5 Leadership Lessons from My Subway Hero

The cranking sound of train crossing over to tracks woke me up. A few weeks into using Metra in Chicago, I am now tuned to close my eyes and use this cranking sound as a signal that we were approaching the Union Station. Although my mind today was a tad lazy. Not wanting to activate my brain, I closed my eyes until the train came to a halt in the station. I opened my eyes and the mind began to wander – is it going to be cold outside may be not because literally hundreds of people get off the train and that human warmth fights off the cold.

I got off the train, looked up my watch, and began maneuvering my way through the crowd to get to my connecting bus. Having grown up in India and walked many crowded street, the sense of deja vu actually gets me going. I wasn’t alone. There were hundreds of people walking hastily trying to reach their respective destinations. As I was maneuvering my way, I heard a tapping sound and it was occurring in repetition. What happened next were a few leadership lessons.

Leadership is about making decisions when things aren’t clear

Everyone around him had two eyes and many looked scholarly with a pair of eye glasses, few wore contact lenses, and few were endowed with a gift. They could see everything around them and move with pace. This gentleman didn’t have any of it to his advantage. He was visually impaired had a guiding stick and a method to make a call on to take that step forward or feel the challenge and change the course.

That is leadership at display every step. We don’t always get everything handed to us and we have to make the most of what we can based on what we have.

Leadership is about breaking barriers

I saw a gentleman who was visually impaired. It was his guiding stick and he was tapping it to look for obstructions. There were a lot of things around him – hundreds of people who were walking to their destinations and nobody paid any attention to him, the Railway platform was probably 5-10 feet away from ending, a parked train to his right, many supporting pillars on his way to his destination, and a lot of people around him. To my pleasant surprise, he was doing a phenomenal job.

My maneuvers paled in comparison. He was positioning his guiding stick just long enough to avoid people and give himself enough room to respond to any obstruction.

Barriers (challenges) are a reality in our lives. We all see it one way or the other. This gentleman was a true testament to working through obstructions.

Leadership is about pacing for success towards an outcome

Everyone around him was rushing – some to work, some on call, some were sipping coffee through their maneuvers in the crowded and then people like me were mentally lazy but moving through the crown physically to their destination. Amidst this din, this gentleman had discerned the most appropriate pace that best suited him. His objective was to make his way to work without hurting himself or others. In other words, he had figured out his pace, the outcome, and had incorporated a plan to pace his journey.

Leadership is about defining the outcomes and the pace that is suitable for success.

Leadership is about balancing hope and despair

As this gentleman was walking, his right hand was constantly tapping the guiding stick. It was his hope to work his way and his left hand was positioned with his palms facing up, parallel to the ground. It felt like it was a call for help. His palms simply said can someone hold me and take me further. We live in a freaking busy world where no one seems to have time for anyone else. However, this gentleman was unfazed by it all. His body language echoed hope and despair but his actions were all about moving forward.

Leadership is about balancing that hope and despair for both yourself and others.

Leadership is about following

As we were walking, a gentleman in a black suit simple leaned in and positioned his right arm and very gently wrapped it around the left hand of the visually impaired man. It was so natural that it sounded like they did this everyday. The gentleman introduced himself and the other person thanked him and they kept walking. After reaching a safe zone, they both parted ways.

In this instance, this person went from being a true leader to a follower. A follower who trusted someone (without knowing him/her) but with a belief in the other persons ability to get him to a safe zone.

Leadership is about following as well as leading.


A shameless conclusion. I was a tad late to reach and hold this person’s hand. That was my miss. Lastly a big salute to this gentleman. I see him everyday stick to the Metra schedule and I see leadership through his eyes. Dear gentleman, you are my Metra hero.


4 views0 comments