A Creative Lesson in Civil Disobedience for Corporate Leaders

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the dragged United Airlines passenger was just trying to get home.  NOTE: This article was quoted in the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

Could the entire incident have been avoided by using a little creativity and doing the right thing?  Is there a way for you to prevent your customers from revolting?

I teach corporate leadership and creativity, and I repeatedly see the cast-in-concrete rules of companies stifling employees from being creative and doing the right thing which costs companies billions annually, and causes customers pain and suffering.

The best corporate policy is “no policy” so that employees will have the freedom to be creative and improvise for the customer.  Then, employees can think for themselves instead of having their actions micromanaged by corporate “mission control.”

Your employees know what to do, that is why you hired them, so maybe the best policy is simply, “Do the right thing.”  Step out of the way, and let your employees act local, and think global.

The CEO, Oscar Munoz, could begin the process of finding and fixing the bad rules of his company by flying coach (become his own customer), scheduling his own travel — “eating his own dog food.” He could follow the management technique of “wandering around” his organization which was popularized by Hewlett-Packard.

Or, to paraphrase the Native American saying, “Each day, a CEO needs to walk a mile in their customer’s moccasins.”

The passenger’s resistance was an act of civil disobedience that put a spotlight on the unjust rule of forcing customers off flights — it was a customer revolt.

“If a rule is unjust, who among us will be brave enough to break the rule until we are released from its shackles?” – Curtis Panasuk, Creativity Instructor

The employees of United Airlines are smart, motivated, witty, creative and hard working. They are dedicated husbands, wives, parents and partners, and they know the right thing to do for customers — the golden rule. But their company failed to give them permission to think creatively and do the right thing.

United Airlines Employees

United Employees on Their Way to Help Customers

The United Airlines’ rule book prevents its employees from doing the right thing, and the rule makers (Big Brothers) sit in silos where they cannot hear the front-line employees saying that a rule is foul.

The United Airlines’ rule book is missing the most fundamental rule which is “ignore all the rules, and just do the right thing.” – Curtis Panasuk, former CEO

If the United Airlines employees had the freedom to be creative and raise the overbooking payout beyond the $800 limit, no one would be suffering. If the United Airlines employees had the freedom to report and change unjust rules, the company could soar to new levels of service and profitability.

Oh yes, United Airlines did apply a band-aid and change some rules so that future passengers will not be dragged (United offers bumped fliers up to $10,000 after video flap).

The dragged United Airlines passenger is a hero because his sacrifice changed the outrageous policy of forcing customers off flights. This incident is an example of civil disobedience popularized by Gandhi who borrowed the idea from Thoreau.

This is how Martin Luther King broke down the rules of segregation. If Martin Luther King and Gandhi followed the rules, then discrimination would still be widespread in the United States, and the British would have continued to dominate the people of India.

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Revolutionary.

Martin Luther King

Our Founding Fathers (Can you Name the US President with the British Accent?) also broke an unjust rule when they declared “No Taxation Without Representation”.

“If a law is unjust, a person is not only right to disobey it, they are obligated to do so.” — Thomas Jefferson, Revolutionary.

Thomas Jefferson Quote

Instead of “man”, I believe Jefferson meant to say “person” in this quote which also applies to his quote “All men are created equal”.

P.S. Thanks to another customer’s revolt, I don’t think that United Airlines will break any more guitars.

What do you think?


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