Leading a company focused on putting people first and great leadership, naturally, I was intrigued by how United Airlines’ CEO, Oscar Munoz, would handle their “public relations crisis.” And today, a letter went out to all customers. It was titled: Actions Speak Louder than Words. Below I’ve copy and pasted a segment of the letter and bolded two key leadership lessons we can learn something from:
Earlier this month, we broke that trust when a passenger was forcibly removed from one of our planes. We can never say we are sorry enough for what occurred, but we also know meaningful actions will speak louder than words.
It happened because our corporate policies were placed ahead of our shared values. Our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right.
How Trust and Vulnerability Overlap as a Leader
At We!™, one of the dynamics that we often talk about within our We & Me Framework is dynamic between a need to be right vs. openness. One of the tools we practice with leaders and teams through our workshops and coaching is leaning into vulnerability and admitting your mistakes. A huge part of this is owning your contribution to a dynamic even if you feel like other parties might be to blame (e.g., flight attendants, law enforcement, shift supervisor, etc.).
Policy. Procedures. Rules. Processes. Guidelines. Do these words make you feel any kind of way? 90% of employees have fairly negative connotations around these words. Nobody likes bureaucracy. Well, maybe there is one person out there who does. When Oscar acknowledges that “our procedures got in the way of our employees doing what they know is right,” he reminded us all that people are most often good, kind, and generous. The bad ones just happen to make headlines. To turn this idea into action, my challenge to you is: identify one policy that might prevent your employees from doing what is right. Then explore what is needed to change it – or even make it disappear.
Finally, Oscar Munoz has received an immense amount of negative feedback for how he handled the situation up front. No matter what your opinion is, I invite you to suspend judgement for a moment and ask yourself: how might I handle a situation like this when it happens to me at work? What might I say to the employees that are hurt? Customers that are angry? Judgement teaches us very little. Questions open up a new world of possibility. I’m far from perfect with any of this. Yet I’m feeling rejuvenated to strive to be a better leader.
Co-founder and CEO | We!™