UM Insight Screencap.
United Dragged Man
Dr. David Dao was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after refusing to give up his seat. This image captured from People Magazine coverage at http://people.com/human-interest/man-removed-overbooked-united-airlines-flight/
When a passenger on one of his planes was forcibly removed last week, United Airlines' CEO Oscar Muñoz failed the first step of moral leadership:
Know what's going on.
That's Job #1 when a crisis occurs. Organizational, relational, personal – it's all the same: Get the facts. Start with the Five W's: Who? What? Where? When? Why? Just figure it out. Especially the "why."
If you're unsure of your sources, demand evidence. Just figure it out.
But, whatever you do, try to get it right the first time. It's a crisis, after all. There may not be a second time. Remember: You're the leader. Accuracy, precision, causation – it's your job: Get. It. Right.
Mr. Muñoz's first response was to blame the victim, calling him "disruptive and belligerent." This should have been a clue that he wasn't in full possession of critical facts, particularly the "why" fact.
Had he asked why enough times, he would have worked his way down to the moral bottom line, to the real cause. A customer got hurt because of a failure in the moral culture of Mr. Muñoz's company. The victim's "belligerence" was the outcry resulting from severe harm inflicted by a callous disregard for a life.
Things like that don't happen in organizations that put the welfare of their customers first. They just don't.
Mr. Muñoz took a mulligan the next day and apologized. By then, however, the damage to him and his company's reputation was done, millions of dollars worth. The demands of leadership can be cruel. With big salaries come big risks. Failures of moral leadership can be particularly costly.
Nurturing a company culture that doesn't lose sight of its customers' welfare is a minimal expectation of leadership. It starts with the most basic moral rule: Know what's going on. Pay attention. Look around. When you see that "taking care of business" abuses the very people you need to stay in business, you'll know you've lost your way.
I don't know, but I'm betting Mr. Muñoz's company lost its way well before last week's debacle. Such things don't happen in a vacuum.
In business, as in all relationships, ethical fitness isn't complicated. It starts with aligning our actions and our core values. It gets complicated only when we fail to notice that the two are out of synch.
There is a solution. It starts by asking, "Who, what, when, where, and why?" Especially "why?" Don't wait for a crisis, though, or expect a mulligan if you do.
Ethical fitness isn't complicated. But it is demanding.
Longtime religion communicator Stephen Swecker, AKA The Ethics Coach, teaches undergraduate courses in ethics and religion. He lives in Maine and blogs at Ethics Unplugged.