Korean Airlines – What Can You Learn From This?

Korean Air executive Ms Heather Cho reportedly delayed the departure of a flight she was on due to the fact that she didn’t like or approve of the way a cabin crew member served her peanuts.

Apparently, the company’s standard (for First Class passengers at least) was that nuts should be presented to the passenger on a plate, rather than simply in a bag. Being served a bag of nuts appears to have cause so much aggravation for Ms Cho that she ordered the pilot in charge to return the aircraft to the gate so that the offending and ‘incapable‘ junior cabin crew member could be removed.

Alongside Ms Cho’s behaviour, her claim that the pilot supported her decision and subsequent action do draw out some interesting learning points in terms of leadership and impact. Those key points being:-

  • Ms Cho’s behaviour may have been well intended in terms of communicating a company standard to an employee, but the manner in which she communicated her point was both divisive and destructive.
  • The apparently junior cabin crew member perhaps shouldn’t have been exposed to First Class, high ticket price passengers so soon in to their career as, alongside the many kind, generous and understanding First Class passengers, there is often one or two who find any opportunity to kick up a fuss, or find an easy target victim to remind staff who pays their wages.
  • Ms Cho now faces legal action due to her decision and behaviour breaching international air safety standards and legislation.  Ouch!

Automatic Compliance Is To Be Expected

The pilot’s apparent support for Ms Cho’s decision to return to the departure gate is to be expected, isn’t it? The company owners daughter gives you (the professional in command of the aircraft and passenger safety) an instruction, and even though she holds no jurisdiction or seniority in terms of the aircraft itself, refusing to follow her order could be a very creative way of losing your job.

It’s All Feedback

The manner in which a boss, however senior or junior, provides feedback to employees below their position in a structure chart massively impacts whether your people will work with you, or against you. Ms Cho, and possibly many other leaders and managers don’t seriously consider the impact they have on employees.  The facial expressions, gestures, words and voice tone you use, all have an impact on the people around you, whether positively or negatively.  In this case, the impact was anything but positive!

Bad Decisions Cost Money

Causing an 11 minute delay to the aircraft, will no doubt cost Korean Air thousands of dollars in airport fines and fuel costs. The likelihood of these costs and other day to day waste through inefficient working and toxic leadership being covered by increased passenger fares? Very likely. Plus, with the threat of legal action pending, the decision made by this executive could cost the airline millions.

Toxic Behaviour Poisons The Workforce

This very real situation just goes to show that when an ‘Executive’ demonstrates toxic behaviour towards, and in front of employees, it creates an environment where news travels fast. And in this case it did…globally. It hasn’t, and probably won’t, become clear as to whether Ms Cho, who has now resigned from her executive post, was appointed because she had demonstrated technical competence, commercial awareness and true leadership qualities, or whether she was appointed to her executive role because daddy owns the airline!

How About You?

Are you aware of the impact you have on your team members, collectively and individually?  Might there be one or two that you don’t invest time in supporting as they just don’t fit with your view of the world?  If there are one or two, perhaps they are deserving of your attention and support?  Virtually anybody can manage ‘good’ people, but the real investment is often required in the relationships that aren’t going too well.

Are you acutely aware of how you impact your team members?  The words you use, your voice tone, your facial expressions and gestures?  If you think you absolutely are….I invite you to ask a few trusted colleagues who will give you some candid feedback, to give you some candid feedback.  Albeit unwittingly, as you spend 24 hours each day behind your face, you don’t get to see what others see.  Such feedback can really help you grow as a Manager, and move you towards achieving the elusive top 1% bracket.

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