El CEO de United Airlines acaba de compartir el mensaje de liderazgo perfecto para 2020, y son solo 8 palabras

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Admito que me sorprendió ver a Scott Kirby, director ejecutivo de United Airlines, citar a Winston Churchill.

No porque la cita no encaje. Es y más.

En cambio, cuando United Airlines anunció el año pasado que Kirby reemplazaría al entonces director ejecutivo Oscar Munoz, leí un informe tras otro que describía a Kirby como impulsado por números y hablado sin rodeos.

Así que me pregunté cómo se traduciría este tipo de estilo de liderazgo durante la pandemia, una época de gran desafío e incertidumbre que requiere inspiración y retórica de un tipo que la mayoría de los líderes nunca antes han tenido que conjurar.

Esta semana, United hizo un llamado para ganar. Luego, las actas abarcaron 11.000 palabras y fue la primera vez desde que la aerolínea tomó a 13.000 empleados de licencia a principios de este mes que un grupo de analistas y reporteros entrevistó a ejecutivos de United Airlines sobre el futuro de la aerolínea.

Llamar a esto un tiempo desafiante para las aerolíneas es quedarse corto. United informó que los ingresos por pasajeros disminuyeron un 84 por ciento. Y cuando Kirby comenzó su presentación. Primero, tuvo que agradecer a los empleados de United por abandonar voluntariamente la aerolínea o tomar menos horas para reducir los costos laborales.

Pero el pasado es cosa del pasado, y si bien Kirby dijo una vez que cree que la industria de la aviación no se recuperará por completo hasta 2024, también retrocedió 78 años tratando de encontrar las palabras que dan el tono adecuado a los ejecutivos en este año extraordinario.

La cita clave, como se mencionó, en realidad es Kirby citando a Churchill, tiene solo ocho palabras, aunque el contexto es un poco más largo y vale lo siguiente:

[T]Lo que estamos expresando hoy no es un paso del pesimismo al optimismo, sino una expresión de confianza en el futuro.

Hay una gran cita que me encanta … de Winston Churchill que dijo en 1942, más de dos años antes del final de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, después de la campaña africana, y los británicos ganaron en África: «Este no es el final. ni siquiera es el principio del fin. Puede ser el final del principio. »

Y creo que es entonces cuando estamos en United Airlines ahora. … [W]Hicimos todo lo posible en las primeras etapas para tener confianza. … [W]Consideraremos esto como un punto de inflexión. La luz al final del túnel está lejos. Sin embargo, este es el punto de inflexión.

Las ocho palabras clave: «Puede que sea el final del principio».

Las circunstancias ahora son, por supuesto, muy diferentes a las que estuvo expuesto el pueblo británico durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, pero compartimos con estos tiempos un sentimiento de pérdida de control, dolor real y un anhelo por otro futuro.

Este es un momento en el que los líderes se mueren por compartir buenas noticias, para que sus partes interesadas sepan que las cosas están bajo control y que tiene un plan para volver a la normalidad.

¿El problema? Eso no puede ser cierto.

Recientemente me reuní con un neurocientífico especializado en desarrollo de liderazgo, el Dr. David Rock, hablando, quien enfatizó que durante la pandemia, casi todo el mundo está respondiendo neurológicamente a niveles más altos de lo normal de percepción de amenazas.

Por lo tanto, los líderes deben enfatizar la retroalimentación positiva y el estímulo, esforzarse por crear seguridad y ofrecer flexibilidad, empatía y objetivos de colaboración.

Como Churchill entendió durante la gran crisis de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, y como entienden ahora los líderes sabios, hay una manera de asegurar a las personas que han progresado y, sin embargo, fortalecerlas para los tiempos difíciles que quedan.

Se trata de dar esperanza sin dar falsas esperanzas. de alabanza sin adulación vacía.

No se trata de si United Airlines realmente tomó el mejor camino bajo el liderazgo de Kirby durante la pandemia. No puedo decirte de ninguna manera.

La gente sufre y pasará mucho tiempo antes de que podamos mirar hacia atrás y hacer un estudio de caso al respecto.

¿Pero en cuanto al sonido? Eso es lo que necesita.

Y ya sea que esté citando a Churchill o citando a Kirby o expresándolo de manera diferente a lo que parece más natural para su estilo personal de hablar, es el mensaje que los grandes líderes están tratando de compartir en este momento.

Las opiniones expresadas por los columnistas de Inc.com aquí son las suyas, no las de Inc.com.

So, I wondered how that kind of leadership style would translate during the pandemic -- a time of great challenges and uncertainty that requires inspiration and rhetoric of a type most leaders have never had to summon before.

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This week, United held an earnings call. The transcript afterward ran 11,000 words, and it marked the first time since the airline furloughed 13,000 workers at the start of the month that a group of analysts and reporters have been able to question United Airlines executives about the airline's future. 

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Enter Churchill.

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Calling this a challenging time for airlines is an extreme understatement. United reported that its passenger revenue was down 84 percent. And when Kirby began his remarks, he had to start by thanking United employees for doing things like voluntarily leaving the airline, or taking fewer hours, to cut down on labor costs.

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But past is past, and while Kirby said at one point that he thinks the airline industry won't fully rebound until 2024, he also went back 78 years to find the words that strike the right tone for leaders in this exceptional year.

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The key quote -- as noted, it's actually Kirby quoting Churchill -- runs just eight words, although the context is a bit longer, and worth including:

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[T]oday, what we're expressing is not a shift from pessimism to optimism, as much as it is an expression of confidence in the future. 

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There's a great quote that I love ... from Winston Churchill that he said in 1942, over two years before the end of World War II after the African campaign and the Brits won in Africa that, "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." 

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And I think that is the moment we're at now at United Airlines. ... [W]e have done what it takes in the initial phases to have confidence. ... [W]e'll look back at this as the turning point. The light at the end of the tunnel is a long way away. But this is the turning point.

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The key eight words: "It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

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The circumstances are much different now of course than what the British people faced during World War II, but we share with those times a sense of a loss of control, and of real pain, and a longing for a different future.

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This is a moment when leaders desperately want to be able to share good news -- to be able to tell your stakeholders that things are under control, and that you have a plan to return to normalcy.

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The problem? That might not be true.

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I spoke recently with a neuroscientist who specializes in leadership development, Dr. David Rock, who emphasized that during the pandemic, almost the entire world is reacting neurologically to higher levels of threat perception than normal.

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So, leaders should emphasize positive feedback and encouragement, strive to create certainty, and offer flexibility, empathy, and cooperative goals.

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As Churchill understood during the great crisis of World War II, and as smart leaders understand now, there's a way to reassure people that they've made progress, while still steeling them for the tough times that remain.

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It's about giving hope, without offering false hope; about offering praise without empty flattery.

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This isn't about whether United Airlines actually has followed the best path under Kirby's leadership during the pandemic. I can't tell you that one way or another. 

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People are hurting, and it will be a long while before we can look back and do a case study on it.

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But in terms of tone? This is exactly the right one.

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And whether you quote Churchill, or cite Kirby, or word it another way that seems more natural to your personal style of speaking, it's the message great leaders will seek to share right now.

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