There are accidents, mistakes, “missteps” and “misspeaking”, errors, glitches, oops, oversights, old fashioned screw ups, and then there are just complete debacles. United Airlines and their CEO Oscar Munoz are in the middle of an ongoing series of self-inflicted mistakes. They have moved from a comedy of errors that will literally cost them tens of millions to becoming pop culture icons…for all the wrong reasons. They are the butt of jokes, memes, hashtags and certainly in the crosshairs of countless law firms. In short, they are in a real mess.
None of us will ever truly know the whole story, and in the end it does not make one ounce of difference. The damage to both the company and Mr. Munoz has been done. They will be living with this mess and its fallout. While not inclined to pile on, I am reminded of an old leadership adage:
“You do not have to always be correct, but you should always be right.”
It was a phrase, well actually a sentiment, while phrased differently depending on the situation, but a leadership maxim that was repeatedly drilled into me over the years. The idea that doing the right thing is always the proper decision. While not often, but there will be times that the “right thing” might not be the “correct thing”. The spirit of the law, the intention of the law, trumps the letter of the law. That sometimes sound judgement is more important than “going by the book”, that being a compassionate leader is more important than being a by-the-numbers manager.
Were the gate agents, the crew, security, etc. all doing what the manual said? More than likely the answer is yes. Was doing exactly what the book said right? Clearly not. While we can all acknowledge that policies, procedures, “the book”, the law, etc. exist for tried and true reasons, not the least of which is to avoid mistakes, but there still exists the need for logic and good judgement, and it is incumbent on leaders to both exercise said logic and judgement, and to empower their people to exercise the same. And when it comes to working with other people, there is no more critical time for sound judgement and logic.
In an era where automation, binary decision trees, micromanagement, 360 reviews, quarterly reports, litigious fear and corporate policies drive the daily decisions making, it is wise to sometimes pause. A leader, and everyone, need to take a look at the bigger picture, consider the message, the audience, and above all the individuals involved, and then make a decision. It was an old adage of an earlier life, “don’t do anything you do not want to see on the front page of the paper”. The same idea applies…do not do anything you do not want on FaceBook Live, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Everyone has a phone, which has a camera, a video function and instant connection. Screaming after the fact “I was just following the rules” will not be a message that resonates.
Sometimes it is better to be right than correct.