The alarm sounded, shrill and loud.

Bleary-eyed, I pulled on my cut-off shorts, grabbed my car keys and my phone, and woke up my three little girls.

“Girls, come on. We have to get up.”

Carrying the smallest, I led the others into the hallway and out of the hotel room into the night.

We joined the others gathered outside and watched one, then two, then three fire trucks race into the parking lot, lights flashing.

We didn’t know why the alarm sounded or how long we would wait.

I found a spot on the curb to sit down with the girls, huddled together. Bare foot and pajama clad, the girls felt chilled.

We waited. I watched: mothers cradling babies in their arms, pacing; fire fighters walking in to the hotel, flashlights in hand; people sitting, eyes glazed, leaning against each other for support.

The minutes dragged on, and I talked to the girls about reasons to be thankful. It’s summer, not winter; there aren’t any mosquitoes out; we’re together.

And then, a glimpse of greatness. From his seat inside the fire truck, a young man stood up and walked toward families with children. With a friendly smile, he offered stickers to the children: junior fire fighter badges. He peeled them off, one by one, and encouraged the kids to tell their friends about their middle of the night adventure.

I found out the next day that there was no real fire that night, only some smoke in a fourth floor room due to an air conditioner malfunction.

Every day situations are opportunities for leadership, for making a difference in the lives of other.

That summer night contained many missed opportunities for leadership, primarily related to communication. I would have loved to have seen someone  — anyone — walk around and keep everyone informed: this is what’s happening; this is what we plan to do about it; this is how long we expect it to take.

No one did and about an hour after the alarm sounded, we all walked back to our rooms to fall into our beds, still unsure of what happened and why.

In fact, the only way we knew it wasn’t just a dream was because the girls had shiny stickers plastered on their pajamas when they woke.

Join the conversation!

What can you do to be great in an every day situation?

What keeps people from doing small things that make a big difference?

What glimpses of greatness have you seen this week in your community?

This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission.