Leadership Lessons Learned from Lost Luggage

Sometimes the simplest of actions can have far-reaching impact.  When the unexpected happened during our fall camp out, one Scout was left without the clothing he needed to keep warm.  But with the help of friends and the kind act of a stranger, not only did he make it through the weekend, we all learned a few lessons in leadership.

Lost Luggage

“Mr. Downer, There’s a Problem”

It was going to be a great camp out – weather was projected to be cool but clear, the fall trees were starting to show their colors, and our group of 30 Scouts and adults were looking forward to a few good days of camping in the woods.

It was Friday night, and after a two hour drive, it was dark by the time we arrived at the campsite in the hills of the Poconos.  We went through the normal routine of setting up:  light some lanterns so we could see, unload all the personal gear out of the trailer, get the tents put up, maybe have a snack by the campfire before bed.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, I heard a Scout calling my name. “Jonah” came up to me and said, “Mr. Downer, there’s a problem.  My bag is missing.”

By this time, the trailer had been unloaded and all the gear was in a large mound on and around a picnic table.  We got out some flashlights and helped him look.  It was a red duffel bag about the size of a carry-on suitcase.  Couldn’t find it.  We checked the trailer – not there.  We checked the truck he rode in to the campsite.  Nope.

We weren’t going to find it.  Either it was mistakenly left back at the church parking lot when we departed, or it fell out of a vehicle on our way up to camp.

But already, the temperature was dropping.  People were wearing sweatshirts and coats.  It was going to be in the mid 40s overnight.

Pitching In

The good news was that Jonah did have his sleeping bag and tent.  What he didn’t have was warm clothing.

But very quickly, people started to help out.  One of the dads who drove us up to camp gave him a coat and sweatshirt that he could use for the weekend.  Other Scouts came up with gear that Jonah would need.  He’ll be fine.

I thought maybe that would be the end of the story.  The lesson learned would be that good teams deal with adversity by helping each other.  Jonah’s friends had pitched in to share their gear so that he had everything he needed.  That’s what good teams do.

Good teams help each other when the going gets tough. Click To Tweet

Later, on the way home, we would check the areas along the road where the bag might have fallen, but we would probably not find it.  Lesson learned.  We’ll try to do better next time.

It’s Not SPAM

It was about 11:30 by the time the camp fire was out, the lanterns turned down and the Scouts in their tents.  I was looking forward to a good sleep in my hammock under an inky, star-studded sky.  I pulled out my smart phone to check email one last time and send a quick text home.

There was the normal barrage of salesy emails, so I started down the list, quickly deleting the messages one after another.  I was about to swipe yet another one away, but paused.  This one looked odd.  I didn’t recognize the sender’s name, and the capitalization in the subject line was irregular, but it mentioned a “red suitcase.”

Finding Homes for Lost Luggage

It was from a woman named Amanda.  She said she had been driving along when she saw what looked like a red suitcase lying by the side of the road.  Something made her stop to check it out.  When she saw that it was clearly someone’s belongings, she felt the need to return it.  Later she said she felt a little funny rooting around in someone else’s bag looking for information.

The only clue she found was a red hooded sweatshirt with a Scout troop number and campfire emblem on it.  She did an internet search for troops in the area and came up with a match.  On the web site she found our email contact, and sent a note, hoping to connect.

That was the email I nearly deleted as I lay in my hammock under the stars.  The red bag had been found.

The next morning, everyone in camp was amazed to hear how someone had found the bag and taken the time to track down the owner.  It was a great real-life example of what we try to teach in our Scout Oath:  “…to help other people at all times.”

Sunday when we got back from camp, I drove by Amanda’s house to retrieve the red bag.  I thanked her for her efforts, and told her how glad Jonah was to get his bag back.  She smiled and said she was just glad to be able to help.

Lost Luggage Leadership – The Takeaway

What can we learn from this lost luggage?

Good teams take care of each other.  When a teammate needs help, rally around them and find ways to support them.  You never know when it will be your bag that turns up missing.

Whether you are a teammate or a leader, you can strengthen the bonds of trust on your team by taking action to support those who need it.

Small acts can have big impacts.  Amanda did very little, really:  found a bag, sent an email.  As a result, Jonah got his stuff back.

But her small act had a big impact on our entire organization.  Every Scout on that camp out heard about her good deed.  Many of the parents back home heard about it too.  That’s at least 60 people touched by her actions.  And now the story is going to be on the internet!

Anything you do has the potential to be multiplied many times and in different ways, so choose carefully.

Leaders Take Action.  She could have kept driving.  But she didn’t.  She took action.  She stopped to try and be helpful.

She didn’t know who she was helping.  It didn’t matter.  She wasn’t our leader.  That didn’t matter either.  Her action set a positive example for the rest of us to follow.  Her, humble, positive actions made her a leader.

Maybe if we all try to be a little bit more like Amanda, we can become better leaders, too.

Find something positive to do and do it; you never know the impact it can have.

If you want to change someone’s life, start by changing their day. Click To Tweet

Question: What good deeds have you benefited from?  What can you do today to help others?

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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