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Does United Airlines Have Poor Leadership?

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As you have probably seen in the news, a man was forcefully removed from a United Airlines flight that was overbooked. The video went viral, and people were outraged. They should have been.

According to the Department of Transportation 46,000 passengers were involuntarily bumped from their scheduled flight in 2015. It is an every day occurrence in the industry. So why the outrage? Normally an airlines offers an incentive for people to delay their departure to a future flight. In this case, United claims to have offered an $800 voucher, but had no volunteers. They decided to randomly select four people to remove from the flight. But they also revealed later that they needed the seats for their employees.

This is a prime example of poor leadership. Employees followed procedures blindly without regard to the consequences. This is not how empowered employees would have acted. There are a multitude of ways that United could have resolved the issue without violence. It is the company culture that allowed this situation to escalate to this level. Strong leadership would create a work environment that was built on values, that support the procedures in place. Strong leadership would encourage employees to solve problems and make tactical decisions based on the current situation. Procedures can rarely cover all situations that would arise in a work place. Strong leadership would want employees that know how to successfully resolve issues.

United Airlines failure

© Flickr user airlines470

When we ask employees to blindly follow procedures, we remove all personal responsibility from those employees. United’s actions reflect their lack of respect for their customers. This is poor leadership from the top that has permeated their organization. We can only wonder what company values really drive their actions and their procedures. If we knew, we would probably stop using their services.

This seems to be the tip of the iceberg for the airline giant. With this story, many more came pouring out. You can read about the woman who was sexually harassed on one of their flights after the obviously inebriated man was continually served alcohol by flight attendants. Or how, back in 2012, a disabled veteran was called a “retard” by United Airline employees and also abused his service dog. Really, just type in United Airlines in your search bar and hundreds of articles will likely pop up for you to read. Their stocks are taking a hit, too. Could we be seeing the downfall of this company in action?

One of our recent posts by Cindy Allen-Stuckey discussed some tips about our expectations of employees that may have saved United some time and bad press:

  • What do you (the leader) expect? Before you talk to your team members, you must be clear on this. A good leader reflects on themselves first, and then on others when assessing expectations. Ensure there is a clear definition of what success looks like for an employee in that position. Then, and only then, can you communicate clearly to your employee what the requirements are.
  • What does your employee think you expect? Ask him or her to tell you what success looks like. You want to make sure that they heard you and they really understands what you said. Listen carefully to ensure the two of you are talking about the same expectations.
  • How does your employee think they are doing? Ask this question before giving your feedback. The answer will give you great information about your employee’s perspective & understanding of the job. This is also the time for employees to talk about their work and to tell about their successes and struggles.
  • How is your employee really doing? Leader, this is where you get to talk and provide feedback on the job your employee is doing. Make sure you prepare before this conversation by asking yourself: What progress can the employee celebrate? And how is the best way to give feedback to this employee?
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    Mark S. Brown
    Mark S. Brown is an executive coach who is passionate about personal development. He works to make a difference in people's lives by empowering them with skills and knowledge that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in. Mark has been coached, mentored, and certified by John Maxwell and his team. This coaching certification allows Mark to successfully coach and train individuals, groups, organizations, and companies.
    Mark S. Brown


    Executive and Business Coach at New Roads Leadership. A founding partner of the John Maxwell Team. We coach for your personal success!
    Mark S. Brown
    Mark S. Brown

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