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Home / Business / The CEO of United Airlines simply shared the perfect message of leadership for 2020, and it’s only 8 words

The CEO of United Airlines simply shared the perfect message of leadership for 2020, and it’s only 8 words



I confess, I was surprised when United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby quoted Winston Churchill.

Not because the quote is incorrect. This, and then some.

Instead, it was because when United Airlines announced last year that Kirby would take over as then-CEO Oscar Munoz, I read account by account, describing Kirby as digitally oriented and pointless.

So I wondered how this style of leadership would translate during a pandemic, a time of great challenge and uncertainty that requires inspiration and rhetoric of a kind that most leaders have never called for before.

This week, United held a call for earnings. After that, there were 1

1,000 words in the transcript, and this was the first time the airline had washed away 13,000 employees earlier this month, when a group of analysts and reporters were able to ask United Airlines executives about the airline’s future.

Calling this a difficult time for airlines is an understatement. United said its passenger revenue fell 84 percent. And when Kirby began his remarks by first thanking United employees for leaving the airline voluntarily or taking fewer hours to reduce labor costs.

But the past is past, and although at one point Kirby said he thought the aviation industry would not fully recover by 2024, he also went back 78 years to find the words that set the right tone for leaders in this exceptional year.

The key quote – as already mentioned, is actually Kirby, quoting Churchill – contains only eight words, although the context is a bit longer and worth including:

[T]However, what we are saying is not a transition from pessimism to optimism, but an expression of confidence in the future.

There’s a wonderful quote I love … from Winston Churchill, which he said in 1942, two years before the end of World War II after the African campaign and the British victors in Africa: “It’s not the end. It’s not even the beginning. the end. This is probably the end of the beginning. ”

And I think we’re at United Airlines now. … [W]We did what it took in the early stages to have confidence. … [W]We will look at this as a turning point. The light at the end of the tunnel is far away. But this is a turning point.

Key eight words: “This may be the end of the beginning.”

Of course, the circumstances are much different now than those faced by the British during World War II, but since then we have shared feelings of loss of control, real pain and longing for a different future.

This is a time when managers desperately want to be able to share the good news – to be able to tell stakeholders that everything is under control and that you have a plan to return to normal.

Problem? This may be untrue.

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

Therefore, leaders should emphasize positive feedback and encouragement, strive to build confidence, and offer flexibility, empathy, and goals for collaboration.

As Churchill understood during the great crisis of World War II, and as wise leaders understand now, there is a way to reassure people that they have made progress, while reassuring them of the difficult times that remain.

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

It is not a question of whether United Airlines actually went the best way under Kirby during the pandemic. I can’t tell you one way or another.

People are hurting, and it will be a long time before we can look back and analyze the situation.

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

And whether you’re quoting Churchill, quoting Kirby, or formulating it in a way that seems more natural to your personal style of speaking, that’s the message that great leaders will seek to share right now.

The views expressed here by Inc.com commentators are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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