Imagine for a moment that you and your family have been planning a vacation abroad. After months of anticipation, the time has finally arrived.

Suddenly, the unthinkable: 

As you're getting ready to leave the country, you get a phone call from work. They need you to cancel your vacation and head to Washington D.C... meet with the president of the United States.

What would you do?

As crazy as it sounds, this isn't an imaginary scenario. It's the real-life situation Delta airlines CEO Ed Bastian faced just a few weeks ago.

So, what did Bastian do?

He went on vacation with his family.

There's an extraordinary lesson to be learned from this decision, and it has everything to do with emotional intelligence. Let's break it down.

Here's the story

The meeting was actually requested by the CEOs of the three major airlines in the United States: United, American, and Delta. 

You might wonder, what was the purpose of the meeting? 

My colleague Bill Murphy Jr. shared full details in this excellent post. Here's a brief summary:

"In short, the airlines wanted Trump to take executive action against Air Italy, which is expanding and offering nonstop flights between the U.S. and Europe," writes Murphy. "Their argument is that since Air Italy is owned 49 percent by Qatar Airways, this expansion means Qatar Airways is violating a big airline competition agreement with the United States."

So, after requesting a meeting with the Trump administration, they got one--with the president himself.

But in an unexpected turn of events, Bastian said he couldn't attend. (He was the only CEO of the three to miss the meeting.)

According to an NBC report, the president couldn't believe that Bastian was a no-show, especially since he had been one of the persons to lobby so hard for the meeting in the first place.

Until recently, we didn't know the full reason behind Bastian's absence. Delta simply said that Bastian had "previously scheduled travel that he was unable to reschedule."

But it appears that Bastian has now provided a fuller explanation. 

According to Forbes, the CEO recently shared a video with Delta employees that included the following statement:

Unfortunately, that meeting was set up at the very last minute as I was heading out of the country with my family on a long scheduled one-week vacation that would have caused me to cancel the vacation with my family. My family makes a lot of sacrifices with Delta. I ask them to do a lot of things; I wasn't about ready to ask them to cancel a long-scheduled vacation.

In his statement, Bastian emphasized that his absence was "not a political statement that we were making in the least," explaining that he told the White House he "was willing to make any meeting, any week, it just couldn't be that week."

I can empathize with Bastian.

Admittedly, I've never turned down an offer to meet with the president. But as an author, I'm regularly asked to come speak about my work to companies and even government agencies. 

Ninety percent of the time, my answer is that I can't make it.


Primarily, because I'm father to three young children.

My work is very important to me, and I take it seriously. For me, practicing and sharing the principles of emotional intelligence is more than just a job, or a career. It's my life.

But my children are my life, too. And more than anything else, those children need me and their mom to be there for them.

It takes quantity to get quality

There's a dangerous argument that's been around for a while. It goes something like this:

When it comes to spending time with your children, it's not about the quantity, but the quality.

It's easy to use this statement to rationalize the negative emotions you feel if you're missing more of your children's lives than you'd like.

But those negative emotions serve a purpose. They can alert you to the need to make changes, to make your family more of a priority.

Because what they don't tell you is: 

You can't get the quality without putting in the quantity.

For me, quality is:

  • Being there for dinner every night. 
  • Sharing in all the conversations (not just the "important" ones)--which help me understand what's on my children's minds and hearts.
  • Helping out with homework.
  • Teaching my 7-year-old how to shoot a proper jump shot.
  • Playing house with my 4-year-old.
  • Being there to see my baby girl take her first steps. (Just as I was for the first two.)
  • Reading bedtime stories.
  • Explaining why terrible things happen in this world.
  • Explaining why wonderful things happen in this world.

I can imagine that when Bastian got that phone call, he experienced a flurry of emotions. No doubt he contemplated the potential results of missing that meeting--just as you might worry about the consequences of turning down an important gig or rejecting an important meeting invite, in order to follow through on a promise to your own family.

But emotional intelligence can help you to see the big picture. It can help you to realize that if you make a habit of keeping your word--in things big and small--you'll develop a strong reputation for reliability and trustworthiness. 

And that's a lesson I guarantee your family will never forget.

I bet Bastian's won't either.