Would You Like to Check that Bag, Sir?

An Examination of Ownership and Incentive

I just boarded a plane destined to fly from Kansas City to my home in Atlanta, and I learned a little leadership lesson. It was quite amusing.

A passenger worked to stuff his oversized bag into the overhead bin. It clearly didn’t fit. He grew frustrated. No matter how hard he tried, that bag would just not wedge into the storage overhead. That’s when his friend said to him: “Don’t worry about it. Let them take care of it.” He was obviously referring to the flight staff who would soon discover the luggage sticking out of the bin. The passenger and his friend both concluded they could relax and let someone else take care of this problem. In other words, it would become their problem.

The events that followed provided live entertainment for me prior to our take off. These two guys sat down and forgot about it. A few minutes later another passenger saw the oversized bag, and assumed she could remove it to fit her own baggage inside the overhead bin. And that’s exactly what she did. She sat the oversized bag on the floor and placed her smaller bags into the bin. Just before the door was shut a flight attendant noticed the big bag in the aisle and did the only logical thing a flight attendant would do. She checked the bag.

The owner of the bag got quite a surprise when he later discovered his bag was no longer in the cabin with him — but would now need to be picked up in Atlanta. This is never a pleasant experience. Everyone who witnessed the incident was smiling… except for this man.

Note to self. Be careful when you give responsibility to someone else. If they don’t have the same incentive you do for the job — you may not like the outcome. Many leaders fail to recognize the power of ownership. Your team must have ownership of a task if they’ll ever perform in an acceptable manner. The man on the plane learned this lesson the hard way. No one takes care of your possessions the way you do, unless you create incentive and ownership.

The other option? You can always check your bag.


Would You Like to Check that Bag, Sir?