My amazing executive assistant Karen Montgomery forwarded an article to me today. She knew I would like it because it confirms one of the principles of leadership that I have extolled as widely as I can. Let me flesh this out for you and I’ll also provide a link so you can read the article for yourself.
When people come up to me in an airport or an event where I’m speaking, it is ninety percent likely that after they introduce themselves they are going to ask me one kind of question: “Can you tell me what is going on?” Now, there are dozens of ways to ask this and, trust me, people make use of every one. “Can you give me a 30,000 foot view of our times?” Or, “What the heck is happening to us?” Or, “What is God doing?” Or even, “Can you make sense of all this for me?”
I’m familiar with the line of questioning and I recognize the need. People want a GPS for their times. They want to locate themselves. They want a summary, an overview, some definition to hang on to so they aren’t swimming in data without understanding.
It is the role of a leader to provide this when he or she can. It takes some planning. It takes some research and perhaps a facility with words. And, I admit, it is so rare that when a leader actually does it people really take note.
This is what Karen’s article was about. It seems that the CEO of United Airlines, Scott Kirby, made headlines when he provided a bit of a GPS for our times. Now, Kirby is leading in one of the industries most damaged by today’s pandemic. You’ll see some of the statistics in the article. You should also know that Kirby is known as a numbers-crunching, systems-oriented guy. He’s not especially poetic, nor does he have a reputation for rhetorical grace. I should tell you also that the core words he used weren’t even his.
Yet so on target was both his sentiment and his analysis that this was the title of the article in Inc. magazine by Bill Murphy Jr.: “The CEO of United Airlines Just Shared the Perfect Leadership Message for 2020, and It’s Only 8 Words.”
Dang. That’s quite an endorsement! What Kirby did was pair history with historical moment. He first quoted Winston Churchill: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Then came Kirby’s own words.
And I think that is the moment we’re at now at United Airlines. … [W]e have done what it takes in the initial phases to have confidence. … [W]e’ll look back at this as the turning point. The light at the end of the tunnel is a long way away. But this is the turning point.
You should know too that Kirby had just been forced to furlough a huge number of people. There were a lot of ways he could have messed up his message and that it could have haunted his career to the end of his days. Yet he didn’t. He told the truth. He captured the moment. He located his listeners in it. He offered hope for the future. In fact, he even used the Churchillian tactic of getting his listeners to envision thinking back on the present moment from the vantage point of the victorious future.
I’ll let the article speak for itself. I’ll leave you to work this approach into your own life of leadership. Just know that I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines while you do. We badly need leaders like you. Get out there with your gifts and your GPS and change the world!