leadership is a continuous duty

I had a conversation with a flight attendant on a long overnight trip last year. Most of the passengers were sleeping and we had time for a nice chat. We swapped a few stories. I’m always interested in how organizations are viewed by the people nearer the bottom than the top of the hierarchical pyramid. You can learn a lot about the culture.

suitcasesThe flight attendant told me a story about his manager for whom he had booked an executive class plane ticket to an international culinary conference.  At the last minute, the manager decided he could not go, so he asked his subordinate to attend in his place. The flight attendant rearranged his schedule and agreed to go. On arriving at the airport he was surprised to find that his boss had taken the extra effort to downgrade the airfare to economy class. What was good enough for the manager was considered too good for his staff.

This story tells a lot about organizational culture. It is a culture of entitlement that has resulted in exorbitant CEO salaries and compensation, even when these CEO’s abjectly fail. Duty is seldom considered. As a young officer cadet I had to memorize a quote, which was posted above one of the college doorways.

“Duty is the great business of a sea officer; all private considerations must give way to it, however painful it may be.” – Horatio Nelson

The manager’s private considerations gave way to any possibility of developing a professional relationship with his subordinate, who had lost respect for him. Respect is difficult to earn and easy to lose. Leadership by example is all the little things added up, day after day.

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