Monday, April 17, 2017

Lessons From United Airlines

Lessons From United Airlines
The recent debacle experienced by United Airlines remains in media headlines as additional details become public and the inevitable legal maneuvering begins. I watched the cellphone video footage first on social media then later on the national news as the story developed. A lot has been written from a number of different angles by airline industry experts, business experts, and armchair pundits all expressing varying perspectives of the public relations failure of United Airlines. For my part, there are three distinct leadership lessons that immediately came to my mind.

Process Matters But People Matter More

Every business, every ministry, every organization large and small have processes in place to deal with the more routine aspects of what they do on a regular basis. It is these very processes that make training new employees possible. They help to add a level of predictability to routine operations. Some processes are well designed and are scalable, meaning they can expand with the needs of the organization, while others are only suited to handle a given volume of activity and break down when activity exceeds what the process was designed to address.

Over time, some processes become so entrenched that maintaining the process takes priority over the activities the process was originally supposed to help manage. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, says, “it is always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?” It is an important question for leaders to consider. Processes are an important part of all organizations but the people those processes serve are more important. Outcomes matter more than processes because people matter more than processes. Good leaders are always willing to question the way things are being done.

Blaming Others For Your Mistake Is Always Bad

People don’t rise to the level of chief executive of a multibillion dollar international concern by accident. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz is a veteran of both Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. He also serves as the chief financial officer and vice president of consumer services at AT&T. Before becoming the CEO of United Airlines, he was president and chief operating officer of CSX Corporation. Munoz is a seasoned executive which is why the missteps after the news of the incident aboard Flight 3411 are so baffling.

It is quite common for passengers to be bumped from a flight. Anyone who has travelled with much regularity has likely encountered such a situation. However, it is virtually unheard of for passengers to be bumped from a boarded flight. In his second statement about the incident, Munoz blamed Dr. Dao, the passenger that was brutally removed from the flight, for the incident. The fact that Dao would be hospitalized with a broken nose, concussion, and two lost teeth was not yet known. Once the extent of his injuries were known, coupled with the continuing public outcry, Munoz seemed to have a change of heart and find the right words to apologize for his company’s behavior and pledge to make it right.

United dropped the ball in this instance and tried to blame the customer for their mistakes. Had Munoz immediately owned the situation and vowed to get to the bottom of it, the media and public would have a completely different perception of the company. The blame game started in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:12) and has persisted ever since yet man still fails to understand it never works! Leaders that blame others for the mistakes of their organization undermine themselves and their organization.

Internal vs. External Communication

Jargon is simply special words or expressions used by a particular profession or organization and are often difficult for others to understand. Every organization has its own jargon used by insiders and the airline industry is no exception. The use of jargon streamlines communication between colleagues or other professionals within a particular industry and is largely a good thing.

While helpful for those inside an organization or given profession, when jargon finds its way into external communications, the intended message is, at best, unclear. When this happens as a leader is dealing with a major event, the event can quickly escalate into a crisis. The importance of understanding the reputational threat posed by a crisis is important. Mr. Munoz failed to understand the extent of the injuries suffered by Dr. Dao before releasing an initial statement. That statement was viewed negatively due to the use of airline industry jargon. Social media was awash with memes featuring images of a bloodied Dr. Dao with captions that included the reference to having to re-accommodate passengers. While that may sound normal to insiders, it served to help make a challenging situation morph into a full-blown crisis.

Putting people before process, owning mistakes, and clear communication are the three things that came to my mind as the unfortunate situation with United Airlines and Dr. Dao unfolded. Had any of these three things been handled properly, the situation may not have escalated as it did. Had all three been a priority, I do not think there would have been an incident to start with.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

New Members Class

New Members’ Class
I recently had the opportunity to put together a new members’ class at our church. My pastor and I discussed how it ought to look, what should be included, and about how long it should be. After that, he let me run with it. I am grateful to serve under a pastor who has confidence in his staff and lets us get things done. If we need a course correction, he is kind in helping us make adjustments. When the work is finished, he is generous with his public praise. Truly, serving the church God called our family to is a blessing!
Let me tell you a little bit about our church. This year we will celebrate 65 years of ministry! That is an accomplishment in and of itself but it gets better. You see, in an age when many Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or declining, we are growing. That was not the case a few short years ago but today our church is healthy and thriving. Our church has had various new member classes over the years so news of plans to launch such a class was welcomed.


How long should a class like this take? That is a really good question and one that deserves more than passing consideration. I know of churches that do these kinds of classes in a single meeting and others that take six weeks or more. I think a class like this in a single sitting is a lot to ask of new and/or potential members. Also, it does not allow the people in the class to interact in any meaningful way and get to know one another.
We decided that holding the class over three consecutive weeks held during the Sunday School hour is how we would plan this. This would allow a group of people with something in common, being new to the church, a chance to get to know one another a bit while also getting them into a three-week habit of coming to church during the Sunday School hour.  


Our church has a rich history and we have many members that have been with us for decades whose lives are rooted in that history. We want new members to add their gifts and talents to the pages of our story but in order to do that, we need to tell them about the DNA of our church. So we start in 1952 with the founding of the church and work our way forward through the first building on the property to the most recent project we completed to the new building campaign our congregation recently voted to move forward with.
Next, we unpack our vision statement “Live with purpose, leave a legacy through mentoring, ministry, and missions.” We think that is a succinct statement and it sounds good but it is also important to ensure those attending the class understand what each part of it means. After explaining that, attention pivots to our beliefs. All of this takes place in the first meeting of the class.
In the second meeting of the class, we explain what church membership is and what we believe a committed church member looks like. This like being part of a Sunday School class, regularly attending worship, tithing, and witnessing are among the things we cover. We conclude the classroom part of this session by explaining how to join the church.
The second half of the second class is spent taking a tour of the campus. Some of our deacons lead this tour allowing new members a chance to meet a few of those men. We are not a megachurch by any means but we are larger than the majority of churches in our denomination. Frankly, a tour is needed and gives us an opportunity to be sure families know where their children will be, where Adult Sunday School classes meet, where to find the old kitchen, you get the idea!
The third of the three class meetings is dedicated to meeting the staff. Each minister and ministry director personally introduce themselves, share a little something about their families, explain what ministries at our church he/she leads, and tells the class how God is moving through their respective ministry. With seven people, this takes roughly 20-25 minutes of the class. This is followed by a Q&A with the senior pastor. At both the first and second classes, we are certain to let the members of the class know they will hear from the ministerial staff and have an opportunity ask questions of the senior pastor.
Before dismissing the class for the final time, I asked them if there was a specific question anyone needed to have answered before making a decision about joining the church. It is important to be sure that questions are answered. I also made sure to mention questions could be emailed to me later or they were free to call is someone thought of something later.


We had 25 people attend our first class. Several people had to travel and missed one of the other sessions that followed but everyone received all of the content we intended them to receive. Of those who attended the class, all 25 joined the church! Now, I certainly cannot state that they did so because of the class but I do believe it helped. It provided these folks, many of whom had been visiting for a couple of months, an entry point into the church.


Providing people with an opportunity to learn about the church, our beliefs, how we view membership, and ask questions coupled with clear entry point into the church helped add 25 new members to our congregation. Putting this together takes a lot of work. The people in the class also provided invaluable feedback that will be incorporated into the class material before the next time we offer the class which we plan to do once per quarter.

I’m not sure if this is the best way to do this sort of class but it the way we are doing it right now and we are happy with the results. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think and how we might improve.