Live Your Values

Unless you have been living in a galaxy far, far away, you no doubt heard about and formed an opinion of the recent United Airlines situation, where they hauled a seated passenger off the plane, and as a result, left both him and their company reputation injured. Everyone, including the financial markets had their say about United’s actions and not much of it was good. United, like many other companies has caring people working with it, so you might be asking, “how could this happen?”

There does not seem to be much defense for United’s actions. You just don’t drag a seated and non-offensive passenger off of a plane, having security pummel him in the process – even if the very, very fine print of the ticket agreement says you do have the right to remove people. (I guess we shall all read our iTunes® agreements a little closer, next time we download the update.)

So like many, I asked myself why did no one from United, who knew this was wrong, speak up and try to change the outcome. I have to believe they knew that forcibly removing someone, in the manner that occurred, was wrong in someone’s eyes.

“Well, we just followed our stated policy” was the immediate response I heard from United officials. I remember years ago, when Exxon execs uttered almost the same thing after dumping tanker full of oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska. The public’s response – get a new policy! The same could be said here.

I recently got the form letter from the United CEO apologizing for the incident and indicating how they were taking actions to ensure that company policies aligned with company values, so something like this would never happen again. That is a good thing to do, because when people are told to “believe” one thing (values), but act in a contrary way, confusion and not-so-flattering evening news stories are not far behind. All leaders need to ensure there is no confusion in what living the values means. And the real tests are precisely these kinds of episodes, when difficult decisions have to be made. Like flying an airplane, it is much easier to live values in the easy times of clear, blue skies. It is times of severe storms and turbulence, when the going gets tough.

 Managers spend a lot of time reviewing financials. Leaders spend a lot of time reviewing consistency between stated values and day to day actions (as well as financials). They realize how important it is to Model THE Way. United clearly modeled A way in this recent episode. Unfortunately for everyone, it did not turn out so well.

Leadership scholar John Gardner once said, “the challenge is not to find new values, but to be loyal to those you profess.” You may want to take some time within your own organizations to ensure people are clear on the values you do profess. That is the easy step. The more difficult one is to intentionally talk about daily behaviors to ensure the values are being demonstrated and lived in the desired way. I also encourage leaders to challenge people with examples of potential real circumstances that can challenge their values, so they can be better prepared to live them, should the circumstance actually occur. You cannot predict or simulate them all, but the act of keeping values top of mind will help you deal more effectively in values confronting situations, regardless of the challenge you may face.

Remember to lead by example. Take care.

Share Your Thoughts