I just experienced, first-hand, poor leadership – poor ethical leadership that manifested itself through a lack of courage, character, and communication (Hmmm, three of my five C’s of Leadership.)
My husband and I arrived in Denver yesterday after a seven hour delay: one circling Denver International Airport (DIA) watching storm clouds below before diverting to Colorado Springs; three sitting on the runway at Colorado Springs waiting for a gate; one waiting in Colorado Springs’ Airport for a bus to drive us back to Denver; and two more riding a bus to Denver.
Now travel delays are not new for me. I've traveled all over the world and air travel delays are accepted as part of the game. However, what’s not accepted is poor leadership by the pilot when things aren't going according to plan.
A Lack of Communication
We started to question the pilot’s belief in the value of communication when, after experiencing turbulence for over 10 minutes, the pilot finally came on the intercom to announce that we were experiencing turbulence. Then after we’d been circling DIA for almost an hour, the pilot informed us that we’d been circling DIA because of weather. He again informed us, two minutes before landing in Colorado Springs, that we were being diverted to the Springs. According to the pilot, we’d land, refuel and head back to Denver when the weather cleared. We landed and sat on the runway with another 25 airplanes for three hours before getting to a gate for refueling – or so we thought. When we got to the gate, we were told to gather our carry-on luggage as we’d be deplaning. Why? We thought we were refueling. The senior flight attendant thanked us for our patience but then informed us that the pilot and first officer had reached their FAA legal limit for flying that day. The flight was now cancelled. Inside the terminal, the pilot informed us two buses were on their way to take us to Denver – however, there wouldn't be room for all of us. Some would have to fend for themselves and find a room overnight. While the 156 of us passengers tried to figure out who could stay and who needed to go, the captain and the rest of the flight crew headed towards the exit to catch a shuttle bus to a hotel. My husband (a private pilot) stopped him and said, “You’re the Pilot-in-Command. You can’t leave your passengers.” The pilot said he’d done all he could. He was on his way to bed.
I don’t blame this particular airline for the inconvenience we experienced. The delay was weather related. However, what's not acceptable is the behavior of the supposed leader who doesn't respect his passengers enough to keep them informed of what he knows, when he knows it, when the information directly affects them. As I observed this pilot’s behavior, I have to admit I thought, “No wonder unions start in many organizations. It wouldn’t take much for us to rally together against this pilot and his crew.” The animosity that was now growing could have been avoided had the pilot simply communicated with us. Had he showed courage as a leader, he would have informed us himself, that he was nearing the end of his legal flying limit for the day, and the flight may be cancelled. Had he showed any level of character, he would have made sure there were adequate transportation and lodging arrangements for his passengers before considering his and his crews needs. However, as it was, the pilot took what he believed to be the easiest path. The trouble with the path he chose is it is now filled with complaints lodged by angry passengers.
Strong, Ethical Leaders Take Responsibility
A strong leader thinks of others first. A strong leader makes sure his or her staff, customers, and others are taken care of – because that’s a leader’s responsibility. That's the ethical, the right, thing to do. A strong leader takes control of situations – known and unknown. A strong leader has enough courage to share information – good and bad – with others so they can plan. A strong leader respects his customers enough to plan for their needs. A strong leader chooses the right path, not the easiest.
Are you a strong leader?
(I'm pretty sure Captain Sully Sullenberger would have handled this situation differently...)
Liz Weber CMC CSP