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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Why Were You (Really) Promoted?

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_separator color=”blue”][vc_column_text]Believe it or not, even some of the best known companies make the mistake of promoting employees to management roles for the wrong reason.  Don’t believe me?  OK, answer me this question (honestly).

If you were to take on an independent observer’s viewpoint, an observer who had no intellectual or emotional connection to your promotion, what do you believe s/he would say is the real reason you were promoted?  Would it be ‘Well, you have real leadership potential, can motivate people to do a great job, have an engaging communication style and, you have been assessed psychometrically as possessing the management skills our organisation really needs’, or could it be ‘Well, you were really excellent in a non-management role, working on your own and delivery excellent results?’

When I invite participants in our management training courses to explore this subject, many, after a quiet period of self reflection and self honesty, tend to believe that their promotion opportunity appeared for the second reason rather than the first.  And then, a mild dose of panic begins!

Relax, don’t panic.  The intention of this question is not to frighten you.  Indeed, the intention is quite the opposite.  If your promotion appeared for the first reason, wonderful, I wish you great success.  If your promotion is more linked to the second reason, you now have a wonderful opportunity to organise and implement a structured, worthwhile and meaningful personal development plan which will enable you to become an emotionally intelligent manager who engages, equips and enables team members to WANT to perform at, or very near their best, who demonstrates authentic empathy, and critical decision making during challenging times, and, deliver the results your organisation trusts you to deliver, in a collaborative, transparent and accountable manner.

It is worth considering how you can attract your next management opportunity due to you being a well rounded manager who, alongside possessing technical competence, also demonstrates deeply human skills, qualities and attributes that helps your colleagues go the extra mile through personal choice and desire, rather than obligation or fear.

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Do Your Words Cause Damage?

Have you ever considered the impact that your language has on yourself and also on other people?

OK, you have probably had one or two occasions when you have said something in the heat of the moment that you’ve later regretted. Ouch! But what about everyday language, phrases that don’t sound like they are harmful, but really can be.

Think about these little nuggets:

I’ve spoken to him til I’m blue in the face‘…No you haven’t. A blue face usually means you’re either choking or your body is freezing. Nothing more. Have you ever seen someone’s face go blue just because they’re a little peeved at someone?

He’s too long in the tooth to learn anything new‘. What have long teeth got to do with someone’s ability and/or willingness to learn?

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks‘. Well, unless you work in a zoo or for the RSPCA, there’s unlikely to be any dogs or tricks. Yet again, a few carefully selected words can cause problems.

There aren’t enough hours in the day‘.  Yes there are, there’s always 24.  The challenge is how you choose to use them.

During my very early years in executive and management development, some one to one coaching sessions could become rather heated. The key reason was the client had something on his or her mind and this forum was the only or safest place to be really open and genuine – which is always a humbling expression of trust.

One such instance which I do have permission to share with you is when a very demanding boss who felt he was CONSTANTLY being LET DOWN by his 4 direct reports had reached THE END OF THE LINE (what line?) and was intent on taking these individuals OFF LINE (nice way of saying a real rollocking) and a PIECE OF MY MIND. He had been KICKED IN THE TEETH and STABBED IN THE BACK so many times that enough was enough, and he was going to put an end to it!

This client was usually very assertive in his communication, but by no means aggressive. Thankfully, our brief relationship had developed in to a high level trust relationship and we had permission to question, challenge and disagree with each other, but only on the condition that such behaviour would help him develop and grow. So here’s what happened.

After listening to a full 7 minutes of profanities from him, mixed in with a table leg being kicked, by him, profuse perspiring, again, from him, and my ears losing their feeling, I politely asked ‘May I see your teeth?’. ‘What?’ he replied, somewhat shocked by my unusual request. ‘May I see your teeth, just for a moment. I’d really like to see your gnashers‘, posturing with a big smile and clattering my teeth for full effect.

His anger turned to shock, his shock quickly morphed to confusion, all in a matter of seconds. I continued, ‘OK, you won’t show me your teeth, I understand….so please take off your shirt.’ This was a risky step. What reaction would I receive? Well, it was one of extreme anger. But not directed at me. I just happened to be a trustworthy vehicle on which to transport his learning. ‘PROFANITY, no way pal’, was followed a second or two later with a relieved smile on his face and a raucous belly laugh as he pointed to me and said ‘I know what you’re up to Scott. You want to see all of the knife scars on my back don’t you?’. ‘Absolutely, and I’m sure there are many, aren’t there?’ I replied.

Bingo, The Light At The End of The Tunnel Has Been Switched On!

From this moment on, the coaching session became a calm, thinking environment where the few things that mattered most to him and his company were thought through, talked through and solutions to each of the problems generated. And all in less than 2 hours.

During the following 3 months, 3 of his managers began to perform better than they had ever done, while 1 other left the organisation by mutual agreement. The executive came to realise that if his team were failing, he was playing an active role in this happening. And, if his team were to perform optimally, he had an important role to play in achieving this too.

Just think what the possible outcome could have been if this really decent, technically brilliant, hard-working and caring man had handled the situation in the manner he initially had intended. Managers could have been the walking wounded(oh, there I go, I’m doing it now), and their brains would have counted this latest verbal assault as the norm.

So remember, be very careful about the language you use and also, check understanding of what other people actually mean when they use old cliches to express how they are feeling at any given moment. It could save you many headaches and a few heartaches too.

Are your managers really aware of the impact, both positive and negative, they are having on their team members, peers and your stakeholders? If not, it may be a good thing for you to invest some time with them to boost their self awareness and self management skills. It won’t take long and could pay significant dividends for your organisation.

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If you haven’t already, why not sign up for our 2 week Introduction To The Secrets of Top Performers email course?  You’ll learn how to boost your personal effectiveness, enhance team engagement, motivation and productivity and significantly improve your personal credibility.

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