Michel Aletraris a a Product Line Manager at Delta. When I heard we would be meeting with him for the day, as part of our ongoing education in servant leadership. I expected to meet a serious man in a stiff suit… you know, the corporate type.

Here’s what I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect to be greeted by a friendly man with warm, welcoming smile who seemed to genuinely like us and his employees. I guess I had always thought that leadership meant being serious and task-oriented. But following Mr. Aletraris around Delta and learning from him and the Senior VP of Delta TechOps, Mike Moore taught me some surprisingly new lessons about what it means to lead.

Relationships are just as important as results

I’m a results person and while I’ve heard at Impact 360 Institute how good leadership balances results and relationships, it wasn’t until watching Mr. Aletraris interact with his employees that I could see what that looked like. He knew his employees by name, but also knew their birthdays. It’s clear everyone gets work done, but they also have time for a casual joke now and then. Most people think of leaders as people who can get things done. They walk around with a to-do list, checking it off minute. Watching him showed me that there can be a balance between productivity and personal connection.

Excellence matters

This might sound cliché, but it’s true. Excellence really does matter, especially at a corporation like Delta. It’s a big company that depends on doing lots of little things right. Many of those little things are tedious and time-consuming but essential to the overall operation. Seeing how much care the employees put into their work, even though it may seem small, inspired me to take great care in the little tasks I have to do on a daily basis.

There are no small people

Yes, operations at Delta require leadership from top executives like Mr. Aletraris and Mr. Moore. But they also rely on the efforts of many people who fill small, yet critically important roles. The workers who check to make sure the airplane windows are sealed, that the engines are working, that the tires are prepared are just as important (if not more important) than top-level leaders. After all, our lives are in their hands every time we board an aircraft.

Listening to Mr. Moore talk about the interdependence of all the Delta employees reminded me that there are no small people in any operation. Everyone has an important role to fill.

I came away from the Delta tour not only amazed at human ingenuity. After all, we created huge machines that defy gravity… don’t ask me how! But more than that, I began to see how truly effective leadership is concerned not just with achieving tasks. Bosses manage tasks; leaders develop people.