5 STUPID Leadership Lessons we can all Learn from United Airlines

How could they have been so stupid?

donkey-618972All too often there are public examples of an individual or organization doing something really stupid.  This week’s example is United Airlines.  Wow, bloody a passenger because you overbooked a flight was really STUPID.  Not only did it go viral and make the company the butt of many jokes (the best of which was “United Airlines is the first airline to offer redeye and black eye flights”) but also cost them hundred of millions in dollars in the loss of stock value.

Naturally, none of us want to make those mistakes.  Here are 5 leadership lessons we can learn from their STUPID mistakes.

First, Leverage your Power instead of Wielding it.

figure_physics_leverage_wrong_1600_clr_19413Why did this situation ever need to escalate to this level?  Imagine how this could have been avoided if those employees had opted to build rapport and entice one more passenger with an offer they couldn’t refuse.  How much more would it have taken, $500 or even $1000?  In retrospective, it would have been much cheaper.

It is simply STUPID to wield power when leverage works much better.  (Check out my online course, Leverage Leadership Power).  Bloody a passenger is showing brute force, a combination of Legitimate and Punishment power. In this Sharing Economy, leveraging power works much better.  Build rapport with a combination of Reward. Role Model and Communication power.  Develop your raving fans so they willingly follow you.

Don’t be STUPID – Be SMART.  Leverage your leadership power.  

Second, Be Proactive  

choice-4-wayUnited didn’t see the problem coming.  Despite all the cutting edge technology, it was not until after the fact that they knew what hit them and then changed their policies. Imagine how this whole mess would have been avoided if they had examined their processes, listened to their customers and anticipated the problem.  Instead, it took the CEO until the third time before they decided to compensate all the passengers.  It was only then that they changed how late crews could check in for a flight.  Duh, why didn’t they see this coming?

Don’t be STUPID – Be SMART.  Identify and change policies before they create a disaster.

Third, Communicate

connectWhy didn’t they know there was a crew that needed seats on that flight?  Evidently someone didn’t communicate this need.  Communication is “negotiating shared meaning.”  Obviously United did not have a shared meaning or there would have been no need to bump four passengers.  They needed to communicate internally to avoid the problem and they needed to communicate better with their passengers.  More on that later.

Don’t be STUPID – Be SMART.  Communicate – negotiate shared meaning so everyone knows what to expect.  

Fourth, Look Beyond the Fine Print

binoculars-1026425It is really hard to convince the public that you are not to blame when there is video of a bloody passenger being drug off by security.  Unless that passenger has done something egregious, you cannot hide behind the fine print.  Why?  Because every passenger fears that could have been them.  No wonder United’s stock tumbled with many vowing never to fly “the friendly skies”again.  Ouch!  As leaders we may be right but still lose.  If our customers don’t like us, do we still have a company?

Don’t be STUPID.  Establish your priorities with customers first.    

Fifth, Commit to a Massive Transformative Purpose

disrupt2017scaledUnited’s mission is stated as, “We are committed to providing a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader in the airline industry.”  In the Sharing Economy, SMART leaders must go further.  Salim Ismail writes in Exponential Organizations that great organizations begin with a Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP).  Instead of simply making money, TED focuses on “Ideas worth spreading” and Quirky “Make invention accessible.”  Google seeks to “Organize the world’s information.”  Richard Branson seemed to have an MTP for Virgin Airlines something like “Making Travel Fun.”
Notice how STUPID United’s purpose sounds compared to these cutting edge companies.

Don’t be STUPID – Be Smart.  Identify your MTP.   

Be B.O.L.D.

Be Decisive

Become the Disruptive Leader

I am Dr. Loren Murfield and I work with aspiring and emerging leaders to become disruptive leaders, doing the impossible by changing the paradigm of their thinking and telling powerful stories.  If that is your desire, contact me today.

Checkout my online leadership platform. Power University

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