Watching the unfolding debacle at Heathrow's new "state of the art honest guv" Terminal 5 got me wondering 2 things. Why consistently in such situations is there a lack of basic information to those affected, and why do leaders find it so hard to just go " I'm really sorry this is a mess?".
Anyone reading this who has ever been stuck in a similar airport situation will recognise the comments of those at T5 about unhelpful or useually absent staff, a lack of any sense of embarrassment that peoples arrangements are in tatters, and no real engagement. This is a million miles away from the aspirations of total employee ownership and shared responsibility mooted in many business articles. Maybe the obsession with breaking operational delivery up into different suppliers and units needs a thorough overhaul as it provides many foxholes for people to hide in when things start to go wrong.
One of the most potent sources of stress relief in such situations is a steady and clear flow of communication as to what is happening. No-one wants to hear bad news but silence or conflicting messages are even worse and easly contribute to situations where staff end up on the wrong end of peoples' frustration and anger.
Secondly, why do leaders, instead of just saying sorry, instead take the opportunity to remind us it's only a "temporary gliche", or "a short term problem" and that T5 really will be an amazing addition to air travel in the long run. Statements of truth they may be, but the timing is to say the least unhelpful. Would'nt it be refreshing to hear a leader say "well in reality this is a short term problem in a terminal that will undoubtedly be one of the best in the world, but right now that's of no comfort whatsoever to the many people whose travel plans have been totally ruined and I'm very embarrassed about this. We` will do all we can to sort it out."
Maybe the media "handlers" should be told to take a sort walk and let people show some of their humanity to the public instead of being obsessed with media image and reputation. Some of the most powerful examples of leadership in a crisis [and T5 for all its problems hasnt led to loss of life yet, although someone did come close to a heart attack apparently] is where CEOs have simply been there at the scene, and shared honestly their own feelings and frustrations, unmediated by the latest media course on how to look cool, deflect blame and retain shareholder value. Do these people not realise how arrogant they appear? Well they do!
Time for me to lie in a darkened room for a while and contemplate my newfound status as a grumpy old man.
by Jim Taggart
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