Creating a “Happy Place Culture” | Diana May

"Volunteers don't necessarily have the time, but they have the heart to serve. Look for a volunteer if you want to see love in action." Diana May, Episode 117

What is the meaning of “love in action”?

My guest Diana May manages a large team of volunteers at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, where she’s created what she calls “happy place culture.”

Diana is here to share insights from her 20 years of experience working for local nonprofits—and what she’s learned from her current role as Volunteer Programs Manager.

She’ll cover:

  • Why anyone can be a leader

  • The importance of heeding the call

  • Leadership habits she instills in her volunteers

  • How to keep yourself energized

  • Building an emotionally intelligent team

  • And more

Mentioned in this episode:


Diana May: Volunteers don’t necessarily have the time but they have the hearts. And I think that really sums up our volunteers. They have the heart to serve and if you want to see love in action, you know, come to the airport and look for a volunteer wearing a bright yellow shirt and you will see love in action.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast with professional speaker, coach and consultant Nicole Greer.

Nicole Greer: Welcome everybody to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast. My name is Nicole Greer, and they call me the vibrant coach and I am absolutely beyond thrilled to have the lovely and talented Diana May on the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast. So before we even get started, go down and hit the like button because you’re gonna like it. And then I also want you to go ahead and subscribe. Because here’s the deal, Diana May is amazing. I met her when she and I met over at UNC Charlotte. And so let me tell you a little bit about her. 

Diana May has more than 20 years of experience working with local nonprofits in various capacities, including fundraiser, grant writer, event planner, administrator and community relations. She knows it all. And she has been in her current role as the volunteer programs manager at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, CLT. All y’all know that when you book your tickets, for eight years. And prior to joining CLT, she served as a special events administrator for the American Heart Association for eight years. So she’s got a huge heart. She’s a wonderful human. 

Let’s let’s learn a little bit about what she knows. Listen to this. Diana earned her Bachelor’s degree of English from Salem College and a nonprofit certificate from Duke University. Go Duke, and she is one of 50 certified administrators of volunteers in North Carolina. When she’s not at the airport, running the whole show, Diana enjoys riding her bike traveling with her husband and hiking with her dog. Okay, before we go any further, what’s your dog’s name, Diana?

Diana: His name is Boo. He’s a little cocker spaniel that we rescued about eight years ago. And he’s, he’s my furry child.

Nicole: Oh my gosh, I love him. His name is Boo, everybody. Don’t you love that? That’s fantastic. All right. So Diana, I’m so glad you’re on the show. And the first thing we do when we have a guest is we ask them to kind of define leadership, what’s your definition of leadership?

Diana: I thought really long and hard about this. Because this is, this question can be answered so many different ways. But for me, personally, I would define leadership as somebody who, the act of leading, of heeding the call. So whatever that call is, whenever that call comes, and for however long it takes. So that could be a life calling, a career calling. Like a preacher, for example, or maybe a physician. Or it could be a literal emergency call in the middle of the night, from a family member who could be in a bad situation. 

So for me, leadership is heeding the call. And I think it’s also situational. I believe that everybody has the capacity to lead. And what that looks like, is different for everybody. But in general, in sort of my that’s my personal definition. But I generally, I subscribe to the servant leadership definition, having worked in nonprofit for the majority of my career and really putting others first and causes first. So in general, I would say the servant leadership model, but personally, it’s heeding the call.

Nicole: I love what you’re saying. Because I do think there’s a lot wrong in the world. There’s a lot of stuff that needs people to step up. And I do think sometimes you get a little voice that says, hey, you know, see that problem right there. That’s yours to fix. That’s yours to conquer. So I’m curious, tell me how you got into nonprofit. I do think nonprofit is a calling because they’re usually big problems to solve. How did you, how did you get there?

Diana: My very, well, actually, I enjoyed volunteering in college. We had some volunteer service requirements that we had to fulfill. And it was through those service requirements that I found that I loved to volunteer, and I volunteer, I extended my service beyond our 40 required hours. So for me that was a new passion that I developed at a young age and I happened to have a friend that worked for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation here in Charlotte many years ago. And they were in need of volunteers and I started volunteering there. 

And then a position became available. And they liked what I did for them as a volunteer, which helped me to get a job there. And I was the administrative assistant. And then I became a coordinator for special events and began my fundraising and development career. And that’s how I started. And I’ve been on this great trajectory ever since, working with volunteers in many different capacities. Whether it’s fundraising or special events, or managing boards and committees. So my current adventure with volunteers is here at the airport, which is not a nonprofit, but it’s a government entity. 

But our program runs like a nonprofit does. We rely on our volunteers to assist with the customer experience and help passengers with their travels. Helping them with wayfinding, directional assistance, they offer restaurant recommendations. So if you want to get you want to try grits and sweet tea for the first time, ask a volunteer, they can direct you where to go. So it’s really neat to be in a situation where we can help people directly and make an instant impact every day on our traveler’s journeys.

Nicole: That’s fantastic. And if you’re looking at the video, you can see that she’s got on a fantastic crown. It’s a picture of the new I guess is it like a statue? Monument? What’s the right word for that?

Diana: It’s a monument sign that it’s at the front entrance of the airport on Josh Birmingham and Wilkinson. And it came online a couple years ago, it lights up at night. It’s a crown, it represents the airport in our in our great city. And it’s a wonderful feature to have at our front door.

Nicole: That’s fantastic. And she looks like the queen. That’s great. And so don’t miss this everybody. So far, she’s downloaded the fact that leadership is heeding the call and that she believes everybody has the capacity to lead. I think that might be surprising to some people. So why do you believe everybody on planet Earth has some capacity to lead? Talk a little bit more about that, because I think that gives some listening some hope, and might open up the minds of others.

Diana: I think a lot of us have predefined definitions of what a leader is. You know how, that that’s the President of a company, or the country, or that’s a person with an MBA, or a person with a certain job title. And really, at the end of the day, to me, everybody can lead themselves. And if you can lead yourself, then I believe you can lead others. I mean, it starts, leadership starts with you. We think that leaders have to be charismatic and great speakers, and great listeners and doers and have the vision and all this, but sometimes, for me, it’s the ability to take out the trash. 

So if you’re walking along, you’re in the office, and let’s say the trash cans over, you know, spilling is overflowing. And if you don’t heed that call to empty the trash, how are you going to lead people to empty the trash? I mean, so that’s kind of where that comes from. I mean, I know they’re very soft-spoken people who you might think, oh, they’re too shy to lead. Quiet, you know, more introverted people. But I consider myself an introverted person, but I have developed lots of extroverted skills. And so I can speak to large groups, I can make small talk, I can network, I can tell you the funny story and be the life of the party. 

But for me, like my energy, it comes from being alone and reading a book and just kind of having time for my bucket to fill back up. So when I tell people, I’m an introvert, I’m more on the introverted side, they’re always surprised because that’s not who I present to them. But I think there’s this misconception that you have to be a type A extroverted person to be a leader and to be an effective leader, when a lot of people leave behind the scenes in a quieter type of way and using a softer voice. And I think that there’s value in that and we shouldn’t diminish it.

Nicole: I totally agree. And I love what you’re saying. And I do think that gives people who have those introverted tendencies to say yeah, I can gain the skills. So don’t miss what she said. I have extroverted skills. Alright, so think about it that way. That is absolutely fantastic. And so she said the key is to lead yourself well first and that’s the old thing of lead by example, right? Empty the trash and then other people will empty the trash. So I love that. Okay. All right. So listen to that. She’s downloading all this wisdom already. Okay, so I have a little coaching methodology called SHINE. And it stands for self-assessment, habits, integrity, next steps and energy. 

And so she just now was talking about extroverted skills or habits you can put in place. Things you can put in place and start to learn. So I love that. All right. So in terms of self-assessment, they asked in our shine coaching methodology, if you look back at your tenure, at CLT, Charlotte Douglas, what are some lessons you’ve learned. I think sometimes your leadership philosophy, the way you find your way forward, you got to learn from experiences. And I know you’ve had some doozies, and you’ve had some beautiful things happen to you during your tenure. So share a little bit with us about that.

Diana: So when it comes to lessons learned, I would say I’ve learned a lot of lessons working at the airport. Because it’s such a unique environment to go from different nonprofit organizations to one of the busiest international airports in the country and in the world. So it was a big learning curve for me. And the first important lesson I learned, I was given some good advice by a volunteer. 

And he knew that when I came on board, I had some really big shoes to fill from my predecessor. And he said, learn to bend, which is another way to say you know, be flexible and adapt. And he’s, I’d never heard that phrase before. And I loved it, because I love phrases and quotes and words. And so I wrote it on my whiteboard, and it’s still there, eight years later, I’ll send you a photo of my board. 

Nicole: Oh, my gosh, I want that. I so want that.

Diana: Because I read it every day. And it’s just a good reminder that I need to learn to bend, you know, and that’s just not, it’s not necessarily bending over backwards. It’s, bending and tilting, and all different kinds of directions and angles and degrees. So it was really wonderful advice. And, and then, you know, COVID came and where we all pivoted, you know, and we all had to really flex. But for me, during COVID, the term became elastic, like you had to really become you couldn’t just be flexible anymore, you had to become elastic. And so that was it’s a lesson that, you know, I’m still learning and putting into practice. 

And I and I think the second one is to give people space and grace. Being in an airport environment, you encounter people from all over the world from all walks of life. And you never know what someone is experiencing and what they’re going through, right in general. But especially at an airport, because folks are flying usually for business or pleasure. Oftentimes, folks are flying to a wedding or a funeral or to make a final visit with a friend or loved one, or even heading towards this to a funeral. And so people’s emotional states are always can be fragile, when they’re flying. And then just the stress of travel on top of that can contribute to a stressful environment for folks. 

So I think, you know, from a travelers perspective, from a public perspective, giving people space and grace, but also your co-workers, and your supervisor. I mean, we’ve all kind of come through this traumatic shared experience through the pandemic. And some people have, you know, rebounded pretty well and some are still, you know, at home, because they’re still scared. So I think you just kind of have to meet people where they are, and think, give people the benefit of the doubt. And when you give people some space and some grace that goes a long way.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And so I think that’s fantastic. What she’s saying about travel, and I bet you many of you listening in right now, travel on the regular, or you wouldn’t be listening to a business podcast. I think that that’s really huge is that you know, give people space and grace, which is bigger than just being empathetic. I think those are two actions of being empathetic actually. So I think that’s really beautiful. All right. And I love this learn to bend and then if necessary, become elastic. Elastic girl, right? 

Yeah, that’s fantastic. Yeah, I think every leader could benefit from that, that’s for sure. All right. So you work in a really unique environment, which you’ve alluded to. I’m curious, I bet you, you might know some numbers off the bat. Or if you could give us your best guess how many people go in and out of Charlotte Douglas airport, like, in a year? I mean, like, what’s, what’s a roundabout number? I bet you know.

Diana: Yeah. So we are on track to meet or exceed our 2019 numbers, which was our busiest travel year in the airport’s history. That was in 2019. And we surpassed 50 million passengers. So we are on track to meet or exceed that this year. And that equates to just over 130,000 passengers flying in and out of our terminal building every day. So it’s a lot of people, as it sounds like. Yeah, it’s a lot of people. And, you know, our building was constructed in the early 80s, with two concourses, concourses B and C and our atrium food court. 

And we had no idea that we would be, you know, at 50 million. And we’re actually on track to, I can’t remember the date, I think it’s by 2045 be at 100 million, maybe don’t quote me on that. But to give you some context, that’s the size, that’s the current size of Atlanta, Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, which is the busiest airport in the world. So CLT’s future is looking amazing, which we’re really excited about. But, you know, again, being in a building that was built in the 80s, without knowing these kinds of numbers would come our way, you know, we have some, we have some constraints, and it does get crowded during our pushes, our busy times. And people do express their concern about that. 

But we are, we’re growing, we’re adding onto our terminal with our terminal lobby expansion. And that’s going to add, I don’t know, several 100,000 more feet to the building, and be two story and just give us a lot more space, which we desperately need. So we’re really excited where the airport is going and to be able to unveil this new ticket lobby expansion in 2025, to the traveling public.

Nicole: That’s fantastic. And how exciting for you, as a leader to be part of all of this expansion and change. It’s exciting. And so that means you’re going to have to add to your volunteer group to span two floors and all this extra square footage. That’s going to be fantastic. But before we talk about your team, because y’all are not going to believe this. Here’s the inside scoop. 

Diana has a waiting list of people to be volunteers. Now for the rest of you, who are nonprofit, government volunteer organizations, you’re like what? Say what? Alright, so she has a waiting list. So she’s going to talk a little bit about that in a hot second. But before she does that, tell us exactly what your organization does. Why does it exist? And how does it help the world because it does help the world. All these 50 million people get helped all the time.

Diana: From a program standpoint, our program exists to really enhance the overall customer experience at the airport. So our volunteers, and I just want to say I manage two different programs at the airport. One is our airport volunteers. They’re the ones who are the bright yellow shirts and the red ask me name tags, and they’re, they’re serving in an informational capacity. And then I also manage, along with our coordinator, our canine crew therapy dog program, which is one of 70 therapy dog programs and airports in the US. 

And so we have our handlers who bring their registered therapy dogs to the airport to provide some stress relief and cuddles to travelers. And what is so great about that program is that it’s, you’ll, you’ll notice, if you’re in the atrium, you’ll you can look across the atrium, and you can see the stress on people’s faces. And then as they get start to kind of walk towards the dogs, their faces lighten up and relax a little and they’re like, huh, that’s a cute dog. That dog has a pet me vest on it. I wonder if I can pet that dog. 

And then of course, they approach us and they’re like, can we pet your dog? And then we’re like, yes, they’re actually our dogs are volunteers too. And so it makes for a neat conversation and icebreaker with our customers and they love it. And it immediately changes the energy not only within, but with within the building. And so after an encounter with our canine crew, folks are just so happy and excited. And they’re in a much better emotional and mental place than they were a few minutes prior. 

And so that’s really, that benefits everybody here at the airport. And it’s a really great service that we’re able to provide. So that’s really exciting. And that’s just two of the programs that that we have. And they’ve really, our volunteers touch people in a way that I think airline employees or some of our retail and food and beverage concessionaires can’t. Our folks, I’d like to describe them as the heart of the airport. Now, some people may debate that, but they’re really a special group of people. 

You know, volunteers, they don’t get paid. They come out here because they generally have a love to serve others. So they’re here, they come out, they provide general information, which is so useful and helpful, but they’re also a shoulder to cry on. Right? I mean, they’re the empathizers and the sympathizers. They’re the listening ear, they really care about other people. 

And they, there’s this great quote I like and it says that volunteers don’t necessarily have the time, but they have the hearts. And I think that really sums up our volunteers, they have the heart to serve. And if you want to see love in action, you know, come to the airport, and look for a volunteer wearing a bright yellow shirt, and you will see love in action. And I have a couple of stories. If you, if I have time, I’d love to share, so.

Nicole: Oh my gosh, yes. But before you do, I wanted to say, you know, one of the big concepts that’s out there is this idea of emotional intelligence. And what just landed for me is how these volunteers are bringing emotional intelligence into the airport. You know, where you could lose your mind, right, be frustrated, be down the feeling scale, many of my listeners hear me talk about the feeling scale. It’s life and business. It’s all about taking people up the feeling scale. And just think how much better and safer and pleasant the four hour plane trip to LA is going to be if the guy in front of you who was cranky, got to pet the dog, you know, right? 

Diana: Absolutely. 

Nicole: Yeah. So it helps him get intelligent about his emotions. He shifted from sad, mad, and unglad. He got some puppy pets in. Perhaps it’s the same kind of dog he left at the house. I mean, it’s really hugely good for emotional intelligence.

Diana: It is. It is. And it’s really easy, you know, the airport is a great spot to people-watch. And you can really learn a lot by the people you’re watching. And for our volunteers, their interactions are pretty quick, with folks, you know, because people are on a tight time schedule. But they’re able to quickly read the body language. And that’s important and to, to really listen to what people are asking. 

Because sometimes what they’re asking for is, is unsaid. And so our volunteers are really in tune with the emotional side of our travelers. In addition to just sort of, you know, the surface level, they really do go deeper. And so, we had a volunteer who I think I shared this story in one of our classes, but it’s one that always stuck with me. We had a volunteer near our concourses D and E. There’s a busy connection spot in the building. 

And a gentleman came up to our volunteer and asked for assistance. And he had some questions about a debit card that he had received. And he very humbly explained to the volunteer that he had just been released from prison after many years. And that he had received a debit card to use during his travels home. And he didn’t know what a debit card was, because they didn’t exist during his, his tenure in in the correctional facility.

Nicole: Isn’t that crazy. That guy was in jail so long, he didn’t know what that was.

Diana: He didn’t know, he didn’t know how to use it. He didn’t know how to activate it. All he had was this envelope with a card and some instructions that were like a foreign language to him. So, you know, he, he had to, he explained himself to the volunteer. And the volunteer was just so moved by it. You know, she was kind of surprised. But you know, nothing really surprises you in the airport. But um, it was this was a surprise for her. And she was like, of course, let me show you. Let me tell you about this. Let me tell you what this card is. 

Let me tell you how to use it and walked over to the ATM machine, walked him through the whole process. And he was so grateful he had tears in his eyes and he’s thanking her and she’s like, of course, you know, it’s my pleasure to help you. And so when I say like, we’re the heart of the airport, you know, we give dignity to a lot of people who might be in crisis, you know, temporary crisis, travel crisis, whatever that crisis may be. And so, I love that story. And there’s, and then in addition to being the heart of the airport, I would definitely say, we’re the smile of the airport. 

Nicole: That’s lovely. 

Diana: So, one of our volunteers, a woman came up to her and was like, and, and this volunteer just happens to have a beautiful smile. I mean, she has a beautiful smile. And she saw this woman come up to her who looked really, you know, sad and tired and upset. And she just gave her her best smile and welcomed her to Charlotte. And the woman was so emotional and broke down. And she’s like, can I just thank you for smiling. She said, I have been traveling for 18 hours. I’ve had my flights delayed and canceled. I’ve had to sleep, you know, on a concrete floor, I’m exhausted. And I’ve been traveling for 18 hours. 

And in that time, you’re the first person I’ve encountered who has offered a smile. And that may not seem like such a huge thing. But for that particular traveler, it was everything. That smile just summed up our volunteer’s kindness and compassion. And I just can’t reiterate how important it is, you know, you may not be able to give your money or your time or, or good advice, but you can always offer someone a smile. And it really does make a difference. 

So those are kind of two stories that I love to share when I talk about the airport. And you know, even though we, or volunteers have clickers. And so we count how many interactions we have. How many questions we answer, because we want to be able to measure the impact we’re having. But those types of stories, it’s, you know, it’s hard to define that impact. So, but I share them with you because I think that they really embody what is so great about our volunteers.

Nicole: Yeah. And so don’t miss that she said earlier, I’m an introvert, but I have extroverted skills. And look how easy it is to smile. That’s an extroverted skill. I love that. Yeah. And I will tell you, I, you know, I go lots of places that are very busy, lots of different companies and organizations. And, you know, I show up for training. And here’s this stranger in the hallway, me. And it’s very rare. Somebody’s like, wants to help me or wants to greet me, even though they’ve never laid eyes on me before. 

So, you know, just this whole idea of being welcoming and showing this, you know, beautiful thing called hospitality, I think is absolutely huge. I love your stories. I think they’re fantastic. Yeah, all right. Okay. All right. So now tell us about the culture you’ve created. So, you know, she sounds like she’s got this, you know, major love thing going on over there. But I want to tell you, Diana May, don’t underestimate her, she is savvy with strategy. So how have you put your organization together so that you’ve built what I would call a vibrant culture? How have you done that?

Diana: I have to admit, I came into this role after it had been in existence for eight years. So I’m fortunate that I came into something that a well-oiled machine with amazing volunteers. You know, but I realized very quickly, it’s, you know, up to, you know, it’s gonna sink or swim, you know, depending on how I steer. And so what I have done is create a happy place culture. I don’t have a better term for it. But we are the positivity I, we have a rule that we are, we’re Switzerland. 

So when you come into our office, we don’t talk politics, we don’t talk religion, we try to steer away from controversial things, we say leave the drama at home, because it will be there after your shift. And so our volunteers already come excited and ready to serve. And then they have whatever amazing encounters with folks, whether that’s, you know, a neighbor, they happen to greet or it’s, you know, a celebrity that they get to meet. And so they feel very fulfilled by the time they leave. 

And as I mentioned, these clickers, you know, they can look at the clicker at the end of their shift and say, oh, my gosh, I helped 214 people today, and it’s not even lunchtime. Like, of course, you’re going to leave feeling great, you know. So it’s kind of this energy that recycles itself and perpetuates. And so when you see those big yellow smiley face icons and emoji, like, that’s us, that’s our culture. That is what we want. Like we collectively want that in our space. And we work hard to make sure that that is it, that we’re all getting that and contributing to that. So happy place culture.

Nicole: Yeah. And so I love this idea of I know I’m contributing. And I think a lot of people go to work, and they’re going through the motions, and they’re gone through the activities and the tasks. And they’re curious, if anybody’s noticing a and b. They’re not even noticing for themselves. So I love the clicker idea. I’m thinking to myself, everybody should have a clicker. I smiled this time. I answered the phone. I did 1700 emails. Yeah, there’s something about you know, that little drip of dopamine that comes out of your hypothalamus gland that, you know, marinates you in good juju, right. 

And don’t miss what she said. I think this is fantastic. We consider ourselves Switzerland. All right, so like that’s quotable, and tweetable. Alright, so I love that so much. That’s so fantastic. All right. So you’ve got this amazing solid team of volunteers, and I spilled the good secret that you have a waiting list, which again, I think everybody’s like, I want to hear how that works. So what strategies have you implemented to create such a solid team of volunteers? How in the world did you do that?

Diana: Um, well, I’ve really tried to, as we talked about, just walk the walk and talk, you know, walk the talk, I think is that is the term. And to model, the behavior that I want to see. You know, are our policies and procedures, and attitudes that we want from our volunteers, I have to emulate you know. They have to see it from me. And so it’s important that I’m putting all that good positive energy out there, investing that into them, so that they can receive it, right. You can’t receive what you’re not getting. 

And so putting it out there. And I have found that our volunteers, they get it and they receive it, and they put it back out there for the customer sevenfold. So they say that helping others is the secret sauce of life. And I think that’s kind of maybe the secret sauce to our program is just everybody wants to help somebody. And our volunteers are on the front lines. And I’m helping the volunteers do what they love to do. And so the volunteers are my internal customers. And it’s important that I invest good things into them.

Nicole: Yeah, okay, so everybody, please don’t miss that language she just used. Internal customer. So all leaders have internal customers, it’s the people that work, volunteer, hang out with them on the day-to-day. So we have customer service to our external customers, the 50 million people coming through the door. But then also we serve each other. So it’s just gosh, I’m hearing this servant, servant, servant over and over again, or help, help, help. So the whole philosophy of servant leadership comes from Robert Greenleaf. 

I’ve been sitting here thinking, what is his name? And it just popped in my head. If I ask long enough it comes to me. So I would definitely suggest going out and finding one of maybe the original things by Robert Greenleaf on there. Fantastic stuff. Now, one thing I want to mirror back to everybody, Diana, as you said, you cannot receive what you are not getting. So I just I think that’s very, very interesting, right? Like, I can’t be positive, you know, if I’m getting a bunch of negativity from my leader.

Diana: Yes, I love. My grandmother was a wise woman. And she had 14 grandchildren. And when we were young, and very often when we would see her she would pull each of we found this out later in life, she would pull each of us aside and tell us that we that we were her favorite grandchild. She did this to all our grandkids. But we didn’t know that right? Because it was a big secret, right? We didn’t want you know, the other grandkids, our brothers and sisters and cousins to feel excluded. 

But my grandmother had this way of making you feel like you’re the most important person in the room. And that you were her favorite. And so I try and just treat all the volunteers as if they were my favorite because they are. And you know, feeling important, feeling valued, feeling heard, being seen. Those are really important things to come, when you’re when you’re a supervisor, when you’re a manager. You need to, you really need to see people and go beyond just, you know, the job per se. 

You know, I know, all of my volunteers their spouses’ names, I know their pets, I know where they’re traveling. I really take an invested interest in them. And I know that sometimes that’s difficult when you have huge teams and, you know, teams that are scattered across the country or the world. So you know, but I’m fortunate in that my environment allows me that, that time to invest in those relationships, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to get to know your employees and your co-workers. 

You’ve got to break bread with them, because that’s how you build community. And if the bread is a Krispy Kreme donut and a Starbucks, that’s okay. You know, but just really taking time and you’ve talked about this in the classes. And when it comes to communicating. I mean, it’s not, it’s beyond sending the email with the information. It’s beyond the memo. 

It’s, you’ve got to get to know people. I mean, how else are you going to know what motivates them? How are you going to know how to approach them when there’s bad news or changes coming. And so really, truly investing and other people’s lives, their stories is important. And that is something unique, I think, to volunteerism is that we, that I’ve been able to do across different organizations is really get to spend time and get to know people.

Nicole: Yeah, and my favorite thing about the word favorite is the word favor on the front of it, right? 

Diana: Yes, yes. 

Nicole: Which means that you’re special. You’re getting the attention you deserve, right. And so I gotta know, what was your grandma’s name?

Diana: Well, her real name was Carolyn, but everyone called her Pinky.

Nicole: Oh my god, stop. Why did they call her Pinky? I love it.

Diana: I’m not quite sure. I’m not quite sure. There are different versions of why, but everyone called her Pinky. And that was her nickname. And that’s friends and family called her Pinky. And she was a really neat, special lady.

Nicole: Oh, my gosh. Does everybody have a visual? They’re probably all different. But like she’s like, so cute and darling right, in your brain? 

Diana: She was. She was.

Nicole: I love Pinky. All right. Very good. Very good. All right. So you talked a little bit about this already. But you told me that your team is love in action. So there’s two stories about you know, the guy with ATM that’s been released from prison, the smile and all that. But there’s one thing to say I think and you want Diana, I think people are kind of nonchalant, or I don’t know what the right word is. You can probably fill in the blank. But like, they’re careless with the word love. Like I love working here. But like there’s a whole difference when you can feel it. Right. So I’m curious about love in action. That’s kind of something you shared before with me. Talk about love in action.

Diana: Here’s another story. And I’m hoping that the stories will illustrate what I may lack in defining. But, so we had one of our volunteers who speaks Spanish. She was near the C checkpoint, and a woman comes up to her and asked her if she spoke Spanish. And our volunteers like, si habla Espanol you know, and started speaking her and the woman starts crying. And the volunteers a little bit like, oh, and the woman explained that she had never been to Charlotte. This is her second trip to the US. She didn’t speak English. And that before her trip, she was a very religious woman. She had said a prayer. And she had asked God, to please send an angel on her journey who could help her because this woman was very, very fearful of traveling. 

She was traveling alone. She’s older, she doesn’t speak the language. She’s not familiar with our facility. And she was very concerned about missing her flight and not having anybody who could see her or help her. And the very first person she sees and speaks with is Sandra, one of our volunteers. And Sandra just took care of her, explained where everything was. Here’s where the restrooms are, if you need them, here’s an ATM. If you’re hungry, you know, go over here. And I’m going to walk you to your gate so you know exactly where you need to be. 

And I’m going to speak with an agent and let the agent know that you don’t speak Spanish, and that you’re traveling by yourself and just make sure that you don’t miss your flight. And now our volunteers, you know, this is pretty typical of what they do during their shift. But for that customer, it was atypical. And she hugged, she gave our volunteer a hug and she thanked her profusely. And she kept calling her my angel, my angel. And for her, Sandra was an answered prayer. And I don’t say that flippantly. 

And I mean, it’s very Sandra was like, this woman was convinced I’m her angel, and I was an answer to prayer. And I was like, wow, what a story, you get to go home and tell your husband, you know. I mean, you talk about making someone’s day. So that’s just just taking the time with people, again, it’s seeing a need, it’s heeding the call, it’s caring for others, and helping them get from along their journey. 

Whether that’s getting from point A to point B, showing them, you know how to use it, the debit card, helping them get to Lost and Found to retrieve an item, just being a listening ear. I mean, these are, this is love in action. And so I know there are many different types of love. And there’s many definitions of love. And if it’s okay, if I share a religious story, I don’t know if that’s okay or not to do when we’re talking business.

Nicole: Before you do that, though, I don’t want you to miss how that volunteer how she took care of the little lady that speaks Spanish. But like, that’s how you, that’s how you onboard employees. That’s how you develop employees, you know. You show them the way you give them the roadmap, you make sure that all of their little needs are met, so that they can get where they want to go, a lot of times we get so I don’t know, maybe irritated or lost in our tasks that we don’t realize, this person I’ve just hired, they don’t know where to go what to do. 

And so they can’t get off, they can’t take flight, they’re going to use a flight metaphor again. So they can’t take flight unless you do all of these things. You know, I’m going to go over here, I’m going to talk to this other employee, and they’re also going to take care of you. Like get your people a mentor. I mean, just what a great metaphor, I’m gonna totally use this from now on Diana, you’re blowing my mind. Okay, so tell a religious story, it is perfectly ok.

Diana: Well, and to actually to backtrack on what you said is that one reason why I think our program is successful, and our volunteers have success, if that’s the term we want to use, is because we invest a lot of time into training them. And onboarding them, it’s about a 26-hour training program to be an airport volunteer, it’s a lot.

Nicole: Do not miss that. To be a volunteer, it’s 26 hours. Keep going, I just didn’t want to miss that.

Diana: It is a lot. And because we there’s so much information about the airport, and because and something I also would like to share with the listeners is that the airport serves, it’s a landlord. We kind of operate like a mall. So, you know, all of our, the airlines, they leased space from us as do the restaurants, as do the different retail establishments. And so, you know, we’re the parking lot, we’re the bathrooms, we’re the ceiling and the windows, you know, and so a lot of people, when they say that they’ve had a bad experience flying, you know, they want to complain about the airport, but, really, they need to be speaking with the airline or the business where they didn’t get good service. 

Or so, I just kind of want to put a little plug in and just to make that distinction that the airport is the building, and, you know, everything else falls under the airlines or restaurants, etc. But, yes, we, because there is so much of that. There’s a lot for volunteers to know and we want to set up our volunteers to be successful. So the first time that they don that yellow shirt and hit the floor, they feel confident they know the answers to the top 20 questions, they’re more likely going to be asked. Who to call, and how to handle the emergency situations that they may find themselves in. 

So we work really hard to prepare our volunteers for what they’re most likely going to encounter. So I just want to say that because I know not everyone does. It’s like, oh, you want to volunteer? Come in tomorrow. Yeah, do this, and you don’t get a lot of guidance. So we really take that time to invest in our volunteers so they know what to do.

Nicole: And I think they probably feel that as love in action. Oh, they’re really getting me ready. So I mean that and that’s love, right? It’s kind of like sending your child off to kindergarten. I mean, you wouldn’t send them off in their PJs with no backpack. So, it’s love in action.

Diana: Yeah, it is and so kind of speak about love and how, you know, there are many definitions. You know, there is a scripture in the Bible that’s often used in wedding vows, right? It’s love is patient, love is kind. Maybe you’ve heard this or are familiar with it. You know, love is not self-seeking, it’s not easily angered. And it goes on and on. Like, wouldn’t it be great if people applied this advice, this definition to not just their romantic relationships, but their work relationships, you know. What would love an action look like in the workplace? I mean, I’ve kind of described what it looks like from a volunteer perspective. 

But you know, what, if you loved your co-worker. And when I say love, I don’t mean you have to like them. And when I say that, I remember when I was a teenager, I would have spats with my friends, you know, and I would come home, and I would tell my mom all you know, I don’t get I don’t like her anymore. We’re not friends anymore. And I don’t like her. And my mom would always sort of respond with this, but you don’t have to like them, but you have to love them. And I’m 13 years old, and I have no idea what she means by that. 

But as I grew older, you know, it started to make sense, like, and there are a lot of people I don’t like, but I love if that makes any sense. And so, you know, what if we took this definition, and, you know, instead of begrudging our coworker for getting a raise, you know, or getting that promotion, what if we cheered them on? You know, what, if instead of sabotaging someone’s project, we help them, you know, find success with it? 

What if we stopped gossiping, you know, and loved and got to know our co workers. You know, that’s, that’s love in the workplace. And I think it’s transformative. And if we could somehow get to a mutual definition of love, and exude that in the workplace and extend it and live it, I think it would, it could change our world. So that’s my little, my little religious story.

Nicole: Yeah. And they all said, amen. That’s right. That’s right. And so you know, there’s and again, in the Bible, there’s all different kinds of love, too. One of them is phileo, which is from like Philadelphia, right? The phil on the front, right? And what that means is brotherly love. You know, I may not like you, but I inhabit the planet with you. So I wish you well, because all of us are interconnected. That’s the bottom line. You know, the more of that good and I often use this little funny thing I say, juju.

Diana: Yeah, juju. Good juju.

Nicole: Yeah, more good juju, I can put out there, you know, it can only help, it can’t hurt. That’s right. So I think that’s huge. All right. I love that. Okay. Now, when you do this 26 hours of onboarding, what are some habits that you put in place with your volunteer workforce that helped them be love and action that helped them put good juju out there? Because I think this is applicable to any workplace. What habits you try to instill in them?

Diana: Well, the first one I tell them is to be resourceful. We have a very unique environment, we have a lot of regulatory obligations with Homeland Security, FAA, city, state, local mandates and laws. We have CMPD. So we have a lot of different, you know, regulations. And so it’s important for our volunteers to be mindful of all the different expectations and to be resourceful. So if they don’t know something, we have these neat little pocket guides that gives them kind of a cheat sheet for things. 

We also have a volunteer iPhone, which they can check out during their shift, which has different travel apps, flight apps, the airports app, so they have resources in their fingertips. They can also call other volunteers or myself on duty. So if you don’t know the answer to something, know where to go. I’m always surprised at how everybody, not everybody, but the volunteers think I know everything about the airport, because I work here and really in the grand scheme of things I know so little, because it’s such a huge operation. But I know where to go or I know who to ask, if I don’t know the answer. 

And so I try and instill that into them. But also, it’s really important in our fast-paced environment that they are aware of their physical surroundings as well as their social surroundings. So like, where is the nearest restroom in case someone needs to go where are the nearest exits? Where is the nearest storm shelter in case there’s a tornado and you need to shelter in place. So being physically aware of your surroundings is critical. And helping folks get to point A to point B, the fastest and safest way. 

Also, you know, when it comes to social surroundings, like who’s around you? Who can you go to for help? Are you looking people like when you’re people-watching? Are you just looking at their outfits or is somebody acting suspicious? So really, those are the three main things, the habits I try and instill. Is to be resourceful, which you can apply to any aspect of your life, but also be aware of your physical and social surroundings. I think there’s a really key in the airport environment.

Nicole: Yeah. And I think key anywhere, right. And to be helpful to navigate all that to somebody else is fantastic. All right. And so Diana knows I’m a big fan of this idea of developing character in people. A lot of times organizations are very keen on doing personality assessments. And believe me, I sell them all. And I believe in all that stuff, but really, what creates a vibrant culture is when you have good people. So how do you develop character? Now, don’t miss this. A lot of her people, you know, are, you know, older than 40. I’ll just say it that way. And so they’ve lived life a little bit. But still, you know, people need reminders of you know, this is the kind of character we want to represent to these 50 million people coming through the door. So how do you do that?

Diana: Yeah, I mean, character traits can be developed. As I mentioned, I’ve described myself as an introvert, but I have worked hard to develop a lot of extroverted traits. And so developing the traits, you know, that is something that doesn’t happen overnight, you know, it’s by living life. And it’s important that I embody, and again, model the behaviors that we’re looking for and the expectations. And you said, the word that I am always using, remind. And you know, it’s not just a reminder of when your upcoming shift is taking place, it’s a reminder that, hey, this store has closed or this new store has opened. 

Hey, just a reminder that it’s an election year. And I just want to remind everyone to leave the politics at home, because not everybody agrees with you, or believes like you do. And so we want to be respectful of others. I use politics as an example, and that we’re Switzerland, because, you know, we’re all living in this sort of contentious political environment. And it’s hard not to bring that with you wherever you go. And so I do have to remind volunteers from time to time, hey, you know, I appreciate you saying that, but hey, this is our happy place. 

And it’s not going to be happy for much longer if we continue having this conversation. And so reminding those to take the high road, even when they feel like others are taking the low road. And this story always kind of pops in my head. So we talk about people-watching, which is absolutely the best at an airport, right? During election season, you get a lot of interesting T-shirts, and interesting t-shirt messages. Some that could be offensive to some and funny to others. 

And I remember we had a volunteer, and there was a gentleman approaching her and she was wearing a t-shirt of a candidate that she did not like. And she was she was offended by the message on the shirt. And she told me, she was like Diana, I was just telling myself, please don’t ask me a question. Please don’t ask me a question. I don’t know if I can help this man. And I looked at her kind of surprised, because this is really one of our seasoned volunteers who’s just really, really great with folks. 

And I was surprised to hear her tell me that. And I just reminded her that, you know, we’re here to serve everyone, offensive T-shirt or not. You know, and I think that was, that was hard for her to hear that and to get over her own bias, you know, and for me to point it out, you know, but I did so in a caring way. But in a way, like, hey, like, we’re here for everybody. We serve everybody in this building. And so that’s important to me. And she recognized that like, you’re right. 

Gosh, I need to get, you know, I kind of need to get over myself. And she had no problem helping other supporters wearing similar T-shirts, who came after him. So but it’s just having that conversation and recognizing that folks may be different, and that’s okay. And they’re and they’re going to be different. But you take the high road, you just take the high road and you’ll never get lost.

Nicole: Right. Well, you know, here’s so talking about grandma’s so mine was Grandma Mert. And what she would say is when you are offended by somebody, first of all your egos been triggered. Right? And then when you when you stoop to their level, so he’s wearing a t-shirt, that’s not kind. And now you don’t want to help them. How is that being the person you want him to be? If he doesn’t, you know, experience your kindness and your love and action, then he’s, you know, you’re at his level. You know, and my grandmother used to say, which when I think about it, it’s actually not good. But she would say, you know, kill them with kindness. So the word kill is in there.  Not sure kill is right. But her point was, you know, just love them anyway. 

Diana: Love them anyway. Exactly. 

Nicole: That might slay their bias or their unkindness? Yeah. Oh, my gosh, I’m having such a good time talking to you. We’re having a great time. Thank you. All right. So what are you planning for 2023? And can you believe we’re already like, a month and a half or more already in? What the heck, it’s just flying by? So you know, I think leaders you know, they’re like, okay, is it back to normal? Kinda sorta. I don’t think it’ll ever be like it was prior to the pandemic. So like, we got to get over that. But what are you planning for 2023 now that the doors are open, and we’re gonna hit 1,000,000 in 10 years. So tell me, tell me what are you doing to kind of keep yourself in motion, so you can keep up with this pace of growth?

Diana: Yeah, so 2022, for us was about bringing the program back because we were on hiatus during COVID. And so 2023 really is about growing the program. We did lose some volunteers, not because of COVID, per se, but a lot of volunteers were like, you know what, I’ve maybe it’s a good time to retire. Or you know, what I’m gonna move and I want to be closer to the grandkids. And so our numbers did drop. And I’m just so excited that we’re able to start recruiting again. 

So that’s on the agenda for this year, more community engagements, sharing our program with the larger community, because most people in Charlotte and the surrounding area don’t realize that you can volunteer at the airport. So just educating folks about that is really exciting. And when it comes to recruitment, just really trying to have our volunteer program reflect the people we serve. So I’ve got a real conscious effort to recruit multilingual volunteers so that we can service more of our customers. 

And also just bringing back the in-person events. I think we do some really neat continuing education programming we do behind-the-scenes tours, we have special airport speakers come in to speak exclusively with volunteers. And so they get one on one time with CLT leadership. And so that’s really neat. And to be able to come back in person and offer that type of programming that keeps our volunteers engaged and informed, I think is really going to make this year a very vibrant year.

Nicole: Awesome. Awesome. Yeah. And so don’t miss she’s got her next right steps laid out, every leader needs to be doing that. And so that brings us to the E in the shine coaching methodology and self-assessment. She talked about some habits that she helps people put in place, we talked about character or integrity, next right steps. I can’t believe we’re already to E. It’s been so much fun talking with you. So how do you keep yourself energized? I, you know, leaders grow weary and really, we can’t let that show. We got to be so vigilant to keep our energy up so that we can motivate and set the example like you said at the very beginning. So how do you keep yourself energized, other than playing with Boo?

Diana: Well, he definitely keeps me on my toes. I am a very goal-oriented, self-motivated person. I love the next challenge. And I love stretching myself and seeing what I can accomplish. And so I personally find it easy to stay energized. Because I have a lot to be energized for. At work, you know, I love starting new projects, and hey, can we try this? And hey, could we offer this or how can we do this differently. So that that keeps things fresh. And then in my personal life, I have a lot of interest in hobbies. 

And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at prioritizing me and making time for me and my interests. And I think that that’s really important because I’ve been able to pursue a lot of personal goals. And that keeps me energized well. So trying to find a balance of that because you know work is going to be there. You know whether you leave at five or you leave at midnight, it’s still going to be there. It’s going to be there tomorrow. So make some time for yourself and to pursue your passions.

Nicole: Yeah. And so what I want to say about what she just said was, she said, you know, I’m pretty pumped about what I’m doing, there’s a good reason for what I’m doing. So that goes back to that calling thing she said right at the beginning. Like, there’s a very good reason to do this. Right? We’re helping humans on planet Earth. Okay. And that raises the emotional intelligence of everybody. Makes the world a better place. 

If you’re like, oh, my gosh, what’s going on in the world? We’re not all serving where we’re called. So I love what she’s saying there. Okay. So so I know people are like, oh, my God, it’s over? What? That hour flew by. And they’re like, okay, one more nugget. Diana May download one more nugget. Do you have one more nugget in your pocket that you would hand us?

Diana: Well, I don’t know how life-changing it is. It’s a pretty simple nugget. It’s snacks. Snacks are important, right? We don’t want anyone to get hangry. It’s important to have snacks. Food, again, food has a way of bringing people together, it just has that magic. And if I could stress anything it’s to feed the people you work with. Make it with love, or buy it from the bakery with love. Food goes a long way, especially with volunteers. You know, they, they’re not interested in being paid. That’s why they volunteer. 

But we do have to find ways to quote repay them. And so we at the airport, we have, we offer them complimentary water and snacks once they get on the secure side. And they love it. I mean, we pay them in peanut M&M’s, and they’re, they’re happy as clams. And it’s not a huge financial investment. But they feel, it makes them feel appreciated. And that works for us and our happy place culture. And so, snacks. That’s my nugget.

Nicole: Oh my gosh, and it’s don’t miss it’s a nugget, like a chicken nugget. And it’s a snack. I’m just saying. I couldn’t agree more. I now have a huge craving for a peanut m&m. Gotta go, I gotta go. I gotta go up to the store and get some peanut M&M’s because I don’t keep them at the house because I would eat them. The whole one-pound bag, and you can’t buy the one-pound bag people you have to buy the little teeny one that Diana gives out. Otherwise you have a problem. 

All right, Diana May, it’s been so great to have you on the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast. Now, I know you love that. So will you please go down and press the like button and subscribe. Diana, if people wanted to get a hold of you or talk to you? How could they do that? I bet you there are some folks that run teams of volunteers they’d like to have you come and like maybe come give an inspirational talk at their organization. Or just have a conversation where you might, you know, break some bread virtually or live and in person. How do we find you?

Diana: Sure. So you can, if you’re interested in volunteering, the easiest way to reach out is through the airport’s website. It’s We have a community page where the volunteers’ program and the canine crew are listed and you can click on the link and shoot us an email. I’m happy to give my information to Nicole and she can share my phone number and email with those. To those who would like to get in touch. I’m happy to come speak about volunteerism, talk about the airport, leadership, whatever you’re interested in. I love it. I love meeting new people and talking about the airport and volunteering. So any combination of that, I welcome.

Nicole: All right. That’s fantastic, everybody. Thank you for tuning in to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast. My name is Nicole Greer. They call me the vibrant coach and I’ve had the lovely talented and loving servant Diana May on the podcast today. Thanks so much for listening.

Diana: Thank you.

Voiceover: Ready to build your vibrant culture? Bring Nicole Greer to speak to your leadership team, conference or organization to help them with her strategies, systems and smarts to increase clarity, accountability, energy and results. Your organization will get lit from within. Email And be sure to check out Nicole’s TEDx talk at

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