You can probably think of a time in your life where you were eating at a restaurant with your family or maybe even making a large purchase and the experience didn’t go the way you expected. Which usually leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth (no pun intended:) about the company you’re dealing with, doesn’t it? This happens all the time and usually if you verbalize your bad experience, either in person or on social media, you usually wind up in an interaction with one of the company’s managers. The conversations had with these leaders can make or break your opinion of that company or if you will ever give them your repeat business. And sometimes, even without a bad experience, these leaders go above and beyond to show you why you should continue to trust their company. Which leads me to a story I want to share with you…
Prioritizing Your Principles
Most of you know as a speaker, I travel a lot! During these last few years, airlines have been one of the industries that has certainly gotten the brunt of negative opinions, assumptions, and stories due to travel restrictions and frustrations. But this story that I want to share with you is one I share with the purpose of showing others a positive act of caring leadership and the way that it changed how I viewed United Airlines as a whole. While waiting for one of my many flights, I witnessed Captain Mark Hardcastle exhibit such an awesome act of leadership to both his team members and passengers. I just had to get out my phone and record a small part of him speaking (listen here) to the passengers waiting to board his flight.
Many times you don't hear from the pilot until it's time to take off, but Captain Hardcastle walked out to our gate and gave us all a warm welcome and a quick intro to the crew while explaining our weather and giving us an update on our travel time. Now when you fly, you're entrusting the pilot to get you from point A to point B as safely as possible, right? Well what I learned is that United Airlines has four core principles: safety, care, dependability, and efficiency. They have taught their employees to always prioritize safety, as it holds highest in their values. After safety, their next biggest priority is doing everything with care. So for many of those who have anxiety around flying, this became an especially kind gesture.
Understanding Where Your People Need You
Not only did this small act of kindness by our captain go a long way, but it also reflected the values and principles I mentioned above. Which is exactly what leaders expect of their employees and thus, building back trust in his passengers. There are many methods that can be used for leaders to understand the needs of individuals, the company, and the larger community. But what that mainly entails is listening and gathering feedback about what it is your people and your customers really need. As well as the best ways to collect that feedback and make it a part of the everyday within your company to move towards continual growth. This might include occasional formal opportunities to obtain feedback and see where these areas are lacking. In high traffic 24/7 organizations like the airline industry, feedback may even be best collected on a day-to-day basis.
But a central idea here remains: being able to learn what people think and need will depend on trust. Your people need to trust that they won't be criticized, yelled at, or in danger of losing their job if they speak up. Even more than this, people need to feel there is a real possibility that some good will come out of telling their leader what they need or telling their story. If someone knows their needs are impossible to meet, or if they believe they will just be ignored anyway, there's a real fear that apathy will stand in the way of what could be a very helpful suggestion. So when all of these videos and stories of people having ‘bad’ experiences on airlines come trickling in in the masses, you have to make a decision on if you want to gather the context to form an opinion or hinder your trust and just believe what is said.
You know I was curious and had to know more about Captain Hardcastle’s leadership style - so he has a very special episode on my podcast that I have linked above. During that talk, we chat about how companies and organizations create the boundaries for their leaders and employees, but it is ultimately up to the employee on how they use that space. Everyone has to show up and work, but it’s up to you what you make of that time. You have the power to positively impact those around you.