Airline leaders need to empower their staff to battle the covid-19 crisis

“20,000 CEOs”

I am reminded of Turkish Airlines an interview I had done with then Turkish Airlines CEO Dr. Temel Kotil for my book SOAR.

Dr. Kotil told me, “I have 20,000 CEOs helping me do my job better.”

He believed in putting his full faith in his young managers and empowering them, at the risk of initial failures. “Perhaps in the first six months,” he continued, “they will fail often. But they will work here about 30 years. So they can make up that loss very easily.”

While a number of airlines are putting CEOs in front of the camera, the covid-19 crisis is a golden opportunity for airlines to build leaders from within. In times like these, CEOs need to empower their team to lead from the front. A couple of airlines seem to be doing it well.

Building leaders during a crisis

Air New Zealand is regularly releasing updates from its Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ben Johnston, about how they are tackling the crisis. These videos start with Dr. Johnston sharing his experience as a medical doctor before he starts answering common questions. He speaks with the credibility and confidence only a doctor can exude. Till now, I had not even known that there are airlines with Chief Medical Officers! In fact, we have also seen Air New Zealand empowering their Senior Managers to share information too.

Good leaders lead from the front. Great leaders empower others, like Air New Zealand has done.

Over at Delta Air Lines, it’s not just the CEO but also the Chief Customer Experience Officer, Bill Lentsch, who has been putting out videos reassuring customers how airplanes are being sanitized. Putting people other than the CEO out in front also gives passengers a sense that there this is a larger effort to keep them safe.

The crisis caused by the coronavirus is a good training ground for future leaders at airlines. After all, how many of the current top rung learned their lessons during 9/11 or SARS? Top executives need to build future leaders by empowering them today.

Leaders need to see this pandemic as an opportunity to come out stronger at the other end. The light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train. But we can try to board it too!

SimpliFlying will be conducting a Free webinar on dealing with Covid-19 in early April. Please sign up here so that you can learn from the best airlines.

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is the Founder and CEO of SimpliFlying, one of the world’s largest aviation marketing firms working with over 85 aviation clients in the last ten years. Nigam is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior executives globally, from Chile to China. Nigam’s impassioned and honest perspectives on airline marketing have found their way to over 100 leading media outlets, including the BBC, CNBC, Reuters and Bloomberg, and into leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He writes a dedicated monthly column in Flight’s Airline Business, challenging the typical assumptions about airline marketing. His new book on airline marketing, SOAR, is an Amazon bestseller that’s shaking up the industry and inspiring other industries to learn from the best airlines. Born in India, raised in Singapore, he now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Toronto.
Shashank Nigam
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