US airline, JetBlue has announced its CEO is giving up operational control of the business he founded. News reports link the move to a major public relations crisis earlier this year when the airline’s reputation for good customer service was affected by poor response during two winter storms.
Neeleman fronted a YouTube video giving the airline’s response to the crisis – which has received 280,862 views in the past two months. This was an interesting use of YouTube as part of a crisis management plan, and appeared to show good leadership.
But the enthusiastic personality behind this public apology is apparently not the type of leader required by a mature company. Analysts are apparently unhappy about the cost of responding to the crisis – although without such positive public relations, the impact on the share price would undoubtedly have been much worse.
Leadership is big news at the current time (I won’t get into the UK political affairs). Lee Iacocca (the 82-year old renowned former US car chief and original $1 salary CEO) has published a book “Where have all the Leaders gone?”, championing the 9Cs of leadership:
- Curiosity – getting outside your comfort zone, listening to those who disagree and reading voraciously (particularly news media)
- Creativity – willing to try something different, being open to change and prepared to adapt
- Communicate – facing reality and telling the truth, even when it’s painful
- Character – knowing the difference between right and wrong and having the guts to do the right thing
- Courage – a commitment to sit down at the negotiating table and talk
- Conviction – passion and really wanting to get something done
- Charisma – the ability to inspire and make people want to follow you
- Competent – knowing what you’re doing and surrounding yourself with people who know what they’re doing
- Commonsense – being in the real world
- Crisis – leadership is forged in times of crisis.
All these characteristics and capabilities are essential in leaders if public relations is to be a valued, valuable, strategic function in an organisation. Leaders who are of the calibre Iacocca calls for aren’t interested in superficial press agentry but recognise the value of reputation, relationships and values.
Is Neeleman this type of leader? Can such people actually thrive in today’s corporations? Or is a short-term focus on micro-management and financial return preventing leaders emerging who really could make a difference?