his seat, slowly adjusted his seatbelt, the radio and his personal fan. With each passing second the heckler grew more visibly irritated. By the time the engine rattled to a start, the tension level was palpable on the entire bus.

I found the situation fascinating: the profound juxtaposition of this anxious man versus the culture of Jamaica that I so relished. Instead of embracing the culture that likely drew him to this island, he sought to control it, change it and mold it to suit him. His inability to do so further infuriated him. And although his vain attempts to control the situation did not have the impact he desired, they did have an impact on the microcosm of the bus. People were tense, the peace from their time in Jamaica visibly waning.

By the time we arrived at the airport, all of us passengers were sweaty, tired and a bit rattled from the stress the heckler had brought into our morning. The relaxation we had hoped to carry with us on our return trip had largely vanished. As I approached the counter, I was told my flight had been delayed. Two hours. I looked around for the heckler and wondered if he had made his flight.

The delay caused me to miss my connection, which led to another three hour delay. Learning from the heckler, I made the decision to view that time as a gift… time to address things on my lengthy to-do list., including the review of a few résumés. In doing so, I thought about the impact that one heckler had on the culture of the bus. I vowed to ensure that no hecklers be permitted into the expanding TechSoft Systems business. We need people who challenge the way we do things, but they need to do so in a way that respects the culture and those in it.

If only hecklers were easily identifiable by their résumés…

Clifford A. Bailey
CEO of TechSoft Systems, change agent, small business advocate

This entry was posted on Monday, April 18th, 2011 at 12:47 pm and is filed under Economic Development, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Musings. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.