Home https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ Business https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ The CEO of United Airlines just shared the perfect leadership message for 2020, and that’s just 8 words

The CEO of United Airlines just shared the perfect leadership message for 2020, and that’s just 8 words

I admit I was surprised to see United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby quote Winston Churchill.

Not because the quote is not appropriate. That’s it, and so some.

Instead, it’s because when United Airlines announced last year that Kirby would take over for then-CEO Oscar Munoz, I read account after account describing Kirby as speech-oriented and dumb.

So I wondered how that kind of leadership style would translate during the pandemic – a time of great challenges and uncertainty that requires inspiration and rhetoric of a type that most leaders have never had to summon before.

This week, United held an earnings call. The transcript ran 1

1,000 words afterwards, marking the first time since the airline came to 13,000 workers earlier this month that a group of analysts and journalists have been able to question United Airlines executives about the airline’s future.

Calling this a challenging time for airlines is an extreme understatement. United reported that its passenger revenue fell 84 percent. And when Kirby began his remarks, he had to start by thanking United employees for doing things like voluntarily leaving the airline or taking fewer hours to cut down on labor costs.

But the past is over, and while Kirby at one point said he believes the aviation industry will not fully recover until 2024, he also went 78 years back to finding the words that strike the right tone for executives in this extraordinary year.

The key quote – as mentioned, it is actually Kirby who quotes Churchill – runs only eight words, although the context is a bit longer and worth including:

[T]Today, what we express is not a shift from pessimism to optimism, as much as it is an expression of confidence in the future.

There’s a good quote that I love … from Winston Churchill, as he said in 1942, over two years before the end of 2. world war after the African campaign, and the British won in Africa that “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. That may be the end of the beginning. ”

And I think that’s the moment we’re now at United Airlines. … [W]e have done what is required in the initial stages to have confidence. … [W]e look back on this as the turning point. The light at the end of the tunnel is far away. But this is the turning point.

The eight keywords: “It might be the end of the beginning.”

Circumstances are, of course, very different now than the British people faced during World War II, but we share with these times a sense of a loss of control and of real pain and a longing for another future.

This is a moment when leaders desperately want to be able to share good news – to be able to tell your stakeholders that things are under control and that you have a plan to return to normalcy.

The problem? That may not be true.

I recently spoke with a neuroscience specialist in leadership development, Dr. David Rock, who stressed that almost the entire world during the pandemic responds neurologically to higher levels of threat perception than usual.

So leaders should emphasize positive feedback and encouragement, strive to create security, and offer flexibility, empathy, and collaborative goals.

As Churchill understood during the Great Depression of World War II, and as smart leaders now understand, there is a way to reassure people that they have made progress while still guiding them to the hard times that are left.

It is about giving hope without giving false hope; about offering praise without empty flattery.

This is not about whether United Airlines has actually followed the best path under Kirby’s leadership during the pandemic. I can ‘t tell you that in any way.

People hurt and it will take a long time before we can look back and do a case study on it.

But in terms of tone? This is exactly the right one.

And whether you are quoting Churchill or quoting Kirby or saying it in another way that seems more natural to your personal speech, that is the message that great leaders will seek to share right now.

The statements expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.

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